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In Assuming a Body, Salamon discusses how some of the students are females, but do not claim the word woman, mentioning self-description.  It’s not a foreign concept for individuals to use words that the feel that fit themselves.  The words that are used already have constructed meanings, which allow for claims of belonging.  It can be problematic when the word has too many possible meanings. 

For example, woman can describe so many individuals.  What is it exactly that makes someone a woman?  It can’t be the way the dress or the way in which they conduct themselves because there are too many variables, many of which depend on the social setting.  Also, the distinction of how to cross over a barrier is unclear. 

Stone recounts the life stories a few transsexuals.  All of which after GRS seemed to feel like a brand new person.  Obviously, I’m not going to argue that they did not feel different, however, I feel like individual who undergo other body altering surgeries may also feel like a different person. 

Extreme Makeover is one such show.  Personally, I have nothing against wanting to change your physical appearance.  Everyone wants something a little different.  This show however, basically ‘fixes’/changes the majority of the individuals’ bodies.  (These I see similar to transitioning sexes because of the vast physical changes that occur.)

The names that individuals go by after there Extreme Makeovers is the same name they have been living with for a while.  On the other hand, individuals who do sex transitions tend to change their name if they have not already. 

Both individuals would have undergone major changes, so why is it that the name tends to only change for one person?  Since the cis-gendered individual is just changing their appearance, in gender conforming manners, they decide not to change their name?  Really what difference does a name make?  Some men have the name Leslie and some women are named Charley, and there are neutral names too.

Names are important.  But why is it so important that we feel connected with our names?

 

Watching TrinidadI was struck by the way in which the rationale for communal tolerance of trans women in Trinidad was so often reduced to the money they poured into the town’s economy. Several times during the documentary, we hear resident testimonial that runs along these lines: it would be misled to treat visiting and resident trans women with anything less than a limited tolerance given the fact that they are the reason our hospital is still open. In other words, the establishment of Trinidad as the ‘sex change capital of the world’ has created a booming surgical niche market that is keeping the health care industry in Trinidad afloat (this, although one resident mentions that the hospital only receives $2,000 from each procedure, the pricetag of which floats somewhere around $20,000). 

What’s striking to me about this repeated assertion is the notion that the town’s economic bottomline dictates the affective responses of the citizens. We accept you, but only if you’re financially contributing.  Trans tolerance (I’m pointedly not using the word “acceptance” here) has a price, in other words – and that price is somewhere in the ballpark of $20,000.

Which leads to another concern: the large out-of-pocket expense of transition, and genital reassignment surgery in particular.  The Human Rights Campaign, as part of their yearly Healthcare Equality Index, had 122 top medical providers fill out a survey that addressed LGBT healthcare issues – partner visitation rights, sensitivity trainings, and the like. Only 12 respondents out of these queerly enlightened 122 service providers offered trans-inclusive benefits to their employees.  That number, though, is significantly higher than in other industries. The HRC also publishes a Corporate Equality Index each year, with a special section on Transgender-Inclusive Benefits; the stats aren’t great. It turns out that, until the mid-1970s, genital reassignment surgery was often covered by insurance; then, as tsroadmap.com, an informational site for trans women, puts it,

 a couple of medical articles came out in the late 1970’s showing high suicide rates among post-operative women. This came at the same time a couple of prominent gender clinics were closed, notably Johns Hopkins. The insurance companies pounced on these events as a chance to decry the procedure as elective, cosmetic, or experimental. It’s been an uphill battle since.

It is precisely these arguments that the HRC document responds to, framing GRS as a physically and psychologically necessary procedure that is safe, well-researched, and quite well-developed (an art, as Dr. Marci Bowers puts it). 

The Jim Collins Foundation, a non-profit that assists trans folks in paying for gender-confirming medical procedures,  has been established in order to fill the gaps in insurance coverage; this effort, while enormously well-intentioned and important, is not a big enough band-aid, I suspect. The real issues are employment discrimination and insurance discrimination.  What matters is having enough money to pay for gender confirming procedures, having stable employment throughout transition, and having coverage that understands gender-confirming procedures as integral to health in a holistic sense; even limited research into the economic status of trans subjects reveals markedly high rates of poverty and financial instability.

So how do we begin to ameliorate this situation? What other efforts are currently underway to address this web of medico-socio-economic injustice?  Consider these general question for the course.

