The Trans-feminine Mystique

When I first began writing this journal/blog thingy I wondered in my very first post if I should come out or not; if I should restrain myself from letting that little dirty secret slip into a Google-searchable journal. In the end I realised something rather important, so I just said “fuck it” and wrote that into the very first post. I knew I couldn’t hold that back. It’s in the DNA of this journal’s name, as the first post explained.

But what I also realised is that there are still so precious few outlets for trans people to get the message out there. There are certainly more than ever. The Internet has been a remarkable help in this regard. Many books are now on the shelves that are autobiographical, political or both, and that’s a wonderful thing. Yet even so, none of us can name a really good movie that portrayed a trans person sympathetically, seriously, and non-stereotypically, much less a TV show.

We are shown as crude caricatures, or with our high heeled legs pointing up out of a dumpster, or as cruel temptresses who will defile unwitting young men with our secret sausage. Trans women are those crude and cruel mockeries, trans men don’t even exist at all in the media, save for the needed telling of some tragic tales like that of Brandon Teena. But beyond those sad true life stories, we do not hear much about trans men or trans women- certainly not the triumphs of our every day lives, nor do we see any beautiful pictures painted on screen depicting the realisation of our simple dreams.

Transamerica came closest but even that film, despite having had several trans women consultants like Andrea James whose life story would make a damn fine movie on its own, blew chunks in its portrayal of us. Felicity Huffman’s character was portrayed as a hyper feminine almost wanna-be character that stumbled in her high heels. That’s bollocks, for one thing. You adapt to high heels pretty quickly. Her character is years into transition and that stumbling does little more than assist the audience in not taking her seriously as a woman; as if to say walking in heels is some arcane art of women that cannot be imitated by trans women because of their knobbly bits.

There are countless moments like this, such as the portrayal of her putting on her makeup and spending a tremendous amount of time ‘putting woman on’ which reinforces the idea that she has to put on a costume and deceive. Unlike an actual woman, is the implicit message, intended or not. This belies the countless stories of real trans women who roll out of bed in a tank top and jeans and get groceries in the morning without spending two hours putting on makeup.

What was particularly annoying about this portrayal was that it tapped straight into a deeply othering meme that infects the wider media. Showing trans women spending lots of time putting on makeup. Even in sympathetic news or talk show outlets that have shown positive stories about us, like Oprah or Vermont’s CBS affiliate, there’s always that money shot of the trans woman putting on makeup. It reinforces this asinine idea that our womanhood is artificial and revolves around the rituals of cosmetics and wigs and stuffing our clothes in the right places. The idea becomes very much implicit in all of this: we’d not be women but for that artifice.

This is insulting to trans women and it’s insulting to women as a whole. I am taken seriously as a woman despite not wearing much in the way of makeup. The most I ever use is a little lipstick because I happen to like what it does to my face. That’s not a crime. But I sure as hell don’t spend hours in front of the mirror using layers of foundation to “make myself a woman.”

In an earlier entry I remarked that trans people were an excruciatingly de-voiced group. These examples highlight the consequences of this. When the powers that be deign to cover us or give us a very filtered voice, it must always be channelled through the filter of their own definitions and biases. This has profound consequences and also explains a particular aspect of what I might call a little ironically The Transsexual Mystique: the fact that we’re all things to all people.

To Christians, Muslims, and other religious conservatives we are sins against nature whose very existence flies in the face of God. To liberals we are diversity chits to showcase their tolerance but not to be taken too seriously as ‘actual’ men and women. To macho, patriarchal men, we are incredibly gay sissy guys who need a beatdown and also a place for them to project their worst misogynist fantasies. To some feminist women, we’re sleeper agents of the patriarchy itself, men in drag who denigrate womanhood by being parodies of it. To psychiatrists we are their social experiment and a place to project their personal ideals so that we might be moulded into them. To some gays we’re merely deeply closeted gays and lesbians unable to grapple with our own latent homosexuality.

You may note that many of these stereotypes are trans woman-specific. This is because trans men are thinly regarded at all by society in this. Their existence puts lie to some of those stereotypes and is thus inconvenient.

The only way this happens is because who we really are isn’t part of the narrative. They know we exist as transsexual people but they don’t know what to make of us. So they project their fears, worries, and fantasies onto us. We are blank slates on which they may write their values, and in so doing they merely rationalise us into some role that buttresses their worldview. Because we sure as hell aren’t being allowed to do it. So few of us can stand up and say “this is my life, I’m a human being and here’s my experience…” So we simply become MacGuffins for everyone else’s political ballgames.

When we are allowed to speak, we always have our words edited by the demands of commercial media and parsed by psychiatrists who allegedly know us better than we know ourselves. Our experience is forever qualified by the desires of others.

So I’m telling this story. My story, and my observations. I don’t pretend it applies universally, but it’s part of the true tapestry of the lives of all trans people. What can be done to fix and redress the media portrayal problems? A good place to start looking and see what the future might look like is Venus Envy, a webcomic by Erin Lindsey that deals with the lives of trans people in a small Pennsylvania town. It can be a little soap opera-ish, but what matters most is that I identified with the main character, Zoe.

She wasn’t a caricature, she wasn’t a cardboard cut out, and she wasn’t comic relief. She was a fictional character who was going through what I went through with the same thoughts, worries, fears, hopes, and some experiences that I had. It matters so very much to see and I ate that comic up, finding hope in Ms. Lindsey’s excellent and heartfelt storyweaving.

