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I’ve been a busy one lately, and I know it’s really not a very good excuse for not blogging, because if anything, I should be posting more because I’m always looking for something to do that isn’t what I’m supposed to be doing.  I haven’t been feeling ready to write anything lately, which is another kettle of fish entirely, but it is somewhat related to my preoccupation.

This past weekend was the University of Michigan Social Justice Conference.  I actually had a pretty good time, learned a great deal, and met some excellent humans.  It was a good space for me to meet some people I wouldn’t have met normally due to our different interests in different sectors of social justice, and while I don’t necessarily agree with everything they had to say, I think it was a good experience for me to get outside my IGR-insulated comfort zone.  I had a hard time with a lot of things, though, including the issue of diversity of groups and individuals involved.  For a conference examining community growth and coalition-building as well as personal development as activists, I felt very out-of-place and disconnected from much of the conference.  Like I said, I found the conference largely beneficial.

Yet I couldn’t shake the feeling of alienation.  I couldn’t help feeling isolated from time to time, like I was watching other people doing things.  It wasn’t until our breakout session when we brainstormed challenges for the future that I felt really connected to anybody else at the conference.  I think part of the root of this feeling was the acute knowledge of being regarded in a certain way because I was the only out transgender person at the conference.  The number of queer folk seemed pretty small in general, and the number of people of color was a bit disappointing to me, too.

Looking back I can kind of see why this was the case.  I don’t think that queer political movements were integrated into the conference the way others were, and perhaps that is merely emblematic of the personal interests and priorities of the group who were most influential in organizing the conference.  (An important observation at our large-group session toward the end: we might never come to a consensus about what to tackle and how!)  I just took a look at the poster again on the blog, and the only social identity groups whose fight for civil rights is not characterized as a rights struggle are queer folks and women.  I have other social justice priorities, interests and passions, too, but my struggle for equality is not about my gender “issues.”  It’s about my rights to be fully enfranchised as a human being.

The representation at the conference of LGBT-related organizations began and ended with LGBT Commission.  While I respect the work LGBT Commission does, it is, undeniably, dominated by white, upper-middle class, cisgender gays and lesbians.  I’ve never felt like LGBT Commission had my interests in mind.  I suppose I can’t make assumptions about whether or not other groups were reached out to or invited and, possibly, declined to offer a workshop or input because of time constraints, but it kind of left a feeling of uneasiness with me.

Let’s also consider the keynotes and panelists, with the exception of Shanta Driver and Hector Aristizabal, were white men.  And that the closing plenary, Derrick Jensen, while interesting and entertaining, is also a deeply divisive figure.

In order to build the broad-based coalitions we talked about at the conference, we must address these things.  It didn’t take me until now to really articulate some of these specific things that caused my feelings of alienation and unease.  That said, I do think that UMSJC 09 was a great step in the right direction.  I’d be really happy to see more events and activities like it to continue on this campus.  I can’t help but care deeply about U-M even though I’m leaving in four months.  (Still seems incredible.)  This is, in a big way, my home, and I love it.  I hope we can take these critiques to heart as serious ones, and continue to build greater solidarity.

Tomorrow the article I was interviewed about transgender students at Michigan is going to press.  I never imagined I would agree to interview for the Michigan Daily, but I’m not the kind of guy to burn any bridges — especially where others are hastily building bridges to meet me.  I have been involved in the editing process, so I know what’s going to press, and it’s not bad.  I can’t expect the Daily to publish my book about gender for me, so of course it’s not as intricately complex as it would be if we had unlimited space and unlimited time.  It is a step in the right direction.

I think that generally we could use more of this ethic in the community.  Most of the reactions I got when I told people I’d been interviewed were, “Oh god, what?”  And even today, during our photo session, there were some derisive looks and comments made about the Daily.  It’s easy to dismiss the paper (it’s not like they have a stellar track record) but it’s also a matter of who’s working when.  The reporter who interviewed me is new blood at the paper, and I think that bodes well for its future.  There isn’t anything malicious about the Daily’s occasional poor editorial choices and general cluelessness.  They’re not going to get better unless concerned members of the campus community encourage them to get better.  And help them to get better.  I’m tired of hearing this groaning every time this comes up.  I’ve been slighted more than the average bear by the Daily, but all I’m saying is let’s give the younger reporters another go.

