Lazy Link List 2

While I’m working on a post about sexual orientation, have another lazy link list!

First, another Ozy post, basically putting my thoughts about gendered socialization into words:

Burkett argues that “being a woman means having accrued certain experiences, endured certain indignities and relished certain courtesies in a culture that reacted to you as one.” She explicitly rejects a definition of womanhood grounded in breasts and vaginas (and, presumably, in uteruses and XX chromosomes) as reducing women to their bodies. However, her definition opens itself up to two criticisms.

First, exactly how many gendered experiences does Burkett have in common with a subsistence farmer in India? Did Burkett’s father have to pay her a dowry for her to get married? Did she have a sister who was aborted because she was a girl? Was she fed less than her brothers? Did her parents not send her to school because they wanted to protect her virginity? If the answer is “actually, Burkett doesn’t share many gendered experiences other than the purely biological with female subsistence farmers in India”– which I think is probably true– then by her own argument either she or female Indians subsistence farmers are not really women. This seems somewhat silly.

Even in our own culture, experience of womanhood is very diverse, as an intersectional perspective shows. A developmentally disabled woman may find that she is desexualized and degendered, as part of being treated as a child due to her disability; does her desexualization and degendering mean that she is, in reality, not a woman? A butch lesbian may never have experienced the courtesies associated with being read by straight men as an appropriate object of desire; does that mean she is not a woman?

Second, many transgender women do, in fact, accrue the experiences, endure the indignities, and relish the courtesies of being a woman in a culture that reacts to them as one. Any trans woman who passes does, as do non-passing trans women in trans-positive environments in which they are considered to be women. Even non-passing trans women in trans-negative environments are not read as men and given the privileges of men; they are read as weirdo freaks. Why is one’s past experience of gender– often an experience years or decades in the past– prioritized over one’s current lived experience?

Similarly, gender dysphoria impacts many trans people’s experience of gendered socialization. Society says “you are a woman, so you are like this and you should do these things.” Many cisgender girls feel dissonance when they don’t want to do what they are supposed to do or when they aren’t like what society says they are like. But many transgender men feel dissonance about the statement “you are a woman”– even long before they articulate their gender identity to themselves! They want to do the things men do, have the traits men have, cultivate the virtues men cultivate. Many young transgender men feel a sense of pride in how many sexual partners they have, or in their ability to lift heavy things, or other accouterments of masculinity which are stigmatized for women. Trans bros exist! Of course, that isn’t the same as growing up a cisgender man. But it is an experience which is in some ways more similar to growing up a cisgender man than growing up a cisgender woman.

Then another post about racism and dating by Alison – in her last one, she pessimistically predicted that someone would declare people with sexual preference for a certain gender/sex sexist, and then of course someone found a video of someone making precisely this point. What Alison wrote in response (well, her second response, her first one was mostly in caps) applies to other patterns (transphobia, ableism, etc.) as well, and is well worth a read. (I didn’t find a passage that worked well out of context, so just click through. Content note for mentions of rape.)

Because people often respond to mentions of non-binary people by pointing out that the vast majority of people fits the binary, here’s a little snack for thought on what it could mean for rare things to be ignored (and perhaps on what rarity in percentage points even means).

Next up: an account of gender and how it relates to nerd culture.

But we are also conscious that our participation in male-dominated activities tends to be at the leisure of the men involved, and that membership in the group could be revoked at any time. For example, if one of the men begins to pursue a woman in the group romantically and she doesn’t return his interest, her continued participation may be threatened. This becomes even riskier for women in male dominated professions like cybersecurity — my own field of expertise. In professional settings, the stakes raise dramatically. Rejection of a man’s advances can cost us more than our hobby, sometimes it can cost us our jobs. As long as this dynamic exists, we can never truly be “one of the guys.”

Often, we deal with this fundamental outsiderness by creating secret spaces where we can pursue feminine interests on our own terms, where being “one of the guys” is no longer the only key for entry. When I reintegrated into my old hobbies post-transition, I found that there were entire subcultures built by the women of the group, for the women of the group. These small, isolated, and distinctive societies that women created were completely invisible to me before I transitioned, but when I returned to nerd culture I found myself added to secret chat rooms and invited to events just for the girls.

It was like finding a secret room in a house I lived in for decades. In these women-centered spaces, topics of feminine interest could be discussed openly and out of view of the men in the group. We were shielding them from being grossed out or bored — periods, eew! Fashion, ugh! — but more than that, we were shielding ourselves from having to openly remind anyone that we were women and thus inherently different. We feared that if they noticed, our passageway into acceptance might close.

