Race Matters

I’m going to be teaching Cornel West’s Race Matters next year, to first year students, and was compiling some links for my colleagues, but thought you all might appreciate them too:

Here are a couple of good link for alternative writers on race.These are my regular reads.

(The “Three Kinds of White Racists” is the best, to me, but might upset people who are not ready to admit to being racist.)

& Abagond talks about the Bechdel Test for race, which is a nice connection to Fun Home (the post explains The Bechdel Test in the first place, too).


IMHO, most white people are clueless and in denial about their own racism, and like gender discrimination, racism is a problem for all of us – not just black people. So let’s get our act together, shall we?


I moderated a panel of four local trans people for an event initially scheduled for TDOR. They were all amazing: well spoken, focused, honest, heartfelt. I didn’t really have to do much as a moderator, to be honest, but did talk some about being an ally. I chose questions. Afterwards, a mom asked me how she could become a better ally for her son; we’ll have lunch.

I walked away from the event simultaneous thinking two things: (1) I wonder how many hours I have logged talking about trans issues? How many, if I compiled them all? I started my blog in 2003, and My Husband Betty came out in 2004, so that’s nearly 10 years of lectures, moderating panels, doing readings, attending conferences, doing trainings and workshops and more recently, teaching classes. There is trans content in every gender studies course I teach. How many parties have I spent explaining trans issues? If I compiled those hours, how many would there be?

And that’s just the speaking part of it. If I added the hours I have spent writing about trans issues, in emails, my blogs, press releases, the books (of course), and added in the responses to emails from trans people and their partners, the message boards I host, the online support groups… how many more?

The second thought was: (2) how did this happen?

I can’t say I really know.
I can say that I’m very proud of the work I’ve done.
What is surprising is that if I had ever decided to do this work I wouldn’t have thought it was possible. I was a writer, sure, but one who was often too shy to do readings much. I was a queer ally, but I never felt I had a perspective on LGB issues that wasn’t covered by someone else. And now, somehow, I have done all this talking and writing about trans issues.

And you know? The only thing that makes any sense is that it’s all been love. Not for my spouse only. Tonight, as with every time I see trans people speak on their own behalf, I am overwhelmed with it. It’s a profound and nearly religious experience for me. But it’s so satisfying just to stand up and say NO. Stop the hurt. Stop the discrimination. Just stop. And to say to allies: help me stop it.

It may all have been something of an accident — a gradual, amazing accident — but it is very lovely to be able to say: I am proud of what I’ve done. And amazingly satisfied that it used to be like a cry in the wilderness, and now? Now everyone knows trans people exist, at the very least. That wasn’t true even when I started this work. Most liberal people know they face untold discrimination and difficulties.

It is eminently satisfying to say that the feeling that we (as a community) were tiling at windmills when I started has become something else entirely.

And then, walking home by myself afterwards, just thinking THANK YOU to the universe for helping me find a place where I could be of use to a great many people, and where my skills have made a difference. It’s profoundly satisfying.

Kind of my late Thanksgiving blessing, I guess, & maybe sentimental or even maudlin, but it’s all true, too.

Got Milk?

“. . . let that bullet destroy every closet door in the country.” – Harvey Milk, speaking of his own future assassination & what our response to it should be. He was killed 34 years ago today.

My friend David Metille (muh till) posted this on Facebook. It is perfect.

34 years ago today, Harvey Milk was assassinated. He was only 48 years old, but he had managed to change the world.

From a taped recording made November 11, 1978 to be played in the event of his assassination:

“This is Harvey Milk speaking from the camera store on the evening of Friday, November 18. This is to be played only in the event of my death by assassination. I fully realize that a perso
n who stands for what I stand for, an activist, a gay activist, becomes a target or the potential target for somebody who is insecure, terrified, afraid, or very disturbed themselves. Knowing that I could be assassinated at any moment, any time, I feel it’s important that some people know my thoughts. And so the following are my thoughts, my wishes, and my desires, whatever, and I’d like to pass them on and have them played for the appropriate people.

I have never considered myself a candidate. I have always considered myself part of a movement, part of a candidacy. I considered the movement the candidate. I think that there’s a distinction between those who use the movement and those who are part of the movement. I think I was always part of the movement. I wish I had time to explain everything I did. Almost everything was done with an eye on the gay movement.

I ask for the movement to continue, for the movement to grow, because last week I got a phone call from Altoona, Pennsylvania, and my election gave somebody else, one more person, hope. And after all, that’s what this is all about. It’s not about personal gain, not about ego, not about power — it’s about giving those young people out there in the Altoona, Pennsylvanias, hope. You gotta give them hope.

The other aspect of this tape is the business of what should happen if there is an assassination. I cannot prevent some people from feeling angry and frustrated and mad, but I hope they will take that frustration and that madness and instead of demonstrating or anything of that type, I would hope they would take the power and I would hope that five, ten, one hundred, a thousand would rise. I would like to see every gay doctor come out, every gay lawyer, every gay architect come out, stand up and let that world know. That would do more to end prejudice overnight than anybody would imagine. I urge them to do that, urge them to come out. Only that way will we start to achieve our rights.

If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door in the country.”

Thanks, Harvey.

None Here

Deli Man Trailer from Erik Anjou on Vimeo.

Sadly, Appleton doesn’t have a deli, not a real one, anyway, & I haven’t seen any in other parts of the state, but I can’t say I’ve looked too carefully, either.

WI does have supper clubs, which are cool like delis in an entirely different way.

