Tag Archives: lgbtq

Book Review: Ash, by Malinda Lo

ash

What it’s about: Ash is born to a fairy-believing mother and a skeptical father, in a land where fairy tales are warnings. When her parents die and she is left with a cruel stepmother, Ash finds her broken heart pulling her to the fairies’ world. If she follows it, she might never come back.

A retelling of Cinderella, with a sapphic love interest.

Praise: This book was captivating. The fairies are constructed to have a genuinely otherworldly feel. Lots of authors try that, and most don’t succeed nearly as well as Malinda Lo does here. The worldbuilding worked very well, as did the characterization of all the characters, especially the main one. I loved the romance. I loved the suspense. I loved the way the story unfurled slowly, but didn’t drag for even a paragraph.

Criticism: It’s a fairly loose Cinderella adaptation. The conclusion departs from the fairy tale a lot, and I did find that a little disappointing when I realized there wouldn’t be a shoe scene. But I got over that fairly quickly. The ending was still beautiful and satisfying in its own right, and when I closed the book I was extremely happy.

Recommended? It’s Cinderella with lesbians. Of course I recommend it!

Book Review: The Devourers by Indra Das

the-devourers

What it’s about: A professor meets a strange man who claims to be half werewolf, and learns the terrible story of his family.

Praise: Full disclosure – I’m a sucker for werewolves. They are by far my favorite of the classic monsters. Unfortunately, I don’t think the average movie or book uses them well. Werewolves don’t just scare. They explore nature, civilization, shifting identities and humanity itself. Unfortunately, ninety percent of werewolf stories feel more like the author wrote a vampire story, decided it wasn’t original enough, then hastily changed it. Still, when an author tries to do something properly werewolfy, the result is some of the best stories horror has to offer.

This book firmly belongs in that latter category. It makes you equal parts terrified, fascinated and in love with its subject. It is philosophical, but not the measured philosophy of lecture halls. It’s the trembling, awestruck philosophy of the mad hermit in the woods. It is gory, but not the sickening splatter of modern slasher. It’s the strangely elegant gore of Gothic horror.

On a less pretentious note, I loved the plot and the characters. The viewpoint characters all had beautifully distinct voices. It drives me mad when a story shifts between multiple first person POVs and I lose track of who is talking. I never had that problem with this book.

Also, on one more personal note, there are multiple non-stereotypical queer characters. I can’t say any more without spoilers, but I was happy and I think other LGBTQ readers will be too.

Criticism: For the first few chapters, when I wasn’t sure where this was going, it was a little slow. It was well worth pushing through, though. Once things came together, I didn’t want to put it down.

Also, content warning, this books contains violence, anthropophagy (I feel wrong calling it cannibalism given how the shapeshifters insist they aren’t human) and a rape scene. Even the latter, though, avoids the common pitfalls. In a book full of sexual imagery, it’s one of the few scenes devoid of eroticism. There’s no “well, it wasn’t really proper rape because….” Instead, the book insists that, despite how the attacker frames it, it was rape, because he did not give the victim the opportunity to consent. The victim is actually characterized as an interesting and sympathetic human being, not just a tool of the story. The scene is necessary to the plot, not just there to add drama or titillation. All other writers, take note.

Recommended? If intense, brutal and beautiful is up your alley, then yes, very much recommended.

An Open Letter to Gary Johnson, on Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, the GOP and LGBT Rights

Dear Gary Johnson,

Google, in it’s infinite algorithmic wisdom, has decided to throw an ad of yours my way, several times over the last few weeks. It can be summarized as, “vote for me, I supported gay marriage before Hillary Clinton did.” Initially I treated the way I treat most sidebar ads; I glanced then ignored. Then I found myself mildly irritated by it, and every time I saw it, I thought a little more about that irritation. And now here we are, with me ranting on the internet.

First of all, I looked up the date you came out to publically support gay marriage. I got December 1, 2011. Hillary Clinton supported civil unions but opposed marriage back in 2003, but changed to fully supporting equal marriage rights in March of 2013 (references in same link). So congratulations; you beat her by a full fifteen months. A baby went from lying in a crib to kind-of walking in the time it took for Hillary to catch up to your courageous public support of my love life.

Second, it doesn’t really bother me that Hillary Clinton played it safe back in the day. She’s been politically active for a long time, and her stances on numerous issues have evolved with the times. I’m okay with that, because I’m not naive. In her case, I’m especially inclined to forgive, because while she’ll bow and pander and obfuscate to get power, she then uses that power to do awesome stuff. She has fought hard for healthcare, environmentalism and women’s rights.

