Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Glee Recap 3.11 "Michael"

Live Blogging Begins at 8:11pm EST
So quick recap: WHAT THE FUCK SEBASTIAN. That was extraordinarily racist. Also, Santana actually could kick your ass, but you're not even worth it. Of course, daddy's boy, you'd go running to your wealthy father instead of being a decent human being.

Feeling pretty meh about the streets-off beatz-off between the Warblers and the New Directions. I see we are continuing with the "Glee will forever lack continuity" streak of things. Fair enough, but seriously, who would have thought the Warblers were so mean? They were really nice to Kurt. I blame Sebastian. Gillans (gay villans, obvi) ruin everything.

Blaine getting slushied and this whole plotline with him getting hurt is a little silly. Yay Glee! The cinematography(?) was pretty cool with the slushie being like blood and all. And yay Artie! Having lines! Yay! Don't give me that It Gets Better Project crap! Although I'm anti-violence so not really enjoying the rest of what he's saying.

Oh fuck. Him getting up out of his chair and walking away ruined it. This is the kind of ridiculous one resorts to when ONE DOES NOT HIRE A WHEELCHAIR DANCER. WOULDN'T IT HAVE BEEN COOL TO SEE A WHEELCHAIR DANCER ON MAINSTREAM TV? I THINK SO.

BUT OMG HARRY SHUM JR IN EYELINER MAKES UP FOR IT (almost/not really/99% kidding). Yes. Yes. Yes! Harry singing! He's decent and with autotune anything is possible. And of course Kevin McHale brings the vocal fire. No glasses? Cuter with imo.

Interesting song. I'm actually not super knowledgeable re: MJ songs. I like this song! Of course, this is the point of Glee, to make me realize I want to consume all of the music. Buy buy buy! Revive the failing music industry! But don't worry, we'll never play anyone you haven't heard of on the radio or SiriusXM.

Quinn and Rachel are "friends" (AKA LOVERS) and this is them confiding in each other. Quinn says "well you can't" [marry him]. WHY NOT QUINN? BECAUSE YOU WANT TO FUCK RACHEL BERRY ALL OVER THIS BATHROOM FLOOR??? Also, yay for Quinn getting into Yale. Faberry is all over this scene, which means it is A+. Lalala don't worry, Quinn has yet another personality this episode, and it is once again pseudo-feminista. Rachel, get over the fact that you are pretending to love Finn and go for the obvious choice. #All-Faberry, #all-the-time.

Yes, obviously we must follow this segment with the strong assertion of Quinn's heterosexuality by making her see/dance with all of the boys she's dated while singing about boys. Excuse me while I throw up over all of the things. WHY IS IRISH STILL THERE? Seriously, why is he around. Please please, someone put me out of my misery on this one.

Oh thanks Mr. Schue, Quinn really needed you to completely co-opt her big moment of achievement. Quinn, yes and no. It is so great to call attention to the community that supported you, but also, you did this yourself! You rocked it! Ugh. Ryan Murphy hates women. Did I mention that he hates women? Maybe, I don't know, SOCIETY was getting in your way? Maybe all of the men on this show were getting in the way? I do not think you were the only one to blame for your predicaments the past few years.

And enter on Santana. Damn, Santana, why did you knock on Kurt's outfit? I like it. Also, this is a scene with Kurt and Santana in it. LOL LOL LOL Santana is my favorite. Also yay Kurt's anti-violence. Yay gays! Yay taking the high road! Boo that this scene was only 1 minute long!

Samcedes! Sam-cedes! Sam-cedes! Sam is so cute with Mercedes but also this is a little intense and creepy. She's dating Shane. Sam can, but doesn't, take no for an answer. That's not okay. But yay! This song is beautiful! I am enjoying their duet rendition. So many feelings. Ugh, I hate when Glee is literal (e.g. they sang "reaching out" as Sam literally extended his hand to Mercedes to help her onstage. Also please, she doesn't need help getting on stage). DONT DO IT MERCEDES DONT DO IT. She's gonna do it. [they kiss obvi OMG SPOILER ALERT] SAM THAT WASNT COOL.

Kurt THERE ARE OTHER SCHOOLS BESIDES NYADA. SO. Much. Anticipation. Yay! Kurt is a finalist! We seemed to miss him actually, you know, auditioning in the first place. Also also, I love Burt Hummel. Go Nickelodeon GUTS! The Agro Cragg was always my favorite.

