Happy Trans Visibility Day!

Wow, I totally forgot this holiday was even coming up when I made those pronouns posts, but it just really is meant to be!

As a cis person, I can only parrot back the words that my strong, trans brothers and sisters have said for me, so allow me to share some of my favorites:

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Also, if I could link to this episode of Gaycation with Ellen Page because there’s a really great interview with a trans woman about America’s failure to protect trans women of color (captured in this tumblr post).

There’s not much I can say that hasn’t been said already, just know that both Jessie and I support our trans siblings and wish you all the love and happiness in the world.

Today is for you! (Tomorrow for me.)

-JM

Cat calling and why it isn’t a compliment

I guarantee you if you ask any woman in you’re life, they will tell you that they have been cat called at least once. They will also most likely tell you that they hated it. 

The first time I remember being cat called was when I was 11, walking to the park with my friend. I was actually terrified. A grown man called to me from his truck, some thing along the lines of “hey sexy!”. 

I remember when I was 13 being followed around the mall with another friend. He called to us and we ignored it, and that made him angry. He cursed at us and after a while he eventually left us alone. 

I’ve been told to take my shirt off, to shake my butt, to come closer, to smile, to do sexual things, and to go to hell when I did not respond. Are you starting to see the predatorial aspect yet?

Cat calling is about power. When someone cat calls me I know that I have a solid chance of being physically harmed if I do not respond. There have been women legitimately killed for ignoring or saying no to cat calling. 

The men who cat call know this. They know that they can say anything they want to me and any other woman and that we can’t do much to stop it. It’s a power play. 

“Learn how to take a compliment” is my favorite response to disliking cat calling. Let me explain why the things we hear are no where close to compliments and why, even if they are compliments, they are not wanted. Things I’ve had men personally yell to me: hey sexy, why don’t you show a little more skin for me. Why don’t you put that pretty mouth to use? You’d be a lot prettier if you (insert absurd idea here). I can think of a few things I’d like to do to you. 

Do you get the idea yet? It’s all about objectification. My body is mine, what I do with my body is my business, and I don’t care what you want with it. Men feel entitled to women’s bodies and they hide behind “freedom of speech” to let us know that they only see us as sex objects.

Other than a power surge, what do men get from cat calling? Nothing. I’ve never heard a relationship origin story that started with a man yelling obscenities at a woman and then her agreeing to go on a date. The idea of cat calling is outrageous. 

All in all, cat calling is not and never will be a compliment. Please evaluate what you are doing and why.

-JB

Pronouns Part II: The Reckoning

Yes, that title’s funny, but actually.

Pronouns are serious. Our entire language is basically built up to screw us, whether it be because of the lack of singular non-gendered pronouns or the fact that it’s socially polite to address someone as ‘sir’ or ‘ma’am’ when you meet them (basically asking you to guess their gender on the spot), the English language is pretty slow on the uptake when it comes to gender identity and the breakdown of a gender binary.

And I can talk about the breakdown of the gender binary for days – how male vs female is a false dichotomy and how personal identity is super complicated – but instead how about I link this cute video by Hank Green.

Now let’s rewind to when Hank says “Sex does not determine the pronoun you should use, gender does.”

I feel like all of us, or most of us at least, are at a point in our cultural understanding where we can get this – we can understand that a person’s genitalia does not determine how they think, feel, or identify. Laverne Cox and Kaitlyn Jenner were certainly huge contributions in that massive overhaul of thinking, but nothing is perfect, and the fact that our language and social customs actively work against that certainly doesn’t help.

To illustrate this, I’m going to tell a story involving my mother who is a nurse. My mother is very open-minded and accepting (she’d kind of have to be to have me for a kid, what with me being as preachy as I am) so please take this story knowing that my mother did not intend any offense or bigotry but she was viciously screwed by language and social customs.

