A note about The Deviated Norm

This here is a low traffic blog on topics close to my heart. As such, comments and engagement on old posts are always welcome and will be responded to. Except! for comments on old posts telling me to lighten up, not take things so seriously, or let things go, 'cause that shit's just plain ironic. Those comments will get a suggestion to visit Derailing for Dummies.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Unintended Musings on Bad Cinema

So, 2 summers ago I went to see Hancock in the theater. I think I was on a summer movie kick or something. For those who don't know, Hancock is an action movie starring Will Smith, Jason Bateman (he was on Arrested Development), and Charlize Theron. RottenTomatoes (the film critic site) gives the movie a 40%.

A brief (spoilery) overview of the plot is that there's this guy who has super powers (Will Smith, heretofore referred to as Will Smith) who the whole town thinks is a giant asshole, cause he sort of is. He's been around for as long as anyone can remember and he never ages and he just sort of uses his super powers (flight, super strength, speed, imperviousness to weapons) to engage in chaotic amoral things, and to drink until he passes out. One day, he saves the life of a down on his luck PR guy (Jason Bateman), who decides to remake Will Smith's image. Jason Bateman's wife (Charlize Theron) hates this idea, and basically implies that she thinks that Will Smith is an evil idiot, even though she's never met him. But, Jason Bateman decides to start this campaign anyway, and gets Will Smith to stop drinking, teaches him about not pissing off local police, gets him a superhero costume, etc.

Then we find out that actually Charlize Theron knows Will Smith because they're both of a race of ancient angel people who all (but them two) died out. They are all super strong, fast, invulnerable, etc... except that all of them are one half of a pair (Charlize is Will's other half), who are all opposites (as far as I could tell all this refers to is race and gender), and inextricably drawn to each other. When the pairs spend much time together they start to become human, which is neat, other than then other people generally don't like interracial couples and they've all been murdered. Will Smith doesn't remember any of this because the last time that he and Charlize spent time together, a mob attacked them and gave him a concussion and by the time he magic healed, his memory was gone.

Then there's lots of drama with an escaped criminal and Will Smith almost dying blah blah.

Anyway, so I was driving home the other day and thinking about this movie, and thinking about that "opposites" bit (there are a few other weird/interesting things, like how at the end the three of them are sort of in an V relationship where Will and Charlize never actually see each other), and well... obviously Black people aren't actually opposites of White people. What about Asians? And Latino/as? And Native/Indigenous Peoples? Whose opposites are they?

I just see a lot of erasure, especially in the US, when talking about "racial differences" or "race relations" of all the groups that aren't White/Black. And I think even the naming of the groups as "white" and "black" feeds into that a lot. Because with colors, white and black *ARE* opposite, but in some movie where "opposites attract" what the fuck does that mean for people?

And really, even if in the world of this movie somehow the ethnic/racial groupings of white people and black people were opposite, obviously the characters aren't "opposite" in a whole ton of other ways (I reject the idea that men and women are opposite, but for the sake of argument): they both have superpowers, they are both tall for their respective sexes, they are both skinny, they are both temporarily able-bodied, they are both cisgender/cissexual, and they are both straight.

But really, how do we work past this conception of duality, or binary as it were, when it comes to race?

Sunday, January 17, 2010

In Things that are Not Even Remotely Acceptable:

Shaming someone for their consensual sexual activity.

Even if you totally disagree with their politics and they are giant conservative jerks.

Yeah, I'm looking at you, those people who have decided that because Scott Brown was once a centerfold for some magazine that that means it's ok to make jokes about him and how good a senator he'd be.

