Don’t you bring me down today

This recent article from Virginia Postrel helped me put my finger on what bothered me about Christina Aguilera’s song “Beautiful.” Or rather, the biggest thing that bothered me; Aguilera’s show-offy vocal stylings grated on me from the beginning, but it was really the lyrics that annoyed me. I just found out, from the Wikipedia article, that the music and lyrics were written by 1 of the former 4 Non Blondes, Linda Perry.

I’ve only just watched the video that I linked, since I figured I should watch something before I show it to you. Up to now, my exposure to the song has been involuntary; it’s been forced into my brain by our local Clear Channel pod. Aguilera does get props for including a drag queen in her video, but that idea isn’t new; in the liner notes for a Go-Go’s compilation I have, one of the members writes about how their (much more insightful) song “Beautiful” was inspired by a scene from a John Waters movie featuring Divine.

So what really rubs me the wrong way about this song is the assertion that “I/We/You are beautiful, in every single way.” In other words, everyone is beautiful. I’d kinda agree that everyone has something beautiful about them, but is everyone beautiful in every single way? Well, no. Adjectives serve to distinguish people, and when there is no distinction, the adjective becomes meaningless. If everyone were really beautiful in every single way, then no one would be beautiful, and beauty would cease to exist. But beauty clearly does exist in people’s minds, and very few people really think that everyone is beautiful in every single way.

Continue reading “Don’t you bring me down today”

Eddie Izzard update

Who doesn’t love some Eddie Izzard news? Just saw his name headlining an ad for his new show The Riches and wondered what it was all about.

It seems like the show has been an occasion for lots of interviews. The Daily Telegraph has an interesting discussion with him about balancing cross-dressing with work, and although he works as an actor, I think what he says is true to some degree for any non-transitioning transgender person regardless of their line of work.

The Discovery Channel has an article that combines some of my favorite things: it’s a summary of a forthcoming article in Language and Communication by SUNY-Binghamton professor and University of Chicago graduate Douglas Glick where he analyzes the techniques used by standup performers, focusing on two Izzard routines. At the end of the Discovery News article, added almost as an afterthought, is a quote from Glick’s colleague Stephen Straight explaining why Don Imus really did use (as opposed to mention) both a racist insult and a sexist one against the Rutgers basketball team, and the fact that he was joking is not an adequate defense.

I’m a proud Binghamton alum, the last linguistics major declared before the Cuomo budget cuts put the major on hiatus for several years, and Steve Straight was my advisor. I remember, at Steve’s suggestion, doing a paper on frame semantics and reading Victor Raskin’s frame-semantic analysis of humor. I don’t know if Glick used Raskin’s work; I’ll have to wait until the article comes out. After Binghamton I got my M. A. at Chicago, but I don’t remember Glick; he must have been in the Anthropology department. Binghamton and Steve Straight, the U of C, linguistics, humor analysis and Eddie Izzard, all in Discovery News.

The Abbé de Choisy, first pass

I’ve been doing a lot of reading of the history of France, and occasionally I encounter a famous French transgender person (in the umbrella sense of “transgender”). Today I came across mention of the Abbé François-Timoléon de Choisy. This is the first I’ve heard of him (I use the male pronouns because he lived as a man for the later part of his life), but I’ll peruse his Aventures de l’abbé de Choisy habillé en femme at my leisure and report back here. Sadly, his later memoirs are not on line, but they may be worth buying to get an idea of what non-transitioning transgender people can do when they get old.

One thing that really galls me is that when I searched for reference to Choisy with the word “transgender,” I came up with a bunch of links that read (emphasis mine):

1676 MTF transsexual Abbe Francois Timoleon de Choisy attended Papal inaugural ball in female dress. His memoirs, published postmortem, offer the first written testimony of cross-dressing.