My mother is a nurse. A baby nurse, to be exact: she helps the birth-giver through delivery and then keeps the former-fetus alive after that until baby can be taken home without dying. Now, as you can imagine, in her twenty-odd years of doing this, the formula has been ‘woman gives birth, father cheering.’ She has dealt with lesbian couples and single mothers with two men on standby ready to adopt the child, but by and large, her first instinct is ‘mother and father’. Does that give her the right to assume? No, but we’re giving my Mommy the benefit of the doubt.

Mom’s dealing with a woman who’s about to go into labor. This woman’s partner is standing nearby, and when the woman is about to be wheeled into the room, my mother asks “Is he coming in, too?”

My mother swears she was given no indication that she’d said anything wrong. She was given no forewarning that the person accompanying the laboring woman used non-male pronouns, nor did either person make a fuss at the time. But a couple days later, my mother was brought in to the office because of a complaint that she ‘hadn’t respected the couple’s wishes’.

Now, take this with a grain of salt, because my mother was very defensive while telling me this story and she may have made it sound more mild than it was, but either way, my mother made a mistake – an innocent one – and had been apprehended for it. She felt attacked by the trans community, worried she would lose her job, it was a hot mess.

There’s a lot built into that story – about traditional ideas of gender and family, about the gendering of names (“Their name wasn’t ‘Amanda’ or anything, it was a male sounding name!”), about the lack of communication in delicate social situations in the medical profession, about the value of labels in shaping one’s identity – whatever, I’m here to focus on how this could have been avoided.

Because I, too, struggle sometimes. Not with using pronouns that I know are wrong, but of assuming gender based on situation or conditions.

Like just now, I was making a blog post on my personal tumblr, and I wanted to reference this one artist I admire and I said ‘Her art is amazing’ but then I paused. Because of the fandom and the friend-group I knew this artist was a part of within the fandom I had just assumed they were female. I checked myself and then I checked their blog to see if that could tell me what was up. They didn’t have any indication in the description or an about me page. And furthermore, they go by Playlist, so it wasn’t like the name could give me any clue. (Name is not an indication of gender. I checked myself again.)

I ended up rewriting the sentence to say “I blame Playlist, the art is amazing.” to avoid the thing altogether.

This could be avoided! Just put your pronouns in the description of your blog or your twitter or whatever! My sidebar description doesn’t have it (It’s a haiku, I couldn’t mess up the rhythm) but I do have an about me page where the first bullet is ‘She/Her’. And My twitter bio refers to be as she also. Just in case.

But that kind of thing doesn’t really help in real life. Yeah, you could put ‘She/her’ on business cards or something but no one really uses business cards, do they? Not casually, at least. So here’s my proposal:

When you meet someone new, you have to give them your name anyway, right? So would it really be that big of a deal to give them your pronouns right after?

“Hi, I’m Jessie, she/her.”

They’re either going to know what that is or they won’t, and if they don’t you can explain it and open the door for them to give you their pronouns as well. But more importantly, if they do know what it means, they could be grateful to you. Coming out as trans can’t be easy, I imagine, but if someone else opens up with their pronouns, it makes it much easier for the trans person to give you theirs without making it a big thing. If we normalize sharing pronouns, we can eliminate the guesswork and misgendering that plagues a lot of the trans community.

Imagine my mother: “I’m Tammy, I’ll be your nurse. She/her”

And then the pregnant woman gives her name and she/her.

And then the woman’s partner gives their name and they/them.*

Now Mom doesn’t go through that embarrassing/potentially career destroying pronoun slip-up and the couple is grateful to have a nurse that is socially conscious enough to know that that language is fake and gender is a lie. Tada!

Adopt this introduction, I’m serious. It may seem weird at first because this isn’t in the oral tradition of language but it will really help break down the barriers we’ve created with language, I’m sure.

I’m going to start doing this and I’ll let you know how it goes. And you all should do the same!

-JM

*I never did get what the woman’s partner’s pronouns ACTUALLY were, I’m just guessing on this one. It’s a hypothetical anyway, y’all get the point.

