I’m using Firefox because it’s great in programming and politics

Update: Eich has stepped down.
Yeah, so OkCupid says I should switch to a Google product because it’s better on LGBT rights. Um, have they been paying attention to anything? The new Mozilla CEO gave $1k to overturn marriage quality in California, whereas Google sponsored a national conference of prominent right-wing politicians who want to overturn all LGBT rights everywhere.
You know what, I love having equal marriage rights in California, really I do. And like most LGBT people, I thought prop 8 was terrible. But what I don’t like is ‘pink washing’, where some company makes some lame claim to be a sponsor of LGBT rights, (usually by having a health insurance policy that is vaguely equal or, thse days, by supporting something that a large majority of American agree with anyway (how bold!)) and then we’re supposed to forgive them all their other sins. Even if Google weren’t sponsoring CPAC, they’d still be in bed with the NSA.
We don’t hear much about ‘don’t be evil’ these days, because, alas, Google is making a fuckload of money by being evil. Mozilla never needed a corporate slogan like that because their mission has always been to do good from the very outset. I agree with this queer Mozilla employee who doesn’t want the open internet to get caught up in the American political football match of left vs right wedge issues and distraction. Open internet and NSA spying is more important than a relative small donation to an odious cause, which, by the way, does not mean we should be ‘tolerant’ of some asshole’s concrete political actions to take away rights from a minority which includes some of this own employees. If every other browser was also open source and pro-open standards and on the right side of LGBT rights, then this would be worth switching browsers over, for sure, but that’s not what’s going on here. The CEO says he won’t resign, which is a poor choice, but, again, really not worth a boycott. Especially when the other choices are closed source or blatantly on the side of evil.
So keep Firefox, and install Lightbeam if you want to see just how bloody much Google is spying on your every move. And if you’re an ally or whatever like OKCupid, how about doing a tiny bit of research and not telling LGBT people what to think or do? LGBT people and Mozilla employees can all speak for themselves/ourselves. Because, hey, we’ve got the internet, which is still open, thanks largely to the efforts of Mozilla.
Disclaimers of various sorts: I used to work for Netscape and I got the first same sex divorce in the state of California.


Because life goes on and that, I posted a personal ad on a dating site that I’m not going to name here. And so I went on a date. With a straight woman.
She seems like a nice woman and may one day read this, so I’m not going to talk about her here, but I do want to talk about the evening.

Yes, seriously

Back when I was a lesbian, I knew to stay away from straight girls because of straight girl syndrome. Some straight women will treat lesbians as a lark or an experiment or a distraction, which can be bad if you get your feelings caught up in. Better to stay away.
But I’m not in that position anymore. I’m a man who likes women. And I’ve limitted myself to bi women, but that’s a small population of people, in comparison with the larger pool of all women who like men. There are just a hell of a lot of straight women around; many of them are good looking; many of them are good people, so why not give it a go?

Did she know?

So, when to disclose? There are a lot of people who have never knowingly met a trans person. And there’s a whole lot of negative stereotypes, misunderstanding and transphobia in society. I suspect that many people would reject a trans person out of hand, motivated by ignorance, rather than malice. (Of course, these two things can be hard to tell apart.) Therefore, I decided I’d rather be evaluated on my merits or lack thereof and thus not disclose on my personal ad. And If I say something on the first date, it would overwhelm any other get-to-know-you blahblahblah. So my current plan is to disclose on the third date or before serious snogging, whichever comes first.

