Another 103% true story of life in the gender blender. Scripted before November 8th, but actually serves well as my response to the whole election debacle. Continue reading The only thing we have to fear…
Now that Pete has died, the usual commentary about his appearance has renewed with a vengeance. Pete had a long, long history of cosmetic surgery. He started off with a rhinoplasty around the time that You Spin Me Right Round peaked and continued with more facial mods. He suffered complications from his rhinoplasties, as well as extensive infection, hospitalization, bankruptcy, and depression following a thoroughly fucked-up lip job. [He appeared on UK TV’s Channel 5 Celebrity Botched Up Bodies with some truly disgusting details of how his body started disintegrating after surgery of dubious quality.] He also had countless reconstructive operations, and pretty much everyone on the Internet thinks that he looked much sexier before said surgeries, and they’re not afraid to trumpet this belief in offensive terms.
Anyway, a certain segment of the post-Pete mourning appears to be nothing more than the usual “He was so ugly when he died!” whingeing. The Mirror [UK] provides some representative samples. “Pete Burns was so handsome before surgery!”: fans shocked by his appearance as a young man, for example, contains quotes from irrelevant people saying things like, “Such a good looking chap back then. What possessed him?” Another Mirror article, One of the last pictures of Pete Burns shows shocking changes that left him like “Frankenstein” before his death takes the judgmental tone, with the author describing his recent fame for his “shocking” appearance as “sadly for the wrong reasons.” Thank you, Mirror — I was waiting with bated breath for your magisterial pronouncements on the moral acceptability of Pete’s more recent notoriety.
Those who condemn Pete’s latter-day appearance do not care about his bodily autonomy, bodily integrity, or his self-directed, informed choices. He explicitly stated on Celebrity Botched Up Bodies, “I realized that I was a visual entity and that I had to look good.” For him, the pursuit of this goal entailed surgical body modification. He seems to have been motivated in part by anxiety about his formerly broken nose [which left him “self-conscious” in front of photographers], the aforementioned belief that he “had to look good,” and the desire to keep his face from falling off after the bad lip jobs. Though his self-modification seems to have had its origins in deep dissatisfaction, Pete said, “I’m Frankenstein [sic!]. I’m feeling wonderful. … People might think I’m the ugliest son of a bitch alive, but I want to maintain this appearance.” In other words, he emphasized his conscious choice and embrace of his body.
This proprietary bloviation about Pete’s body pisses me off because, at base, it’s a form of gender policing. He was publicly acceptable “back then,” i.e., in the mid-1980s, because he was performing masculinity in a culturally acceptable way. Though his long curly hair and pouty lips were often read as transgressively feminine, his deep voice, dick-accentuating tight pants, and mediocre hit of heteronormative desire You Spin Me coded him definitively in the masculine category. His style in later years disrupted this coding. With his extensive plastic surgeries, he participated in an activity designated as feminine. Furthermore, the results — cheek and lip implants — altered his face in ways that were considered feminizing. His interests in wigs and heavy makeup were also seen as feminine. Thus, as he abandoned symbols of culturally acceptable masculinity and began performing in ways associated with culturally acceptable femininity, he messed up people’s nice, neat binaries. They felt uncomfortable and projected their discomfort onto him by calling him ugly for transgressing unspoken strictures on gender roles. Hey, look, folks — that’s some industrial-grade transmisogyny right there!
Gender policing like this happens pretty much everywhere. For example, when Angelina Jolie had an elective prophylactic double mastectomy in 2013, some people mourned the death of her boobs as if they themselves were personally entitled to them. In my own experience, when I first began to cut my hair shorter and shorter, some people reacted with sadness, insinuating that I was “prettier” with longer hair. Well, I was “prettier” insofar as “prettier,” a comparative of an adjective that is gendered feminine, connotes feimininity. I offer no coherent conclusion beyond frustration.
I was reading Wikipedia the other day and I came across an exhaustive article on The Corset Controversy. I read all the testimonials, arguing pro- and anti-, in various 19th-century periodicals, and I was like, “Is this for real? It sounds like something out of Penthouse letters.” My question occasioned an entire essay on the subject, cast in the form of a dialogue between me and Jareth. I’m just excerpting it here because I don’t feel like rewriting it univocally.
Me: Maybe you can help me.
Jareth: Certainly! Shall we parse the intricacies of Georgette Heyer’s complex portrayals of her female characters? ^_^
Me: No, but it’s tangentially related, insofar as I was reading about the Regency period on Wikipedia. Then I moved on to fashion in general, which, of course, got me into corsetry, which ended me up at an article called The Corset Controversy.
Jareth: Is this like The Woman Question?
Me: I dunno. What are you defining as The Woman Question?
Jareth: Oh, all that piss going back and forth in the latter part of the 19th century and the early 20th about women’s rationality, educability, legal rights, suffrage, etc., etc., etc.
Me: Not directly, although the two overlap chronologically. The Corset Question was a debate that ran on from about the 1790s to the 1890s. It was, of course, a disagreement over whether women should wear corsets, which was also referred to as tight-lacing or figure training. Detractors said that corsetry caused pain, squished the wearers’ bodies, reduced their lung capacity, muscle strength, and stamina, and ruined their health. Proponents said that, if practiced correctly, wearing corsetry was physically enjoyable, harmless to health, strength, and posture, and also fashionable/sexy.