 

Pronouns

We all remember grammar: pronouns are words that replace nouns. You always have to  have pronoun/noun agreement. For example, instead of saying ‘Jessie Maggio’, I say ‘I’. Instead of saying ‘the chair’ I would have to say ‘it’. Instead of ‘My father’ I say ‘he’. Instead of ‘Tiffany’ I say ‘she’.

Unless Tiffany asks me not to, because they are not a ‘she’, they are a ‘they’.

Because Tiffany is agender and their pronouns will be respected.

“But Jessie! Jessie!” I can hear some of you cry, “The pronoun ‘they’ can only be used for plural nouns! For singular, you would have to use ‘he’, ‘she’, or ‘he or she’.”

“But Tiffany is neither he nor she,” I reply, patiently, “Tiffany is  agender and their pronouns will be respected.”

“But Jessie! Jessie!” You cry, more urgently, “‘They’ is not singular! If you need to use a singular pronoun for something that’s not male or female, you have to use ‘it’.”

“But Tiffany is not an it,” I reply, still patiently, “Tiffany is a human being and the term ‘it’ is dehumanizing. Tiffany can go by ‘they’ because it’s generally understood among the public that ‘they’ is used when the gender of a specific individual is unsure or unspecified.”

“But the Chicago Manuel of Style says-”

I know what the Chicago Manuel of Style says. But language evolves, and that’s why we’re on the 16th edition of the Chicago Manuel of Style. In the 17th edition, we may very well be told that ‘they’ is acceptable for singular usage. Or maybe pronouns like ze/zir will be popularized. Either way, we shouldn’t value arbitrary grammatical limitations over the comfort and wellness of real people.

Because Tiffany is agender and their pronouns will be respected.

-JM

Diversity in Writing

Last summer, I went to Geeky Con: a fan convention for people of all kinds of media. Including books.

There were special guests like actors from tv shows and Youtube stars and, if you were interested, authors. There was this one panel composed of authors called “This Page is a Mirror” talking about, you guessed it, diversity in writing.

The authors were people who are not typically seen in traditional media: Mexican, gay, trans, female, Asian. These writers saw a void in media in which they didn’t see themselves represented so they wrote books where people like them were shown.  At the panel, the authors were really supportive of people outside of a minority writing characters like them. They figure even if a person hasn’t had the same experiences as a character, with the right research they could write them effectively. And all diversity is good diversity.

I totally agree. But the key is research. And the dude in my script writing class just now CLEARLY didn’t do his.

I’m an English major, just as a quick reminder, and I’m in a lot of creative writing classes. Because I like it and I’m good at it and whatever. The problem is: peer editing. It’s really hard for me to hold my tongue when someone writes a thing and there are racist/sexist/ableist whatever undertones. And this happens a lot.

I applaud those that write outside themselves – Lord knows I have a problem doing that – but for fudge’s sake,  if you’re gonna write a black man, don’t make him an abusive father, literally describing him as ‘brutish man’ in the script. Don’t, when reading his dialogue aloud, make him sound like a thug. And for the love of god, don’t describe him as ‘bipolar’ as if that’s an excuse for his abuse or as if ‘bipolar’ is an adjective in the first place. It’s a serious mental disorder you clearly know nothing about!

Using mental disorders as adjectives is a whole other post I won’t get into now but know that it is something  neither Jessie B nor I will ever tolerate. Mental and emotional disorders are serious and casually throwing them around is ignorant and destructive.

Anyway.

I deal with this kind of thing a lot: people relying on stereotypes for their characters. I’ve seen a white girl write a latina woman whose father died of gang violence. I’ve seen straight boys write gay men to be willowy and flirty and sassy and nothing else. My own brother got caught up and wrote a designated chick friend (you know the kind: two dude friends and then a third girl friend) who was Latina and fiery. It’s exhausting.