Earlier this semester I spoke with a friend back home in Virginia who was working in the field with a Transgender activist. During the interview my friend accidentally slipped up and called her by the wrong pronoun: he.   Immediately he knew he messed up and was prepared to apologize when she “blew up” and began slinging a slew of curses about his disrespect to her personhood.  The interview stopped to allow everyone to return to a calm enough state to continue, with my friend taking a less active role for a teammate to continue the main questions.

Immediately I thought, should this be the proper response for such a situation?  This person who is transgendered has probably spent her entire life being called by the wrong gender and I’m sure it’s very traumatic as all the past events have built up.  As such I don’t feel she was in the wrong to be this upset, especially when she was supposed to be a in a situation where something like this shouldn’t happen: an interview about the perspective of being transgendered.  In these “safe spaces,” like our academic gender studies class, there is a certain decorum to learning how to say and do things to be respectful to everyone across the gender spectrum.

However, we have to remember this is not how “the real world” behaves or reacts.  People are taught to see the world as a gender binary and realize the personal characteristics that make someone look like a male or a female.  While a trained person will recognize an transgender women, the rest of the world sees a man in a dress.  While we can educate each other to learn to see otherwise, we have to be patient and realize that most people aren’t used to it yet.  It hasn’t developed in the vocabulary.  It’ll take time.  When someone starts to yell it immediately puts people in defensive mode and emotions will flare.  While my friend is respectful, many will not be and it can only put them off to be yelled at.  This doesn’t make the community look good and people unlike my friend will come away from the experience remembering that he was chastised for his ignorance and maybe nothing else.  Perhaps a calmer, but still stern comment is all it should take to set someone “straight?”  Education is key.

–Brian Falatko

For this last blog post I wanted to talk about something that we mentioned a little bit in class and was also talked about briefly in one of the readings, Paris Is Burning.  I saw this documentary in one of my gender studies classes last year and was just completely blown away with what I saw.  The balls were so elaborate and everyone was making so much noise and was getting so excited.  It was almost like watching a basketball game.  The costumes were so elaborate and it was obvious how much effort was put into everyone’s outfits and makeup.

I was also amazed by how this ball community was like a family to many of these people.  Some of them had been kicked out of their homes because of their alternative lifestyles and there were members that were considered “mothers” to some of the younger members of the community.  It is a truly sad story because of how unaccepted some of these people felt in society.  But when the ball came everyone was wearing their finest and having an amazing time.  Nothing else mattered.  This was where they felt safe, respected, loved and talented.  One thing that stuck out to me was how there was a competition for who looked like the best businessman.  One of the members talked about how it represented (not a direct quote) “maybe I’m not a rich businessman but I can pass as one just as well.”  It was simply amazing how everyone got so into these balls just like a girl in a beauty pageant.  No offense to pageants, but these balls seem way more fun and don’t tell women, “be skinny!”  (Sorry, had to add that).

                Most of all, it was very clear that these balls created a community, a home and a family for people who might not have anywhere else to go.  It was a sad and fun documentary but it also showed me that home is where your heart is and family is made up of the people who love and support you.  This was a fantastic film.

Megan Taub

So I love Björk. There, I said it. It was no real secret, but I suppose this post should start with that declaimer. Let’s continue.

In continuing with the trend and adding another Björk music video to our viewing pleasure, I wanted to pose this little gem.

This was my first exposure to Björk about six years ago, and it still intrigues me. The lyrics of Cocoon talk about an unexpected yet highly pleasurable sexual encounter between a guy and a gal. As far as pop culture goes, a sexual encounter is nothing new in the music business, but the music video is where entirely new and unique happens. Red thread grows from her nipples, wrapping around her until she becomes this nipple cocoon and floats away. Lady Gaga may have a meat dress and hatches from an egg, but she’s got nothing on Björk.

The video starts with a row of black and white naked Björks in a white world, standing lifeless as if they were robots turned off. Soon one Björk comes alive and moves to her own white area, where the song begins and the nipple thread comes out to play. As the red thread floats and tangles around her body, she playfully sings and embraces this experience in its entirety. The lyrics progress further into the sexual acts and the cocoon slowly covers more and more of her body. At the song’s end, after being fully cocooned and wiggling for a hot second, she stops moving and floats away.

