Wednesday, March 31, 2010

International Transgender Day of Visibility

I just found out that today, March 31, 2010, is the second annual International Transgender Day of Visibility. The event was started last year as a way to celebrate the lives of trans people.

As someone who has several trans people in my life who I hold very dear to my heart, I was excited to hear about this. In a world where we are (sometimes slowly) making progress when it comes to equality, transgender issues are some that I wish more people were talking about.

For more, check out what Jos at Feministing had to say about this day.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Recommended Daily Reading: Genderfork

The topic of gender has been on my mind a lot recently (see my last post), so when @Genderfork started following me on Twitter, I was really excited. That Twitter account led me to a website that quickly became one of my favorite daily readings.

Genderfork is a really great website that collects photos, quotes, questions, videos, and even does profiles of people who express gender in a variety of ways. I visit this website every day. It's a great reminder of the way in which the beauty of humankind comes from its diversity.

What have you been reading? Feel free to share links in the comments.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Chick Flick or Wrestling? Answer to continue ChaCha-ing.

Back in December I started using a free text message service called Cha Cha. If you text a question to Cha Cha, you will receive an answer via text. It is not the most precise tool, but it is convenient for those urgent questions that you must have an answer to when you are nowhere near the internet. However, the service comes along with advertisements at the bottom of every text message. These are clearly labeled as ads, and you have to text for more information about them, but they are still there. These ads are the reason I will no longer use Cha Cha.

On March 7 I texted Cha Cha to ask for a reminder of what Rikers Island in New York was. I got the following response in a text message from Cha Cha*:
Hey, b4 we answer, pls help us personalize ChaCha to better meet ur needs. Just answer 4 short Qs! -- Q1. What is your gender? Txt MALE or FEMALE back to us
The two options were really distasteful to me personally, but I also took issue with the principle of dichotomizing gender and refusing to provide service until I chose one gender. I responded by texting back: Neither.

Cha Cha did not like that, and texted the following in response:
Chick Flick or Wrestling? We need 2 know ur gender so we can send you offers u care about! Txt MALE or FEMALE to keep ChaCha-ing.
I understand (although I do not like) the need for ad space in this service. I also understand that targeting ads makes them more effective. However, in the format of a texting service, targeting ads based on gender is problematic. Text messages are short correspondences and they do not serve well to accomodating the other numerous, multi-layered gender identities that many people would feel more comfortable with.

Texting basically makes it necessary to rely on a gender dichotomy that just isn't realistic for most people. Chick flick or wrestling? I like neither of those things. That's exactly why I refused to answer Cha Cha's gender question and will not be allowed to Cha Cha anymore.

*The interesting thing is that I was discussing this with two other people who use Cha Cha and neither of them has been asked to answer the gender question. I am not sure how the service chooses who has to answer the question or when.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Sexual assault, triggers, and the problem of male privilege in activism

**Trigger warning: sexual assault**

Over the past month or so, a lot of talk about sexual assault has been happening on my college campus.

Here's the situation.

I am president of a feminist group at my school, Students Against Sexism in Society (SASS). Last term there were several reported incidents of sexual assault on campus. These (rightly) caused an uproar among students who wanted to see immediate and concrete action taken by the administration after several years of pressure to see certain changes by groups like SASS. The outrage felt by students was displayed in ways ranging from student organized open forums, zine creations, students attending faculty meetings and speaking out about their concerns, and even some anonymous actions.

It was one such anonymous action that provoked a large amount of controversy. One day, early in the morning, large banners were hung up in a high-traffic building on campus. The banners covered most of the windows leading up to the cafeteria in that building and were difficult to ignore. The banners made exclamations about the state of sexual assault on campus, saying things like “2 sexual assaults, one weekend: where is your outrage?” and "Knox is no exception to rape statistics." (For more information on these banners, click here*).

The reason for the controversy over these banners focused on two things: The way they presented the problem of sexual assault and their placement in a high traffic area of campus and the possibility that they may trigger survivors of sexual assault.

The latter was an issue we discussed at a SASS meeting the week the banners went up. The group knew the meeting was going to consist of a lot of discussion about sexual assault, but what no one was prepared for was the behavior of a male student who showed up to the meeting. He is not a regular member of SASS, and right away he attempted to dominate the discussion by talking at length about topics of his choosing without letting others give their input. This behavior forced me to cut him off at several points and he did not take kindly to that.

When a woman brought up the issue of the banners being triggering to survivors of sexual assault, the male student appeared ignorant of what the term meant and said that it shouldn't matter if the banners "made a few people uncomfortable" because it was more important that people be aware of the problem.

This attitude prompted many at the meeting to try to explain to this student that triggering a sexual assault survivor was more than just making them uncomfortable and how it is important to offer a trigger warning when a discussion may be difficult for survivors to hear. The male student listened to everyone, but did not seem to completely understand. He then went on to accuse students, by name, of rape. The group listened uneasily to his stories and a discussion took place about using names when accusing people of such crimes when they have not been found guilty of anything. However, the male student stood by his conviction that it was important to "warn the campus" about these people who he was personally convinced were rapists.

