Sag mir wo die Blumen sind: “Vienna to Weimar” and Songs of Resistance

As my semester ramps up and my workload is beset by ever more fascinating layers of tedious yet exciting social scientific labours, I realised that I might do well to share with you some older essays of mine; reduce, reuse, recycle, I grew up with Captain Planet, baby. What follows here is a review of a cabaret show that I wrote for my German Thought & Culture class back in October 2012. I loved the show and I wanted to share my reflections on it with you all, partially since my last essay on Nuclear Unicorn broached the subject of 'bridge building' across identities and experiences. This fits with that rather serendipitously  I think. I hope you enjoy, there may be more of these to come; I like to write beyond discretely trans issues and German history is actually a bit of a hobby of mine. *** An intimate theatre arrayed much like a speakeasy, a crowd of chatter, wooden colonnades framing a petite proscenium—all washed down with aromatic whiskey; it was the carefree … [Read more...]

The Academic Superheroine: A Review of “My So-Called Secret Identity”

My So Called Secret Identity, the product of writer Will Brooker and artists Sarah Zaidan and Susan Shore, is a comic that seems to blossom out of the implied fissures left by the mainstream comic genre. While its protagonist, Catherine Abigail Daniels, is remarkable for being a non-sexualised star who presents an image of womanhood rarely seen in comic books, she is no less interesting for the fact that she is one of the “little people” in her superheroic city. The big superheroes and villains of Gloria City would be the focus of any other comic; here they are relegated to the background, flying far above the very richly detailed urban world that Cat lives in. “Gloria City is a theater where these big figures fight, posture, pose and self-promote. And if you're not in a costume and a mask, you're just little people,” as the promotional summary says. The story is set to tell the tale of Cat’s intervention into that theatrical landscape, and how she becomes a costumed heroine in her … [Read more...]

Why We Wag

Glasses resting atop an open copy of The Social Construction of Reality

“The best thing for being sad," replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, "is to learn something. That's the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil..., or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn.” ~Merlin, from The Once and Future King by T.H. White I am often asked why I study sociology, and invariably the question is often freighted with the ponderous addition of “how are you going to make money?” I have employment in my field, and I intend to remain employed … [Read more...]

All Things to All People: Some Brief Notes on Solidarity and Free Speech

If transgender people have a “superpower” it is our remarkable ability to stand for anything:  living, breathing “floating signifiers.” Our meaning d’jour is, for some on Fleet Street, “a professionally offended, Left wing lobby group” that is now the latest “post-Leveson” threat to free speech and a free press. Meanwhile, on the opposite side of things—fleeting as these meanings are, such that we can even speak of stable oppositions—Suzanne Moore and Julie Burchill had accused trans people of dividing and distracting the Left from its “important” goals and its “true” cause. If this seems exasperating and contradictory, you ain’t seen nothing yet, as they say. But for now, it is enough to deal with these two absurdities one at a time and bring a bit of light to a decidedly un-illuminating heat. Free Speech: From Posturing to Substance Toby Young and all the other vacuous, fly-by-night defenders of “free speech” filch lovely rhetoric that whistle stops past all manner of liberal … [Read more...]

Unguarded and Poorly Observed: A Response to Julie Burchill

It is altogether fitting that on a day when my own father yelled at me for being a feminist, and got angry at me for introducing my brother to novels by women, about women, that I should come across Julie Burchill raging against “shemales” in the Guardian. It was very much in the spirit of an evening where I was told to my face that I’d do more good for feminism if I’d “been a man” and not a woman; it was a day where I had to listen to a man witheringly declaim literature about “women’s stuff,” and a day where I was attacked for my anger and verve in defending our right to write and speak as women. So in that spirit, I shall continue to write, and to speak. I shall continue to write in spite of having been threatened with rape, in spite of having been told that I’m a “shemale feminazi with too much sand in her fake vagina,” in spite of having been called every misogynist, transmisogynist, and transphobic slur in the book many times over, and in spite of having been accused of … [Read more...]

Shaking Her Fell Purpose: Lady Macbeth as Tragic Heroine

A magnificent painting by John Singer Sergeant of Lady Macbeth, as played by Ellen Terry; she wears a resplendent green dress and is on the cusp of crowning herself.