On another note, of course Rachel has to just steal the show. Yes, I feel bad for her. But honestly? She has so much more than her boyfriend. I am really not sure where that came from. And to reiterate what people have been saying for weeks: THERE ARE OTHER SCHOOLS BESIDES NYADA which by the way is a made up school to begin with. That said, Kurt looks real cute and is being really sweet. Wow I sound really straight right now.


Lalala product placement with Finn bringing Blaine movies. Gotta sell that swag. Make that money. The one good thing about this episode is that there has been a lot of music. Music trumps actual show. Father in the room = annoyed blogger. This whole plotline is silly and ridiculous and a waste of my time. No one cares about Finchel. No one cares about Finn. WHERE'S THE BRITTANA???

Ahem. YES! This is the scene I have been waiting for you. Cello guys can you hang back for a second? Santana is My Hero. Yes! YES! Ouch. Sebastian!Warbler hurts my ears. This sounds like the Alien Ant Farm cover of Smooth Criminal (and of course I am into it). Yes! Santana brings the full force vocals. So much better than Sebastian. Cellists are about to orgasm. It's cool. Rock salt in a slushie? Wow, that's evil for Glee. Slushie to Santana? Not a good idea, she remembers that (remember Karofsky? I do).

Santana in charge = the best. LOL This is clever I taped it to my underboob. ::insert joke about me and Santana's underboob here:: Also she is not an object. Also yay! Brittany got a line. "True" - but backing up Santana.

Okay back to throwing up my lunch. FINCHEL IS OFF, FABERRY IS ON (in my headcanon only). No one cares when Finn sings. No one cares when Finn does anything because he is a useless, stupid, stupid potato sack. Where is Mark Salling? He is at least a better singer than Cory Monteith. Finn does look like he's losing it though. Rachel, too. This song is happening which means it has been going on for too long. I am sure this is of interest to someone. Just not me. I think we know which camp I'm in. And Rachel says she'll marry Finn and they will get married. I am thinking...divorced at 30 with two kids. LOL at the violinists/Brad sitting in the room watching them kiss. Only good part of this scene.

Also, where did the hour go? I swear, this was the most filler of filler episodes. Literally nothing happened (Finchel doesn't count because it's not real). Blaine got hurt. Santana was a badass and Kurt was a killjoy. Puck's one line was gold. Of course Artie is singing, with Rachel - they are the best singers on Glee (except maybe Santana, who obvi is also singing). Don't like this song. Yay Kurt! Another beautiful singer. Oh! I like this Glee people changing into each other.

Okay, but seriously. The song was about being colorblind. It defined race as the color of one's skin: typical white man position. There is some serious research that refutes this position, like, oh, I don't know, INSTITUTIONAL RACISM!?!?

So while yay! I am glad the other Warblers stood up to Sebastian! I also am frustrated because this was another opportunity to send a serious message about how racism can have real economic and social consequences, but instead we got a story about everyone needing to love each other because race is only a big deal if we're assholes and make it that way. Not. True. #RyanMurphyHatesOppressedPeople

Also glad Rachel is also a finalist. Not that I'm surprised. The end.

A) Ryan Murphy Hates Women
B) Glee is about selling music (and other products)
C) Santana is a badass
D) Ryan Murphy thinks institutional oppression isn't real (so he's even more of a twat than previously thought)

Monday, October 10, 2011

Why I Don’t Want To Go Back To Occupy Boston (But Because Of This Probably Should)

Note: This is not a comprehensive reflection.

I have spent the past two weekends traveling to two different #occupy spaces, Wall Street and Boston (at Dewey Square). I did this because I am one of many people who feel like there is something wrong with our current society, government, and economy. I wanted to see firsthand what kind of new society and/or movement and/or space was being created by what has been called “the most important thing in the world now” by Naomi Klein.

