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.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Double Standards: Racism and Classism

My experience of whiteness is intimately tied in with a sort of "woo" or hippie type of community. My mom's family were hippies when it was both popular and a little dangerous to be hippies (we know for instance that my grandparents were on government watch lists for their anti-social tendencies towards pacifism).

So I grew up certainly ensconced in a community that was hugely "pro-natural [insert thing here]". Which totally applied to children. Natural childbirth, breast feeding, and co-sleeping. I mean I can't say whether they were all practiced by everyone in my family, but they were certainly not derided, and there was a sort of feeling that (if you didn't do things "naturally") at the least you should look up to those who did. My whole family is also white.

With my clients who I visit, we are told to always (always) give the families packets on child safety: one about the dangers of shaking babies, one about the dangers of not putting bars in your windows (called "Kids Can't Fly", really? you don't say!) and one, (which I'm sure you were expecting) about the dangers of co-sleeping. All of my clients are people of color.


Now, some of this is classism obviously, some of it is racism, some of it is maybe that white subcultures that co-sleep are also putting their children in just as huge amounts of danger as DCF involved parents who co-sleep. Whatever the case, it's just one more instance where what's good enough for me (as a DCF worker), for instance: leaving disgusting amounts of dishes lying around or not getting around to the laundry for weeks at a time for instance, is no good, bad, bad, bad, when a DCF involved parent does it. Because if I came to a house like mine in terms of dirtiness, I would DEFINITELY be expected to write all about the mess of the place, 'cause after all it shows that the parents aren't caring for the kid!... or something.

I guess certain behaviors become magically OK when presumably well-off white people do them?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


I've been feeling sort of guilty because my resurgence of blog activity is so me, me, me focused. Which is silly, because who else would write this blog if not me? (If I were cool, right now I'd introduce a new guest blogger/co-blogger, but I'm not, so.... life sucks and then everyone dies, eh?)

I guess I mean that recently most of my blogged about thoughts have been about straightness and queerness, transness and cisness, and well, that's about it. But actually I've been spending a whole lot of time thinking about able-ist crap (Amanda Palmer's new project comes to mind, as do the awesome writings of FWD/Forward), and some racism stuff (I have thoughts about why Tiger Wood's whatever has become such a big fucking deal, and guess what, they relate to him being a person of color), and then of course there are other thoughts, like my incessant nagging depression, and the fact that the house needs to get cleaned, and what's going on with the dog, and how the hell do I expect myself to be a good social worker/foster parent/force for social justice/insert positive thing here, when I'm plagued with a constant hatred of myself and the idea that I'm basically a pretty worthless person who might be better off if I were, say, non-existent (oh hey, I just repeated myself, this is my depression in a nutshell!), and what to make for dinner.

I'm also spending a good chunk of my time thinking about all the things I want to do once I get my (apparently magical?) Masters in Social Work, like: set up a kitchen where people who are homeless/temporarily homeless can cook their own food free of charge and eat a meal without it being this big deal (because generally food that is easy to eat standing up/while moving/without a stove or even a microwave isn't all that healthy/nutritious, and while some people who can prove they are homeless can get "special" food stamps benefits letting them buy premade warm mac & cheese or mashed potatoes, lots of people can't and therefore can only buy needing-to-be-boiled pasta, even though they don't have a stove/running water), or set up a "pro-bono" type of thing where licensed therapy type people go into jails where mentally ill criminals are basically just stored, and give them real honest to goodness therapy to help them, and having a really good home-based therapy program especially for people suffering from PTSD and those who are dealing with sexual assualt/rape, (because hey, I know I won't be a victim blamey jackass, unlike apparently the vast majority of other therapists in the world), and how about a really actually non-judgmental drop in place for pregnant people who may not have intended to be pregnant where we'll give totally even-handed information about adoption and abortion and keeping a child, (and regardless of what you choose we'll help you do it, including months of therapy after whatever decision you make comes to fruition, and if you want to give a child up for adoption we'd also help you find prospective parents and be non-classist and not transphobic and ok with polyamory and such, and if you want to keep the child and funds are a problem we'll work our asses off to find you clothing and services and food and housing and, and if you want an abortion we'll drive you to the place), and yeah, I have a lot of ideas.