One of the other main characters is a trans man as well, and their issues are handled so deftly and expertly that I never felt condescended to. I just felt like this was a reflection of my experience. Trans people as a whole were being taken seriously in this artwork. Lindsey knows how to make us laugh about our own foibles and some of her earlier comics make great play of that. But the joke is not on us, it’s on the absurdity of the situations society leaves us in. That is a critical distinction.

This is why I get so annoyed at people who decry “affirmative action” on television and in films, like some morons at the University of Connecticut’s Young Republican club who actually denigrated Star Trek: Voyager for being such a thing. To hell with you. There is a very distinct power to seeing a reflection of yourself in the media. It makes you feel like you’re part of the society and that your stories and experiences matter enough to be reflected into the general public. I can empathise with white characters and with cis-women characters, and even the odd male character. But it makes my heart sing with I see a trans woman I can truly identify with.

Because the trans part of my womanhood is a very specific and very involved set of experiences that are not easily replicated in other demographic groups. Zoe Carter as a character matters a lot to me because of that. Erin Lindsey truly Gets It. It’s no surprise then that she’s trans herself. But we all need to tell our stories, and in her way this is how she tells hers.

I also added a link to the blog roll to Lady Jade Lioness’ Den, a good friend who is writing a wonderful piece of erotic fiction starring a trans woman who, aside from being elegant, strong, and intelligent, can kick some serious ass and knows how to use a pair of daggers to deadly effect. In a word, a badass I can empathise with. It matters to have those sorts of heroes and see them portrayed positively and sympathetically.

It matters not just because we need to feel less alone or because seeing ourselves reflected positively is empowering. It is also because we need to stop being all things to all people and instead be ourselves.

Sex: F. Love, The State

There’s a stinging duality to validation-by-document.

If only it were that easy.
If only it were that easy.

On the one hand, when I hold a letter from my doctor, or a state ID that affirms I am female and has my proper, womanly name in all its glory, I feel empowered. I feel alive. I feel validated. I was taken seriously enough for those official categories of consideration to be changed, for the State to smile on me in its own strange, distant way and favour me with the constructs of a ‘legal name’ and ‘ID’ that act as the keys to getting me seen in society as I want to be seen. That doctor’s letter affirmed that I was indeed gender dysphoric, that I was truly a woman whose ‘psychological gender predominated over her physical/birth gender.” Those affirmations made my heart sing.

They also make it sink sometimes.

Because I know that I should never need any of those things to ‘prove’ myself to anyone ever. I remember how I held up the Greatest Doctor’s Note Ever to my father and told him “See?” Yet simultaneously I felt hurt that he needed to see something like that before he even began to consider what I was telling him about who I really am. That it took someone affixing their meandering signature to a form letter who happened to have the letters M and D after his name to get my father to think ‘this might be real.’

It’s a problem a lot of trans people experience- the fact that our word has never been good enough to anyone. Every out-group has a problem with elites speaking for them. But few out-groups are as truly de-voiced as trans people. It is truly rare that you see one of us on television, or openly writing in a newspaper, telling the world about our experiences. Telling the world who we are. Telling the world why.

There are, mercifully, more and more books written by trans men and trans women alike breaching major publishing thresholds, but there is still so much more work to be done.

It lies in the fact that so very often we’re forced to rely on men in white coats to validate us and our existence. To stand beside us and say “In my considered opinion as a professional, this person is telling the truth about her whole life and experience that I have had but the faintest and most tangential glimpse into.” Ever implicit in this is of course the idea that they know us better than we know ourselves, and I have always loathed this. It took years of introspection to get the certainty and courage I needed to come out, as well as meeting a very unlikely person (If ya’ll are nice I might tell you that story someday). It constantly gives the broader public the impression that we need to be spoken for and diagnosed by people who know better- and who will always know better. Cisgendered men and women who posit themselves as trans experts, primarily as a career advancing move, but who are fawned on by colleagues and the members of the press that deign to occasionally give our issues some space in the news.

The lovely lie that drifts through the coverage is, of course, that these people know us so well because they’ve seen us and done research on us. All very official and sciencey.

Well, here’s my research:

It took a lot of deeply personal effort to shine a light on the darkest recesses of my mind, putting my education to work so that it might elucidate some mysteries I once sheltered deep in my mind’s shadow. To think beyond what I was taught and consider all possibilities. To learn, slowly but surely, why society made us do and believe certain things, why I was raised as I was, and what lay beyond those carefully drawn boundaries.

These words belie the years of effort, and pain. Pain from not knowing why I hated myself, why I sometimes wanted to just curl up and die, why despite my theoretically bright academic future I dreaded becoming an adult male, why I squirmed with self-loathing whenever I was in a relationship with someone. Through all of that I did not know what the hell was wrong with me, even as I worked tirelessly and assiduously to find out what. Having shed much of my Catholic socialisation I was unafraid to consider the possibilities others would’ve had me shun, but even as I flirted with being trans I was smart enough to know how hard this all was, the risk it would be, the expense, the additional pain, the upheaval…

Getting over that took even more time.

It took meeting other trans people to really get my head around what went into all of this and whether this would be my path as well. In all of that sharing was intimacy, love, angst, anger. A cacophanous chorus of issues crashing against one another as I tried to find meaning in every precious new note I heard. There was experimenting in secret, lying to myself about what it was, roleplaying as women in online games, living vicariously through other women. Everything was trying to get out, faster than I could identify and neatly categorise it with confidence in its accuracy. I was at war with myself and didn’t even realise it until fairly recently. What’s more, I had to clean up a tremendous mess in my mind to uncover the truth; untangling my true feelings from what I was socialised to feel. (More on that next time.)

