Thursday, June 28, 2007

untouchable caste

I've been reading a very excellent collection of essays about gender that Jenn purchased recently entitled Nobody Passes: Rejecting the Rules of Gender and Conformity. In the first essay, Nico Dacumos talks mostly about trans-masculine and butch politics, but he does also touch upon feminine-identified transgenderism and how we are perceived within the wider queer and straight communities a bit and the passages below are spot on, so I thought I'd share:

"Who will acknowledge that transwomen find themselves in some of the most vulnerable positions in this society, oftentimes unable to access even the paltry privileges allowed to nontrans women? It seems to me that the pervading attitude about feminine-identified transgender people casts them as utterly reactionary, at best apolitical, and most likely a detriment to the cause of women's liberation." [p.30]

"misogyny among privileged gay and/or straight male academics actively excludes transgender women; transphobia among feminist academics casts transgender women as wolves in sheep's clothing." [p.31]

dinner with the president

Last night we attended (and I say we because I dragged Jenn along with me - she not being a particular fan of Fugazi or rock of the harder variety) a truly awesome little event in Albany, an intimate live show from D.C.-based The Evens. It was held in the small basement of a local public library branch and cost $5. The Evens consists of the legendary Ian MacKaye (of Fugazi - only one of the greatest bands EVER, and Minor Threat) on baritone guitar and Amy Farina (Warmers) on drums, with both of them sharing the singing duties.

Being a long-time fan of Fugazi (I saw them in Pittsburgh in the mid-90s, and in D.C. probably 7-8 years ago), I must admit to my complete ignorance of the existence of The Evens until a few days ago when I saw an announcement in the Albany Metro paper.

Wow am I glad I caught it! The show was simply phenomenal. The show started promptly and unassumingly at 8:30; the musicians right up front with 2 lamps to the sides as the only light show and a couple of small amps behind as the only sound equipment (as Ian said - they tour as a duo in a van and are their own roadies and sound techs). Ian quickly set out to establish a bit of rapport with the audience through some dry humor and stories and anti-authoritarian diatribes, and asked that everyone sit down for the performance (which everyone gladly did). He started out saying he wanted to bring down the barriers between the musicians and audience and create a kind of communal, shared-experience that really resonated with me.

The mostly uncatorizable music is a mishmash of styles, throwing in punk, rock, folk, ambiance, protest music and harmonized vocals in varied measures. The song structures are reminiscent of Fugazi with ripping guitar riffs and crisp but controlled drums, but the vocal delivery and outcomes are very intimate and raw, and if possible, even more direct than Fugazi. They played for a bit over an hour (no warm-up band), which Ian stated upfront using dead-pan humor by saying "just to demystify the process, we'll play for about an hour tonight and you'll know when we're done when we stop playing." At one point when they were rocking out a map fell off the wall to their right (all the walls contained sloppy bookshelves with old, mostly high-school, books occupying them) and an audience member commented that they "rocked the world because they made a world map fall off the wall..."

I was also impressed that Ian made a concerted effort during the whole show to look each audience member (there were maybe 75 people attending) in the eyes at some point - his fierce but honest countenance slowing scanning the audience throughout many of their songs. At the end Ian stayed on and sold his CDs for $10 a pop - shaking each buyer's hand (including my own) with an intense earnestness that was impressive. All in all, one of the best live shows I've attended in a while and certainly doing nothing to diminish the high regard I've always had for the members of Fugazi.

Monday, June 25, 2007

high on high heels

While Jenn and I were perusing the contents of the Gay and Lesbian channel, LOGO, web site the other day (a channel btw, I hadn't even heard of until then since I haven't had cable in 15 years and that station isn't even offered by the only cable station in the area), we stumbled upon a trailer for an interesting show about a group of transwomen brought together to put on a trans-oriented version of "The Vagina Monologues," called Beautiful Daughters.

The show looked very interesting, but one thing struck me as they showed all the girls auditioning for the parts in the play (and more specifically as they showed them in the promo shot all walking in a group in slow motion): they were all wearing dresses and high heels and generally presenting themselves as the very "girly" type. This included some high-profile, trail-blazing women in the community such as Calpernia Addams and Lynn Conway.

Now please don't get me wrong - there is absolutely! nothing wrong with being girly and wearing high heels - I like to indulge in it on occasion - it's just not normally my thing; I prefer a t-shirt, jeans and a comfy pair of Mudd shoes in most instances. However, what struck me as I thought upon all the instances of trans-exposure in the media I am aware of, was an absence of those whose gender expression is less oriented to the "traditional" female stereotypes (i.e., make-up, high heels, dresses, and conversely, of less "macho" transmen). In other words, it seems to me that the media (and by extension, our wider society) gravitates to those in the trans community who most closely adhere to the extreme ends of the traditional dual-gender model, leaving those of us with more nebulous outward appearances out in the cold so to speak (or perhaps we just haven't spoken up enough?).

Part of the reason for this, I'm guessing, is that those of us with a more androgynous appearance are harder to categorize and thus harder to relate to since much of how we first relate to people has to do with how they look - this provides us, rightly or wrongly, with queues as to what to say and how to say it (this probably also applies to those who don't consider themselves part of the trans community but that don't adhere to traditional gender appearances either). I think humans much prefer things that are easily categorized, easily labeled (and I supposed from the perspective of a lazy thinker, more easily understood). After all, labels and categorization are the whole basis for human communication systems. There is no way around using them, but we can fight to apply and define our own labels and make sure those labels are not used to judge us when used externally.

