Political cartoon: Marriage Fixes Everything!

poverty-and-marriage-590

Description of cartoon:

The cartoon depicts a young mother and her toddler, in a small and crappy-looking room. The woman is bent double under a load of boxes, trunks and bags, each of which is labeled: Unemployment, Lack of Education, Illness, Bigotry, Exhaustion, Low Wages, Childcare, Looking Poor, and Crime.

Also in the room is a young white guy, wearing a necktie and suspenders, who is grinning happily and telling the woman “I know what’s holding you down! You should be married!”

In a little “epilog” panel at the bottom of the cartoon, the guy continues “…Unless you’re gay.”

Posted in Cartooning & comics, Class, poverty, labor, & related issues, Families structures, divorce, etc | 24 Comments  

What’s Sexist About The Faces In Disney’s Frozen

Frozen-Anna-Elza-cropped

Animation student Gianna has blogged an excellent essay critiquing the identical faces of the protagonist sisters in Disney’s Frozen.

Disney has already proven that that they can easily design female characters who don’t have the Exact Same Face. Then they started doing that on Frozen, but someone — probably one of the higher-ups or executives, I seriously doubt it was the character designers — said, “No, make them look like this.” And they knew full well that they looked identical and also extremely similar to Rapunzel, because anybody with eyes can see that.

Don’t even tell me it’s because they’re sisters, because I have two sisters, and I don’t look identical to either of them. I have never met a pair of non-twin siblings who had the Exact Same Face. It doesn’t even make sense for the story, because Elsa’s face in particular hardly fit her character or voice actress. [...]

So now that we’ve ruled out laziness, lack of ability, or some story-based cause as reason for their Sameface Syndrome, and taking into account the trend of “good people = pretty; bad people = ugly” that’s always been so prevalent in Disney, the truth becomes clear.

Rapunzel, Anna, and Elsa all look the same because they’re supposed to be beautiful.

And Disney has decided, either consciously or subconsciously, that there’s only one way to look beautiful. For women, that is.

I agree with this analysis, but I wonder if it doesn’t additionally have to do with making the characters look more like what Disney’s marketing people believe will be the most sell-able toy versions of the characters.

Elsewhere in her essay, Gianna refers to Disney’s big (and, imo, positive) move away from realistic faces for female leads with The Little Mermaid. I’ve always thought the reason Disney did that is that the title character is mute for huge portions of The Little Mermaid, forcing them to make Ariel’s face extra expressive, rather than porcelain-doll pretty.

But with Frozen, Disney has taken a giant step backwards to pre-Mermaid days. The princess characters are made to look like porcelain dolls, and really have the least expressive faces of any Disney princess since Eilowny in 1985′s Black Cauldron. Gianna writes:

Anna and Elsa’s facial expressions, particularly Elsa’s, were significantly dialed back at the animation stage to prevent their faces from stretching out of shape and making them look ‘too ugly,’ producing the side effect of making them look oddly stiff. Stretching and exaggerating faces to get good overall movement is one of the basic principles of animation, and I’m concerned that Disney decided to throw it out in favor of making their women look slightly more attractive, especially since I haven’t noticed this in any other Disney Princess films.

So no, I don’t think Frozen is the most feminist Disney film ever – that title remains with either Mulan or Brave. And part of the reason why is Frozen‘s distinctly un-feminist character design.

More anti-Frozen ranting: The problem with false feminism. Although really, I liked Frozen a lot. But it had flaws.

Update: Early conceptual art of the sisters from Frozen.

early-frozen-sketch

Posted in Cartooning & comics, Feminism, sexism, etc, Popular (and unpopular) culture | 21 Comments  

Ellen Klages, Toastmaster of the 2014 Nebula Awards

I am so excited that Ellen Klages is going to be the Toastmaster for this year’s Nebula Award weekend!

The announcement went up on SFWA’s website a bit ago, but I just wanted to repeat it for people who missed it. And also because it’s so awesome.

I’m a big fan of Ellen Klages’s writing. One of my favorites young adult fantasy story “The House of the Seven Librarians” which first appeared in Firebirds Rising and which I got to narrate for PodCastle, and which you can get a kindle single version of, too. But by no means is this the only wonderful thing Ellen has written: you’ve got to check out her collection, Portable Childhoods. I mean that. Check it out. It’s got a number of really smart stories, including her first ever published story, “Time Gypsy,” which I love for its description of a particular moment in lesbian history (and its invocation of early women scientists). I also really like the titular story, “Portable Childhoods,” which isn’t genre at all, but instead an interesting set of vignettes which together create an emotionally affecting arc about mother and daughter.

