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PostPosted: Mon Aug 17, 2015 10:39 pm    Post subject:  Reply with quote

Do people still do that? I suppose they do. I just never imagined I'd be one of them.

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PostPosted: Tue Aug 18, 2015 10:52 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Gay Pride marches are great fun.

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PostPosted: Wed Aug 19, 2015 6:48 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I find anthologies do tend to be a bit of a mixed bag generally, and usually slightly disappointing. I read a little while ago for our book club an anthology of well-known, achieving older women talking about their lives, their forthcoming deaths, their influences etc. And by the end I was a bit sick of it, really, and it didn't rate all that highly with our book club generally.

But Gareth, while I accept that women in some societies are very oppressed, I don't feel specially oppressed in my life, or patronised usually. I feel privileged too - living in an easy country, also well educated, healthy, with no money problems, etc.  I don't envy men at all - they all seem to be obliged to work and provide for their family, even if they would prefer to have the homemaker role.  I admit that in my life I have been constantly protected by others and it may not have been good for me.  But it's been nice for me.  And presumably what I wanted.

And I'm sure it's not a fashionable thought but I was thrilled when I got my first catcall aged 13!  No doubt also embarrassed at the attention, but it is not always bad to be admired.  Doesn't seem much different than being called 'hot' which always seems a much more sexualised term than a catcall.  (The difference I suppose is that it is applied to male and female. And non cis people?)

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PostPosted: Wed Aug 19, 2015 1:40 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Caro, I thought you might offer a corrective to my portrait of women as universally oppressed Smile

I'm very glad you don't feel oppressed. I think my mother claims the same. Not that she resents feminism or feminists, but she enjoys motherhood and food preparation and things like that (though would probably like it if other people cooked a bit more often), and sometimes says she was happiest in the early years of my life, spending time with me while my father went out to work. Not that she hasn't worked too, but written down it looks like a traditional life in terms of gender roles. And she's been saddled (not that it's a trial exactly, but it takes an enormous amount of time and effort) with looking after her infirm mother, which seems to be a task undertaken more often by women than by men. I went to see three of Alan Bennett's Talking Heads at the theatre last night. Doris in 'A Cream Cracker Under the Settee': 'Daughters are best. They don't migrate.'

I would describe people of all genders and gender orientations (i.e. cis or trans) as 'hot', though would be inclined to keep it to myself.

There's a small stink being kicked up by some people over here at present about the Edexcel Anthology for A Level Music, which features 63 musical excerpts in various genres, all by men. In my day we used its predecessor, the London Anthology. 120 excerpts, same story. (One was by Andrea Gabrieli, but in spite of the name he was male.) It's hard to walk the line between equality and tokenism. Of course women should be represented, but for all sorts of social reasons we now see as stupid they didn't compose music as widely as men did (and still don't, probably a hangover from the bad old days). Should Robert Schumann be sacrificed to accommodate Clara, or Felix Mendelssohn for Fanny? Pre-1900, I can't think of any female composer worthy of being ranked as the equal of the greatest male ones (save perhaps for Hildegard of Bingen, though my own musical knowledge doesn't go back that far). That's hardly surprising: the sheer numbers make it so. But there are tons of modern female composers (Lutyens, Maconchy, Weir, etc. etc. to name only British ones) who should be studied, and exactly why the anthology omits women even in genres like popular music and jazz is baffling.

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PostPosted: Sat Sep 12, 2015 11:42 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Latest read: Real Man Adventures by T Cooper. I started this book intending to read it slowly, but ended up wolfing it down in three or four days. It's not unlike The Nearest Exit May Be Behind You by S. Bear Bergman, which I wrote about here last year, in that it's an anecdotal anthology, but Bergman's book you need to take time out between essays to absorb, whereas this is more of a ragbag, including not just essays on many different aspects of transness – disclosure of trans status, doctors, using public toilets, fear of being assaulted, support (or lack thereof) from family and friends – but also pictures, miniature stories, lists, and perhaps most interestingly a series of interviews, with the author's wife and brother, with his friends and acquaintances, with the parents of other trans friends. The variety means you can gorge on it without feeling full. (As compliments go I suspect that's a guarded one. I didn't feel Cooper went as deep as Bergman goes; Bergman's more focused and punchier, his essays acute, often dazzlingly so. But there's a virtue in Cooper's approach too, and I felt as I read it that if I were a person who marked important passages in books with a pencil then my copy would be heavy with marginalia.)