What happened

So I was sat across from my date and we were talking about our pasts. But this thing about who I was and who I am runs through my past like a mighty river. My queer identity is fundamental to my sense of self. And yet, apparently, I’m also straight.
The jacket I wear most often (but not that night) has a badge on it that says “transgender.” I hate discolsing. But more, I hate not disclosing. It’s unnerving. And it’s even more unnerving, when I try to talk about what I’m doing with my life. I joined the London Gay Winds, because, um, I wanted to play tuba, and um. I go to a queer bar because it’s fun and um, my band has played there a few times.
I feel that my presentation of heterosexuality is not credible. And so I was unnerved.
Both I and my date have both been divorced and so we talked a bit about that:
Me: So I was married too.
Her: You got married in the States?
Me: In Canada, actually.
Her: Why did you get married in Canada?
The real answer is because same sex marriage was legal there but not at home. Which I probably should have remembered before automatically saying “in Canada.” Normally, it’s a pretty good story. It ends with the first same sex divorce in the state of California. But, since I’m not discolsing, I now need a dfferent answer to something that I shouldn’t have brought up.
Me: For the Elvis impersonator!
It felt like lying. And probably made me look like a nutter. But, I mean, that chapel employs the best Elvis impersonator in Canada, so . . . yeah, I looked like a nutter.
And because we had been talking a bit about how marriage interacts with legal residency status:
Her: Was that valid in the states, then?
Hahahaha, well, it should be according to international law, but the Defense of Marriage Act had been interpretted to mean that the US can ignore international same sex marriages, which, since it’s a treaty violation, makes that application of DOMA unconstitutional. But it was good enough for a divorce, so:
Me: More or less


In the bad old days, being trans was like joining the witness protection program. You had to change your name, leave town and lie about your past. You weren’t supposed to tell anybody, or doctors could retaliate by taking away your hormones, which has serious health consequences. In these more enlightned times, the NHS just makes you change your name, but you don’t need to move or be stealth. And, god, how could I? I went to a women’s uni for my undergrad.
But really, I don’t know if the unnerving bit is trying to pass for straight. Or that I seem to be succeeding at it. Or that it’s what I might be now.
A man and a woman out on a date. What could be more heteronormative than that?

Gay Marriage Fails in Maine

“If you put it up to the vote of the people, we’d have slavery again.” —Jesse Ventura on CNN, 11/3/2009
I don’t much care for Ventura, but he has a point here. Most civil rights protections in the states have been expanded via case law, not by the ballot box. In fact, I think the whole concept of civil rights is at odds with voting on them. The idea is to protect minorities from majorities. When we say something is a civil right, we take an abstraction of principles that we mostly all agree on and then apply them to the specific. Most Americans think freedom of religion is a pretty good idea, so that must also apply to Mormons and Muslims and Pagans. Our agreed-upon principles lead us to protect actions and people who would not necessarily receive such protections if things were put up for a vote.
Interracial marriage became legal with the court case Loving v Virginia, decided by the Supreme Court. This decision was not popular, but it wasn’t unpopular enough to amend the Constitution over. If it had been put up for a vote even five years after it became law, it would not have passed. Honestly, I would be worried about what people would vote on this even now. In that decision, the court found that marriage was a fundamental right, something I think we all agree upon. And we’re all supposed to be equal under the law. And there’s not a compelling state interest to keep people of different races from marrying. Therefore, it must be allowed.
The SCOTUS needs to rule on gay marriage. This is not a battle that’s going to be won by voting. It needs to be a combination of activism and case law. That winning combination is what desegregated buses and then later protected our speech. March and sue!
Eventually, gay rights will be a settled question, but right now, it’s still legal to discriminate in several states and on a federal level. We don’t have ENDA (nor have we been added to the Civil Right Act, which would give us full protections. Even after we have ENDA, we won’t be done.). We can’t serve openly in the military. Hate crime legislation is less than a month old. It’s not surprising that people feel comfortable discriminating against us in the ballot box, when they’re fully allowed to in other contexts. Indeed, these other contexts are somewhat more vital for many LGBT people. I’m certainly in favor of Same Sex Marriage, but even more, I’m in favor of not being fired from a job for being trans.
I think there’s more resources going towards marriage right now, and that might be because people who have enough resources to pay for political campaigns are not worried about losing their jobs. There are people who are still in the closet at work, who are afraid to come out or to transition. If they get fired for being LGBT, they have no recourse and they can kiss their health insurance goodbye. A legally recognized marriage is not the top agenda for people in that situation and I don’t know if it should be top agenda for the LGBT community in general. Let’s pass the gender-inclusive ENDA, make it clear that discrimination being wrong is a matter of law and then sue for marriage. Or hell, let’s sue to get rid of having legal sexes at all, then we’ll get marriage by default.