There are also fantastic stories by Ellen that don’t appear in her collection. Probably my favorite of those is “The Education of a Witch” which first appeared in Under My Hat, edited by Jonathan Strahan. It’s about a young girl who identifies with the evil queen character in Snow White instead of the princess.

I say “probably my favorite” because it’s hard to decide between that and “Wakulla Springs”, which you can find on Tor.com. She cowrote this novella with Andy Duncan who is also brilliant, and it’s on this year’s Nebula ballot.

Ellen is a keen observer of setting and dialogue, but particularly skilled at creating realistic, non-sentimental writing about children and the experience of childhood. More than almost any other writer, she captures the details and disjunctions of childhood in a way that is both strongly tied to time and place (she often writes about the fifties) but also emotionally recognizable to me as a child of the eighties. She doesn’t get bogged down in adult ideas of what “childhood is like,” but looks at it with a sharp, clear eye.

Ellen is also very funny. She’s been working the Tiptree auction at Wiscon for many years where she stirs the audience with improvisation. She’s an animated delight in conversation. Annually at FogCon, she appears on the Liar’s Panel, which as you might imagine involves lying wildly. She told me that last year, she accidentally told a bunch of true stories, and no one noticed because they were so funny and strange. Just talking to her is like that: she has a well of funny, true anecdotes and observations. I’m excited to see that energy and storytelling ability translate to the Nebula podium.

There aren’t very many women toastmasters on the convention circuit. Connie Willis does her amusing duty from time to time, which is awesome, but I’d love to see more ladies taking the stage. In addition to Ellen Klages, I hope conventions will consider Charlie Jane Anders, Mary Robinette Kowal, and other talented women performers for future ceremonies.

This is going to be a great Nebulas. With Ellen Klages there as toastmaster, and Samuel Delany coming in as our new Grandmaster (squee!)… I’m really excited to get to be there and to hear such talented people speak.

This year’s Nebula Awards Weekend is May 15th to 18th, 2014, at the Marriott in San Jose. There are more details on the SFWA website.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment  

Rachel Swirsky’s Recommendations for the 2014 Campbell Awards

There are two weeks left until the end of the Hugo nomination period, and I wanted to blog about some of the awesome writers I’ve found this year or last year who are eligible for the Campbell Award.

For those who don’t know, the Campbell Award is given to notable new writers of science fiction and fantasy. Whether or not you’re nominating for the Campbell, you should check these writers out because they’re repositories of new, exciting energy and ideas.

At the end of the post, I’ll also include a few brief lines about some of the other Campbell candidates I’m considering nominating, who are also worth checking out.

As always, I’m sure there are many, many very fine authors that I’m missing out on. I focus on short stories instead of novels (and I feel justified in doing that because so many people do the opposite) so I am automatically biased that way. But more than that, I just don’t get to all the stories I should! And there are also the problems of memory.

The metric I’m using for pulling people out is that they either have to have had one work that I found overwhelmingly wonderful, or else a body of work that includes quite strong stories. If people have only come out with one thing that I consider quite strong (but not “OMG so great I can’t even handle it!”) then I’m leaving them off this particular list.

I note that I’m also trying to correct for bias toward people I know well, such as Emily Jiang and Chris Reynaga. They both published things I respected last year, but I can’t report the experience of coming to the work cold, and neither has a substantial enough published body of work for me to feel like I can double check myself.

For a partial list of people who are eligible for the Campbell, you can check here. Not everyone who is eligible knows to put in their name, but it’s a place to start.

I’ll also note here that I have reservations about the Campbell Award. Not the concept of it (yay new writers!), so much as the fact that it’s very, very hard for an award with such tight restrictions to be comprehensively judged by popular vote. By the nature of the thing, many new writers, no matter how exciting, don’t have the time to build a significant public profile while they’re eligible, even if they are producing exciting work. That’s not to say that the nominees and winners aren’t often awesome, but it’s hard for the award to be really comprehensive. So, you can take this as my attempt to get a few more names out there for the award, or just as an attempt to get some awesome new writers read independently of the Campbell. Either way.

In alphabetical order:

Brooke Bolander

Brooke Bolander is in her second year of eligibility.

Work you should read immediately: Tornado’ s Siren” on Strange Horizons

Brooke Bolander has published a number of short stories, the bulk of them in Lightspeed. The first story of hers that I read was “Her Words Like Hunting Vixens Spring.” Also notable is “Sun Dogs,” a story about Laika, the first dog sent into space.

Brooke has an unusual voice that takes advantage of disjunctive leaps of imagery to create a series of dense and surreal impressions. Sometimes they are whimsical; sometimes dark. I find her writing very grounded in the body—hot, cold, lonely—she evokes physical sensations in me.

