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I’ve been struggling the past week or so with this short piece that I’ve been working on for a book.  I just can’t seem to write anything that comes out making any sense — or doesn’t sound totally grandiose and weird.  I really just want to write a few pages about where love belongs in the academy, and the role of forgiveness in learning — not just about social identity but about everything.  Maybe I’m trying to tell too complex a story.  This is a function of my reflection on the past few years, the fact that living in this town means the past knows where I sleep at night and can come bother me at all hours of the day.  I’d really like to spend some time away, take a vacation from myself.  It’s not to be.  Some parts of me wish there were more people here for me to be around, some parts really want to be alone with the task of reconstituting the most insane four years of my life so far in ways that make sense and are completely translatable into a series of vignettes and anecdotes.

Writing is, at the moment, being alone.  I am trying to write about the schism in my experience at Michigan between being a philosophy major and being a dialogue practitioner — the kinds of inconsistencies that I began to detect in my junior year and weren’t resolved until this past semester.  I am trying to write about how dialogic pedagogy doesn’t need to be reserved just for social justice education, and how what I learned about being an educator at Michigan is going to apply not just to my continuing education but also to my life.

I think that part of the reason radical pedagogy really resonated with me was because I had been feeling pretty alienated by a lot of things that go on at the university at large.  I disliked being asked to check my identity at the door, even though leaving behind “identity” didn’t mean that I wasn’t expected to answer prying questions about who (what?) I am/was/will be.  I was irked by the refusal to recognize the weight of human experiences and identities in society in the formulation of philosophical disciplines, especially ethics.  While I imagine it would be easy to chalk up a good deal of this to the fact I’ve been working in a heavily analytic department, but I notice it in other places, too.  On the other hand, I found anything that smacked of “applied philosophy” to be uninteresting and kind of petty.

What’s interesting is that in the past year I’ve been shown or been figuring out ways to use radical pedagogical models to teach subjects other than social justice education.  Working with Jennifer this past semester was kind of revelatory in this way — I discovered that the principles still held in her classroom.  Her transparency about her goals, plans, and pedagogical choices was refreshing.  I felt invested-in, challenged, and also supported and affirmed in ways that I generally don’t associate with academic coursework.  She’s also been very supportive of my own linking of my subject to a kind of Freirean praxis.  Maybe I am off on the right track.

On the other hand I’ve always been troubled by the lack of intellectual rigor in a lot of social justice education.  I think that intellectual rigor is really important to me not just because of my academic background but because I have always thought that way.  (I have been cleaning out my old bedroom at my mom’s house and reading some of my early philosophical writing and, damn, boi knows how to construct an argument.)  I dislike engaging with people who are unwilling to engage on the minimum level of not changing the premises of their argument spontaneously, fallacious lines of argument frustrate me to no end.  I resent skepticism about people who are well-educated, well-spoken, and well-read.  I don’t see why we can’t enjoy both rigor and love in our academic and social justice work.  This is another thing that I saw in action in Jennifer’s class.  For a while I didn’t think it was possible, but under the right circumstances it really allows people to flourish.

What I’m trying to write about is the path to an inclusive, supportive, but intellectually and personally challenging classroom.  I don’t think it is by any means easy, but I do think it’s possible.  Incredibly, there are people out there doing this kind of work already, but I don’t think they get the credit they deserve at all.  I also really want to write about how important it is to change the game in this way.  This is about institutional diversity at the broadest but also the most personal level.

I guess I didn’t realize until now how alienating I found a lot of the experiences I had my freshman and even my sophomore years at Michigan.  Not just in the typical ways, like campus housing and having to explain myself to faculty, but also in the sense that so many things didn’t make any sense to me, and I wasn’t allowed to work those things out.  I didn’t find out until years later why they didn’t make sense and I’m kind of angry — or maybe disappointed — about the whole situation.  It’s a lot of stuff for two or three pages, but I can’t seem to get past framing this in terms of education being an act of love.


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.

Speech delivered March 11, 2009 for BAMN’s first public hearing on campus climate.

We’ve all come together in this place in good faith, as people with progressive ideas.  We want to see our campus reflect an ideal society where the individual has the right to be who we are without risk of harassment or violence.  We’ve got a long way to go, but I want to take a step back and examine some of our assumptions.  Before we begin to work out what we need from the people who aren’t in this room, I want to ask what we need from each other.