Jareth: Are you sure that debate is over? –Because I don’t think it is. Whenever the subject of corsetry comes up online, usually in the context of costuming, Ren faires, and/or kinky clothing, there are always people who sound off on how disgustingly restrictive, painfully disfiguring, and generally evil corsets are. Then there are always people who are into corsetry who counter with something about it being perfectly fine if you do it right. Boy, is it tedious…
There are certain subjects, I think, that people have learned are bad through received wisdom. Like you should never put metal in a microwave because it will cause a nuclear detonation and wipe out your house. Or you should never trust a stranger who asks you for directions or offers you a ride because they’re clearly a child-molesting pervert who’s going to kidnap you, rape you, and leave you in a ditch. And you should never do any illegal drugs ever because they will either kill you the first time or damn you to a hell of escalating addiction and misery.
…I’d put people’s unreasoning objections to corsetry in the same category as stranger danger and the War on Drugs. People have worked themselves up into such a froth about the putative damage caused by corsets that they won’t stand to hear any actual information on the subject. Of course, the received wisdom is also so pervasive that it’s very hard to figure out what is true about corsetry.
Me: See – that’s kind of my problem.
…Reading selections of letters in the Wikipedia article makes me suspicious – specifically, all the pro-corsetry ones. Seriously, they all sound the same, especially when they insist over and over again that it was painful at first, but they quickly got used to it, and now they enjoy the “snug,” “tight” fit.
For example, there was a whole protracted argument in the Toronto Daily Mail about corsets, especially for girls and teenagers. It was in a weekly section called Woman’s Kingdom, and it started off on April 7th, 1883, with some mother asking if tight-lacing could be done without damage. There were the usual pro- and anti- sound-offs, and then there was a sidetrack about preventing girls from cutting the laces of their corsets overnight.
Here’s where I get suspicious. This is directly from the May 19th, 1883 Toronto Daily Mail in the Woman’s Kingdom section, page 5:
HOW TO PREVENT LACES BEING CUT.
“Mother” asks how to prevent her daughters taking off their stays during the night. I must confess I am a disciple of the old school, and believe in the efficacy of corporal punishment. The “severe punishments” …were whipping, which I administered. They were severe, but they served their purpose. Two applications prevented any further interference with the staylaces. I would recommend “Mother” to try the rod with her daughters. –STAYLACE.
I have a very simple plan to prevent my children cutting their laces when they are first put into tight stays, to obtain a temporary relief from the pain which is undoubtedly severe at first. When one of my girls disobeys me by removing her stays, I adopt this plan: After retiring, I fasten her wrists together with a silk handkerchief. This keeps her hands out of mischief, and she soon gets accustomed to the stays. –A.B., KINGSTON.
And here’s some more on the subject from the next week, May 26th, same paper, same section, same page:
CHILDREN AND STAYLACES.
I can entirely endorse what “A.B., Kingston” says, that the best way of punishing children cutting the laces of their stays is by confining their hands. Instead of a silk handkerchief I use a small leather strap, with which I fasten the wrists together at night to keep the hands away from mischief, and as a punishment I fasten the hands behind the back for the greater portion of a day. I find that a week’s restriction, which means a good wholesome position for the hands, induces a respect for the laces for all time to come. –A.R.
I positively smiled at the plans suggested to prevent girls under training removing their stays, such as whipping them or tying up their hands. Mothers, listen to my plan. I get a small chain and a little padlock. When the stays are laced, I put the chain round the waist and fasten it with the lock, and put the key in my pocket, and there the stays have to remain till I remove the chain. Is that not simple? –COMMON SENSE.
Jareth: O_O Are you fucking kidding me?
Me: No! I’m legitimately getting this from pdfs of scanned Toronto Daily News microfiche that are freely available on Google News. Here’s a link to the head of the Woman’s Kingdom section for the May 19th quotes; go read it for yourself:
Jareth: *clicking, reading*
Holy shit, you weren’t kidding. Wow, that makes me so sad.
Me: Yeah, but do you think that’s true?
Jareth: Are you seriously doubting the existence of corporal punishment?!
Me: I’m doubting the existence of bunches of people practicing what sounds weirdly like kinky bondage fantasies, combined with corsetry fetishes, on their kids.
…To me it sounds suspiciously like people getting a thrill from airing their fetishes in public through the medium of fictional letters.
Jareth: Oh… I was looking at it from a child abuse viewpoint. I can believe that it’s true because people visit all kinds of of horrible, degrading, painful treatment upon their kids.
I can also believe it’s true because of the simple fact that people wore corsets regularly at that time. That includes kids! I’ve seen the ads for kids’ corsets, so it’s not like it was a rare phenomenon. Also there was a whole spectrum of attitudes toward corsetry for children, so naturally there would be people toward the extreme end who would lock their kids into stays at nighttime.
…I’m sure that some of the pro- letters were just elaborate whack-off hoaxes, but you say that this Corset Question went on for over a century, with pretty much the same arguments back and forth. I don’t think a 120-year-long whack-off hoax campaign over multiple countries, through multiple media outlets, is really likely. I think it’s much more probable that people were just coughing up the same pro- and anti- arguments at each other. Some of the pro- testimonials, I bet, were distortions and outright lies, and some were accurate reflections of how the writer perceived their experience. But I’m inclined to judge it a real controversy with real beliefs, real people, real stories, and real experiences behind it, even if it sounds pornographic.
