Friday, October 9, 2009

Georgia School Makes Clear that Different is "Not Okay'

Well, of course, Jezebel beat me to posting this, but here it is in any case.

Transphobia in Public Schools

A Georgia high school has “asked” a 16-year-old, male-bodied student to dress in a “more manly” fashion or consider homeschooling. Jonathan Escobar, the student, wears—according to this article (and as is evident in the video interview)—wigs, high heels, skinny jeans, women’s ‘vintage tops’ (whatever that means), and makeup to school. After being involved in a lunchtime fight in the cafeteria, Jonathan withdrew from school, and—as he remarks in the video—would be happy to return if he is allowed to express himself in the manner that makes him happy; i.e., while cross-dressing. There is some disputed evidence involved in the situation; Jonathan claims that he cleared his attire with the school before moving from Miami to Georgia; the school, it would seem, denies this. Administrators are defending themselves by reminding everyone that, although there is no official dress code, attire that might potentially ‘cause disruption’ is prohibited.

Jonathan comes across as an incredibly mature and well-adjusted teenager, especially considering he’s (and it’s unclear whether he prefers ‘she’ or not, since he’s being referred to as masculinely-gendered in all of the articles I found, not to mention he retains the name Jonathan) making one of the most difficult statements a high-schooler can make: as he remarks, “I want people to know that it’s okay to be different.” And, as I well remember from high school, when ‘different’ is specifically construed in the mode of crossing gender boundaries, there is little to no support from peer groups—or, for that matter, from authority figures in the school. As Jonathan’s school shows, administrators are more concerned with avoiding conflict than with creating—perhaps at some risk—an accepting and open environment. An assistant principal blamed Jonathan’s attire for the resulting cafeteria fight—though at what point this same principal made clear that students should never lay hands on one another in violence, I’m not sure.

Though I was tough-skinned enough by high school to handle myself against homophobic taunts, I distinctly remember teachers and staff in junior high, and even elementary school, turning a deaf ear to the kids who would scream “faggot” or “sissy” or “little girl” at me in the hallways. Come to think of it, I can’t recall a single time when an authority figure made it clear that insults and threats of physical violence were not okay, even if the person being threatened were ‘different.’ Not to say that all teachers are scum, but to say that the public education system does not foster an environment where ‘difference’ is accepted into the fray. Again, the impetus is to avoid conflict rather than to cope with it—and perhaps this is because there’s so little protection for public school teachers in situations like this. People lose their jobs over giving a student a kind word, or for defending themselves against a student that physically threatens or lays hands on them. So I can see why, perhaps, authority figures in the public educational system prefer to keep their hands clear of anything like this.

Nonetheless, there should be some way to get the message across that, as Jonathan says, “it’s okay to be different.” There should be a support system in place, particularly seeing as so many kids who don’t fit in with the norm are not accepted in their home lives, either; ultimately, with no one at home, in their peer groups, or in positions of authority (teachers, administrators, employers) to create a support system, the so-termed ‘deviant’ is left entirely alone. One of the highest rates of attempted or successful suicide occurs in the transgender community. There is, it would seem, no place in which trans folks can feel safe—and this extends, more generally, to the GLBTQ community, particularly at that vulnerable moment we all find ourselves in in high school. Jonathan is fortunate in some sense, because it seems that he knows who he is, what will make him happy, and will stand up for his right to express himself freely. But he is a special case; most are not so fortunate.

Reading over the comments to this article, I’m positively struck by how many people are casting all blame on Jonathan. One commenter remarks that taxpayers’ dollars are putting him through school, and so he better wait until he can “exercize [sic] his adult right” to become “Boy George.” Commenter closes by implying that if he can’t accept the normative system, then he can “go join a circus or a drama school.” Many other comments reiterate the idea that Jonathan should be forced to follow the policy, because he is disrupting the classroom with his ‘inappropriate’ clothing. My younger sister is still in high school; I’ve seen the wide range of styles that, though purportedly violating the dress code (for example, no loose jeans, no girls in strapless or thin-strapped tops, no offensive remarks on shirts, etc.), kids get away with. I’m not going to play with the politics of what it means for a teenage girl to dress like a “slut”—because I recognize the kinds of demeaning attitudes in place to make sure girls cover up all their naughty bits in the right way—but the fact is that the girls get away with it. Ditto on the loose jeans, the ‘offensive’ shirts—I don’t want to say whether or not these are okay, because that’s a whole ‘nother ballpark with very different implications, but ultimately, the only reason Jonathan is being legitimately put into this position and harassed to such a great extent is because he has violated normalizing ideals of masculine gender performance.

