Sunday, July 13, 2014

Regarding “Generation Wars”: some reflections upon reading the recent Jack Halberstam essay

Jack Halberstam recently published an essay called You Are Triggering me! The Neo-Liberal Rhetoric of Harm, Danger and Trauma, and it’s been making waves on the activist internets over the last week. It felt like a bit of a “kitchen sink” article to me, in that it discussed a plethora of different matters (including Monty Python, historical debates between second- and third-wave feminisms, current controversies surrounding the word “tranny,” the recent proliferation of trigger warnings, supposed connections between expressions of trauma and neoliberalism, safe spaces, “It Gets Better” campaigns, and concerns about millennials being hypersensitive) and attempted to weave them into one nice neat coherent narrative. This narrative could be summarized as follows:

queer & trans culture and politics circa the 1990’s was strong, progressive, and fun!

whereas queer & trans culture and politics circa the 2010’s is frail, conservative, and a killjoy.

While Halberstam’s essay made a few points that are certainly worthy of further exploration and discussion, it also overreached in a number of ways, especially in its attempts to shoehorn a potpourri of recent events and trends into the aforementioned overarching narrative. Some concerns that I have about the essay have been addressed by others here and here and here and here (sorry, original posting of that response was here) and here

Monday, June 2, 2014

On the "activist language merry-go-round," Stephen Pinker's "euphemism treadmill," and "political correctness" more generally

A couple weeks ago, I published a fairly lengthy essay called A Personal History of the “T-word” (and some more general reflections on language and activism). The first half discusses shifting attitudes regarding the word "tranny" that I have witnessed over my last decade-plus of being involved in trans communities. The second half (and in my opinion, the most important part) of the essay more generally discusses how language within trans communities remains in a perpetual state of flux, where virtually every word associated with transgender people and experiences is eventually deemed by some people to be problematic, and new terms are constantly being proposed to take their place. I referred to this phenomenon as the "activist language merry-go-round."

I go on to make the case that the "activist language merry-go-round" is fueled by stigma: Trans people are stigmatized in our culture, and this stigma latches onto the words that are used to describe us and our experiences. As a result, many activists may feel compelled to focus on changing language (i.e., swapping out "bad" words with new words that feel more neutral or empowering). However, so long as trans people remain stigmatized, these newer terms will eventually become tainted by that stigma, and there will be even further calls for newer and supposedly better replacement terms. I argue that there are no magical "perfect words" that will make everyone happy. And the "activist language merry-go-round" will not stop until trans people are no longer stigmatized, at which point there will be no compelling need to replace existing trans-related terms.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Julia update May 2014 - new music and writings!

So earlier this week I sent out my latest email update. It offers links to some of my more recent writings plus a bit of news about Excluded.

But the update mostly discusses my new solo music project *soft vowel sounds* and my first record (a four-song EP) under that moniker called Ray versus Macbeth and the Music Box, part one. The record includes the eponymous song "Ray," a contemporary parody of The Kinks' song "Lola." To listen to the record and/or find out how you can download it for free (for a limited time), simply check out the email update!

If you want future julia updates emailed directly to you, you can sign up for my email list here.

And if you want future updates for upcoming *soft vowel sounds* shows & music, you can sign up for the *soft vowel sounds* email list here.

enjoy! -j.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

a quick guide to media reports about brain studies

When someone in the media says:

Researchers at [fill-in-the-blank university/institution] have found that group X's brains are better at [fill-in-the-blank specific task] than group Y's.

This is what they really mean:

In the study, group X's results formed a bell curve. And group Y's results also formed a bell curve. And those bell curves largely overlapped - in other words, the groups were more similar than different. However, if you ignore those bell curves and simply look at the average result for each group, then those average numbers differ somewhat. And that is *so much* easier & more fascinating to report, so that is all we're going to tell you about the study!

That is pretty much everything you need to know about media and pop science reporting on brain studies...