While I can’t and won’t assume what others need from me, I can take a stab at what we need as a group, considering some experiences I’ve had over the past four years in progressive action and education here at U-M and elsewhere.  I believe that our progressivism has fallen prey to collusion and internalized prejudice.  We have given into the dominant narratives that describe our identity groups as monolithic.  We have forgotten what it means to form real working alliances.  These are ideas that make me uncomfortable, but it’s high time we started being a little less comfortable with each other.

I hear a lot of prejudiced ideas get thrown around in our progressive communities.  Whether or not they’re glib doesn’t matter.  I don’t think I’ll ever stop being taken aback by a gay rights activist who accuses another of “not being gay enough,” or a feminist who accuses transsexual women of “not being real women.”  I don’t think I’ll ever stop being hurt by white allies telling me I’m not a real person of color because I’m multiracial, or by trans rights activists who tell me my gender non-conforming friends who choose not to physically transition are “breaking up the movement.”  I find the idea of accusing someone of not fulfilling the stereotypes attached to their identities incredible, as if it were a bad thing that we’re all our own unique people.

This is ridiculous and it’s something that I’ve seen happen consistently here at U-M.  This is not something that has to do with the administration of this university.  It has nothing to do with liberals versus conservatives.  It has nothing to do with people who are content to ignore inequality in our society.  It has to do with me.  It has to do with everyone in this room.  What are we expecting from each other?  What assumptions do we approach each other with?

We need to change the way we think about identity communities if we are going to make a change on this campus and in the world.  By accusing of someone of not living up to the expectations of them due to their personal identity, we are colluding with the dominant narrative of a society that seeks to systematically marginalize us because we are people of color, gender minorities, sexual minorities, religious minorities, or refuse categorization.  But this is a symptom of a deeper problem.  The dominant social narrative says that minority groups are monolithic – because I am transgender, I have the same interests and wishes as all other transpeople, even though there is vast diversity in experience and expression in the trans community.  By constructing minorities as faceless “others,” the dominant narrative is effective in denying us access to power, freedom, and equal opportunities.  And sometimes, we internalize this oppression by placing unreasonable expectations on ourselves.

So, the fruits of collusion are alienation.  I know plenty of other people on this campus who have been driven away from activism by the actions – not the beliefs – of the activists.  Though we’re supposedly a liberal campus, what does that liberalism represent if only certain identities and kinds of expressions are allowed by the campus liberal establishment?  I was a latecomer to trans activism, even though I’ve been out of the closet since my senior year of high school.  I rejected my role as a gay rights activist after coming to U-M, which is incredible considering that, under my tenure as president of my high school’s gay-straight alliance, we established an unprecedented inter-high school GSA council.

There is nothing wrong with our ideals.  There is nothing unjust about our struggle.  What is wrong, though, is our willingness to submit to dominant narratives.  I believe this is the case because submitting to the dominant narrative is the path of least resistance.  It is easier for me to blame others than myself.  I find it easier to accept that I may not receive tenure in the future as a professor due to my race and gender identity, and fault a biased institution, than it is for me to challenge my colleagues and myself: what would I do when faced with a similar decision about someone very different from myself?

Just because we are liberals, we are not absolved.  Just because we are progressives, we are not absolved.  Just because I am a socialist does not mean I am absolved.  Just because I am a member of one of the most marginalized groups in our society does not mean I am absolved.  I’m a transsexual postgender queer atheist person of color, and I still get it wrong.  I step on people’s toes.  I make assumptions about others based on their social identities.  Occasionally I say things that are racist, sexist, or ableist.  And I don’t always have the courage to say so.  Making the mistakes is alright.  We’re human.  But failing to examine them isn’t.

I realize I’m calling us out.  I’m calling myself out.  There’s something wrong with the way the progressive movement has handled the politics of personal identity in this country, and we need to re-evaluate.  Hybrid identities are the reality – in fact, I would argue the norm – in this modern world.  We are complicated creatures.  I am not defined by my transsexual identity.  I know that nobody is defined by any one identity.  We all know that.  It’s time to stop acting like we think otherwise.  We can’t forget that our own prejudices are part of the campus climate.  We must to start considering that, as people who stand for the equality of all people, those prejudices need to be examined and dismantled.