This bit made me nod or stamp my foot or whatever it is I do when I approve of something strongly:

At a certain point I'm just a man who writes books, advocates for pit bulls, likes
both early-twentieth-century jazz and hip-hop, digs old airplanes, has a lovely
wife and two kids—and not a transman who is all these things. Transgender
is a term that implies an identity forever in transition. But I cannot think of a
single person who is not in transition to some extent, regardless of gender.
That’s what we do as humans: we evolve constantly. Or, as Foucault has
suggested, "I don't feel that it is necessary to know exactly what I am. The
main interest in life and work is to become someone else that you were not in
the beginning."

Whatever our gender identity or expression or orientation, we all share a common humanity, we're all working out how to live.

One reason I'm reading these books is so I can be a better advocate for my trans friends. I was pleased to come across this bit:

A common complaint against trans people goes something like, "Well, I could
wake up one morning and decide I'm Marie Antoinette, but that doesn't make
me Marie Antoinette, now does it?" People are going to decide what they decide,
think what they think, assign whatever identity to me they desire: what they see
in front of them at any given time, a perspective that has as many iterations as
pairs of eyes taking it in.

A few months ago I encountered a variation of this at work. Our College was holding its annual Women's Dinner, which is open to all 'self-defining' women. Self-definition is an important distinction to make. It means that all women can attend, even if they identified as male in the past. By the same token, those who identified as female when they were students, say, but no longer do, are not eligible to attend. Simple enough. Only a colleague, not meaning to say anything offensive I'm sure (offensive people rarely do), trotted out the old line, 'But that means any bloke could turn up and say, I'm a woman.' I kicked myself for not having the nerve to call him out on his crassness, but I'd just have ended up getting in a muddle, as I usually do when I talk about anything that makes me get emotional, and at the time I wouldn't have had the eloquence to say what I wanted to. Still don't, perhaps, but if I read enough of these books and absorb enough information, I'll eventually be able to.

Cooper writes about how crass newspaper and magazine profiles of trans people still are, about how his trans status seems to give writers licence for prurience in a way that no other aspect of his life would. Transgender is still exotic to a lot of people, apparently, not something that's just another fact of life. It's mortifying that trans people are still met with questions about genital surgery, say, from people they've only just been introduced to. What makes anyone think that's OK?

It would be great if the growing interest in transgender stuff all around at the moment led to an increase in sensitivity, but I suspect most people don't scratch below the surface. I watched the first episode of the BBC's new sitcom Boy Meets Girl recently, about a romance between a cis man and a trans woman, and thought the central relationship was sweet and funny and well handled, though I didn't much care for some of the supporting cast; I'll stick with it for a while. But in so many previews and reviews of the programme you come across the same references to a woman who 'used to be a man'. It's a bit disheartening. I know I must seem smug and condescending, not least because I'd probably have made the same mistake until recently, but you don't need to think about gender in too much depth before you realise why so many people find it offensive to think of things in those terms. The programme itself isn't absolved entirely: Judy (Rebecca Root) admits to having been 'born in the wrong body', a cliché that is far from universal. It was a pleasure to read Cooper: 'I actually think I was born in the right body, my body.' Right on.