And aside from it being lazy and boring for an audience, it’s also extremely socially harmful. When you parrot stereotypes, you’re taking away someone else’s voice. Are there black fathers in the world who abuse their kids? Statistically: probably. But by and large, the majority of black men are not abusive. They’re vilified for their skin tone and their size because people think they know them based on the media they’ve seen. Big, black men, are already seen as intimidating enough to have to be detained through force (Mike Brown and Eric Garner, RIP), do you really want to provide another ‘example’ to support people’s prejudice?

Stereotypical characters aren’t bad in and of themselves: if you’ve got more than one character of a minority and they’re all different personalities and one of them happens to be a stereotype, no one’s gonna call you on it. But when your only character of a certain race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation is exactly what everyone is expecting, you’re doing a disservice to everyone in that group.

Do your research. It’s fiction, yes, but that doesn’t mean you’re off the hook.

-JM

Rape “jokes” are NOT funny.

I just want to give a trigger warning before I begin because there may be triggers involed, so I am sorry in advance.

 

Some people don’t see the problem with rape jokes. Why can’t you say what you want? People are too sensitive, right? I get it, you’re not a rapist and you’ve never been raped, so what’s the harm in making a joke?

With the high statictics of rape, one of two people are bound to hear you: a rapist or a survivor of rape. To the survivor, you’re completely discounting their experience. Making it normalized, making it seem like it wasn’t a big deal. To the rapist, you’re giving them validation. They’re probably thinking “wow, maybe that person has raped someone too, maybe what I did isn’t so bad.” Does it bother you knowing that a rapist thinks that you’re a rapist too, because of the jokes you’re making?

I know what you’re thinking. You would never hurt someone like that, would you? You’d never take advantage of someone more vulnerable than you. However, when you make jokes about rape, when it becomes normalized, boundaries are blurred even further. By making light of something as serious and detrimental as rape, you are increasing the likelihood of others being raped. Are you bothered yet? Are you starting to rethink your “jokes”?

Maybe not yet. I’m over thinking it, yeah? I’m looking to far into a problem that isn’t even a problem. But am I? Let me tell you some of the psychological trauma that goes along with being a survivor of rape. PTSD. Flashbacks. Panic attacks. Feeling at fault. Depression. Suicidal thoughts. That’s just to name a few. Now, imagine you’re with your friends in the same class as you and you all just got done taking a difficult exam. You say “that test raped me” and someone who is a survivor hears that.

Do you know everything you just brought to the surface by “just” making a “joke”? You made them relive probably the worst experience in their entire life. You’re friends laugh at the joke, because that’s what you do with a joke, right? Now think about the survivor. Not only was their rape brought back to the surface, but now people are laughing at it. People are laughing at what happened to this person, completely discounting the trauma they’ve been through. But that’s not your intention, is it? You only wanted to get a laugh out of your friends.

Well, that joke and those laughs have far more implications than you’ve thought of. And I’m not blaming everyone. It’s been so normalized and we hear it so often that sometimes we think it’s ok without evaluating what is really happening. But I’m begging you, please evaluate what those “jokes” mean to people. There are far better ways to say that a test was difficult without validating a rapist or invalidating a survivor.

-JB

Tyler Oakley

Hey, look! It’s going to be one of those posts where things are good for once!

Okay, so to start: Tyler Oakley. We all know who this is, right? Gay icon, Youtuber, book author, LGBTQIA+ activist, cutie pie extraordinaire?

Here’s a sample, for those not in the know:

He is the literal cutest, please check him out.

So Tyler. He’s been on tour, the Slumber Party tour, where he just hangs out with fans like a giant slumber party (onesies are a must). He’s been on a book tour for his New York Time’s best seller, Binge. He’s hosted red carpet events, walked red carpet events, and, I guess, he sometimes speaks at colleges.

Yes, today, March 17th, the year of our Lord 2016, Tyler Oakley spoke at Penn State.

I found out about his literally five days ago. Five days! That is very little prep time for me to mentally ready myself for meeting my queen.
And I wasn’t even meeting him, I was just gonna sit in a room and listen to him talk!
It was still a lot.

