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Chibiabos83
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PostPosted: Fri Oct 23, 2015 5:36 pm    Post subject:  Reply with quote

I don't think I'd read a novel by a trans writer before, but last night I finished Nevada by Imogen Binnie. It's a road novel of sorts, set half in New York and half in Nevada. The protagonist is Maria, a trans woman working in a bookshop whose life reaches crisis point when firstly her girlfriend Steph claims to have been unfaithful and secondly she loses her job. She 'borrows' Steph's car and drives across the country where she meets James, a 20-year-old not completely happy with his life. She senses James is also trans, though he doesn't admit it, and sets out to do him a good deed by outing him to himself. Things don't quite go to plan, but she sows seeds that, you sense, will be harvested later.

The great virtue of this book is the narrative voice, which is in the third person (other than in one passage where a slip into the first person, missed by the proof-readers, is perhaps telling) but lets you get right inside the character and feel exactly what it's like to live her life from minute to minute. I haven't read many books this year that transported me in this way. At the end I skipped back through the book to see if I could find a passage to quote, but it all seemed so banal out of context, partly as a result of Maria's voice, which is full of the vernacular, including the ubiquitous 'like'. That it's banal is not a criticism, far from it: it's just life. A faithful representation of a life should be banal. But between (or maybe above) the banalities there is something greater at work, some intangible transformation going on, a journey at any rate. It's a portrait of a person, and a credible and sympathetic and lovable person, for all her flaws.

I read one of the author's short stories in an anthology earlier in the year and wasn't crazy about it, so I can't remember what made me keen to read this book, or why it was on my radar at all really. Anyway, my kind mother gave it to me for my birthday earlier in the year, and I'm very glad she did.


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Mikeharvey



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PostPosted: Sat Oct 24, 2015 11:25 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Did you hear Germaine Greer on transgender today?


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Chibiabos83
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PostPosted: Sat Oct 24, 2015 12:37 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Her views are well known to me, so I generally try not to listen Smile


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Chibiabos83
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PostPosted: Wed Oct 28, 2015 6:40 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

More rambling. I'll probably shut up about this stuff one day.

I've just read Trans: A Memoir by Juliet Jacques, published last month. I confess Jacques wasn't really on my radar until I read a review of her book, but a few years ago she wrote a blog for the Guardian documenting her transition that was very well received. The only other memoir of a trans woman I'd read was Jan Morris's Conundrum, which is a great book but now dated, and I was particularly interested to read an account of transitioning in the UK today.

The book intersperses autobiography with short sections on trans history, and the history is more consistently interesting. The autobiography, by contrast, is fascinating when it deals with Jacques' emotional life and her transition, but a struggle when it comes down to mundanities. She moves to this job and that, and friends flit in and out of her life and one simply can't keep track of who they are because of their not being fleshed out, and so at times it becomes a trudge.

By and large, though, I enjoyed it. It probably helped that, being the same age, give or take a couple of years, we share reference points. Our taste in music is different, but we were both teenagers when Dana International won Eurovision and Queer as Folk came out, not that I paid much attention to either, and we both grew up in the shadow of Section 28. There was a computer program used in schools called Kudos that was supposed to tell you, on answering a series of multiple-choice questions, what was the best career for you. I suppose it was a way of saving money on human careers advisers. It told me I should be either a film editor or a bilingual secretary; it told Jacques, 'THERE ARE NO SUITABLE JOBS FOR YOU', which made me smile.

If the best sections involve the social (the anxiety surrounding her coming out, the heartening evolution of her relationship with her parents) and, for me especially, given how little I know about it, the medical (her Gender Identity Clinic appointments, her final stay in hospital for surgery) aspects of her transition, my interest was never prurient. Jacques is essentially a private person, not clubbable, not establishment, in spite of her transition being chronicled in public, and her emotional honesty in laying bare her struggles with gender identity, anxiety and depression leads you to feel a genuine concern for her wellbeing.

There are bits that are hard to read. A section about Jacques meeting Roger Crouch, for instance, whose story I knew already. His teenage son Dominic committed suicide having been the victim of a homophobic bullying campaign, and Roger devoted the next year and a half to fighting bullying, being named Hero of the Year by Stonewall in 2011, before taking his own life, unable to cope any longer with the tragedy. Or the reminder of the story of Lucy Meadows, a transgender teacher who committed suicide following a bitterly cruel campaign led by a journalist I won't name whose existence brings shame on the whole human race. The senseless loss of life almost made me weep as I thought about it. (Without wanting to appear opportunistic, but what the hell, this seems a good place to mention that I'm raising money myself to combat bullying. Details here.)