Then he went on to name another male student by name and told, in great detail, about the supposed rape he committed. All of this without a trigger warning. This act triggered a member of the group and I had to leave the meeting with them. The meeting was called to an end during our absence as most of the group was, as I found out later, very upset by the male student's behavior. The atmosphere was uneasy at best and felt downright unsafe at worst.

I spoke with this male student after the meeting. I told him that if he wanted to be a productive member of these sorts of discussions, he needed to educate himself on how to talk about them appropriately. He told me that he wanted to educate himself. He apologized to me and the other student that had to leave the meeting. He said he wanted to be part of the solution. Despite this student's good intentions, this meeting brought to light some important issues facing women activists working for solutions to problems regarding sexual assault.

First, the necessity for male activists to check their privilege at the door. During the SASS meeting, the student's male privilege showed in the way he handled himself. He disregarded other (female) members' attempts to add to the conversation, as if he had more right to speak than they did, and he ignored their explanations about triggers before he told unverified stories that hurt people who were listening. This was the most infuriating part of the whole ordeal to me. This student walked into a meeting that was meant to be a safe space, especially for the women there, and totally disregarded the feelings/advice of those he should have been working with, people he had a hard time even allowing to speak. Overall, his attitude and actions created an atmosphere in which producing meaingful activism seemed difficult.

Second, the importance of taking survivors into account when coming up with solutions. The male student was not a survivor of sexual assault, and was not well-educated when it came to understanding how survivors might feel about some tactics that he was ok with using. I understand that there is some contention over the idea of survivors being treated as fragile vs. trying not to revictimize survivors, but this experience made me believe that work on the issue of sexual assault that does not take survivors into careful account (providing trigger warnings, getting their input, etc.) is not work I want to pursue.

Has anyone else ever had a similar experience? I'm curious as to how this male student can be integrated into a working solution about the problem of sexual assault on this campus, or if he should even be allowed the chance after his behavior. Opinions?

*The article from The Knox Student quotes me as president of SASS. For more information on the situation at Knox last term, visit the school's student newspaper for coverage of the events.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

4 year old hate speech

(trigger warning - language)

So.... one of my 4 year olds called another a faggot today.

In case you don't know, I work in a preschool, one that has a mission statement of specifically empowering women and girls.

We had just come in from playing outside and were taking off snowpants and boots, about to head to lunch. I don't even know what happened in the build up, but it came pretty much out of no where.

I didn't catch the first part of what he said, but he was talking to another girl. He ended the comment with, "faggot!"

I said, "What did you say?"

He said, "faggot?"

"No. That is not ok. You can not use that word. It hurts people," I said.

"I can say it at my house!"

"Well, this isn't your house and I don't want to hear it."

"[brother] says it!"

"And if he were here, I'd tell him the exact same thing."

"Aw, come on, can't I just say (mouths faggot) one more time?"

"No! I don't want to hear it again."

I usually don't respond to kids swearing. Most of the time they're just trying to get a reaction from someone and it's easiest to let it rest. Often, another kid will tell me another kid swore and I just tell them to tell the offender that they don't want to hear it.

I think I was just so surprised that I instantly responded. But even so, I wouldn't have let that one pass. I responded with emotion, I think more emotion than the kids are used to me wielding. It's just ... these are 4 year olds. Faggot should not be in their vocabulary.

There are several open lesbians who work at my site, several of whom bring their partners to school functions. His mother works at the site and he has spent the night over at one women's house many times.

I don't know if he knew what it meant. I doubt it. Would he have used it if he knew what it meant? I don't know.

He did know that it wasn't something nice to say.

He did know that you're supposed to say it in a mean tone, spitting it out of your mouth like venom.

He did know that it was a name you use when you want to make someone feel inferior, like shit, to show that you're better.

He knows it's supposed to hurt. Which means that it doesn't matter if he knows what it means, because he'll use it again as a weapon. Except next time, I won't be there.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Fewer processed foods = healthier

From Simple, Good and Tasty, a Minneapolis based food blog:

"May I speak with Lee?" my doctor started.

"Um, that's
me," I answered.

"I've got the results of your blood work, have you gota minute?"

What choice did I have? Must. Face. The. Music. "Yeah, okay,"I said.

"Everything looks really good," my doctor continued, "your cholesterol's down, your blood sugar looks great, your blood pressure is right on. Every number is better than it was the last time you had a test four years ago."

"Really?" I asked, "the numbers are better?"

"Yes," my doctor said, "did you say that you're eating less processed foods these days?"

[Of course I said that. Do you think I might have missed a chance to plug my local, sustainable, organic food business with my doctor's office? What kind of a fool do you take me for?]

"Yeah," I said.

"Well, good for you, that's terrific," my doctor continued, "I'm thrilled that you're
thinking about these kinds of things."

"Um, thanks," I said, unsure of how to take a compliment from a doctor (there's a first time for everything). "Are you saying that eating fewer processed foods and more real, whole foods can actually make me healthier, even if I don't lose weight?"

"Absolutely," my doctor said, "absolutely."

Spread the word.