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Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the commitment to non-violence, and what that means when squared with the idea that oppression is violent. I think it’s very easy to point to the successes of non-violent movements, and I think that it’s also really wonderful that non-violent resistance to oppression has worked in the past. However, I also have mixed feelings about how resistance to oppression has changed tactically since the advent of social media.

On the one hand, social media enables non-violent protesters to circumvent institutional media, thereby allowing them to depict, say, police brutality at a protest from their own point of view. However, these points of view often only get picked up by people who support them in the first place. They are merely preaching to the choir.

Which is to say nothing of the fact that non-violent protest seems to be losing traction in many ways. People are jaded with the format of most protests — although this does offer exciting opportunities for people working on social media projects to use their technologies to respond to this need — and very little is sensational about people with signs marching on anything these days. On the other hand, many experiments with using social media to intervene in situations has been largely very ephemeral, which is a big complaint about social media-related justice work in general. And the internet in general.

So what are we to do? I think it’s a many-faceted problem, but I also don’t know about ruling out a certain degree of militancy in responding to certain situations. I don’t think armed conflict or violent aggression is, in fact, the solution to every problem, nor am I advocating meaningless violence. However, in cases where all legal and civil resistances have failed, sometimes you have to raise your fist. Stonewall was a riot, not a candlelight vigil.


Tonight the wonderful Eileen Myles appeared at Just Buffalo. I went, with a number of friends, and was summarily blown away. I think what I’m starting to realize now is that Eileen really put my head back on my shoulders again, and gave me a little slap around even. I realized on the car ride home that she’s the first person I’ve encountered at this point, in Buffalo, who’s talked about the issues that have been giving me such trouble my whole life. Amplified by coming here, where I am more or less on my own for the first time. I haven’t even fully articulated yet what those issues are, but to hear her read and talk was like a slap in the face. The good kind.

I am still unraveling what that means.

I am afraid that my isolation has gotten the better of me. I miss a community of trans friends I could bounce ideas around with, be honest with, and stand behind.

I am drafting an email to the DMS graduate students about a Transgender Day of Remembrance event. Because the TDoR event on this campus is sponsored by an institutional organization. And because we should all care about each other.

And, I’m tired of the anxious closet.

I told Olivier I think I make some faculty members very anxious. I’ve been having this discussion with a number of people and maybe the anxiety is because they are not sure how to address me, and thus not sure how to address themselves to me, that maybe they see in me an identity-politics powder keg. Why am I lying about these things? Why am I omitting something I’ve fought so hard for? Why am I not clawing out toeholds again, here, so I can be okay?

I think Eileen Myles shook me out of this three-month slumber. By saying the things she said, or just existing maybe. Or making me anxious too.

I feel fierce but isolated. I feel supported, but alone. I am at the top of my fucking game and nobody knows it but me.

or, recovering at home.

On the car ride down from Montreal, Jordan talked a little about what he saw as the three main reasons people join a hackerspace. They are: learning, sharing resources, and community. I pointed out that these are good reasons for most people, but they’re needs that are fulfilled for me by DMS. Jordan paused and said, “then I’d argue that you already belong to a hackerspace, it’s just not called that.”

I don’t know. The one aspect that seems to exclude DMS from being considered a hackerspace is its obvious exclusivity. While there are exclusive hackerspaces, like NYC Resistor, which is invite-only, they don’t discriminate on the basis of technical ability. People who are interested in learning, sharing, and making are welcome in hackerspaces everywhere, whereas here, one must first prove one’s worth as a media maker before being accepted into the community.

That said, I don’t think that hackerspaces are as diametrically opposed to the academy as at first they might seem — or as some of their proponents might make them seem. I think that they are a venue for learning and education that falls outside the traditional boundaries of structured education, but who’s to say that all academic activity falls within those traditional boundaries?

One of the things that excites me the most about having visited a number of hackerspaces over the weekend was that their group teaching, group learning ethic resonated very strongly with me. Currently I’m working with some other graduate students from a variety of departments in putting together a reading and workshopping group for radical pedagogy, as well as an experimental academic journal. I’ve decided that I belong in the academy, but I also want to reform the academy. From a theoretical standpoint, I know what I want to see. I’m beginning to figure out what I want to see from a practical standpoint.