It seems like this video is about the female sexual experience and sexual autonomy. Through having this experience, Björk gains life and pleasure unlike the other Björks from beginning. Also, in this black and white world, the only other color, red, came from her nipples and gave her this strange mix of pleasure and insecurity, perhaps from inexperience or the unexpected thread play. Björk gained this carefree sense about her that the other Björks lacked, and even colors they didn’t have.

There also seems to be a potential critique on sexual inequality faced by women. Though her nipple thread gives her immense pleasure, they ultimately cocoon her and take her away. This could be read as the reproductive potential faced by women that men aren’t burdened with. Of course, many people want to have children and even as Björk is almost totally cocooned she still seems happy and in this euphoric state. Is it a critique on sexual inequality or something else? It’s strange because though she cannot move her arms and eventually cannot move at all, nothing seems to stand out that would suggest this is negative. Perhaps the nipple cocoon resulting from this sexual experience symbolizes a growth into something beautiful by embracing one’s sexuality. Maybe she’s making a statement about women being unaware of the oppression they endure (she was almost orgasmic the whole video, though taking no notice of the cocoon forming and suppressing her movements). What if Björk is just being… Björk?

Either way, this video is super interesting and makes Björk more and more enticing. Swan dress, nipple cocoon, and cat marriages are just a few glimpses from the mind of Björk. I don’t know how else to end this post without just saying it.

Björk is perfect.

-Lucas Zigler

I know we briefly talked about this video in class but after re-watching it I realized how crazy it really is.  At one point during this video, there is a girl who bends over and completely shows her vagina.  Not only are numerous girls dancing all over each other in some parts, they are naked rubbing all over each other.  The girls are completely inappropriately provocative throughout the entire video.  It is quite unfortunate that these videos exist because, not only is it giving women a bad reputation, but it tarnishes the music in general. This degradation and oversexualization of women is detrimental to male and female perception of sexuality and female image in society.  It is disappointing to see women allow themselves to be objectified like that, and it is even worse that videos like this are often viewed by young men and women who are easily impressionable and are affected by these images in a negative way. I reacted with disgust to these crude displays of overt sexual behaviors and I am uneasy about where the future of rap videos will go in terms of having even more inappropriate and risque videos released.

 

jessica plunkitt

Since this is the last blog post of the semester I figure that the best way to end this is by recapping some of the main points that were really hammered into us over the past couple of weeks in class. It’s amazing how everything we’ve discussed can really be related and seen as being along the same lines of what we started the semester talking about. It’s just one big revolving door of gender studies topics that keeps spinning and every once in a while someone new will jump in and talk about something different and more interesting….okay maybe a bad analogy but it’s finals week, give me a break.

So we started out the year talking about how female is considered to be the default sex because if the dad doesn’t give a “y” chromosome, then it will be a girl. We also talked a lot about how we allow women to have a lot more free room to move in terms of their gender and how they perform their gender in comparison to men. This definitely has consequences because masculinity can be considered “good” enough for both men and women to perform it, but it is only women who can perform femininity…this is the notion that femininity is still taboo and the lesser of the two. We read Natalie Angier’s book and talked about science and how it can relate to gender studies which I had never done in any of my other gender studies classes. Moving onto Foucault and Audrey Lorde we talked about the three figures: the monster, the incorrigible or the individual to be corrected, and the masturbator. The monster being a violation of law who is an extreme form of the individual to be correct. The monster becomes tamed and is then turned into the incorrigible, it is a breach of natural law. Once we understand a monster is correctable, the idea of the monster ceases to exist and the monster becomes abnormal. Audrey Lorde was our discussion on ways that difference needs to be reconsidered into not being hierarchical or based on a mythical normal. When people unify as a group, we must acknowledge that there are multiple layers to the group of different people’s beings. The privileging of anything over one another is problematic and feminists should advocate on the acts of women of all sorts of identities. We moved onto gender essentialism and post structuralism. Gender essentialism being the thinking of being born a certain way, an attribution to biology or nature and post structuralism as questioning structures of reality of existence. This is the idea of, “there is no essence to any given thing.” What makes something what it is is the cultural and historical contexts it works within. Judith Butler critiqued the category of woman and scare-quoted the shit out of it. She says that since there is no commonality among women that preexists their oppression and that there are not grounds or basis for unity of the category of women…the term “woman” is just basically crazy. This is where we talked about the heterosexual matrix and how she added a backwards arrow from sexuality to sex. Wittig and Butler shared similar ideas in saying that the idea of
“woman” as a natural group is incorrect. Where Butler says you as women can’t have common experiences, Wittig says that the category of “woman” is mythical and unnatural. Both theorists are anti-essentialists as well.Gayle Rubin discussed the sex wars where danger was put opposite desire and agency opposite violence. The charm circle of sexuality was brought up here where the middle of the circle is the normative individuals where anything or anyone who falls outside of these limits are the nonnormative people. Julia Serano’s intrinsic inclination model was the looking at things being so deep seeded in someone that they seem essential. In Disorders of Desire we looked at the sexological practices in the US and how if you make things a matter of just the body, then you do not account for other factors. The Valentine book we read was about transgendered individuals and the limitations of our own understanding of our own sexual politics. Dreger’s book was all about hermaphrodites and how people who are hermaphrodites violate the logic of sexual dimorphism. We’ve just finished up our reading on Haraway and how human beings are not the only actors in the world and that artifacts an be absolutely anything. Oppositional artifactualism doesn’t place human desires and needs at the center of everything. It thinks about what beings can tell us about other things in the world. This can be juxtaposed to reductive artifactualism that views all things as resources to be used for human purposes without giving agency to other things. WOW! that’s a lot of stuff.