It would seem impossible to regard Lady Macbeth as anything other than an out and out villain; she seems at best incompetent in her malevolence, and at worst an almost demonic manifestation among humans who spreads her sickness to a far more powerful husband. Yet, on close reading of the text we see that Lady Macbeth has an urgent and bright moral centre, one that ultimately refuses to let her live; she shows regret and repeatedly evinces a morality that her husband is increasingly bereft of. As Macbeth’s better angels flee his increasingly sickened spirit, they seem to spread their wings ever more around Lady Macbeth. Lady Macbeth might be better understood as a tragic hero, in the mould of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, whose fatal flaw is her vaulting ambition; like Caesar she flew too close to the sun and paid the ultimate price. But unique amongst such Shakespearean figures is that Lady Macbeth is undone by patriarchy as well; it was misogyny that had so cribbed her in that using a … [Read more...]

My Transsexual Menace: A Response to Riki Wilchins

If I were to give a measured reaction to Riki Wilchins now infamous "Transgender Dinosaurs" editorial in The Advocate, it would amount to this: it is yet another example of hierarchal inversion where we assign a moral-political value to genders and then exile the ones we disapprove of. The kind of visibility Wilchins writes about is based on a trendy ethic that suggests if you aren't visibly out of the mainstream, then you're The Man, and part of The Problem. This, however, neglects the fact that 'standing out' in that way carried unacceptable risks for most trans women, historically. It also ignores, from a moral perspective, that if we attach moral value only to accoutrement—or suggest that the latter is indispensable to moral behaviour—then we are creating an exclusionary, even bankrupt political ethic that is based simply on what is fashionable, not what is politically necessary. We begin with this quote which, in a way, neatly sums up everything that is wrong with Wilchins’ … [Read more...]

Where’s the ‘Corn Now?

Over the last several months writing has become a true labour of love; I've endured the fiery trials of editing and peer review, coming out the better for and bringing my work to a wider audience. As the links below will show, that has-- remarkably-- come to fruition at long last. So, to everyone here (all three of you) thank you for your readership and support, which has given me the confidence and thought-provoking commentary that I've needed along the way. I shall keep nuclear unicorn'ing away! In the meantime, you can entertain yourselves with Game Changer, an article I wrote for this season's Bitch Magazine which explores the sociological reasons behind the viciousness of online bullying. Why, I ask, does prejudice reach a frenzied, uncivilised pitch in gaming? Is it because of anonymity? (Spoiler alert: no.) I argue instead that we fail to hold people accountable because we think of the internet as being "less real," thus facilitating actions that a moral framework in an … [Read more...]

Belated Nuclear Unicorn Presidential Endorsement

I haven't written much about mainstream politics here since that's done to death in a variety of outlets all over the place-- from private blogs to every news agency the world over, the US Presidential election has enough people saying almost everything under the sun about it. But a few nights ago I was moved to comment on the matter via Facebook; at length. I felt I'd be remiss if I did not, with some editing and additions, republish those thoughts since they speak to an often ignored debate on electoral politics. On the political left there is intense discussion about the value of the presidency and voting, and whether radical change can truly come through morally compromised candidates. What follows is a qualified discussion of the stakes, and why I stuck with this president. The first section was composed on election night. The second was composed early the next morning.   Why I Voted for President Obama My choice this year should surprise no one. The reasons should be … [Read more...]

A Troublesome Occurrence: Postmodern Investments in Trans Women

[11:59] john: so u r a natural woman? [12:00] sarahlizzy: Like the song? [12:00] sarahlizzy: Or do you mean, do I occur in the universe? [12:00] sarahlizzy: Because I like to think so. ~Activist Sarah Brown having a bit of fun with a "tranny chaser"   As a trans woman, one sees herself reflected in academic texts as if peering into a cursed mirror; the woman, if she is allowed to be called such at all, stares back with a postmodern face. It is a thought that has struck me as I have made my rounds through journal articles and discussions about trans women—written by or conducted by cisgender people, and occasionally by trans-masculine folks—when I am left wondering where precisely I am meant to stand in this increasingly fragmented movement of ours. What seems to arrest the academic luminaries most concerned with transgender people are questions of identity and transgression, of political meaning neatly cleaved from political reality. In characteristically … [Read more...]