Monthly Archives: October 2011

Help a blogger out

Today was another “Yes! I am inspired! I will write about this Topical Topic! I can feel a kick-ass rant coming on! Wait, but the baby needs to nurse. And now I only have one hand. And the big kid is yelling at me. And now I am a parenting failure, and feel completely drained. No, I will write! Are you fucking kidding me? My blog won’t let me log in. Fine, I’ll restart the computer. WHAT DO YOU MEAN SYSTEM ERRORS?? And now The Man has to go back to work. Right. I will never blog again. Think I can make it as a professional pumpkin carver?” day. Which, minus the pumpkin carving, is at least the third time that’s happened in the last three weeks, and honestly, I’m starting to despair.

See, I could totally go pro with the pumpkins. Yes, that is a rotary cutter. Mmm, power tools.

So, while I wait for The Man to come home three two hours early in an attempt to give me half an hour of writing time1, I ask you: how do you eke time out of Life to, y’know, write? Or how do you stay out of the crazy-dark-despair when you can’t? How do you work on one piece a piece at a time over several days, a skill I’ve never quite managed? How do you make your sleep-deprived, slug-like brain function during the fifteen minutes an evening you carve out? How do you convince yourself that the little you can do is good enough for now?

How the hell do I do this?

And:

Happy Halloween

  1. Think that’s unrealistic? There’s getting Vulva Baby transfered to him, reminding myself what I’m supposed to be writing about, taking Vulva Baby back to nurse, re-reading my Twitter rant on the topic for inspiration, getting interrupted by the Boychick telling me about his video game/asking me to play Chinese Zodiac with him/breaking my heart by talking about how much he misses his dead grandparents and wants to put out a path of petals so they can find him on The Day of the Dead, redirecting him to his dad, trying to shut out the cries of Vulva Baby who has just been woken by her brother’s yells of protest, completely losing it myself, attempting to repair the damage done to both kids by hearing a mother’s primal scream, nursing Vulva Baby again, talking with The Man about dinner, remembering there’s a Halloween party to get ready for, looking at the computer with longing and breaking into tears…

    You’re right, it is unrealistic. No way am I getting even half an hour.

Writings on a baby’s body

On sisters and siblings

I made the mistake early in my pregnancy of asking the Boychick if he wanted a brother or a sister, meaning did he want one-of-the-above. But he heard me, paused for a moment, and announced “A sister!” I laughed, and tried again after explaining that we didn’t get to choose, but he was undeterred. From then on, he was adamant that a sister he would have.

And then came the baby, vulva first. (The line that ran through my head at the birth, which we weren’t expecting to be breech, was “I don’t think scalps have mucus membranes.”) We explained again, as we had throughout the pregnancy, that we were making a guess about her gender, based on her genitals, and we wouldn’t know if she was a girl until she told us, just like we didn’t know he was a boy until he told us1. He was fine with this (it helps, I think, that he has an openly trans man in his life, so he’s familiar with vulva-but-not-a-girl) — as long as we were clear that she was his sister. “Sibling” just would not do.

So sister she is. And she she is, for the moment, as long as English insists on gendered pronouns. Oh, I could refer to her online as ze or s/he, but the truth is, we don’t do that in person, and it seems overly pretentious to do it online alone.

On pronouns and provisional assignments

Which, of course, begs the question: why is she she? Why do we, The Man and I, advocates of gender diverse parenting that we are, assign gender at all, no matter how provisionally? I’ve been asked this before, even been attacked because of it, and had my “commitment” to the “cause” be questioned.

Not, please note, by anyone with children of their own.

Because here’s the thing: this parenting gig? It’s fucking hard. It’s hard intrinsically, one of the most physically, emotionally, and mentally challenging activities one can engage in in life, and certainly the one with the longest haul and hardest hurdles to “quitting”. And my society, my dear, pressures-all-(privileged)-women-to-be-mothers-but-forget-about-actually-supporting-them society, makes it so, so much harder.