I went to a hexing this afternoon. In the past few months, I’ve made it a point to say yes when somebody asks me to do something that I wouldn’t normally do. So when an old friend forwarded me an email about a hexing ritual, open to “both women and men,” once I found out the targets were hate crime committing rapists, I said ok.

We went to Ceasar Chavez park in Berkeley, which is also an off-leash dog area, so I’d been there loads of times before. We were in a stone circle, built to be a solar calendar, with the waters of the San Francisco Bay on three sides of us. Nearby, there were a million happy dogs, kids flying kites, a guy with a remote controlled glider. The grass was green from the recent rains and there was a cool breeze blowing from the West. It was all rather lovely.

As it happened, I was the only guy to go. All but around two of the women were Baby Boomers. Most of us were white, also. I went to Mills – a woman’s college, so I’d dabbled in wiccan stuff and been to a few rituals, but didn’t go on to do it after that. So I’d been to do pagan stuff a few times before and had mostly found it empowering, but not enough to overcome my atheism.

Despite this atheism, I was raised in a superstitious household and come from a superstitious country, so I couldn’t help but think that going to a hexing might be marinating myself in some bad energy. What goes around, comes around. If I wish ill on others, it’s going to come back to me, I guess I believe. I wonder if this sort of thinking is to keep women from being angry or from stewing in it. In any case, I was taking the negative energy seriously, as were the women there.

However, once things were under way, my mood changed from trepidation. The organizer had a bunch of 8.5×11 sized printouts of the Virgin of Guadalupe. She had cut eye holes in them to sort of function as masks and she passed them around with string. So I tied a sheet of paper with a picture of the Blessed Virgin Mary to my head. And they set up some banners of her also.

I spend all day yesterday with a member of the Catholic clergy, so the sacrilege was actually getting to me, as much as feel goofy wearing such an odd non-mask. But also, the Virgin of Guadalupe is a symbol which belongs to the Hispanic populations of California, of which, as far as I was aware, nobody was present. My biggest negative issue with wiccans is not that it violates my unbelief, but that it appropriates the beliefs of others. And borrowing this symbol is cultural appropriation. So I felt kind of goofy and awkward and the only guy there and guilty for violating a heritage that both belongs to my people and belongs to others.

We formed a circle and she set up two very small cauldrons. We started by smudging everybody with incense. The woman who did the smudging sang a song while she did it. I didn’t know what to think when she singingly called me her sister. I don’t think she did it in response to me not passing, but because I did pass. Because if a guy was going to come into this space, he could deal with being left out of the language like women have to deal with it too, more often and in more places. Or maybe as she sang that I belonged, she sang the opposite also.

After we were all smudged, we hummed and then the leader invoked the four “grandmothers” of the four cardinal directions. Some coals were put into the cauldrons. She put frankincense on one of them. She had some yarn which represented the four rapist gay bashers who we were hexing. And their younger brother who knew about their crimes and was going to rat them out. I think she had a psychic vision of the brother. She cut the yarns and put them into the empty cauldron. And then she put in extremely foul incense. And we chanted about how they were bad people who were going to get caught and have bad things happen to them, while holding out our arms towards it.

Some of the dog walkers stopped to watch this, but only for a few moments. And also, one of the women had a movie camera with which she was documenting us. It’s Berkeley, so I don’t know if people thought we were making a fictional film or if a bunch of middle aged women dancing in a circle around the BVM, hexing rapists in the dog park is just entirely unremarkable.

The yarn she used was bright red. I don’t know what it was made of, but it was clearly treated with some sort of flame-retardant chemical and wasn’t burning as quickly as expected. So this required dumping on additional incense and some flammable stuff while we clapped and walked in circles around the altar thing.

At the end, when it finally, burned, we were to go around the circle and give blessings. Because calling for justice is positive. So even though it was a hexing, it was a positive thing to do. Thus neatly sidestepping the problems of calling up negative energy or other unseemliness. The first women to give a blessing was the smudger and she went on at length about womyn, and the womyn of the circle, etc. The next was my friend, who made a point of saying “people.” Then it was my turn, so I said “queers.” We all said something and afterwards, people said “blessed be” and then, thank goodness, it was time to remove the Virgin Mary from my head.

