Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Trans People Still Face Military Discrimination

Via the Washington Post:
"As [Landon Wilson] enlisted, he was urged to become a cryptologic technician. By Wilson’s estimate, the Navy spent at least a half-million dollars getting him the highest-level security clearance in government and training him for an intelligence job that involves intercepting and analyzing communications from foreign governments and extremists. 
He developed a reputation as a talented, meticulous, hard-working sailor, said Shayne Allen, a former colleague who was stationed with Wilson at the Navy Information Operations Command in Hawaii.
'Landon was someone who you don’t see a lot of in the military these days,' Allen said. 'He not only checked all the boxes, but went above and beyond.' 
During his time in Hawaii, Wilson earned several awards and accolades for his work. In a unit of roughly 10,000 sailors, he was recognized as the performer of the quarter in 2012 and the enlisted sailor of the quarter in 2013."
The Navy later determined that Wilson was a transgender man and sent him home from Afghanistan, where he was stationed, intercepting communications for Special Operations troops. He was then granted an honorable discharge.

This post is just a reminder that the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" did not address service by transgender people. Meanwhile, a non-partisan commission led by former US Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders, MD, has determined that "there is no compelling medical rationale for banning transgender military service, and that eliminating the ban would advance a number of military interests, including enabling commanders to better care for their service members" (See PDF for full report).

I have complicated, conflicting thoughts about the US military, but it seems like Wilson was thriving in it. The problem doesn't seem to be that Wilson is trans, but that the bureaucracy didn't know what to do with him for being trans.

I'm no more of a military expert than Elaine Donnelly, but it always seems facetious to me when opponents of trans, gay, lesbian, and bisexual people serving in the military suggest that it might be too complicated to figure out how to appropriately integrate these non-cis, non-hetero people into the military.

The US military practically invented Internet. I'm highly confident it can figure out how to let trans people continue serving. If its leadership really wanted to.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Reading Update and Hugo Outrage

In reading news, I have finished CS Friedman's Feast of Souls, which is the first book in her Magister Trilogy. This post doesn't contain any major spoilers.

I had high hopes for the book, both after reading summaries of it and after starting it. And, indeed it starts out with a plot that promises to deliver some weighty statements on gender. For me, at least after finishing the first book, it does not deliver.

While Friedman creates a world in which male and female witches are divided by gender, with men being much more powerful, I cannot overlook the book's frequent use of masculine pronouns to refer to all human beings. First and foremost, as a reader, for pleasure, I refuse to participate in the fictions that "man," "men," and "mankind" are gender neutral terms and the related implication that men are the default human being.

The language is imprecise and alienating to me as a woman. If one is adept with language, it's a pointless, repeated micro-aggression in the book to make the reader constantly come across dialogue like:
"'As I was about to say.... he also knows more of these matters than any man alive....No man would lie about such creatures.'"
In this particular instance, no logical reason exists for the character to be referring only to male humans. He's clearly referring to all human beings, yet through language, is erasing half of humanity.

Secondly, in a book in which gender is a critical plot point, the use of the so-called "gender neutral masculine" is confusing. One minute we're reading about "man" in reference to all humans, and the next we're reading about "man" in reference only to men and meanwhile it's not always clear from the context what the author's intent was.

For instance, in one passage, a female character contemplates:
"You would make me a whore, she thought, but you do not understand what a whore really is. There is power in having something a man wants and making him pay for it. There is power in knowing you can cast his coin in the dirt if it pleases you, that coin which he thought could buy him anything."
Is this statement literally about men only, or is it a broader statement pertaining to all humans? Who knows! What's clear is that all of the passages could have been very, very easily rectified, made more clear, and have been less alienating by simply using gender inclusive language.

That being said, I wanted to like the book. I really did. And, in some ways, I did like it. It's an interesting plot point to have male witches ("Magisters") be immortal and much more powerful than lowly female witches, and to explore the reason why that is, in this world Friedman has created.  It's not a flattering reason that the men are more powerful, it should be noted.

Kamala, who I thought of as a the main female character, is intriguing and difficult to define as purely good or evil, which to me is the mark of a well-made character. It's too bad she not once, that I can remember, ever interacts with another female character. (In fact, the book is told from several points of view, and I don't think the book passes the Bechdel Test, as a whole).

About a third or so of the way through it, the book started to seem to me like it became "Prince Andovan's Story," which was okay, I guess. But, he's one of those characters that tend to annoy the hell out of me for being practically perfect in every way.

Moving on, I haven't decided yet if I'll finish the Magister Trilogy. I would like to see how Friedman ties it all together, as I'm still somewhat invested in the outcome of her characters.  For now, I'm going to read Jacqueline Carey's Santa Olivia (thanks Aeryl! Lesbian maintext? Yes please) and NK Jemisin's The Kingdom of Gods.

I've been half-heartedly following the controversy surrounding this year's Hugo Award nominations, and was reminded that (a) I love Jemisin's Inheritance Trilogy (of which Kingdom is the final installment) and (b) I want to support her work in this small, tangible way.