I just sort of want to fix the world and be perfect. Which, I've been told is not possible, and hoping/expecting that from myself may in fact be a problem.

So, I guess this is a "sorry" for not writing enough about racism and able-ism.

And even though I know you think is silly: sorry for not being perfect and fixing the world.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Comics that Get Stuff Right

So in the comments for "Why I Don't Like 'Gender Bending' in Fiction" people seem interested in reading comics with a transgender slant/storyline.

I thought I'd let ya'll know about another one that I do like quite a bit. It's called Khaos Komic.
It's the intertwined stories of a bunch of high school students. Told from the point of view of each of the characters one at a time.

Some problems up front: it is very "couple" focused, which is to say that all of the storylines are about people finding that the person they like likes them as well, and the subsequent twists and turns of their budding relationships. It's also a litle tokeny, as in there is one cis gay boy couple storyline, one cis lesbian couple storyline, right one trans/cis gay boy storyline, and (as far as I can tell) one upcoming cis/trans straight couple. However, that is already a cast of at least eight main characters, so it can be hard to not have character overload in this set up if one were to try to make them less tokeny.

In the positive categories: it deals with many of the difficulties and frustrations of being gay or trans in a sympathetic and I'd say non-cliched/accurate way, and it has a a cast of main characters that is multi-ethnic (however the cast is all very currently abled, skinny, and I don't see class being dealt with either). Also, I have a character crush on Tom, the trans guy (mmm, piercings and tattoos!).

So, a comic that I really like that has gay and trans themes! Drop more comic or story links in the comments!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Are Babies Straight?

One of my coworkers* brought her baby boy** in right before Valentine's Day with a themed t-shirt: "All the Ladies <3 Me" it said.

When I saw it, I laughed. The surprise of it made it funny, and then once I'd started the laugh, I realized it was the appropriate thing to do. Afterall, this is a baby; a pre-verbal, pre-walking, pre-anything baby. So clearly anything he's wearing is something his parents want him to wear (and in this case, his mother said: "I'm having him wear this shirt on Valentine's Day"). So it was only socially polite to laugh at a t-shirt she thought was cute.

But I sort of wish I wouldn't have laughed.

Just think of what "All the Lads <3 Me" would have evoked in viewers. Or "All the Men <3 Me," even worse! I mean, crud, if you put your kid in a shirt like that, you'd have people flipping a shit about pedophilia.

But a baby boy in a shirt implying heterosexuality and "ladies' man" status. Totally Ok. 'Cause babies totally have a sexual orientation, yo! (And that orientation is "straight").

It just really speaks to how heterosexist and sexist our society is that my first reaction to a t-shirt implying an under 1-year old's straightness was laughter at how "cute" it was.

*I'm going to start just writing "job" and "coworker" in all my posts about this, because my placement-internship feels like that.
**Whenever I hear about little children's genders I always sort of wonder, but you know, whatever I'll trust that the kid will grow up cis*.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Why I Don't Like "Gender Bending" in Fiction

It's always nice to see portrayals of ourselves in the media we consume. Some groups of people get to see those (accurate, positive) portrayals more often than others (for instance, white, straight, currently abled, cis men...). So for those of use who don't, our few opportunities are often seized upon with relish. Which is what makes it so disheartening when they turn out to be crap. Or, in the case with "gender bending fiction," when it turns out that the experience they are peddling has little to nothing to do with the population that it seemingly deals with, and because of that makes our lives invisible, and transphobia/cisgenderism all the more prevalent.

But, since "gender bending" story lines in comics and fiction can be so common (depending on the medium), and are so often thought of as being "our" type of story ("hey, you're a guy who has a girl's body, it's totally the same!"), I thought I'd offer some of my objections with the genre/trope.

I'm going to use examples from the comic Misfile, because it's pretty typical insofar as this particular trope goes.