Now, I’ve been following Tyler for years. I wish I could remember the first video I ever watched him in but I can’t, y’all, there’s too much. I do remember his move to San Francisco happening in real time. And his reaction to the Darren photos in 2012 is something that I literally clung to (because I myself wasn’t allowed on tumblr at the time so I was living vicariously through Tyler. Not important), so I’ll put myself at late 2011? Late 2011. That’s four and a half years, y’all, that’s longer than I’ve known my own cat.

Our relationship is special.

Anyway, Tyler. The event.

Penn State has these speeches things all the time and I’ve been to a couple. The one was about trans athletes which was cool but I couldn’t relate to because I am neither trans nor athletic. There was another that was Laverne Cox which was amazing but also intimidating because we have literal goddess Laverne Cox speaking to us in this very refined way and I was in the overflow room because I got out of class late and she’s telling us this perfectly crafted story with amazing and poignant poignant point and it was like a capital ‘T’ Thing.
So I was expecting something similar with Tyler. Very articulate, very mature.

I am not sure why I expected that, to be honest, but either way.
I liked Tyler’s way better.

Now there are people out there, when I say “Tyler Oakley”, that get real huffy. Yeah, there are the ones that roll their eyes or the ones that kind of smile indulgently, call him ‘silly’ or ‘too much’ or whatever, but I’m talking about the huffy bunch. There are people that don’t think Tyler should be as popular as he is, that there shouldn’t be a cute white boy being the major face of the LGBTQA+ community. They try and tear him down, try and make him seem like a bad person because he’s popular and not the intersectional pinnacle of every objectified people on earth. Because he’s white and male and gay and visible, people wanna pull receipts.

I haven’t seen Tyler hate in a while but there was a time where it was really bad, y’all. Like I am amazed at how well Tyler came out the other side of that mess, it was horrendous.

And, I mean, the hate was coming from a place of dejection, and I get that. We’ve got a major face for the gay community that doesn’t reflect a lot of the intersectional struggles a lot of everyone is dealing with. But, y’all, this little nugget is not the enemy. He speaks up all the time about the different communities, different struggles. He wrote a haiku on Valentine’s day about aromantic and asexual people! He’s just a precious honey bear.

Tyler’s ‘lecture’ was barely that. He sat on stage with his best friend Korey Kuhl and literally just gossiped with us for an hour and a half. It was like a slumber party! He talked to the audience and encouraged the audience to talk back, and not in an audience participation way, but just casually. The first thing he did was ask if there was anyone in the audience who didn’t know who he was and someone raised her hand and he asked her her name, her major, how she was doing. He was like “This is our first date! How cute!” Not putting her on the spot or anything but really like “Oh, a new friend! I love new friends!” He’s like a puppy, it’s adorable.

It was so comfortable, so funny, so casual, so fun! There were questions he was supposed to save for the end as a kind of Q&A but if you know Tyler, you know if there’s one thing he can’t resist, it’s a Q&SLAY. He took questions, got distracted, got back on track, told a totally unrelated story, Korey got him back on track. I truly don’t remember the lat time I laughed so much.

Laverne Cox was great, I will always treasure being able to hear her speak, but she still feels really untouchable to me. Tyler wasn’t. Tyler felt like catching up with a friend.

One of the questions he got was “What’s one of the best things you’ve been able to do as a Youtuber?” and he answered that it was be the example, the gay friend, people needed to come out. And he is that. He’s a friend to all of us.

It’s good to have someone so prominent, who’s literally won teen choice awards and met literally all your faves, that tries so hard and gives so much to this community. So thank you, Tyler, and thanks for coming to hand out with us.

Now, it wouldn’t be a Tyler post without that #PROMOOOO so here y’all are:

Youtube / Twitter / Instagram / tumblr / Psychobabble (a podcast) / Snapchat: snaptyleroakley

You’re welcome in advance.

-JM