And no, it doesn’t bother me that you weren’t always openly pro-gay either.

That brings me to my third point. Your accomplishments, as far as LGBTQ rights go, consist of, well, saying you aren’t against them. The tide of public opinion on gay marriage turned quickly. You jumped into the water a year before Hillary Clinton did. But while you paddled in the shallows, she struck out swimming.

She even started working for us ever unpopular transgender people. As Secretary of State, she pushed through legislation that enabled trans people to get passports that affirmed their gender without jumping through medical hoops. Imagine life with an ID that can out you, that can expose you to violence. Imagine needing a surgery to get that ID changed, and needing a job to pay for the surgery, and being denied the job because your ID outs you as transgender. Long before I knew who was responsible, I knew a trans woman who carried her passport with her all the time. She carried it because she didn’t “pass” well, because she sometimes did get attacked, because the security of a gender affirming government-issued ID was something she needed daily. The passport bill is the kind of work Hillary is best at; small, not too glamorous, but with significant practical benefits for real human beings.

To this day, if you go to her plan on her website, you see trans issues explicitly spelled out. She will fight for our rights in bathrooms, as she will also fight gender conversion therapy, appoint Supreme Court Justices who will uphold our newly won marriage rights, and continue to vocally, openly support us.

I couldn’t find any evidence of your support for trans rights, or that you’ve even mentioned them. I don’t see what you say about conversion therapy. You are socially liberal, but fiscally conservative. When you pick the new Supreme Court Justice, which will be your priority? Do you already have a list of highly qualified judges who are your fellow libertarians? If you can’t get one, would you appoint someone who is socially and fiscally liberal? Or will your primary concern be appointing someone in favor of “small government” even when that means making the government too small to protect people like me?

Those are the questions that concern me, a person who has to live in this country while being queer. Not “who liked us before we were cool?”

Fourth, why the hell are you criticizing Hillary Clinton at all? She’s not the person I’m afraid of. I’m afraid of the party who, this year, reached new lows in their vehement opposition of LGBTQ rights. I’m scared of the people who are actively anti-gay marriage, not the one whose support of it is only three years old. I’m scared of the party that grins approvingly at conversion therapy and would refuse to let me adopt a child.

I’m scared of the fucking Republicans.

It’s possible you’ve got ads targeting the GOP and appealing to young, gay-friendly Republicans, and I just haven’t seen them because Google knows I’m not a Republican. It’s possible.

Although I do see an awful lot of pro-Trump ads these days though. So Google is letting Trump, Clinton and you being anti-Clinton through, but not you calling out Republicans on the most anti-LGBTQ platform yet? Yeah, that’s definitely more likely than you calling out the kettle and ignoring the pot.

What the hell, man?

All this together makes me think that, honestly, you don’t give a shit about people like me. You don’t see our rights as worthy of real time and action. But you’re happy to take credit for liking us, even if that means stealing votes for somebody who will actually make us a priority.

I think you can see why I’m a bit pissed.

Adam and Ronan

Raven Cycle spoilers ahead, but only for the Ronan/Adam subplot.

Maggie Stiefvater is rapidly climbing my list of favorite authors, and the conclusion of the Raven Cycle only solidified that. I was extremely nervous but completely satisfied; in fact I think The Raven King is my favorite in the series. I don’t want to ruin anything for those who haven’t read it yet, so for those who haven’t, I’ll only say that it’s a modern quest with beautifully broken protagonists, and one of the best fantasy series I’ve ever read. The first book is Raven Boys. Go get it.

There is a lot to praise, but there was one small aspect that stood out to me. In the end of the second book, The Dream Thieves, we find out that one protagonist, Ronan, is gay. We also learn he is in love with another protagonist, Adam. Up to this point, we’ve believed Adam is straight. That is, he briefly dated one of the female characters, and of the many things torturing him, doubts about his sexuality isn’t on the list. Maggie Stiefvater likes torturing her characters, so I was sure this wasn’t going to end well.

And yet, Adam realizes he wants to be with Ronan. This realization doesn’t come with a lot of anguish over how this shreds up his whole concept of who he is. Nobody dissects whether Adam is gay or bi or just gay for Ronan. He just falls in love with Ronan. The central issue isn’t their sexuality, but the fact that both are very damaged human beings, and there’s this question of whether they will help each other heal, or break each other further.