I like the charming whimsy of “Tornado’s Siren,” but in many ways it’s a less ambitious story than the more complex and unresolved concepts of “Her Words Like Hunting Vixens Spring” and “Sun Dogs;” I consider those stories to not have totally realized their potential, but in a wonderful, interesting way, full of unusual and striking material.

I find it hard to think of a writer to compare her work to. There may be a touch of Aimee Bender in the texture of the unusual imagery that she uses to evoke emotion.

Carmen Maria Machado

Carmen Maria Machado is in her first year of eligibility.

Work you should read immediately: “Inventory” on Strange Horizons

Carmen and I both went to the Iowa Writers Workshop but for some reason we failed to intersect through that channel. I missed her story “Inventory” when it came out in Strange Horizons due to my rushed reading this year, but luckily, Carmen submitted it as a potential reprint to Women Destroy Science Fiction. It didn’t work out for that purpose, but it’s a strong story that put Carmen on my radar, and which may nudge its way onto my Hugo ballot.

Carmen has also published a number of other short stories appearing in a wide scatter of venues, some of which are familiar to speculative fiction readers (like Lightspeed and Shimmer) and some of which aren’t. In particular, I’m looking forward to reading her story from issue #2 of Unstuck (it’s out of print, but you can still get electronic editions), a journal which publishes work that lies on the boundary of speculative and literary fiction. It’s a neat journal and more people should check it out.

About “Inventory,” I wrote in a recent blog post, “Exquisite telling detail transforms this list story (a format that I have a weakness for) into something emotional and poignant. Machado has experience writing in the lit world and brings those chops to the development of this sad, post-apocalyptic tale, told on a very personal level. By detailing moments of togetherness, Machado creates in the reader the sensation of loneliness that her character feels, isolation that persists despite touch and intimacy. Read for character, language, and emotion.

Sofia Samatar

Sofia Samatar is in her second year of eligibility.

Work you should read immediately: A STRANGER IN OLONDRIA (Small Beer Press)

Sofia Samatar’s novel is on the Nebula ballot this year, as is her Strange Horizons short story, “Selkie Stories are for Losers.”

I particularly loved her short story in Glitter and Mayhem, “Bess, the Landlord’s Daughter, Goes to Drinks with the Green Girl.” It’s an amazing story. I wrote about it in my short story recommendations for 2013: “This surreal story is about two ghost girls who are known by their ghost stories, and how they navigate their unlives in the wake of that endless, unavoidable trauma. I thought it discussed living with violence really intelligently as well as being beautifully written.”

Sofia’s prose and imagery are really beautiful, and her observation of character and detail sharp. Her body of work thus far is impressive, and it’s clear she’s a major talent.

Benjanun Sriduangkaew

Benjanun Sriduangkaew is in her first year of eligibility.

Work you should read immediately: “Silent Bridge, Pale Cascade” (Clarkesworld)

I first read Benjanun Sriduangkaew’s work last year in Giganotosaurus. In the novella,”

She also writes short stories based in a space operatic world. Two from this year include “Silent Bridge, Pale Cascade” (linked above) and “Annex,” both in Clarkesworld. Her space opera world is an intricate weave of interesting technology and eye-kicks, dealing explicitly with the territories of colonialism, gender, and identity. In this year’s short story recommendations, I wrote about her space opera world: “Like much far future work, [the world] loops away from the comfortable details of the present into very strange imagery, wrapping around toward the oddness of surrealism or high fantasy.”

Benjanun’s work is really interesting with a distinct, strong point of view. Her space opera overlaps thematically with Ann Leckie’s novel, Ancillary Justice, but style-wise, she’s on her own. Her ability to write epic storylines over the course of short stories is particularly impressive and unusual. I look forward to seeing what she does with a novel if she’s writing one; her stories suggest she’d be a natural at it, but they are also wonderful in themselves and shouldn’t be underestimated on account of their form.


Some other folks I’d like to chat about:

Henry Lien

Henry Lien is in his first year of eligibility.

His first ever published piece, the novelette “Pearl Rehabilitative Colony for Ungrateful Daughters,” which appeared in Asimovs Magazine, is on this year’s Nebula ballot. Although many people clearly loved this novelette, I’m lukewarm about it. The basic concepts are neat (it’s about young girls practicing a martial art based on something similar to ice skating), but I found the voice of the teenage main character unconvincing—to me, it seemed like a stereotype drawn from adult ideas of what teenage girls are like, rather than drawing from actual teenage girls.

If I were looking at this story alone, I’d think he was an interesting writer with some space to grow. Which, as a new writer, he is. However, I’m also in a writing group with him, and I’ve had the privilege of reading some of his unpublished work, especially the beginning of his young adult novel. From that, I know that he’s a powerhouse.