We'll start off with some similarities between a "gender bender" character and a real live trans person:

In Misfile, Ash (the main character) awakens one day to find that he is now female bodied. Which sucks, because he still thinks of himself as a guy. He seems really pissed about having this body that's just so wrong. Which, I get. I think many a trans person SUPER gets that. It's sort of the main thing that everyone talks about when they talk about the trans experience. It's sort of the only thing.
So, similarity #1: he doesn't like how his body is now, and everyone assumes him to be a gender that he is not

Likewise, in the comic, Ash is interested in Emily, who seems to also be interested in him. However, she struggles with thinking of him as a guy despite his body, she struggles with herself and her assumption of her own heterosexuality, she struggles with what it would mean to be attracted to him despite homophobia (she gets called a lesbian because of the time they spend together), etc. Which is sort of related to how things work in the real world. Many couples struggle a lot if one of them comes out as a different gender than previously assumed.
This happens in the lesbian community where one half of a couple may feel a lot of sadness and confusion about whether she stills belongs to the community now that she is dating a guy, frustration at having her internal identity tweaked with, a sinking feeling knowing that random people on the street see a straight couple as they walk past, and sometimes, a lot of anxiety around whether or not she really respects the masculine identity of her partner (or potential partner -- this happens with prospective couples sometimes).
So, similarity #2: Emily has to deal with a lot of confusion based on her attraction to someone who looks like a girl but doesn't identify as one.

Lastly, and related to the first similarity, is the fact that Ash is often forced into uncomfortable situations because of others' perceptions of his gender. His mom makes him model a dress for her clothing line! He's constantly dealing with heterosexual guys hitting on him! Sexism sucks! (ok, that's not exactly related, but it does suck).
So, similarity #3: other people are constantly forcing Ash to conform to their ideas of his gender, regardless of his obvious discomfort with that.

Now that we've established some of the similarities between the "gender bender comic" Misfile's characters and experiences of trans people, it's important to get to the overwhelming differences.

Being trans is not something that gradually goes away with time. Dr. Zucker's (my loathing for this man knows few bounds) opinions withstanding, trans people don't (generally) wake up one day in full on panic and anxiety about our gender and then gradually over the course of the years of our lives learn to live with it and just sort of mosey along. Which is basically what happens with these types of narratives. In them the main character is suddenly confronted with the wrongness of zir body, and then over the course of zir quest/adventure/what have you, to fix it, ze gradually just sort of la-dee-da falls into acting like a girl, and feeling sort of girlish and whatever. These narratives give this type of lip service to the fact that the characters want to get back to their normal body, but in general they seem to acclimate like WOAH.
In contrast, my initial realizations of my gender were slow coming and mild. However over the years of having people constantly misgendering me, I have become more and more despondent, more strident in my conviction of my gender, more upset at each messed pronoun, experienced more pain and frustration at the body I have grown into. My partner and I estimate that maybe 5 people in this world really and truly believe that I am a boy. None of the people on this list are family members (I consider my partner and I a family, but you get what I mean?). I walk through the world knowing that the people who are supposed to be closest to me, at their core, just don't believe I am who I am. That strangers and acquaintances, that no one besides my partner, my ex-partner, and maybe 3 of my best friends, really understand and agree with me that I am a guy. I am aware of other's perception of my gender every hour of every day. I can't really say this strongly or often enough: my life every day is an exercise in pain because of this. Every Day. Every day that a well-meaning classmate messes up my pronouns and I say "it's ok, it happens," I die a little inside. Every day that a waitperson, check-out clerk, business owner, pamphleteer calls out "miss" or "ladies," my life feels a little more like a hell. I Hate living in a world that can't conceive of me as a boy. That doesn't go away. It grows and grows and grows. This isn't a footnote to my story, I don't forget about this because I'm busy racing cars or fighting ghosts or something. This is the ever present "fuck you" of my day.

Am I being clear? Can you (a presumably cis* person) even conceptualize the pain and frustration and anger and agony I experience over this?
So, difference #1: in "gender bender" fiction, characters seem to acclimate more and more to their bodies and the misrepresentation of their gender by others.