It’s not a coming out story. It’s just a love story.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Coming out  love stories are awesome. I love them. But I do get frustrated at the single story effect on gay romances. They’re always sad and anguished and full of this questioning of your fundamental identity. Many queer people have one story in their life that is like that, but some don’t, and even among those who do, it’s rarely the only love story they will live. Sometimes we just have regular romances, like straight people.

For once, I don’t really have a grand point to make. I’m just so pleased to see a gay romance that broke the mold, and also Ronan and Adam are fucking perfect.

LGBT or Gender Dysphoria; the DSM Controversy

I have noticed a pattern in my own blogging; I don’t tend to jump on issues that are currently major controversies. Striking while the iron is hot is hard for me to do when everyone else is trying to hammer away at the same lump. I don’t like the chaos of a lot of other voices, and I’m wary of the way my own prejudices towards or against the people arguing might obscure my ability to make up my own mind. One of my greatest fears is falling into the trap of believing what I believe because it conforms to the beliefs of people I like. I would rather wait until the iron has cooled, after the other smiths have wandered away, and examine what remains. If I think there’s some work left to be done, then I’ll reheat the iron myself and see if I can hammer out something in peace. It might not be the right thing, but at least I feel like I have space to think while I’m working.

Now that I have entirely exhausted that metaphor, let me resurrect a controversy from a year ago; the DSM’s continuing classification of transsexuality as a medical disorder in the DSM-5, albeit with the new name Gender Dysphoria and a new description of the diagnosis. This article by the Huffington Post covers it well, but in brief, the new diagnosis is almost universally regarded as an improvement, but the mere presence of transsexuality in a medical text is resented. At this time nobody is fighting too hard to entirely remove it, because without it trans people could not get insurance coverage, leaving transition out of the reach of the majority of trans people. Still, it is tolerated with a good deal of grumbling.

The association of being trans and being disordered goes back to the days when homosexuality was also considered a mental illness. Being transgender was considered an extension of homosexuality; the misconception that there is no difference between an extremely effeminate gay man or extremely butch lesbian still exists. It naturally follows, then that once the L, G, and B were no longer considered medical issues, the T should also cease to be a diagnosable condition.

Or does it? For one thing, as I just argued, the whole association between being gay and being trans was flawed to begin with. I identify as a man, but I am also attracted to men. My place in that acronym as a G is independent of my place as a T. Therefore, just because homosexuality is no longer a medical condition, that does not necessarily mean gender dysphoria needs to be removed from the DSM. Furthermore, there is a reason that homosexuality has been removed from the DSM while transsexuality hasn’t. Gay and bisexual people don’t need any therapy to live a productive, fulfilling life. They just need social acceptance. If society fully accepted trans people, if I no longer felt that I needed medical assistance to pass as male to protect myself in bathrooms and on the streets, would I still want hormones and surgery? Yes. Even concealed by binders, my chest bothers me. Surgery will heal me of that. Having taken testosterone makes me feel good when I look in a mirror. I used to feel dissociated from the person I saw. Now I actually see myself. Quite apart from any social issues, having a body that misaligned with my feelings about my identity caused me daily stress. Having a body that feels more like mine gives me daily relief. Medicine objectively helped me.

Now, I can think of three different problems with considering trans people disabled. First, many trans people love their bodies, love their place in the queer community, and don’t want to be pathologized. Second, having a disability is highly stigmatized, and trans people have enough irrational prejudices to deal with without adding ableism to the mix. Third, there’s a fear that consenting to be labelled with a diagnosis will ultimately take power away from trans people to determine their own medication. Not every surgery or hormone is the best choice for every trans person, and worse, there’s the fear that someday, someone might invent a drug to stop trans people from being trans, a pill that would make every trans person’s mental gender align with the gender they were assigned based on their biology. These are all legitimate issues, but I have come to believe they are not sufficient to justify a crusade to remove transsexuality from the DSM.

