Tina K. Russell

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.)

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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
https://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.

September 22, 2009

New art!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , — Tina Russell @ 4:38 pm

I drew something today! I think it’s cool. Click for full size and full majesty.

Frolic

Find it here on Flickr. As usual, it’s Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 3.0. So, if you want to use this for your Creative Commons project, credit me (Tina Russell) and place a link back here or to the Flickr page. Thank you!

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 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?

.

February 5, 2009

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.)

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