And last but not least, a post about testosterone: which resounded with me (even though I personally never had big fears about testosterone – a healthy dose of skepticism for any kind of essentialism made my default belief that testosterone would not affect my personality or behavior much at all):

I was afraid of losing the part of myself that cries at Pixar movies and gathers my friends into huge hugs and composes love letters to my beloveds and really, really listens to my people when they’re hurting. I was afraid of embodying toxic masculinity. I was afraid of becoming (even more of) a stranger to myself. […]

Life as a testosterone-based human is in some ways indistinguishable from the pre-T years, except that at every turn I seem to be discovering more and more of myself. It’s as if I’d been living my life in the front hallway of a home that I am only now realizing has more and more rooms, cozy and brightly lit and familiar and mine. Life has a new quality of spaciousness now. […]

Trans people have a unique opportunity to strip back the veneer of patriarchal masculinity, of biological essentialism, of binary notions of sex and gender, and say, “There’s a different way to do this.” It’s up to you to decide what trying HRT means about your identity and place in the world.

And that’s all for today. See you next time!

A privilege of sex or gender

I sorted through some old browser bookmarks today and found this exchange, in which a user on tumblr challenged others to to name and prove male privileges. Another user responded with the following list of 47 items (slightly edited for easier reading) :

Continue reading “A privilege of sex or gender”

Data follows reality

[Going back to writing a post a day regardless of quality, because apparently everything else just gets me stuck not writing anything.]

I.

My mother has big feet.

She used to jokingly refer to her shoes as “children’s coffins” (and probably still does). Few stores or catalogues or even online shops carried women’s shoes that fit her, and the models they had were often very unflattering: drab and clunky, or impractical, or both. Any time she found shoes that fit her and that she actually liked, she got super excited, and made sure to remember the brand and check out more of their models and/or come back to it when she needed new ones.

A while ago, I came across some recommendations for where to buy shoes as a trans woman – a list of stores and brands offering shoes in big sizes. Amidst the many excited comments by women happy to finally find shoes in their size, there was one that said something along the lines of “Women’s shoes in your size don’t exist because actual women don’t need them.”

II.

A classmate of mine in high school was a passionate basketball player.
And she was worried about that. She already had a crooked nose, a narrow, angular face, and a broad chin: all attributes more commonly associated with male than with female faces. If playing more and more basketball, throwing herself into it, and becoming better at it now also gave her a more athletic, muscular build, would she look “too masculine”? Would she look “like a man”? What if everybody else thought so? What if the guys she was into found her too unfeminine, too manly? We reassured her as best as we could, but her concerns persisted.

Last fall, H&M released an ad featuring (among many others) a trans woman. Conservative Christian group One Million Moms was outraged at “what appears to be a man dressed as a woman” and called for boycotts.

The woman they were up in arms about was Fatima Pinto, a muscular, broad-shouldered Muay Thai fighter. Who also happens to be cis.

III.

It’s easier for me. Strange, considering that maleness is culturally largely considered “better”, but somehow being unmanly does not seem to make one automatically womanly: people might scoff or sneer at my more feminine features, but they consider me a failed man rather than a woman, and often not even that: the only time someone offhandedly mentioned my face being feminine in my presence, his wife was quick to assure me that “girls like that anyway”.

But it’s fucked up.

Muscles are not male or female, they just are. Feet and hands and hips and eyebrows and skin and hair and livers and erythrozytes and cerebella are never male or female. Even by the (simplified, incomplete) tales told by biology textbooks, these are not sexual characteristics, neither primary nor secondary. (Well, some hair is: beards are a male secondary sexual characteristic according to textbooks, so bearded women could be said to have some male characteristics. It probably shouldn’t be, though – it would serve no purpose and very likely be deeply annoying to bearded women at best and hurtful at worst.)

Many human features, height, shoe size, hip circumference, and others among them, are roughly normally distributed. (Very roughly, actually: a true normal distribution extends limitless into both directions, but a person cannot have a height of less than zero. But modelling it as a normal distribution still yields pretty good predictions for the distribution of actual data, so this flaw is usually just kind of ignored.)

Modelling them separately for men and women yields slightly different distributions with slightly different means. So does modelling them separately for people of different countries, people of different colors, people of different ages (duh), and many other characteristics. If you just gather data from enough people of any two categories, it’s even likely that all of these differences will be statistically significant.