Perhaps it's pernickety to get hung up on language. Better to get on with life and stop worrying about what we call things. But I find the nuances of language interesting. Because so much trans terminology is relatively new, there isn't a consensus about what to call things. I had a discussion this week about what the best noun was to use for transgender as a concept. 'Transgenderism' feels too clinical to me, and I tend now to use 'transgender' on its own (as I did two paragraphs ago), though the word doesn't quite feel complete. Cooper calls himself a 'transman'. I suspect most people favour 'trans man' as two words, the reason perhaps being that 'transman' almost looks like another species, whereas 'trans man' is a man with an adjective tacked on. Strange, the difference a space can make.

Goodness, this was long. Sorry.

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PostPosted: Sun Sep 13, 2015 12:03 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Long, but very good and interesting, Gareth. Your postings on this subject are opening my mind.........

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PostPosted: Sun Sep 13, 2015 1:13 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks, Mike, I'm very gratified Smile

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PostPosted: Wed Sep 23, 2015 5:51 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Don't bother reading this post, it's a bit dull.

My latest read is Gender in World Perspective by Raewyn Connell and Rebecca Pearse (the third edition from 2014, published in the Polity Press 'Short Introductions' series). It was a bit of a trudge, which isn't to say I didn't enjoy it, parts of it at least. It's essentially a gender theory primer, and attracted me especially because of the world perspective bit. A lot of our Western hang-ups about gender aren't shared by other societies. There's a lot we can learn from them, and this book, written by two Australian sociologists, provides a multitude of illustrative examples, and approaches the subject from various directions. There are chapters on approaches to gender research, sex differences, gender theory, gender politics, gender in personal life, gender and environmentalism... (The environmentalism stuff was a bit lost on me, I must confess.)

Many sensible people confronted with this book would say, what's this got to do with the real world? They might have a point. I remember on my first day at university being told by my Director of Studies that people would question the point of studying a subject like music – what good is a music degree to anyone, anyway? (though it has helped me get a job, for which many thanks) – and that we should be prepared to defend ourselves against their facile arguments. I think he told us why studying music was worthwhile, though I can't recall what he said and I've never been sure myself. I did it because I loved music. Why should anyone do anything? And no one ever did question the validity of my degree, at least not to my face. They were all too polite. But now I've read this book, will it affect the way I live, the way I think about things, or is it all too theoretical? Hard to say. Perhaps it will act on my brain while I'm busy doing other things.

Here are some generalities I liked, firstly from the opening chapter:

In talking about gender, we are not talking about simple differences or fixed
categories. We are talking about relationships, boundaries, practices,
identities and images that are actively created in social processes. They
come into existence in particular historical circumstances, shape the lives
of people in profound and often contradictory ways, and are subject to
historical struggle and change.

And a nice summation of early 1990s gender theory, which appeals to me, so much so that I'm on the verge of reading Judith Butler:

The most widely influential approach was work that re-examined the
founding categories of feminism. Feminist sociologists explored the micro-
foundations of the gender order, looking at the way gender categories were
created and affirmed in everyday interaction ... Feminist philosophers
reconsidered the relationship of the body to gender categories ... The most
influential approach emphasized the fragility of all identity categories, and
saw gender as, in principle, fluid rather than fixed. A new wave in lesbian
and gay thought, which became known as queer theory, took up this idea.
Its core was a critique of the cultural constraints, summed up in the word
'heteronormativity', that pushed people into fixed identities within gender
binaries ... [Judith] Butler's Gender Trouble became an icon for this whole
cultural movement.

I've said this before about other books on the subject, but part of what I liked about it was that it seemed to codify or at least validate things I think I already knew or felt innately. There are interesting discussions of the fact that sex similarities are far more striking and numerous than differences, though we tend to focus on the differences; and of the idea of socialisation, that children start from the same place, gender-wise, but are 'socialised' male or female, according to their bodies. There are a lot of problems with a theory like that, but it's interesting to explore it. It's impossible to read this book and not to acknowledge that systems of gender are constructed, that the idea of men being from Mars and women from Venus is a big lie that we all buy into to some extent, that nothing and everything is universal. Anyway, decent book, roll on something more straightforward.