I'm not going to say much about the vile author at the center of Hugo controversy as he's known to sic his rabidly misogynistic racist fans on anyone who dares to critique him or his writing. Much of the controversy seems ego-driven, attention-seeking, driven by envy, and more about making some sort of point than actually being about his work being deserving of award. Although, if you can believe it, I've actually read some of his fiction writing and it was not.... entertaining or, in my opinion, at all good. (FYI, I did not pay money to read it).

Yet, rightwingers and bigots are in an uproar over any suggestions that they be shunned from the Hugo Awards because of their politics. The implicit argument with the outrage seems to be that, before PC Gone Awry and Leftist Fascism happened, all writing awards and opportunities were 100% merit-based. And, if it was mostly men who have been published and who have won accolades in science fiction, well, it's because they are and always have been, objectively speaking, the best writers of all! Nope, nothing else was at work. No sirree!

Which, reminds me, I've been meaning to finally get around to reading Joanna Russ' How to Suppress Women's Writing. So, that's in my queue now, too.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

18 Ways Some Guy Has No Clue What It's Like to Live as a Woman

Via Shakesville, I learned that some guy has written a super, link-bait article entitled, "18 Things Females Seem Not To Understand (Because, Female Privilege)."

As regular readers of Fannie's Room can guess on the basis of the title alone, the whole list is quite the stellar compilation of the usual MRA "seeeee, men are the ones who are really oppressed by the feeeeee-males" talking points.

For instance, we have:
"Female privilege is being able to walk down the street at night without people crossing the street because they’re automatically afraid of you."
Welp, newsflash to MRAs: I will always, always, prioritize my physical safety over a male stranger's possible hurt feelings about how I might have, say, crossed the street to avoid an encounter on a sidewalk at night.  Yes, I consider that my actions might hurt his feelings for a few minutes, but in the grand scheme of my life, yep, I admit that I value my own life more than a man's feelings.

Of course, leave it to an MRA type to frame what is in reality a survival mechanism to the reality of disproportionate male violence as an example of "female privilege," with all of the associated implications that survival is a "privilege," and not something women are entitled to because of our humanity. Because, a man's feelings.

And really, that's a pretty good summary of much of the list.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Reading Update

In the 2014 Reading Experiment I'm doing, in which I'm reading books only written by female authors for the year, I've finished a few recently.

After Kushiel's Dart, I was up for some shorter books, so I opted first for Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake.  Atwood's speculative fiction is, in my opinion, unparalleled today. Oryx does not pass the Bechdel Test, yet I read the book as a critique on entitled young masculinity, in addition to being a warning/critique of online culture, genetic modification, and environmental degradation.

I'm also greatly entertained by her understated, dark humor.  The main character in Oryx, Jimmy/Snowman is not particularly likable - after all, he was somewhat complicit in (spoiler alert) wiping out the rest of humanity. This character, however, spends most of his time in the book traipsing around in a grimy sheet while being physically and mentally miserable in a hell-on-earth of his (and his buddy's) own making. 

Several similes in the book were notable to me, including when the main character referenced his aloof mother, who was, "smiling her increasingly weird smile, as if someone had yelled Smile! and goosed her with a fork."  Another time, the narrator explains that some of the genetic experiments had to be stopped because, "who needed a cane toad with a prehensile tale like a chameleon's that might climb in through the bathroom window and blind you while you were brushing your teeth."

The second book I read was Octavia Butler's collection Bloodchild and Other Stories.  I read Butler's Lilith's Brood a few years ago and was reminded, once again, that Butler was truly a master of science fiction.

Included in Bloodchild were Butler's thoughts on her own writing and her explanations of how she came up with the ideas for the stories in this collection. To me, that extra was a treat for me to read - especially given the themes of her stories, which include gestation, intra-specie relations, colonization, and communication. I also see her stories as containing layers upon layers of interpretation.

The first story in the collection, Bloodchild, is notable as it explores male pregnancy and what that might look like, particularly in an environment of questionable consent on the part of the men who become pregnant.  Rather than having women be the impregnators of men, she creates a world in which an alien race of centipede-like beings has taken over the world and use primarily male bodies in which to lay their eggs.  Birth itself is both painful and life-threatening.

To this scenario, Butler adds moral complexity.  Humans and aliens develop a love, of sorts, to one another, with the aliens bonding with the individual they've chosen to bear their young.  Humans are portrayed as having adapted to this alien invasion, with some even "volunteering" to carry eggs. In this alternate world removed from the real world where erosion of reproductive rights is common, the atrociousness of forcing people to be pregnant seemed particularly striking and obvious to me.

Butler also includes an essay on the act and art of writing itself, including this bit of advise for aspiring writers, "First forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable. Habit will sustain you whether you're inspired or not."

So, if you've read either of these books, feel free to share your thoughts!  Next up in my queue is CS Friedman's Feast of Souls.  That book will be the 4th trilogy I'll be in the middle of, but several readers recommended it, so here we go!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

National Equal Pay Day

Yesterday was National Equal Pay Day in the US.