By the way – I think you’re imposing your own modern judgment on this whole subject.
…Nowadays, pretty much no one wears corsets; they’ve gone from ubiquitous articles of clothing to costume-like things associated with extreme sexualization and kinky sex. You’re probably reading kinky sex back into the Corset Question because that’s what corsetry signifies to you, the modern reader.
Me: Mmmm, true. That makes sense. At the same time, though, I also see the Corset Question as intimately related to the Woman Question. If the Corset Question is about women’s physical freedom, then the Woman Question is about women’s legal and political freedom. The social body thus literally becomes a site for conflict as various people try to control it via the Corset Question, thus expressing their answer to the Woman Question.
Jareth: …So the Corset Question really is the Woman Question. Interesting.
Hey, can we talk about Georgette Heyer now?
Me: How ‘bout later? Writing an essay on the Corset Question just tired out my brain.
Jareth: Okay! I’ll hold you to that! ^_^
Last night’s bus driver was extremely hung up on policing my gender, presumably to determine if I was performing female impersonation to avoid a $1.25 bus fare. The whole conversation was incredibly odd, especially since I told the driver three times that I was the transfer in question and also because the driver directed all questions about my gender to the woman who ended up apologizing to me. [Later conversation with the passenger indicated that she clearly identified as a woman with feminine pronouns, so I feel confident in gendering her as such.] Apparently I was both dubiously gendered and invisible.
It’s bad enough that people clock me as female and/or a woman, but I have a special loathing for being addressed as a lady. As the counterpart to lord, lady connotes high status, nobility, and superiority. Thus it carries with it the worshipful objectification that women have suffered for centuries from the perspective of men who could not see them as fully human and equal beings. To be called a lady is to be objectified and dehumanized against my will, an experience of which I am really not a fan. That is why I hate the term.
Being the third in a multipart essay on a) the queer aesthetics of Dead or Alive, b) the effects thereof on the band, and c) the effects thereof on Pete Burns, with AIDS panic and transmisogyny for good measure!
I previously engaged in long, hard study of Dead or Alive’s performances and music to bring you the penetrating news that, first, they were all about the gay imagery and, second, they were all about the gender-bending. Now we’ll examine the effects of said performance and reputation on Dead or Alive’s popularity. Basically I argue that the homophobic and transmisogynist hostility to Dead or Alive hampered their mainstream success.
An in-depth view of You Spin Me Round Like a Record — and, more specifically, what it conspicuously lacks — demonstrates the cultural prejudices arrayed against Dead or Alive. You Spin Me, as I mentioned in Part I, is the song for which the band is best known, at least in the US, UK, and Canada [which all are, of course, the center of the world 😛 ]. Analysis of the reasons for its success leads me to the conclusion that it succeeded mostly on the strength of being neither homoerotic nor generally genderqueer. Yes, folks, I’m saying that the song topped the charts due to the sheer power of its mediocrity.
Now I’m not arguing that lack of homoerotic and genderqueer content automatically makes You Spin Me dull; instead I’m arguing that it charted because it was one of the least queer, most heteronormative, least innovative, and generally commercially safest in Dead or Alive’s oeuvre. In no particular order, here are my reasons for the song’s boringness:
- Musically speaking, You Spin Me demonstrates a conservative dependence on other artists’ work. According to Wikipedia, Pete’s autobiography states that the song arose from his mental mashup of Luther Vandross’ I Wanted Your Love and Little Nell’s See You Round Like a Record. I don’t count this as much of a strike against the song, as it’s got a good beat, and you can dance to it, but I know that Dead or Alive can do cool, creative reinterpretations of others’ songs [ref. their cover of That’s The Way I Like It]. However, You Spin Me, which is neither original or daring, doesn’t come anywhere close to That’s the Way I Like It.
- Furthermore, the lyrics play it straight. A significant number of Dead or Alive’s songs either leave the identity of the singer’s lover ungendered and/or insinuate that the singer is a dude singing about another dude. By contrast, You Spin Me has a male singer addressing someone as baby, a feminized diminutive, thus implying the male singer’s interest in a female person, i.e., heterosexual desire.
- It’s not funny. I earlier derided Dead or Alive’s lyrics as generic, but that was before I detected the sly humor at work in some of their stuff. This wryness appears in Brand New Lover, in which the peripatetic singer frankly wishes for “someone who will lie to me” and pretend not to notice his constant infidelities. Many of the homoerotic double entendres are also pretty entertaining, as when the lyrics of Something in My House wonder “what might have been / If I’d never met that wicked queen.” Queen qua regal woman or queen qua gay guy? I opt for b), given the total context of Dead or Alive’s preferred imagery. Anyway, the point remains that You Spin Me, with its simple, generic declaratives, has none of this humor.
- Even the supporting material is unusually subdued. The music video, for example, features the band mostly singing into the camera, occasionally tied up in ribbons and sometimes waving flags, with breaks to show an out-of-focus disco ball. Pretty much nothing happens in it, although we do see Pete
dancingwiggling slightly, as some people’s hands, adorned with golden nails, appear from behind him. I understand [from the Wikipedia article again] that they did this on the cheap, but it completely avoids the energetic abandon of all other music videos of theirs I’ve seen.