All parents are attacked for their choices by somebody2; any parent making a choice outside of the “mainstream” gets attacked even more viciously, by even more people; and the more marginalized a parent is, the more the attacks come not “just” in words3 but in tangible, terrifying ways.

Nearly every time I write about gender diverse/gender “neutral” parenting, I have a queer parent or a trans parent or a parent on public assistance or a parent dependent on the goodwill of their disapproving family tell me that they would be so much more radical/subversive/gender-diverse in their choices if they weren’t afraid they would lose custody of their children.

They have reason to be afraid.

I’m reasonably protected from the most catastrophic of the consequences, apparently living in a socially-condoned heterocentric, white, middle-class relationship — but even I still have so much shit to deal with, with my finite mental/emotional resources, that there’s only so much I can do. There are only so many choices I can make that take me out of the mainstream and into even-deeper public scrutiny, and still, y’know, survive.4 So I make the ones I do, the ones I can, the ones I am willing to defend in the face of the worst of the judgment.

(Just for not enforcing gender roles with my children, I am called a cunt and a dyke and a fucking crazy bitch and told I should have my children removed. There are all too real consequences for stepping out of kyriarchy’s line, before it even comes to the level of custody issues. It is not only unreasonable but actively harmful, a means of perpetuating kyriarchy and oppression, to demand that parents, already attacked on all sides, do all the work raising children radical. Society has to help make it reasonably safe for us to do so, as well.)

Vulva Baby or the Girlchick?

Girlchick seems the obvious blog moniker for this new child of mine, doesn’t it? We have a child with a penis, the eponymous Boychick, who was given that name years before his gender was self-declared, and now we have a child with a vulva. And I tried it on, used it in a post, tweeted it a handful of times — but it never sat right with me.

I look at this child, and I don’t see “girl”. I see a baby, as her brother was once a baby; nothing screamed “boy” about him, the occasional acquaintance’s comments to the contrary, and nothing announces “girl” about her. She is very much not her brother: she spits up less, and farts more; she is happier to be in a carrier when awake, but more often prefers facing to the side instead of towards me; her elimination signals are clearer, and she wakes more frequently at night; her hair is redder, her eyes less goopy, her scalp more bumpy, her digits shorter. And she has a vulva. What about this makes her a “girl”, if we are to avoid essentializing gender to genitalia?

When strangers ask me “Boy or girl?”5, I’m apt to answer “she’s a she”, because saying “girl” just doesn’t feel right, or honest, or accurate; this answers the question they really need to know6, which is what language to use to talk about this adorable being. But it seems nearly obscene to that heavily put a gender on an infant this young; can’t she just be a baby for a little while, before we start telling her what role to play?

Resolving the conflict

That may seem like a contradiction, this use of “she”, this (mostly) avoidance of “girl”. But one is about survival in a society antagonistic to non-gendering; the other is saying “this far and no farther”. I cannot stop all damage from being done to this perfect child of mine, but I will do what I can to minimize it. I won’t pretend that she’ll be unaffected by others’ perceptions of her, but I will help her be aware of them; I won’t tell her what her gender is, but I will tell her what her society thinks her gender should be; I won’t subject her to every strangers’ disapproval of alternative pronouns, but I will tell her she can choose another if she likes; I will tell her she has a vulva, but I won’t tell her she has to stay that way. And I will tell her I will always, always, always love her, whoever she turns out to be.

  1. He started declaring “I’m a boy!” around a year ago, at 3.5 years.
  2. No, really — that is the point of the “mommy wars”: there is no winning. It truly does not matter which “side” you fall on, because there’s the mass media, telling you how much the “other” side thinks you’re ruining your children/going to hell/Doin It Rong. Fun! Only, not.
  3. As though the psychoemotional toll of verbal abuse isn’t itself a problem?
  4. For someone with a set of mood disorder diagnoses that is the most lethal of those tracked, this is not hyperbole.
  5. Or, the strangest comment I’ve received yet: “I’m sorry, I can’t tell from here, is that a boy or a girl?” Like you could know if she weren’t inside the wrap?
  6. Yes, need, until English eliminates the need for gendered pronouns.

