Tina K. Russell

January 11, 2011

Dangerous rhetoric

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , — Tina Russell @ 6:28 pm

Washington (CNN) – Rep. Robert Brady, D-Pennsylvania, said he will introduce legislation making it a federal crime for a person to use language or symbols that could be perceived as threatening or inciting violence against a Member of Congress or federal official.

Brady’s decision to offer the legislation comes less than 24 hours after a gunman attempted to assassinate Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Arizona, in a shooting that claimed the lives of a federal judge, and a nine year-old girl, among others.

via Shooting prompts legislation to protect lawmakers, officials – CNN Political Ticker – CNN.com Blogs.

I think there are two problems with this:

  1. It sounds overly broad, of course. I’m sure there are plenty of innocuous, over-the-top Onion articles or Daily Show sketches that could be interpreted to encourage violence so as long as you don’t address their substance.
  2. Language explicitly inciting political violence is only part of the problem anyway. A larger problem is that when you say, as many radical opponents of Obama have taken any opportunity to tell us, that Barack Obama is a terrorist megalomaniac with a plan to subvert American democracy under his iron-fisted rule, you’re essentially saying the right idea is to kill him. If you compare him to Hitler, Stalin, Mao, etc., you’re comparing him to people for whom being assassinated early might have saved millions of lives. If people believe your inflated rhetoric and take it to its logical conclusion—kill Barack Obama and anyone allied with him—you cannot back away and say “oh, I didn’t mean that, I never said that.”

To be clear, such extreme language should also be protected, because it is sometimes true. But, you must take responsibility when people believe you and then do what only seems rational based upon it.  If you truly don’t want to see violence against Obama and his allies, you shouldn’t compare Obama to Hitler.

June 28, 2010

Nowhere is safe

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , — Tina Russell @ 12:38 pm

Sometimes people think I must be pretty safe, as a trans person in a liberal city like Eugene, attending the University of Oregon. After all, don’t hate crimes happen, like, in the Deep South, and in developing countries?

…And certainly not, say, California?

Police are reporting that a 27-year-old transgender student at CSU Long Beach was slashed in a men’s room on campus earlier this month.

Although the attack took place ten days ago, the university only made it public this Friday.

The student’s assailant addressed him by name before the attack, asking him whether he was that person. The victim of the assault did not recognize his attacker, but was able to provide police with information enabling them to create a sketch.

Police have not said whether they are investigating the incident as a hate crime. The Long Beach Post has, however, reported that a Facebook entry on the incident claimed that the attacker carved the word “IT” into the victim’s chest.

The attacked student was treated for his injuries in a local hospital and released that evening.

via Transgender Student Slashed In Campus Restroom « Student Activism, via Questioning Transphobia.

This is the fear I live in, every day, in the back of my mind. I could walk down the wrong street, go on the wrong date, be in the wrong hallway at the wrong time, and—bam!—my lifetime of remaining mostly un-trans-bashed would end with injuries, rape, or worse.

Cis women know this fear to some extent as well, of course, given our sexist society. But when a trans man is attacked, while using the bathroom at a state school in sunny California, and the attacker carves into his chest using a knife, it’s the sort of thing that chills me to my core. We, as trans people, aren’t even safe when using the bathroom. At school. If you’re not safe at your own school when you’re only trying to pee, you’re not safe anywhere.

Even in California, the bleeding West Coast, we’re not safe.

Pray for me.

(Two notes. Number one: I couldn’t find anything saying whether or not the physical scars left by the carving would heal. I can’t think of anything more terrifying than walking around for the rest of my life with an anti-trans slur carved onto my chest. The emotional scars will take time to heal, but I certainly hope the physical scars will heal up soon.)

(Number two: Transgender Day of Remembrance records 60 deaths of trans people due to transphobic violence in the US West Coast (defined as Washington, Oregon, and California) since 1970, and that’s only what’s reported. 56 of these deaths were in California. Part of the reason I tend to think I’m safer than others is because I’m white, and I’m in college, which removes many risk factors in our prejudiced society right there. So, part of my thinking was that if a trans man whose race was unreported can be attacked at a West Coast state school, so can I, a white trans woman at a West Coast state school. I shouldn’t let my white privilege get in the way of remembering, though, that my region of the US has plenty of transphobic violence, and that an attack on any of us is an attack on all.)