My friend and I took off right about then, without helping to tear down, as my friend could tell I wanted to escape. She said, “I swear they said ‘all genders.'” I wondered if I felt more uncomfortable about being in a women’s space or wearing such a goofy mask.

I think the most striking thing about the whole proceedings was that it was not symbolic for the women involved. It was not a protest. It was taking action. They believe that they’ve done something concrete in response to a terrible hate crime.

When I got home, I washed my face and hands, to get the smell of incense off of me, but it also felt like a kind of ritual, getting the previous ritual off of me. And it felt concrete too.

Fortunately, there is more concrete action that can be taken. There’s a fund set up to help the victim. Unfortunately, this kind of hate crime is way more common here than you might guess. What’s unusual is how much attention this one is getting. Gay and lesbian people are especially politicized since the election. Hopefully this energy continues. And as people take away our rights and and say we’re like deforestation and literally assault us, hopefully, our protests and our actions create change, so hate crimes become uncommon, our rights are restored and people are ashamed that homophobia was once so apparent.


I don’t feel engaged on the Prop 8 thing. Some of this is distance, certainly, but not all of it. I mean, I have benefited personally from Same Sex Marriage. My (now ex) wife and I got married in Canada in 2003. And then, alas, got divorced in California in 2005, in what was likely the state’s first ever same sex divorce.
The value of divorce as a civil institution is extremely high. Unfortunately, things don’t always work out and couples need a structure to disentangle their finances and lives. As divorce is usually an adversarial process, having things like precedent and laws protects both halves of the divorcing couple. Otherwise, the stronger half of the ex-couple would steam roll the weaker half, whether that strength be emotional or financial. Divorce is an important right for that reason and also for tax consequences. If you own property, as in land or a house, it’s going to most likely change ownership status during a divorce. If it’s a divorce, the state doesn’t ask for taxes on this transaction, which is good because splitting up is already incredibly expensive.
So my disengagement with this isn’t because I don’t see the value of gay marriage. I’m very much aware of how it has helped me. But when they started same sex marriages in California, the larger gay rights groups put out word that a ballot measure was coming and asked gays to please look presentable. Which meant: no men in dresses. Because people like me are embarrassing.
Obviously, LGB people should have all the same rights as straight people. But this battle for marriage is incredibly normative in a way that makes me feel uncomfortable. No, I am not just like you, Mr. Cis Hetero, and I refuse to pretend that I am. Which means that I’m not really invited to the party. And despite that exclusion, we lost anyway.
We can’t have ENDA protection for trans people because we’re too weird and gays come first. We can’t have marriages for visibly-trans people because we’re too weird and gays come first. Not that we have either of these things, mind you, but just in case let’s make sure trannies are out.
The support-gay-marriage “cause” on Facebook, which is a pseudo charitable thing one can join, is attached to the HRC, a gay rights group which actively lobbies against trans people and gives assloads of money to Log Cabin Republicans. Are you fighting to be included in the right wing? Is it your dream to be an oppressor instead of oppressed?
I want our side to win. I want the State Supreme Court to decide that narrowing the Equal Protection clause of the state constitution, or declaring marriage not to be a fundamental right, would be a major revision and not a minor amendment, as this would seem logically to be the case. I want marriage for everybody, including me. But can we stop pretending that all queers are just like straight people except we happen to fall hopelessly in love with people of the same normative gender? Because I’m tired of being told to keep quiet and these kinds of normative lies leave too many of us unprotected.

Why we lost on Prop 8

The SF Chronicle wrote a bit about campaign strategy:

That allowed Prop. 8 opponents, worried that many voters were not enamored with the idea of same-sex marriage, to run a TV campaign that almost never mentioned gays or lesbians or showed them in an ad. Instead, the ads charged that Prop. 8 supporters wanted to take away rights from a single, unnamed group of people, which just wasn’t fair.

