Tina K. Russell

February 27, 2009

Awesome Transsexuals: Audrey Mbugua

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 10:02 am

In a small world, some things are true no matter where you are. Kenyan human rights activist Audrey Mbugua demonstrates.

allAfrica.com: Kenya: Social Injustice And Transsexual People (Page 1 of 1)
Another minefield in transsexual people’s lives is the issue of discrimination in Kenya’s labour market. Though I have personally been denied job opportunities just because I am a transsexual, I still don’t understand the logic. I hope I am just too daft to get the argument. Here is the argument, and maybe you could help me understand the quantum electrodynamics behind it: ‘You were born a boy and you are now a woman. How could you do that to yourself? Do you actually think God made a mistake in creating you the way he did? In the first place, who do you sleep with? …blah…blah…blah…lots of crap’.

Will somebody please help me understand, because I thought the employee-employer relationship was that of ‘Give me your most productive 40 hours in the week and at the end of the month, I will deposit KSh blahblahblah in your account. Satisfied?’ That’s how I see things and furthermore if you are clean and tidy, does it matter that I look like a woman but I have a penis between my legs?

And she keeps going!

How is my penis supposed to make organisations lose profits? In fact, I am wondering why these morons are not blaming transsexuals with penises for the global financial crisis. A penis on a transsexual people is not a substitute for her brain. Look at the skills he or she possesses, not penises and vaginas. Why don’t you go around the streets of Nairobi, stopping and squatting under women in skirts to see whether there is a shwing shwong up there? Go ahead and feel the crotch of every person you meet to determine whether their genitals and physical presentation are incongruent or not. You could go further and smell the genitals. Your god will add more days to your lives and you will live to blow 1,001 candles.

Don’t annoy transsexual people further by asking them who they have sex with. That is none of your bee’s wax. How would you feel if you accompanied your dad to a bank and the cashier asked him whether he enjoys taking it up his ass or whether he suffers from impotence? Would you nominate the cashier for an Oscar or a Jerk-of-the-year award? Another thing my dearest friends, I have the right to change my sex if am not comfortable with my sex or even for whatever reasons I have. It’s my body and I don’t see how it interferes with your lives. Or, had you expected me to first consult with your church elders before I had a scalpel plunged inside my scrotum? No, maybe you wanted me to accept myself as a man that god created me to be? Why don’t you also tell diabetic people to stop taking insulin shots and accept themselves the way God created them, as diabetics? We hate such stupid and disrespectful questions and you hateful, ignorant and annoying religious nutcases need to reform.

I can’t tell you how vindicated I feel. As a Quaker, I have an innate fondness for Kenya, home to one of the world’s biggest Quaker communities. (Actually, it might be the biggest.) And, as an American, I’m grateful they had the wherewithal to fight for independence, earning it and prompting John F. Kennedy to start a scholarship program to train future Kenyan civil servants, bringing one enterprising Kenyan to a school in Hawaii where he met a kind free spirit from Kansas, a union which produced our current head of state. So, it does make me sad, of course, that such anti-trans prejudice persists in Kenya.

But holy mackarel! This woman can rant! This is exactly how I’ve been feeling all my life. I probably would have put it more politely (and I think she gets overly harsh toward the end of the linked piece), but sometimes you need to be blunt. It’s oddly comforting to know that the same things frustrate transsexual people the world over. And, I have always wondered why people always seem to think my genitals and sex life are critical public information which they have a right to know about. Gaahhh!

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February 14, 2009

The Smut-Hawley (UPDATED)

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 12:09 pm

Washington porn tax would fund social program – OregonLive.com
OLYMPIA — State Rep. Mark Miloscia of Federal Way has proposed a 19 percent tax on pornography.

He wants the revenue to save a program that provides money to people unable to work because of physical or mental disabilities.

The General Assistance-Unemployable program would be cut in the budget proposed by Gov. Chris Gregoire.

The legislation would tax adult magazines and video, telephone services and paraphernalia.

The tax would need a supermajority vote of the Legislature or approval by voters. Miloscia told The Spokesman-Review he’s confident his proposal would pass if it went to a statewide vote.