June 27, 2010

Dear Gender (Free) For All: Don’t erase me; I am not gender-free

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , — Tina Russell @ 1:16 am

I wrote this to the Portland organization Gender (Free) For All just now. It’s pretty self-explanatory. The short version is that I thought the group’s 2009 march was supposed to be for all trans people, but it felt more like it was for only some. Key poor choices effectively erased my identity, making me feel like I wasn’t welcome.

(Note that, as a grammar nut, I also have a problem with parentheses in a proper name, but I decided to choose my battles in the letter itself.)

Hey, there. I was reading about the recent Trans March in San Francisco and I got to thinking.

I attended the Gender (Free) For All march in 2009, and I really enjoyed it. (I was the one with a red cape and black bikini.) Still, the name upset me; I want to be proud of being transgender, and of being transsexual, and I know that we never agree on labels but I want “transgender” to be inclusive of the whole community (whether trans-binary, genderqueer, otherwise gender-variant, cross-dressers, etc.). The difficulty of ensuring that the historically marginalized genderqueer community is included is an important issue, but I’ve always felt that “Gender (Free) For All” as a name only makes the problem worse. I don’t consider myself to be gender-free, nor do any gender-binary folk, and not all genderqueer folk either. In fact, I worked hard, all my life, to be known as a woman. My gender identity is extremely important to me. When I feel like it’s being taken away, by insinuations that I am (or should be) “gender-free,” liberated from the concept of gender entirely, it hurts, and it reinforces the idea that trans people are automatically a “third gender” even if they are trans-binary like me.

(I know the name has parentheses in it, but really, I cannot parse what “gender for all” would mean. It doesn’t make sense.)

As if to confirm my fears, as I lined up for the show-and-tell segment, I saw and heard that one of the questions asked was if participants agreed with the “either-or” system of gender. Now, as I explained, I don’t, because it’s unfair to people who feel it does not include them. Personally, though, I continued, I am a woman, and want—and work hard for—people to see me that way. It was bizarre, because I was essentially fed a position I strongly agree with, but phrased in a way that made me have to feel I had to defend my own identity, that I was working from a “default” of being, well, “gender-free.” It was, all told, pretty offensive.

So, if you do another march—and I would really like you to, given my pride in Portland and my pride in being trans—I would deeply appreciate if you call it simply the “Trans March,” because, in all honesty, I’m tired of feeling ashamed for being trans, tired of being shunted back of the “LGBT” initialism, tired of being treated like I’m a second-class queer. I want us to make sure we emphasize the diversity of “trans” and “transgender,” end the media stereotype that all trans people are binary women like me, and push inclusion of the genderqueer and otherwise gender-variant into every aspect of the trans movement and philosophy. We need to stop pretending that “transgender” is monolithic, that there’s only one way to be trans. There are as many ways to be trans as there are trans people. I am not every trans person, nor do I ever want to be. Let’s take back the term “trans,” in all its prismatic beauty, and hold it up as a badge of honor instead of shying away from it in shame. Let’s celebrate every way there is to be trans, instead of falsely implying—as the name “Gender (Free) for All” does—that there is only one way.

Thank you.

—Tina Russell

http://tinarussell.wordpress.com/

I’ll keep you posted.

June 10, 2010

Take my advice: shut up

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: — Tina Russell @ 9:05 pm

You know what I’m sick of? Advice. “Take it slow and be friends first.” “Live every day as though it were your last.” “Tell him/her how you feel, or you may never get the chance.” “Give it time and don’t rush things.”

It seems like the people who say any of these things say all of them, and follow none of them. Or, perhaps, all of these well-meaning, hypocritical dispensers of dime-store sagely wisdom (and they include you) have simply congealed in my mind into this horror-figure, standing over my shoulder, who thinks she knows exactly how to run my life. The fact that the advice is contradictory and nonsensical does not matter. It’s not like she’s going to follow it. I’m supposed to follow it, cheerfully.