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PostPosted: Fri Oct 09, 2015 9:29 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I've read Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity by Judith Butler, a modern classic of gender theory, first published 25 years ago. That is to say, I've read the words, but I'm so far from comprehending their meaning that I wonder if I can justify using the word read.

That's not to say it isn't an exciting book to read, even if I did get bogged down in words like epistemology and ontology and reification, and not quite understand why, for instance, man has a phallus but woman is a phallus, and so on. I didn't really expect to understand it, and I now see that you can't appreciate what Butler's getting at until you've read e.g. Foucault, and you probably can't appreciate Foucault until you've read e.g. Nietzsche, and so on. There isn't enough time in the world if, like me, you'd generally rather read a novel, so you might as well get on with it. I took the tried and tested academic approach of performing a close reading of the book alongside its Wikipedia article, which was tremendously helpful.

Butler's central thesis is to do with 'gender performativity', the idea that our gender is constructed through repeated acts. I can't explain it properly, and there's a hell of a lot more to it than that, but I found it an interesting new way of looking at things. Essentially, the purpose of Butler's book is to challenge the preconceptions about gender that we have. A simple thought that pops up near the start: if men and women define themselves by opposition to one another rather than by their own essence (whatever that may be), what is the use of having the often unsatisfactory categories?

This radical splitting of the gendered subject poses yet another set of
problems. Can we refer to a “given” sex or a “given” gender without first
inquiring into how sex and/or gender is given, through what means? And
what is “sex” anyway? Is it natural, anatomical, chromosomal, or
hormonal, and how is a feminist critic to assess the scientific discourses
which purport to establish such “facts” for us? Does sex have a history?
Does each sex have a different history, or histories? Is there a history of
how the duality of sex was established, a genealogy that might expose
the binary options as a variable construction? Are the ostensibly natural
facts of sex discursively produced by various scientific discourses in the
service of other political and social interests? If the immutable character
of sex is contested, perhaps this construct called “sex” is as culturally
constructed as gender; indeed, perhaps it was always already gender,
with the consequence that the distinction between sex and gender turns
out to be no distinction at all.

If this seems complicated, well, it is. (It's one of the more approachable passages.) At least, having got through it alive, I can approach the likes of Ulysses with a bit less fear now.

There were sections, generally those focusing on human experiences (like Foucault's writings about the intersex Herculine Barbin) rather than abstract theory, where I felt like I was on the verge of getting what was going on, and moments where I recognised my own thoughts in what Butler wrote, which had the effect of making me want to jump up and shout hooray, to endorse both her writing and my understanding it.

Occasionally (but not often) I was pleasantly surprised by how approachable it was. Here's the opening part of the section on Monique Wittig, a writer I am now interested in reading:

Simone de Beauvoir wrote in The Second Sex that “one is not born a
woman, but rather becomes one.” The phrase is odd, even nonsensical,
for how can one become a woman if one wasn’t a woman all along? And
who is this “one” who does the becoming? Is there some human who
becomes its gender at some point in time? Is it fair to assume that this
human was not its gender before it became its gender? How does one
“become” a gender? What is the moment or mechanism of gender
construction? And, perhaps most pertinently, when does this mechanism
arrive on the cultural scene to transform the human subject into a
gendered subject?

Are there ever humans who are not, as it were, always already
gendered? The mark of gender appears to “qualify” bodies as human
bodies; the moment in which an infant becomes humanized is when the
question, “is it a boy or girl?” is answered. Those bodily figures who do
not fit into either gender fall outside the human, indeed, constitute the
domain of the dehumanized and the abject against which the human
itself is constituted. If gender is always there, delimiting in advance what
qualifies as the human, how can we speak of a human who becomes its
gender, as if gender were a postscript or a cultural afterthought?

