Charleston

They managed to arrest that racist, violent motherfucker without killing him but a dude who sold loose cigarettes & a child who was playing with a toy gun had to be killed.

Nine people were killed while in a church and while praying. A five year old knew to play dead in order to save her own life.

But yeah, it’s not racism.

Take the fucking confederate flag down already. It’s not a symbol of history or pride or Southern culture; it’s a banner of hate and violence.

Love to the families and friends and lovers of those who were killed in Charleston and to the black communities of Charleston.

White people, we must do better.

Ramadan’s American History

Today is the start of Ramadan.One fourth of the world observes this Muslim fast, and I miss being in a culture where I could regularly witness the very happy fast-breaking at sundown; having grown up in a faith that fasts, I always felt especially sympathetic to the guys who worked in restaurants and delis and the like.

Social scientists estimate that 15 to 30 percent, or, “[a]s many as 600,000 to 1.2 million slaves” in antebellum America were Muslims. 46 percent of the slaves in the antebellum South were kidnapped from Africa’s western regions, which boasted “significant numbers of Muslims”. 

So of course significant numbers of slaves were Muslim, and they were practicing, too:

In addition to abstaining from food and drink, enslaved Muslims held holy month prayers in slave quarters, and put together iftars – meals at sundown to break the fast – that brought observing Muslims together. These prayers and iftars violated slave codes restricting assembly of any kind.

For instance, the Virginia Slave Code of 1723 considered the assembly of five slaves as an “unlawful and tumultuous meeting”, convened to plot rebellion attempts. Every state in the south codified similar laws barring slave assemblages, which disparately impacted enslaved African Muslims observing the Holy Month.

Therefore, practicing Islam and observing Ramadan and its fundamental rituals, for enslaved Muslims in antebellum America, necessitated the violation of slave codes. This exposed them to barbaric punishment, injury, and oftentimes, even death. However, the courage to observe the holy month while bonded, and in the face of grave risk, highlights the supreme piety of many enslaved Muslims.

And while this all makes perfect sense, it had never occurred to me, certainly. Do go read the rest of the piece by Khaled O Beydoun. American cultural and religious diversity continues to amaze me; so many things we consider “imported” in recent history – Islam and Socialism, for starters – have really been part of the American fabric for more than a hundred years. It does make you think about who has framed the narrative of America, and why.

Done Now.

Melissa Harris Perry asked and it turns out Dolezal does self-identify as black. I’m done and can’t take this seriously anymore.

Here’s a great book about passing and African American experience: better to learn a thing than to continue wondering what is up with this woman.

Gender Isn’t Race, Either (Dolezal Pt. 2)

An old and dear friend wrote to me about the Rachel Dolezal issue; she was the partner of a trans person at one point, is allied to the trans community, and is also one of the most awesome feminists I know. The way she broke down the arguments for why Dolezal can’t be black go like this:

(1) she didn’t forge her identity through being raised in a minority group,

(2) she can switch back to the privileged group whenever she likes, and

(3) Finally, she is relying on stereotypes when appropriating “blackness”

Her question to me was: how is this not what some trans women do? And in some ways, my answer is to focus on the “some”. Because if something is going to be true for transness, then it should hold up – even, in this case, for all trans women (who are going from a high status identity to a lower status identity, such as someone would be doing in going from white to black).

(1) Trans women aren’t raised and socialized girls and women EXCEPT that plenty are. There are lots of trans girls who come out young enough that plenty are, AND once trans women live as women they are re-socialized as women, AND, as I’ve often argued, trans women may live in the world as people identified as men by others, but they’re not really men, either. They sometimes manage good lives as men, even, but it doesn’t mean they are. What do I mean by that? It means that I don’t know cis men who struggle every day whose genders feel horribly wrong to them and who crave femininity sometimes precisely because they’ve had to repress any expression of it and who have to work out their own complicated love of women. That is, a trans woman is still a woman even if she hasn’t transitioned; she’s just living in the world as a man and there is often a world of suffering tied up in that.