If we’re not even willing to name ourselves as citizens, why on earth would anybody want to support us? If we’re ashamed of being LGBT, then why are our rights valuable? If this strategy NEVER WORKS, why do the mainstream campaigns keep using it?!
If we want rights, then we have to be gay and proud, not weirdly lurking and hiding. Same sex couples deserve the right to marry! Stand up and say it!
In other news, holy cow, Obama won. oh my god.


this group was declared immoral yesterday. It’s an LGBT Solidarity Association founded in 1993. And a cultural center since 2000. Grassroots, non-hierarchical, volunteer based. They are anti-military.
They have commissions within the org. Trans, Women’s Group, Pride, Performance, Family, Human Rights Violations Reporting. Alas, the police have a lot more power recently and raid groups, including this one. The government insists that human rights are not violated. They work a lot with trans people including sex workers, trans women in feminism, etc. They do also legal aid for trans women harassed by the police.

April 7, 2008, 15 big police guys searched everything. They saw a trans woman coming in, so therefore they must be running a prostitution ring. (Because it’s really great for women to make prostitution illegal.) the government of Istanbul said the group violated public morality.
And then I had to g chase after my dog. Now the speaker is showing pictures from the pride parade. Apparently, this was an illegal protest? Last year, there were over 1000 people. Nobody is allowed to protest on the biggest street. But they were so small in the past, they were ignored. The police followed them last year, because of the size. It’s not a big party, it’s a protest march with chanting.
There was participation from some political figures, including a guy running for parliament and an italian politician.
she’s showing up a movie of another march which was stopped by the police and football hooligans. Turkey is not a great place to be queer.
and holy fuck. they were attacked by a giant mob, helped by the police and had to sit on the floor of a bus while people tried to break the windows while they escaped. mobs of men sang “die trannies die”

Coming Out?

Many trans people view being trans as a medical condition or a birth defect, which they had fixed. Why would run around telling people that you used to have an embarrassing medical problem? Most of these folks are stealth. Their trans history is nobody’s business.
Other trans people, especially genderqueers, see their trans status as a big part of their sense of self. These folks are usually out. This is a new phenomenon.
Not long ago, trans people were instructed to change their name, move out of town and lie about their past. Genderqueers did not have access to transition in that era.
Fortunately, thanks to the work of trans activists and also feminism, normativity is much less emphasized and I don’t need to go into hiding. I’ve got the moving far, far away part covered, but composing is a high-profile occupation. If you have to be stealth, it’s incompatible. I’m not willing to walk away from the years I spent learning my craft and “paying my dues” as they say. So from a practical standpoint, I’ve got to be out. From an emotional standpoint, I do terribly at being stealth anything. Secrets eat at me. So I’m out. Which means coming out.
Thus far, I’ve mostly been telling people who knew me before. That’s stressful enough. My strategy has been to try to tell the biggest gossips that I know, preferably via email, and hope they spread it around everywhere. They fill in all my other friends, and then I am spared awkward conversations. There’s undoubtedly extra commentary that goes with the news, but that would happen anyway. I imagine that in many cases, it’s a sarcastic, “big surprise!”
But I also meet new people. And I’m at kind of a loss on how to proceed. Do I want to be out? Probably. I mean, I’ve been in transition for less than 6 months. I don’t want to lie about the previous 31 years of my life. And it’s kind of a big deal. On the other hand, it’s a lot to lay on somebody the first time I meet them. I had gotten in the habit of subtly slipping my girlfriend into conversations to let people know that I’m queer, but that doesn’t work at all anymore. Also, people who knew me before are still tripping over pronouns and I can’t grow any more than the most very pathetic moustache. I’m passing, but not overwhelmingly, if you know what I mean.
Passing is great, by the way. But not without it’s own issues. I keep worrying that somebody is going to read me. The last time I was out with a crowd of strangers, I was gripped by a sudden fear that somebody would suddenly stand, point, and shout “fraud!” But this is Britain. People are so very polite. Maybe they had already worked it out and were just humoring me and I wasn’t passing at all? How could it be that my interactions with men were so totally unchanged if I was actually passing?
I’ve always gotten on well with men older than myself. I find it easy to establish a rapport. When I started to transition, I worried that I would lose this. But then I started talking to a bloke who seemed to be 5 or 10 years older than myself and it was the same as always. Exactly the same. How could this be? What was going on? Had he somehow read me? Was he gay and flirting with me? Had I always been acting like and treated like a guy? Was I acting like a girl and him responding to that without consciously following? I was completely unnerved.
Another bloke I was talking to kept bringing up balls. He didn’t know why he kept talking about them. His unconscious mind was nudging him. I guess I could have taken the opportunities to mention that (like Harry Partch) I don’t have any. But I was already unnerved. Also, is that something I really want to disclose the first time I meet somebody? I have no idea – probably not in those terms. A straight friend suggested that I “just be a guy” and not tell anybody. But then, that’s 31 years of my life. That’s this blog. That’s the last piece I posted to my podcast. That’s a whole lot of hiding.
I gave the ball bloke my card. He didn’t write. Maybe he lost my card. Maybe I should take it all down: the blog, the podcast, everything. Just be a guy. People who google me can know and people who don’t won’t. Is that what I want?
Some people tell me that I’m brave. I don’t follow their logic at all. I’m just trying to survive the best I can. If that’s brave, so is getting out of bed in the morning. Maybe we’re all brave. Maybe we’re all passing. We pretend to be the person we wish we were and come to create and inhabit that reality. So what is coming out, in that case? I used to be kind of an asshole? I used to be a software engineer? I used to be a girl?