Here’s the piece of advice I trust, from It’s Not Funny if I Have to Explain It, the Dilbert retrospective by Scott Adams: “All advice is useless.” Amen.

May 31, 2010

The happy trap

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , — Tina Russell @ 1:46 pm

Jennifer Kesler of The Hathor Legacy:

Rebecca Traister at Salon has written an insightful and funny article called Screw happiness. It starts off talking about how women are bombarded with studies about which women are happy and how we can become happy like them:

So, in short: have babies young so as not to imperil your fertility; do not marry early or you’ll be at higher risk for divorce; get married to an appropriate guy as soon as possible so as to guarantee companionship; don’t forget to have kids! And also, don’t have kids! …Stop doing those spoiled things that bring you fulfillment or you’ll never find fulfillment!

Then she takes it further than the quest for happiness and wonders if constant happiness is even a natural state for humans. Unhappiness and dissatisfaction are motivators: they make us want to strive and reach new heights of potential contentment. And sometimes they’re just an inescapable part of life, and that’s okay too – being unhappy does not necessarily mean you’ve failed somewhere.

via How can you be happy when someone’s pressuring you to be happy? | The Hathor Legacy.

This is a really great piece, that is, what Jennifer writes as well as the article to which she links. Here are my own thoughts:

I suffer from anxiety and depression. One of the things about depression is that, in order to deal with it, you need to unlearn certain mental habits, and one of the big ones is the pressure to be perfect. I know I’m often in the situation of enjoying something, but worrying that I’m not enjoying it enough. Would I be enjoying it more if I had some soda? Would I be enjoying it more if my mind were clearer, if I were more attentive? Would I be enjoying it more if I didn’t have to clean up the cat’s mess this morning? etc. It’s an extremely hard pattern to escape, and I’m still stuck in it almost constantly.

So, yes, part of my anxiety is that I’m afraid to do something if I don’t think I’ll be perfect at it, when the truth is that nobody is perfect and we are individuals in how we fuck up (and do so beautifully). And, this extends to being happy, and the ever-present worry that I’m not happy enough, or as happy as I could be. Of course, thinking about it, in a sort of happiness Heisenberg principle, just makes me unhappy.

And, what’s more, often I do need to be sad, often I do need to bitch and complain, and often I do need to cry. If I deny myself and try to be happy all the time, I just fall apart. If I’m in touch with my emotions, they don’t need to be so rough, and if I respect my own sadness, it’ll allow me to enjoy my happiness.

I was once at a wake where someone told me not to cry, because it’s not what the deceased would want. I want to confirm two things right now: (1) I don’t know about the deceased, but I want people fucking bawling at my funeral, (2) I had just finished with a really, really long cry, and it was so good for me, so cleansing, that I’d just let it all out. I felt, well, happy, in an odd way. His memory allowed me to undergo this catharsis, and I felt all the more grateful for having known him. I still miss him, but I can deal with it more easily having been honest about my emotions.

That, and one last thing: I’m sick of women being pushed around and told what they should do, say, and feel. We’re writing our own rules, and if you don’t like it, you can stuff it.

January 30, 2010

Read your Bible

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , — Tina Russell @ 8:36 pm

(I wrote this a few months ago and was afraid to post it. Please take it seriously… I’ve tried my best to be brutally honest, and it’s painful to share because of how important being Christian and being Quaker is to my identity.)

I’m having a bit of difficulty with the Bible.

A month or two ago, I bought, from eMusic Audiobooks, a full set (1255 tracks) of “The Message: Remix” (rather, “The Message – REMIX//Complete,” as the über-hip—and trying-too-hard—typesetters at the publisher would like you to call it). It’s really an excellent deal; it’s something like eighty hours of audio for ten bucks total. It makes you wonder if the pricing was set by more than just an invisible hand.

