Friday, September 2, 2011

This is why I can't work at a Halloween store.

I worked yesterday in one of those temporary Halloween stores that spring up in abandoned big-box stores. When you are completely, utterly, flat broke and you hear about a temp job at a local Halloween store and you are me, you think "oh, that could be kinda fun!"  And you who are me would be wrong.

Thankfully, I got a call this morning about a WAY better job (wherein I make more money and do the exact opposite of selling my soul), so I quit the Halloween job immediately.  There are many reasons why I could feel my soul curdling and my deeply held beliefs shouting at me during my one day of work; let's enumerate them here, shall we?

1. During my interview, I was basically told that if I saw my co-workers stealing, I should rat them out, and that in fact, it is SCIENTIFICALLY PROVEN - with reports and everything - that 80% of all theft is actually from employees, not customers.  Now, in all fairness, the managers who interviewed me seem like nice people (and one of them is known to be so by a mutual friend) and were literally reading from a script, successfully instilled the feeling of "WE'RE WATCHING YOU, TEMPORARY EMPLOYEE SCUM!"  Also, later I was informed that no one except managers can take out the garbage.  This is not an egalitarian role-reversal, oh no:  it's because employees might steal something by tossing it in the trash!  The former union organizer in me started to fill with rage.

2. The store's costumes are broken down by gender.  Which happens in many stores, but here's a fun example:  BOYS CAREERS = cop and military. Boys are authority figures.  Boys like uniforms.  And guns.  GIRLS CAREERS = there are no girls careers costumes.  Instead, we have GIRLS FAIRIES AND ANGELS.  Girls do not need careers because they can have wings!  and tiaras!  and pinkpinkpinkpinkpink!!!  Also, we have "naughty" costumes for pre-teen girls.  Again, rage.  I know there are lots more gross sexist examples, but I think I got too blinded by THE RAGE because I can't remember them right now.

3. AROUND THE WORLD is another section at the store.  Just guess what that means!  Go ahead, GUESS!  If you guessed lots and lots of racist pain, you're a winner!  The prize is white girls dressed up as "geishas" and white boys being "little Indians"!  And for the adults, Arabic Sheiks and Pimp/Rapper (actually, that one's for the little boys, too) and OHMYFUCKINGGODTHERAGE.

4. And everything is mass-produced in China and is so, so cheap and is also off-gassing potentially carcinogenic chemicals.  Vomit.

The Halloween where there are ghosts and skeletons and creepy zombies and spooky stories told 'round the campfire and bowls full of eyeballs/peeled grapes?  Awesome.  The Halloween where we shit on workers, reify some horrific gender roles and are disgusting racist appropriators?  NO, NO, A THOUSAND TIMES NO.

(p.s. Can I just reiterate how thankful and excited I am to have gotten this other job, where I will be making a good wage and supporting an AWESOME anti-violence org?  SO THANKFUL AND EXCITED.)

(p.p.s. Lots of ALL CAPS TODAY.  Apparently I am having FEELINGS, BIG FEELINGS.)

Thursday, August 25, 2011

A rambling rant (that started out as a thank-you) on biphobia and transphobia.

I am thankful for the BECAUSE community, thankful that conference was there when I was 20 years old and just coming out as bi. I was a new queer kid, I was privileged and sheltered and I sometimes think that if I hadn't come out as bi and attended that conference, I too would be one of those who all too often forget the T in LGBT, or try to dismiss it.

Because of the awesome bisexual folks of varied gender history and identity who organized and attended the conference, it never occurred to me that trans folk wouldn't be a part of my queer community. It never occurred to me that they were less than. It never occurred to me that they weren't part of my queer feminist community. It also never occurred to me that someone would stop being bisexual or queer just because of their current partner's gender. At BECAUSE, we were all there because our sexuality (and sometimes our gender too) didn't fit into an either/or – we were all both/and. I met genderqueer kids before that word existed. I met magnificent people of many genders and sexualities from the very beginning and because of that, I felt more comfortable exploring my own gender and sexuality.

