Monthly Archives: May 2010

Tiwonge and Steven are not a “gay couple” — but are they a “straight couple”?

First, the good news: Tiwonge and Steven have been pardoned! (Warning on link for misgendering.) Although psychological violence continues to be done to Tiwonge via misgendering, and their life is likely to continue to be hard, I am glad that these two are being spared, and I wish them well.

Now to my topic, which is not so much about them as about the conversation we in the West are having about them:

Tiwonge Chimbalanga is a woman. (Whether she’s a trans woman or an intersex woman or a woman according to her own cultural ideas that Western thought is not capable of understanding is irrelevant to this particular conversation: she is a woman, and that is all we need to know here.) Steven Monjeza is a man. Therefore, calling them a “gay couple” (much less “Malawi’s first openly gay couple”) is both inaccurate and highly offensive.

But.

I’ve been seeing a lot of commentary, on Twitter (with its limitations on characters) especially, calling them, therefore, a “straight couple”.

I have a problem with this.

Acknowledging that Western1 ideas of sexuality and gender are not universal and therefore are likely to be inadequate to conceptualize or express this couple’s reality, how we talk about them reflects on us. And the language of “gay couple” and “straight couple” doesn’t reflect very well.

Our best information on Steven, from his own words, is this: “I have never had sexual feelings for ladies, but I had them with Tiwo”2. To Western understanding, this implies either asexuality or homo/bisexuality3 — which is to say, not straight. And as a not-straight person, I really, really hate being referred to as being part of a “straight couple”. It’s not a matter of denying the reality or privilege of my relationship, or wanting to score “queer points”, but that it feels wrong, and, intentionally or not, erases my identity.

The problem is that we use the same words for orientation as for relationships. Unquestionably I am a part of a woman/man couple, and I have abundant privilege therefore — but I am not straight, my relationship is not the same as it would be if all parties were straight, and I do not, as “straight relationship” implies, have straight privilege. We need a way to talk about relationships which does not by implication of orientation erase the identities of people like me, like Steven — for never is there a “bisexual couple”, or a “pansexual relationship” or a “queer relationship” (unless the genders of one or more participants is understood to be “queer”, or outside the binary). No where in “straight couple” or “gay couple” do we allow for anyone who does not fit neatly into the gender binary, for that matter4.

None of the alternatives I’ve encountered have seemed satisfactory. My so-far favorite — male/female/mixed relationship — is a step up, but still highly problematic in that it assumes binary gender, and would lump together relationships involving people with nonbinary genders (who do not, generally, receive societal approval and relationship privilege) with binary woman/man relationships (who do).

What I want are new words, words which allow us to describe the ways in which some relationships are privileged above others5 but which do not state or imply anything about the orientations of the people involved, which do not assume one man and one woman as the default (nor casts them as diametrically opposed, as does “opposite-sex couple”), which acknowledge that man and woman are not the only genders possible.

Given the beautiful complexity of humanity, I’m not sure that entirely unproblematic language is possible, but I am completely convinced we can do better than this. We have to.

  1. “Western” itself being a problematic expression, but generally understood to refer to white-dominated, Western-European(-descended) societies, such as the USA, Canada, the UK, Australia, etc.
  2. New York Times, Feb 13 2010
  3. Given that a man can be gay — as a rule or in general attracted to men, or having the identity of such — and still fall in love with a woman.
  4. Which is to say, someone who is neither a man nor a woman (trans men and women can fit as neatly into the binary as can cis men and women).
  5. For if, as has been suggested, we simply only ever say “couple” or “partners”, we lose the ability to identify the relationships that are marginalized in society — the “colorblind” theory as applied to relationships.

I quit the world today

It’s been one of those days.

One of those days when something goes wrong, and suddenly everything else goes wrong too — because children pick up on moods, because the ability to cope has been drained and then some, because half-broken beds can stand up to daily use but not fuck-I’m-having-a-shit-day attacks.

The most proximal reason for the crap covering this day: I got kicked out of physical therapy for, essentially, hurting too much. For being too broken. After being referred to PT in the first place for plateauing with chiropractic and massage.

The universe does not seem a friendly place when one feels hopeless and helpless and pissed off and in pain.