A woman who is 1.90 m tall is statistically less likely than a man who is 1.90 m tall. An Asian woman of that height would be less likely than a white one. However, a white man with achondroplasia, despite being white and male, would be much less likely than the Asian woman to be this tall. (And a 1.90 m tall three-year-old, regardless of gender, is nigh impossible – so much so that I’m quite confident such an individual has never existed.)

But for fuck’s sake, people, that doesn’t mean that it’s impossible for a woman to be 1.90 m tall, or that being 1.90 m tall means you can’t be a woman. There are women who are 1.90 m tall. There are women with big feet, and big muscles, and narrow hips, and angular jawlines. No matter how unlikely something is given statistical distributions, if it exists, it exists anyway. Data must follow reality, not the other way around.

And I want to write this sentence on a pool noodle and use it to bump the heads of everybody who ever uses statistical distributions to deny someone’s womanhood, to make her feel like she has to fit herself to the data, like her body is wrong just because it’s statistically unlikely. (And the same goes for manhood and nonbinary-hood.)

Of maps and territories

[None of the thoughts in this post are original. I’m writing it anyway, because I figure the more people write about the basic idea behind this, the better: everyone will word it a little differently and reach a somewhat different audience, so each new post about it will increase the likelihood of more people coming in touch with and understanding the idea behind it. So here goes!]

This is a map of Austria (full size here):

https://i1.wp.com/www.ezilon.com/maps/images/europe/road-map-of-Austria.gif

Continue reading “Of maps and territories”

Sport stories

When I was little (probably five or six; must have been at least five, because we had already moved out of the flat I had been born in), I had ballet classes. Here’s what I remember about them:

  • I had a plain pink tutu, sensibly made of cotton and machine-washable. Some of the other girls had tutus with the skirt part made of that meshy plastic stuff that feels really nice when you rub it between two fingers, and one had a tutu made of some stretchy material that glittered. I was jealous.

  • We once had a show for parents and such in which we danced a robo-dance kind of thing, all edgy, isolated movements. (In hindsight, it doesn’t seem very ballet-y. I don’t know why we had a robo-dance.) My grandparents came to watch and later said that I was the only one who had occasionally paused to listen to the music and get back into the rhythm. I was very proud of that (and still kind of am).

  • I don’t remember a lot of what we actually did in class. I only remember one exercise that had us curl up really small on the floor, imagining we were flower seeds, and then growing upwards veeeery sloooooowly. It was boring as hell.

  • Once, my grandmother walked me to ballet class, and we passed a traffic sign I recognized as prohiting cars from parking, and lots of cars were parked behind it, and I made some horribly embarrassing pseudo-adult comment how typical that was, and she asked me to read what it said beneath the sign. It said “end”. But it said “end” in German, which is “Ende”, and I thought it said “Ente”, which means duck. My grandmother did not realize I had read “duck” and considered the matter settled. I did not understand what this had to do with cars and was very confused about it for the rest of the walk. This is not really related to ballet class, I’m just still embarrassed about it twenty years later and think of it in shame every time I think back to that ballet class.

Continue reading “Sport stories”

A brief life update

Good news, everybody: I’m still alive!

And I can barely remember where the past few weeks went, despite my time-tracking app: I was dimly aware I hadn’t logged in here, let alone written anything, for quite a while, but discovering I haven’t posted anything in almost three weeks was still a small shock.

I blame real life for much of it: there were roommate issues to deal with, a statistics program to wrestle, a paper to write, stuff to apply to, and some semblance of a social life to maintain.

The rest of it is mostly on Brooklyn Nine-Nine, which I’ve been watching an unreasonable amount of, various other TV series that started again, internet happenings to keep up with, and the usual pure laziness and perfectionist inhibitions.

I fell out of the somewhat established writing habits I built up over the twenty days of challenge, partly due to a vacation right at the end and partly due to the aforementioned real life stuff and laziness, so that’s gone now. I want to fall back in, though, and even pretty badly – writing was and is fun. It’s just hard to start, as always.

On (in)validation

Confession time: I’m not quite sure what people mean when they call emotions, preferences, choices or identities valid.

I know what it means for conclusions: a conclusion is valid if it follows logically from the premises. “Socrates is mortal” is a valid conclusion to draw from the premises “all men are mortal” and “Socrates is a man”: it correctly combines the premises and makes no assumptions not given in the premises.

Continue reading “On (in)validation”