feminism

THE BEAUTY AND THE BEAST OF ABUSE

TW: Discussions of Abuse

A graphic related to Beauty and the Beast has been making the rounds again. It discusses a different perspective of the movie, which suggests that rather than a representation of domestic abuse and Stockholm syndrome, that the movie represents the force of finding that special someone when you are socially outcast and isolated. It describes how both the Beast and Bell exist in social isolation. In the case of one, because of his monstrosity and in the case of the other as a result of being an avid reader and thinker in a town in which the social convention is for women to avoid books.

This graphic has some interesting ideas, but I think that even while what it said there is true, it is also important to discuss how that truth doesn’t invalidate the legitimate criticisms regarding the abusive elements of the Beast and Belle’s relationship.

The beast might be a social outcast because of the way he looks, but the way he looks is a result of his refusal to give shelter to an old woman for the night. It was meant to teach him not to judge people based on their appearance, and in the older stories it was also a punishment for being a mean-spirited and selfish brat.

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Lovecraft Letters 3: Rude Fleshcoat

Man: "Hello.  I like your profile.  Can we talk?" Woman: "no." Man: "Not responding is much better than being rude, sweetie! ;)" Woman: "You're right any woman saying no to something they aren't into is completely rude." Man: "Haha.  Ok we both were misunderstood.  Good luck.  Peace."

Man: “Hello. I like your profile. Can we talk?”
Woman: “no.”
Man: “Not responding is much better than being rude, sweetie! ;)”
Woman: “You’re right any woman saying no to something they aren’t into is completely rude.”
Man: “Haha. Ok we both were misunderstood. Good luck. Peace.”

 

HOW DARE YOU NOT ASSENT TO MY NOISE CONGRESS? YOUR IMPOLITIC POSSESSION OF AN AUTONOMOUS MIND IS MOST INCONVENIENT FOR THE SEXBORG OF WHICH I AM BUT A SPIKY, INTRUSIVE TENDRIL.

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The Shoes Are Not Impractical – You Are

[Spoilers for Jurassic World follow]

Jurassic World is a spectacular film.  The scale of the resurrected-dinosaur franchise did not appreciably increase with the previous two sequels two decades ago, but here, it swells to encompass a larger ecology of reborn dinosaurs, a larger setting, and a larger cinematic vision, which is a fitting continuation to the spectacle of its forebears.  Less fortunately, that larger scale has pushed the franchise away from its suspenseful, adventure-film roots toward creature-feature garishness.  At least they added or restored several characters of color and acknowledged in-universe that their undead sauropsids often bear only superficial resemblance to their ostensible forebears.

As much as the biologist in me was shrieking the whole time, the movie had one joyous redeeming feature, and that was Bryce Dallas Howard’s character, Claire Dearing.

Claire Dearing looking sarcastically on. From MovieWeb.com.

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ABLEISM CHALLENGE

CN: For Ableist slurs.

I have a challenge for all of my blogger friends. I want you to try and go one month without using the list of words below. For one month, in your blog posts and public opinions, I want you to not use these words. I will explain why. I will give you a reason, and regardless of whether you agree with me or not, I want you to try. For me.

Why does this matter?

The truth is that the concerns of the disabled community are often pushed to the side or seen as less important. Just a year ago there was almost a network wide outrage over being called on the use of ableist sentiments and words.  It ended with one of the more dedicated and active disability and neurodiversity activists, who has actually created a lot of the accepted vocabulary of the neurodivergent movements, accused of being a troll. The concerns were ignored, a new network was launched, and little to no progress was made in improving the use of ableist language or sentiments in our community. The verdict was in. As one person famously put it: disability activism is not a real thing.

And then the whole thing was ignored. For most people it was just not enough of a big deal.

Every few months someone writes a post asking people to not use “crazy” as a pejorative, that gets summarily ignored.

And these things do matter. In the same way that racialized words perpetuate systemic racism, and the same way that racialized words can find themselves in the most seemingly benign words, ableism too is so prevalent as to be invisible.

The sad fact is that most ableist slurs are considered the soft swears, the use-instead-ofs. Want to insult someone in relatively polite company? Chances are you may reach for one of these as a stand-by. But words matter. Language shapes our perception and when we make disability an insult, when we make ability an insult, we are implying that there is something wrong with being that way. It adds to a system that treats people with disabilities as being less than human. In some cases people go so far as to imply that people with disabilities don’t have feelings or don’t feel pain. Moreover it creates a perceptions, a link between being disabled and being otherwise incompetent.