Some of the harassment Jacques suffers, though not surprising, is still shocking. I kept thinking back to Julia Serano's Whipping Girl, where a distinction is drawn between transphobia and transmisogyny. How much of the stick that Serano gets in the street is because she's trans, and how much is because she's a woman? I've seen discussions online recently where people have contended that 'transmisandry', i.e. the hatred of trans men, doesn't exist. They say trans men are discriminated against because they're trans, but not because they're men. It's an interesting notion, but at a certain point I think, who gives a damn what it's called, let's just stop it happening and quibble over semantics when it's sorted out, right? Playing 'I'm more oppressed than you' does nobody any favours.


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Chibiabos83
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PostPosted: Mon Nov 23, 2015 6:31 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Latest book down: Excluded: Making Feminist and Queer Movements More Inclusive by Julia Serano. Her Whipping Girl is one of the best books I've read this year, and if this book suffers from its piecemeal composition (the first part consists of ostensibly unrelated but sometimes overlapping essays written over a period of several years, the second of a manifesto for a 'holistic view of gender and sexuality' that badly needs trimming) then it contains at least flashes of brilliance (a section on double standards is particularly incisive). I bought it some time ago, and last month I read this review that persuaded me to read it soonest: https://translucidity.wordpress.com/2015/10/01/excluded/

The book deals with lots of binaries, not debunking them necessarily but certainly exploring them. One is the artifactualism/determinism dichotomy (I can tell you're asleep already), the former school proposing that gender is all constructed, the latter that it's all determined by biology, neither of which is a satisfactory model.

As they are most commonly practiced, both gender artifactualism and determinism
are homogenizing models, in that they attempt to explain why the majority of people
tend to gravitate toward typical genders and sexualities: Gender determinists claim
that we are all biologically programmed to be heterosexual and cisgender, whereas
gender artifactualists claim that we live under a hegemonic gender system that
socializes and coerces us into becoming heterosexual and cisgender. However, the
homogenizing nature of these models fails to account for the vast diversity in
genders and sexualities that actually exist. After all, if biology naturally determines
that everyone should be heterosexual masculine men and feminine women, then
how do you explain that existence of fabulous bisexual femme-tomboy transsexual
women such as myself? I can most certainly assure you I was not socialized to
become a bisexual femme-tomboy transsexual woman. And as a biologist, I feel
confident in saying that there is no such thing as a bisexual-femme-tomboy-
transsexual-woman gene that made me this way.


(Serano's a biologist by profession, and there's a lot of biology in this book. She knows the importance of accuracy in language, which is why it's irritating when she uses 'purposefully' to mean 'on purpose', which she does frequently. I have a friend who used to use 'purposarily', under the impression that it was a real word; I would certainly favour that over a real word used wrongly. Mini rant over.)

Serano's 200-page manifesto (not that it's a call to arms throughout, which would be exhausting, though it's undoubtedly both too repetitive, too long, and too repetitive) boils down to a plea for nuance, for us to acknowledge that things aren't black and white, that we are ignorant. She observes that as groups grow in size and evolve, people on the margins get excluded, and that is something to fight against. We need to be conscious of the existence of multiple simultaneous prejudices, including those we can't see. Whether we can act on this as individuals to become more inclusive, and whether that inclusiveness can affect society at large, I don't know; but it's worth a try. I don't know what reasonable person could argue with Serano's recommendations.

I believe that the suggestions that I have offered here are all quite reasonable. But
I'll be the first to admit that reasonable solutions only work if everyone who
participates also happens to be reasonable. Some people are unapologetically
sexist and marginalizing, and are unwilling to change their ways, and they should
certainly be taken to task for their behavior. Some people are know-it-alls who are
convinced that they are always right, and that there is no reason for them to listen
to or consider what other people are saying. Such people should be called out for
being arrogant and entitled. But sometimes, the thing that thwarts reasonable
cross-community dialogues is our own anger.

I could write an entire book about anger. My anger at all the cisgender, heterosexual,
and monosexual people who have made me feel so small, or tried to erase my
identity. My anger at all the feminists and queer activists who have deemed my
perspective irrelevant, or tried to exclude me from their movements. My anger at all
the men and masculine folks who have presumed that my body, femininity, and
person were theirs to freely comment upon, critique, harass, and touch without my
consent. To be honest, it was my anger (rather than my reason) that drove me to
activism in the first place. I was pissed off, and I wanted to change everything. Back
then, I was scared of men. I was suspicious of cis lesbians (due to the long history of
blatant trans-misogyny in lesbian communities). Upon reflection, I probably wouldn't
have made a good intersectional activist back then, as I was too concerned with my
own fears, wounds, struggles, and sorrows.