Trans Movie

We’ve been watching queer movies at casaninja, thanks to Netflix. I just saw Ma Vie en Rose, a French and Belgian movie about a 7-year-old transgender child. Um, wow. I wasn’t so self-aware at seven, but man, I can relate to parts of that film, like being dragged to therapy. And stressing the heck out of my parents with no idea why or how. Also, the part where hir mom says that everything is going to hell and its all hir fault. . .. Maybe I’m over identifying. Yikes.
The basic plot of the movie is that a heterosexual fmaily moves to some very heterosexual suburbs in Belgium. Their little boy IDs as a girl and wears dresses and scandalizes the neighbors who fly into a homophobic rage. The parents drag the kid to therapy. The kid gets thrown out of school. The father looses his job. The family relocates to France. In France, the family has a transgender kid for a neighbor who forces the main character into a dress to get hirself out of it. The new-to-France mother freaks out and assaults her mtf kid. The nieghbors interviene asking her what the hell is wrong with her. Because they’re in France and not Belgium and don’t freak out over crossdressing seven year olds.
Then, I think there was sort of a forced happy ending, but I can’t say because the disk was screwed up and it wouldn’t play past the start of the reconciliation, but I can imagine the dialog (translated into English for your benefit):

Mom: You’ll always be my child.
Kid: Even if I’m a girl?
Mom: It’s ok, we’re in France now. Our neighbors are no longer filled with irrational hate against anybody even slightly different from themsleves.
Kid: So I can be a girl?
Mom: You can have freedom of gender expression until puberty!

The moral of the story is to stay out of Belgium. Sure, the beer’s good, but the people are nothing but trouble.
As an aside, are there any happy trans movies that have FTMs in them? Are there any FTM movies at all besides Boys Don’t Cry?

Lesbian Movies

We started our movie queue with Go Fish, a lesbian movie form the early 1990’s. It tries so very very hard to address all issues relevant to young, urban dykes. And it does pretty well at that quest, even if sometimes unsubtle. There’s a lot in about the difficulty of maintaining a minority identity in a hostile culture. One of the main characters worries about dropping into straight society and disappearing. There’s a lot of angst like that. Another lead points out that it’s easy to be labelled a dyke when you’re in a cozy couple, but if you’re single and mess around with a guy, man, everybody thinks you’re bi. (Well, it was the 90’s).
I liked it then and I like it now.
After that we watched Sister George from the late 1960’s. It’s a British flick. I think the moral of it is to stay out of England.. Hollywood wasn’t ready to talk about lesbians, even if it was as relentlessly negative as this movie.
It’s based on a play, whose script I happened to read a few years ago. I read the whole thing and had absolutely no idea what was supposed to be going on. It was based on some stereotype of female queerness to which I had never been exposed. I can’t say watching the movie cleared it up overly much, but I can say that I think they took the entire play script and put it in the film and then added in scenes that were talked about in the play, just to fill in gaps. The movie was like 3 hours long.
The plot of it is that a woman who plays a nurse in a soap opera is getting written out of the plot, despite being popular and having been on the show for decades. The reason for her firing is because she molested some nuns in a taxi cab. Obviously, she’s coming completely unglued. The movie ends with her jobless and with her girlfriend stolen away by her (female) boss, which was played out with perhaps the creepiest sex scene ever put on film. The evil/aroused expression in the boss’s face is like something out of 80’s German lesbian porn. Aieee!
Given the dearth of other lesbian images in film, this movie was very influential, and I’ve seen references to it other places. Halberstam writes about it in Female Masculnity, noting that it’s not entirely negative. It has the most swniging, happening lesbian bar on film. The bar is packed with happy dancing couples and a girl band. Butch/femme couples abound. One of the femmes even comments that she thinks Sister George is hot. So she’s left lonely and jobless at the end, but it’s clear she has savings from having been a TV star and living modestly through that time. After she gets out of jail for smashing up the BBC studio, she can pop over to the bar and get a more loyal girlfriend to mistreat. Or therapy. She could really use some therapy.Blogged with Flock