The comments on the site repeat over and again that he can “do what he wants” when he’s out of school, but that children need rules and regulations. But these are 16-year-olds; they are not ‘children’ who need a bit of a refresher course vis-√†-vis the paddle. Comments like this infantilize people like Jonathan, who are clearly at a point where they are self-aware enough to make the decision to dress themselves in the morning; does anyone comment on the fact that the nice little “children” that beat him up in the cafeteria need to be properly regulated? No. They do go on and on about the fact that school is not a “freak show” in which Jonathan can dress the way that makes him feel comfortable. Finally, one comment shrieks “SEND HIM TO IRAN.”

On that note, I’m too furious to continue.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

O NOES! The Miscarriage Tweeter!

Oh! Here’s something. So who heard the story of the woman—Penelope Trunk (works for, I believe, geared towards teaching people how to market and manage their careers)—who tweeted about her miscarriage in a board room meeting? The tweet, on her account which is, I guess, public and possibly also geared towards career-based networking, reads: “I'm in a board meeting. Having a miscarriage. Thank goodness, because there's a fucked-up 3-week hoop-jump to have an abortion in Wisconsin.” The media, of course, flew into a frenzy—how dare this woman be so blas√© about the loss of a special-snowflake life! Is there nothing sacred in the cyber-verse? What compelled this idiot to tweet something so personal/devastating/graphic?

And yes, I am aware that most people would not wish to exhibit their miscarriage/abortion woes for the entire world. Yes, I realize the thin line between private and public in the Internet Age veers closer and closer to nonexistence—that really anything under the sun seems to be fair game for tweets and facebook status updates and myspace (do people still use that?) comments. Finally, no, I would not put this kind of information on my twitter account. (Well, I did post something on there about my glass-cutting nipples yesterday—but I think that remains fairly tame and mostly ironic.)

But then I saw this interview:

Rick Sanchez Interviews Penelope Trunk for CNN

…and several things came up for me, as well as things that I mulled over from some wonderful comments over on Jezebel (which I highly encourage you all to read, if you aren’t already! srsly one of the best blogs on the internetz!).

1. Would we all tweet this experience? No. But ultimately, she’s achieved exactly what, it seems, she was going for. People are talking about women’s bodily experiences—about the nitty-gritty of miscarrying a child (which, I’ll confess, I had no idea lasted over the course of weeks!), about the obstacles to having an abortion in this country, and about the fact that we HAVE NOT been talking about these issues in an open manner. As someone on Jezebel remarked, even the most ardently pro-choice advocates don’t discuss abortion in such a frank and unapologetic way. Trunk does not spare (that bastard interviewer) Rick Sanchez, and she most certainly doesn’t uphold the conventional image of the (post-abortion) martyred and grief-stricken fallen woman. She comments on the difficulty of having the procedure done in a timely and convenient manner without infusing her discussion with hot-button moralizing phraseology; she makes very clear how both miscarriages and abortions are facts-of-life for many women, and that having careers—and being stuck in a board meeting—does not mean that women aren’t going through these experiences. It’s just that no one is talking about it.

2. Sanchez attempts to put this awful fallen woman in her place at several occasions, to hilariously futile effect. He opens the interview with “Now I’m going to ask you a tough question, young lady” despite the fact that he’s speaking with a grown fucking woman (!)—not some Hot-Topic-styled tweenager cowering in his presence (and I wouldn’t condone his stance if it were). Sanchez infantilizes her, perhaps in the effort to undermine her capacity for decision making, perhaps to question her moral sanity, perhaps simply to impel his own masculine authority over her. His paternalistic demeanor throughout the interview is almost laughable, but the unfortunate and underlying fact of the matter here is that, in fact, much of the media was reacting in this very way to her—they just weren’t as visibly douchey about it. In the interview, he makes it crystal clear that he has no desire to listen to what she has to say or to think about it, perhaps, from her vantage point. As Trunk holds her own in the interview, going into great detail of the ways in which miscarriages occur, and bringing up a rather surprising factoid—that 75% of women have miscarried while at work (which, as Trunk points out, is not unusual, because miscarriages occur over the span of weeks, and aren’t vastly dissimilar to the experience of the menstrual cycle)—Sanchez increasingly appears confused and frustrated.

3. Once Trunk makes it clear that she was planning to abort the pregnancy, and was not going to beg for forgiveness for such a ‘heinous’ action—Sanchez attempts, once more, to undercut her decision. By reminding all of America that Trunk is already a mother, that she has children and cherishes them, or whatever the fuck Sanchez was trying to communicate, he reifies the notion that women are essentially reduced to their reproductive value. An abortion, as he attempts to paint it, is okay only if a woman wants to—does—fulfill her ‘proper’ role as wife and mother. But what Sanchez cannot seamlessly cover over in the process of the interview is Trunk’s insistence on the inadequacy of the legal and health systems of this country to provide optimal service for women that choose to end a pregnancy. Her repeated and merciless attention to the pragmatic workings of her experience—and the experience, as she remarks, of many many women who don’t or can’t talk about it—shines through the interview.