To summarize, You Spin Me eschews all those potentially controversial aspects of Dead or Alive’s music and image: the homoeroticism, the genderqueerness, and the tongue-in-cheek humor. The song plays it safe melodically with its homage to other artists’ hits. The lyrics describe a thoroughly average experience of heteronormative lust. The song is completely without the humorous glints of self-awareness and/or homoerotic allusions prevalent in other songs. More than that, even the music video shows Dead or Alive in a quiet, physically restrained [literally, by the ribbons!] physical presentation. Pete’s purple loungewear aside [seriously, what is that revolting thing?!], the video showcases nothing remarkable. In other words, You Spin Me gains significance for those qualities conspicuous by their absence in it, not because it has some positive greatness.
You Spin Me is both Dead or Alive’s least quintessential song and also their most popular and commercially successful. I acknowledge that some of their other songs did chart and achieve popularity, particularly in the UK and Japan, but mainstream culture regards the group as a one-hit wonder with You Spin Me as their emblem. That’s because, in the homophobic 1980s, during which people were having moral freakouts over the AIDS crisis, Dead or Alive’s ebullient, flamboyant homoerotic image, genderqueerness, and playful, funny performance of sexuality had little appeal. Only when the band toned down or even excised these aspects could they achieve a chart-topping hit.
The case study of You Spin Me suggests that the homoerotic and genderqueer aesthetics of Dead or Alive manifested in some ways as absences. They played up these aspects in many of their songs, videos, and concerts, but the presence of such tropes led to a mainstream cultural censorship. We found Dead or Alive too hard to handle in the 1980s, so we ignored them, denied them popular and commercial success, and thus absented them from widespread familiarity. When they evacuated their signature aesthetics from You Spin Me in a sort of creative absence, we rewarded them by acknowledging their existence and granting pop cultural success. These absences at play conjure up the metaphorical space of an artistic closet, a homophobic construction created when the audience willfully avoids things it doesn’t want to accept and the artists go along with it by pretending not to evince said traits.
Tune in next time when I focus my attention on Pete’s image in particular and the ways in which homophobia and transmisogyny have played out more recently in his life.
Other parts of this essay:
Being the first in a multipart essay on a) the queer aesthetics of Dead or Alive, b) the effects thereof on the band, and c) the effects thereof on Pete Burns, with AIDS panic and transmisogyny for good measure!
For the purposes of this essay, Dead or Alive constitutes a British New Wave dance pop band most prominent in the mid-1980s. Lead singer Pete Burns, drummer Steve Coy, guitarist Wayne Hussey, and bassist Mike Percy formed the group during their years of greatest exposure. They really hit it big with their second album Youthquake, from which You Spin Me Round Like A Record charted to 1 on the UK singles chart, number 11 in the US, and number 1 in Canada. Further albums had chart success in the UK and Japan, but never hit mainstream popularity in the US.
Okay, so…rad New Wave band with a danceable groove, fun songs, and super sexy members — what’s not to love, right? I theorize that Dead or Alive was way too hard to swallow [pun intended :p] for a homophobic 1980s United States. The societal forces of homophobia and transmisogyny militated against Dead or Alive’s US success. Furthermore, it’s arguable that the same prejudices also nearly did in Pete Burns himself.
That is what I learned from this article about a bearded woman. Bodily distribution of hair seems to be one of the most visible and salient characteristics upon which people make assumptions about someone’s gender identity. I have no profound observations on this subject, except to state that my personal experience, in which people have clocked me as a dude because of my shaven head, supports this.
In other news that no one except me cares about, my attitude toward facial hair has slowly shifted from general repugnance to almost one of neutrality. It’s not an automatic incitement of lust for me, but it’s not an instant buzzkill either. I’ve stopped caring violently about it, except in the following cases. 1) I don’t want any, thank you very much. 2) Soul spots and goatees are silly. 3) Lightning-shaped sideburns will always be hella cool!
For those of you not up on the latest hip party game for people in their 20s and 30s, let me introduce you to Cards Against Humanity. Essentially a group form of multiple choice Mad Libs, this game features a bunch of black cards, which contain sentences with key nouns left out, and a bunch of white cards, which contain nouns or noun phrases. Each player draws a hand of 10 white cards, and then everyone gets a chance to read a black card aloud. After a card is read, players choose from their hand the white card that they think best completes the sentence. These cards are distributed to the reader anonymously. The reader reads the selections aloud and selects the one they like best. The player whose white card is chosen wins the black card. All players draw another white card to keep their hand up to 10, and the role of reading black cards passes to the next player.
In concept, Cards Against Humanity is the sort of game I love. There’s no competition and no real winning or losing. The game emphasizes creativity and amusement instead of points and strategy. It’s the type of game that grows exponentially more hilarious with more and more players, and it sparks very interesting side conversations when people ask or joke about each other’s choices.
In practice, however, I find Cards Against Humanity very problematic in terms of content and framing. The black cards, with their framing sentences, feature mostly topical references familiar to people in their 20s and 30s. Examples include: "What does Prince insist on being included in his dressing room?" and "What does Obama do to unwind?" Fine, no big deal.
