Tina K. Russell

May 20, 2009

Screw You, GQ

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 9:35 am

AND HE SHALL BE JUDGED: GQ Features on men.style.com

Bloody hell.

So, GQ magazine (yes, that GQ) decides to go all highbrow and run a thrilling exposé on Donald Rumsfeld being an even bigger jerk—and even more incompetent—than we ever knew, which, given what he knew before, is really saying something. I saw the coverage on The Rachel Maddow Show, and it did look very interesting. And, guess what.

You might be aware that I have ADD. You might not be aware that I, uh, swing both ways. Perhaps I shouldn’t call myself out on that, here; I imagine that any straight woman can appreciate a beautiful woman, just as any straight man can and won’t admit to appreciating a beautiful man. But, yes, Tina Russell is bisexual, though this does not need to come up often in my blog topics.

And so, the sadistic fools at GQ decided to design their brilliant exposé to be the sort of thing that would interest and anger me; a veritable Tina trap, geared to be the most painful to my personal psyche. Here we go:

The text is tiny. I mean, really tiny. You can make it bigger, of course, but that’s beside the point.

The article is on ten pages. I loathe multi-page articles; you might notice that I link to the full-page versions of articles whenever I can. Reaching the end of each page, each click, each wait, each load, is a new opportunity to forget whatever it was I was doing, or, more accurately, to lose the wonderful sense of being lost in my reading. These page breaks are heinous crimes against those with ADD.

And, just to rub salt in the wound, there isn’t even much on each page; I guess they wanted it to be “more like reading the magazine,” that is, if the magazine required you to point at a small link, wait ten seconds, and watch your field of vision redraw itself each time you wanted to turn the page. (Though, this is GQ. If I were reading the magazine, I’d probably have to flip through pages of cologne ads, quizzes, and bulleted lists of things “she” won’t tell you she loves in bed, because you’re too shallow to ask her and you’ve decided that buying this magazine is an appropriate substitute for communication in your relationship. Moving on…)

Each page has a promo for GQ in the upper-right corner. Specifically, it’s the GQ cover with Jennifer Aniston naked.

How in the Lord’s name am I supposed to read an article that’s a) on ten, separate, short pages, b) in bizarre, tiny text, and c) when Jennifer Aniston is naked in the upper-right corner?! They want to be reading about Donald Rumsfeld this way? Are they nuts?

And this is an important piece! This is a vital journalistic service! In fact, this may be the first vital journalistic service to be completely undone by a nude Jennifer Aniston. And to that I say, shame!

(I should mention that, as a transsexual woman who likes other women—it actually seems to be rather common, as gender identity and sexual orientation are seperate phenomena, and transsexuals have the privilege of seeing under the table of gender and perceiving what a charade it all is anyway—naked Jennifer Aniston does two things to me. One, she is beautiful, so I drool. Two, she is out there, with the body I would want, using the body I would want, using it to make people happy. I imagine this feeling of conflict is common to all women who have a thing for our fairer sex, however… when you’re transsexual, it’s the source of the deepest sort of existential angst, the kind that keeps you awake at night and can break your spirit at its core. I might talk about it sometime… if I feel like it.)

I suppose GQ wants to be more like Vanity Fair these days: ten percent fairly good journalism, and ninety percent utter vanity. Well, good luck. Perhaps, not long from now, people will say they read GQ just for the brilliant exposés. And, of course, they won’t, they can’t, because they’re too distracted by the exposure.

May 19, 2009

The fantasy approach to gun violence

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

Fight Drug Cartels, Not Guns, McCain Says – NYTimes.com
The drug war in Mexico should not be used as an excuse to try to restrict American gun rights, Senator John McCain told thousands of people who gathered here for the National Rifle Association’s annual convention.

Mr. McCain, Republican of Arizona, said that the United States needed to do more to crack down on gun smuggling into Mexico, but that such assistance in Mexico’s war against drug cartels did not require restrictions on the gun rights of law-abiding Americans.

“It should be noted that any effort to restrict gun ownership in the U.S. will not stop Mexican cartels from acquiring guns and ammunition from other countries,” Mr. McCain said on Friday. He added that cartels were already getting grenades and other weapons from other countries.

I really hate this argument for two reasons.

  1. Okay, perhaps other countries aren’t doing their part. But, are we doing ours? (And, will we have any right to criticize them if we do not?)
  2. Can anyone say with a straight face that Mexican drug cartels won’t be hurt—massively—by taking away their biggest supply of automatic weapons, which currently flows freely across the border? Doesn’t it make sense to force them to go to smaller, more remote, and less developed locales to fetch their AK-47s? (And if our massive pipeline of guns to Mexican thugs is somehow immaterial in the grand scheme of things, why have their arsenals become more sophisticated since the lapse of the assault weapons ban?)