(2) Well, not really. Some trans women can; some do; some detransition for various reasons. But the whole point of things like the Standards of Care were to keep people from transitioning who shouldn’t, and some people realize that in fact transition isn’t the answer to their issue at all, that there is some other issue that gender has gotten mixed up in. Of course, too, many trans women can’t just become men again; too many years on hormones, surgical choices, etc., would cause them to have to transition again, not back, really. It’s not like trans women take off a pair of earrings and become men again. Transitioning is a complicated process and isn’t easily undone; most people who I’ve known have detransitioned do so because they needed to – out of financial need, needs of dependents, unemployability, to keep a marriage together.

(3) Lots of cis women rely on stereotypes to be women (cough Kardashians cough). So if stereotypes of femininity are acceptable for cis women, why aren’t they okay for trans women? One of the reasons feminists keep trying to push the images of women to include more and more types is so that there is no wrong way to be a woman. There isn’t. It doesn’t mean that some of the types degrade and stereotype and pigeonhole women; Disney can stuff it with their damn princesses already. But I don’t get to judge how any woman “does” womanness and I don’t want other women judging the way I do mine.

So that’s, in a sense, Part 2 of my other answer: these are all specific issues and doing a comparison based on general ideas/theories of identity just don’t hold up. There are too many exceptions. In saying any of this, I’m not insisting on any basic truth of transness, or any basic truth of race; I think these are lovely and complicated ideas that can’t easily be “boiled down” to any easy equations. That’s what I love most about what I do: sometimes there is no right answer, and you have to hold, and let be, contradictory conclusions. That’s okay. I think we all often have a tendency to want to nail down the correct, succinct answer, but for anyone who is interested in race and gender and class what is eternally fascinating is how exactly complex and mysterious these interactions between facets of our identities can be.

One thing that has become clear with the news that Dolezal once sued Howard University for discriminating against her as a white person: Dolezal is unlikely to be a good bet as a standard bearer for anyone wanting to win an argument about much of anything; as more of her story comes out, the more apparent it is that there are some seriously dysfunctional family dynamics going on, too. Personally, I’m most upset at the way she trampled all over what is an allies’ first and best rule: you use your privilege to figure out a way to help end oppression, and you don’t do so by ‘becoming’ the oppressed but by recognizing and checking your privilege. I don’t know what Dolezal’s intentions are, but that’s not really a difficult rule to understand.

Otherwise, here’s a good article on Slate as to why it isn’t crazy to compare the two but that breaks down why it doesn’t work, and another that covers a lot of good stuff on identity, belonging, “passing”, and binaries, amongst other things, by the awesome Kai Green.

Complicate that conversation. Think past binaries. Trouble categories. Hold contradiction. People who know what to think all the time are often the dumbest among us.

Race is Not Gender: About Rachel Dolezal

As much as I joked yesterday that America just found out, via Spokane, that race is a social construction, I meant it to be only that: a joke. It has lead to a lot of people actually talking about what race IS and specifically what blackness is, and to me, that’s a long overdue conversation where maybe some white people will learn a little more about paper bag tests and colorism, “passing” as a means to survival, marrying up to have lighter children than their parents, etc. There are amazing histories and books full of information and deep knowledge about what it means to be black.

But that this whole idea that she is “transracial” is just upsetting to me. First, I always discourage comparisons between race and gender because they never, ever hold up. Gender is constructed by very different discourses of being, through different bodies and histories. Race – especially race in america – is constructed through specific historical contexts (slavery, for starters). Even the movements toward liberation are different. Look at how differently the term “passing” is used, for instance — which is one of the main reasons I hate using the term when it comes to gender.

Here are a few reasons this bothers me: (1) we’re having a conversation about race, finally, at long last. It seems at best disrespectful to make it about anything else when we are so, so overdue in talking about race in the US.

(2) It’s pretty clear that Dolezal doesn’t identify as black.