Two weekends ago, I went to New York. The space #occupywallstreet (now #ows) has taken over now has two names – Zuccotti Park and Liberty Square. This park/square is privately owned but allotted for public use, which gives the occupiers some interesting restrictions. The NYC government has not allowed any amplification to be used, nor any structures to be constructed, so people shout to be heard (and others repeat back their words for amplification) and sleep in sleeping bags and under tarps on the ground. Some people have brought mattresses, but in general, the scene is pretty barebones. In my experience, there was always something to do or some committee to be a part of and donations were met with thanks and smiles. There were actually many more smiles going around than I expected – growing up near Boston has clearly left me prejudiced. Every few hours, someone conducted a teach-in about dealing with the police. Before each march, someone addressed the entire group, giving out legal instructions and advice, and reminding everyone that the march was a nonviolent action as part of a nonviolent movement. People were handing out copies of “The Occupied Wall Street Journal,” which I thought was pretty clever. Someone had also spray painted “Nothing Really Mattress” onto a dirty mattress that was waiting to be thrown out – I found that also clever and amusing.

I left feeling energized from my interactions with others there. I left feeling like I had been part of building something. It didn’t seem like the most organized thing in the world, but there was an energy of action and self-empowerment and determination. I felt like I was part of something meaningful, larger than myself, that was actually going somewhere (although that somewhere was definitely yet to be determined). I felt like the mic was for everyone to be heard and the preoccupation of most people was a democratic response, regardless of if the issue was corporate greed and culture or sanitation issues. It took a really, really long time to decide anything, but when something finally got accomplished, it felt good.

This is not how I felt about #OccupyBoston when I left today. That is not to say that it did not have its moments – I had a great time musically jamming out with a few different people, had a great conversation with someone about institutional oppression, and felt validated every time I took the mic (especially when I passive-aggressively told the white men to step off the mic). That said, I found my experience lacking relative to what I experienced at #occupywallstreet.

First off, #OccupyBoston set up their camp completely differently than #occupywallstreet (partly due to receiving more governmental support). Most of the space at Dewey Square (which is about the same size as Liberty Square in my estimate) is taken up by peoples’ camping tents. These tents are not left open throughout the day, but closed. Who knows who or what is in them at any given time. This gives a great image of occupation, but also has several downsides. First, it dissuades people from forming community on public space. Tents are small and private, who knows what’s going on in them, and they are not the commons, the way grass in a park is. Additionally, because they take up literally most of the space (and the middle of said space), they prevent people from effectively gathering together. This makes it hard to shout out to the group as a whole if someone needs to be heard. They instead need to walk around shouting the same message over and over again. Because of this, they also hinder peoples’ ability to organize together. Lastly, they deter people from acting spontaneously. Everything feels entrenched, and all of my previously mentioned complaints about tents deter people from helping each other act spontaneously.

Another big issue I took with #OccupyBoston was the attitude I encountered from people who I took to be relatively established there (e.g. people at the information desk and logistics table). When I asked to help out, I was told there was nothing to do. This is never true! Even if I were to simply pick up trash, there is always something to do! Additionally, telling people there is nothing to do deters them from volunteering themselves and becoming engaged in the space. In NYC, I met the most people by becoming involved because it enabled me to put myself out there with other people. Not so in Boston. I saw that people were less engaged and more watchful/observant when interacting with the space – almost like it was urban performance art. There was less creating the world you want to see by living it and more talking about what you were seeing and chatting about specific policy changes that need to be enacted for change to occur. Talking is obviously important, but part of what I think is so beautiful about the #occupy movement is that it rebuilds peoples’ lives. Therefore, having a conversation about a missing cell phone and then looking for it collectively is as important as a conversation about the Taft-Hartley Act.

Lastly, and most importantly, was the issue of feeling silenced and/or not listened to. There were several moments at #OccupyBoston where I did not feel heard. One was when I decided to join a conversation taking place between three (presumably cisgender) white men. I had to call attention to the fact that I was the only not-male person there to be able to get a word in. Then, when two of the men stormed off in a huff, the last one just left, as though without the presence of other white men, the conversation was not worth having. This was incredibly invalidating. I also interacted with a legal observer (also a white man) who silenced me during the march today. There were several people chanting using violent rhetoric, and I shouted back that the march was nonviolent. This man asked me to be quiet because “from a legal perspective, we should not disagree with each other in front of the police.” This made me angry because the people shouting were a liability to the safety of the other marchers. Additionally, I believe there is absolutely no reason to silence someone who is calling for nonviolence. And if only these were anomalous experiences. Unfortunately, there were several other occasions that were less overtly rude but where I still had to be very vocal in order to be heard by others (and again, people I gendered male).