All I’m trying to say here is that we have the chance to reject identity politics.  As a group, we can reject the expectations imposed on us by dominant narratives of race, gender, age, ability, sex, sexuality, and religious identity.  We can improve campus climate by improving the climate of our progressive communities.  In order to do that we must form a new progressive alliance.  What does that mean?

A new progressive alliance recognizes individuals as the most valuable components of building the future.  In an alliance, it’s assumed that there will be disagreement.  Allies must recognize that they’ll have to clearly communicate their needs and priorities, and negotiate with others in order to realize their goals.  They must be as willing to give as they are to take, and they must be willing to walk a mile in their allies’ shoes in order to get anything done.  They must cease making assumptions about the others at the table.  They need to be courageous in challenging others, but more importantly, themselves.  They need to know what is most important in their mutual struggle.

We owe it to each other to create a progressive alliance that has the interests of all in mind, without passing judgment on the individual.  We owe it to each other to be more progressive than simple identity politics.  As long as we accept our status of other-ness, we will fail to improve this campus’s climate for minority students.  In order to do that, we must examine our movement.  We owe it to ourselves to realize a future where we don’t just call into question the things we’re taught, but call into question the things we’ve learned.

I’ve decided to pull out of the MSA race.  This was a hard decision for me (it was a hard decision to enter the race to begin with) and it’s something that I’ve been wracked with doubt over for the entire…week and a half…I was committed to running.  I believe that by presenting myself as a qualified candidate with strong ideas and strong ideals is doing a disservice to voters, after all.  I would only be serving for two MSA sessions.  Since the end result would be the installation of an arbitrary MSA representative in my stead by LSA Student Government, my running is harmful to the overall functioning of MSA.

However, this isn’t to say that I’m any less committed to the ideas I began this project on.  I will be assisting the Defend Affirmative Action Party with their campaign, and I plan to bring a resolution regarding the Creative Commons license for Ph.D. candidates to MSA before the end of the semester.  I remain committed to encouraging others to run in my stead — we need another write-in candidate for DAAP, or run as a write-in by yourself.  I’d be more than happy to endorse anyone who stands for lowering the cost of higher education and increasing access across the board.

I just think it is contradictory for someone who is running for the reform of student government to be putting hir seat back into the hands of an established student government group.  It is doing a major disservice to voters.

I’m not happy about this decision, but I also wasn’t entirely comfortable running for MSA.  I’m pretty frustrated with the whole situation at the moment, but I think it’s important that I withdrew from the race.  Nevertheless, I will still be speaking tomorrow in Angell Hall Auditorium D at the public hearing, which begins at 6:oo PM.  If you’re available, I’d love to see you come out.  I promise it won’t be one to miss.

Many people who know me were surprised to learn that I am running for MSA. They were more surprised to find I am running with the Defend Affirmative Action Party. I think it’s worth knowing why, because my run is based mostly on the symbolic significance of my presence in the race and any contention for an MSA position.

I believe that MSA elections have historically been ignored due to a lack of candidates who distinguish themselves in the eyes of the student body as new, unique, and interested in actually doing something with their positions. It might come as a surprise to some, since I am a graduating senior, that I care very much about what MSA does. In fact, I hope to introduce very specific resolutions before the Assembly in the short period I am seated, with eyes on creating a more egalitarian campus. In some ways, I feel as though being elected will mean I have extra responsibility to my constituents to work on the projects they put me in office to work on.

My primary goal in MSA will be the passage of a resolution putting pressure on Rackham to allow graduate students filing Ph.D.s to license their works under a Creative Commons license instead of a traditional copyright license. Creative Commons was developed by Stanford law professor Lawrence Lessig to better serve the needs of a digital community of thinkers, writers, and artists. I believe that this is an important step that students themselves can take to address the rising costs of education.

Currently, Ph.D. candidates are required to file their dissertation with UMI Dissertation Services, which is a division of ProQuest. ProQuest automatically licenses the dissertations under a conservative copyright, which is all rights reserved. Ostensibly, this is so newly minted Ph.D.s can make money on their hard work. In reality, the only people who make money in this system are really ProQuest, while also increasing the costs of re-printing dissertations. If I wanted to include your copyrighted dissertation in my anthology, I would be paying an absurd amount of money, mostly to ProQuest, in order to do so.