Next, there's the fact that characters in "gender bender" narratives seem to mostly reify gendered expectations of the world around them. Suddenly, after "becoming a girl," these characters start liking chocolate, they become more emotional, and less logical. Or, alternately, the way we know they are "really" boys is because they are sexually attracted to their new bodies (as we see in the comic at the side), because they cling to their sexist versions of chivalry, and because they are disgusted by the idea of men being attracted to them. Which totally ignores the fact that lots of boys are um... gay?
And I don't think I know a single trans guy that is as homophobic as Ash is.
I can't think of a *single* trans guy that finds his body sexaaaay like characters in these stories do. In fact, many trans guys I know hate seeing their bodies naked. At least some guys get sores because of constant wear of binders in an attempt to hide, disguise, emotionally and mentally get rid of our breasts. I like girls, I like female bodies, and looking at my body in the mirror makes me feel like crap.
And, while some (trans) guys are misogynistic creeps, I'd like to think I'm not, and my friends aren't. I don't need to set myself up in opposition to women by living by "chivalrous" rules. I don't have to hate women to not be one (which these narratives imply).
So, differences #2, #3, and #4: characters in "gender bending" story lines are often homophobic to prove their manliness, they are often sexually attracted to the bodies they are forced into, and they often use misogyny and sexism to set themselves apart from the women they are assumed to be.

Lastly, for this analysis, is the fact that not only do characters of "gender bender" stories acclimate to their bodies, they learn to take advantage of the "privileges" conferred on women in our society. Let's get this out of the way: "feminine wiles" are the most bullshit idea of "power" I've ever heard of. We live in a culture rife with rape, misogyny, and example after example of the oppressed status of those who are perceived to be women. If you don't understand this, we just don't have anything further to talk about until you get your head out of your ass. Ok.
So this is the thing, the part up a bit where I talked about how demoralizing and depressing and upsetting it is to have people assume that my gender is "girl"? It doesn't go away when I want to get a good deal on something. But apparently in these stories, as the characters start to acclimate to the unfortunate, (but ultimately not all that upsetting) fact that they are female bodied, they decide it's awesome to play up all the female stereotypes they want so long as it'll help them. Which is blatantly unrealistic if you think about the pain and suffering that trans people go through because of having to constantly deal with the world's bullshit about our genders.
So, difference #5: characters in "gender bending" narratives often decide to go entirely counter to their gender and to "use" their perceived gender to their advantage regardless of the emotional ramifications it would entail if they that strongly identified with their internal gender.

So, why do all these differences matter? They are damaging. When narratives out there that tell stories that are supposed to be sort of like trans people's lives, in fact do so in a way that erases trans people's struggle with a transphobic world? When they do so in a way that implies that trans people buy into normative ideas of gender and use misogyny and homophobia to set ourselves apart from our perceived genders? When they imply that trans people are deceptive and will use whatever we can to get ahead? When they imply that trans women are either "perverts" who find their bodies overly titillating, or that trans men don't really mind having bodies that code us as female (because hey, at least we get to grope boobies whenever we want!)? All of that is totally fucked up. It's fucking lies and they aren't nice ones. You know what a nice lie would be: "all trans people are awesome, there isn't a jerk among us," but we don't get that type of narrative in these "gender bender" stories. Nope, we get: "perverts, deceptive, not that big a deal, they'll get over it."

You know what else is upsetting and damaging in these stories? This isn't about differences, it's just about dangerous and mean and jerkishness. It's this: when the idea of gender reassignment surgery makes the main character yell in defiance. Right there Ash implictly says: "being trans, needing surgery or hormones, that is a BAD THING... people who need surgery or hormones are bad people." And it's this: as the comic progresses, we get more and more ass-shots of Ash, more and more bras and panties. As the comic continues we see Ash becoming a pin-up girl. It just shows how little the artist respects even the idea of Ash as a boy.

The icing on the cake? That this and many other "gender bending" comics and stories are written by people who then commemorate The Transgender Day of Remembrance, the day in November that we are meant to honor trans men and women who have died due to transphobia. When they post their commemorative comics, it serves as a banner proclaiming "we are trans friendly," which means that those who aren't paying attention, due to cis* privilege, who don't know better but are open to becoming allies, they learn that this is what allyship means.