I was taken aback by each experience like this, and that it was happening at all. I was not anticipating having to work so hard to be dismissed by so many white men. Despite this, I also had good conversations with white men who were willing to listen, share their stories, and discuss solutions. I was not anticipating having to deal with people who did not want to pursue nonviolence. Despite this, there were many people there committed to nonviolence. There were many people peacefully protesting.

Whereas Wall Street left me energized, Boston drained me. Perhaps it was due to prolonged exposure that I am feeling this way (I was in Boston for longer than New York). Perhaps it is because Boston is a wealthier city with more students (Boston is definitely a college town). Perhaps it is because the Boston occupation has been going on for a very short period of time relative to Wall Street. Regardless, I am glad I went to both spaces. I feel like because I did not have wholly good experiences there, it was all the more necessary I attended. That people were not always cognizant of their privilege did not make me any less appreciative of the work they are doing to end corporate greed and culture. In fact, it made me more convinced of my friend’s statement that:

“The occupations themselves are a subversive and coherent message. If you go out there, you will see people coming together to build a new reality not bound to the rules of capitalist work. From this foundation, a new point of view is emerging. We cannot attack a hegemonic force like capitalist exploitation by merely lashing out against an external entity. This struggle is bigger than us vs. them; this fight is us vs. ourselves.” (Robert Stephens)

Yes, the occupations can still reproduce oppression based on social identity/identities. But people are coming together anyway because deep down they know something is wrong and the best response is a democratic one. People are still finding ways to live a different life, one where collectivity replaces individualism, creation replaces destruction, where empathy replaces greed. I hope that the folks at #OccupyBoston find ways to engage more people more deeply in the future. This takes the engagement of folks who care to continue these conversations in the face of frustration. I hope that people all over the country find ways to continue engaging in critical dialogue and self-reflection resulting from this movement. This takes the persistence of folks who care to ensure this happens. I hope people find ways to incorporate and center the voices of those most marginalized by our current system into the movement. This takes good outreach and people willing to take risks and sustain a diverse community. We are the 99% (and so are you if you make less than $250,000 a year)! And, to quote Lee Ann Womack, when you get the choice to sit it out or dance, I hope you dance.

Friday, January 7, 2011


"Research tells us that the sources of the good life are in loving relationships, mutual respect, meaningful work, and gratitude, and as we discover the power of these qualities, the lure of advertising and materialism will no longer fool us."

This is a quote from an article in YES! Magazine, which I discovered yesterday. It is a magazine (and website with free articles) about reframing the problems of our world into solutions. In general, it takes a decidedly positive view of the world and the ability of everyone to shape and change reality.

I really enjoyed this, even though I can see flaws in the magazine's perspective on the world. I tend to read a lot of progressive news sites that emphasize how messed up the world is right now - and with good reason. Still, the effect of taking in a lot of negative information can be an overwhelming sense of hopelessness. As someone striving to be an engaged citizen, this doesn't feel like a productive outcome. Because of this, it was nice to read articles about happiness, peace and justice, and creating new, local economies with others.

World news aside, one of my main takeaways from reading the magazine was the realization that I am not as open about my gratitude and appreciation as I can be. Perhaps I am shy, perhaps I am afraid people have forgotten about me, but regardless I have decided to change this. Even if the people I am appreciating never see my words, or if they don't like me anymore, or if they don't remember me, I want to express my gratitude toward individuals and groups of people who I am grateful I met. And I would like to start with my classmates from my alma mater.

Here's to you, Carleton Class of 2010. I know quite a few of you - I've met almost all of you - I know some of you well, a small handful very well. I know some of you less well than I would like, and met you far later than I should have, but I am still grateful we got to meet and learn from each other. I have grown alongside you and seen you grow with me. That's a beautiful thing. In light of recent tragedy, I have seen you reach out and show you care in unexpected ways and it makes my heart simultaneously light and heavy. I know we harped about being quirky and shit, and yeah it got old, but seriously, in a pinch I'd turn to a Carl in a heartbeat. I know some of you are going to help change the world (for better or for worse) and I wish you all the best. And seriously if you need a place to crash, assuming I have a home myself, you're welcome here.

Also, I want to extend my gratitude toward the Carleton Class of 2012. Although my heart is certainly grateful for one of you in particular, I know more than a few of you less well than I ought to, and am eternally grateful for all you have shared with me. Y'all are some of the most amazing people I've ever met and you carry on what my vision of Carleton's future should be.