I think this is a terrible idea for 3 reasons:

  1. You’re taxing a specific kind of speech. Why not single out action movies or picture books for a tax? It’s not even the medium that defines what is being taxed in this proposal, just the content.
  2. A program that depends on revenue from porn taxes is a program that depends on the flourishing of the porn industry, not exactly I goal I think lawmakers in Washington State have in mind. Here in Oregon, a distressing amount of our money comes from the lottery and from video poker machines, and as a result, the government rolls over instantly whenever the gambling industry asks us for anything.
  3. It creates an inappropriate stigma. Gasoline taxes are often used for road repair because the costs and benefits stay within the same group (people who use roads). What is the connection between porn and the difficulty of people with disabilities to find employment? As someone with a learning disability, I benefit from school and government considerations all the time; society as a whole benefits when all are able to succeed regardless of circumstance, so I’m not sure why consumers of pornography should be singled out to pay.

In short, I see no reason why we should tax porn-consuming Peter to pay disabled Paul; it’s mean-spirited, it’s opportunistic, and it’s offensive. I support these kinds of government programs and wish the taxes would be spread among those who benefit (everyone), rather than targeting a specific group for no reason.

Update: It died. One reason cited is that a fellow state senator “foresaw problems with a bill that would put a different sales tax on goods based on content.” I believe the legislative term for this is “no sheezy.”

February 10, 2009

The Newberial Ground (or, “what’s in acclaim?”)

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tina Russell @ 2:40 pm

(I’m linking to the TV Tropes wiki again, so don’t click any links if you have anything to do today…)

Death By Newbery Medal – Television Tropes & Idioms

“The dog always dies. Go to the library and pick out a book with an award sticker and a dog on the cover. Trust me, that dog is going down.”
Wallace Wallace, No More Dead Dogs
“Of the 25 winners and runners-up chosen from 2000 to 2005, four of the books deal with death, six with the absence of one or both parents and four with such mental challenges as autism. Most of the rest deal with tough social issues.
Valerie Strauss, Washington Post.
“The Newbery has probably done far more to turn kids off to reading than any other book award in children’s publishing.”
John Beach, associate professor of literacy education at St John’s University.

There’s a Slice Of Life story about childhood (or adolescence) and coming of age. The main character has a best friend (can be animal, but usually is another child) or family member who is a source of joy or wisdom or understanding in his or her life. As a bonus—also, An Aesop—this friend is often frailer, more unworldly, or otherwise more ‘special’ than the main character. Physical and/or mental disabilities are common among human versions, while animals will be scruffy and/or temperamental.

The twist leading to this trope is that, at the end of the story, this Very Special best friend or loved one is abruptly killed off, usually in a clear-cut case of Diabolus Ex Machina (a favorite trick is to have the death happen entirely offscreen). Sometimes, someone had to Shoot The Dog. In another common variant, a pregnancy will result in a miscarriage or a stillbirth. Unless the mother was raped. Basically the more horribly poignant the tragedy the better.

All this is generally accompanied by lots of ‘end of the innocence’ angsting from the main character, along the lines of “That was the day my childhood ended…” Really, it’s just the author’s way of having a child character suddenly make the jump to adulthood via a single defining tragedy. Yeah, Growing Up Sucks.

The Newbery Medal is a prestigious award given to novels written for middle schoolers. Bridge to Terabithia won a well-deserved Newbery for its handling of the topics embodied by this trope. Thirteen years later, Shiloh may have actually won its medal because it didn’t go for the easy win by killing off the dog at the end. Still, most books for “young readers” (and similar movies) deal with these issues in a fairly Anvilicious fashion, and are obviously bucking for critical acclaim or recognition by killing off a beloved character in a children’s book.

Here’s the rub: It works. Apparently medal awarders are morons. This trope is so pervasive, some readers expect that the most lovable character won’t get to see the end of a critically acclaimed work of fiction.

Be warned: merely reading the titles listed below could result in spoilage, although the medal on the cover comes close.