And that? That depresses the hell out of me.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Some more privilege from the social work front lines

Something that gets discussed a lot in the "helping professions" (and specifically I'm going to talk about those who work as or plan to work as, therapists) is "disclosure."

"Disclosure" (as I'm going to talk about it, and as mostly discussed in social work) is the act of telling a client/patient something about oneself which is personal/not physically obvious (sort of, we'll get to it a little more in a sec). Freud believed that therapists (well psychoanalysts) should be a totally blank slate for their clients/patients and therefore it was necessary to not tell them anything humanizing/personal.

Now, Freud's an asshole, and most social workers (thank goodness) that I've met also agree that he's an asshole (though apparently there are far too many who think that "yes, but, for the time he wasn't"... no no, really, he rather was), but the field still tries to keep things a little more professional, a little more aloof than a friendly relationship would make, in keeping with some of his ideas about disclosure.
Which makes sense, it's harder emotionally to try to bill a friend than it is to bill a client/patient. Plus, some of our clients have a tendency to take the things they learn about us and sometimes use them in inappropriate ways (not that this isn't often the case for friends and family). Lastly, there's the fact that telling a client all about our father's recent death (or whatever) takes the focus off of them and places it onto us, which makes it harder for both client and social worker to you know, figure out what's going on for the client. So, lots of potentially good reasons to not disclose too often, or without some solid thought behind the reasons for doing it.

However, let's think for a second here about what constitutes "disclosing." Being straight? Not something usually disclosed. Being cisgender? Also rarely if ever disclosed. Being socially normative in a desire to have children? Not generally disclosed.

And it isn't that they aren't disclosed because straight people and cis* people, and people who fall into socially normative desires to have children are really good about keeping those things hidden/secret. HAH! (I laugh at the thought).
No no, they aren't disclosed because there is literally NO NEED to disclose in our society. It'd be like me disclosing to my clients that I'm human.

REALLY??? My social worker is HUMAN!?! I had NO IDEA (They would say).

They aren't disclosed because, except for in very specific situations (working at a center for trans/queer youth, for instance), everyone assumes those things to be true. Some identities are already known, and you have to prove them otherwise, by disclosing.

I'll give another example. I was chilling with a client the other day (like ya do) when she asked me whether I have children. My only decision at that point in time was "do I tell her or not?" It didn't include "do I tell her I don't want to raise children?" I didn't even think of the second idea, because it's a) "normal" to want to raise children, and b) I do want to raise some, maybe, someday. I have that privilege, of being able to let people assume I want to have kids, without even thinking about the fact that they are assuming it.

So in class we're talking about Freud, and someone in the class thinks he's just a peach, and had really ground breaking ideas, blah blah. And I mention that I think he's rather an asshole. And then later as we're about to move on from a discussion of disclosure, I bring up the fact that though I agree that it's important to not overshare with clients, that it seems really unfair to me that only certain groups are asked to be constantly on guard like that.

Which is when "Freud is awesome" classmate pipes in that it isn't the case that only certain groups are meant to not disclose, but that everyone is meant to not do it. She then goes on to tell me that as a former teacher, she also had to keep certain things about her life hidden from her students and that "you just have to get used to the idea of putting certain things about yourself up on the shelf".

As if I didn't just say that disclosure is a touchy subject. As if I was a wayward child who just is greedy, wanting to not feel like I have to keep my trans status, my sexual orientation, my atheism, the fact that I'm poly, hidden.

Yeah. Social workers sometimes don't talk about their kids with their clients, but a lot mention that they have them. (And, as a kid of a teacher I call TOTAL bullshit on just about ANY teacher not talking about their kids, my mom has a picture of me and my sister up on her door ya'll). And when you say you have kids, the client assumes you're straight. So if you're straight and have kids you just disclosed that you're straight, without even realizing it. Because you have that privilege.

My classmate is certain that she'll be a better social worker than me because she doesn't have all this "baggage." She understands that when you're a social worker you have to hide parts of yourself and keep identities hidden and not put lots of stuff on your clients by telling them all about yourself.

But the fact is, she's already told EVERYONE that meets her that she is straight/cis/what have you. She just doesn't realize that she did it.

So who's the overly disclosing one now, asshole?