We were tired of being the forgotten and disrespected B's and T's. We booed Elizabeth Birch of the Human Rights Campaign when she gave a speech and consistently said only “gay and lesbian.” We shared experiences of being treated rudely and painfully by lesbians and dykes, who often placed ads that said “no bi's” and didn't consider trans women women.

So it boggles my mind that 16 years later, we are still fighting this battle. I and many others still experience biphobic remarks from lesbians/dykes/queer women, and women who are trans are still consistently excluded from and made to feel unwelcome in women's spaces and communities. It boggles my mind that “queer” went from being a word that encompassed all deviant, radical sexualities to a word that for many basically only means “gay and lesbian.” That it's okay for queer women to date guys who are trans – their communities will still accept them, for the most part. But if that same queer woman was to date a non-trans guy, well then suddenly she's suspect, she doesn't belong. This happens all the time and I will tell you that it is happening right now in the supposedly progressive and radical queer community of the PNW to someone I know. Not a theoretical someone – an actual person is being judged and dismissed and excluded because of other peoples' assumptions about her partner's gender, and it is just so stupid.

And while I don't think gay marriage is where we should be devoting so much of our money and resources, and while I think it is necessary to think critical about the cultural and religious institution of marriage, I also don't think we need to dismiss and denigrate those queers who get married, whether it's sanctioned by the state or not. Since when did two people expressing love and commitment to each other become something to mock or despise? Isn't that part of what we're fighting for: the right to express our love and desire, in all of its permutations?

I am just so tired of us doing this to ourselves, because don't we get enough of this from the world at large? What is up with that need to define and exclude? Are our identities and lives so fragile that they are threatened by others'?

Monday, August 1, 2011

What it means for one person to not have health insurance.

I can't walk without near-constant pain.  I have self-diagnosed (well, with the help of a medically-inclined friend) plantar fascitis, and have sprained both ankles several times, not quite recovering from the last time about 3 months ago.  It's not immobilizing, but between feeling like there are deep bruises on the bottoms of my heels, ankle-joint pain and looseness, it's not so fun to be active anymore, which is creating a vicious cycle of pain and inactivity.

When I fell and sprained both ankles 3 months ago, I also landed pretty hard on my wrists.  My wrists that already had untreated RSI.  My wrists that have actually gotten progressively worse since then, which means that it's painful to move them in certain ways, and that while my arm muscles are relatively strong, I can't pick heavy things up because my wrists hurt and feel so weak.  Picking up my laptop with one hand is no longer an option.

My knees have been making a strange crackling sound for years now.  They used to hurt more, but now they only twinge a bit when I walk down stairs or hills.  They, like my ankles and wrists, feel wobbly and uncertain.

I haven't had dental insurance in years, which means I haven't been in for a cleaning in about 5 years.  Luckily, I had a privileged upbringing that included regular dental care, so my teeth could be much worse.  Still, I have retainers on the backs of my teeth that should have been removed 15 years ago, and I can tell I have a few cavities.

I worry that I will break or lose my glasses, since I don't have any sort of vision insurance and couldn't afford to buy new ones.

I might have a pre-cancerous spot on my nose, but I can't go to a dermatologist to find out.

So that's just me, and the issues I'm dealing with.  I had a privileged upbringing which certainly helped provide a more solid foundation for my health, but I'm also currently the poorest I've ever been and literally can't afford the low-income community clinic's co-pay of $10 right now.

The point of all this isn't to get pity, or to get resources (I have a few that I'm going to take advantage of), but just to say:  this is what it's like for one person, in relatively good health, with a decent amount of privilege.  This is a severely broken system and it's infinitely frustrating and infuriating. Public health systems are exhausting and extremely time-consuming to deal with, and frequently deliver sub-par quality of care (due to underfunding), if you can even qualify.

In closing:  grrrr.  arrrggghh.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Sexism, androcentrism and misogyny in women's communities, oh my!

This rant is brought to you by one of those posts of a friend-of-a-Facebook-friend who took the oh-so-brave stance of being against trans womens' inclusion at Mich.  She posted this though she knew she would be misunderstood and denigrated, the courageous soul!  SHE HAS TRANS FRIENDS, YOU GUYS!  Admittedly, though, it's the same crappy arguments/apologism/excuses I hear everywhere (which is why I'm not singling her out by linking to it), and this latest post was just the proverbial straw. Let the completely unedited, rambling ranting commence!