It’s the white noun cards, though, that drive me up the wall. If they contained only generically amusing phrases such as "murder most foul," "inappropriate yodeling" and "licking things to claim them as your own," I wouldn’t object. But no, those cards are a distinct minority. The white cards focus heavily on topics apparently considered taboo or difficult to discuss by the white, straight, cis, male, bourgeois creator, including people of color ["brown people," "the hard-working Mexican"], people with disabilities ["amputees," "Stephen Hawking talking dirty," "a robust Mongoloid," "a spastic nerd," "the profoundly handicapped"], queer people ["the gays," "praying the gay away"], fat people ["feeding Rosie O’Donnell," "the morbidly obese," "home video of Oprah sobbing into a Lean Cuisine"], gender-nonconforming people ["passable transvestites"], genocide ["inappropriately timed Holocaust jokes," "helplessly giggling at the mention of Hutus and Tutsis"], Muslims ["Allah [praise be unto him!]," "72 virgins"], poor people ["poor people," "homeless people"], old people ["Grandma," "hospice care"], child abuse ["child abuse"], rape ["surprise sex"], paraphilias ["German dungeon porn"] and crap ["fiery poops"]. I could go on, but then I’d be quoting the entire suite of white cards.
Cards Against Humanity glancingly acknowledges the problematic structure of its game by billing its audience as "horrible people." "It’s as despicable and awkward as you and your friends," crows the main page of the game’s Web site. Of course, below this description are various cool publications and people praising the game, so clearly the game’s creators see being "despicable and awkward" as a coveted, desirable status. They quote condemnations from the Chicago Tribune ["absurd"], The Economist ["unforgivable"] and NPR ["bad"] in contrast with praise from INC ["hilarious"] and Boing Boing ["funny"]. Thus they associate criticism with old-fashioned, conservative, humorless media outlets full of old people and appreciation with the young, hip, cool crowd. To be "despicable and awkward," then, is ultimately to be cool.
What does Cards Against Humanity’s concept of coolness — that is, their idea of rebranded despicability qua awesomeness — entail? Basically it means laughing at anyone who’s not a straight, white, cis, bourgeois, hipster dude [like the creator]. Don’t try to tell me that, because the game has white cards like "white privilege," it actually critiques those who are discomfited by the concept. No, it doesn’t, not when the majority of cards make marginalized people who lack privilege into punchline after punchline after punchline.
If you’re still not convinced, let me break it down to you with a single example: the white card that has the phrase "passable transvestites." There is so much wrong with this card that it’s hard to know where to start. Well, to begin with, clearly someone thought this phrase worthy of inclusion into the deck of white cards, meaning that someone perceived it as shocking, racy, funny and potentially ridiculous. So what’s shocking, racy and entertaining about "passable transvestites?" Yeah, a gender nonconforming person who goes out in public en femme so that they avoid being clocked always makes me laugh. The stats on trans and other gender nonconforming people being harassed, assaulted and killed provide comic relief every time I read them. The outdated language on this white card — the vexed concept of "passable," coupled with the no-longer-used, clinical-sounding "transvestite" — signals that the game’s creators are hung up on old-fashioned binaries of gender presentation, the transgression of which they find hilarious and pathetic, instead of a matter of life and death.
I can make the same points about Cards Against Humanity’s treatment of people with disabilities, the prejudice against whom can be summed up in a single white card: "Stephen Hawking talking dirty." Yup, yup, of course, people who are neuroatypical, emotionally atypical and physically atypical to the extent that society doesn’t really know how to accommodate them — they’re comedy gold! I mean, really — can you imagine a man with paralysis talking dirty? First of all, he’d be doing it with the help of his computer, which is inherently hilarious, you know, because he can’t really talk. Second of all, it would imply that he, despite being unable to move parts of his body, has active sexual desires and interests, which is a shock, because no paralyzed person has ever had sexual interests and agency before — ever! They’re just…like… wheelchair-bound automatons. Yeah, "the profoundly handicapped" are a gas all right. Yet again, Cards Against Humanity’s decision to employee the passe and offensive term "handicapped" shows that they’re not interested in mocking prejudice, but in perpetuating it.
EDIT: As rosettanettle points out in a comment on my LJ crosspost, the creator of Cards Against Humanity expressed regret for the "passable transvestites" white card, which is now no longer included in decks. This does not, however, negate any of my points. If anything, it reinforces them, since the creator’s expression of "regret," which came only because he was called on his transphobia, comes across as less a regret of treasuring bigoted tenets and more a regret at getting caught. I also suspect his theatrical Tumblr photoset of him lighting the card on fire of being a self-aggrandizing performance so that he may be showered with praise about what an enlightened ally he is. Why do straight, cis, white, middle-class dudes think they deserve extra special plaudits for meeting minimum standards of decency? "Despicable," indeed.
As I have noted before, Prudie, the Slate advice columinist, has strict standards of gender performance that the women she writes about regularly fail to meet. Some of them don’t dress in a feminine enough manner or know how to apply makeup. Some of them object to being maritally raped. And some of them have the temerity not to give a shit about the six hairs on their areolas that their boyfriends find inexplicably revolting — the horror! Her list of women who fail true femininity keeps growing and growing.