***********

There are things going on about which I am not blogging. And it appears that my brain has decided that because I won’t blog about them, I shan’t blog at all, for my words have vanished1.

I sit here, head throbbing (post-crying-jag dehydration headache? oncoming migraine? too much crappy-day-quitting-the-world-knitting-and-movie-watching? only time will tell), words gone, ideas slipping between my fingers, and I am torn as always between staying in the room and staying in the moment, between going all-out and going with the flow. Which means I do neither, and fit and start and flit… and stop.

I’m praying that this is my crazy brain speaking, but I feel like this — this start-and-stop, this can’t-pick-a-path — has been my whole life. At least since adolescence.

(12 was when I injured my back.

12 was when I started writing.

Let’s call that a coincidence.)

***********

A scene:

I’m lying in bed, eyes red, tear tracks drying. The Boychick is trying to drag his dad away to “watch something”2 with him. His dad is trying to put him off. I, feeling better but as though a cozy brain-dead snuggle would be about my speed, ask gently “What would you like to watch?”, to which my angel child responds with a shout “Stop talking to me like that!”

I lose it.

Cue next crying jag.

***********

A belief:

Any improvement I try to enact, any move toward health and the life I want which I try to make, is countered. Any thought of how to help leads to twenty thoughts of what it would require and what it would entail that makes it impossible. My life is an oroborus, a perpetual catch-22, two steps forward and two steps back, and if I’m to wind up in the same place anyway, why am I trying to travel at all? All this shaking about is giving me a headache.

***********

An assertion:

I am not by nature a pessimist3. I call myself a cynical optimist: the world sucks, but it’s gotta get better eventually. And I can see, if I take the long view, that I have made so many steps forward in these years, in my mental health, in my physical health, in the life I live. My family has grown; I have a child.

But I’m back again doing the same old shit, in my body, in my habits, in my mind. Polished by the years, worn down by dint of my hard effort, but the problems I’m dealing with now are the same ones from last year, from five years ago — some of ‘em from fifteen years ago, and more. It’d be taunting Murphy more than I care to to ask for new crap to deal with, but I gotta say, I’m more than a bit tired of facing the same dance partners again, when I thought I’d spun away from them for good — when I know I’ve new ones to deal with now as well.

***********

So today I quit. I quit cranky children and falling apart beds and bulging discs and impossible decisions and insufficient funds and fucked up neurology. I quit deadlines and judgments and standards I can’t live up to and never ending chores and never unpacked boxes. I quit failure and pain and mean people and getting ignored. I quit. I’m done.

***********

It doesn’t go away, of course (alas), just like your job doesn’t disappear when you quit, it’s just not your job any more. Today I declared — loud enough for neighbours three houses over to have heard, I’m sure — that even though I couldn’t make the world stop, I could make it not my job, and I was more than ready to. (There was rather more swearing at the time, and fewer syllables.)

Everything that sucked today will still be true tomorrow. But that’s tomorrow. And today, tomorrow isn’t my job.

  1. That last non-guest post? Had been almost completely written a month ago. There is that advantage to having an embarrassingly long draft queue: there’s bound to be something to dust off and put up when all else has dried up and blown away.
  2. Which is to say, watch a video on the computer.
  3. Except when I am.

NPFP Guest Post: No Jabs, Please

Welcome to RMB’s Naked Pictures of Faceless People, a series of guest posts from diverse anonymous bloggers. (Read more about NPFP’s origins.) These are the posts that are jumping to get out of us, but for whatever reason — safety, embarrassment, conflict of interest, protection of loved ones’ reputations or feelings, or so on — we don’t or won’t or can’t post at our own blogs. Anyone is welcome to submit or discuss a potential post by emailing me at arwyn at raisingmyboychick dot com.

No Jabs, Please

Neither of my children have received any vaccinations. I am making this blog post anonymously because I am wary of the backlash I might receive just for saying I don’t vaccinate my kids.

My husband and I did not make this decision based on a belief that vaccines cause autism. I believe, and always have done, that the evidence for that is flimsy at best. We made the decision out of a distrust of the additives in vaccines, of large pharmaceutical companies and their ethics (rather, lack there of), of one size fits all healthcare and many other reasons.