The first is a case of personal identification. Many trans people don’t feel remotely disabled. Some don’t even desire any medical alteration, either because they identify outside of the gender binary entirely, or because, for whatever reason, they feel male or female enough without the intervention of hormones or surgeries. That is completely fine. If I have learned anything from the social justice community, it’s that there is no battle more doomed to failure than the fight to make people identify as something that that doesn’t feel right to them, just because the identity they currently have is inconvenient for your particular social mission. It’s also a cruel battle. I want a world where everybody respects everybody’s identity, provided that identity is not motivating them to violate somebody else’s safety or consent (I only bring this up in anticipation of an asshole who says, “what if somebody identifies as a serial killer or a rapist?” Go fuck yourself, hypothetical troll).

My argument against the first issue is not that trans people as individuals can’t have legitimate reasons for feeling they don’t belong into the category “disabled.” My argument is that in the world of disability activism, there is precedent for that. Much of my experience with disability comes from studying ASL for four years to work as an interpreter. This education focused on the culture as well as the language, and I had many d/Deaf friends, and even dated a deaf guy for a little while. The whole reason for that funny lowercase/uppercase split I did is that some people consider themselves disabled (like the guy I dated, who was lowercase deaf), and some people consider themselves part of a linguistic minority (and capitalize Deaf to show their pride in their identification). For those who live in predominately signing communities, the objective reality is that their experience is more like that of a linguistic minority than that of a disabled person. I don’t see why the trans community can’t accommodate the same sort of variable identification. For some individuals, “has gender dysphoria” describes how they feel about their bodies and their place in society; they are men or women who had to overcome a physical problem to live the lives they needed to. For others, an identification as queer works best, and many combine both.

The second one has a pragmatic logic, but on a moral level it bothers me. The argument is ultimately is at best accommodating ableism, and at worst actively ableist. Look at this quote I found on Yahoo answers, by someone who was delivering a Trans 101 that was otherwise very balanced and well informed;

“However, many (most?) folks who qualify for this diagnosis [Gender Identity Disorder] dislike the term. That is because being born transsexual or being transgender is NOT a disorder, they are natural variants. However, because of the stigma applied in the past it was labelled as such. Modern research over the last 25 years has more or less proven that people are in fact born this way.”

She is saying that trans people are unlike disabled people because they are natural and born that way. Well, many if not most disabled people are born that way, and in what objective sense are they unnatural? Disabilities often arise from genetic inheritance or mutations, which are entirely natural processes. And, once again, we are not different in the sense that we don’t sometimes need medical intervention to live our lives. She isn’t using natural in any objective sense, but in the same sense that a cultivated rose is “natural” but a two-headed snake is “unnatural.” She’s really just saying that being transgender is good and nice and fine but being disabled is bad and yucky. I’m not okay with that.

The third issue is actually one where disabled and transgendered people are actually natural allies. Whether it’s cochlear implants for d/Deafness or Ritalin for ADHD or SSRIs or prosthetics vs wheelchairs, disabled people are constantly faced with the issue of people believing that a particular cure is either something every person with condition X must have, or that it’s something unnatural and if you take it you are betraying the great movement of condition X positivity. The reality, for practically every cure that does not actually prevent premature death, is that there are pros and cons, side effects and new opportunities, and what is a good choice for one person may be a poor choice for another with the same condition. In nearly every disability 101 I have encountered, a key issue has been the right to self-determine treatment based on your individual needs. The sentiment that certain cures would take something away from who you are as a person is not uncommon. Deaf people, people with autism, some artists with manageable mood disorders are just a few examples, and again for every example there is someone else who would give anything to have been born without their disability. Similarly, some trans people would jump at the chance to be cis, while others, like myself, feel like being trans is part of who they are, and that losing it wouldn’t be an improvement, just changing who they are to make other people comfortable.

This is a massive article because I am trying to condense so many complex issues into one piece. As it is I feel I will need follow-ups and clarifications, and on that note if you have some objection to what I have said please leave a comment, so I can clarify or educate myself as needed. Ultimately, my point is this; the aim of trans activism is to convince people to accept our rights to self-determine our identities and our bodies, without scorn or alienation from people who find us distasteful for bigoted reasons that have nothing to do with our own well-being. This is a primary goal of many disabled activists as well; for non-life threatening conditions that have treatment options, this is often the primary goal. So rather than alienate ourselves from them, why not ally ourselves with them?

Hi, I’m Lane William Brown. I have been diagnosed with gender dysphoria. I  am really okay with that.