I'm tired of it. I'm tired of the continued attitude that trans women are less-than – which is really what you're saying if you say you don't think trans women belong at women-only events. I'm tired of queer communities that get all up in arms over the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival, but don't look at their own, day-to-day communities and the way trans women are excluded and made to feel unwelcome. I'm tired of being part of the problem myself. I'm tired of the fact that we can talk about this, shout about this, but not about sexism in queer women's communities. I'm tired of the androcentrism (definition: centered or focused on men or masculinity) in my culture, that continually glorifies masculinity at the expense of femininity. I hate the fact that we can't talk about it without being accused of being anti-trans or anti-male. Asking our queer communities to look honestly and deeply at sexism, androcentrism and misogyny is NOT anti-trans or anti-male.

Sometimes, I 'd like to take the language of excluding trans women and replace it with class-based language or the like: “I just want one week with other rich people to heal and celebrate. Is that too much to ask?”
Yes, actually, it is. Unless you plan on having the focus of that week being on your privilege as a rich person and how you can work to support poor people in their work for justice and equity – then, by all means, take a week with your rich community to work on your shit.

And yeah, y'know – maybe there are a few trans women who have some vestiges of entitlement from socialization as male. Let's just entertain that thought for a moment. It could be true. It's also true that I have seen plenty of dude-bro attitude and sexist bullshit from queer women, especially in butch-femme communities (of which I am a member). So let's not pretend that by excluding trans women, we are somehow magically protecting ourselves from misogyny, sexism and androcentrism.

Let's talk about how many queer women identify as fags and/or think gay men and gay male culture is hot. Now let's talk about how many queer men do the same with dykes (and I'm not talking about joking how they are lesbians because they like to garden and listen to the Indigo Girls)....


...Yep, that's what I thought. This is a telling discrepancy, and what it tells me is that androcentrism runs deep, even in queer feminist communities, even when we don't think it does.

I think many of the anti-inclusion arguments are missing the important notion of interconnection. Without an understanding of how cisgender (non-trans) women can also have privilege, of course it seems fine to have “their own space.” I read many anti-inclusion arguments that repeatedly assure the reader that they love and support their trans friends, and really, truly, no really, don't misunderstand me! I believe they are sincere, but...if they really believed that their trans women friends are women – not just “identified as women” - then they would see the contradiction of their position. And I think they are confusing “safety” with “comfort.” I'm really tired of that conflation, especially when I see it most often from privileged, non-trans white women like myself. But I'm also thankful for it in a way – it's a good reminder to check myself, to try to work through my own discomfort whenever and wherever it arises and get to the root of it.

And yes – actually, I do think there is value in women-only space. We do still live in a misogynist world, and I've experienced for myself some of the relief, joy and healing that many speak of in attending this event, though it was marred by the knowledge that my trans sisters were not welcomed. I think most trans guys should self-exclude from events like Mich – because they are guys. I also embrace the fact that gender is often complicated and gloriously messy, so I'll support trans-masculine folks who also hold a female identity in some way in attending women-only events. Basically, I'm going to trust folks to know their own genders, lives and identities. 

Can we just do that – trust people?

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Sexual Harassment: What Allies/Witnesses Can Do

A while back, a friend of mine asked what he could do when he sees this happening to a friend or stranger.  His concern was that as a dude, he didn't want to compound the situation by assuming or coming off as just another macho dude trying to help out a defenseless lady (I'm totally paraphrasing here).

And I think it's a good point.  I can think of at least a few incidences where a butch or masculine-identified lover of mine took it upon themselves to intervene in a situation where it wasn't at all warranted.  Example: I was out with my girlfriend, some guy ran into me or something - I can't quite recall, but the point is, it wasn't too egregious and I was already moving on.  But my girlfriend decided that she needed to defend my honor or something, and without checking in with me, got all aggro on the dude in question.  I was NOT happy.  Besides the fact that I'm not a big fan of street altercations, I was mostly pissed that she didn't ask me about it - that somehow she had to be the big bad butch protecting her little lady.  I ain't no little lady and if I need help, I'll ask for it.