Sometimes recaps like that help us remember what it is that we do this whole school thing for. We discussed and learned so much in such a short amount of time that it’s amazing we’re still at least semi-alive when finals role around. I hope this helped people because even just typing this all up and rethinking about all the different topics we discussed this semester has helped me remember things that I had originally thought. Goodluck on finals everyone!

–Jenna Wise

Above is a link to the music video to Rhianna’s song ‘S&M.’ If you haven’t already seen it- or if you want to see it again!- please watch. (I hope the link works… This is my first time trying to embed something, so I’m sorry if it doesn’t work!)

In keeping with our superfun class trend this week, I decided to consider a music video for this blogpost.  When I started thinking about what video to choose, my immediate thought was more Lady Gaga since her videos are incredibly complicated and interesting, and also just because I love her.  But then I remembered this video- and how about six months ago I got into a (rather heated, ahem) youtube comment-battle with a girl about whether or not this video should be censored.  Now, I’m sure we’ve all been there- locked in fierce combat over civil liberties with some alternate manifestation of Rush Limbaugh- and the first thing to realize in that situation is that you will never truly penetrate the wall of ignorance that has been built against you.  The second thing to do (after taking a deep breath of course) is to ignore the person’s preaching and enjoy your right to see controversial pieces of media as long as you have it: if it’s up to people like my former opponent, that won’t be for very long.

My initial reaction to this video was just that I liked it; it’s fun and playful and of course Rhianna is super sexy.   My response after a bit of reflection was to be impressed with how she deals with issues of female agency in sex and the practice of slut-shaming.  She walks around in the video as if she is in complete control (unless she’s being restrained by the “media”) and loving every second.  While her bold lyrics proclaim that she loves the smell of sex and is excited by whips and chains, the reporters observing her dramatize the cultural system of checks which works to prevent such ‘licentiousness’ in women: some write “Slut” in their notebooks, at other times newspaper headlines flash across the screen that say things like “Daddy Issues?” and “Whore”.  The message is clear: if you are a woman and you overtly like sex (especially naughty, non-vanilla sex- the best kind, basically), you are subject to social censure.

When I got to the part where the reporters are tied up and she’s in that crazy awesome pink rubber suit thing with the hood, it struck me as being a little fantasy she has of getting revenge on the media:  remember all those news stories about Chris Brown beating her up and how there were pictures of her swollen face everywhere?  If I were her and I had my personal business strewn all over the country by merciless media hounds, I might feel like tying some reporters up too.  Now, this issue of her being a domestic violence survivor is relevant to the public reaction to this video also:  many of the comments underneath the video (on youtube) when I was seeing it for the first time six months ago espoused the opinion that she shouldn’t be singing a song about S&M sex after being a victim of domestic violence.  I think this is very interesting: not only did these people completely miss the commonsense point that there is a BIG difference between semi-violent sex play you partake in willingly and violence enacted upon you by a lover, but this also seems to me to be a classic case of blaming the victim.  It’s as though because Rhianna was the victim of violence she no longer has the right to choose how she wants to interact sexually- because if she chooses something like S&M she is “embracing the system of violence.”