There are a few possible starting points I’ve been considering — one is adapting intergroup relations-style training and dialogue for the diversification and enrichment of hackerspaces; another is the development of open skill shares between people who are part of the University community and people who aren’t. The first leads to truly diverse groups at hackerspaces, an elevated critical consciousness, and perhaps an increased sense of social purpose. The second means that knowledge bases are never off limits due to any one person’s affiliations, as well as integrated community involvement between the University and its environs.

I guess the real question is where to start? There are points of contact already between DMS and the art/tech community in greater Buffalo, and there need to be better points of contact between hackerspaces and DMS. Maybe IGAP is a good vehicle for this. What do you think?

The excitingly convenient thing about my philosophy seminar is that all the readings are online. This week’s was section 5 of the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on Intergenerational Justice. This is my (somewhat lame) response. I’m going to invite comments, insights and critiques on all of these things I post here because two of them are going to be turned into actual papers, and I am not very well-versed in ethics. Go for it.

At the beginning of section 5.1, Meyer raises the question of intergenerational reparations owed to the victims of past injustices and/or their descendants. Here, he offers two different interpretations: either the descendants of victims of past injustices suffer additional harm in the present, or both the descendants of victims of past injustices and those past victims have suffered harm. Intuitively, I think there is another causal way of describing the ways in which currently living people can claim reparations for the injustices committed against their ancestors.

Suppose that Meyer’s example African-American descendant of slaves, Robert, can indeed trace his genealogy back to a group of people kidnapped from Africa and sold into slavery. Let us also suppose, as Meyer does, that we are only concerned with whether Robert has a claim against past agents of injustice, not whether he can legally demand reparations.

In note 47, Meyer mentions that we cannot use the diachronic notion of harm in Robert’s case. This is sensible because it assumes that Robert would have had a prior state of well being at the time his forebears were wronged. This doesn’t seem to make sense as Robert would not have existed in the seventeenth or eighteenth century. However, the subjunctive-historical notion of harm might allow direct descendants of slaves to claim compensation. He doesn’t explore this argument further.

To paraphrase Meyer, under the subjunctive-historical notion of harm, something at time t1 harms someone only if the cause makes the person to be worse off at time t2 than the person would have been at time t2 had the agent not been involved in the cause. While Meyer has a point in saying that it makes no sense to say that Robert is less well off now than if his forebears had not been kidnapped, there seems to be a more complex series of causal links here. I am skeptical about saying that there is a just cause for Robert to demand reparations for his forebears’ kidnappings, but intuitively it seems Robert is justified in demanding reparations for a series of events that began with the kidnapping and enslavement of Robert’s forebears.

Briefly, it makes sense to sketch a more complex picture of harmful events – Robert has a right to compensation due to a longstanding saga of wrongs. I suppose some of the same principles underlying the subjunctive-historical notion of harm can be used here. I was unable to locate Lyons’ 2004 paper that Meyers cites in his article, but in note 47 Meyers gestures at the idea that the injustices against African Americans are ongoing, or at the very least have persisted for generations.

So perhaps this is another kind of way to imagine intergenerational harm. It is possible that current generations can suffer from harm done to their forebears, but it might serve to better justify their claims to compensation if there is some way in which that harm is carried across previous generations. I think that this conception of intergenerational harm may run into issues of identity – what if, for example, the genealogy of harm is untraceable? (For that matter, why can certain people whose family has suffered longstanding historical injustice claim reparations and others not?) Why do we think the descendants of victims of injustice have claim to compensation at all?

To address the second question, at least, I think it is the case that repeated historical injustices may cause the current generation to suffer. Other individuals have not inherited a history of the same injustices, therefore putting them on unequal footing with the descendants of slaves, for example. These sorts of injustices may play out in preferential treatment due to bias, or economic shortcomings as a result of discriminatory practices, or even deprivation of life and property. Instead of isolating the injustice to the single event – when Robert’s forebears were kidnapped and sold into slavery – his claims to reparations are based on a series of events which have left him disadvantaged in comparison to others.

In order to construct a better case for reparations, it might be preferable to formulate a subjunctive-historical notion of harm that addresses persistent injustice.