I digress. So far, I’ve listened to the first seven books, so that’s Genesis (seven days, lots of begats, twelve tribes) through Judges (in which Samson’s girlfriend is very, very interested in learning how to tie him down, another lesson in the importance of safe words). And…

You should know that, as a Quaker, I’ve grown up with a God who loves me, and one who abhors violence. I’ve always been taught (with the lesson continuously reinforced) that war in God’s name is absurd, since God does not sponsor war or take sides. And…

I was bracing myself for the Old Testament, knowing it was a bit of a risk to start there. I knew that it’s full of amazingly arbitrary laws (if you have sex with a woman on who is on her period, you are exiled, and if you work on the Sabbath, you are stoned to death), bloody battle sequences, and a thorough and inevitable poking of holes into everything I know about God, love, and forgiveness. It comes with the territory, and necessitated Jesus coming down to Earth to forgive us for our sins and set things right on the Old Testament’s exciting sequel.

I really had no idea, though, what I was in for. I often complain about Quentin Tarantino, despite having seen only one of his movies (Pulp Fiction) and that one for only fifteen minutes. (I justify my judgment by noting that the first fifteen minutes of Pulp Fiction is all anybody ever quotes from.) As far as I’m concerned, he represents an awful idea that violence and depravity are artful and meaningful unto themselves (at least, when you give them a hip, idiosyncratic soundtrack and an incorrigible pretense of irony). I saw Sin City (of which Tarantino wrote all of one scene) and nearly puked my guts out. (And yes, it’s a raw wound that ten minutes of nonsensical dialogue about hamburgers, followed by a ruthless and unprovoked murder, is somehow considered one of America’s great cinematic achievements.)

So, it’s tough for me to get down that the first seven books of the Bible, anyway, collectively put Tarantino to shame. I’m not sure even he could direct a movie this bloody. It seems like the majority of the time—not individual passages, not embarrassing moments of canon that I can safely relegate to my personal, religious Dis-Continuity (TV Tropes link warning! Don’t click if you have anything to do today), but the bulk of the text—is spent on tales of wholesale slaughter, of unprovoked genocide, of invasion and wanton killing in the name of God. The Israelites have no more reason to kill entire communities than the promise that God has bequeathed them this land, a chilling theme today (as cutthroat armies hold firm in religious conviction as a shield for their crimes, take your pick from the Congo to the Middle East) for such a supposedly timeless book.

It gets worse. Sexual minorities like me should be happy that the dinky passage in Leviticus banning gay contact is part of a long list of arbitrary rules which even the most observant Jew will not follow to the letter. While I already knew how readily Leviticus dispenses the death penalty for minor offenses, it’s another thing to hear it read aloud, spelled out, over and over again: Kill them. Bring them before the congregation and stone them. Cast the evil from your community.

Crimes that don’t bring death bring exile, and crimes below that merit only specific instructions on which animal to sacrifice in penance and how. No mention is given to being good, for its own sake; God speaks to the Israelites as children, presuming that all good comes from him, and that he will take care of them if they follow his rules.

Now, of course, I can’t call myself an expert on the Middle East of these old days. I often defend the Quran on similar grounds, that it must be understood in the violent context of Arabian antiquity. It really appalls me, now, to think of the bigots who speak of the atrocities in the Muslims’ holy book as evidence that the religion is fundamentally violent and hateful; Christians who say that have no leg to stand on (and I hope that atheists, by and large, acknowledge that violence and hate can exist without religion as well, as there are plenty more weapons in the hatemonger’s arsenal). I always took a bit of pride, though, that my hero, Jesus, my personal savior, never engaged in war, and would sooner die on a cross than take up arms against the people he came to save. I knew that his message, his Gospel, was meant to wash away some of the bad blood from times past. It’s just difficult to find such brutality buried deeply in my own lineage.

I wrote about this someplace else online, and a friend (please don’t hate me for writing about this, friend) suggested I stop trying to read the Bible all at once, as it’s too “heavy.” I should space it out, have time to discuss and reflect, and in the meantime she recommended reading two books by Philip Yancey.