To tell you the truth, I’m not worried about the Michigan Daily.  I’m worried about the rest of campus.  I started second-guessing myself sometime last week, and basically what I’ve concluded amounts to this: I’m sticking my neck out.  Way the fuck out.  Not just in terms of even agreeing to be part of this article, but also agreeing to be outed to such a wide audience, and also willing to be judged for being a part of this project at all.

I haven’t had good experiences lately with transphobia on this campus.  I realize that I may have just put myself in harm’s way — and I’m not sure that the Daily recognizes that.  I am not too worried, though, because I know that by changing my behavior I can reduce my risk.  I just think it’s important that both the paper and I are conscientious of the fact that I have taken a risk.

Also, I hadn’t exactly counted on this being part of the fallout of this project, but the skepticism from the community has been surprising.  Maybe I think too much about the things that make me look anything other than highly principled, but I don’t see this as selling out, because coalition building and meeting people halfway isn’t selling out.  There isn’t much more to it.

We’ll see how this goes, but I want to put it out there that I’ve had a lot of agency in this process, I think this is a step in the right direction, and I’m probably going to be on lockdown for the next few weeks.  That means no walking alone at night further than two blocks, getting rides from people, and probably staying over at others’ houses more often.  I’m bracing for the worst but hoping for the best, and wondering what my reward for this adventure is going to be.

After last semester’s (second annual) Transgender Day of Remembrance debacle, I was hoping I could ride out the rest of my senior year without being incensed by something the Michigan Daily printed. I guess it helps that I don’t read it much anyway, and that this semester I will be on campus only seven or eight hours a week, but the first friend I ran into today at the Union showed me the first issue of The Statement for the new year. The Statement is the Daily‘s magazine insert, published every Wednesday. I have in the past at least found the contents of The Statement interesting. Today’s cover took me by surprise.

Statement Cover

The cut-off text on my hasty scan reads “HIS APPLE. HER APPLE. ? APPLE.” The byline for the article is “Why singular pronouns aren’t as simple as a rule in the grammar book.” Already I could feel redness filling my face when my friend showed me this. The implications of the symbolism here are clear. People who don’t conform to the gender binary (and quite rigidly too — note the “man” apple’s huge stache and the “woman” apple’s pouty red lips) are incomplete people: monsterous and frightening.

What makes this image even worse is the rigidity of the binary gender system the cover expresses. The “man” apple is burly and hairy. The “woman” apple is made-up with mascara and lipstick. If this is what “men” are supposed to be and what “women” are supposed to be, you’d be hard-pressed to find too many “men” and “women” on this campus.

A greater affront is, after this negative protrayal of gender non-conforming people, the article goes on to only mention transgender issues curtly, in a single sentence. That sentence paints with a broad brush a stereotypical transperson.

In a more recent movement, “hir” and “ze” (pronounced “here” and “zee”) are sometimes used to describe transgender people — a contemporary challenge that confronts the idea of epicene English like never before.

This isn’t even an accurate representation of how many transpeople feel about gender neutral pronouns. The wording is all wrong. For an article about grammar and semantics, it sure is off the mark. A better construction would point out that some transgender-identified people prefer the gender neutral pronouns. Not all do. Nor do all gender-neutral pronoun preferers choose “ze” and “hir.” A little additional research here would have probably been helpful. I think that the lack of information here also bothers me because there is an implication that people who opt into gender neutral pronouns are “just” playing a language-game. It is kind of belittling, really.

And that’s all that the article says about transgender people. I’m not going to pretend like transpeople matter an awful lot to the vast majority of the Daily’s readership, but the issue to me is not that there isn’t any discussion, but the fact there are glaring missed opportunities and where the opportunity is taken, there is misinformation. We’re talking about confronting the gender binary, here, people. I live this. Give me a little credit where credit is due.

I’m pretty tired of raging against the Michigan Daily, but they really don’t give me any choice. Some of my LGBT Commission friends say the Daily wants to talk more about these issues, but it seems to me like the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. Which happens. But that doesn’t make it permissible to portray my folk as incomplete monstrosities of people.

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