It turns out that these are all copied from a publication by Lambda Legal called “Bending the Mold: An Action Kit for Transgender Youth,” with this note at the end: “Special thanks for assistance and source materials goes to James Hoagland, T. Aaron Hans, Pauline Park, Kay Brown and Leslie Feinberg.” On a cursory reading, the information and recommendations in “Bending the Mold” seem fairly straightforward and unproblematic. But it really steams me up that someone would claim as a “MTF transsexual” someone who lived over two hundred years before the word was invented, lived as his birth gender for the last two thirds of his life, and never had any permanent body modifications. Maybe something in his memoirs will provide some support for an argument that he was a “true transsexual” (blech) on some level, but come on. Way to put the screws on those trans youth, eh?

Anyway, rant’s over. I’ll update you on our friend the abbot once I’ve had a chance to read more.

Bathrooms: A Masculine-Spectrum Perspective

Masculine-identified, female-bodied comedian Ian Harvie and his friend, comedian Margaret Cho, were harassed and assaulted (can you think of a better word for a private citizen grabbing your breasts without permission?) in the women’s room at a Halloween fundraising party in the Waldorf-Astoria.

Read Cho’s telling of the story first for the quick introduction.

Then read Harvie’s telling for some priceless details.

This was a bit of an eye-opener for me.  I’d heard that masculine-spectrum genderqueer people got questioned in women’s rooms, but I didn’t know the extent of it.  I really appreciate now the extent of their predicament: use the women’s room and get harassed like Harvie, or use the men’s room and get arrested like Dean Spade.  Yeesh.

Whose Dead? Whose Day?

The subject of unity and the Transgender Day of Remembrance leads me to an unpleasant issue. Helen Boyd had a relatively innocuous post about the Day, and then a transwoman named Arlene Starr attacked her for presuming to use the phrase “our dead.” You see, Helen is not trans herself (although she has described having transgender feelings), she’s “only” married to a transwoman. Kind of the way I’m “just a cross-dresser.”

The problem is, God forbid I’m ever killed, who would suffer the most? My wife, my son and the rest of my family. Who worries the most about me getting attacked? My wife and my mother. The same is true, by and large, for Helen’s husband Betty. Think about Sylvia Guerrero (PDF), mother of Gwen Araujo, and Jennie Heskin, mother of Krystal Heskin.

Think, also, about the impact that spouses and mothers have had on public policy when their children’s lives are at stake. No one wants to be against motherhood, and very few people want to be seen as coming between a mother and her children. (The less said the better about those who are against marriage for transpeople, or who would come between a transperson and their partner.) I’m very proud that my own mother has been active in this area, and I think it’s made a difference. Our loved ones are natural allies in this.

Most importantly, as Marlena Dahlstrom wrote in the comments on Starr’s blog, partners and other loved ones can be targets too. Private first class Barry Winchell was brutally murdered in 1999 for dating a transwoman, Calpernia Addams, who has since become a nationwide community leader.

(Interestingly, as the article I linked discusses, people downplayed Addams’s identification as a woman and Winchell’s identification as heterosexual in order to construe his murder as a gay murder and fit it into a wider debate about gays in the military. While it is certainly related to those issues, it is not the same. I think this raises similar issues about claiming the dead and demanding reforms based on them as I mentioned in my last post.)

NY Times: P&G will open “Charmin” holiday bathrooms in Times Square

Curbed is linking to a New York Times article about how Charmin toilet paper is planning to sponsor a twenty-stall bathroom in Times Square for the holiday shopping season. The article is vague, but as far as I can tell it will all be individual stalls.

There’s no mention of transgender people in the article, and ideally, it should be taken for granted that we’ll be welcome. The PR possibilities are intriguing. If a TG person were denied use of the bathroom, would that be good press, or would people be sympathetic to Proctor and Gamble? On the other hand, would it be possible to get a positive photo-op, say with some glamorous drag queens? Would P&G be too afraid of freaking out the square tourists?