I don't write much about equal pay myself, so I highly recommend Echidne's roundup of links, which include her own writing on the topic. 

In my opinion, Echidne's writing is among the best on Internet in analyzing the gender gap in earnings, rebutting anti-woman, anti-feminist "explanations" for the gap, and articulating flaws in various studies.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Perspective and Privilege

A 2011 Williams Institute report (PDF) notes that 27% of lesbian, gay, and bisexual respondents have reported workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. For those who are out in the workplace, that number rises to 38%.

78% of transgender respondents report workplace harassment, with 47% reporting discrimination in hiring, promotion, or job retention.

6 years ago, 7,001,084 people voted for Proposition 8, the California ballot initiative that eliminated the right for same-sex couples to marry.  Last week, Brendan Eich, CEO of Mozilla, resigned "under pressure after his [financial] support" of Prop 8 surfaced. He had donated $1,000 to the campaign for Prop 8.

On April 7, 2014 a Google News search for "Brendan Eich" returned 27,800 results.

So, to be generous, something like, what .0000001% of Prop 8 supporters have experienced pressure to resign due to their support of Prop 8. And, I assume this number is somewhat accurate because, holy shit wow, do we ever hear about it, and have Important Conversations about it, and have people Really Take A Stand about it when, stop. the. presses. a cisgender white (presumably) heterosexual man's livelihood is threatened because of his now-unpopular political stance and, meanwhile, a trans person not getting a callback for a job interview is just ho-hum business as usual.

You might be able to tell that I've been largely annoyed with many of the conversations and blog posts I've read about this man and his situation, even within the gay-male-dominated "LGBT" (ie, gay) blogosphere. Indeed, I consciously refuse to fall into the Tolerance Trap wherein I grandly denounce Eich's resignation and suggest that, oh my, how intolerant of us to not tolerate people's intolerance of us!


I believe that Prop 8 was an absolute moral wrong that caused actual harm. My life, my dignity, my self-respect, my relationship, and my marriage are not academic debates. Having conversations about whether I'm sufficiently deserving of equal rights with people who demand that I do so with the utmost civility and decorum has never been "fun" for me.  It's degrading.  Nor do I believe that it is healthy, for me, to be 100% forgiving of those who have harmed me without apology, even if they've "only" harmed me by hating the idea of my equality so much that they spend their money on opposing it.

To those who now demand magnanimity of me, of "us" - for we are still an "us," it seems - I'm not saying I find it entertaining, either, to see a person resign from a job for supporting Prop 8.  I have no idea who or what entity initiated the pressure to get Eich to resign, even as anti-LGBT conservatives and some gays blather about [content note: mixed metaphors and appropriation] the Gay McCarthyist Witchhut Lynch Mobs.

I'm simply remaining agnostic to the frenzied, desperate, and super fun debates about whether its "fair," or "tolerant," or "moral" for people to "be pressured" to resign for supporting Prop 8.  I usually hate it when people tell me I should worry about more important things, but I admit, I do think the LGBT community has greater concerns than coddling the fears of bigots who are now anxious about possibly having to suffer consequences for their financial support of our inequality and degradation.

I'm a lesbian. I've only ever known consequences and the potential for ostracism from this. How lucky for bigots that they just now are understanding what that might mean.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

How Convenient

Recent narratives purport that being good at school is now a girl thing, because schools these days are purportedly feminized, biased to reward girls, and hostile toward boys and "innate boy behavior."  So claims psychiatrist Ned Hallowell, quoted in a recent Boy Crisis article:
"God bless the women's movement—we needed it—but what's happened is, particularly in schools where most of the teachers are women, there's been a general girlification of elementary school, where any kind of disruptive behavior is sinful.... 
Most boys are naturally more restless than most girls, and I would say that's good. But schools want these little goody-goodies who sit still and do what they're told—these robots—and that's just not who boys are."
How lucky then, for boys and men, that New York Times columnist David Brooks is now telling the nation that boring goody-goody good-grade-getters ought not to be hired!  He purports (via Shakesville):
"'Bias hiring decisions against perfectionists. If you work in a white-collar sector that attracts highly educated job applicants, you've probably been flooded with résumés from people who are not so much human beings as perfect avatars of success. They got 3.8 grade-point averages in high school and college. They served in the cliché leadership positions on campus. They got all the perfect consultant/investment bank internships. During off-hours they distributed bed nets in Zambia and dug wells in Peru. 
When you read these résumés, you have two thoughts. First, this applicant is awesome. Second, there's something completely flavorless here. This person has followed the cookie-cutter formula for what it means to be successful and you actually have no clue what the person is really like except for a high talent for social conformity. Either they have no desire to chart out an original life course or lack the courage to do so. Shy away from such people.'"
Getting good grades, being well behaved, and taking on leadership and volunteer positions are, today, largely coded as girl/feminine things.  So of course it's no surprise that these traits are now being dismissed, denigrated, and devalued in one of the nation's most important newspapers.