Another interesting thing about this video is that its viewing on youtube is controlled; you have to sign in and prove that you’re over 18 in order to see it.  I think this must be because it talks about and shows some light Sad0Masochistic activities like whipping and wearing ball gags.  Although Rhianna wears some sexy clothes there is no nudity and there is obviously no explicit sex.  Additionally, there are plenty of uber-sexy music videos online that do not require an age authentication- just take Britney Spears’ “I’m a Slave 4 U” from ten years ago with its orgy-esque theme.  And so it must be the scandalous nature of S&M sex that has scared youtube into putting an age restriction on it.  To youtube’s credit, however, the video IS still available for viewing and has not yet been censored by those determined to control the thoughts and behavior of others.   I say Rock on Rhianna!  If “whips and chains excite” you, then go for it!  Live and let live… or fuck rather.

 

By: Roz Rini

When we read and discussed Donna Haraway’s The Promises of Monsters: A Regenerative Politics for Inappropraite/d Others and discussed it I was very much interested in the idea of inappropriated others.  It is very clear how this term relates to gender because a not being heterosexual or dis-identifying with the gender they are “supposed” to identify with makes some people uncomfortable.  Therefore, people who are not seen as “normal” are considered others who cannot fit into society.  This lack of acceptance is incredibly common and is something that it seems we all must deal with because that is how people are.  But as I thought about it more I realized that if people are taught at a young age to be more accepting than this idea of an “inapropriated other” would be less prominent.

 

            When I was in middle school my parents had me attend a tiny private Quaker school in the middle of nowhere in North Carolina.  I didn’t enjoy this school when I went there, but looking back on my time there I realize that there were a few amazing things about this school that other schools just didn’t have. 

 

Let me explain.

 

            During my 6th grade year a boy named Spencer visited the school for a day to see if he would like to attend the next year.  This at first seemed to have no meaning because several kids visited our school each year, and most were eventually forgotten about.  Spencer was one of these kids.  For my 7th grade year a few new students came to the school, including a 6th grade girl named Spencer.  Because my middle school was so small, everyone knew everyone, and everyone noticed when someone was not there.  One day Spencer did not show up to school, and on that same day the entire school was called for a meeting.  The teacher sat the students in a large room and told us that Spencer was not at school that day because she wanted the teachers to tell us something.  She wanted us to know that she was transgendered.  The teachers reminded us of the boy Spencer that visited the school the previous year and how she told her parents that she was a girl trapped in a boy’s body.  One student asked why Spencer wanted the teachers to tell us this, and one responded by saying that Spencer didn’t want to lie and did not want someone to find out and be surprised.  Another teacher responded to that by saying “and I think that’s very cool.”  We were then told that we should try to make Spencer as comfortable as possible, and that some changes would be made in order to do so.  One of the boy’s bathrooms at school was changed to a unisex bathroom and the teachers asked everyone to try to use that restroom sometimes to make Spencer more comfortable.

 

            Based on how cruel I’ve seen people be about others being transgendered, I would have thought that the kids in my school would have shown Spencer the same cruelty, but we all immediately accepted her just like our teachers had hoped me would.  Almost all of the students used the unisex bathroom, people started calling Spencer “Spencie” because she thought it sounded more like a girl’s name, and the girls in her grade always invited her to all girls sleepovers.  Spencie was one of the girls despite her genitalia.

 

            This story makes me realized that intolerance is something we are taught by people that have already been taught to be intolerant themselves.  As people we really can be quite accepting.  We just need to start early.

 

Megan Taub

We as society look at people who are different than the norm as monsters.  We have created a society where people feel obligated to get surgeries or take drugs to change their appearance to better fit society.

In the article, Haraway says that we, as a societal whole, feel the entitlement to be able to act like God in certain situations. For example, parents may choose, without insight into their newborn child’s best interests, to determine the sex of their naturally intersex child at the time of birth, without giving the child a chance to decide for him or herself. It is not a parental right, or a human right, to be able to disregard the will of the Creator and natural genetics and choose the sex of a child without regard to the intersex individual’s interest. These intersex individuals may also face being looked upon by society as monstrous inappropriated others.

Haraway felt that we look at “inappropriated others” as monsters or different as well.  We also think that they live in different worlds and cannot possibly live the same life we do.  But in all reality, they are just like us and there is not anything wrong with them. They are not deficient, nor do they deserve being put into a separate class in society.

 

Jessica Plunkitt