If this is not a deeply personal journey that isn’t entirely about self-knowing then nothing could ever possibly be.

So to be gainsaid by people who demand documentary proof is infuriating in a way that inspires passion I’d hitherto not known I had. In places where I am not known as a person, it is certainly nice to produce ID that matches my gender identity. It greases the wheels, it makes life easier for everyone involved. That doesn’t bust my chops so much. It’s the doctor’s letter that conflicts me the most.

This touches on a massive landmine in the trans community, of course: the pathologising of our beings. Are we truly disordered? To the point where a ‘professional’ diagnosis and examination are required, and placed well ahead of what we think, feel, experience, and know? I don’t purport to know the answer to this question. I’m not naïve enough to think my feelings or experiences are universal among trans people. We’re not all alike; in us is reflected the infinite diversity of the human race.

But to be honest I never felt truly disordered. My anxiety was a manufactured product of socialisation, of being raised to “know” I was a male, that females were this other species, and that never the twain shall meet. It took a lot of self-educating, digging, and assorted chiselling to get away from that. My angst sprung from the fact that no one ever told me that I might actually be a woman. Such was impossible, of course. We all “know” this.

Any good sociologist will tell you in a heartbeat that psychologists and psychiatrists perform incredibly needed scientific functions, and then whisper under their breath that they’re just agents of socialisation at the end of the day. Like the police officer, the parent, the clergyman, the schoolteacher, the psychiatrist enforces the commonly agreed upon norms and mores of our society. They have more objective science to work with, but there are an embarrassing number of psychiatric grey areas that reflect less science and more social attitudes that they take it upon themselves to enforce.

It really is this obvious sometimes.
It really is this obvious sometimes.

I find it ironic to consider that if I was or am disordered it’s merely because society comes down hard on people who do what I do. Which, truthfully, is a disorder that has nothing to do with being a transsexual woman. It has to do with being sad. It has to do with feeling alone; feeling like you can’t trust anyone out there for fear of what they’d do to you if they ever found you out. All of that fear and self-loathing is caused by the pervasive sense that society will not accept me and that as a consequence I will not know love or have friends. I know now that I can have both. But in the years I was struggling with myself, there weren’t exactly big friendly signs telling me that’d be the case.

This has less to do with me being trans than it does with me violating a social norm, and in my particular case a lot to do with the fact that my existence is an affirmation of femininity and its virtues. My willing pursuit of it is a big no-no in a Patriarchy. (The flipside for trans men is that bigots will see them as “women who don’t know their place”- again it all filters back to the broader sexism that afflicts our society.)

But when you look at all of this and examine it thoroughly you see that trans as a discrete state of being has little to do with this. In my own experience it’s felt almost peripheral.

When I had to show that letter to my father, even to the clerks at the Department of Motor Vehicles, I felt a bit defeated. Despite everything I’d been through, the only person I’d end up proving myself to was… well, myself. To everyone else who, by dint of a record on the state computer, or because they saw me grow up, thinks I’m male… I have to prove myself somehow- and my words, however eloquent, are not good enough. There’s no denying that Doctor’s Note makes it a hell of lot easier and more official. Nothing like taking advantage of peoples’ infinite trust of men in white coats to make you hate socially assigned roles in this comical pageant of life a little more.

I just wish that certain people would take me at my word when I talk about my experience.

I’m With You

I Am A WomanHaving been inducted into the Femmisphere by my good friend over at FemmEssay it is perhaps worth meditating once again on the unicorniness of the whole Nuclear Unicorn thing. So let’s get down and funky with it while I drop some serious verbal groove.

Or funk. Or whatever. The point is that as the convenient illustration to the left shows, I am a woman. But we wouldn’t be here if it were that simple. I think that if I had to give a piece of advice to transsexual people who were just coming out, one that would be regarded as a rare gem of insight, it would have to be a warning, I am sad to say. We expect our enemies to come from the religious right and from the social conservative movement, and we are often reminded of why we must always be wary of them. But a trans person also must look over the left shoulder as some of our worst enemies are unabashed liberals.

That’s been very hard for me to swallow, without question. My own ideological commitments, as the rest of this journal has heretofore shown, are quite liberal. My heart beats Left and I ain’t ashamed to say it. But I know that self identified liberals will try to convince me I’m a male for various reasons, when it suits their needs. At best you might get some diversity obsessed tosser who gleefully tells you “Wow, you almost look like a real woman!” and tote you around to prove how tolerant they are. Most cuttingly, however, some feminists will simply deny me. That’s been the bitterest pill of all.

For years I always found myself sympathizing with other women and never quite getting the doodz who were supposed to be my comrades in arms. Whenever the cry of “pfah, women!” went up, I raised my glass only halfheartedly, knowing that something was wrong with my participation in this exercise of social separation. It was only in the last couple of years that I at last accepted I’d been pitching for the wrong team. It doesn’t mean that my feminism didn’t burn me hard in the past, however. Many male colleagues and acquaintances were made just a little uncomfortable at how I guilted them for their crass, casual sexism.

My own father struggled vainly for years to get me to come around to his entitled view of the world, to teach me to “love women” in the way that he did. He often got angry at me for not catcalling with him, often noted that I’d not leer at attractive women when we were out in public, and even berated me for fancying girls at school who he deemed unattractive. He certainly wasn’t the only one who attempted to socialize me in this way. Against him and all others I argued vehemently and with a passion that I never knew was so deeply personal.

I thought I was being a feminist male. I never quite knew that it was my own dignity I was defending against the tireless objectification of people like my father. But my own dignity it was.