So that was pretty sappy and all, but that's what happens when I speak from my heart.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Truly Progressive News

I have continued to read a lot lately and want to focus on one observation I have found. It is almost moot to go into details about what I have been reading – articles about Wikileaks and Julian Assange’s assault charges, the coming U.S. State of Control, DADT, the DREAM Act - or about what I haven’t been reading – where is the coverage of Bernie Sanders’ spectacular speech on the new taxes bill?! – these issues are being well covered (or well neglected) regardless of whether I write about them or not. Regardless of news source I have noted one thing: the writers I read are overwhelmingly white, male, and upper class. Just reading the contributors to today’s CommonDreams articles reveals this trend. The list of contributors is the following: Tom Engelhardt, Bill McKibben, Tom Andrews, Michelle Chen, Joseph Nevins, Robert Koehler, Andrew Kennis, Glenn Greenwald and Glen Ford. Note: as I am writing this Anna Brown and Laura Flanders were added to the views reel.

What do we see here? Seven white men, two white women, one black man, and one Asian woman. All authors are seemingly from the United States (although I have not done extensive research), are currently in the United States and are writing about the United States. Accordingly, 64% of the viewpoints shared come from people whose experience and social identities that are not only acknowledged as “normal” but propped up through the continual playing out of society’s dominant ideologies – to be white and male is to be better than everyone else because we say so, again and again and again. To be sure, one’s identity and one’s ideology do not have to be the same – I consider myself to be a white person dealing with issues of white privilege, seeking to hold anti-racist values and commit anti-racist acts. That said, I will be the first to acknowledge how limited I am in my ability to speak to the oppression of people of color. Similarly, I recognize that I am in no position to dictate how to mitigate and one day abolish the manifestations of racism. Similarly, I wonder about the limitations of these men’s’ perspectives even though they are written from a supposedly “radical,” “progressive” or “Leftist” viewpoint.

The articles written by these white men contain opinions and information about the following: fear, Wikileaks and Assange, and the current conservatism of the U.S. government. Their perspective strikes me not as “objective” but as focused on politics and the political implications of current events. They are focused on Republicans who do evil and “the American Empire.” Generally they are either focused on taxes or on shifts in discourse – topics that are based in the quantitative and analytic, such as economics or linguistics or political philosophy.

In contrast, the two articles by writers of color take political issues and apply a racial lends to them. For example, Michelle Chen’s article focuses on the DREAM Act and the contradiction inherent in having a stagnant economy accompany anti-immigration sentiments and policies. This article is very clearly related to something quantitative and analytic yet it also applies a lens that perhaps a white man would not immediately apply. Similarly, Glen Ford takes a topic covered by white men, fear and U.S. governmental “national security,” and writes a piece on the FBI’s fabricated “terrorist plots” that target black and brown men (or “Muslim-looking” men) who are wholly innocent prior to FBI intervention. Here again we see a topic covered from a different – and entirely necessary – angle.

But let us not forget our latecomers. Laura Flanders (Britain-born U.S. transplant) writes briefly about the nearly sadistic turn of events in England, where a bailed out bank threw a party for Harry Potter amidst student protests about increased college tuition. Meanwhile, Anna Brown writes about peace activists sentenced to ten years in prison for walking around at a military base in Washington. Both topics fall outside of the realm of strictly political but both have political implications (Really? They threw a party for Harry Potter? He isn’t even real!).

Only one article was about a country other than the United States. Only one article was written about peace and activism, and even that article has a sad ending. Were there any articles about queer issues? No. Were there any issues about disability issues? No. Ageism? No. Sizeism? No. The list could go on. Do the authors write about issues pertaining to them based on their social identities? I think that a case can certainly be made for the writers of color – perhaps too for the white women writing. For white men, examining the articles affirms that their social identities are “invisible”. As their writing becomes more abstracted and focused on government, it becomes less about them - individuals whose identities help or hinder them as they move through the world.

But what can we make of all of this? Even in “progressive” circles historically dominant voices are given more airtime. Even on the “Left” we see voices intentionally or unintentionally silenced through lack of publicity – the ultimate irony when that same sector of people seeks the pursuit of truth and the openness of dialogue. Even as we seek justice, we may leave aside those so powerless that they are forgotten even by us. Even in our struggles for resistance, we may fail to resist all of the ways we are colonized. Why is it that we continue to listen to the same voices we have heard throughout all of time?