Scott Brown shouldn't win the Senate race, not because he once posed nude for something, but because he's funded by extremist conservatives who want to take away rights of US citizens. He'd make a horrible senator because through his seriously misguided political ads he's made it clear that he feels that the constitution should be chucked out the window whenever the US is in a dangerous situation, which is when we most need to have lawfully abided by protections for citizens and all people. He shouldn't be voted for because he wants to cut taxes without apparently thinking through where the money then wouldn't be going: schools, firestations, police departments, social services (like the Department of Children and Families, where budget cuts are already making life difficult and frustrating for the workers), DTA (who already make it as difficult as possible for someone in need of assistance to receive it), etc. I would also say that the in large part lockstep way the Republicans manage to behave is another great reason not to vote for him. It's hard enough getting decent legislation passed with all the pseudo-liberals around who think certain things are negotiable. Having one more Republican to tow the party-line when it means suffering for actual people is a thought that makes me cringe.

But none of the many reasons that Scott Brown shouldn't be elected have a damn thing to do with how many people have seen him naked. They never have, they never will, and if someone else, someone liberal, were being similarly attacked by the right wing (which I'd bet my non-existent house, that they would), their politics would also not have a damn thing to do with whether they'd had nude pictures of them taken in their lives.

And I'm pissed having to defend him. And I'm pissed knowing that probably if Martha Coakley had a similar history, she wouldn't even have tried to run because she'd know how bad the backlash would be, as a woman. But neither of these things make it ok to post his old centerfold picture in a post about him as a potential Senator.

It is not even remotely acceptable. And it doesn't matter who it happens to.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Blog Note

Comments that do not directly relate to points made in either the post itself or the comments of that post will be subject to moderation.

If you have a problem with having your comment moderated, you may email me at thedeviatednorm@gmail.com I make no promises on whether you will receive a response.

My house, my rules. Suck it up.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Nostalgia for things that don't exist

So looking at my recent youtube videos, someone might think that I tend to like Tim Minchin's work. Which is... true? I enjoy those songs of his which seem more heartfelt and less just to be jokes on piano.
I also have listened to some of his stuff that frankly I find troubling, such as a song of his where he starts out the song stating that it's about prejudice and including the letters of a specific slur that he finds troubling. For people (unlike myself) who quickly catch onto this particular opening, he seems to be referencing the N-word. However as soon as the song starts instead he says "only a ginger can call another ginger 'ginger'." Which, ya know, seems to be making light of racism directed against Black people and the history of how Black Americans have been treated by white society, and the very complex struggles that go on within and around Black communities in regards to the ability or desire to reclaim a word used throughout its life in an oppressive way, by comparing it to being a redhead. So that's, um, not so cool?

Anyway, which is all to say that I find him very hit or miss (for my tastes), and that this following song of his, which has been making the atheist blog rounds (and other people's? I don't know) for the past couple months is another hit.

Sort of.

It's certainly very moving, being about the importance of connection and love and well, I'll just let you hear/read it yourself and then get to my personal difficulties with it:

as always, as complete a transcript as I can make

When I listened to it the very first time, I found myself feeling nostalgic and heartwarmed, until it got to the bit about his infant daughter. Which I think is also supposed to be very heartwarming and inspiring and what-not, and probably for a lot of people does manage that. But I was suddenly struck by "these are the people who make you feel safe in this world," since for so many children in the foster care system, or who are neglected or abused or who are witnesses to family violence (which technically in MA is considered neglect), family isn't this thing that makes you feel safe. For them it can be terrifying.
It's so beautiful and moving that he thinks of this tiny human life as something worth protecting and nurturing, but all I could think of was my clients, and the clients of all the many other workers in my office, and all the clients of all the workers in all the many other offices even just in the Boston area, and all the clients of all the workers in all the offices in MA, and across the country, and you get the idea. And how (some/many) of their parents just don't, or can't, protect and nurture a child so they feel safe and loved by their parents.

Which is heartbreaking.
Really, I'm tearing up because I work in an office with tens of cubicles, each filled with 4 or more social workers, each worker with approximately 20 cases, so at a very conservative estimate there are 800 families at this moment involved with just the DCF office of Dorchester. And most of these families have more than 2 kids. So we'll say 1600 kids at any time involved with us for anything from the fact that they have literally no family, to them being sexually assaulted by family members.
Which is terrifying.