I probably won’t nominate him for the Campbell because I don’t feel comfortable doing so on the basis of what I’ve read privately, but I know that I’m really excited to see what he keeps producing, and I do recommend him as a name to look out for.

Also, check out his website to see the beautiful, surreal work by the artists he works with. He has amazing taste in art.

Joy Kennedy O’Neill

Joy Kennedy O’Neill is in her second year of eligibility.

Aftermath” from Strange Horizons (link goes to the first of two parts) was one of my favorite novelettes from last year.

I wrote about it, “This is one of the few zombie stories that I’ve really liked. It’s about the process of reconciliation that occurs after the zombies recover and how they reintegrate into society. The novelette intelligently references and builds on real-world situations like the post-apartheid recovery in South Africa. Mending the sociological rifts left by genocide and other atrocities requires a sort of willful social blindness, a denial of what’s happened. In the novelette’s case, the zombies did not have control over their actions, so the story necessarily removes the question of responsibility for the atrocities, which does make the reconciliation process less intense than it is in real life. Nevertheless, I think O’Neill intelligently explores the ways in which people act to protect themselves psychologically: denying what has happened, denying what they did, the ways in which the socially mandated silence creaks and cracks.”

This really smart and well-developed story makes me excited to see what else Joy Kennedy O’Neill will do in the future.

Posted in Writing | 2 Comments  

Hereville Wins An Oregon Book Award And I Am Surprised

I attended the Oregon Book Awards tonight with my friend Becky Hawkins; Hereville: How Mirka Met a Meteorite was nominated for the “Graphic Literature” category, but had no chance of winning, since the competition included Joe Sacco and Craig Thompson, both of whom are 600-pound gorillas of cartooning awards (and deservedly so). And also nominated was my pal Shannon Wheeler, who is a friggin’ New Yorker cartoonist, and an award-winning gorilla himself, albeit perhaps more of a 450-pound gorilla.

So I had NO chance.

And then I WON!!!!!!!

oregon-book-award

I can’t possibly describe how surprised I was. (And thrilled. And honored.)

BTW, Joe Sacco wasn’t there tonight, but Craig Thompson greeted me afterwards with a big hug and congratulated me. (I had only met him once before, but he seems very nice). And Shannon was also very nice, but of course I know him well enough to expect him to be gracious.

Posted in Hereville | 16 Comments  

School Won’t Let Bullied Boy Bring ‘My Little Pony’ Bag to Class

littlepony24956585_BG1

School Won’t Let Bullied Boy Bring ‘My Little Pony’ Bag to Class.

Thank goodness they weren’t bullying him over having red hair, or the school would presumably have told him to shave his head. Because giving the bullies what they want is always the best solution, and furthermore whatever it is the bullies have currently fixated on is sure to be the root cause of the bullying. Right?

The article notes that Grayson Bruce, the subject of the article, isn’t the only North Carolina boy to deal with Pony-related bullying:

Grayson Bruce isn’t the only North Carolina “Brony”—a popular term used to describe male “My Little Pony” fans—to make headlines for being bullied about his interest in the show. In January, 11-year-old Michael Morones, of Wake County, tried to commit suicide because he was tormented at school for his love of “My Little Pony.”

I don’t think that Grayson will suddenly stop being bullied if he leaves his My Little Pony bag at home. In fact, I suspect that being an open MLP fan is Grayson’s way of resisting the bullying that takes place anyway. Grayson is unwilling or unable to go along with what’s expected of him as a boy, and boys who don’t fit in with gender norms are always punished. I’m sure he loves My Little Pony as a show, but at some level, I believe he’s using his MLP bag as a way of openly defying the bullies, both among his peers and (it seems) in the school administration, who are trying to force him to conform to the norms of boyhood. And in my eyes, at least, Grayson’s defiance is nothing less than heroic.

Posted in Feminism, sexism, etc, In the news, Sexism hurts men | 33 Comments  

Panti Bliss Lectures About Being Lectured About What Is Not Homophobia

Drag queen performer and “accidental and occasional gay rights activist” Rory O’Neill, aka Panti Bliss, gave a wonderful speech. It’s worth listening to the whole thing (about ten minutes), or at least reading through the transcript.

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Here’s my favorite bit, but the full transcript follows.

And for the last three weeks I have been lectured by heterosexual people about what homophobia is and who should be allowed to identify it. Straight people – ministers, senators, lawyers, journalists – have lined up to tell me what homophobia is and what I am allowed to feel oppressed by. People who have never experienced homophobia in their lives, people who have never checked themselves at a pedestrian crossing, have told me that unless I am being thrown in prison or herded onto a cattle train, then it is not homophobia.