To make a bold claim, I propose it continues to be not what one knows but who one is that enables them to be heard. I have nothing against the insights of any type of people – I believe everyone has something to contribute to the world and to their community. I would merely like to suggest that it is time for some of us to grow and to learn when to listen. Far from pigeon-holing myself into writing about one topic, I hope to gain the tools to write articulately about a wide-array of topics including race, sex, gender, ability status, systems of government, societies of control. In the future of progressive news, I hope to see explanations of the connections between these things from people with all types of social identities. I hope that these views can be shared equitably and given equitable amounts of attention, space and critical examination. Most importantly, I hope to learn how and when to listen. Maybe then at least the realm of ideas will be a meritocracy.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

American Isolationism

I read a quote recently about depression and Americanism. The central claim was that, when isolated from a group, the Americanized individual turns inward. In doing so, they continue their isolation - that is the great quandary, that to be an American individual is to see oneself as the captain of one's own ship, so to speak. This creates the (false) notion that one can single-handedly determine one's future. This is false - despite Americans being fed this from their earliest moments, they still spend so much time operating in groups (collaborating or not).

The quote was from AdBusters, a magazine that juxtaposes advertisements, spoofs of these advertisements, and articles to make statements about American consumerism and culture (working off of the framework that consumerism defines American culture). The magazine was given to me as a gift - I had never even heard of it before - but of course my more plugged-in progressive friends knew it well. The magazine was great - it definitely had it's own perspective to share and agenda to push - and I thoroughly enjoyed reading the various articles and viewpoints. It was a great starting point to my exploration of news and politics and, most importantly, was a great gift.

So began my quest for news. Due to my lack of enthusiasm for my current work situation, I thought reading about current events from a progressive/radical perspective could be a nice way to inject some meaning into my dull 8-hour cut-and-paste sessions. This has proven true - I have read a lot over the past week, especially yesterday, and am trying to keep current on viewpoints about war, national security and economic inequality in particular. Because of all of the hubub around Comcast and Net Neutrality I've been trying to look into that as well. The articles I've read have been at times overly apocalyptic but in general thoughtful, articulate responses to more mainstream viewpoints I could get almost anywhere (one article said something to the effect of "the New York Times has been compromised" - I thought that was an interesting assertion). But what began as a thirst for knowledge has become slightly soured by my mood.

As previously disclosed, many of the articles could be seen by some as overly critical or negative - they tell poverty and inequality like it is. This is admirable as many people would prefer to ignore this reality and move on with their capitalistic lives. That said, given enough time, these articles tend to bog me down. They are all the same - they point out problems and try to call attention to their horrendousness - which while I admire (I have frequently been the nail hammered down when it comes to speaking out about injustice) can be ineffectual if no solutions are provided or any roadmap put forth for discussion.

Perhaps there are communities debating these things but in the circles I run in - of which there aren't many - these things are rarely discussed. I respect the opinions of my coworkers greatly and I think they would probably be willing to confront these things if they were considered less taboo, but I frequently find their opinions (or perhaps the physical office space) lacking the space for a more engaged discussion that engages opinions and not just regurgitating the opinions of ABC, CBS and CNN. With my opinions I often feel the odd person out. I also have a very particular way of communicating my ideas which is perhaps easier swallowed by some than others.

So I often find myself turned inward. About my future, about my place in a larger movement for justice, about my social identities and my place in groups, and about my mood and how people perceive me. I find that I lack certain social commonalities to people my age (I don't really like going out to drink and dance, I don't really want to "be cool," I love reading and discussing books, articles, music, anything!) So, it's not that I don't want to engage in community so much as lacking the know-how. Excuses, excuses.

There are large bodies of scholarly research that suggest the American ideal of individuality is harmful. We see this when we study suburbs (something can also be said about policing in this context) as well as when we study anything related to psychology. But I am not here to discuss that (though if someone wants to I would be more than happy to - anything to get my mind thinking again) - I suppose I am more questioning community, how we form it, who has access, how communities coalesce in terms of social order, and what community exists that would not only accept but embrace all parts of myself. I am questioning my readiness for such a community, should it exist (am I ready to embrace all parts of others?). And I am looking for alternatives to these structures that uphold American Isolationism.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