What some radical feminists don’t quite get is that I am a victim of misogyny, just as they are, and that our beloved Patriarchy is no gentler on me than it is with them. It is at times even worse for one very good reason: Men will act out their worst misogynist fantasies on trans women.

For you see, we exist in that cosy netherspace of looking and sounding like women but, you know, not being women- according to them. When I first came out my father tried to grope me, in perverse fascination at my growing breasts, called me a “whore”, and demanded that I do “what a woman is supposed to do” if I’m so intent on being one which was, of course, cooking for him and cleaning up after him.

He explicitly said that’s what a woman was supposed to do. He never had the balls to say this to my mother (who looked at him aghast as he said it), but to me, a woman who was fighting against his perceptions for her femininity, he was more than comfortable saying and doing all of those things. He wants to treat women this way, he just feels constrained. I provide him with a convenient target to act out his sexist fantasies upon since I’m kind of like a woman but not a “real woman.”

Make no mistake, if this is transphobia it exists only as a subset of pure, unadulterated misogyny.

I have often said that when it comes to violence and bias against trans women it is not the fact that we’re ‘gender deviant’ that gets us attacked, but what gender we are deviating towards that earns the ire of people like my father. That is something that should alarm all women.

Should feminists be in the business of carrying water for patriarchs? I can think of no greater insult to our movement.

The mainline of their argument is unironically used essentialism. I am not a woman, nor can I ever be one, because I was born with a penis.

Let’s examine this for a hot second: Feminists have long railed against this society’s phallocentrism, and against a myriad of sexist presumptions dressed in the gown of science (think Freud’s Penis Envy), and long condemned the asinine acculturated idea that the penis carries with it any sort of innate power and entitlement, and that because we build world-ending bombs in their shape is no validation of the notion.

So how can one of their number suddenly turn around and deny me my womanhood on exactly the same basis as my father? Look at everything he’s said and done. If you bristled you did so rightly. Yet in denying my womanhood some radical feminists would say, verbatim, what my father has said: my little estrogenised cock is more important than everything else about my personhood, my life, my experiences, my personality, and the rest of my body.

What really gets me sighing and holding my head is when some of those same people come along and say that even a trans woman who’s had bottom surgery is still a man because they used to be penis-havers. I never thought I’d see the day when a feminist let the ghost of a penis define another woman. How sexist men must howl with self-satisfied laughter. They’re getting feminists of all people to do their dirty work for them, lock, stock, and two smoking barrels full of bullshit.

How could a feminist imbue that blasted organ with so much power in a way that is not at all different from how patriarchal men have done it for years? Treating it as an immutable birthright in whose veins is the essential privilege of manhood; this is radioactive water that I as a woman will not carry. No woman should. Our dignity should not permit it.

I am something that makes many men uncomfortable and with very good reason. I call into question the immutability of sex and gender; I call into question any innate concept of manhood’s superiority. I can do this with well reasoned arguments, but I call this pap and nonsense into question by merely existing.

If you want further proof of how misogyny has for so long stabbed us and tried to define us, you need look no further than that great gleaming edifice of purported objectivity: Psychiatry. Consider the following: as more and more trans people started coming out and going to therapists to be allowed to start hormone treatment and get the permissions we needed to transition, the world was rapidly changing around us all. The 60s were upon us and feminism was once again bursting through the dam.

When presented with a trans woman most male psychiatrists treated us with derision even as they allowed us to pass through their gates to access what we needed to transition. They stressed as they did so, however, that in order to be “real women” we had to be demure.  That’s right, if you were in any way assertive, they pegged you as a male. You also had to love makeup and pretty dresses. If you didn’t, you weren’t a “true transsexual.” You had to be the perfect fembot in order to convince them you were truly gender dysphoric and thus worthy of their help.

Maybe we can’t change all those radical women burning their bras, they thought, but we can have control over these very vulnerable women right here in our offices. Let’s make them into our image of what being a woman should be.

If that doesn’t come from sexism, where does it come from?

Many therapists these days have become more progressive, but others still cling to these ideas, like the notorious gender clinic in Toronto, at the Canadian Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. In a recent Atlantic Monthly article (one I have severe problems with) I was reading that discussed how trans people are coming out at increasingly younger ages, for ‘balance’ Hanna Rosin went there to interview the head doctor, Dr. Zucker, whose practises should raise wailing alarms in feminist circles of all stripes.

He purports to be able to “cure” us if we’re identified at a young age and get us to act in line with the organs with which we were born if we ‘act up.’ How did he do this with one ‘little boy who wanted to be a girl’?

Well, see for yourself:

They boxed up all of John’s girl-toys and videos and replaced them with neutral ones. Whenever John cried for his girl-toys, they would ask him, “Do you think playing with those would make you feel better about being a boy?” and then would distract him with an offer to ride bikes or take a walk. They turned their house into a 1950s kitchen-sink drama, intended to inculcate respect for patriarchy, in the crudest and simplest terms: “Boys don’t wear pink, they wear blue,” they would tell him, or “Daddy is smarter than Mommy—ask him.” If John called for Mommy in the middle of the night, Daddy went, every time.

This is the tip of the iceberg. Now think long and hard about this and this “curing” process. If the words “flagrant misogyny” aren’t flashing through your head in big, unfriendly red letters I don’t know what else to tell you.

Look at how trans women are treated in the psychiatric realm, among other things, see what is used to attack us, to other us, to un-person us. Every single time it’s a slight permutation of an argument used against women as a whole. Zucker wanted those parents to condition their child to hate women and to see his mother as a subordinate inferior. Is this how some radfems want trans women to be erased?