After watching Obama’s brilliant acceptance speech last night, the guests were poised to go home when they  heard a strange rumbling in the distance.  “Come out here,” they said, and we did.  It sounded kind of like what I would imagine a very distant volcanic eruption might sound like.  It was thunderous, and it was coming from the Diag.  This is what it looked like when we got there:

In moments, friends and strangers ran up to us, exchanged hugs and hollers of “yes we can!”  It became a solidarity greeting for the night — in the street we yelled to one another and high fived drivers of cars that couldn’t budge for the people packed onto the roadway.  Drivers honked and cheered.  The sheer energy of the gathering was self-sustaining.  As time passed more people joined the crowd, and even though some broke off to go their separate ways, it seemed that at every turn more knots of people attached themselves to the crowd.

The happy mob, as I have been calling it all day, made its way all over campus.  There were musicians playing and we paused in the Law Quad to sing the national anthem.  (I can’t wait to see everyone’s pictures — if you have some, post a link to your Flickr stream in the comments and I’ll feature my favorites soon.)  I have never seen so many people have so much energy all together, for such a long period of time.  We joined the crowd around 11:30 and headed home at 2:30, and the happy mob was still wandering through the streets, chanting and playing music.

I think I said it to at least a dozen people and two dozen more said it to me: I’ve never in my young life been proud to be an American, but there we were, singing the national anthem at the top of our lungs, arms over each others’ shoulders and getting all misty-eyed about it.

Last night was for celebrating, today is for a sober look at the next four years.  One of the chants I heard, though, was “yes we did.”  I don’t think we can really say “yes we did,” not now.  We may have elected the first black man President of the United States, but what does that really mean?  It’s a huge step for the visibility of race relations in this country, but there are some major hangups I have with saying that we did already, when clearly we have just taken the first step in a long journey.

  • Black people are still black; the oppressed are still the oppressed. Just because an exception to the rule has broken through the proverbial glass ceiling, it doesn’t take away my status as a minority citizen of the United States.  Don’t get me wrong, I think President-Elect Obama is a step in the right direction, and a huge step at that, but we need to keep in perspective that millions of Americans still suffer racial profiling, discrimination, disenfranchisement, oppression, and invisibility due to their minority social identities.
  • Now is not the time to fuck up. Obama is now faced with the horrifying task of unifying this divided country, getting the economy back on the right track, wrapping up wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and at the same time keep the voters who wavered in his favor this year happy so we can see another four years (at least) of people who aren’t total assholes in the halls of power.  I think it’s fair to say these clinchers are giving the “liberal” side a chance to prove their ability, which is something that is pretty rare in this day and age.
  • Complete the Court while we still can. The U.S. Supreme Court could really use a Sandra Day O’Connor version 2.0.  I’m just saying.
  • Don’t ignore the internet. The internet put the Democrats in power in a big way.  It’s important to show that this digital revolution in political life in this country isn’t just a flash in the pan.  There is huge potential to harness this power — so long as the government can ensure that it is both free and secure — and see to it that the change that Obama is all about is a lasting one.
  • Voter turnout was ridiculous, but we need to streamline the voting process. See my previous post about long lines being the new poll tax.  Again, change is all well and good, but lasting change is what we really want.

That said, I think last night’s victory for the Obama campaign sends a clear message: yes, we can take care of all these problems.  Yes, we can make a unified America that isn’t afraid of half of its citizens, reclaims its respect abroad and doesn’t leave people disenfranchised and screwed over for health care.  And I have my fingers, toes and eyes crossed that we will.

I don’t think I’ve discussed it much on this blog, but we are currently in the process of launching a scholarship fund for gender non-conforming and allied students.  Our goal is to gather an endowment of $1 million in order to offer a full ride to one student per graduating class.  I’m spearheading the effort and we’re hoping to get it off the ground by the end of the 08-09 school year so we may offer a scholarship to an incoming freshman in the Class of 2013.

I recently received some criticism, and I’d like to address it publicly since this is an issue that is near and dear to my heart, and I believe my critics are grossly misunderstanding the issues at hand.

My critics have claimed that the scholarship doesn’t improve the campus climate, but in fact might cause an uptick in discrimination on campus as other students might see the scholarship as “unfair.”  They claim that doing something like petitioning the administration to increase the number of unisex bathrooms on campus, for example, would be a better project.  First of all, not every gender variant individual chooses to use unisex bathrooms, and an increase will only serve a certain segment of the population.  The focus on bathroom use is a very narrow view idea of what the campus community can do to make gender variant students feel welcome.  Second of all, I believe that, first and foremost, this project’s goal is to show incoming freshmen that there is a supportive community here at U-M.  In spite of any acts of discrimination or outright bigotry that gender non-conforming students might face in Ann Arbor, we want to send the clear message that there is a community, however small, that is dedicated in a big way and will stand up for them if they need us.  Not everybody coming to this campus is going to be as ready to ignore or constructively deal with taunts and threats, but it’s certainly more likely that they’ll be willing to put up a brave face if they know not only that support is at their back but others have come before and have succeeded with flying colors.