Ezra believes the only reason his sister would change her identity was due to the racism she claimed to have encountered at Howard University, where she graduated with her master’s degree in fine art in 2002.

Rachel, he added, would often complain that she was treated poorly as one of only a few white students on a mostly black campus.

“She used to tell us that teachers treated her differently than other people and a lot of them acted like they didn’t want her there,” Ezra said. “Because of her work in African-American art, they thought she was a black student during her application, but they ended up with a white person.”

(3) Why are white people so quick to defend what she’s done when they don’t know her? White privilege, again. When those in your own gang are behaving badly, it shouldn’t take someone from some other group to point that out. When I work with men on issues of violence against women, my most frequent refrain is that the good guys have GOT to stop defending the bad guy in their midst. Their best work is to call out the bad guys, to use their own male privilege to confront the people whose actions are oppressing others. White people have to call this woman out for exploiting and mocking the experiences and identities of black people. Continue reading “Race is Not Gender: About Rachel Dolezal”

Magnum Umbrella

Hot.

Cover of “Umbrella” by Mechanical Bride.

My Books – Out of Print?

A friend who owns a queer- and feminist-friendly shop just told me he’s been having a hard time getting copies of My Husband Betty, so I checked the Amazon listings for them, where “collectible” and new copies are selling from $27-77.50. Yes. $77.50 for a new copy of My Husband Betty. Don’t you suddenly feel lucky for owning one already?!

I have no idea why they aren’t in stock and in talking to my publishers/distributors found out there is a plan to bring them back into print but there is no date for them to do so just now.

So, folks, do me a favor: buy the electronic editions, Kindle or what-have-you. Any other copies bought or sold (used, “collectible”, and “new”) don’t make me a single thin dime right now, & believe me, they don’t pay me a ton even when they do.

Gah, publishing.

#yesallwomen #safeenough

This short video was inspired by the #yesallwomen hashtag in that so many women prepare for violence even without a visible or obvious threat. It is the kind of fear that foreshortens women’s public lives and is, at least partially, the result of years of victim-blaming, of attempts to keep women safe by putting the responsibility for the violence committed against them on women themselves. We train young women to believe that they are somehow at fault for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Men are often unaware of how constant & present this fear of violence is in women’s lives, so we hope these short interviews, with women of a variety of identities and experiences, will make that clear.

My wife and I made this for a local group called Voices of Men — a feminist men’s group whose intent is to raise awareness about sexual assault and domestic violence.

Kathleen Dunn Show – Done!

Our radio interview on WPR’s The Kathleen Dunn Show is now up & available for listening or downloading. It’s a call-in show and we got a lot of good questions. Ms. Dunn was, and is, a great interviewer.

Topics included: Caitlyn Jenner (of course), including that misguided NYT piece from yesterday (I won’t link to it), trans youth, why we don’t answer questions about genitals, family, but mostly it was about trans partners and what it’s like to go through transitioned while married.

So, yeah.

Us, Kathleen Dunn, Monday: WPR

Betty & I will be on The Kathleen Dunn Show on WPR this coming Monday at 2PM CST.

Breakfast of Champions – Still

jenner wheaties updated

Created by my good and super talented friend Alex Colby, whose photography & other creative work hangs out here. Photo by Annie Liebovitz, of course, and Wheaties box by – well, Wheaties. (Yes, that’s Jenner’s original Wheaties box.)

Caitlyn Jenner is Free

Congrats, Caitlin. The first time I saw the cover – via Janet Mock, natch – I didn’t realize who it was. (Context is everything.)

I really do wish people would stop referring to their own selves – even Caitlyn 1.0, as it were – in the third person. It’s just kind of weird. #bobdole

Otherwise, trans female friends of mine are already starting drinking games based on how many times the new photo appears on their FB feed, which is pretty goddamned hilarious. Others are bemoaning her RWT status, and still others just want her to start doing activism for healthcare for trans people.

Also, why does she appear to be wearing bridal lingerie on the cover? Surely VF had access to some clothes.

And so it goes.