I am in a different place now. I still hurt, but I've done a lot of self-healing. And I still
feel anger, it's just not my primary motivation anymore. I used to be a singularly
focused trans activist, but these days, I am more interested in being a holistic
feminist. Don't get me wrong: I am not trying to say that anger is bad, or that it is
simply a phase that we need to get over. Some people never get over the anger, and
others maybe never feel it so intensely, or let it spill into their activism. As I said in
the beginning of this chapter, activism can (and should) occur in a multiplicity of
forms: both angry and reasonable, both radical and reformist, both group-only and
cross-community, both single issue and holistic. All are important. If we acknowledge
this multiplicity (rather than thinking of activism as being "my way or the highway"),
then maybe we can each figure out for ourselves where we are at personally, what we
are most passionate about, and what our place in the movement(s) should be.
Legitimate anger has its place in activism, provided that we realize that there are
other legitimate ways to be.


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Chibiabos83
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PostPosted: Mon Nov 30, 2015 6:22 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I returned to Jack (Judith) Halberstam, having enjoyed his (her) In a Queer Time and Place earlier in the year. This time I read his earlier book, Female Masculinity (published 1998), hoping for a pop-culture trawl through the subject, which is pretty much what I got. His introduction expresses best what the book's about.

There is something all too obvious about the concept "female masculinity."
When people have asked me over the last few years what I am working on, I
have explained quickly to them the concept of this book. Usually I can do it in
one or two sentences. I will say, perhaps, "I am writing about women who feel
themselves to be more masculine than feminine, and I am trying to explain
why, as a culture, we seem to take so little interest in female masculinity and
yet pay a considerable amount of attention to male femininity." People tend to
nod and say, "Yes, of course, female masculinity," as if this is a concept they
have grown up with and use every day. In actual fact, there is remarkably little
written about masculinity in women, and this culture generally evinces
considerable anxiety about even the prospect of manly women. I hope that
this book opens discussion on masculinity for women in such a way that
masculine girls and women do not have to wear their masculinity as a stigma
but can infuse it with a sense of pride and indeed power.


Halberstam generally goes by male pronouns and the forename Jack nowadays, but is happy to be called different things by different people. Whether he identifies as 'transgender' or not, I don't know. It feels supremely unimportant. This book is explicitly about masculine girls and women, not transgender or transsexual men (though that topic is treated at length in one chapter).

The most pleasing sections are the introduction and conclusion. That's because in the chapters that focus closely on individual aspects of female masculinity (drag kings, depictions of masculine women in films, etc.) I occasionally felt I couldn't see the wood for the trees, was almost too close to be able to absorb what Halberstam was writing about; whereas the chapters dealing with generalities are incisive and punchy (literally, in the case of the conclusion, which looks at women's boxing and Raging Bull). The section in the introduction on the 'bathroom problem', a site of seemingly constant litigation in the US nowadays, is particularly good.

Having said I struggled a bit with the other chapters, I felt quite assured in the one treating Radclyffe Hall and The Well of Loneliness, having read the book a few years ago. Halberstam makes the good point that it's not appropriate to call RH a 'lesbian' or her book a 'lesbian novel', as the terminology is anachronistic. RH's protagonist Stephen calls herself an 'invert', and nowadays her identity might be closer to that of a trans man than that of a lesbian. When I read the novel, trans things weren't really on my radar, but I can see it's a book that might benefit from a rereading with that in mind (if only I felt like it; but it's not very good...).

That chapter is confusing because Halberstam refers to single people by multiple names (not surprising, given they often have multiple names that they use themselves) and even multiple pronouns, and isn't consistent in the application. The book is less than twenty years old, and yet in some ways it feels very dated. Halberstam makes good points at the start about the silliness of the gender binary, but still refers to people of unknown gender as either he or she or s/he, but never using gender-neutral pronouns (i.e. they) as, I suspect, he would today.

On that note, it's interesting to note how much language matters, for all that one tries not to get hung up on it. I flinched slightly to read Halberstam referring to 'transgendered' people (rather than 'transgender', the now standard adjective). At first I thought, this is not a reasonable reaction for me to have. He is after all writing in the late 1990s, and it's a book of its time. Our way of thinking and talking about gender has changed since then. But I now see that it's not wholly silly of me to feel uncomfortable, because a word like 'transgendered' has become a weapon for oppressors to use to bully and delegitimise trans people. The slightest of nuances, perhaps, but it's there. The insidious usage of dated terminology.