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

On People, Polarization, Panopticons, and #ComplexFeelingsAboutActivism

I suppose that this is the third installment of a blog-post trilogy that I have unexpectedly written, and which (in different ways) touch on overlapping subjects and sentiments. For those interested, here is the first post and here is the second post...

Over the last month or two, I have had numerous conversations amongst trans woman friends, and quite a few inquiries from other trans-identified and trans-aware folks, about the rather high profile “kerfuffle” (as the excellent Roz Kaveney referred to it in a recent tweet) that has taken place within trans female/feminine spectrum circles recently. I rather vaguely allude to the situation in my recent blogpost a few thoughts on drag, trans women, and subversivism. Other folks have written about it, but my personal favorite synopsis thus far is Jen Richards's recent piece. As with any kerfuffle, I wouldn't be surprised if the principal actors at the center of this story disagree with certain aspects of this particular review. But Richards explores many of the issues regarding community, difference, and consensus (or the lack thereof) that have been on my mind lately. The thing that I appreciate most about the piece is that Richards puts herself into the shoes of others, not to be presumptive or to replace their viewpoints with her own, but rather to try to understand where they are coming from. It was a refreshing change of pace from the this-camp-is-evil/oppressive/censoring/humorless/hurtful versus this-camp-is-righteous/oppressed/human/less-pretentious/more-like-you-dear-readers dichotomy that has formed the backbone of most descriptions of this kerfuffle thus far.

Monday, April 28, 2014

A Personal History of the “T-word” (and some more general reflections on language and activism)

Important disclaimer: This is but one trans woman’s take on what has become a highly controversial term. I have penned it in the (perhaps implausible) hope of fostering more nuanced and historically situated dialogue about the word, and about language more generally. This piece is primarily intended for other trans folks, and for that reason, I have posted it on my blog rather than a more heavily trafficked or broader LGBTQ-themed website. People who are not trans-identified are free to read this, of course, but please realize that this is a personal blog, and not a space intended to serve as a platform for you to voice your opinions about the word—I suggest that you go elsewhere to do that if you are so inclined. Anyone who presumes that I am advocating for the continual usage of the word, or who cites this essay as evidence that they have “permission” to use said word, has clearly misread this piece and/or are blatantly misrepresenting my views. The vast majority of this essay was written in 2013, and it should not in any way be interpreted as me “taking a side” in any recent peripheral debates that have taken place within trans female/feminine spectrum communities lately. This is a substantial piece (with notes, it is over 10,000 words!), so I encourage readers to refrain from judgments until they have read the entire thing, as this piece may take some unexpected turns. Finally, some trans people find the word that I will be discussing to be very upsetting, so they should take this as a trigger warning that I will be using the “T-word” (sans abbreviations, hyphens, and asterisks) throughout this piece.

Language evolves. Words that were once commonplace now come off as anachronistic. And words that once had good or neutral connotations are now seen as problematic or politically incorrect, and vice versa. It happens all the time. But within my own lifetime, I can’t think of a single word that has undergone such a quick and dramatic shift as the word “tranny” has, particularly with regards to how it is used within transgender spectrum communities.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

a few thoughts on drag, trans women, and subversivism

For decades (and still to this day), radical feminists have argued that drag is an inherently conservative phenomenon in that it reinforces the patriarchy. Twenty years ago, queer theorists retorted that drag was inherently subversive, in that it deconstructed binary notions of gender. Interestingly, what both of these very different feminist camps shared was a belief that transsexuality was inherently conservative, assimilationist, and reinforced the gender system.

I just thought that this was worth pointing out in the wake of arguments that have been playing out on the Internets lately between some trans women who suggest that trans women who don't appreciate drag are conservative and assimilationist, and other trans women who suggest that drag (and the trans women who appreciate it) is conservative and assimilationist. I am not linking to any pieces here, as this post is not intended to be a "call out" of individuals. Rather, I feel the need to point out the subversivist nature of these arguments, and how they happen over and over again in feminist, queer, and progressive circles.