As an aside, much of this desire came from my own experience arriving in Ann Arbor as a transgender freshman.  I didn’t feel as though there was a community at all here.  I was unsure who to reach out to.  I didn’t know if I’d be in danger living in a female dorm floor in South Quad.  I wasn’t clear on how to deal with all the people on campus who would question me, criticize me, and even threaten me.  Were there even other students like me?  I wasn’t sure.  There are other efforts underway like R.A. training through the CommonGround program that are new or improved since I was a freshman.  However, these are administration-sponsored programs.  Our scholarship is intended to be a meaningful show of support that is student-directed — evidence for incoming students that there’s a supportive group of people on this campus not just on staff, but also part of the student body.

Other criticism that has been leveled at the project is that by choosing a gender non-conforming student we are being “discriminatory.”  There are two reasons that this is a false, if not fallacious, argument.  First, the scholarship is aimed at both gender non-conforming students and their allies who are already serving the LGBT community through activism, community service, outreach, or just generally being a good human being.  I’m unclear about how this scholarship is discriminatory if it is based upon shared values.  I’ve also been told about scholarships for very short people.  Discriminatory?  Depends on how you look at it, I suppose.

Second, this argument smacks to me of the same kinds of arguments used against affirmative action.  Some people would say it’s discriminatory to give an extra leg up to anybody, but the reality of the situation is, transgender students suffer from tangible and real disadvantages compared to the rest of the student body.  How can we expect to offer students a “level playing field” if the playing field was never level from the beginning?  Is it fair to ignore the discrimination that our peers face merely for the sake of “equality?”  And is that really equality?  That this might be some kind of equality to me seems dubious at best.

There’s another affirmative action parallel in here.  Opponents of affirmative action say that people who are looking for reasons to be prejudiced against students of color will use it as a reason to do so; so, goes the criticism, will recipients of this scholarship be singled out and targeted.  As much as this may be the case, I don’t think that the young people who are eligible to receive the scholarship will be very “low-profile” in terms of their gender presentation.  I’m not saying they’ll be ostentatious, because many of us aren’t.  But I don’t seem very “out there” as far as my gender presentation goes, but I’m still singled out.  Even in places I consider “safe.”  I’m comfortable being an out transman, and that carries with it risks.  The reality of the situation that these critics fail to grasp is that we are already singled out in a very real, very immediate, and very constant way.  There is no “stealth” mode for many of us, especially at this age, especially living in dormitories segregated by sex.  Those inclined to apply for the scholarship will be identifying themselves in other ways.

I want to emphasize that this scholarship is designed to serve a severely underserved community, one which is often simply ignored by mainstream society.  At worst, we are singled out by acts of physical or emotional violence.  Even on U-M’s so-called liberal campus, I have been the target of taunts, threats, and discrimination.  This is a reality.  I don’t pretend that this problem will be eradicated or even improved by offering this money.  But as I stated previously, I hope that the scholarship will be a gesture from a segment of the student body that does care deeply, sincerely and honestly about diversity in Ann Arbor.

Finally, I believe my critics have a poor understanding of what it means for many gender variant individuals to be gender variant and to live in the skins they’ve been given.  I don’t pretend that by bankrolling an education I will be buying off the psychological pain of being non-binary in a binary world.  Many students will look for professional psychological help.  Some students, during their time at U-M, will inevitably opt for hormone therapy and sex reassignment surgery.  These are astronomically expensive procedures, which, when supervised by qualified professionals, improve the quality of life for transgender people by orders of magnitude.  Therapy ain’t cheap either: the people I’ve seen who have specialties in the fields of sex and gender tend to be much more expensive than their general practitioner counterparts.  The unfortunate fact of the matter, though, is that not only does not everybody benefit from health insurance, not everybody who has health insurance benefit from insurance that will cover the procedures or therapy.  I’m one of the lucky ones — if my SRS is pre-approved by my insurance company, it’s 100% covered.  I get 52 visits with a psychiatrist or psychologist per year.