As I reread the above, I realize I have not communicated my scatter-brained ideas well at all, but I don't have the time at present to overhaul, so it'll have to do for now.

genderqueer at the bookstore

After spending all week as well as all day Saturday and Sunday morning packing and moving all my stuff to 3 different locations (storage, our temporary apartment and my parents house) , Jenn and I attended a reading and discussion by Helen Boyd of her second book, She's Not the Man I Married, at Borders. This book, as well as her first, is ostensibly about her relationship with Betty, who is transgendered. From what I gather, in a larger sense, these books are also about relationships and gender roles and probably much more (disclaimer!: this book is near the top of my list to read, but I have not yet had the chance to do so).

The readings were fun but the discussion was the best part. Attendance was around a dozen+ or so people and we got into some good, although brief, discussions about gender roles and trans labels and partner support, among other topics. Betty was also in attendance, and they both had, in my opinion, some very insightful opinions to share, as did several of the attendees. I chimed in a couple of times, although sans the wit and clear articulation of Helen, Betty and some of the others. It's awesome to see so many smart minds working within and positively for the trans community. Props out to my friend Jaye for setting this gig up, especially since we missed the panel discussion the night before (if anyone knows of a transcript of that discussion, please post it here!).

Monday, June 18, 2007

Kink in My Throggs neck

This past Wednesday through Friday I was down in Throggs Neck, NY (at the beautiful SUNY Maritime campus, which resides on a tiny, 55-acre peninsula sticking out into the Long Island Sound and strangely situated directly below the Throggs Neck bridge) for the annual SUNY Librarians conference.

It was thoroughly enjoyable and educational and I even managed to survive the stress of co-presenting a half-assed presentation on library instruction with virtually my only preparation occurring at the conference! There are really some innovative librarians in SUNY (especially when it comes to thinking about information literacy and in dealing with the frustrating ALEPH system - thank the gods I only have to deal with the simplest parts of that monstrosity!).

I do find it frustrating, however, in trying to hold conversations with my fellow librarians because my college is just so much different than everyone else's. We have no print collections or even a library building and have very little face-to-face contact with students. Even in today's world of hyper-online library services, a majority of traditional librarian time goes to managing the traditional physical resources. So most people that can get past my nebulous gender expression and engage me in library shop-talk end up being mystified as to what we do all day or jealous that we get to work from home once a week. As I said a couple times, we are truly the black sheep of the SUNY family!

Still, I learned a lot and met some very cool people and I hope got our name out there a little bit. Now I have to think up a good presentation topic (one of my own choosing this time!) for next year's conference...

But first I have to do some more running around like a chicken with it's head cut off because I have less than a week to pack up all my shit and move out of my house and down to Albany (only to move again into a bigger apartment in mid-August!!!)...

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

pattern recognition

How weird is it for me to be at this job over 4 years now and still love it? I surpassed my old employment longevity record last month and love my job more now than anytime prior. This is a totally alien sensation to me. My default hate pattern is like a steep statistical, up-turned curve. Every single job I've had up to now I've either loved or tolerated at first and then soon came to despise. Is this the job for me or am I doomed (or perhaps blessed?), like my father, to forever be looking past present employment to the next unknown position? My mom has had the same job (working for a mostly evil corporation) for more than 25 years. Perhaps when I was able to realize and express my own true gender, I also inherited/earned the ability from my mom to stay put?

And it's even more strange that I've managed this state of higher-happiness at present because I'm under a good amount of stress at work - I'm juggling lots of projects and all but managing (sans the most important elements, name and pay scale) a staff of 3 librarians.

On another note, I've become addicted to a video game. I haven't played a video this much, besides online scrabble, since my Junior year in college when all the males on our floor logged enough innings of Atari's RBI Baseball to qualify for the Hall of Fame. The even sadder part is that I'm not addicted to some souped-up virtual realty game played out of a Cube or something, but instead am addicted to a very simple computer game, Bejeweled 2 Deluxe.

This game is really just pattern recognition, except with a time limit so that efficiency of action is essential. To be honest I don't even know all the rules (there don't seem to be any instructions beyond the goal of moving jewels around on a board so you get 3, or ideally, more, of the same jewel in a row so as to remove them from the board and allow more jewels to fill their places and themselves be matched up with companions of a similar hue - it's really just a more instinctual version of Mahjong). I've always had a knack for being able to discern/decode certain odd patterns around me and devise shortcuts to traverse or bypass those patterns, and so I've become quite proficient at this silly little game in a hurry.

So I wonder why it is that, even though I seem to so easily grasp the hidden patterns of the jewels, of the TV mystery plot, of the scrambled words, of the interactions of my mind and body, and of the causes and effects of usability and organization and information, I'm so fucking clueless when it comes to so many things that most people don't even have to think about. Things like making small-talk with acquaintances and colleagues without being completely uncomfortable and at a loss for what to say, being able to understand what my soul-mate is thinking most of the time, or just being able to relax and abide a little silence sometimes...