While I'm not any sort of anti-sexual harassment advocate, I think that's my biggest advice:  ask the person being harassed.  Just ask.  If my girlfriend had just said, "hey, that guy was really rude to you and I'm pissed - do you want me to do anything about it?" then that would've given me the power to decide.

If, during my recent experience being harassed in downtown Olympia, there had been a bystander who'd hollered as they were walking past "hey, is that guy bothering you?  do you need some help" - that would've given me the power to say "yes, please, I feel unsafe" or "no, thanks, I've got this under control." (and for the record, oh, how I wish someone had been there to ask me that!)

The last thing I need is to feel like someone else thinks I am unable to decide for myself what I need - it's like a double-whammy of disempowerment.

In Seattle, I once witnessed a woman being verbally abused by a man.  I was across the street and hollered "excuse me, miss?  I don't think it's okay for him to be threatening you like that.  Do you want help?"  She said "no" and I said okay, but I did continue standing there for a little while, just in case.  It may not have been the perfect thing to say, and I have no idea if the situation was as bad as I thought, but at least the woman in question knew that someone noticed how she was being treated, that I thought it wasn't okay, and gave her the choice of accepting help or not.

Unfortunately, a quick Google search didn't turn up any resources for what bystanders can do, though there are good links for those who've been sexually harassed.

What do you think?  What do you want people to do if you're being sexually harassed?  What do you do when you witness others being sexually harassed?

Monday, January 10, 2011

yo estoy estudiando mucho

Es verdad.  I'm not really sure what's going to happen with this whole blogging thing.  I'm currently taking Language & Power, an excitingly challenging 12-credit program in sociolinguistics (the workload is way more like 16, though) and a 4-credit Beginning Spanish II class.  And I'm working 10-14 hours a week.  And I'm stressed out because even though I feel like I don't have enough time to get everything done (and done well), I need to figure out how to work in some extra actual paying work because finances are looking really fucking scary.

To those who work full-time and go to school full-time (not to mention those who do that AND are parents) while maintaining some semblance of a decent life:  ginormous kudos to you, my friend.  I don't know how you do it.  My hat is so far off to you that I'm like Mary Tyler Moore, walking down Nicollet Avenue.

Other than just being a post about how I'm not sure what's going to happen with posting, I also wanted to share something that struck me just now in one of my readings, English and the discourses of Colonialism by Alastair Pennycook:
"...the issue is not so much the truth and falsity of facts but the truth effects of discourse...As I discussed in Chapter 1, the issue for Indigenous Australians cannot merely be through 'positive' representations of themselves.  Such representations have already been reappropriated by an exoticizing, Orientalist discourse that turns Indigenous people into primitive beings in touch with the earth, a sort of New Age nomad doing dreamtime and painting the desert...such an exotified view of Aboriginal people already denies the history of colonialism that has inflicted such suffering..."
The phrase "'positive' representations" reminded me of USian gay rights organizations like the Mattachine Society, the Human Rights Campaign, and the current marriage equality movements, which sought and seek to normalize gay people as "just like everyone else."

The passage could easily be rewritten:
"...the issue is not so much the truth and falsity of facts but the truth effects of discourse...As I discussed in Chapter 1, the issue for LGBT people cannot merely be through 'positive' representations of themselves.  Such representations have already been reapprpriated by an exoticizing, heterosexist and gender essentialist discourse that turns LGBT people into hypersexualized beings in touch with their artistic sides, a sort of court jester providing comic relief for heterosexual and gender insecurity...such an exotified view of LGBT people already denies the history of heterosexism and gender essentialism that has inflicted such suffering..."
This kind of attempt to de-Other is understandable, but as Pennycook points out, it attempts to state facts rather than addressing the root of the problem:  the existing discourse (oh, Foucault, you tricky bastard you) is the problem and that's what needs to change.

As Pennycook also points out, this is an uphill battle and much harder to do, especially since so much of contemporary discourse is covert rather than overt. (Much like Pennycook's own repeated assertions thoughout the book, I offer all this not as a criticism of politics/people, but rather as a different way to frame the debate.)