Compare Oscar Bait, which often employs the same principle.

Holy—! That’s straight out of my childhood! I specifically avoided books with the Newbery medal, as a child, for exactly this reason. You don’t need to read the book; you already know everybody dies because how else would it have gotten a Newbery medal? (I also hated Where the Red Fern Grows. And Bridge to Terabithia. And Hatchet. And The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: For Kids. The last one I might as well not have made up.)

(Just so you know, those worried about spoiling childrens’ classics, at least one of those books I mentioned above doesn’t involve a death ending. In that case, it’s just you being bored to tears because the writing is achingly, and unnecessarily, verbose; stretching a thin strand of content into hundreds of pages of dry exposition, and passing it off as seething internal drama, seems to be an alternate route to the Newbery. In any case, I want those hours of my childhood back.)

I would like the people who award the Newbery medals to be aware of this: the medal was like a warning light to me, as a kid, not just that everybody dies, but this is the kind of work adults want us to read but would never read themselves. If you would read it only as a sort of masochistic emotional catharsis, maybe you shouldn’t give it the award.

February 7, 2009

Partisanship

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

David Brooks:

Op-Ed Columnist – The Gang System – NYTimes.com
Barack Obama is not initiating events (he’s had surprisingly little influence on the stimulus bills’ evolution). But circumstances now present him with a precedent-setting moment of decision. Does he embrace the Gang System and try to use it to create a new style of politics? Or does he remain an orthodox Democrat, deferring to the Old Bulls on legislation, enforcing party discipline and trying to pick off a Republican or two here and there to pass laws?

The liberals already are mobilizing against the Moderate Gangs. On Thursday, the liberal interest groups were intensively lobbying against the stimulus cuts. But there’s no way that Obama, who spent two years campaigning on postpartisan politics, can reject the single biggest manifestation of postpartisanship in the country today. If he does that, his credibility will be shot.

I really, really hate this idea, that it is somehow virtuous to compromise in every situation, at the exact midpoint of what each side is requesting. There’s no thought involved; you just declare yourself a moderate, step back, and feel righteous. It makes no allowance for the fact that, in a polarized political world, the center is itself subjective because it’s determined by the poles. It’s especially frustrating to those who support one side or the other, because the feeling is that you haven’t even looked at our ideas; you’ve just tarred us as “partisan,” dismissed us as “the liberals” or “the conservatives.”

It also perpetuates an irritating stalemate in American politics, where the party of good government and the party of small government compromise with a big government that doesn’t work. It’s everywhere in the government we have (and possibly deserve); it’s what you get with a longstanding mentality of “starve the beast.” If liberals aren’t willing to confront that head-on, then we aren’t worth our salt in politics. If conservatives were unwilling to defend their beliefs, I’m not sure why they would be in politics, either.

I’m also irritated whenever I hear the word “post-partisan.” I voted for Barack Obama largely because I saw shades of the Wellstone model of politics in him (after all, they both came from academia and mastered grassroots organizing). In the late Sen. Paul Wellstone’s method (described in The Conscience of a Liberal: Reclaiming the Compassionate Agenda, not to be confused with Paul Krugman’s book of a similar name), you don’t give up your principles; you hold strongly to them, but you also reach across the aisle to find where your strong beliefs intersect with others’, even those of your supposed ideological archenemies. Wellstone hopped from coffee shop to coffee shop both to campaign and to get feedback on what his potential constituents wanted; what he found was that people who identified as strongly liberal, strongly conservative, or anywhere in between were still mainly concerned with the same issues, like good schools and healthcare. If you get beyond those labels, you can get a lot more done.

So, to hear that the only way Barack Obama can get past the partisan gridlock of Washington is to abandon his principles makes my blood boil. We’ve suffered through decades of conservatives absolutely convinced in the most radical solutions to every problem, and liberals struggling to compromise and giving themselves a raw deal. Barack Obama can and should do what he feels is right, what is in his best judgment, exercising the faith we placed in him through election.