The chapter that treated trans identities was the one that annoyed me most, primarily I suspect because the discourse (I use words like this as though I know what they mean) has moved on since Halberstam was writing, but also because of the cropping up of phrases like 'the border wars between transgender butches and FTMs'. Do these theorists have lives, do they not realise that in the real world it's not necessary to deal in absolutes, that we can celebrate the blurriness of categories? In all fairness there is some acknowledgement of this by Halberstam, and at the end he does write one sentence that I especially liked: 'Specificity is all.'


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Chibiabos83
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PostPosted: Mon Dec 14, 2015 7:53 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Just a note to say I've read Transgender 101: A Simple Guide to a Complex Issue by Nicholas M. Teich, published by Columbia University Press in 2012. Teich is a trans man and his purpose in writing this book is to provide a concise transgender handbook for a wide audience.

My reading has gone deep enough now that this book feels like a step backwards. It's important not to fall into complacency, not to think 'I know all this', and perhaps a year ago when I was still comparatively clueless I'd have been more receptive to it; but more numerous than the times I nodded at things I agreed with (though had perhaps seen better expressed elsewhere) were the times I felt annoyed at things that missed the mark slightly.

A few grumbles: Teich, I'm not sure why, writes clunkily of 'transpeople and nontranspeople', but isn't consistent 100% of the time. He also uses 'transgenderism', a term that feels increasingly dated (though what to put in its place? I discussed this in a previous post). A straightforward statement like 'Gender is a construction' would generally get my hackles up, especially now I've read Julia Serano and come to see that there's a bit more nuance to it than that. Perhaps you sacrifice nuance at the altar of concision. There's too much 'what we've learned in this chapter'-style patronisation of the reader in the book's early stages. I'm surprised an academic publisher would put out a book like this. It's very US-centric, which isn't necessarily a criticism, and quite Western-centric, which probably is. At one point he writes of there being no consensus on the number of trans people in the world. Well, a lot of people we would call transgender wouldn't choose the term for themselves. Our society is not the only one.

But by and large the things that irritated me about certain sections were addressed more satisfactorily in other ones, and it's essentially a competently written, good-natured, understanding book that a lot of people will (and clearly do) find useful. I found S. Bear Bergman's book a much easier way into thinking about gender, though, and will keep recommending it to people (and giving it as a Christmas present).


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Chibiabos83
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PostPosted: Wed Dec 16, 2015 7:49 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

My latest read is a poetry book, Meant to Wake Up Feeling by Aimee Herman. Although Herman is described with 'she' pronouns in quotes from other writers at the start of the book, I think they identify as non-binary/genderqueer and go by 'they', so that's what I'll use here.

How they came on to my radar in the first place I can't remember, but I needed something cheap to add to my A****n order to get free postage and their book was only 1.18 for some reason and it seemed meant to be.

The suspicion I sometimes feel about modern poetry is the same as other people's suspicion of modern art. They don't understand it, so they start mumbling things about the Emperor's New Clothes, whether justifiably or not. Just as people will say Tracey Emin can't call herself an artist until she's a decent draughtswoman (though I confess I rather like some of her drawings), I sometimes feel (though my head rebels against this) that poets should have to prove they can write in classical metres and forms before they can publish free verse.

Many of Aimee Herman's poems are not poems as Wordsworth would have recognised them. Several feel deliberately oblique and recondite, and consist of fragments or splinters of thought dotted about the page. Others are more like prose meditations, with the words going (to use Himadri's daughter's definition of what poetry isn't) all the way to the edge of the page. At their worst (and I stress this is a subjective viewpoint) they read like overwrought performance poetry that anyone could parody, that might even be parodies themselves.

The moments I found unintelligible and/or embarrassing got fewer and farther between as I progressed through the book. Mainly I was just relieved to find sentiments I understood, or sentences that made sense. This, say:

I am in-between the sentence-structure
of my          body     ;      two
independent clauses  ;  flattened raw on
one                 side and hairy and grey
and elephant and embodied
and wouldn't it be easier if the forms
were less con-                 constructed
and wouldn't it be best if we could just
exist within the ellipses of our bones.


Or this:

masculinity is aromatic and may be derived from flattening or
freshly-shaved haircut. it is sexy in the way that it touches and
the way that it questions and the way that it challenges who can
house it.