And that feels oppressive.

So now Irish gay people find ourselves in a ludicrous situation where not only are we not allowed to say publicly what we feel oppressed by, we are not even allowed to think it because our definition has been disallowed by our betters.

And for the last three weeks I have been denounced from the floor of parliament to newspaper columns to the seething morass of internet commentary for “hate speech” because I dared to use the word “homophobia”. And a jumped-up queer like me should know that the word “homophobia” is no longer available to gay people. Which is a spectacular and neat Orwellian trick because now it turns out that gay people are not the victims of homophobia – homophobes are.

I read that quote on Tumblr, and I reblogged it on my own Tumblr, adding:

Reblog, reblog, a thousand times reblog. The biggest lie the devil ever told was that homophobia is “only a slur word,” that bigotry is “only a pejorative,” that there is no such thing as sexism, as racism, as cissexism, that these are all words that have been made up by mean liberals, with no meaning apart from meaning to make innocent straight white cis men feel saaaad.

Well, screw that. Bigotry exists, and the reason so many people are so devoted to claiming that bigotry ain’t nothing but a slur word is because they don’t want bigotry named, because something that is named is something that can be discussed and fought, and they sure don’t want that to happen.

Full transcript (taken from AmericaBlog, which also has some background if you want it):

Hello. My name is Panti and for the benefit of the visually impaired or the incredibly naïve, I am a drag queen, a performer, and an accidental and occasional gay rights activist.

And as you may have already gathered, I am also painfully middle-class. My father was a country vet, I went to a nice school, and afterwards to that most middle-class of institutions – art college. And although this may surprise some of you, I have always managed to find gainful employment in my chosen field – gender discombobulation.

So the grinding, abject poverty so powerfully displayed in tonight’s performance is something I can thankfully say I have no experience of.

But oppression is something I can relate to. Oh, I’m not comparing my experience to Dublin workers of 1913, but I do know what it feels like to be put in your place.

Have you ever been standing at a pedestrian crossing when a car drives by and in it are a bunch of lads, and they lean out the window and they shout “Fag!” and throw a milk carton at you?

Now it doesn’t really hurt. It’s just a wet carton and anyway they’re right – I am a fag. But it feels oppressive.

When it really does hurt, is afterwards. Afterwards I wonder and worry and obsess over what was it about me, what was it they saw in me? What was it that gave me away? And I hate myself for wondering that. It feels oppressive and the next time I’m at a pedestrian crossing I check myself to see what is it about me that “gives the gay away” and I check myself to make sure I’m not doing it this time.

Have any of you ever come home in the evening and turned on the television and there is a panel of people – nice people, respectable people, smart people, the kind of people who make good neighbourly neighbours and write for newspapers. And they are having a reasoned debate about you. About what kind of a person you are, about whether you are capable of being a good parent, about whether you want to destroy marriage, about whether you are safe around children, about whether God herself thinks you are an abomination, about whether in fact you are “intrinsically disordered”. And even the nice TV presenter lady who you feel like you know thinks it’s perfectly ok that they are all having this reasonable debate about who you are and what rights you “deserve”.

And that feels oppressive.

Have you ever been on a crowded train with your gay friend and a small part of you is cringing because he is being SO gay and you find yourself trying to compensate by butching up or nudging the conversation onto “straighter” territory? This is you who have spent 35 years trying to be the best gay possible and yet still a small part of you is embarrassed by his gayness.

And I hate myself for that. And that feels oppressive. And when I’m standing at the pedestrian lights I am checking myself.

Have you ever gone into your favourite neighbourhood café with the paper that you buy every day, and you open it up and inside is a 500-word opinion written by a nice middle-class woman, the kind of woman who probably gives to charity, the kind of woman that you would be happy to leave your children with. And she is arguing so reasonably about whether you should be treated less than everybody else, arguing that you should be given fewer rights than everybody else. And when the woman at the next table gets up and excuses herself to squeeze by you with a smile you wonder, “Does she think that about me too?”

And that feels oppressive. And you go outside and you stand at the pedestrian crossing and you check yourself and I hate myself for that.

Have you ever turned on the computer and seen videos of people just like you in far away countries, and countries not far away at all, being beaten and imprisoned and tortured and murdered because they are just like you?

And that feels oppressive.

Three weeks ago I was on the television and I said that I believed that people who actively campaign for gay people to be treated less or differently are, in my gay opinion, homophobic. Some people, people who actively campaign for gay people to be treated less under the law took great exception at this characterisation and threatened legal action against me and RTÉ. RTÉ, in its wisdom, decided incredibly quickly to hand over a huge sum of money to make it go away. I haven’t been so lucky.