Heroes, bumblers, abandoners, and patriarchs: Fatherhood on Doctor Who

I have a new piece up at Global Comment: Heroes, bumblers, abandoners, and patriarchs: Fatherhood on Doctor Who (don’t be scared by the title, my non-geekling friends; it should be entirely1 accessible to those who have thus far avoided sullying their gaze with my dorky obsession):

Fatherhood strode from the sidewings to center stage in the form of the Lone Centurion (aka Rory Pond, nee Williams) in “A Good Man Goes to War,” and continued in “Night Terrors” and “Closing Time”. In these episodes, we see first a portrayal and then subversion of the most common tropes of fatherhood; respectively, the Hero (the aforementioned centurion-slash-nurse Rory), the Abandoner (Alex), and the Bumbler (Craig). Assisting each we have, of course, the Doctor — a man who, 10 incarnations and nearly 50 boringly linear human years ago, was himself a grandfather. Although most versions of the show between 1963 and now have glossed over the central character’s implied fatherhood, here he is portrayed in full Wise Patriarch mode, taking these three men — and the viewer — on a transformative journey that amounts to a guide to Moffat’s vision of Enlightened Fatherhood.

Finish reading at GC, because it’s good and because I managed to write it with a newborn — often one handed — so click over if only to be amazed that I formed cohesive sentences and semi2-cogent arguments.

Speaking of, one day I will write a memoir, and in it will be a piece about sitting in the living room holding a sleeping baby over the potty with one hand (because she fell asleep immediately upon finishing her business and if I moved her she might wake up again and that would just be unacceptable), breast hanging out of the nursing tank, laptop balanced on the arm of the chair, typing with the other hand because I was In the Middle of a Thought and also On Deadline. Because if there is a more perfect metaphor-and-example of balancing parenting and paid employment, I haven’t heard it.

  1. My editor says semi.
  2. My editor says entirely.

Guest post: Why does the media show transgender children more sympathetically?

Welcome back Emily Manuel, of Global Comment, the Twitters, and my chat box, with a piece on the seemingly-benign “better” portrayal of transgender children compared to their adult counterparts.

Why does the media show transgender children more sympathetically?

For some reason, everywhere I go lately there’s stories about trans children.  Nightline ran an episode, while Dr Phil ran one on one trans and one intersex child.  And CNN currently has a video up of trans children about two children at the Gender Spectrum Family Conference.

Interest in trans people in general and trans children in particular isn’t really a new phenomena, of course, but what’s notable about these stories is how sympathetic and non-sensationalised these takes are.  While there’s of course the odd bit of sketchy language, the children’s rights and identities are largely respected, and in the case of CNN allowed to speak in their own words.

Of course, it’s not all hearts and puppydogs in the media–and there’s still a lot of scaremongering out there.  Just yesterday, a Canadian newspaper ran a full page anti trans hate ad that read “don’t confuse me. I’m a girl, don’t cause me to question if I’m a boy, transsexual transgender, intersexed or two spirited.”  And of course there was the “psychiatrist” on Fox in the Toemaggedon story (you know the guy).  The WHAT ABOUT THE CHILDREN mob always like to pretend as though there’s no such thing as a LGBT child, that we just need to violently enforce gender norms and then no child will ever be trans. Phew.

But still, compared to the mockery, bathroom panic, and blatant victim blaming of trans murder victims, trans children get a comparatively sympathetic media treatment.  As such it’s worthwhile contrasting the sympathetic treatment of trans kids with the continued sensationalist treatment of trans adults, particularly women, and why there might be a such a great disparity between the two.