I had a bit of a cow. All my life, I’ve been told, read the Bible, read the Bible. The Bible has the answers within, the Bible is living food for the soul, the Bible brings comfort and wisdom. Yet, now I read it, and it’s fundamentally disturbing—it’s a long, flowing, poetic Quentin Tarantino movie—and now people tell me, pull back, hold off, don’t read the Bible, or at least read it more slowly, and spinkle in some Philip Yancey to make it go down more easily.

Now, I’m aware of Philip Yancey, and I know that part of what makes him a renowned author on religion is his willingness to take a long, hard look at original sources while casting aside received assumptions and traditions. So, he certainly wouldn’t dumb down the Bible the way my Sunday school teachers did (who would have had me believe that the Bible is a warm and fuzzy book of fables and miracles). I was just offended by this idea… I thought she was telling me to have Yancey explain it away. I don’t want to believe in anything that makes it okay to kill people merely for sitting on “God’s land” and worshipping other gods. That’s never okay, and I don’t care what God says, he gave me a brain and I have to think for myself. I became too terrified to keep writing or thinking about it because I imagined Philip Yancey, starer-into-of-God’s-black-heart extraordinaire, trying to explain why these divinely mandated massacres are really good things, necessary to our societal upbringing then if not today. I doubt he says anything remotely like that, but in that moment I had already felt betrayed, and every Christian in the world, all my brothers and sisters in Christ, had become suspect. My Sunday school never told me of the cruelty in the Bible, but neither did my young-adult pastor, nor my parents, nor my present pastors, nor any of my Christian friends. The whole experience of finding this atrocious killing in the Bible made me feel like I’d been betrayed my whole life, that every Christian in the world had been lying to me, that my image of an all-loving, pacifist God was now shattered. I was a girl with no origin, no past. I didn’t know what or whom to believe.

My concern now is that I need to talk to somebody about it, but I can’t figure out whom I even trust enough. Who will hear me out without trying to explain it away? I just don’t know.

And yes, for now, I’m still a Christian; I’ll make it through the whole Bible before I judge. It’s just that… part of why I didn’t want to read Yancey in-time with the Bible itself is that I didn’t want to force belief upon myself. If the Bible speaks to me, if it lives up to its reputation, if it becomes something I can turn to for advice and solace, that’s wonderful. If it doesn’t speak to me, though, and continues as a lengthy Tarantino slasher flick, I may lose my faith and convert to something else.

We’ll see.

November 29, 2009

Our presumed obsessions

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Tina Russell @ 1:49 pm

To the Editor:

The discovery of water on the Moon is indeed one of the greatest discoveries in human history. The possibilities for expansion of our heretofore single home base have just multiplied to a greater extent than when early hominids first jumped down from their tree perches and began a terrestrial expansion.

It is indeed shocking, but not at all surprising, that outside the scientific community this discovery has next to no interest to most people. The average American is apparently more interested in what foolish thing Sarah Palin will say or do next.

Americans no longer want to be informed; they just want to be entertained. The promise of the 1950s and early ’60s has now ended in the reality that most Americans are not “smarter than a fifth grader” and don’t really know, or care, about things of cosmic importance. I fear for our future.

Michael Davis

Madison, Wis., Nov. 20, 2009

via Letters – Water on the Moon, Reality on Earth – NYTimes.com.

While I have a lot of sympathy for this person’s argument, I think there’s a bit of a straw man—or a straw population—in it. It’s annoying that TV shows focused more on Sarah Palin than on a discovery that changes our perception of the universe forever, but I also know that TV shows often rush to judgment on what Americans care about and then attempt to dictate their assumptions to us. So, I wouldn’t assume right away that TV shows focusing on Palin means we “don’t care” about spaceflight; maybe we’d watch more science news if networks were willing to take the risk of treating their audiences like adults.

I spent eight months wondering who the hell Jon and Kate were and why I should give a damn. I suspect I’m not alone.