Or this:

Leaves are pressed between pages because we just cannot handle
saying goodbye to them even if just for a winter. So we thin them
out and capture the red or green which turns brown and the ends
perm but even in February you can visit that leaf and touch its
skin and tell it about the time you found it on a sidewalk so calmly
sleeping beside an ant and chicken wing and you will tell it that it
looked like a dream you once had about spider webs in bathtubs and
a sun dripping from a tattooed sky and in your hand, it looked like
it was smiling.


There are quite a few poems that deal with the notion of body dysphoria, and with the absurdity of the human body and society's expectations of people's bodies, that get nearer the point than most things I've read on the subject. And occasionally you meet an expression like 'the sky is made of blue due to weeping planets', pleasing without really meaning anything but at least suggesting some imagination. I rather liked it; the last two poems I loved.


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Chibiabos83
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PostPosted: Sat Jan 16, 2016 12:56 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

More gender theory: Invisible Lives: The Erasure of Transsexual and Transgendered People (Chicago University Press, 2000) by Viviane K. Namaste. I'm starting to feel sated by this kind of book. I know what to expect: a bunch of familiar arguments that I've now pretty much absorbed, and a lot of theory that I will probably never understand. I think I wanted to read it because it was referenced in other books I've read (Jack Halberstam, probably I wished it were Halberstam at times, he's pithier and easier to follow) and came across as an important work of scholarship. At the time I'm sure it was, with a lot of the topics discussed being new and unfamiliar to readers. The vocab (transgenderists!) is what dates the book more than anything, but a lot of what it relates is still (sadly) relevant.

It's my own shortcoming, not the book's, but the theory made it a trudge to begin with. It wasn't until the final, most substantial section, which draws on original research made by the author, that it turned into the book I wanted it to be, a sociological study of trans life with testimonial evidence. It's ironic that the early chapters boil down to an argument against theory that has no practical application (a frustration I share) while paradoxically embodying it. (An aside Namaste at one point criticises Susan Stryker for her US-centrism among other things, but she often seems somewhat parochial herself, the recurring theme being the lives of trans people in Quebec. It can't be helped, we can all only write from personal experience, but it does make the book feel skewed. The focus is more often than not on MTF transsexuals, of whom the author is one. Little mention of non-binary identities, which is a sign of the times.)

The 'erasure' of the title means lots of things, for instance the slipping through the cracks of trans people because of institutions only recognising two genders and not acknowledging those who have transitioned from one to the other, or those who fit neither. The most readable bits, sadly, tend to be the stories of the ways in which Gender Identity Clinics and other official establishments fail trans people, by (for instance) insisting on the 'real life test', that a trans person must live for a year in their gender before receiving treatment, without appreciating that for a trans woman to present as female without the aid of hormones can make her a target for violence. (One of innumerable examples.) There are other horror stories, of Canadian trans people being required to have genital surgery before they can so much as change their name, which seems unspeakably monstrous. Never mind living memory, this was as recently as 20 years ago. Presumably things have changed. Namaste is very perceptive about the way trans sex workers are marginalised and erased by different establishments.

Self-determination of gender is a talking point at the moment, with the report of the recent parliamentary Trans Inquiry published a couple of days ago and equality crusader Maria Miller MP (...) advocating reform of the gender marker on UK passports. This is probably the best time ever to be trans, and yet it feels like trans people are where gays were in the 1980s. Acceptance is growing, but a lot of the acceptance is theoretical. As more trans people feel able to be out, and more of the rest of us get to know them personally, things will improve. And hopefully I will stop writing these boring screeds. I hope the consolation I draw from my presumption that no one else is reading them is not misplaced.


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PostPosted: Thu Jan 21, 2016 8:27 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I've read graphic novels before, but no manga until now, that is. It's basically your standard comic book only everyone has abnormally large and unattractive eyes and you read it from right to left (which is surprisingly easy to adapt to). Anyway, what I read was Wandering Son, Volume One by Takako Shimura, translated by Matt Thorn. Wandering Son is a manga series published in the USA by Fantagraphics, whose production standards (familiar to me from their Complete Peanuts series) are superb. The hardest thing is telling one character from another, but plotwise it's straightforward enough, a story of a boy, Shuichu Nitori, who finds he wants to be a girl, and a girl, Yoshino Takatsuki, who finds she wants to be a boy. Exchange of clothes, school play with gender roles switched, the onset of adolescence with its awkwardness and bodily changes. There were moments I found tender and moving, but I'm not sure I have the patience (or the money) to persevere with the remaining 14 (!) volumes, not all yet published, though I suspect it gets more interesting as it progresses. I fear I'm just not the intended audience for this type of book, and I can't get easily into the mindset of someone who cares about the characters. I needed more words and fewer pictures.



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