The difference between this and the Bush era needs to be listening and careful consideration. Barack Obama needs to communicate with Republicans, get their input, and address their concerns just as he must do with Democrats. He must treat them equally as governing partners in a system of checks and balances, and as duly elected representatives of their constituencies. He must respect their experience and value their opinion.

Congressional roll calls are a childish way of measuring this, however. If not a single Republican voted for the stimulus in the House, perhaps they were exercising their right not to agree with the President in the end. That is their right, and it doesn’t mean the President is dismissing their concerns, nor does it mean the bill isn’t better for their input. It certainly doesn’t mean we should hold our political process hostage, watering down the bill until the numbers look more “post-partisan.” Sometimes that merely means devoid of strong ideas.

Our political process works through vigorous debate, and it’s for good reason that nothing mandates that everyone agree. In addition, in some situations, a compromise can be worse than either original proposal. Bipartisanship and cooperation are worthy goals. Post-partisanship, silencing the voices of all those who have strength in their convictions, is not.

February 5, 2009

Perspective on Michael Phelps

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 5:55 pm

Steve Duin on the Michael Phelps “oh my God inspirational sports heroes occasionally do stupid things like smoke marijuana” scandal:

Michael Phelps and illusions of perfection – OregonLive.com
I always thought the crime of “betraying” America was reserved for spies, war profiteers and Ponzi schemers, rather than world-class swimmers who might have a buzz on. (Phelps has apologized that he “engaged in behavior which was regrettable and demonstrated bad judgment,” but he has yet to admit that he was one toke over the line.)

To get myself up to speed on this savage betrayal of all we hold dear, I decided to check out the fine print on Phelps’ gold medals. You know, the stern warnings that victory in the Olympic pool requires that he immediately forfeit his youth, his privacy and his margin of error.

The formal announcement that, as a celebrity icon, Phelps must now live in accordance with the (generally) hypocritical standards and expectations of people he’s never met.

I have yet to find those cautionary notes, but they must be around somewhere. They explain the hysterical criticism of a 23-year-old kid who worked like a backstroking dog for four years to make much lazier Americans feel good about themselves and who was enjoying a few weeks off before he dove back into the deep end of Olympic training and Olympian ideals.

He was hugging a bong, sports fans. Not an Uzi, not a pit bull, not a tobacco lobbyist. He’s Seth Rogen, not Michael Vick.

See also Study: 100 Percent of Americans Lead Secret Lives. See also Jesus.

Family, responsibility, identity, transsexuality

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 2:55 pm

Transsexual Identity Case May Set Back Gay Marriage | News | YLE Uutiset | yle.fi
Wife Refused Consent to Save Family

The case in question was brought to the Court by a married man and father, who became a transsexual. The couple want to retain their married status, so the wife refused to give her official consent.

(Please note: you don’t “become” transsexual, like, ever. It’s something you’re born with. If it were a choice, nobody would want it, ever.)

(Also, note to copyeditors: the adjective is almost always more respectful than the noun. Someone is Jewish, not “a Jew.” Someone is black, not “a black.” I guess this works better in plural (“Jews,” “blacks”), but when talking about an individual, use the adjective whenever possible.)

(Firefox is telling me that “copyeditors” is a typo. I thought that was the right way… hmmm…)

A lower Administrative Court rejected their case, ruling that “in the realm of family law, a marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman.” And so, from the court’s perspective, the local registry office did not violate the constitutional guarantee of equality of the sexes by refusing to change the woman’s gender without her wife’s consent.

The lower court’s ruling, which defined marriage as exclusively a heterosexual right, has put one more legal obstacle in front of activists calling for gender-neutral marriage laws.

The plaintiff argued that the current laws are essentially forcing her to choose between her sexual identity and keeping her family intact.

In addition, she says that her identification papers have caused real problems in security checks, for example, because they no longer reflect her new self.

There are no legal objections to a man undergoing sexual reassignment to become a woman and then marrying a man, for example.

This is a pretty insane ruling. For the record, here in the States, the law in regard to marriage and transsexuality is a surreal patchwork, and if you’re transsexual yourself, whom you can and can’t marry depends on the state you’re in. But I don’t think we have anything like this ruling in Finland, saying that changing your sex requires your spouse’s consent. (?!)