See also: Majority Of Americans Out Of Touch With Mainstream

The tragic life story

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Tina Russell @ 1:15 pm

THE tragic life story of a murdered Kentish Town transsexual became clear this week when it was revealed the victim’s mother had committed suicide four years ago and her uncle spent 15 years in prison falsely convicted of an IRA bombing.

Destiny Lauren, 29, born Justin Samuels, was found dead at around 1am on Thursday November 5, in her flat on Leighton Crescent.

It was almost four years to the day since her mother Elizabeth Hill took her own life outside the same flat.

via Hampstead and Highgate Express – Tragic story of murdered transsexual, whose uncle was one of the Guildford Four.

I’m really impressed with this article. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen an article about the murder of a transsexual that really gave the victim, and the family, a story. For once, we’re not just statistics, we’re individuals.

The ninth paragraph—count it, nine—mentions that she was a sex worker. I was even more impressed after reading that, both because they didn’t choose to make it their lead (“transsexual prostitute murdered in back alley” is the usual angle, which comes with an air of dismissal), and because it’s rare for a transsexual murder victim to get any kind of life story printed, and rarer still if the victim is also a sex worker.

It’s a little chilling that I’m so used to stories of the murders of transgender people that I find myself celebrating one that is well-written. But, such is the reality of our lives. Reductionist, sensationalist stories of transsexuals’ deaths put us in danger by making us seem less than human, reinforcing a belief that discrimination against us is tolerable and our murders inevitable. However, treating these deaths as what they are—promising lives cut short by evil acts—will get people to think twice about mean things they do or say to transgender people, which will help create a climate in which no murder, of anyone, is tolerated.

November 28, 2009

My self-portrait

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tina Russell @ 5:39 pm

Glance (self-portrait) on Flickr – Photo Sharing!

This took me a while! All it took me was a few layers of sketching, lots of colors, blending, and patience. I used GIMP, and it took me maybe 7-10 hours. I was accompanied on audio by the Bill Moyers Journal, the BBC’s Thinking Allowed, John Hodgman’s More Information Than You Require, and Junot Díaz’s The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Wonderful tools and palettes were provided by GIMP Paint Studio. Thanks, all!

November 25, 2009

Pronouns and the brutal power of language

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Tina Russell @ 12:05 pm

ROME (Reuters) – A Brazilian transsexual caught up in a scandal which prompted the resignation of a senior Italian politician — the center-left governor of Lazio region, which includes Rome — was found burned to death in his home Friday. Police found a body following a fire in a basement flat in a neighborhood frequented by transsexual prostitutes and court sources said magistrates were treating the death as murder.

Forensic tests were expected to identify the remains as those of a transsexual known only as Brenda, police said.

Brenda and another Brazilian transsexual were at the center of a case involving the blackmail of former Lazio Governor Piero Marrazzo by four police officers who secretly filmed him having sex and taking drugs with one of the transsexuals.

via Transsexual in Italian political scandal murdered | International | Reuters.

Here’s what I wrote to Reuters:

I’m upset that you referred to Brenda, the murdered Brazilian transsexual at the center of an Italian political scandal, using male pronouns (“he” and “his”) rather than the correct female pronouns. It was even more shocking to see such direct insult in an article about how she burned to death in a firebombing.

It’s rather terrifying to the transgender community, worldwide, to imagine that our identities will not be respected even after our deaths. I can only hope that tragedies like this, the sadly regular occurrence of transgender people murdered for being honest about who they are, will serve as a wakeup call about the brutal power of language. Organizations like Reuters set the tone for society with their use of language, and differences like “he” and “she” mean the difference between “normal” and “abnormal” (whether or not someone’s gender is “legitimate”), which can mean the difference between life and death.

The Reuters stylebook (thank you for putting it online!) does not directly address transgender pronouns, but here is the advice of the AP stylebook: “Use the pronoun preferred by the individuals who have acquired the physical characteristics of the opposite sex or present themselves in a way that does not correspond with their sex at birth. If that preference is not expressed, use the pronoun consistent with the way the individuals live publicly.” I hope you will use this wise advice in the future. Thank you!

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