Creative Commons, on the other hand, is a some rights reserved license. Creators get to pick how much redistribution and reuse others get when they choose their license. The version of the license that makes the most sense for academics is the noncommerical attribution license – essentially it says that you are free to take my work, adapt it or reprint it, so long as you aren’t going to be using it to make money and so long as you attribute what’s mine to me. In an academic world that relies increasingly on digital publishing, Creative Commons makes more sense. And, in the long term, it will help drive down the costs of textbooks and maintaining library subscription services to academic journals.

Ph.D. candidates at the University of California at Berkeley have already set this precedent. Two dissertations were filed this year under Creative Commons licenses, and we have a chance to put our institution and our intellectual production in the vanguard of a new legal precedent for intellectual property. It just makes sense. It’s easy, it’s free, it’s practical, and the more scholars who take part, the less expensive education will become.

Above and beyond the work that I intend to do in the few weeks I would work in MSA, I believe my very presence sends an important message to everyone at U-M. First, that people who care can and should take part in student government. Second, that minority students at U-M deserve to and can have their own voices heard across campus. And third, that we are in fact living in a new progressive era, when service and clear thinking are valued above partisanship and identity politics.

I am running with DAAP as a gesture against the identity politics of the past, in hopes of taking steps toward the alliance politics of the future. Briefly, I think that identity politics, by virtue of its creation of monolithic identity groups, drives people apart. It alienates people with hybrid identities, and erases the important, unique experiences of the individual. We cannot afford that kind of thinking: we need the strength and expertise of each person and their specific experience.

I want to show that there is another way forward for progressives who care about diversity and social justice. It is time for us to start thinking of our movement as an alliance. In an alliance, we already know that there will be differences, disagreements, and negotiation. A progressive alliance has shared overarching goals: peace, justice, diversity, community service, and democracy are foremost amongst others. Yet we’re all individuals, with our own unique identities and styles and perspectives and strategies for success. There is no reason for us to stay isolated because of that. There is no reason we should be unable to stand together, and I am committed to serving in that spirit.

I am a long-shot candidate with big ideas. I am an idealist. I am a true progressive. I am also ready to give back to the university that has made me into who I am today, and I am ready to test the waters of public service. At the very least, I stand for change, and change deserves a chance.

I realize that I haven’t been writing a lot lately, but I’ve also neglected some major developments in my graduate school search.  In February I was admitted to both the University of Michigan’s School of Information for my master’s in information science and the University at Buffalo’s Media Study program for an MFA in emerging practices.  While it’s too early to make a decision yet (I have yet to hear back from Brown and New York University), I am really excited about both these prospects, especially Buffalo.  What could be better than getting a two-year master’s making ARGs?  Not much actually.

In the meantime the search for funding begins.  I’m going to be completely financially independent next year, which means wherever I go I hope to get a teaching assistantship or something similar.  Also, I get to file a FAFSA on which I only declare my measly income from 2008.  Need-based aid, here I come!

Also, my mother thinks I have bronchitis.  I don’t know, but I have been coughing for two weeks straight.  It’s probably doctor time, as much as I hate that.

I’m going to be speaking at BAMN‘s public hearing on campus climate on Wednesday, March 11.  The event will start at 6:00 pm and take place in Auditorium D in Angell Hall.

In general, I like to keep progressive political organizations at arm’s length because I think the change we need can be made through education and outreach, without having to ascribe a political message to our actions, but I’m starting to question that.  While focusing on education means focusing on broad-based systemic change, we need to alleviate conditions now, for our generation, as well as serve future generations.  I’m also experiencing a change of heart toward activism in general, especially activist outlets where I can actually present a thesis that’s more complex than “I want equality now.”

Moreover, I think this is going to be a great opportunity to sound a call to arms to end the limiting, alienating identity politics that plagues so many progressive movements.  In the final chapter of her book Whipping Girl, Julia Serano calls for reform in the queer/trans rights movement.  Her vision of equality doesn’t rest on our specific identities — in other words, how “queer” we are — but rather on the idea that we need to form an alliance to work toward the common goal of eliminating second-class citizenship in this country.  This is an important idea, because, as she writes, alliances require the understanding that there will be disagreements within the movement and that those disagreements are simply to be worked with and dealt with as they arise.  There isn’t the assumption that any identity group is a monolith.