And for the last three weeks I have been lectured by heterosexual people about what homophobia is and who should be allowed to identify it. Straight people – ministers, senators, lawyers, journalists – have lined up to tell me what homophobia is and what I am allowed to feel oppressed by. People who have never experienced homophobia in their lives, people who have never checked themselves at a pedestrian crossing, have told me that unless I am being thrown in prison or herded onto a cattle train, then it is not homophobia.

And that feels oppressive.

So now Irish gay people find ourselves in a ludicrous situation where not only are we not allowed to say publicly what we feel oppressed by, we are not even allowed to think it because our definition has been disallowed by our betters.

And for the last three weeks I have been denounced from the floor of parliament to newspaper columns to the seething morass of internet commentary for “hate speech” because I dared to use the word “homophobia”. And a jumped-up queer like me should know that the word “homophobia” is no longer available to gay people. Which is a spectacular and neat Orwellian trick because now it turns out that gay people are not the victims of homophobia – homophobes are.

But I want to say that it is not true. I don’t hate you.

I do, it is true, believe that almost all of you are probably homophobes. But I’m a homophobe. It would be incredible if we weren’t. To grow up in a society that is overwhelmingly homophobic and to escape unscathed would be miraculous. So I don’t hate you because you are homophobic. I actually admire you. I admire you because most of you are only a bit homophobic. Which all things considered is pretty good going.

But I do sometimes hate myself. I hate myself because I f*cking check myself while standing at pedestrian crossings. And sometimes I hate you for doing that to me.

But not right now. Right now, I like you all very much for giving me a few moments of your time. And I thank you for it.

Posted in Homophobic zaniness/more LGBTQ issues, Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Trans and Queer issues | 2 Comments  

If Only More Oppressed People Were White Cis Ex-Models In Their Twenties

Watching the trailer for “Divergent,” I just can’t help but imagine a bunch of Hollywood types sitting around a conference table and complaining that “Civil rights struggle stories are cool. If only they were about gorgeous thin straight white people, then they’d be great!

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Of course, I said the same about the X-Men movies. And then there’s the Hunger Games movies. And don’t get me started on Airbender.

There’s a somewhat related controversy going on about cis actor Jared Leto’s Oscar-winnning turn as a trans character in Dallas Buyer’s Club:

Jared Leto was onstage at the Virtuosos Awards during the Santa Barbara International Film Festival Monday, speaking with Fandango’s Dave Karger, when he heard a shout from the audience: “Trans misogyny does not deserve an award.” Leto chose to handle the incident beautifully.

“Well, what do you mean by that?” Leto asked the hecklers, a pair of women near the front of the Arlington Theater.

“You don’t deserve to play a trans woman,” the heckler answered, referring to Leto’s character, Rayon, in Dallas Buyer’s Club.

“… Because I’m a man, I don’t deserve to play that part?” Leto said. “So you want to hold a role against someone who happened to be gay or lesbian – they can’t play a straight part?”

“Historically,” the heckler continued, “Straight-gender people always play transgender people, and all of them received awards and credit for it.”

“Then you make sure that people that are gay, people that aren’t straight, people like the Rayons of the world would never have the opportunity to turn the tables and explore parts of that art,” Leto answered, and the auditorium applauded.

The vision Leto paints – of a world where the best actor is cast for every role, regardless of if the actor (or character) is trans or cis – is lovely, and I’d like to see it. But the heckler had it right – that’s not the world we live in. Instead, in the status quo, openly trans actors generally aren’t cast as trans characters – and openly trans actors aren’t basically never cast as cis characters. (At least, not in mainstream productions). So if we don’t advocate for trans actors to play trans characters, it’s pretty much the same as saying that openly trans actors will be entirely blackballed from mainstream movies and TV.

I don’t have any objection to straight actors being cast as gay, because we’ve reached a point where openly gay actors can be cast as straight characters even in mainstream productions (Neil Patrick Harris, for instance, or Jodie Foster.) But trans actors just aren’t in the same situation – without the political pressure to use trans actors for trans characters, trans characters will simply not have any fair chance to compete at all.

That said, in a perfect world, I don’t see any reason why a cis actor couldn’t be wonderful in a trans part, as long as casting agents are just as willing to cast wonderful trans actors in cis roles. The ability to convincingly depict people we are not is not just the basis of acting, but the basis of all narrative art. But we won’t get there by declaring it a victory that cis people can play both cis and trans parts, or by denying the existence of barriers to trans actors, as Leto seems to do.