4. And ultimately, the very media that decries Trunk for her so-called TMI moment is the same media that’s not only awarding her the spotlight they seem to think she should be denied—but that believes the Kardashians and the Hiltons are newsworthy, that the ‘reality’ stars of a show like The Hills are worthy of having every moment of their lives publicized. The difference, I suppose, is that Trunk is controlling her own spotlight here, and she’s got something to say. But the hypocritical positioning of the talking heads since this burst out has been simply ludicrous.

5. And quote of the year? She reminds us all in the face of Sanchez’s ignorance that “Whether or not you believe women should have the right to abortion, they do in this country.”

So great. Seriously, watch it. Absolutely refreshing to see someone speaking so frankly and powerfully on the subject of abortion. Whatever you think of her decision to tweet the info, it’s panned out to get an honest dialogue going—and for that, I have nothing but respect for her.

Oh! Also, here are two badly-done phone camera photos!

Aw, the English grad lounge (also Classics, but who cares for them?). Couches, and the fridge where I store my little brown-bag-lunch. And a water machine (what the hell are those called?) that even has hot water for my tea! I spend 90% of my time on campus here.

See, see! There I am! Reading! And the book isn't upside down. But it is Judith Butler, so it may as well be.

More soon.

Rainy days and creepy ways...

A rainy day in Beantown; the sort of day you stay curled up under covers with a book (or laptop) on your lap and a cup of coffee at your side. Which is exactly what I’m nursing right now. Surprised to say I’m not hungover this morning, despite drinking liquor, wine, beer, and champagne all in the course of four-or-so hours and getting to bed at 4:30AM, then waking up at 10. Perhaps my tolerance is upping the ante again? I realized, with much terror, that I was becoming an ancient, haggard old queen last week—I had hangover throw-ups! Who does that? Vomming the night of is respectable, especially if you nobly force yourself to do so in order to preemptively strike back at the impending hangover. But hangover vomming is for long-term alcoholics, people who can’t hold their booze, and grandparents. I’m old! Old, I say! I do feel like a total creeper on campus—there are all these hot athletic (and probably rich and over privileged) boys at school, and so I—naturally—cruise, and then I remember that there’s like, some sort of divide between me and them. I may be but a year or two older, but they’re babies now to me! I’m wilting before I’ve even had the chance to properly blossom. On the gay market, I’m spoiled meat; I’m slowly morphing into the Yoda of the bottom brigade of Boston. Ugh. Take me behind the barn; I’m like the horse with a gimp foot.

In other news, we’re in full swing now. Presentations loom, assignments pop up out of nowhere, professors throw an extra two-hundred pages of reading onto our plate with only a week’s warning. The party-hards are dying out, and now people beg off of sexytimes with the excuse that they have “papers to write.” Oh, those? Piff, posh! I’ve somehow managed to stay on top of everything thus far, but next weekend will, I’m certain, throw me under the wheel. Three of my queens are visiting, and for four days, I’m letting loose—with or against my consent, I can rest assured. Attempting to get ahead on everything this weekend/upcoming week, but with so much to do, there’s rarely if ever time to do anything but stay with the flow of the current. Whatever. I’m just happy to say that even if my ‘element’ isn’t with me in Boston, I can bring it to me from the days of yore—in the form of my beautiful, crazy friends (and the cheap cigs they’re bringing me!).

Beyond that, nothing much of interest in my life. I’ll be seeing Margaret Atwood on her book tour stop in Cambridge in a few weeks, and I’m submitting an abstract to a conference—to potentially present a paper on abject bodies in Anne Sexton’s poetry. I’m actually pretty thrilled about that little fact. I’m reading everything under the sun, and even forcing myself to keep my old habit of reading-one-book-for-pleasure at all times (it keeps me grounded, reminds me why I’m doing this)—even if it means just catching a few pages here and there on the subway, or while waiting for the train to campus. Wilde’s Dorian Gray is my current one; had never read him before, and he’s just delicious and hilarious. I don’t imagine most people think of late-19th century novels as particularly humorous, but I’ve been cracking up constantly since starting it.

Enough boring details on me; yet again, I’ll say that I’ll update more frequently. And hopefully! I can get back into what the original purpose of this blog was (not merely listing my activities or blogging my oh-so-potent emotions), and start bringing in some more frequent cultural critique-type-shite and book reviews and such. Until then…