Bathrooms: Amnesty International on the Sforza incident

Amnesty International has put out a press release on Christina Sforza’s case, specifically focusing on the NYPD Midtown South Precinct’s inadequate response to the situation. I hope this will get some action on the matter.


Friday, October 27, 2006

NYPD Must Investigate Response to Alleged Assault of Transgender Woman at McDonald’s, Says Amnesty InternationalCharges Against Sforza Dropped But Justice Still Not Served, Group Says

(New York) — Amnesty International called on the New York Police Department to investigate possible human rights violations by its officers in their handling of the case of Christina Sforza, a transgender woman involved in an altercation at a McDonald’s restaurant in Manhattan. Sforza claims that officers responding to the incident failed to exercise due diligence in not taking seriously her claim that she was the victim of a hate crime, that they subjected her to false arrest and that they further abused her while in their custody. All charges against Christina Sforza were dropped on Thursday, October 26. Continue reading “Bathrooms: Amnesty International on the Sforza incident”

Bathrooms: Tom Chandler’s Questions

Thanks to MHB message board regular Veronica for linking to an op-ed piece in the North Country Gazette, an Upstate New York newspaper, on the bathroom issue. The article takes a skeptical viewpoint on transgender rights, but unlike some of the nastier knee-jerk right-wing blogs, doesn’t stoop to crass insults.

Most of the concerns expressed by the author, Tom Chandler of the New York State Tyranny Response Team, are understandable for someone who knows nothing about transgender rights. They’re phrased in the form of questions to New York State gubernatorial candidates. I have no idea whether any of the candidates will read them or respond to them. I’m not running for governor (although I encourage you to vote for Malachy McCourt), but I’ve got answers to Mr. Chandler’s questions.

Will men who feel they are really women now have to get sex segregated jobs such as rape crisis counselor, (there are still jobs even progressive women argue should be for women alone)? Will you ever be able to deny a man is woman enough to do a job that he feels proves he is a real woman?

There is in fact an example of a transwoman in Vancouver who wanted to become a rape crisis counselor, but was denied, and in fact, the trans community is not unanimous in believing that she has an automatic right to any such job. Some of us do recognize the role of socialization and childhood experiences. But this is a slippery slope argument, and without much more evidence, I don’t accept the idea that outlawing harassment of transpeople in bathrooms will lead to a flood of demands for justifiably sex-segregated jobs. Continue reading “Bathrooms: Tom Chandler’s Questions”

WorldNetDaily rant completes right-wing attack trifecta on Grand Central bathroom issue

First FreeRepublic, then Drudge; now WorldNetDaily has run a story on the Grand Central bathroom agreement.  What’s next, Michelle Malkin?  Jonah Goldberg?  The blog “Good As You” has a post covering most of the errors in the article.  I’ve only got a couple of things to add.

First of all, I’ve read WorldNetDaily before, and I’m aware it’s not exactly the pinnacle of journalistic ethics and style, but still, if you’ve read the Daily News and New York Post articles I’ve linked to in previous posts, it’s obvious that the quotes are all taken from one or the other of the articles.  Yet the WorldNetDaily article gives these newspapers absolutely no credit for the work they did of interviewing Helena Stone and the three “woman-on-the-street” subjects, not even a link.  That’s called plagiarism, and it would earn a failing grade if any of my students turned it in.

Second, to expand on the point made by the Good As You blogger, I’ve been in both men’s and women’s bathrooms in Grand Central Station.  My memory’s a little hazy, but I’m pretty sure that, unlike some public bathrooms (Rockefeller Center, for example), the partitions between toilet stalls are floor-to-ceiling.  The fact that these particular bathrooms have been a focus of paranoia is especially bizarre given that they actually have more privacy than your average bathroom.  They also tend to be well-trafficked at all hours of the day and night.

I do have to give the WorldNetDaily “exclusive commentator” credit for giving background on the harassment that Stone experienced at the hands of the MTA Police, so that the idea of sensitivity training doesn’t seem like some knee-jerk liberal response.