And then to a lesser extent (and after writing the other stuff, this feels so petty, but it's also true) I was also struck by wondering how he knows that this infant child of his will grow up to be a girl/woman, and the fact that I even though I love my family and appreciate them and know that they care for me, they aren't the people in this world that I feel safest with. Because I'm always on edge and anxious about how right they'll get stuff. And I thought of lots of other gay/trans kids around the world who have loving families that they love as well, who might also just not feel safest with their family. Because they're always on edge and anxious. And all the other groups of people, who for whatever reason are the odd-ones out of their families, who may still love their family, but still have to worry about whether THIS family gathering they're going to have to deal with something huge that'll emotionally knock them on their asses. I don't know.

I guess this song just makes me nostalgic for a family that I don't even know if it exists. Does it? Are there families where all the children grow up and feel unconditionally loved and cared for and *safe*? It scares me that I have to ask.

But the song sure is pretty.

Blog Update

So, since I last was seriously blogging, some major changes have happened in my life. For instance, I no longer have interesting stories to tell about how I had to totally bite my tongue, for fear of losing my job at the computer lab, due to some horribly bigoted thing that someone said.

Instead I have stories about how some social workers/social work students say really privileged shit without thinking about it. Some fine paraphrased examples in the past few months:

In relation to my question about how the Department of Children and Families handles trans and queer youth in the foster system, as in, if they find out which kids are and have policies about how to place them, I was told "Oh, well, I don't know? But I'm sure since this is a liberal field office that everything's just fine"

and by a classmate who overheard me talking about how some *other* classmate's comments in a different class had made me feel super exoticized/like I was in a human zoo "oh, but I DO think you're exotic. Don't you think everyone's exotic?!"

Luckily for my ability to maintain emotional equilibrium, I am able to call out my classmates, and in fact responded to the prior individual by angrily telling her that there was "not a single thing that you as a straight person do which I find exotic. I find straight people Boring. You BORE ME" (which, while harsh, and not entirely true, was quite cathartic to say to someone who thought it was hunky dory to fetishize me as some exciting totally foreign and unique and thrilling experience)

Anyway, which is just a long winded way for me to let ya'll know that these days I'm in a masters program in social work.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

It's Alive! (also known as "Transphobia!")

Oy! So, recently I have been having all these thoughts. Thoughts are good, yes, yes. But then, I think I should put them up on the blog and then I think "no, no, it's been far too long since you posted anything, best to just let the blog die, a natural, slow, and painful death where you think about it once every couple days but don't post." but like Frankenstein, I will play god and create life from nothing (only I won't go spurning it, eventually leading to this blog killing a small child.... what? oh the point seems to have gotten away from me!) and thus I bring you this post.

Which in turn brings me to transphobia. No really.
Well, you see, because Mary Daly died, and I didn't know jack-all about her works (I'd heard the name but only enough to say "that sounds vaguely familiar") until her death, when a few feminist blogs I frequent (and many I don't) a-sploded . What with Daly apparently having written some virulently transphobic works during her life (none of which she publicly recanted), and one of which had a chapter about trans women with a title referring to Frankenstein*. So that's how this blog coming back to life and Transphobia are linked.

But instead of the transphobia of Mary Daly, I want to talk about the most pointlessly (and thus astoundingly) transphobic book I read over my winter break.