Do they want to drag womanhood through a very muddy gutter just to get rid of us? Or might there be more to all of this than a mere knobbly bag of flesh?

Do we really want to reduce womanhood to that thing? Do we want to say that trans women’s inability to bear children or menstruate invalidates us, backhandedly saying that’s all that really makes a woman? Note very carefully that innumerable patriarchal men reduce us to baby making machines. Is that water you want to carry for even five seconds?

This above all, however: We’re in this together, sisters. In our sisterhood there will always be a power no words can break and that misogyny cannot hope to breach.

Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman Part II

Remember that time your cable company had you on hold for a half hour and routed your call, finally, to someone who was thoroughly unable to assist you with your problem? Let’s back up a step here. If your cable company or ISP is anything like mine you probably had to go through a dozen asinine automated steps where you had to verify your computer was plugged in as well as turn it on and off at the recording’s prompting. Or when that voice helpfully advises you to go to the company website… after you already indicated via the touchtone menu that your Internet is out.

Efficiency at its finest. Or how about the time your credit card company did this to you? Or the time your airline bumped you for little to no reason? Or lost your luggage? How about the time your computer manufacturer charged you hundreds of dollars to pay for their expertise of getting you to open up your own computer and see inside? I’m sure you have your own horror stories of dealing with any number of problems like this. Meditate on them for a good long while. On all the “your call is very important to us” hold messages you’ve sat through or all the times you’ve had to fight to get a few bucks back you’re owed from a return or a promotion.

Then consider what has been said about “government-run healthcare” conjuring up scary images of queues, waiting periods, bureaucrats and service-by-number.

Some GOP lawmakers, taking a sideswipe at the people who deliver their fan mail every day, warned that government healthcare would be “like the Post Office.” Presumably an insult. Perhaps they’ve forgotten what it’s like to be routed to a call centre in India since their servants take care of that? Who knows?

The point is that they’re propagating an idea that exists in the mainstream media and underlies most discussions about things like healthcare: that private interests run things more efficiently than government.

This myth came about in response to the fact that normally governments wield the largest bureaucracies. This is true, without question, in most countries. Because the “government” includes jobs like police officers and firefighters and park rangers and postal workers and any number of secretaries and bookkeepers to handle the paper work of those and scores of other agencies. Lest we forget the military and intelligence services are also “government” jobs and they too require clerical aides who would be considered “government” employees.

Corporations portray themselves as more limber. But of course they would be. If your company only makes, say, lead pipes, you’re going to need far fewer employees than an entire government would. But, they would say, they know how to make the smallest number of employees do the most work.

Exactly; thus “your call is very important to us. Your estimated wait time is 90 minutes.” Efficiency!

Ever noticed when you’re shopping that only two or three registers seem to be open at a time when there are ten total? Efficiency!

Ever noticed that there’s usually only one lone person working the graveyard shift at an isolated 7/11 that wasn’t equipped with bullet proof glass? Efficiency!

Ever wondered how a company thought it was a good idea to put lead in baby milk? Efficiency!

Ever wonder why sweatshop labour exists yet its products still cost a pretty penny? Efficiency!

When looked at this way you begin to realise that the altar of efficiency, upon which so much is sacrificed, is not about helping me or you or even the very employees of a given company. It is only about making the most money possible with the most minimalist expenditure of resources. That money does not trickle down to you or the employees. It stays in the hands of those at the very top, doled out in the form of bonuses to chief executives. After all, they did all the hard work, right?

There is nothing wrong with wanting to profit from your work. From taking in more money on a sold

Remember kids: This is not a bureaucracy because it's privately owned.
Remember kids: This is not a bureaucracy because it's privately owned.

product than you spent making it. The problem is that many corporations long ago began pushing this idea further and further to its breaking point and logical conclusion: sacrificing as much quality as possible to make the absolute highest profit possible. There is a happy medium where you can profit and produce quality products and service at the same time. Greed is what compels executives to go well beyond those boundaries to squeeze that extra million out of the profit margins.

If you’ve ever worked at a retail outlet and seen your break time diminish or benefits scaled back or wondered why the bathroom is cleaned only once every year, this is precisely why.

Back to healthcare. We are told that corporations’ propensity to do this sort of thing is exactly what makes them wicked awesome at running healthcare.

But consider the examples I gave at the top of the article. Corporations are inefficient when it comes to handling our concerns and needs, regardless of whether or not we are paying customers. They are very efficient at separating you from your money, however. That’s the point. Where corporations create efficiency and “cut costs” is with you. Less quality for you, less service for you.

So again, consider healthcare. This is how they run it.

Even if you’ve paid your insurance premiums they will do everything in their power to save a hundred here and a hundred there. While that’s nothing to them, it could be everything to you. Like, say, a needed part of your rent payment. Not that they notice or care about this.

For you see, while conservatives are trying to pit you against an imaginary, archetypal welfare cheat and building you up as “John Q ResponsibleCitizen”, they’re making you ignore the fact that despite your responsibility corporations begin cutting costs with you, as they raise your insurance premiums. They do not care about you or your health, even if you pay. If they can get away with it they will deny you a lifesaving procedure and walk away with your money. It is only your insistence working the phones and making your way through their switchboards that ensures an insurer doesn’t ‘forget’ to cover you.

Every American has had some rough brush with cost cutting measures and dispassionate corporations, just as surely as they’ve grumbled at the DMV. So why are we being told to be so enthusiastic about their ability to run healthcare plans when evidence from every other wealthy nation suggests there’s a better alternative? Does the fact that these companies make billions in profits and pay millions of that to politicians have any relevance to this fact, perhaps?