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Lovecraft Letters 1: The Beautiful Disaster of Your Eyes

Men.  What are they even?  So many of them are so, SO bad at sending OkCupid and similar missives that one wonders if they aren’t any of various Lovecraftian monsters pretending at typewritten humanity in order to seduce lovely victims.

In this ongoing project, I take examples of dating-profile ridiculousness and weave it into the all-caps messages such eldritch abominations might send.  Our first example is a little too solicitous of a friend’s eyes.

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Bathroom BS: How Bathroom Bills Affect the Disabled

It happened again.

I was at the drive thru at Starbucks getting myself a small treat as I ran errands, in the hopes of waking myself up, when I felt a strong pain in my abdomen. I hoped it would just be pain but as I paid for my drink I felt the painful stirrings that warned me I needed to get to a bathroom fast. I told the cashier that I would pick up my drink inside, pulled my car into a space, and ran inside just in time to see someone step into the free washroom. I danced anxiously, hoping that one of the two rooms would be free soon.

I didn’t make it.

I avoided sobbing audibly when my control was lost and I felt the shameful feeling of losing control of my bowels. I stood there, ashamed. Waiting for a door to open so I could go clean up and finish going to the bathroom.

In some ways I was lucky. My clothing, my body shape, is such that as long as the accident is relatively small, it won’t drip to the floor the way I have seen it happen to others. The mess would be contained to my underwear, which I could remove and clean up in the sink.

Living with a bowel related disability, I am more aware than most of the importance of access to public restrooms. I’ve written before about what it means when that access is restricted for someone like me. Someone with a disability.

It is part of what makes the bathroom bills targeting transgender people so insidious.

The bathroom bill, for those who don’t know, is a name given to pieces of legislation restricting access to public restrooms for transgender people. The laws are usually presented under the guise of protecting people from predators who might try to take advantage of someone by pretending to be one gender to gain access to a restroom. Realistically the laws are a bigoted response to a problem that does not exist.

A Trans woman, using a woman’s restroom, is a woman using a woman’s restroom. She has as much right to be there as anyone else. To deny her that right, is to claim that she is not really a woman. It is an act of discrimination.

When it comes to predatory behaviour and violence, it is not Trans people who are its instigators, but rather, its victim. Using either the restroom of the gender they identify with is incredibly risky for trans women, as is using the restroom of their assigned gender. Either choice can lead to being the victims of violence from verbal assault to outright murder. It’s not cis people who need protecting in bathrooms but Trans people.

The only reason for these laws, is to satisfy the bigotry of transphobic, and particularly transmisogynistic, members of the population. It is because the people making those laws, don’t want to risk the possibility of being in a room with a trans person and want to make the world more and more dangerous for them so that they stay hidden. It is because they assume that all trans people are actually faking it or that trans people are inherently criminal or dangerous or unstable.

That there are laws being made restricting the access to restrooms just goes to show how dehumanizing our society is towards trans people. In these privileged parts of the world, we take access to washrooms for granted. So much so, that when manners make people visiting with others ask to use the facilities, the possibility of refusal is mocked. When we mock people who bring up having friends belonging to a group they are accused of being prejudiced towards, it often includes references to the restroom. “I have black friends, I even let them use my bathroom.” The idea of sharing one’s washroom with someone else is seen as such a matter of course, that the idea that you wouldn’t even if you were prejudiced, is seen as ridiculous. And yet this is exactly what is happening to trans people right now across North America.

Right now in Ottawa, the bill to include gender identity and trans people as protected under the charter, has been attached with an amendment that would make public restroom use by trans people illegal.

These laws are disgusting examples of the bigotry faces regularly on trans people, but they also highlight how often in the rush to discriminate against one group people will trample over the rights of others without so much as a second glance.

Bathroom bills are not just harmful to trans people but they can also be said to actively restrict the accessibility of public spaces to people with disabilities.

When faced with a situation like the one about, I don’t have the time to be concerned about whether the washroom I am using matches my assigned gender or not. If the choice is having a painful, uncomfortable, and embarrassing accident in public or using the men’s room, my choice in clear. Laws such as these would make it illegal for me to use to the available restroom. It would limit my access to restrooms when the women’s room is out of order.

Limited access to restrooms, means limited access to public spaces. I can’t physically go anywhere without guaranteed access to facilities, and these laws would make them less available.

In the case of trans people with bathroom related disabilities, this access would be hindered even further since most of these laws effectively bar trans people from all but gender neutral public restrooms.