To think that we can help solve the Mexican cartel crisis by considering only the smuggling of guns (good luck with that border), and not the buying and selling, is pure fantasy. Mexican cops and civilians are dying while we dither.

May 10, 2009

Decisions, incisions

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Tina Russell @ 1:35 pm

PrideSource: Austrian court strikes down transsexual surgery law
Austria’s Administrative High Court has struck down a law that blocked recognition of male-to-female transsexuals’ new gender unless an individual’s penis had been removed.

“Mandatory sex-change surgery today is outdated and not scientific state-of-the-art anymore,” the GLBT group Rechtskomitee Lambda said in a statement. “On the contrary, it is understood as a human rights violation.”

Thank youuuuuuu!!

Many people don’t realize that successful transition consists of many steps and options, and it’s the right of the individual to decide where he or she wants to go. Many, if not most, female-to-male transsexuals, for instance, opt not to get genital surgery at all, because the surgery is somewhat more crude at this point than the reverse. Meanwhile, many transsexuals in general envision getting the surgery but realize, after a successful transition of everything but what’s downstairs, they’re perfectly happy in their bodies and don’t feel the need to change their genitals.

Your junk is your business! Don’t let anybody tell you who you are based on what’s in your pants.

(None of this, of course, stops the global news media from freaking out when a transsexual man decides to keep his womb around so that he can give birth, and does it with dignity, but never mind…)

May 1, 2009

School of hard knocks

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Tina Russell @ 11:41 am

Op-Ed Contributor – End the University as We Know It – NYTimes.com
… Faculty members cultivate those students whose futures they envision as identical to their own pasts, even though their tenures will stand in the way of these students having futures as full professors.

The dirty secret of higher education is that without underpaid graduate students to help in laboratories and with teaching, universities couldn’t conduct research or even instruct their growing undergraduate populations. That’s one of the main reasons we still encourage people to enroll in doctoral programs. It is simply cheaper to provide graduate students with modest stipends and adjuncts with as little as $5,000 a course — with no benefits — than it is to hire full-time professors.

In other words, young people enroll in graduate programs, work hard for subsistence pay and assume huge debt burdens, all because of the illusory promise of faculty appointments. But their economical presence, coupled with the intransigence of tenure, ensures that there will always be too many candidates for too few openings.

It’s not a dirty little secret for me; it’s been a terrifying transition, from community college to a state university, to find how many classes are taught by disinterested grad students racking up chits.

In a community college, professors (and they are all professors) are essentially volunteering, since they’d get more pay and prestige at a “real” college. This means, in my experience (in Portland, land of the free) that the teachers are really good (they volunteer their time, so they care deeply about what they do) or really bad (they couldn’t get a job anywhere else). Community college was a complete crapshoot for me in this way, and any class could be the best experience of my life or two and a half months of hell, with little in between.

At the University of Oregon, this experience has been thrown out completely. Most general classes, like trigonometry or microeconomics, seem to be taught by grad students (Graduate Teaching Fellows, or GTFs). I don’t want to disparage the profession except to say that every single class I’ve taken, led by a GTF, has been one hundred percent abominable. It breaks my heart because I took first-year economics at Portland Community College and it was taught by a man who cared deeply for his work and got the class excited to learn about comparative advantage and bond maturation. When I began second-year economics at UO, taught by a graduate student, it was so horrible that I wrote this lengthy post that has become one of my most popular ever. (In short, the GTF made economics not only painfully boring, but abstract to the point of irrelevance to us, and so I feel a little bit vindicated now that this financial crisis has happened in large part due to the over-abstraction of finance. …Even if I’d rather not be in a financial crisis.) I dashed out a quick drawing to teach in five minutes what he failed to teach in two hours, and I’m heartened to read comments from people saying it helped them grasp key early concepts of microeconomics.

And so, when I look to sign up for classes, I now vet the names given, not at RateMyProfessor or somesuch but in the faculty directory. When I thought I might want to re-enroll in second-year economics (it wouldn’t be that hard for me to get an economics minor, and maybe then I could make millions by giving bad advice with conviction on my own cable TV show), I looked up the teacher and found that he wasn’t even listed in the faculty directory. I could find his official university page using a Google search, and he proudly provided links to his curriculum vitae and his personal website, both of which were broken. (Since then, he is now listed in the directory, but those links are, hilariously, still broken.) Needless to say, he was a GTF, and I didn’t take his class.

I didn’t take his class because those things confirmed my worst fears: that he didn’t care. The hallmark of any bad teacher is thinking of his or her work with students as perfunctory, a second job, something to do before getting back to research and boinking freshmen. I’m always annoyed with the way undergraduates tend to be referred to in a dismissive sort of way, the undergraduates, not, you know, the reason the school exists. We’re the ones paying for the experience, and yet, we seem to be treated as though we have not reached the requisite level of cynicism for the ultimate goal of academia, which is to pass that cynicism (I’m sorry, critical thinking) onto a new generation of students. We’re barely out of high school. What does our opinion matter?