In fact, I think visioning movements as alliances are, in general, more beneficial, because it also prevents individuals from scapegoating their oppressed identities while ignoring their privileged identities.  One of my biggest pet peeves in the world of social justice activism are people who don’t check their privilege, and presenting a view of inequality and resistance that rests exclusively on our formulations of our identities allows people to ignore those parts of them that do give them privilege in society.  It’s people like this who are often the targets of conservative ridicule because they ignore the fact they’ve got privileges because they’re white or upper class or straight.  It’s important that we don’t forget that we’re complex individuals and those identities influence our interactions with others.

I’m actually pretty excited about an alliance with BAMN.  As part of my alliance with BAMN, I’ve been invited to run for Michigan Student Assembly on the Defend Affirmative Action Party ticket.  I’m still debating it, but the application for candidacy is due tomorrow, and it seems like a good move.  They need more LSA candidates and I have some star power.  Even though I doubt I’ll win and even though I’m leaving the U next year, I think it will send the right message.  And why not capitalize on the press I’ve gotten?

I also am ready to throw my previous caution to the wind regarding being a public figure on campus.  Maybe I waited too long, but also maybe I wasn’t ready yet.  I have long had an uncomfortable relationship with activism at U-M and in general.  Recently I’ve been coming to terms with the idea of activism, both in terms of practice and theory of the past, and developing practices and theory for the future.  I’ve been reading work by other gender, sexual and race radicals who are more complex than a slogan on a banner, and whose conceptions of activism resist the stereotypes and attitudes that dominate mainstream thinking about who activists are and what they stand for.  And this has all brought me to realizations about myself and my responsibilities to the causes I care about as someone who refuses to be put into a box as a true progressive, and someone who wants a sea change in identity politics in general.

This is important work and I’d like anybody who’s at U-M to join us on March 11 for the public hearing.  Anyone can walk in and testify, and we hope to be able to pass some resolutions and build some momentum that we will bring to MSA.  I’m kind of reluctant to run for MSA, but I do think that I can and should make a commitment to making a call for action.  I want to encourage you to make a similar commitment, even if you don’t want to speak at the hearing, your presence will be valuable.  See you on the 11th.

So I’ve been working on the Program on Intergroup Relations‘ course materials for the gender dialogue for some time now.  I’ve added a lot of content, but one of the things that I’m currently wrestling with is the “Authorship and Copyright” box on the main page.  The original course materials book says this:

All materials remain property of The Program on Intergroup Relations at the University of Michigan, 530 S. State Street, 3000 Michigan Union, Ann Arbor, MI. 48109-1308, 734-936-1875,  Materials may only be used with permission and proper citation of their source.

Now, this isn’t as draconian as it could be, but I definitely want the work that Jene and I have done on the gender course materials to be freely remixable and re-usable (so long as it’s not for commercial purposes, and so long as the remixers and re-users are down with sharing and sharing alike.  In general I think there’s a lot for academia to gain from Creative Commons licensing, and I sort of just want to change the Authorship/Copyright box on my new gender materials to a full-fledged Creative Commons license.

I kind of feel weird about it because my work is built on some other people’s work.  And they didn’t necessarily say that their work can be remixed and re-used.  Yet I’m the one doing this set of edits, and I have explicit permission to change and mash and delete and reconfigure, so doesn’t that give me the prerogative to re-license the material with Creative Commons?

I think it makes a lot of sense.  I was excited to see that Ph.D. candidates at UC Berkeley have recently made movements toward enabling students to file dissertations under Creative Commons licenses, instead of selling their souls to ProQuest.  I believe in the availability of academic work to everybody, regardless of their place in the academy, and Creative Commons is a great step in the right direction.  danah boyd, as always, says it better than I ever could.

Long and short, IGR, as a progressive, equality-motivated organization, is getting some Creative Commons licenses for their course materials.  It’s a little bit of another kind of rebellion on my part, and considering the entire project is really pretty damn subversive, I don’t see why not.  IGR should be sending the clear message that equality is for everybody, and I think Creative Commons is a super way to do that.

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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