Rereading the Screwtape Letters as an Atheist; Part Thirteen

For several chapters now, Lewis and I have danced around the topic of Christian sexual morality. He says one thing that makes me cringe and brace myself for the topic. Then, instead of diving into it, he uses it as a springboard into something else entirely, and I am both relieved and disappointed. Relieved, because right now sex is arguably the most divisive issue when it comes to the battle between conservative Christians and everyone else and putting off the dive into that shitshow was okay by me. Disappointed, because I do care about the topic, and I think it’s important to say my piece on it. Now, in Chapter Eighteen, he finally gives me to chance to talk about what I think of the controversy.

“The Enemy’s demand on humans takes the form of a dilemma; either complete abstinence or unmitigated monogamy.”

Now, let me make one thing clear. If you personally are A. a virgin, B. a monogamously married person, or C. someone who is holding off on sex until marriage, nothing I am about to say is directed against you. In my ideal world, I would fold this chapter in with the ones on prayer and communion, because they are just about Christians doing Christian things. In the world I actually live in, the right wingers have put considerable effort into directly imposing their sexual mores onto people who do not share those convictions, using not only bullying but also legislation to ensure people who try to live their own lives are not left in peace. They ban gay marriage and poly marriage and create legal barriers to getting insurance to cover birth control. They make it as difficult as possible for teenagers to get real medical information in their sex ed, in an attempt to control their sexuality, despite studies showing that doesn’t stop teenagers from having sex so much as make the sex they do have much more risky. And then they have the audacity to accuse us of forcing our agenda down their throats. I don’t have any problems with somebody making the personal decision to not have sex, or not have sex outside of particular circumstances, but in this case I will speak against the logic and mores Lewis lays out, not because I want to convince anybody to abandon them, but because I want people to see how these are not mores that need to be encoded into our laws and imposed on the private lives of citizens.

I have been to a number of churches and heard many pastors, reverends, youth leaders and ordinary Christian adults speak on why they believe sex outside of marriage is so bad, and there really isn’t that much variation in their reasoning. Mostly they are either of the belief that sex is inherently evil, and only in the context of marriage is it sanctioned as a necessary evil, or they believe that it is inherently good, but it is intended only to produce loving relationships within marriages. Lewis is part of the latter group, and he elaborates on that reasoning in a way that I don’t think many conservative Christians would disagree with.

“The whole philosophy of Hell rests on recognition of the axiom that one thing is not another thing, and, specially, that one self is not another self. My good is my good and your good is yours. What one gains another loses… Now the Enemy’s philosophy is nothing more nor less than one continued attempt to evade this very obvious truth. He aims at a contradiction. Things are to be many, yet somehow also one. The good of one self is to be the good of another. This impossibility He calls Love… His real motive for fixing on sex as the method of reproduction among humans is only too apparent from the use he has made of it. Sex might have been, from our point of view, quite innocent. It might have been merely one more mode in which a stronger self preyed upon a weaker – as it is, indeed, among spiders where the bride concludes her nuptials by eating her groom. But in the humans the Enemy has gratuitously associated affection between the parties with sexual desire. He has also made the offspring dependent on the parents and given the parents an impulse to support it – thus producing the Family, which is like the organism, only worse; for the members are more distinct, yet also united in a more conscious and responsible way. The whole thing, in fact, turns out to be simply one more device for dragging in Love.”

Lewis cares a lot about logic. He fundamentally believes that faith is not only religious, but also rational, and whenever possible he justifies his assertions with tight syllogistic reasoning. Despite this love of logic, if you look carefully at the above, he says nothing about marriage or monogamy or virginity. On the next page, he will skip right to the assertion that once two people have slept together they must be married monogamously forever, seemingly completely oblivious to the fact that he, with all his concern for logic, never gave any reason why that would be so.

If anything, he gives an excellent argument for promiscuity. He is literally saying that sex is physically associated with love, that God is love and that God desires us all to be lovingly united. The conclusion that we should all unite in a planet-wide orgy to bring the kingdom of heaven down to Earth follows more logically from his premises than the conclusion he actually reaches.