Then, finally, there’s this:

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It seems to me like a perfectly good re-framing of the Annie story – and, honestly, shifting the race of the main character (and the period of the story) strikes me as a far less radical shift than the way the original musical changed “Annie” cartoonist Harold Gray’s right-wing politics into a FDR-worshipping liberal ode to New Deal politics. Although not everyone agrees (trigger warning for predictable but vile racism).

A bigger problem is – can either Jamie Foxx or Cameron Diaz sing? This is where I draw the line – I want singing parts to be played only by capable singers, dammit.

Posted in Popular (and unpopular) culture | 17 Comments  

Short-Term Unemployment Is At Normal Levels, But Long-Term Unemployment Is Killing Us

This graph from today’s 2014 Economic Report of the President is worth considering.

unemployment-by-duration

The current elevation of the unemployment rate is entirely due to long-term unemployment. In December 2013, the unemployment rate for workers unemployed 26 weeks or less fell to lower than its average in the 2001-07 period, while the unemployment rate for workers unemployed 27 weeks or more remained higher than at any time prior to the Great Recession. But the long-term unemployment rate has declined by 1.1 percentage points in the last two years, a steeper decline than the 0.5 percentage point drop in the short-term unemployment rate over that period (Figure 2-24).

The effects of long-term unemployment on our economy are dire – and made worse by each continuing year of government inaction. From the Economix blog:

People who lose jobs, even if they eventually find new ones, suffer lasting damage to their earnings potential, their health and the prospects of their children. And the longer it takes to find a new job, the deeper the damage appears to be. [...] A 2010 Pew survey on the experience of long-term unemployment was aptly entitled, “Lost Income, Lost Friends – and Loss of Self-Respect.”

Appallingly, the GOP has chosen to make “cut unemployment! Cut food stamps!” its major policy response to the unemployment crisis, and Democrats seem unable to overcome Republican intransigence.

Hat tip: Wonkblog.

More reading:
Long-term unemployment: Doom.
Even as U.S. economy revives, long-term unemployed face uphill battle – CBS News
10 Reasons That Long-Term Unemployment Is a National Catastrophe | Mother Jones
The American Way of Hiring Is Making Long-Term Unemployment Worse – Gretchen Gavett – Harvard Business Review
Caught in a Revolving Door of Unemployment – NYTimes.com
Study: Longterm Unemployment Has Disastrous Effects On Health And Longevity

Posted in Economics and the like | 3 Comments  

The Elephant in the Room — Trans Women, Cis Women, and Penises

Dear cis women who are uncomfortable with trans women in bathrooms,

Hi, it’s us. Trans women who use bathrooms.1

We know that you’re not comfortable sharing a bathroom with us, even though all the nakedness happens behind a stall door.

And this might surprise you, but… yeah. We sympathize. We get it. There’s possibly a penis in the room, and that’s just wrong! Good God, the baggage! If you have to think about that, you’re probably going to end up picturing it (it’s like trying not to picture a pink elephant), and then you’ve got images on the view screen of your mind which you didn’t want when you’re alone in a room with your butt bared over cold water – men, deep voices, (danger), men taking up space, assuming your attention is theirs by right, (rape risk), men laughing at fart jokes and arguing about which woman was “the dog” in that national beauty pageant, (embarrassment — they’ll hear us peeing and all that), men smiling comfortably as they throw out a pickup line or a comment on our body, (where are the exits…), even the men we love in our lives just not getting it (don’t be silly, Joe’s a good guy…), and if we have the special privilege of inclusion in that large fraction of women who have been sexually assaulted,2 we may have the images, sounds, smells, whole-body revolted shudders from that whole massacre of our sense of self and safety.

We get it. There’s that penis in the room, and the whole entourage that can come along with those goddamn things.

We get it. Because when we go to the bathroom, there’s a penis in the room, too. Every time.

It’s right there in the stall with us.

And if we want to be hygienic, and quiet, we have to handle it. We have to aim it, and wipe the tip dry, and then strap it down tight so that when we step out, there’s no sign of it.3

So. We have some common ground.

We also have some differences. Here’s one: For you, when we walk out of the bathroom, so does the penis. All those unwanted, socialized, traumatized associations… they walk away, too — or at the very least, they step away and keep a greater distance.

For us, there is no distance. Not when we walk out of the bathroom, not ever. (Except through dissociation, for those of us who do that.)

There it is. Not just along for the ride. Attached. As always.

Now, certainly, as I use present tense, above, I’m referring only to trans women who still have penises — those of us who can’t get the money together, those of us who are contraindicated for surgery because of a heart condition, those of us who are trying desperately to hold together the marriage and wife and family and children we would die for but found that we can’t live as a man for, because we we tried and we aren’t good enough, strong enough, tough enough to man up and make it work — and whose wife has told us that genital surgery is a deal-breaker. 4

But even for those of us who no longer have penises — we used to. And those fucking things were right there in the room. Right there in the bed. Palpable when we were aroused.

