The Politics of Small Things

A mockup of the cover of Richard Dawkins' autobiography, its title and subtitle edited to read "An Appetite for Honey: The Making of White Male Sadness" and the black and white photo of Mr. Dawkins edited to show him scrutinising a small jar of honey.

There is a familiar cadence to the bursts of Twitter mobbing that have become the defining spasms of cyber-politics these days. Someone in a position of privilege says something mildly foolish, they are called out on it, and then the privileged individual’s response rises to the level of something genuinely concerning and worth talking about. It is as if some activists excel at chipping away at the wafer-thin façade of public personas to reveal the monsters beneath. While I sometimes find the methods dubious, the unmasking is often as not a public service. We should be made aware of the latent prejudices or hidden failings of many in our commentariat and we’re the better for it. So what did we learn from the now hilariously infamous Honeygate, the latest Richard Dawkins micro-scandal to rock social media and set virtual tongues awag? Someone close to me described the reaction to the initial Dawkins honey tweet as “tilting at windmills,” and I admit I’m actually inclined to … [Read more...]

Enough

My approach to Cathy Brennan has long mirrored my approach to Ann Coulter; I generally refuse to dignify their deliberate attempts to cruelly incite. Rising to meet their hate, which is deliberately designed to provoke outrage, feels like a vindication of their strategy; what they desire most is attention, and giving it to them hardly feels like a victory for those on the side of the angels. However, after seeing a relatively sympathetic article about Brennan in the online magazine Bustle-- which apparently misgenders a trans woman and which some of my friends have fairly derided as a “puff piece”-- I felt there are some matters which merit clarification. During the interview she clearly set aside the instruments of her usual rhetoric and put on her most reasonable mien. Unsurprisingly, nothing she says justifies her behaviour, and much of what she does say is premised on assumptions that have no basis in our shared reality as women. It is that latter point that Brennan struggles … [Read more...]

Amber Scott’s Sword of Burning Gold: Inclusion in an Incursion

An image showing the cover of The Worldwound Incursion. A green Orcish woman with short black hair, wearing resplendent gold armour and bearing a sword and shield dominates the cover, while in the background a white dragon fights a red demon in a dramatic battle.

This article is crossposted from my latest feature for the Border House; that version can be seen here. What is staggering about much that passes under the banner of “fantasy” is how decidedly narrow its escapist vision tends to be. In both fantasy and sci-fi, far from transcending the fetters of real world limitations, we see our own world with its myriad failings reinscribed in uncritical verbatim form with only a smattering of chrome, Medieval grit, or magic to poorly disguise the copy. Dungeons & Dragons, long the towering mainstay of fantasy roleplay whose name is synonymous with its genre,  has at times been either a magnificent carnival of fantasy or a pitiless mire of the same tired clichés about gender, race, and sexuality that bedevil so much of nerd culture. This schismatic approach to its material is, I believe, a psychic scar left by the culture wars of the 1980s when D&D was accused of various and sundry evils; all ranging from reefer madness with dice to … [Read more...]

Reproductive Justice and the Invisible Sisterhood

I delivered this speech at the opening plenary of the 2013 State University of New York-- New Paltz Women's Studies Conference. I present it here in its original written form without additional comment. (Well, one additional comment: If you wish to follow along with audio and hear the voice of Nuclear Unicorn, click here. My profound thanks to Eli Mann for the recording.) *** Patriarchy does not begin in our bodies. Contrary to those theories, feminist and otherwise, that seek an “origin myth” for patriarchy that germinates somewhere in the uterus, patriarchy has no starting point in reproductive organs of any kind—there is nothing in our marrow as women, our DNA, that sets us up as ontological victims of men whose bodies, whose bits, predispose them to oppression. In the words of legal scholar Catharine MacKinnon: “It is one thing to identify woman’s biology as part of the terrain on which a struggle for dominance is acted out; it is another to identify woman’s biology … [Read more...]

For She Has Tasted the Fruit

Kreia against a teal background. She wears a dark brown, hooded robe that covers her eyes, has grey hair braided with golden bands, and wields a green lightsaber.

