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...]

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...]

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...]

“It’s Just a Game”—The Discursive Construction of the Virtual

It’s been quite a while since I updated here. I’ve been exceedingly busy working on a research project in my sociology department and with some of my other commitments as well as a few personal problems I had to overcome. But, I'm back, and I thought that in the wake of Anita Sarkeesian’s struggle with a cavalcade of trolls over her proposed webseries it’s worth digging up a recent piece of writing I submitted as a final paper in one of my classes (Gender and Geography). This paper sought to chart out the geographic dimensions of cyberspace, particularly gamer subculture, through the lens of “the space of exception”. I’ve excerpted a part of the paper that I think is quite relevant to what had just transpired with Feminist Frequency. In a section entitled “It’s Just a Game” I describe how the “unreal” nature often imputed to gaming space gives licence to abuse that would be intolerable outside of it. This “unreality,” I argue, is on the flip-side of a pleasurable “reality” that also … [Read more...]

Immoral Women: Why We Need More of Them

This article is due to be published on Border House this coming Tuesday. In case its raging nerdular nerdence doesn't give it away, it's about video games specifically. Enjoy! One of the most irksome things I hear when I make arguments for ‘good/positive portrayals’ of characters from traditionally marginalised backgrounds is that my interlocutors immediately assume I’m calling for portrayals of moral paragons. They seem to think I’m saying “if you write a gay male character, he must be the most righteous dude ever.” In a word, no. That’s what today’s article is about, particularly with regards to women characters. The reality of the situation is that the portrayal of women as pure, stainless alabaster icons of virtue is a huge problem that arises from cultural stereotypes of women. The notion that women are inherently more virtuous, kinder, and so on is part of the limiting and fetishising pedestalisation that serves to fence us off from being thought of as persons. Human … [Read more...]

Once as Tragedy, Again as Farce

Not long ago I attended a conference at New York City’s Hunter College commemorating the twentieth anniversary of the Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas hearings where Professor Hill, in damning detail, publicly testified to her experience at the hands of now-Justice Thomas which included sustained sexual harassment. Her courage caused open discussion of sexual harassment to burst violently onto the national scene, unapologetically breaking the silence felt by millions of women who had been shamed, threatened, and cajoled into pretending what had happened to them was business as usual. The conference sought to honour Professor Hill and featured a variety of speakers, activists old and new, commentators, reporters, academics and friends who all offered their perspective on the matter. It was elucidating and, to turn that blessed cliché, empowering. The volunteers at the university all wore T-shirts that read “I Believe Anita Hill.” It was a powerful and dangerous message,as much now as it … [Read more...]

I’m Being So Sincere Right Now: Gaming as Hyperreality

When I play certain video games I get the strange feeling of wandering through the weird and lurid landscape of a Dali painting; beholding the familiar, albeit distorted in the strangest of ways. One might expect this. After all, video games are not supposed to be realistic by default. They operate on their own internal logic, their worlds hewn out of something called ‘game design needs’ rather than say billions of years of geology and thousands of years of culture and history, for instance. But I came to realise it was something beyond that point which I could comfortably suspend my disbelief and immerse. What jarred me out of, almost consistently, was the fact that many games have had the pretension of being representations of the real. A artificially warped landscape is a good and interesting thing so long as one does not purport that it is, in fact, akin to a photograph. Rated M for Misconception Whenever one hears the word “gritty” or “grimdark” appended to other … [Read more...]

In Faith, I do not Know Thee by Thy Name

In my recent article for The Border House I took on a number of the arguments made by a few starry eyed technophiles in favour of ending the practise of online anonymity. This is a significant issue for me that, in its many facets, presents me with the ultimate intersectional landscape on which to grow my ideas about interpersonal politics. In other words, it is very easy to talk about sex, race, power, class, and a range of issues surrounding both individual and group behaviour (group psychology and sociology), identity, and just plain old techno-geekery. It touches on a myriad of issues that are important to me. What follows is a refinement of what I wrote for The Border House and an expansion of it. I.- Setting Information Free(?) It is very much worth mentioning that the central idea behind the anti-anonymity advocate’s vision is the firm belief that the death of anonymity will allow information to flow more freely. The reality, however, is that the end of anonymity means a … [Read more...]