Therefore I was pleasantly surprised with a recent Dear Abbie column that could have turning into gender policing, but didn’t. It was about body hair on women, a subject that hits Prudie’s buttons. The writer to Dear Abbie complains that his wife no longer shaves her legs after 25 years of marriage. He thinks her leg hair disgusting and wonders what to do.
In response, Abbie provides a little relatable context for the man, saying that perhaps the woman is freeing herself from a tedious routine in the same way that a man who has shaved his face for years for his job might grow a beard after retirement. Abbie also adds that the letter writer should put up and shut up.
I like that Abbie’s response, first, provided a frame of reference that the letter writer might understand. Her analysis of the woman’s leg hair as rejection of an obligation turns the focus away from the offended man and onto the woman, who probably has perfectly reasonable motivations for doing it — motivations that have nothing to do with the man [gasp]! Abbie’s reframing allows her to identify the real problem: the letter writer’s belief that the woman owes him hairless legs. She objects, saying that, instead, the letter writer owes the woman respect. if anyone needs to change, it’s him, not her.
Wow, an advice columnist with a healthy respect for bodily autonomy! Will wonders never cease? I think I should start reading Dear Abbie as an antidote to Dear Prudence.
Yes, fashion blogger and nitpicker extraordinaire Mary Fischer. Sarah Jessica Parker wore sandals and socks the other day just to make YOU barf. She knows that your delicate constitution can’t handle such sins against fashion, and she maliciously plotted to upset your stomach. She’s evil. So am I.
someone who won’t wear sandals WITHOUT socks
Colorado’s civil rights division has determined that Coy Mathis, prohibited from using her school’s bathroom, has been unfairly discriminated against for being told to hold it all damn day just because she has a penis. She will now be able to take a shit on school premises again. Why we needed to go all the way up to the state judiciary to determine that taking a crap is an inalienable right is beyond me. But at least now the Bathroom Police Department in Colorado Springs, Colorado can fuck right the fuck off.
Way back in the early days of the millennium, I chose ModernWizard as a screen name, a practice that I have continued over the past 10+ years to create a coherent online identity. I specifically chose it because it combines connotations of magic and fantasy with a more up-to-date sensibility. I also specifically chose it because it’s not gender-marked, although, now that I think about it, most people think "wizard" to be a gender-marked word, the male equivalent to "witch." Also informing my choice was a T-shirt I had at that time with glow-in-the-dark constellations, which, I decided, would be appropriate for a modern wizard’s garb, as opposed to the stylized astronomical symbols of yore. ^_^
Anyway, people who don’t know me continually assume that I’m a guy. Well, let me rephrase that — straight cis white dudes continually assume I’m one of them by using masculine pronouns on trade references or calling me sir. It is interesting that women do not do this.
I could go off onto a whole tangent about the gendered ways in which people write only and how people interpret other people’s gender from what they write [For example, I very rarely see masculine-identified people use ^_^. :), 🙁 and :p, yes, but ^_^, no. :p ] and what happens when one reads "conflicting" cues. I don’t wanna, though. The end.
A South Carolina couple is suing the state for performing unnecessary mutilative surgery on their son, who was born with ambiguous genitalia, operated on at the Medical University of South Carolina and assigned female. The Crawfords adopted him after this surgery and raised their son as a girl until last year, when he said he was actually a boy.
I applaud the Crawfords for resisting the medical industrial complex’s obsession with forcibly shoving everyone into M or F categories before the people being shoved into the categories can express any preference. It is indeed a violation of civil rights to alter people’s bodies like that without their consent. All parties being sued should indeed be held accountable for their assumptions that they can steamroll individual liberties for the sake of some stinkin’, rigid gender binary bullshit.
I’m also happy that the parents seem pretty cool with their son selecting a different gender presentation than the one assigned him at mutilation. They come across in the article as parents who really love their son and who want him to be happy. They want to protect him, but they know sadly that the world doesn’t see their son the way that he does and they do. i.e., the way he actually is.
Tagged "trans yay" for resistance to forcible gender reassignment, acceptance of personally chosen gender reassignment and generally cool kid and parents. Tagged "stupid cis people" for the medical establishment against which they are fighting.
I forgot how hilarious the Foremen’s Hard Time to Be a Man was.
Now, this bar graph represents the thought processes of the average American male in 1957. We see, in descending order of importance, sex, sports, cars, and sex in sports cars.
But things have changed since the enlightenment, as illustrated by this 1993 bar graph showing that men now think about sex, sports, cars, and promoting the wellness of the planet and the humanness of all people by creating a caring and nurturing environment in which to have sex in sports cars.
P.S. How ’bout them Niners?
BJD Text Confessions anonymous bigot sez:
I hate MD Jinas like Kyoyaxl has. Fucking learn the difference between a girl and a boy.
For those of you who do not speak BJD code, the submitter is saying that they dislike the Jina headsculpt by Migidoll when styled by doll owners like DOA member Kyoyaxl.
Migidoll bills Jina as a "girl," but that doesn’t mean much in the BJD world. Just because a company bills a head as "male" or "female" doesn’t mean that doll fiends will abide by those distinctions. The majority of BJD heads demonstrate a distinctly androgynous aesthetic that doesn’t swing in a stereotypically masculine or feminine direction. Ergo, there’s a lot of putting "female" heads on "male" bodies [and significantly less putting "male" heads on "female" bodies, the way that I did with my Frank BJD].