And, in fact, his line of reasoning is not too far from my reason for being very sex positive. While, depending on context, sex isn’t always loving, it is often an expression of love, in the sense of “I want to do a thing with you that makes us both feel happy and connected and good.” The fact that I had sex in the context of relationships that ended doesn’t negate the fact that it was an act of love. It’s entirely possible to have a short term relationship where you really care about each other, and then you find you aren’t compatible in the long run and the most loving thing you can do is walk away. While that relationship existed, it was loving and good, and the sex was part of that. If God is supposed to be all about love, why is that condemned? I have still never heard a good reason articulated.
There are times when mores found in religion are also encoded in our laws. We can generally agree that killing other people should be avoided. Thievery is also generally frowned upon. These things are legally prosecuted because they are actually objectively bad things for society. You can explain why they are bad without resorting to religion. When it comes to things that some religions condemn, but that can’t be logically proven to be good or bad without religion, a nation that takes separation of church and state seriously will not make the religion into law. They will allow people to decide to follow what their faith dictates if they so desire, but they will not give members of that religion the power to impose their beliefs on those who do not share them. That is why Lewis’ failure to logically articulate his belief matters today. If this is the best he can do, that has some obvious implications for what our laws are currently doing wrong.

Next Lewis has Screwtape go into marriages, happy and otherwise, and why being in love is a big fat trap of the devil. I have more to say on that, but because this is already a full blog post’s worth of thoughts, I feel forced to break this chapter up into two parts. It seems appropriate, really, given that Lewis himself could not reasonably connect point A with point B. I apologize for any grumpiness that may have come across in this post, but have I mentioned that I’d really like to get married in Virginia someday?

How to Give Good Advice; My Response to the Lady Who Thinks All Marriages are Between Traditional Straight Couples, Part 1

I’ve been working on taking a look at the blogs of people who read my own work, and this one from The Editor’s Journal intrigued me. It’s a very neutral reposting of the matrimonial tips of someone named Dr. Heavenly Kimes. The intent of the post is less to criticize her directly and more to start a conversation in the comments. The tips are fairly provocative, in that they assume a traditional, patriarchal structure is the ideal marriage. This is one of those rare times where I’ve fully enjoyed reading the comment section. Reactions varied, but on the whole they were thoughtful and respectfully phrased, even if they were fairly vehement and opposed at times.

My own response was too lengthy to be a comment. I had something to say about every one of the tips Kimes gave, because all of them were their own mixture of good and bad. There was at least the grain of a good thought in all of them, but phrased in such a way that following it verbatim would be likely be a terrible for many couples. Now, the fact that she is apparently in a husband-is-the-head-of-the-family marriage doesn’t bother me. If that’s what makes her happy, it’s her right to live that way. What bothers me is her assumption that what makes her happy will make everyone else happy; that her relationship is the kind everyone else should have. Her advice doesn’t read like she thoughtfully looked at what made her marriage work and which elements can be generalized for just about anyone. It looks like she slapped down a list of things that happened to work for her and called it a day.

For an analogy, let’s pretend that I found a great way for me to get over writer’s block was to have a beer while I write my first draft. It makes a certain amount of sense; alcohol helps many people relax and stop overthinking, so it might shut up that annoying, overly critical inner editor, at least until I’m ready for a rewrite. All that is fine. However, if I were to put “have a beer while you write” up on the internet, say as item four on my list of top ten ways to beat writer’s block, that would be a problem. My decision may have been informed by the fact that I am  not an alcoholic and don’t have any other health issues that would make a drink a day an issue, but that’s not something I can assume about all my readers. Medical issues aside, for some writers it really is important to write a great first draft, so they need their heads clear to do their best writing the first time around. For some people, alcohol can make them feel more anxious or depressed, so it might make their writer’s block worse. Of course, whether my readers actually follow my advice or not is up to them, but it would still be fair to judge the advice I just gave as bad. When I was trying to decide what to do for myself, the only standard was whether or not it worked for me. When I started giving advice, now a new set of standards apply. If my suggestion would have adverse effects on a substantial number of the people I’m advising, that is practically the definition of bad advice.

That’s not to say that I can’t draw on my experience to give advice; I just need to phrase it in a way that is likely to be actually helpful for the audience at large. For example; “If there’s an inner editor who won’t shut up, find things you can physically do to help distract yourself from it. I like to have a beer while I write. For other people, going to another setting helps them focus. Some people take a walk and talk into a recorder, and then transcribe their thoughts later. Some people even like having some music or the TV on in the background.” Now the advice is better. I’ve given a good guideline, and some concrete examples of how to apply it. For some readers none of the suggestions will work, and that’s okay. Where a single inapplicable suggestion is unhelpful, a series can still provide material from which the reader can begin to brainstorm.