We are just parents who care about our children and are trying to make the best decisions we can. We looked at the information we could find and made our own informed decision. Which is, ultimately, what most people do when deciding things for themselves and/or their children. We understand that some vaccines may be worth the risks depending on the situation and are open to the idea of selectively vaccinating the children in the future. At the same time, we don’t believe that every vaccine on the schedule is worth the risk. We believe in tailoring our healthcare decisions to our particular situation and lifestyle.

We (non-vaxxers in general) often get treated like we’re wearing tinfoil hats, worse even. Granted, some of us are alarmist and extreme. But then, so are some of the vehemently pro-vaccination camp. I have friends who once meant very much to me spouting the most vile vitriol against anyone and everyone who chooses not to vaccinate. They post things on Facebook accompanied by paragraphs long rants about how evil, stupid and not worth the air they breathe non-vaxxers are. They claim they have science behind them … well, last I checked, science was impartial and not so overtly hateful or hurtful. These things hurt. They hurt a lot.

My husband and I are both intelligent and educated. We can make our own informed decisions, and to attack our intelligence and/or our right to exist as human beings just because we make a different healthcare decision from you is both exceedingly arrogant and downright wrong. Not everyone who chooses not to vaccinate their children are extremists as not everyone who chooses to vaccinate are extremists.

My husband and I acknowledge that we may not have the right answer and that there likely isn’t one right answer. We only do what we feel is best for our children, ourselves and our family based on the circumstances and the information we have at the time. We have friends who fully vaccinate their children. We have friends who don’t vaccinate at all. We even have friends who partially vaccinate to a delayed schedule. Some of those friends (in all three groups) are even from a healthcare or medical background. We don’t judge any of them because we know that they all are doing the same as us: gathering information and trying to make the best decision they can for their situation. So, why do so many in the pro-vaccination camp feel they have the right to denigrate, ridicule and generally treat as dirt on their shoe those of us who simply made a different choice?

People need to step back, take a deep breath and do what is right for them without expecting everyone to come to the same conclusion. Alarmist propaganda is never ok and neither is demonizing an entire group of people for a personal decision. We trust parents to drive their children around in cars, to make other healthcare decisions, to guide their children’s dietary choices. This is no different.

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Please support the Naked Pictures of Faceless People project by commenting on the posts. Comments which attack or attempt to guess the identity or any aspect of the identity of the blogger will be deleted, however. Protect and respect this space as though it were your own work on display here, naked and faceless.

Anonymous comments are welcome on NPFP posts. Simply put “Anonymous” or any pseudonym in Name, and either your own or a fake email addresses (ex me@me.com) as the email. NOTE: If you have a Gravatar associated with your email address, it will show up even with an anonymous name, in which case please use a different or a fake email address.

NOTE: This is not a place to debate, defend, or attack vaccines, and this is definitely not a place to attack this naked and faceless poster for hir choices. Vaccines, and the decision to vaccinate fully or selectively or not at all, have public health consequences; this is not an excuse for incivility. PLEASE keep the focus on the subjective experience of making an unpopular decision.

“Have you ever had to massage anyone… gross?”

I hate this question. I really, really hate this question. And as a massage therapy student, I get it fairly regularly, even among my “progressive”/”crunchy” friend set. I also hear from prospective massage students that this is a question they get bombarded with from skeptical people.

Here’s why I hate it:

It assumes there’s such a thing as a “gross” person, or a “gross” body.

I will admit that an unwashed body1 can be pretty… off-putting. But relatively clean bodies? There’s no such thing as an inherently gross body or gross person.

I mean this in all seriousness: every body I have ever seen on my table is beautiful. I am continually awed by the variety and beauty of the human form that I get to experience every time I give a massage. All the things that society says are gross or disgusting in the body are nothing more than disgusting prejudices — bodies that are “too fat” or “too thin” or “misshapen” or the “wrong color” or “too hairy” or whatever else kyriarchy has dictated is to be hated today — they are not what I see when I look at the bodies on my table. I see people — of all shapes, and sizes, and abilities, and colors, and hairiness — and they all floor me, always, with how similar they are, and simultaneously how different. How beautiful they all are, whether they’re in pain or fit or adequately functional or however else they may be.