It's the third book in Mercedes Lackey's Bardic Voices series (The Eagle and the Nightingales). The book's plot is long and winding, but to sum it up, a Gypsy (Lackey's characterization) Bard is sent by lots of her friends off to a far away city/nation to find out why the High King (king o' all the kings) is letting governance slide and all of the countries under his purview are slowly going to shit. When she gets to this city she quickly becomes a performer at the local hot spot for non-humans, and then begins a romantic relationship with a non-human.
Meanwhile the Church is basically evil and saying that non-humans don't deserve rights, oh, and it's totally trying to destroy all creativity and spirit and fun (in the form of the Free Bards, which are the focus of this series, ps Mercedes, I'm a cranky atheist who gets yelled at for being too "atheist pride" or whatever, and I thought the Church-hatin' was a little ham-handed, just saying). (Keep this theme of "intolerance is bad!" in mind, it makes the transphobia even more of a doozy). So the main character quickly goes about trying to figure out how to fix whatever's ailing the King so that he can govern well and all can be peachy keen again.

But, this is 400+ page book, there is a rather lengthy set up and all where she's traveling and then getting set up in town and little side-plots etc., which is why the transphobia that jumped at me on page 155 was a little surprising. That's almost halfway into the book. And it was done so absolutely pointlessly, making a joke about a character we haven't even met yet, who I believe only actually shows up once in person to be reacted to, and who is only mentioned (tops) 5 times during the story.

Here's the first instance (emphasis mine):
"Well, Lyrebird, you're eating like a bird indeed today - twice your weight in food! You're eating like dear little Violetta!"
He winked at that; most of the staff found Violetta amusing. The name was female, and surely the little misfit dressed like a woman, but there wasn't a person on the staff who was fooled.
No matter. Freehold was full of misfits, and if "Violetta" wanted to dress in fantastic gowns and gossip like one of the serving-wenches, no one here would eve let "her" know they had seen past the disguise.

And then, just as quickly as it came in to ruin my day while reading, all mention of Violetta disappears again. Why, if I didn't know better I'd think this exchange was merely shoe-horned in in order to set us up for later random transphobia!

Oh wait, it was! 4 pages later we get this gem
nothing happened - other than Violetta showing up, as if Derfan's earlier mention of "her" had conjured "her"
'Cause if there's one thing I love it's having trans people's gender identities questioned every time a writer puts scare quotes around their fucking pronouns. Not.

Then we find out on 178 that a generally non-communicative snake-man thinks that Violetta is "exquisite" Why? We don't know since we haven't actually had any character have a single line of dialogue with her. I guess we're supposed to think that if some weirdo snake-man (who unlike other characters can't tell that she isn't "really" a woman) likes Violetta, she must really be a freak, or something.

And then, so far as I noticed, we don't get a single other mention of this Violetta until page 407 where SPOILER, it turns out that she's secretly the killer traitor!
She had seen this "Lord Atrovel" before - but not here.
In Freehold. And "he" had been--
Ok, so wait, what? Now we've decided that Violetta really is a girl? I mean, that's what the scare quotes on "he" mean, right??? I'm confused.
But wait, there's more! Not only is the trans/cross dressing/Merceds-Lackey-just-decided-to-cobble-together-"evil male bodied person in a dress"-stereotypes person the killer traitor, ze's also a PERVERT! (How the main characters gleaned this just by realizing the dual identities is beyond me) See!:
Hunt through his private papers, his suite, and question his servants, and you will probably find a trail of sabotage and evil as vile as the man himself. And you will likely find lace hankerchiefs that match those left by the mysterious gaol-raider. As well as a--" he coughed "--remarkable selection of female garments made in his size"
Oh Main Character! How did you ever restrain yourself from making a joke about how ze probably has lace panties by the gajillion and masturbates every night into them while cackling evilly? I mean, that's what I'd do in your situation. It must be that you are far too genteel to talk about such a thing, even though we've been reading about how as a bird you don't understand human prudery.

So to review: totally pointless introduction of a trans character for the sole purpose of mocking her. Which we learn is in fact vitally important because Mercedes Lackey really wanted to try something new and risky, which is having the trans person actually be a bad guy in disguise. I've never heard of that. Have you?

*(little recognized fact, the monster in Frankenstein is not called Frankenstein, he sadly doesn't have a name... poor widdle monster)