This is the bureaucrat between you and your doctor *now*
This is the bureaucrat between you and your doctor *now*

Lest we forget, as those ads with the annoying duck may remind you, healthcare companies have a large advertising presence in our media. Furthermore, could you imagine television without at least a few minutes of your day being spent hearing about how Miracle Drug X has been shown in rare cases to cause thoughts of suicide, heartburn, depression, athletes foot, high blood pressure, sore throat, headache, nausea, and yeast infections?

So let’s stop this right now.

We need to stop pretending the private sector runs things more efficiently. Lest we forget, they too have bureaucracies. Bureaucracy has become a dirty word when it’s merely a descriptor of the network required to support a complex enterprise. It is not an intrinsically terrible thing. But we need to stop pretending only public employers have them. They exist everywhere. It’d be like berating a company for using computers. They’re simply how business gets done.

Don’t be fooled. Not only do countries around the world put lie to the notion that government cannot be involved in healthcare, but our own experiences should tell you that the private sector cannot be left to its own devices in this field. Corporations can do a lot of good, but they must be supervised. Without being steered towards doing what is right they will do what is wrong simply because it saves them money. We don’t necessarily have to give up privately run insurance if we like it so much- just ask Switzerland and Japan.

All the governments there do is control costs, provide a safety net for those who cannot afford premiums, and mandate that no one can be denied insurance on the basis of their health.

So why not here?

Drawn Into Failure

Quick, how do you draw a political cartoon?

If your snarky answer is “very, very carefully” then you’re demonstrably wrong. If your answer is “with an eye towards elucidating complicated subjects in a visual medium” then I will have to laugh most heartily for thou art a silly one.

Ultimately, political cartooning is one of the most addicting, unedifying, and destructive media in the press at large. Some webcomic authors, all of whom are young people, are already mocking the so-called art. It’s not a slight against the artistic talents of the men and women who draw them, mind. Some are quite good. The problem lies with the almost self-satirising silliness of the medium they’re forced to work in.

One that uses almost comically overdone visual metaphors that fail so much they have to be brazenly labeled in order to be intelligible to the reader.

Ever since the peerless British satire programme The Day Today (a sort of forerunner to fake news shows like The Daily Show) aired its segments with ‘Brant’, the physical cartoonist, it seems that this ridiculous artform has come under ever increasing scrutiny for its overall uselessness, obviousness, and the fact that it’s biased in a thoroughly artless way.

Opinionmakers, like the seductive, incredibly sexy author of this article, are biased by default. But there’s a fine line between making a case and just being an asshole. Most political cartoonists fall into the latter category. When you see a political cartoon odds are you love or hate it, and if you hate it you can think of several arguments against the tendentious point being made.

The point of arguments and of opinion pieces at large is to convince people of the rectitude of your views. Political cartoons merely cheerlead aggressively for their own side. They do not have arguments, facts, figures, or carefully constructed reasoning, just an ugly caricature and a series of speech bubbles in whose brevity all profundity and reason is lost.

How *can* you distill something as complicated as race relations, the war in Afghanistan, or healthcare reform into something as simple as a single unmoving picture? The only way to do so is by leaving out every detail except one relevant one with your personal bias colouring in the rest of the piece. Last time I wrote, I mentioned a couple of major tropes that emerged in cartoons critical of President Obama’s healthcare reform. They were more heat than light, in a very basic way.

What do we learn from seeing Obama gleefully snapping a long rubber glove on while standing behind a white male everyman helpfully labeled “Taxpayer” as Obama says “This is going to hurt”? The ostensible message is that healthcare reform will be painful, unpleasant, and expensive. And apparently that spending money is like being fisted. Unless it’s for a flat screen TV, of course.

We learn nothing. People who know anything about this debate know that expense is one of several angles only, and can under certain circumstances be justified. What is tax money for if not to provide public services that can’t be supplied at a quality level any other way? We may learn that the artist really likes anal sex, however. That’s more than I wanted to know about Glenn McCoy, but hey, no one told me to read the cartoon.

That besides, there are too many political cartoon clichés as is. Those healthcare tropes are just the most obvious from a very contemporary issue. Other related tropes include a patient lying in the OR, helpfully labeled ‘healthcare reform’ or ‘healthcare crisis’. President Obama must be very flattered by the dozens of dashing portrayals of him in a white lab coat. The rest of us must be getting just a little weary of seeing healthcare represented by a five foot tall gel-cap (or maybe it’s a suppository, you know these conservative cartoonists).

Again, these are dozens of different cartoonists, uncreatively using the same images over and over again.

But there are scores more generic mainstays. Let’s look at a few with the help of my beloved slugs:

There’s the family on the couch reading the newspaper and making some tendentious joke about it:

Sluggies on Sofa
I'm quite certain that for some people, this event *would* be an outrage.


There’s the Bludgeon-You-To-Death-With-My-Visual-Metaphor type that has to label everything in order to give it even a tiny bit of meaning:

Political Heat Slug

There’s the old workhorse, the physical caricature, which makes great play of an offending pol’s physical characteristics:

Big Eyed Slug

There’s the perennially lazy “News Item” comics which fail so hard at contextualizing an issue that they have to basically put a headline at the top of the cartoon and have their caricature underneath it in a cheap attempt to make up for the heretofore lack of cartooniness in this political cartoon:

Political Cartoon 3

There’s a class I especially loathe which effectively kills political cartoons as any sort of timeless art. The Referencer. If a popular movie, no matter how bad, hits theatres you can be sure a gaggle of cartoonists will somehow, and often very cackhandedly, work it into their parodies:

Harry Potter Slug
Like the not at all unsubtle banking crisis behind me!