I don’t know that all massage therapists feel this way2 but it’s the way I feel, and it is both cause and effect of my training and career path. I won’t say I haven’t encountered any prejudice in the classroom, but there have been abundant messages of body acceptance and positivity.

And that is how it should be: massage, at its best, is one place where we can relax completely — both our muscles and the walls we erect to protect ourselves. I hate this question because it violates that sanctity, and promotes the very prejudices I work so hard to keep my space free of.

  1. By which I do NOT mean a clean-but-sweaty or showered-last-night or smells-like-human body — though if you’re coming for massage, it’d be really nice to have bathed since your last workout — but rather mean built-up gunk. Which, actually, I have not yet encountered in a massage setting.
  2. Though I will say I have never worked with a massage therapist from whom I felt any amount of body shame.

Malawi Couple Jailed: This Is a Woman’s Issue

Trigger warning for descriptions of misgendering, violence, and degrading situations.

Here are the basics of the story, from Questioning Transphobia:

Today [20 May 2010], Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, whom the media calls “Malawi’s first openly gay couple” even though Tiwonge identifies as a woman and her partner as her husband, were given a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison with hard labour after being convicted of gross indecency and unnatural acts.

This is being reported everywhere as a “gay issue” — and to be sure, any group purporting to care about LGBTQIA1 rights (which is to say human rights) should damn well care about what’s happening to these two people — but what this is, among other things, is a woman’s issue.

It is a woman, sent to a men’s jail, who:

…arrived in court noticeably ill. [Her] lawyers said [she] had contracted malaria in the hideously overcrowded jail, though the defendant later blamed guards for trying to beat [her] into a confession.

(Pronouns corrected, quote from New York Times, Feb 13 2010)

It is a woman who was made to strip completely in front of her employer:

Jean Kamphale, [Ms] Chimbalanga’s boss at a Blantyre lodge, testified that she accepted “Auntie Tiwo” as a woman and assigned her cooking and cleaning chores. But after the article in The Nation appeared, she made her employee disrobe and refused to let [her] stop until [she] was naked from the waist down…

(Pronouns corrected, bolding added2)

It is a woman who not only has been arrested, beaten, had her partner renounce his love for her, and sentenced to hard labor, but has been consistently misgendered by news media, both mainstream and “alternative” (trigger warnings on both those links). Even when she is quoted as saying “I am a complete woman”, writers continue to use inappropriate language and gender, to declare her given name “real” rather than the name she lives with daily, to misrepresent her gender and her sexuality.

Some activists, defending their misgendering, have said that as Westerners, we cannot impose our concepts of “gender identity” on to Tiwonge — and it is true that our concepts of gender and transsexuality do not directly translate, but it is no less true that our concepts of sexuality and homosexuality do not directly translate. We have to make do with what we have, and what we have is her saying, repeatedly, that she is a woman.3

Given that the Malawi government has also been consistently misgendering her, is homophobia at play here? Yes, indubitably.4 But homophobia only becomes an issue because transphobia has erased her gender. And when that psychological violence is perpetrated against a woman, that’s a woman’s issue.

Should that matter? Shouldn’t it be enough that this is a LGBTQIA issue, a trans issue — and, most simply, an egregious human rights violation? Of course. But while mainstream media and the majority of queer activists are making this out to be about “gay rights”, it is important to remember that at the center of this storm are a woman, and her man, who are being punished simply for wanting their relationship recognized.

There are many ills being done here. Don’t add to them: honor Tiwonge’s womanhood, and insist that your news sources do as well. It may be little comfort to her at this point, but it means so much to so many women, all over the globe.

*****

Further reading:

Questioning Transphobia — Be sure to watch the video, if you are able. (There’s no transcript of it as of yet that I am aware of.)

Gender DynamiX

Akimbo

TransGriot

  1. Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender/transsexual Queer Intersex Asexual
  2. The bolded “her” is the one appropriate gendering pronoun used in the entire New York Times article.
  3. Although I haven’t been able to confirm what language Tiwonge is speaking, my understanding is the national language of Malawi is English, so it is entirely likely her words have not even been translated.
  4. It is not even entirely accurate to call them a heterosexual couple, because the man in the couple appears to be what we in the West might identify as queer: he has stated that he had never been attracted to women, before meeting Tiwonge.
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