There’s also a lot of dressing "male" dolls in "women’s" clothes [and significantly less dressing "female" dolls in "men’s" clothes].
Incidentally, there are also a notable minority of breast removals ["girl to boy mods"] on "female dolls," as well as penis additions ["hermaphrodite mods"] on "female dolls" too.
All of this is to say that sex and gender presentation can be very fluid in the BJD world. And some BJD fiends, like our anonymous gender-policing bigot, are going to resist that fluidity kicking and screaming. Meanwhile, the rest of us are going to continue genderfucking while innocently asking, "And which differences, pray tell, are you speaking of?" :p
Why? you ask. Just look at this ad for evidence!
Really? We have to explain to this poster something as elementary as one's BJDs being a vehicle for one's fantasies? Wow.
Jareth: "I'm a super-gay doll with long hair, and I approve this message."
Me: "You're super queer, not super gay."
Jareth: "To-may-to, to-mah-to."
Me: "I've never heard anyone actually pronounce it 'to-mah-to' unless they're using that particular phrase."
Jareth: "Excuse me…I'm going to the credit union to pay off your auto loan so you can buy me more clothes."
Me: "I'd like to see you drive."
FLE car: "Don't worry; I won't let him get anywhere."
In the most recent Dear Prudence, a 27-year-old guy writes that he has no trouble with his girlfriend's body hair…except for a scattering of hairs on her chest and particularly around each of her nipples. He is really bothered by these hairs on her chest, to the point of suggesting that she remove them. He envisions a future with her, but also foresees the death of all lust unless she gets rid of her chest hair. Prudie responds by recommending permanent removal in the form of electrolysis.
Let's get this straight…1) Chest hair on women is completely unacceptable. 2) A woman who does have chest hair and doesn't give a shit should get rid of it because her partner gives a huge, disproportionate shit.
As for 1), God forbid that women be anything less than completely hairless except for head hair because then they'd "look like men," and we can't have people transgressing cultural norms of femininity because then the world would explode.
As for 2), I reject the axiomatic assertion that, in a heterosexual partnership, if a man can't accept some aspect of a woman's appearance, the woman should change to suit his preferences. And we're not talking "Please brush your teeth before you kiss me" type of requests; we're talking inscrutable, inconsistent, irrational requests like "Your armpit hair and pubic hair and leg hair and arm hair are 100% A-okay, but lose those 12 nipple hairs of yours, or else this relationship is seriously doomed" sort of shit. That's ridiculous, trivial, nitpicky and insulting, once you think about it. Claiming that you love your girlfriend passionately except for her dozen chest hairs makes me wonder what secret complaints the chest hairs are standing in for.
My advice has everything to do with the boyfriend and nothing to do with the girlfriend. First, buddy, either put up and shut up, or find a partner who lacks nipple hairs and the ability to object to your controlling, nasty demands about her appearance.
On Saturday, June Thomas wrote a Slate blog post speculating about why South African runner Caster Semenya did not win gold in the women's 800 meters. Could she have purposely not run her best? Who gives a flying fork?
Naturally, because the media is hung up on these things, any mention of Semenya must include reference to her humiliating debacle in 2009, when the
International Association of Athletics Federations self-appointed gender police subjected her to intrusive testing and a temporary ban from competition because she was too awesome for them to handle. There's been all sorts of speculation about the results of the tests — OMG what does Caster Semenya have in her pants the world HAS to know?!?!?!!??! — but Semenya refuses to dignify this bull hooey with a direct response.
Thomas encourages Semenya to discuss the results of the IAAF's tests. While acknowledging that Semenya's physical and psychological abuse at the hands of the IAAF was "humiliating" and that the people who gossip are "nosey" [sic], Thomas seems to think that Semenya has only 2 options. First, she can hide forever. Second, she can tell the world in excruciating detail all about her hormonal levels, her reproductive organs, her external genitalia, et hoc genus omne.
I vote for option 3 — ignoring people like Thomas and the self-appointed gender police. Gender variant people like Semenya do not owe the gender homogenous masses anything. Gender variant people do not have publically available bodies that anyone can check out and see what's inside; they aren't library books! People are way too hung up on policing gender, and Semenya's public response to the IAAF's abuse would grant power and legitimacy to their invasive crapola. Jesus Christ, it's not that hard. Anyone who identifies as a woman should be allowed to compete as a woman against other women, and she should not have to drop trou every time she does something impressive.
Recently a young woman wrote to Dear Prudie, Slate's advice columnist, saying that she is a self-described "tomboy" who dresses in casual clothes in accordance with the lax requirements of her job. Her boyfriend has been bugging her about wearing "more feminine clothes" and "makeup application lessons." He thinks her personal style makes her less employable. The letter writer wants to know what to do: "Should I change this about myself because he wants me to?"
Prudie answers by telling the letter writer a resounding YES. She advises the letter writer, "Dress for the job you want." In Prudie's view, this entails getting a personal shopper, visiting a makeup counter and reading Marie Claire and other women's magazines.
This incredibly stupid response enrages me. First of all, Prudie is collapsing two topics into one. The letter writer wants to know about how to deal with her boyfriend's campaign for her increased femmey-ness. She also mentions her boyfriend's belief that her self-presentation hurts her job prospects. Prudie rolls both topics into a single answer by focusing on the connection between the letter writer's style and her employability.