And finally, perhaps the most general trope of all, the “I’m stealing your shit” trope that tries to cast a generalised You as a victim of a highwayman in the form of the government or some other powerful institution:

I'd have drawn him twirling his moustache but he has no hands.
I'd have drawn him twirling his moustache but he has no hands.

There are countless more that I couldn’t take the piss out of by drawing them (My hand got tired):

The car at the petrol pump. The kids going trick or treating. The family around the breakfast table. The college commencement speech. The suburban man answering the door. The suburban couple sitting in front of the TV making a snide joke about some news story they’re watching. (Note that the general stand-ins for us the general public always portray us as roughly middle aged white citizens in a well appointed suburban house. [Don’t get me started on how shabbily political cartoons treat young people].)

Over and over again, we have seen these same images used by liberal and conservative cartoonists alike for dozens of different issues. It’s old, it’s repetitive and it does nothing. Bonus irony, many right wing cartoonists draw particularly snarky cartoons about union workers. These cartoonists are usually in the newspaper union at their place of work.

They are quintessential preaching-to-the-converted, and as the fairly recent debacle with the New York Post monkey comic shows, the medium encourages stupidly offensive and disrespectful imagery. How else to describe a medium that trades on caricature and punishes a politician not for their views but for having a big nose or large ears?

If indeed the newspaper business is dying, let political cartoons be the first organ that fails. Transplant it with a column written with some measure of dignity and with a desire to illuminate. (How’s that for a visual metaphor?)

Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman Part I

I have a knack for being snarkily dispassionate about politics, taking a leaf from George Carlin’s playbook about being a disinterested observer with no investment or stake in political horsetrading. The current debate about healthcare, however, is one time where I have to trip and stumble back into the abyss of giving a shit.

It’s too personal for me not to. My own personal stake in the healthcare crisis as an uninsured woman is irrelevant. It’s the people I know personally who lack insurance despite health problems that are eminently treatable but for want of money that drive my feelings on the matter. I’ve been told that I’m unusually passionate about this issue. Well, so be it. If I’m going to be vitriolic and passionate about anything it might as well be this.

When you know someone who is being slowly murdered to support a wealthy business interest or an ideological point of discussion that tends to get one’s dander up just a wee bit.

So let’s get started. This week Democratic lawmakers have acted as the vanguard in President Obama’s new healthcare reform strategy, selling his proposals in town hall meetings nationwide. I won’t mince words, I detest this reform plan. It’s too much compromise and too little solution. But it’s worlds better than what we currently and laughably call a healthcare system. Anything that can get at least some stopgap relief to the armies of men, women, and children who are uninsured or underinsured is at least something.

The fact that a red squiggly line appears under the word ‘underinsured’ reminds one of how often we don’t hear about this, certainly. While the near 50m people without some form of insurance are bad enough, the millions more whose health insurance will not protect them from catastrophic healthcare problems are just as alarming. If you get a cold you’re covered, if you get cancer you’re SoL. That’s not a healthcare system.

Here’s why:

1) Healthcare for Profit is not Healthcare.

One basic thing you will learn in macroeconomics is that most decent economists agree there are some things a complex society needs that market forces cannot produce or maintain in sufficient quantity or quality. These include lots of taxpayer funded services that we take for granted; everything from the armed forces to the police and fire departments to various municipal EMS services to public parks and green spaces.

America is the only industrialised country where we seem to think healthcare should not be included in that list, despite all the economic alarm bells that should be going off when one turns healthcare into a business.

To put it quickly and dirtily when you move from seeing users of the system as patients to seeing them as dollar signs, you’re going to start rationing care to turn a profit.

Draconian ideas begin to creep into the system. Looking at patients as “risks” instead of, say, “people who need treatment” is what these ideas have engendered.

2) Capitalism Rations Healthcare.

You heard it here first, folks. But really this is easily visible on its face when examined the right way: what else do you call tens of millions of people unwillingly uninsured but ‘rationing’? We’ve heard this term used as a far right scare tactic over and over again in this battle, yet it seems to ignore the fact that the health insurance companies’ lust for profits have rationed millions out of the system.

The reason for this is simple. If your source of income (i.e. profit) is very finite, you will not render goods and services to just anyone. Only those who can pay. When it comes to selling, say, cars or computers or laundry detergent, this suits us all just fine. When it comes to healthcare, it starts killing people.

The reason the concept of “risk” exists in healthcare is because the insurers are for-profit.

3) America has 50 million (and counting) horror stories.

The much vaunted “horror stories” from “socialised” healthcare systems in Canada and the UK are designed to convince Americans that any sort of government-run healthcare plan is going to lead to endless tragedies. This would be all well and good except…

It neglects the countless times insurance-payers have been denied treatment because insurance companies saw them as too big a risk to support. Mind, these were cases where the patients had faithfully paid their insurance premiums. The company found a way to get out of meeting their end of the bargain when the moment of truth came. Only a private corporation could justify this using notions of risk versus reward. Only a private corporation could or would put some 25,000 dollars of its profit margin ahead of someone’s life. Even if we’re supposed to get what we pay for.

This doesn’t even begin to discuss the countless people who have no insurance at all. Where are the dreary television ads warning us using their personal tragedies?

4) Public Healthcare is Preventative (read: Cheaper).

It’s worth keeping in mind the simple psychology behind all of this. If you have coverage of some sort you are more likely to go to the doctor at the first sign of trouble rather than, say, wait five weeks for the symptoms to hopefully go away since you sure as hell can’t afford a useless doctor’s appointment.