The other issue I have with her tips is that many of them play into sexist double standards. That issue could have disappeared if she had prefaced her article with something like; “I’m a straight woman in a traditional the-man-is-the-head-of-the-family relationship, and we both like it that way. It might not work as well for everybody, but if you are the same way, or think you might want to be, here’s what has worked for us.” The issue with sexism is that it forces gender roles onto people who don’t want them, or under circumstances they don’t want. For people who happen to be fairly traditionally masculine men or feminine women, it is all right to still be that way. You are not betraying the whole of feminism by staying home and cooking for your family. I know masculine men and feminine men, tomboys and girly women, trans people and cis people and people who zig zag over the gender lines like a crayon in the hand of a two year old. My goal is not to take people out of one set of boxes and put them into another. It’s to demolish the boxes, and if some people drift over to space that happened to once be encompassed by a box, that’s fine. So long as it is an open space, rather than a crammed corner full of miserable people who didn’t want to be there, I say mission accomplished.

In a boxless world, I might be able to read Kimes’ presuming good intentions and say no harm done. As someone who doesn’t fit in the boxes, however, I can attest that we are not in a boxless world. We are in a world where the boxes have gotten badly dented and often there is a hole you can escape out of. There is still a lot of social pressure to stay in the box, and within that context, I can’t help reading her advice as a part of that pressure, whether she intended it that way or not. This is the other issue with the thoughtlessness of her advice. In my made up example, there isn’t a lot of social pressure to be a drink-while-you-draft writer. If you read it and know drinking that much would be bad for you, that can make it fairly easy to ignore. For a married woman struggling to build a good career for herself, hearing for the twelve thousandth time that no husband wants a wife who puts her career first, the effect is different. There probably is some harm done. So even though I will acknowledge several places where Kimes has makings of a good point, on the whole her approach is badly flawed.

Coming up next; a blow by blow analysis of all her points, because overthinking is fun!

2 Broke Girls and the Friendly Gay Jokes

I think about posts I want to write for a long time before I write them. Sometimes I think about them for so long I never actually post them (working on that). One occasional effect of this is that I hit on something that works well as a supplementary illustration of a post that I haven’t written yet.

For example, I’ve been following various debates on the clash between comedy and political correctness. There’s a strong resentment from many comedians over the idea that you can’t tell jokes about sensitive issues, when those jokes are often the funniest. I’ve always thought that those comedians are missing the point. The point is not that you can’t tell jokes about sensitive issues. You should. Often those are the topics that, for one reason or another, need to be joked about the most. The point is that a joke is still responsible for the message contained in it. It isn’t that you can’t tell jokes about LGBT people. It’s that if you tell a joke that boils down to, “ugh, gay, so gross,” you’re still responsible for spreading homophobia, and all the social consequences that come with that.

When I think about jokes about politically sensitive topics that are still socially responsible, most of the examples that come to mind also come from a highly politicized viewpoint. They are jokes about oppression that specifically target oppression. Those are awesome, but I don’t think comedians need to be out to make a big political statement in order to tell a good joke about a sensitive topic. Not every comedian wants to be Jon Stewart, and that’s all right.

Recently I got into the show 2 Broke Girls, which illustrates this point beautifully. It isn’t Orange is the New Black or anything else that is remotely trying to make a statement. It’s just two girls being broke and snarky. And, for some reason, they love queer jokes. I’ve yet to see an episode without at least one, and I’ve yet to find a single one offensive. The point of the joke, based on the six or so episodes I’ve seen, is never that gay people are weird or gross. In “And the ‘It’ Hole,” Max says to one character, “This is where I’d tip you with cash or offer you sex, but I’m kinda broke and you’re kinda gay, so much be nice.” Nothing bad about him is implied; it’s funny because Max is blunt. Gay people creep into their jokes less because there is something inherently funny about being gay, and more because they are part of everyday life on a show where everybody is snarky about everything. The gay jokes on 2 Broke Girls don’t make me feel oppressed; they make me feel normalized.

In the latest episode, “And the Life After Death,” they took that to a whole new level. Episode spoilers follow; my basic point has been made, and this part is just further illustration.

Caroline has just found out her nanny died. She goes to the funeral, assuming everyone will know who she is and be happy she came, only to find none of them have ever heard of her. The show does a beautiful job of making the dialog and situations humorous while the actual story is really quite poignant. Caroline was more or less abandoned by her biological mother, her nanny Antonia was the closest thing she had to a replacement. As her attempts to get people to remember her make her look more and more like a clueless, spoiled rich girl, the audience comes to realize that for Caroline, this is actually very serious. She’s being threatened by the possibility that her most meaningful childhood relationship was with someone who only saw her as a job.