Let's separate out the two subjects: first, this "Dress for the job you want" stuff. I agree with the concept here, but I object to the execution. Members of the workforce today are expected to conform to ideals of professionalism, including adherence to an implicit or explicit dress code. Fine…follow the dress code. If you're in that aspirational phase of your career, it's always better to overdress than underdress.
However, Prudie assumes that aspirational dressing means going all femme. No, it doesn't. Less femmey work clothes for women exist, though they are few. I know because I am wearing them. 😛 Stop implying that "femme" is the only correct gender presentation for professional women, Prudie.
Second, let's deal with the letter writer's annoying boyfriend. He knows that the letter writer's gender presentation is more butchy rather than femmey, but he keeps trying to change it with a suspect justification about it affecting her employability. Basically, the letter writer's boyfriend does not accept her gender presentation, instead preferring to police it.
This is the real problem. Her boyfriend is trying to control her. Attempts at control combine with nagging to create resentment. Resentment leads to conflict and general nastiness.
Assuming good faith on the boyfriend's part, I have advice for him: He should express his preference and state his reasons once, then shut up about it and wait for a cue from the letter writer. If she wants to pursue his suggestion, fine. If she puts him off or ignores him [which it kind of sounds like she's doing], he should be perceptive enough to notice that she does not wish to pursue his suggestion, and he should keep his gender policing to himself.
I also have advice for the letter writer: She should consider the general concept of aspirational dressing, but ignore everything else Prudie says. She should pursue a change in her gender presentation only if that's what she's truly interested in, without anxiety or coercion. However, she should also know that her gender presentation is perfectly fine the way it is and that it is possible to be a butch professional woman. Either way, she should tell her boyfriend to quit with the gender policing. If he doesn't, she should get a better boyfriend, one whose head won't explode at the thought of a woman wearing a pantsuit to an interview.
I came across a text ad on Amazon.com that said:
Transgender Voice Surgery — Travel to Korea for Cutting Edge Voice Feminization Surgery. Call us. <Web site>
"Cutting Edge?" Yikes!
They could have said "new and improved" or "technologically advanced" or "the latest techniques," but no…they had to use slice-and-dice imagery. How gruesome and unattractive. I don't think the creators of this ad took a moment to think about the implications of their phrasing. Blech.
Hulu is playing ads for the Samsung Focus Flash smart phone these days, and both ads that I've seen so far piss me off because they both contain mockery of men who dare to deviate from culturally presecribed masculinity.
In one ad, a man tries on a pink shirt and black tights, then asks his friends via phone, "Do I look like an ice skater?" Despite his female significant other's assurance that he looks fine, his social network [whom he calls "the guys"] respond with jibes such as "Man down." These comments imply that Pink Shirt is losing his manhood by a) wearing such an outfit and b) allowing his female significant other to select clothing for him. Pink Shirt's peer group polices masculinity by teasing and shaming those who deviate from the machismo of current U.S. masculinity.
In the other ad I've seen, two men are threatening each other with things to post to Youtube. Friend A shows a video of Friend B crying at a movie, calling it a video of "a sad, sad man," with sad meaning both "unhappy" and also "pathetic" here. When Friend B teases Friend A about a comment from Friend A's girlfriend, Friend A threatens to post a video of Friend B in a shower cab in bathtub, washing his legs. Friend A impugns Friend B's masculinity by showing Friend B doing "effeminate" things such as crying at a movie or wearing a shower cab in the tub. The social network, like Friend A, who calls Friend B "a sad, sad man," responds instantly with derision.
I can't believe this campaign. The whole point of this phone is to easily update one's social networks, and the best way the execs can think to do this is by having the characters insult one another's gender expression? It's a sad, sad ["unhappy" + "pathetic"] view of social networks as promoters of rigid joyless conformity. It's also a sad, sad view of friendship as superficial togetherness masking secret wells of nasty criticism.
Found more dresses for guys on the Daz 3D Web site in its official store…they were all hiding in the fantasy/sci fi category because no guy would ever want to wear a dress in real life. The stupid gender binaries of these rendering programs astonish me. On the plus side of things, I found Will’s sperm-crunchingly tight pants and fishnet shirt! More links.
Will’s wedge cut http://www.daz3d.com/i.x/shop/itemdetails/-/?item=2257
Viktor’s loose ponytail? http://www.daz3d.com/i.x/shop/itemdetails/-/?item=1522&cat=125
Versatile hair up down short long braid pony http://www.daz3d.com/i.x/shop/itemdetails/-/?item=676
Will’s pants and shirts http://www.daz3d.com/i.x/shop/itemdetails/-/?item=2057
Will’s miniskirts http://www.daz3d.com/i.x/shop/itemdetails/-/?item=729
Will’s long-sleeved dresses mid calf http://www.daz3d.com/i.x/shop/itemdetails/-/?item=5236&spmeta=rq
Kinky textures for it http://www.daz3d.com/i.x/shop/itemdetails/-/?item=1547
M3 head and body morphs http://www.daz3d.com/i.x/shop/itemdetails/-/?item=3009&spmeta=rq
Victoria 4.1 complete http://www.daz3d.com/i.x/shop/itemdetails/-/?item=4781