An important thing, I think, to bear in mind is that transgender people do not abandon their family responsibility when they transition. This is a matter of semantics, but it’s typical, in my experience, for trans people with families to retain the family title they had before transitioning, especially fathers who have transitioned to female after having children. This leads to interesting constructions like “she’s my dad” that may confound the unfamiliar, but it’s always said with the greatest respect. I knew a woman who told her adult children, when she transitioned, “I will always be your father, and nothing can change that.” She said it with pride and conviction, and her concept of herself as a father stood hand-in-hand with her concept of herself as a woman.

That said, it’s perfectly legitimate to want people to call you a different family title (“father” to “mother,” “son” to “daughter,” etc., or the other way around) when you transition; it’s a matter of what you’re comfortable with. However, the idea of transsexuality as a threat to the family is utterly at odds with everything I know. You don’t abandon who you are, or your responsibility to those you love; on the contrary, you drop a charade you’ve been performing all your life, and confirm your love of them through honesty and compassion.

February 3, 2009

Learning the Tropes

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 7:15 pm

What Do You Mean, It’s Not Didactic? – Television Tropes & Idioms
Right, so you’re looking through the library and come across a copy of Moby Dick. First published in 1851? Wow, if it’s still being published after more than 150 years, it must be good! You’ve heard a lot of good things about this novel, so you eagerly check it out and head home.

Later, you open it up and discover there’s a preface. Might as well read that to get an idea of the context it was written, and so maybe enjoy it even more. You start reading, and naturally the preface begins by summarizing the plot… wait, why are you annoyed? You weren’t planning on reading it for the story, were you? This isn’t just literature, it’s a work of True Art! In the minds of Really Clever Literary Critics, the true worth of a book, movie, or TV series is not in telling an engrossing story with interesting characters, but in allowing people to write long, complex, deep essays on the true meaning of the subject matter, whatever they think that may be. Once the critics have done this sort of analysis, they can objectively declare these works as True Art: it doesn’t matter how much you personally like or dislike these works so long as you understand the deeper meaning behind them. Only ignorant fools don’t understand. Such an attitude may be expressed in several ways:

You can even get away with Completely Missing The Point if you’re a Really Serious Critic who wants to reveal all sorts of Family Unfriendly Aesops inside a work, whether or not they have anything to do with the actual characters or plot. Goodness forbid that the author(s) wanted you to do so. How long will it be before high school/college students are forced to write long-winded essays about the philosophical and socio-religious undertones of Harry Potter? (Answer: Already happened.)

Note that having the plot given away becomes less and less of an issue the older the subject is. Most people who haven’t read, for example, Moby Dick will still be familiar with key plot points due to Popcultural Osmosis. See It Was His Sled.

See also True Art Is Angsty, True Art Is Incomprehensible.

Good God, this website is brilliant! It’s already sucked away hours of my life. It’s a complete listing of clichés that have appeared in (despite the site’s title) every fictional work, ever. All are named, identified, and catalogued. It feels like a certain consumer comeuppance. And, as such tropes are not necessarily bad (as the site eagerly points out), it’s like revealing that the emperor has no clothes—and hey, the emporer’s not that bad looking. He could be Mr. September on the Vainly Deceptive Heads of State swimsuit calendar. (I hope there’s a trope entry for what I just did, going too far on an allusion. You know, like instead of going out on a limb, you’ve staked out a tree for a week as part of an anti-logging public protest, only to find that the threatened tree you needed to protect is a couple meters over and already chopped down. It distracts from the text.)

February 1, 2009

This land ain’t my land

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tina Russell @ 11:48 pm

This article speaks of how lesbian-separatist “womyn’s lands” are dying out for lack of interest from younger women…

Lesbian Communities Struggle to Stay Vital to a New Generation – NYTimes.com
BEHIND the gate at Alapine, about five miles from the nearest town in the southern Appalachian mountains near Georgia, the women live in simple houses or double-wide trailers on roads they have named after goddesses, like Diana Drive. They meet for potluck dinners, movie and game nights and “community full moon circles” during which they sing, read poems and share thoughts on topics like “Mercury in retrograde — how is it affecting our communication?”