The financial burden created by trying to build the life a gender variant student might dream of is immense.  Coupled with the cost of education, and the student may be faced with a seemingly insurmountable debt.  Money doesn’t buy happiness, but it can buy steps toward being more comfortable in your own skin, measures toward better understanding yourself and your place in a society, and the higher education necessary to achieve.  Just as scholarship funds for other minority groups aim to empower individuals to achieve and hopefully give back to the community in the future, I hope that the recipients of the U-M Transgender Student Scholarship will feel empowered to achieve at the U and beyond.

Worrying about paying for college is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of my goals for this project.  I hope to bring together a community of caring people to direct the scholarship, for example.  I plan to involve members of staff, students, faculty and community leaders.  I want to offer an opportunity I never would have dreamed of coming to U-M.  Sure, it’s not “justice,” per se, but Rome wasn’t built in a day.  But having a contingent of empowered gender non-conforming and allied alumni?  That sounds like more than one step in the right direction.

I know this is embarrassingly late, but better late then never, I guess. It’s still timely, some of these albums are still pretty new. And while the critics get tired of talking about the same jams over and over, that doesn’t mean I’m tired of listening to the same jams over and over. Here goes.

10. After Dark – Various Artists: This is a magnificent compilation of dark, modern dance music. Featuring the likes of Glass Candy and Chromatics, it’s great for that meandering night drive.

9. Untrue – Burial: Even after I turn this album off, I can still hear it ringing in my head. It’s like you’re being haunted by this guy. And nobody really knows who he is, but he’s just made an album I think is fair to call definitive.

8. Strawberry Jam – Animal Collective: Animal Collective is finally doing what Animal Collective has been trying to do forever. “Fireworks” and “For Reverend Green” are weird, psychedelic anthems that will forever remind me of this summer.

7. – Justice: Justice are obviously the heirs to Daft Punk. That isn’t a bad thing despite what some people might tell you. This album begs to be danced to. It’s earned a permanent place on my “we’re driving to a party at night” playlist. And it’s welcome to stick around for the party itself, too.

6. Asa Breed – Matthew Dear: I’ve heard a couple people say that in 10 years people are going to be trying to do what Matthew Dear did in ’07 on this record. I couldn’t agree more. Dear is in his element.

5. In Rainbows – Radiohead: These guys still pack a pretty serious punch. They’ve finally made an accessible album that is distinctively Radiohead, and the way the album was released, I thought, was really beautiful. “Reckoner” still makes me want to cry whenever I hear it.

4. Person Pitch – Panda Bear: It’s been kind of a creepy, psychedelic year. Sometimes I still get creeped out about where this album goes, but I’m always glad I went there after I’m done.

3. Lon Gisland EP – Beirut: This was the first music I listened to after the sun rose over New York City after the night I almost died. Though The Flying Club Cup is a pretty solid album, I think this EP is a much better record. “Elephant Gun” is my #1 played track on iTunes for a reason.

2. All Hour Cymbals – Yeasayer: The first album from an obnoxious hipster band out of Brooklyn was totally shock-and-awe: they released the first single in the spring for free on the internet and I waited the whole summer with bated breath for the album. It delivers. It’s beautifully produced, sweeping, epic, deeply influenced by psych-folk and 70’s-era rock, but distinctly modern at the same time.

1. Drums and Guns – Low: This is an album that saved my life this spring. On top of its significance for me, personally, I think it’s a great work of art and a telling example of what this band is capable of. Everything is stripped down, and everything is as essential as bone. It really boggles my mind that this album hasn’t shown up on more peoples’ top lists. Not even in any top 50s!


Honorable mentions, in no particular order: Neon Bible – The Arcade Fire; Andorra – Caribou; Spiderman of the Rings – Dan Deacon; Liars – Liars; Cryptograms – Deerhunter; Mirrored – Battles; Kala – M.I.A.; The Sound of Silver – LCD Soundsystem; The Adventures of Ghosthorse and Stillborn – CocoRosie; Banging Down the Doors – Ezra Furman and the Harpoons; Friend Opportunity – Deerhoof.

Well, there it is. I mean, it’s totally subject to change. The one thing I never get is how you can definitively say you’ve found the top music of a year. I know I haven’t.


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