AIS, CAH, Sequential Hermpaphroditism, & Reciprocal Copulation

This is a great short article on the ambiguities of sex as expressed by humans, mammals, fish and various other creatures, and covers topics like chromosomal variety, embryonic sex determination, and reproductive strategies. It’s a nice Sex 101 – and by that I don’t mean sex as in f*cking, but sex as in male/female. A lot of reasonably smart and educated people seem to think that gender is variable but sex is “natural” and binary when in fact that’s not nearly as true either.

You’ve had your turkey. Now get your learning back on.

Happy Thanksgiving!

To you & yours. I hope everyone is having a good day, whether it’s full of family and friends

or whether you’re sitting down to a quiet TV dinner on your own.

A Brief History of Trans

GLAAD did this. It’s pretty cool. It focuses mainly on highly visible, media kind of things at the end (otherthan legislation), but otherwise, interesting stuff. Lots missing, of course, but the idea wasn’t to be comprehensive – just to give a broad outline of trans history.

Also cool is this slideshow of 50 trans people – it covers at least a few people who are not traditional transitioners (which is nice to see).

Transgender Day of Remembrance 2012

Here’s what I’ve got this year: I want this day to go the fuck away. Not because it’s not valuable and intentional and useful. It is all of those things. It serves a useful function. It helps people understand the very pervasive discrimination trans people are up against.

It’s just that there are all these people I love in my life who happen to be trans and it breaks my heart to see this very real reminder that somehow we are so upset by transness that we allow this kind of violence to persist.

I don’t want to remember someone for being trans and being killed. I want to remember people I miss because I miss something about them – their smile or their voice or their kindness of their love of trains.

But another year passes, and another TDOR comes and goes, and I think instead of all the radical, amazing activists I know who happen to be trans, and of all the amazing artists and musicians and writers I know who happen to be trans, and of all the amazing, boring people living perfectly mundane great lives post transition who no one knows are trans and I think: YES.

So that’s why we have the Transgender Day of Remembrance: to get the attention of all the people out there who don’t realize what the hell is going on out there. For me it is a day to remember why it is I chose this work, or why it chose me, and why I keep choosing it.

Post Irony

I was thinking recently, as a friend was posting her thoughts about Prometheus on Facebook while watching that movie, that I wonder if we have forgotten how to like things because they’re good.

I’ve been watching the British version of Sherlock lately, which is, in my opinion, startlingly good: the acting is spotless, the dialogue intelligent and funny, the visuals modern and hip. It is not unbelievable, transcendent art, but it is good.

And it’s struck me that there is so little that is.

But then – the hipster that still resides in me scoffs at my old-age earnestness. There is plenty of good art being made, all over the place. Still, we decide to like certain things for their badness, don’t we? I am tired of liking bad things because I’m supposed to: the Coen Brothers, for instance, leave me cold. So does Tarantino. In another time, they both would have been considered second-rate, but now, they are icons — all because they are masters of post-modern irony.

There’s a passage in Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, which I recently had the pleasure of teaching, where she cites two pre-war poems in all their idyllic sweetness and wonders if it’s possible that anyone could ever hum such things and mean them. And since she is the Grand Dame of Irony, I wonder if these sweeps in the ironic, the nihilistic, aren’t just a moment in time, and that perhaps we can get back to earnestness, and commitment, and creating beautiful things to be beautiful, and not as some statement about how full of crap beautiful things can be.

And they can be. I’m a punk still at heart, and deeply suspicious of what is handed to us as culture, and the canon even moreso.

But it wasn’t until reading this piece by Christy Wampole that located what I find most problematic about irony, and it’s its privilege. It’s smelly, snarky, all too diffident privilege:

Where can we find other examples of nonironic living? What does it look like? Nonironic models include very young children, elderly people, deeply religious people, people with severe mental or physical disabilities, people who have suffered, and those from economically or politically challenged places where seriousness is the governing state of mind. My friend Robert Pogue Harrison put it this way in a recent conversation: “Wherever the real imposes itself, it tends to dissipate the fogs of irony.”

First world problem, in a nutshell. For people who have enough, or maybe who have too much.

I have often joked that I am only ever misunderstood by people who don’t seem to understand how earnest I am; for a long time I have had difficulty communicating with some people because they don’t seem to speak without irony, or hear without it.

But Wampole has asked what I think are a good set of questions for anyone who intends to live with more actual earnestness, with enthusiasm and – dare I say it? – meaning.

What would it take to overcome the cultural pull of irony? Moving away from the ironic involves saying what you mean, meaning what you say and considering seriousness and forthrightness as expressive possibilities, despite the inherent risks. It means undertaking the cultivation of sincerity, humility and self-effacement, and demoting the frivolous and the kitschy on our collective scale of values. It might also consist of an honest self-inventory.

Here is a start: Look around your living space. Do you surround yourself with things you really like or things you like only because they are absurd? Listen to your own speech. Ask yourself: Do I communicate primarily through inside jokes and pop culture references? What percentage of my speech is meaningful? How much hyperbolic language do I use? Do I feign indifference? Look at your clothes. What parts of your wardrobe could be described as costume-like, derivative or reminiscent of some specific style archetype (the secretary, the hobo, the flapper, yourself as a child)? In other words, do your clothes refer to something else or only to themselves? Do you attempt to look intentionally nerdy, awkward or ugly? In other words, is your style an anti-style? The most important question: How would it feel to change yourself quietly, offline, without public display, from within?

And now I know, at least, in which direction my New Year’s resolutions will be pointing. Unironically, of course.