An idealisation of children as innocent

We as a culture have a bifurcated view of children as either angels or demons (but rarely full human beings).  In the first view, children are idealised as innocent.  Innocence is a Christianised theological category, connoting not just a lack of culpability or experience but also purity.  A lack of sin.  In the second view, we have the monstrous child, the demonic pure evil child familiar to us from horror movies and Stephen Moffat penned Doctor Who episodes.  This is the mirror image of the angel, its opposite.

But, in realistic cultural representations, the trans child is likely to retain their innocent status regardless.  In trans negative views, the mother or father are usually to “blame” for their transness, the culpability is shifted elsewhere.

An idealisation of children as natural

If children are considered innocent, then they are also often considered more natural than adults.  The idea of childhood as closer to nature is an old one, widely popularised by Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s writings (eg Emile) in the 18th century.  Nature is pure, culture is tainted.

So for a child to be trans is to be more “natural” than an adult transitioner.  The desire to provide a scientific explanation for any kind of LGBT identity is, in effect, to call something “natural,” innate.  It’s not a choice, baby I was born this way.  To be natural is, in effect, in innocent.  So trans children already have an advantage here in being considered more natural.   If they’re closer to nature, then their transness must be natural, too.

In contrast, the adult transitioner is easier to critique – blame – for “choosing” to be trans.  Julia Serano noted in Whipping Girl that media representations tend to emphasis the artificiality of trans women, with a focus on make-up and clothes.  Trans people, especially trans women, are considered fake.  Not “really” as real in their sexes as cis people.

A cultural idea of children as not sexual

This is a really important difference between the two.  Media images of  trans women in particular tend to be extremely sexualised–the trans sex worker of colour is a stock figure in crime fiction for instance. The cultural confusion between gender and sexuality results in people considering transness as an intensified form of queer sexuality–the trans woman as a drag queen who went “too far,” the trans man as the butch woman who did the same.  And anxieties about trans people as “deceivers” go even further, because as trans academic Talia Mae Bettcher has argued, gendered clothing itself works as a form of symbolic signalling about genital status and hence sexual availability.  It’s a code, which is why we speak, nonsensically about “women’s clothing” and “men’s clothing,” as though the cuts of clothing somehow is necessarily linked to gender and sex.

So trans adults are a threat because they “mismatch” (as Bettcher terms it) the codes of cissexual heterosexuality, the organisation of genitally-determined sexed bodies into “potentially fuckable” and “not potentially fuckable.”  Wearing the clothes of the supposed other sex is “cross dressing,” is a violation of the cultural line between sexed bodies, gender identity and gender expression.  And because heterosexuality is so frequently premised on its melancholic rejection of homosexuality, to be attracted to someone with the “wrong” genitals is a kind of psychic threat, which often results in violence to trans people (especially from cis men).  As Julia Serano says in her poem “Cocky

“My penis changes the meanings of everything. And because of her, every one of my heterosexual ex-girlfriends, has slept with a lesbian. And every guy who hits on me these days could be accused of being gay.”

In contrast, trans children are considered to not be sexual yet – their transness is not as strongly mediated by ideas of sexuality.  Sympathetic portrayals of trans children are just about gender , without a sexual component1.  Adult trans people have long battled the assumption that they transition for a sexual reason, or that they’re sexually promiscuous or sex workers, but trans children don’t hit those some fears.  They’re not considered dangerous in quite the same way.

So in conclusion.

This view of trans children as sympathetic may not be quite as progressive as it seems.  While it’s wonderful to see trans children treated as actual living breathing human beings, and more positive representations will definitely help those children gain access to blockers and hormones, what happens when they grow up?

Because at some point, most of those children will become sexually active teens and adults–and then we’re at the same point as before.  Until we start to really interrogate the ways in which we idealise children and then demonise the adults they grow into (from innocent to fallen), things won’t really have changed so much after all.

  1. Though we should note in the negative portrayals the fear that gender variance signals a future homosexuality is made explicit. It’s just not as dominant a motif.
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