And those of us who still have them, believe me, we’d love to fix that, and if we can, we’re working toward fixing that.5 Some of us are lucky enough to be able to work overtime. Some of us work five part-time jobs. Some of us sell our bodies because no one will hire us for anything but that.

Most of us, even the ones working overtime, burn with contained rage when our co-workers talk about how their health plan covered their appendectomy, or their ingrown nail. Most of us who even have health plans find that they specifically exclude all healthcare related to anything transsexual, including gender confirmation surgery.6

But of course we still have human bodies, and we still have physical health needs. Those of us with enough money and privilege still need to use locker rooms sometimes. In a locker room, the last thing we want you or anyone else to see, the last thing we want to see, is our penis. We will avoid locker rooms, when we can. When we can’t, we will change bottoms in the toilet stall. We will wear baggy shorts into the sauna along with a sports bra and a towel over our shoulders to make it all seem like routine, ordinary body modesty, instead of hypervigilant, terrified self-policing. We will sit out camel pose in yoga class, or avoid yoga class entirely, because the last thing we want anyone to see is something which hints at what’s there.7

That communal shower in the locker room? The one they tell you to rinse off in before you use the sauna or the hot tub or the dipping pool? Nope, not going in there.8

So, yeah. There’s a lot not to like about this situation. Enclosed space. Penis. We probably like it a whole lot less than you do. We’re just a whole lot more resigned to it. Habituated to it. Kinda like Stockholm syndrome, except for the part where we grow to love our hostage-taker.

You know what we’re not used to, at least at first? You’ve got a leg up on us, on this one. We’re not used to thinking about getting assaulted in bathrooms. We’re used to going into bathrooms, doing what one does,9 washing our hands,10 and walking out. Problem solved! On to the next problem.

…not so fast. Now we have to worry about getting assaulted in bathrooms by lurking rapists (because that is a thing most women worry about at least some of the time) AND we have to worry that a Concerned Citizen, man or woman, will call the authorities and accuse us of a sex crime, or simply decide that the time is right to stomp us into a mud hole.

Like you, we actually can walk away from that fear, for a little while … but not for long. We have feces and urine inside our bodies sometimes, just like you. And just like you, because we are decent, clean people we want to dispose of that feces and urine in such a way that no one else has to see it, smell it, or feel it. And when we have to hold it for a long time, it gets painful, and awkward, and sometimes (more often if we’re post-genital-reconstruction) we get UTIs. Just like you.

So we’d like to go to the bathroom, just like you. Ideally, we’d like to do it alone, but if we must have company, in that vulnerable moment, sitting over cold water with our pants down or skirt up, holding our clothes so that they don’t touch the floor (because, gah, ew)… we would like that experience to be gentle and brief, rather than nasty, brutish, and possibly followed by a stint in the hospital or the morgue.

Just like you.

Grace


Note: If you are a man who is concerned about your women having to share facilities with us — and you do appear to be numerous, or vocal — this post is not addressed to you. Go find some other place to clutch your pearls.

Caveat: Some small portion of this was hyperbole. The basic thesis, not so much.

Caveat 2: Not all trans women feel this way. Many do.11 We’re not a hive mind. We are vast. We contain multitudes.


  1. So, trans women. []
  2. hello, sister []
  3. And it’s not like that’s a comfortable process — damn but that thing has a lot of nerve endings, and more of them than you might suppose detect pain. []
  4. For the sake of this discussion I am leaving aside those women who do not feel this revulsion toward our penises. We women of that sort exist, but we are a minority, and that complexity is beyond the scope of any possible short discussion. []
  5. Except for that small fraction who aren’t; see above about complex discussions. []
  6. Don’t call it a “sex change operation.” Just don’t. []
  7. This is for those of us with the income and other privileges to be able to do yoga, of course… []
  8. Once, before I transitioned publicly but after I developed breasts, I had to use such a communal shower in the MEN’S locker room. Fortunately, it wasn’t crowded and no one knew me, so no one talked to me, and one of the showers was situated such that I could face the corner and keep my elbows in tight, pretending that I needed to massage my neck. This sort of careful, planned negotiation of spaces became routine for me. []
  9. Which, since I’m writing explicitly here, I mean to refer specifically and only to excretion and the necessary manipulations directly related to it. []
  10. One hopes. []
  11. I may or may not be one of them, because I’m not inclined to discuss the conformation and surgical history of my genitals with every random member of the public who may read this. []
Posted in Uncategorized | 21 Comments