That brings me to the other tragedy of leaving community college, which is no longer being treated as an adult. I always loathed that, in community college, everyone else had someplace else to be (work, kids, etc.), and I was actually going there for my intellectual and personal formation. There is an advantage, however, in dealing with professors used to dealing with students who have work, or kids, or other obligations: they treat you like an adult out of habit. I developed the habit of acting like an adult, since that’s how teachers treated me back in Portland. At UO, that’s welcome to some and an affront to others.

I’ve learned to avoid teachers (and people in general) who see me as being like them when they were young, and so they want to mold me into the chiseled warrior they are today. If somebody acts rough to me, expecting me to cower in response (or to sass back, so they can rough me up more, in a coming-of-age basketball-movie sort of situation), I tend to sidestep the passive-aggressive initiation by saying “please don’t do that. I just don’t respond to it.” I already know what I want. I’m a grown woman. I have no obligation to entertain others’ fantasies of who I am. So, being told of hoops to jump through, initiations to fulfill, rightful destinies to claim usually makes me sick. I want to improve my writing. I want to improve my art. I want to learn about the world. I want to make sound judgments. You can help me do that or you can stuff it. I’m the one paying to be here.

The truth is, though, that life consists of compromises, and all this has made me a profoundly unhappy person. I’m majoring in history—history—because of how incredibly mean the school’s art department was to me, and how much I want to get out of college. I love history and it’s a good subject for me to study, and that’s why I had so many credits in it already, which is why I chose it for my major. Taking either writing or art, my two real loves, would have exposed me to a culture of people who want to break me and mold me in their image, and anything else would have involved GTFs who just don’t care. (History professors, in my experience at UO, are actual professors.) But, in writing or in art, I’d be doing what I love, and as a class and not simply as a side project. And, I wouldn’t want to punch someone in the face whenever they ask me the standard icebreaker of “what’s your major?” (Then they ask, “what sort of history?” and I say “world history” but I want to say “history that happened in the past, you numbskull.”)

When I do what I love on my own, though, it means I can buy whatever books I want and keep whatever hours I want and focus on whatever areas I want. …But, I have no one to mentor me, no one to guide me around the usual pitfalls and express pride in my development.

I did take art classes at the community college. Do I ever have stories from that, obviously, but I should limit it to just one.

When I took a painting class, I was afraid of what I was turning into. I love art, but I want to ensure that I never become the sort of person who does art for the sake of prestige; I want to ensure I’m always making art because I feel it in my gut, because I can’t not make art, not because I want to deconstruct the fundamental didactic of human existence or related nonsense. I want to make art for myself, and through myself, for the world, not for any immediate circle of high-minded friends. I want to make pictures worth a thousand words, not a handful. I want to show, not tell. I want to be my art.

Art class can be fundamentally lonely, given that we’re all on painful personal journeys while surrounded by others. So, when we watched a film on a sculptor whose work seemed more aimed to shock than to reveal (or to provoke responsibly), I tried to start a discussion, asking a man nearby if he had any thoughts on that artist. (If you’re reading this, I’m sorry.)

“I don’t care much for her,” he said, and shrugged. I concurred… “she reminds me of everyone I don’t like,” I responded.

Later he walked up to me and said, “gosh, Tina, when you said that… I hope I wasn’t included in those you don’t like.” I told him not to worry, but I was flabbergasted and went home in existential crisis, pouring my feelings out to my parents later on. You see, he was exactly the sort of person I was thinking of, right down to the fundamental belief (from my perception of him) that art should shock people not by being brutally honest, but for the sake of being shocking. I wailed to my parents, “oh my God! Vapid people don’t know who they are!” And if they don’t know who they are, how do I know I’m not one?

And how will I ever tell if I become one? What if my personal defense mechanisms wear out, and spending too much time around art students will suck me into my own vanity? What if someday I start breaking mirrors or putting chairs on their sides and calling it art, and don’t realize how soulless I’ve become, how little I have to say? I’ve always described my creativity as a sort of lonely island I want to share with others… what if my island becomes a solitary, ragged life-raft that I’ve tricked myself into believing is a beautiful cruise liner? What if my art goes from being that which burns in my soul to that which glistens on my social résumé? Will I ever know?

As a result, there is some element of relief. Perhaps not going into art education has resulted in me not being devoured by the vanity and pointlessness of the modern art world. But perhaps I’ve missed my life’s calling… perhaps I would have learned something I never could on my own, perhaps I would have met people who would have guided me through me life, perhaps I would have been pushed in directions I truly need to go. Perhaps I have become cynical myself in fear of those who are cynical, and wish me to be the same. Perhaps I really am vain, protecting my precious sense of self via the path of least resistance.

Thoughts?

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