Beauvoir, of course, meant merely to suggest that the category of
women is a variable cultural accomplishment, a set of meanings that are
taken on or taken up within a cultural field, and that no one is born with a
gender—gender is always acquired. On the other hand, Beauvoir was
willing to affirm that one is born with a sex, as a sex, sexed, and that
being sexed and being human are coextensive and simultaneous; sex is
an analytic attribute of the human; there is no human who is not sexed;
sex qualifies the human as a necessary attribute. But sex does not
cause gender, and gender cannot be understood to reflect or express
sex; indeed, for Beauvoir, sex is immutably factic, but gender acquired,
and whereas sex cannot be changed—or so she thought—gender is the
variable cultural construction of sex, the myriad and open possibilities of
cultural meaning occasioned by a sexed body.

Beauvoir’s theory implied seemingly radical consequences, ones that
she herself did not entertain. For instance, if sex and gender are
radically distinct, then it does not follow that to be a given sex is to
become a given gender; in other words, “woman” need not be the cultural
construction of the female body, and “man” need not interpret male
bodies. This radical formulation of the sex/gender distinction suggests
that sexed bodies can be the occasion for a number of different genders,
and further, that gender itself need not be restricted to the usual two. If
sex does not limit gender, then perhaps there are genders, ways of
culturally interpreting the sexed body, that are in no way restricted by
the apparent duality of sex. Consider the further consequence that if
gender is something that one becomes—but can never be—then gender
is itself a kind of becoming or activity, and that gender ought not to be
conceived as a noun or a substantial thing or a static cultural marker, but
rather as an incessant and repeated action of some sort. If gender is not
tied to sex, either causally or expressively, then gender is a kind of
action that can potentially proliferate beyond the binary limits imposed
by the apparent binary of sex. Indeed, gender would be a kind of
cultural/corporeal action that requires a new vocabulary that institutes
and proliferates present participles of various kinds, resignifiable and
expansive categories that resist both the binary and substantializing
grammatical restrictions on gender.

Sorry for quoting at length, but there's no point me trying to paraphrase. I'm just noting down bits I liked, really. From Butler's conclusion:

Wittig understands gender as the workings of "sex," where "sex" is an
obligatory injunction for the body to become a cultural sign, to
materialize itself in obedience to a historically delimited possibility, and
to do this, not once or twice, but as a sustained and repeated corporeal
project. The notion of a "project," however, suggests the originating force
of a radical will, and because gender is a project which has cultural
survival as its end, the term strategy better suggests the situation of
duress under which gender performance always and variously occurs.
Hence, as a strategy of survival within compulsory systems, gender is a
performance with clearly punitive consequences. Discrete genders are
part of what "humanizes" individuals within contemporary culture; indeed,
we regularly punish those who fail to do their gender right. Because there
is neither an "essence" that gender expresses or externalizes nor an
objective ideal to which gender aspires, and because gender is not a
fact, the various acts of gender create the idea of gender, and without
those acts, there would be no gender at all. Gender is, thus, a
construction that regularly conceals its genesis; the tacit collective
agreement to perform, produce, and sustain discrete and polar genders
as cultural fictions is obscured by the credibility of those productions—
and the punishments that attend not agreeing to believe in them; the
construction "compels" our belief in its necessity and naturalness. The
historical possibilities materialized through various corporeal styles are
nothing other than those punitively regulated cultural fictions alternately
embodied and deflected under duress.

I get that for most people this will seem like gobbledegook, and probably needlessly complicated, but I enjoyed it, albeit masochistically at times. Gender Trouble doesn't really look at transgender identities, and sometimes Butler's theory of gender performativity has been criticised as transphobic, I think wrongly, because of the false equation of 'performance' with inauthenticity; but the passage above seems relevant to modern thinking about the non-binariness of gender. I like this recent interview with Judith Butler very much:

Reading complicated gender theory is not going to become a habit with me. I just don't get enough out of it for it to be worthwhile. But once in a while it's nice to take a walk on the wild side. Sooner or later I'll return to Jack Halberstam, who uses pop culture references and is therefore a bit less formidable than Butler.

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PostPosted: Sat Oct 10, 2015 11:19 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Well, I read all that,  but I suspect that your reading stamina is greater than mine.

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