TSA and the Privilege of Passing

I am flying later today and I won't lie to you, I'm nervous. I've been reading a lot about the new scanning machines being placed into airport security as well as the new pat-down procedures allowed by the Transportation Security Administration and I'm underwhelmed by their promises of enhanced security. Even the mainstream media (they never agree with me! What is the world coming to?!) agrees that they are a very controversial matter - one that I will admit is being used to divert attention away from other, larger economic and societal concerns - and has highlighted various concerns that the new procedures engender. One concern is the fact that these "porno-machines," create "a high res version of your nude flabby body" (link is here). Others wag fingers at TSA for subjecting citizens to unsafe x-ray radiation equipment (Ralph Nader says so, and he's been a consumer advocate for years). Some are convinced that the procedures are in direct violation of the Constitution (Amendment 4 is usually cited).

I'm not arguing against any of these things. I think things have gone too far in the name of "national security," but I don't want to simply rehash what others have said. I think there is more to say. Not only do the new TSA scanning and frisking procedures infringe upon the public's basic human rights and dignities, they also provide another mechanism for instilling fear into and policing bodies deemed "deviant" by traditional American society.

Now is the time to tap deep down into your pathos. I think you know what I'm talking about when I say bodies deemed "deviant." When we are told to "dress to impress," what does that look like? I can think of an idea, I can think of a body that goes along with that idea, and I can think of things that are not that idea or that body. Thus, it is within a system of punishments and benefits based on adherence to identity-based rules and values that one must "pass" or face the consequences.

As a someone who is not gender-conforming (for a really simple definition, go here) I know on a day-to-day basis what it means to "pass" or conversely, to not pass. It's not some abstract concept - although academics like to make it that way - it's my lived reality. Do I pass today? The answer is usually no, because I'm not trying to "pass" as anything. And as such, I get punished. It is when I am scowled at on the street or when I try to make eye contact with others, it is denied. It is when my mom asks me if I "want to be a boy" because I wear "only boys clothing" (which is not true, by the way). It is the fear of or contempt toward shopping because I don't know which side of the store to shop on. It is the assumption that I must like women, and only women, and all women, so watch out, because I'm queer as fuck and I'm coming for you (women). This is my lived reality of not passing.

There are other ways I could not pass - in an airport setting especially. For a transsexual person, I would assume that traveling can only be seen as a huge nightmare. But for me, a day spent traveling is just a little more stressful than a normal day. This is my privilege, the privilege that my state driver's license picture looks like me, the privilege that I have not had to petition the state to change my name on my legal documents in order to procure a plane ticket and the privilege that I will not be second guessed or misgendered when handing a public officer my identification (although this has happened). This is my lived reality of passing as cissexual.

Beyond gender identity, I am White and atheist (do atheists look different than Christians? a digression worth pondering), so I don't need to worry about that. My Whiteness, which has taught me a white way of speaking and moving, that probably most goes unnoticed. This is my privilege, the privilege that no one will assume I am Muslim, the privilege that no one will assume I am carrying drugs with me. It is the privilege that no one will assume that I was born outside of the United States and no one will assume that I do not have the money or the right to be there. It is the privilege that having to stand for 5-7 seconds unaided is an annoyance and possibly a health risk down the line, but little more. It is the privilege of having a body that enables me to choose between sexual assault and an x-ray machine (though I'm with the people who would argue that neither is a great choice). This, too, is my lived reality of passing.

But forget about me. Come to think of it, let's forget about more than just me. Let's forget that transsexual people, people of color and people with disabilities face all kinds of discrimination and policing in their everyday life. Let's focus in on airport security. In the Nader article, he makes the argument that the new "pat-down" procedures are a scare tactic to enforce the use of the scanning machines. But what if the use of the scanning machine is undesirable or impossible? What about the trans woman who is stuffing her bras to "pass" in the airport? Will she be groped and have her breasts removed as the flight attendant with a prosthetic breast was (story here)? What will that feel like?