Then, at the last minute, a woman comes up to her and says she knows who Caroline is, and not to worry, the biological family didn’t know who she was either. Turns out, she’s Antonia’s lover. Like the rest of the episode, the dialog is played for laughs, but what’s going on under the surface is serious. The whole emotional impact of the story relies on the audience understanding that, from Caroline’s perspective, Antonia was as emotionally significant as a mother, even if their relationship wasn’t recognized as such by outsiders. This sets us up to understand that, from Antonia’s perspective, her relationship with her lover was as significant as any marriage, even if it wasn’t recognized as such by the law or her family. When Antonia’s lover tells Caroline that Antonia loved her, treasured her, it is validated because it’s coming from someone who knew Antonia better than anyone else in that funeral. Without trying to be political, the scene beautifully validates queer relationships.

It also suggests that Caroline was important to Antonia because, just as Antonia was the closest thing Caroline had to a mother, Caroline was Antonia’s way of having a daughter. As someone who has needed to develop a family of choice to replace a mostly estranged family of blood, that scene was deeply meaningful to me personally. I’m almost crying writing about it. I’m sure their main priority was to make a funny story with a satisfying twist, and they succeeded, but the route they took was deeply respectful to queer experiences, and they deserve credit for that.

Strong Femininity

When I was growing up and trying to talk to people about how I didn’t feel female, their first impulse was to say something “reassuring” about how all the masculine traits I was describing didn’t make me not female, just a different kind. I got exactly zero comfort from those conversations, and they helped me realize that my problem wasn’t feeling unfeminine and wanting to be female, but feeling fundamentally uncomfortable with being female. In general I didn’t get anything else out of conversations of this type, with one exception. I was talking with a lesbian friend, who said that she thought I had a very strong femininity to me, not in the sense that I was very feminine, but in the sense that a lot of my inner traits that gave me strength were feminine. At the time that was a novel thought for me. I wasn’t used to people talking about feminine traits as strong ones; that is not how American culture presents them. As I thought about it though, I realized that she was right. Transitioning didn’t change that, in fact it actually makes it easier for me to accept it.

I’m not a girly man. I wear cargo shorts, T-shirts and boxer shorts. I avoid pink and purple for the most part. My interests are generally either gender neutral or masculine. I can drive a stick shift. Externally, I’m a pretty standard masculine-but-not-macho man. Internally, however, a lot of the traits that I consider most important to my identity the sort that are culturally considered feminine.

I’m creative. I love to write and imagine. I enjoy looking at other people’s artwork. I have an appreciation for the beautiful things in life.

I’m sensitive. I cry in real life. I sometimes cry at movies. More often, I’ll become absorbed by the characters’ lives and think about them for days afterwards (Brokeback Mountain is a good example). I get sad thinking about historical figures who lived through some personal tragedy. I empathize easily with other people. Understanding the emotions of other people and connecting with them is important to me.

I have both rational and emotional aspects to how I think, but I’m more likely to follow my heart than my head. I trust my emotions.

I have a nurturing side. I love babysitting and taking care of animals. If a friend of mine is upset or in trouble, I like being the one to comfort them.

In conflict, I prefer a passive approach to an aggressive one. Thats not to say I’m not stubborn or competitive, but I save my aggressive side for when I’m being playful; when I’m bantering or playing games. In real conflicts, I prefer to either reach a compromise, or find a way to remove myself from the situation.

Strength is about whether you are willing to make sacrifices and work towards what you value. The traits I’ve described above influence what I want and what tactics I prefer to use to achieve it. Being emotional gives me the motivation to fight for what I value. Being artistic and nurturing affects what I want to fight for. Preferring passive tactics means I’ve developed resilience and patience. Whatever the culture might say, all those traits are part of my expression of strength. Thats true for many other men and women as well.

There are many feminine things that I avoid because they don’t mesh well with my identity. I genuinely have no interest in wearing eyeliner, or watching the latest chick flick. That is not to say that nothing considered feminine can fit into my idea of who I am. I’ve yet to meet a man or woman, cis or trans, who doesn’t have at least one masculine trait and at least one feminine trait. Being trans male isn’t about being the Perfect Western Ideal of Masculinity, or about crushing the gender binary through external performance. Its about being me.