Book Review: Female Masculinity by Judith Halberstam

I just finished reading Female Masculinity by Judith Halberstam. This book explores masculinity as embodied by women. She notes that most studies of masculinity talk exclusively about men – often specifically about white, middle class men, as if they have sole claim to masculinity. Halberstam notes that this is extremely incomplete. She focuses her study on dykes, inverts and other queers, making the dubious claim that straight female masculinity is more tolerated. I think she just wanted to focus on lesbians because she is one, and that’s fine, but I wish she hadn’t justified her focus by pretending that manly straight women don’t face many of the same oppressions that manly dykes do.
She starts, in her introduction, talking about public bathrooms. She had me right there. She talked about having security called on her several times when she tried to pee in airports on some trip. Man, I thought I got bathroom grief, but I’ve never gotten security called.
Much later in the book, she talked some about FTMs and specifically about the Butch / FTM “Border Wars.” I don’t know if she coined that term, but it’s one I’ve seen other places and I think her writings on the topic have been influential. Alas, as of this book, which is now ten years old, I think she furthers misunderstandings more than clears them up.
The so-called border war has to do with suspicion and mistrust which can exist between butch dykes and FTMs. Some dykes fel threatened and or betrayed when folks they know as dykes decide to transition. Maintaining a butch dyke identity is often difficult, given the invisibility in popular culture. Every other butch dyke that disappears can make this seem more difficult. Butch dykes can also resent the privilege that (white) FTMs acquire and may get pissed off by media articles which appear to favorably contrast FTMs to lesbians. On the other side, many FTMs are eager to establish themselves as male and don’t want to be seen as a butch dyke and thus take some efforts to distinguish themselves. Many FTMs get annoyed when they perceive butch dykes as refusing to accept them as men.
Halberstam’s chapter on this is somewhat undermined because she doesn’t really address the issue of passing. Passing, in this case, means being taken for male and can happen to both butch dykes and to FTMs. She notes in the introduction that passing can be life or death for people using the men’s room and indeed, even acknowledges elsewhere that some butches need to pass to survive. More than survival, though, passing is directly integral to the identity of some FTMs. They need to embody their masculinity as men. Failure to pass, for them, can mean psychic harm in addition to physical. So when Halberstam makes hay about a FTM passing guide which specifically addresses how to avoid being taken for a butch woman, she is failing to account how extremely important it is for some FTMs to pass. Not wanting to be perceived as a butch woman doesn’t necessarily indicate hostility, just a need to pass and not to be taken for any kind of woman.
Halberstam questions whether FTMs would also want to avoid being mistaken for a Republican or for a gay man and notes the conservative style of dress recommended. Many FTMs actually do worry about being taken for a gay man – they don’t want a second look. They don’t want to stand out. They don’t want to take on additional risk when visiting the men’s room or walking down the street or just trying to live. Some FTMs are homophobic. Some are just very aware of the risk of violence which can surround them. Some are gay.
Being trans can include a lot of worry – about passing, about violence, about coming out, etc. Some FTMs retreat to misogyny to underline the differences between themselves and women, but most (I hope) do not. The FTMs that are “jumping ship” from being butch also tend to try to maintain ties to the dyke community. Maybe that’s just a San Francisco Bay Area thing.
Finally, most FTMs that worry about passing are either no-ho or haven’t yet started hormones or have started very recently (or are stealth in a conservative area and have reason to be concerned for their safety). They’re a part of the trans community, but not the biggest part and don’t yet feel secure in their transition.
Halberstam goes on from passing guides to an unfortunate article in The New Yorker in which Amy Bloom interviews some trans men and finds out *gasp* that they’re men. Halberstam points out a few phrases from the article which positively compare FTMs to butch dykes and seems to conclude that the mainstream press is more ok with FTMs. I think this conclusion is largely in error. The mere existence of the article speaks to a discomfort with FTMs. Why would an investigative journalist need to do field research to discover that men are, indeed, men? Halbertsam writes, “Would Bloom, in a smilar article on butch lesbians, comment so approvingly on their masculinity?” (p. 157) Given how Bloom feels the need to point out that one of her interview subjects – a man – eats “like a man” (ibid), I’m not sure that’s a fair comparison. Bloom is condescending in the extreme. Halbertsam quotes a longer passage from Bloom:

I expected to find psychologically disturbed, male-identified women so filled with self-loathing that it had even spilled into their physical selves, leading them to self-mutilating, self-punishing surgery. Maybe I would meet some very butch lesbians, in ties and jackets and chest binders, who could not, would not accept their female bodies. I didn’t meet these people. I met men. (p. 158)

Before I go on to Halberstam’s response to such drivel, I want to take a moment to give a big “fuck you” to Bloom. What is she saying here? ‘Oh my gosh, they actually passed! Passing is everything! I thought I’d see a man in a dress woman in a binder and be forced to deny his identity, but I’ve decided that these individuals actually might deserve to have their identities accepted by ME. And I certainly am the gateway for normativity and passing!’ Fuck you Bloom.
Halberstam is justifiably pissed at that passage. She writes, “What a relief for Bloom that she was spared interaction with those self-hating masculine women and graced instead by the dignified presence of men!” and goes on to note that many FTMs ID as straight, which Bloom approves of. But while Halberstam catches the queerphobia and butch phobia, she seems to miss the transphobia. Bloom’s article there is hardly tans-positive but just notes what should already be obvious: some FTMs pass.
Unfortunately, a lot of this chapter is about MTFs and their narratives which are assumed to mirror the narratives of FTMs. This book is from 1998, so I think this more speaks to a lack of published material by and about FTMs more than a real assertion by Halberstam that the cases are mirror. I’m going to look into whether she has published more recently on the topic. That chapter talked largely about a previous essay on the topic and what she had learned from that, so while she sometimes misses things, she seems eager to learn and I imagine that the problems I’ve noted have certainly been addressed in the last 10 years.
Part of what was most fascinating for me about this book is the way labels have shifted over time. Inverts would not have IDed with lesbians. Butches of the 1950’s were excluded from the definition of ‘lesbian’ that was current through the 1970’s – 1980’s. (Indeed, being butch was still controversial when I came out). FTM is emerging as a new label. People like me, with more ambiguos/ complicated views on their own gender would have been excluded from transitioning until recently. Past FTMs have IDed as “men.” The idea that “trans” would form a more permanent part of a label is new and is being picked up by trasgender or genderqueer IDed persons.
There used to be the idea of a passing woman. That’s a woman who looked like a man and passed for one. I don’t know how different a passing woman is than a genderqueer ftm, but I can say that the label “passing woman” has always made me nervous. I like the label “dyke.” Not ‘lesbian,’ which for a while was specifically defined to exclude me and not ‘woman’ passing or no. What does that make me? A transdyke? A FTM/dyke? It makes me feel better to have a label, I think. It also makes me feel better to be able to place myself within a history. I don’t want to reject the label ‘dyke,’ as I’ve been attached to it for so long. When I watch a movie like Go Fish, I’m watching something that impacted my life. Dyke culture has shaped me, formed me. I felt at home in it and I feel at home in it. At the same time, I really like taking T. I like what it’s doing to my body. I like how I feel to see myself in the mirror, looking gradually more manly. And I really like that I don’t need to choose. There might be some sort of border war going on, but I like being parked right in the middle of it and I have no intention of moving.
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