If, however, you don’t have to worry about paying for even an intake visit you can catch a serious medical condition early and treat it for far less pain and lucre than you would otherwise be able to. For all those who complain so vociferously about paying for others, the simple reality is that they already are in one way or another. When a person who is hospitalised with a serious illness, insured, underinsured, or not, is checked in and treated they are absorbing resources and quite possibly contributing indirectly to increasing your insurance premiums.

One way or another, you pay. Would you rather pay far less through taxes for preventative treatment or far more through your already onerous premiums for people who’ve been conditioned to wait until it’s almost too late?

5) Public Healthcare is quite American, thank you very much.

In the usual rhetorical shell game oft played by politicians in this country we have been pooh poohed and told that we need to find a “uniquely American” solution to our healthcare woes. This is often in a response to questions about high user satisfaction in other countries that have universal coverage.

It’s, as is often the case with such things, a smokescreen.

Between the highly successful programs of Medicaid, Medicare, and military/VA care, we have proven that public plans are as American as apple pie. This by itself puts lie to those condescending dodges.

But the other reason they exist is in part because of American arrogance. Pride goeth before a fall (yet another Biblical idea that religious conservatives love to ignore). In the mid 1980s Taiwan was emerging from poverty and set about building a national healthcare system. They commissioned a blue ribbon panel to go around the world and study other healthcare networks, including America’s. They rejected ours mostly out of hand and instead put together ideas from a welter of other nations to bring about the highly successful, low-premium, smart-card based system every Taiwanese citizen now enjoys.

Are we too proud to examine what ideas can be borrowed from other countries?


There will, of course, be more to come. This is a broad overview of a rather complex subject. One that unscrupulous power brokers have taken it upon themselves to simplify in a dangerous way.

As I leaf through various media outlets and read political cartoons (rant forthcoming on that medium) I find that the debate on healthcare, particularly from the right, has been reduced to encouraging selfishness and fearmongering. Literally dozens of cartoons show President Obama as a surgeon ‘extracting’ a taxpayer’s wallet. A more interesting sub-genre shows him as a doctor snapping a long rubber glove on and a generic white male representing The Taxpayer bent over before him in a gown.

This continues the long running conservative obsession with anal sex, of course.

But more importantly it shows how right wingers are trying to frame this. Protect your own wealth and screw everyone else. They seem to forget that idea, and how it dominated policymaking over the last two decades, is why taxpayers’ wallets are hurting in the first place.

Why Not Coal-Fired Unicorn?

Well, several reasons. One, it doesn’t quite roll off the tongue, and two it would be rather smelly. Who needs smelly when you can be radioactive?

Radioactive. It’s a marvelous word that encapsulates far more than the sum of its syllables, certainly. It’s one of those nice words this language bequeaths to us as a gift for minds to twist into new shapes like so much play-doh or taffy. It can be very literal, or very figurative. This unicorn’s radioactivity is best described as figurative, but with very literal consequences.

Why don’t I start from the beginning, hm?

Nuclear unicorn was something that a close friend called me not long ago as we were giggling about something both macropolitical and personal. The fact that I could, apparently, threaten the world. It was in response to some news story, one so generic that the specifics melt away in the sea of samey text and dogma. Another bull handed down from His Infallible-ness The Pope about how those who defy gender norms are as big a threat to the human race as loggers are to the rainforest.

Apparently I have the power to destroy humanity.

My friend and I found this wickedly funny and in a pique of her particular brand of womanly wit remarked “You’re a nuclear unicorn, Quinnae!” Rare, special, almost mythical, and yet evidently packing enough heat to destroy a large city and render it uninhabitable for centuries. Naturally my first thought was “…hot damn, I’m awesome.”

That covers the nuclear bit. But from whence comes the unicorn? Well, the story her and I were laughing about gave you a hint. I defy gender norms.

This is not something I say with smug pride or that I tote around like some perverse ideological iPod or political accessory. Some might think it makes me trendy. They’re idiots. No, I just say that this is what I do as a point of fact; a la ‘I breathe’ or ‘I use the bathroom’ or ‘when I fart it smells like almonds.’ It’s not something to be proud or ashamed of. It just is.

I defy gender norms because I’m a transsexual woman. Therein is another mere, if irritatingly relevant, fact about who I am.

That’s just something about me. Like my hair colour or height. According to some, however, by dint of that fact I can destroy the world. So the question becomes, do I use this power for good or for evil, for justice, sin, or for the last slice of pizza? Well, if my super special power is to destroy the world, a girl just doesn’t have many options, now does she? It’s like I got bitten by a radioactive nuke when I was a baby, and really, is there any other kind? How unlucky could I be?

But them’s the breaks, so let’s get to it.

I can be harnessed for good purposes and that’s the ultimate thrust behind this journal. (The word blog is so hopelessly trendy that I’m going to trap myself on a moebius strip of self contradiction by being anti-trendy and calling it a ‘journal’, capesce?) My life by itself gives me a lot to talk about that is, as Janis Joplin would say, of great social and political import. Of course, this spirally horn on my forehead, how others perceive it, and how it affects my life isn’t the only thing I have to talk about.

Feminism and women’s issues, healthcare and welfare, war, terrorism, sex, drugs (mostly Tylenol), rock and roll, death metal, and Hello Kitty, these are a few of my favourite things… to talk about. They’ll all get their turn, you’ll all get to know me…

And hopefully after a little while of hanging out with me you’ll all glow in the dark.