What about the teenager with an arrhythmia who is asked to step through the x-ray machine? Will they be groped because they refused to step into the machine (which would destroy their pacemaker and potentially their heart)? (Yes) What about people who use a wheelchair? (Yes) What about people who use a cane? (Yes) Those who can't stand for 5-7 seconds without aid? (Yes)

What we see here is the systematic punishment of people whose bodies are not "how they are supposed to be." This means not White. This means not "able." This means not cissexual. This punishment occurs in several ways. One punishment is the punishment of fear - even if one is not picked to go through the line, it would not surprise me that America's history of colonization, enslavement, racism, and islamophobia will play a role the anxiety levels of people of color and Muslim people as they near the new scanners. There is also the fear of racial profiling - which has not been proven nonexistent. Additionally, there is fear of being outed as trans through the use of the scanner (which picks up things as small and frivolous as hair elastics). Another punishment is the punishment of disobedience. Essentially, this means the following: "You do not conform? You must pay!" We see this in the trans person's fear - the fear of being outed and delegitimized - as well as the forced assault on people with disabilities who must pay simply because the world is not made for them - and how dare they. As a person who passes in most (if not all) of these ways, I am outraged that my fellow humans would ever be punished this way.

To bring this back into context, I am not arguing that the use of these machines and "pat-downs" is humane. Of course it is not. It would be degrading for anyone, regardless of age, disability status, race, class, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, creed, hair color, or food preference to be sexually assaulted by public official (how do you think they feel?). But more than just this point, to me, this reeks of policing on more levels than just airports. This is about identity and privilege. This is about oppression and (hopefully) resistance.

So I recognize the policing. I recognize the tools of oppression. And I want to resist them. But I'll ask you one question: am I thinking twice, making sure my clothing for tonight is as "gender appropriate" as I can muster? As my Minnesotan colleagues like to put it, "Oh, you betcha."

Update: For more trans-friendly information about traveling, please see this website.

Thursday, November 11, 2010


I've been feeling very disorganized lately - supremely so. I've been having trouble focusing at work and trouble motivating myself to do things that aren't looking toward what I would like to do in the future. Kind of grim.

I'm not sure where all of the grimness is coming from. Sure, getting kicked out of my place took its toll. That ticket did too, and cemented my eternal hatred for Minnesota. But really I think my soul-crushing office job is what is really getting to me. I am sure it is perfect for someone but it's very clear to me that I am not that person. I spend most of my time sitting in front of a computer screen thinking about mundane tasks and details. I rarely interact in a meaningful way with anyone, though sometimes I truly value my coworkers, and rarely think about the Big Picture Ideas that get me all excited. To make matters worse, when I get "home" I cook dinner and feel exhausted. Also, I feel like I never have any time to myself anymore. It's kind of like there is never any silence in my life anymore. I have come to realize how dearly I need that silence.

But anyway, that's not the main point of my post. I wanted to talk about NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month (more info here: LINK). I've known about it for years and years now. Ever since I gained an online presence, which I suppose was when I was in 9th or 10th grade of high school, I've known about the event. That said, I've never participated. It seems great - a great and rewarding challenge.

Maybe I lack confidence in my creativity. Maybe I lack confidence in my ability to follow through. I do know that I am afraid my story wouldn't be well thought out, wouldn't go anywhere, there wouldn't be character development, etc. I am much more comfortable writing something like a journal entry. When I need to create someone (or heaven forbid multiple someones), they usually end up hitting a bit too close to home. Narcissistic? Hopefully not. I take it as a sign that I like to write what I know. Fantasy is a terrifying leap off into the unknown. Yes, I feel like I would have to research for at least a month prior to November to actually have the information necessary to actually write a novel in November.

The last big writing project I undertook was years ago. A (former) friend and I planned to write two novels, each of us writing a chapter at a time. We wouldn't tell the other our intended path for our section, we just had to write something and pass it along. Our stories actually started out quite interestingly - and differently - though one definitely sounded like a Chuck Palahniuk novel. It was a good exercise in creativity, as well as perspective-taking. Anyway, I think we ended up only getting through two or three chapters. The files are all on my old computer, which I gave to a friend and was later stolen. Too bad.

I thought about NaNoWriMo because a friend from college is participating this year. I've always admired people who end up finishing their novels - hell, even people who start and write every day. I think it's a really amazing feat - the definition of a novel is 50,000 words. That's a lot of pages. That's a lot of hours.

It brings up an interesting point. I'm not sure anyone with Admission Possible would be able to complete the task. It's the beginning of college applications, as well as the beginning of Kaplan training. Essentially, everyone is very busy getting students into college. It's not unheard of for people to work 11 hour days. Who is NaNoWriMo for? Although, who is the Internet for, really? I am lucky to have lived in places that have da webz, but if I were just living alone somewhere, I don't know how I would get online. At coffee shops?

Maybe I'll start my own NaNoWriMo and not tell anyone.