…and I am so, so glad.

You know, maybe it’s a little insulting that, as a transsexual woman, I wouldn’t be allowed in one. But, I think being allowed in would be a bigger insult… to my intelligence.

Communities of all men have amplified male problems, and communities of all women have amplified female problems. We’re not going to get around it until we can admit that we’re all born human, first.

Of G-men and G-strings

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Tina Russell @ 1:22 pm

News: Local | “Morrisette plans to try new anti-strip club legislation” | The Register-Guard
SALEM — Sick of seeing Oregon cities stuck with no way to keep strip clubs out of their downtowns, state Sen. Bill Morrisette is asking lawmakers to consider allowing cities to decide where sexually oriented businesses can open up shop.

Morrisette, a Democrat from Springfield, said his hometown’s fight to keep strip club Shakers Bar and Grill out of its core inspired him to create the resolution.

Oregon’s Constitution protects sex shops as a form of free speech, meaning they may open in any commercial zone. Morrisette said he wants lawmakers to put before voters a constitutional amendment to give cities more control.

This idea has been bouncing around Oregon for-freaking-ever and I’m absolutely sick of it. If such a law were in place, segregating sex shops into specialized “seedy zones,” at what point would an establishment become a “sex shop”? What if a bookstore started selling too much erotica? What if a bar hired a belly dancer? And, as the article notes, what would become of strip clubs already outside of legislated no-strip zones? Would they be forced to move, or would they be grandfathered in? It looks like an overreach to me.

I think this campaign amounts to putting a delicate pasty on the exposed nipple of Oregon’s problems. Sex shops don’t exist in a vacuum; if men are lonely and want to pay for an extended cocktease, legislation isn’t really going to change that. What it will do is make the factors everyone complains about worse. Restricted to their own, sealed, self-reinforcing neighborhoods, sex clubs will hardly be able to overcome their own stereotypes of being single-minded, exploitative, and appealing only to men. It’s not going to matter that there are men and women who strip artfully and on their own terms, that exotic dancing is an art form that goes back over a hundred years, that erotica can be written gracefully and tastefully and read by perfectly intelligent people. If all “sex shops” are penned into erotic ghettos, it’s only going to magnify their worst aspects, as only the stereotypical clientèle will be unafraid to go there.

If anything is going to reform the Oregon sex industry, it’s, well, exposure. How will strippers bargain for better working conditions if the state has pushed their business out of sight and out of mind? If it’s true that sex clubs only attract thugs, how will it help to place them where only thugs would go? (How would someone intending to run a club well get the opportunity to do so?) And what of the soccer mom who wants a subtle book of erotica to pleasure herself with after she’s put the kids to bed? What of the college student who wants a vibrator to help her get through the stress of midterms? Why mandate that they would have to go to unsafe red-light districts instead of someplace downtown that might take them seriously? How could the culture of erotica be changed to serve everyone—to address its legitimate criticisms—if it’s mandated by government that it wallow in its own filth?

I should note that I don’t patronize sex shops, I’ve never been to a strip club, and I don’t read or watch pornography. I’m simply angry when any culture is attacked over legitimate concerns, and then forced to be unable to address them. For all I know, all of Oregon’s strip clubs are as bad as they say. What if somebody wanted to start a better one, though, with wider appeal, with different kinds of bodies, with more innate reverence for sexuality? Why limit them to an area where gathering a clientèle for such a place would be impossible?

Perhaps the best comeback to this sort of idea was on Michael Moore’s late-nineties TV show, The Awful Truth. One episode covered a New York City ordinance, under Rudy Giuliani, saying that all sex-related stores had to contain 60% non-sex-related items. (I’m not sure how well that ever did, or if it’s still around.) As a stunt, Moore and his crew set up a shop of their own, containing 60% Rudy Giuliani memorabilia and 40% sex toys. It was brilliant.

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