I’ve written extensively about Kreia from Knights of the Old Republic 2 in the past, and with good reason. She is not only one of the most interesting characters in all video gaming, and a perfect example of the kinds of women we need to see more of therein, but a character with complexity worthy of even high literature. To wit, she interests me as much as Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth. But one of the things I’m yet to write about in any worthy detail was something from KotOR2 that echoed across time to me. It was what I consider one of the most (likely unintentionally) feminist moments in all of video gaming. (A brief note: there will be spoilers, doubtlessly, and some of the lines I quote and the video used are culled from parts of the game that were not added in time due to KotOR2 being rushed to market. They still speak to Kreia's character, however.) If you’ve pursued a light side path and kept the Jedi Masters alive throughout the game you will come across what is, perhaps, one of … [Read more...]

State of the ‘Corn: “Eat the Press” Edition

16 bit video game screen showing Princess Peach wearing a white dress with red trim jumping between two green pipes against a clear blue sky with a goomba running around on the ground below.

So, I updated the space with a meaty new article a few days ago, but you can still rightly be forgiven for wondering where you're unicornish correspondent has been these many weeks and months. I've been doing a lot of travelling and a fair amount of work of late. I've also been interviewed for a few media outlets about gender in gaming. First is this article in the Wall Street Journal, hitting the streets tomorrow morning: "Fans Take Video Game Damsels Out of Distress and Put Them in Charge." I was very grateful to be interviewed here and pleased to see the Journal covering this important angle of gamer resistance. I should, however, add further commentary lest my lonely remark be misinterpreted or taken out of context. I think that this trend of 'flipping the script' in these games shows that people want to see women protagonists and are willing to both make and support these hacks. It is also worth adding that even as there has been opposition and some vocal nastiness, a lot of … [Read more...]

Of Tipped Scales and Bloodied Swords

When I was in high school, an insightful classmate once told me “[Katherine], I’ve never met anyone who hates and loves politics as much as you do.” Those words were searchingly true, and I rediscovered their meaning yesterday. This week has been a roaring cavalcade of politics, with its thousand faces roiling in the sea of our nation’s soul. And my personal life, as ever, threaded a helix around the public politics we were all concerned with. We witnessed the Supreme Court at its worst, and at its halting best – in the midst of a week where I was wracked by anxiety about the complexities of community. Having watched so many of my own people get cut down by the anger and unbridled rage of activists who were supposed to be on “their side,” my faith reached a crisis point. I wondered if I had become so jaded to rage-as-strategy that I had lost my fire. Then Austin, Texas happened. A People’s Filibuster, and a state Senator named Wendy Davis who fought with vaporous and rusted … [Read more...]

At the Edge of Night: Who Owns a Woman’s Truth?

UPDATE 2: Chloe is doing a good deal better and has started a new fundraiser for her SRS which can be found here. She has also told her side of the story in a revealing post at Indie Stone here. UPDATE: I'm leaving this article up for the time being but everyone concerned with the issues discussed here should read this roundtable between Chloe and Allistair at Gamers Against Bigotry. This post at Destructoid also gives some further updates and details about the case, and Allistair Pinsof himself has replied to this article; you can read his response and my reply here. Needless to say, I'm overjoyed Chloe Sagal is well enough to discuss what happened and I look forward to her joining our community very soon. I still welcome you with open arms, sis. By now word has spread like a nauseating shockwave through the various channels and tributaries of the Internet: independent game developer Chloe Sagal “defrauded” online contributors to her IndieGogo crowdfunding campaign for what … [Read more...]

And if My Life Is Like the Dust…

Much to my great shock I was nominated and added to the Trans100 List, a curated, non-ranked list of US trans activists working intersectionally to improve conditions for the community—I accepted with profound gratitude, and I feel humbled to know that I’ve been added to a list that includes some truly astounding people, considering I’ve only done a fraction of what some of them have. I can only hope to live up to the very high bar that my sisters, brothers, and siblings have set. The Trans100 list is a project that I didn’t even know about until a week ago. But it grew up from We Happy Trans*, This is HOW, and other projects dedicated to the proposition of trans visibility, and the idea that the lives we live—even in the midst of a stricken world like ours—are worth celebrating. That’s an idea I can get behind, to say the least, and coincidentally I wrote something this past week that gets at why I think we need things like the Trans100. I was expressing my discomfort with the … [Read more...]

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...]