Discrimination against one groups invariably affects other groups as well. Discrimination against one of us hurts us all.

Trans people have a right to safe and unrestricted access to the washroom of their choice, and I won’t let myself be a complacent back you step on to get to kick them when they’re down.

Let Me Take A Selfie

A few years ago, I participated in one of the Facebook status games. The point of the game was to reveal something about yourself, something that some people might not know or that you think they should know. Among the list, I included that I struggled with fairly severe body image issues. A friend of mine responded that she was surprised to learn that because she always believed me to be very confident. Since I have a tendency to hide my body, even as a nudist, and a tendency to show discomfort around my appearance, I was quite surprised to learn that she believed me to be confident. I asked her why she thought so and she replied: Yours always posting pictures of yourself.

It wasn’t meant as a criticism of me, it wasn’t meant to shame me, and it was simply an observation. I post pictures of myself, I take several pictures of myself, so therefore I must be confident.

As a culture, we’ve created this idea that selfies are a sign of vanity, and we are terrified of vanity. So much so, that we have built an entire culture predicated on teaching everyone to hate their appearance. We create impossible standards and then tell everyone that regardless of circumstance we must achieve it and maintain it. We’ve so thoroughly pervaded our social bias towards people who fall outside the “acceptable standards of beauty” that we as a society no longer treat them as fully human. Perversely, in an attempt to avoid the appearance of vanity we have instead created a cultural obsession towards an obsessive hatred of one’s self.

Ultimately, that is all that vanity is. It is an appreciation for one’s own appearance. It is a love for what you see when you look at yourself. It is a comfort in your own skin. Yes, excessive vanity can be dangerous, just like excess in anything is dangerous. But vanity, by itself? It is an act of self-love.

But selfies? They’re not an expression of vanity, they are a lifeline that reminds myself that I am not worthless. That I am not hideous. It is what allows me to replace my internal image of myself from one of loathing to one of acceptance. Because I don’t love how I look. I hate it. I can’t look in the mirror without desperately wanting to cut off some pieces of myself. Without wondering how anyone can possibly be attracted to me, and wondering if every sexual interaction I’ve ever had was a lie. My body, my appearance, was the weapon used to cut at my psyche over and over and over again. I was told it was the reason I was alone.

Those words, those cuts to my self-esteem are part of the reason why I let myself be taken in by users and abusers when I went out into the dating world. It was the excuse for every negative interaction with people I was interested in. They’re the reason that I sat like this, to avoid my rolls showing up through my shirt, because then people would think of me as fat.

Ania at 14 sitting with her back arched so as to not show any bulges

It is what made me think for years that the girl in this picture was fat.

Ania at 13 standing in front of the Notre Dame

Then I figured out that if I was careful I could take pictures that highlighted the few things that I do like about myself. The contrast of my features against my skAnia in a black tank topin, the darkness of my hair, the colour of my eyes, all things I could appreciate about myself. They were things that let me believe that I had value, that I was worthy of love. Especially in this world that goes out of its way to tell me the opposite. These pictures, these pictures that are used to mock my vanity, to mock the very hutzpah of daring to love even the smallest part of myself when I am so far from perfect. Because how dare I. How dare I?

Older picture of AniaHow dare I look to myself for validation when the world teaches me that I should rely on the approval of men, regardless of whether I have any interest in their approval. How dare I not be grateful for the compliment that men deign to bestow on me, regardless of whether I want them, or whether they make me feel unsafe and like a target. The one that tells me that I am never allowed to refuse an advance because I’m ugly and so they are doing me a favour my being with me and tells me I am not allowed to have standards.

So no, I don’t need you to tell me that I am pretty. Because I have my selfie, so that I can tell myself what I need to hear.

Because that’s what they are. They’re selfies, and they have nothing to do with you.

 

Sorting

I have a lot of sorting to do.

I have an underwear drawer to sort.  I have a closet to sort.  I have a bathroom to sort.  I have habits and patterns and assumptions and expectations to sort.  I have friends and relatives to sort.

I have twenty-seven years of memories to sort.

A few days ago, I took the most public step so far in my social transition and I changed the gender line on my Facebook profile from “male” to “female.”  From now on, Facebook will not misgender me: people will be prompted to post on her wall, look at what she has posted, tag her in photos.  I made a life event post out of it, and the collected well-wishing of 150 people of varying levels of closeness to me was a welcome reminder that, where I go, I do not need to go alone.

I needed that.  The self-actualization on which I embarked a few months ago is the single most terrifying thing I have ever done.  A dozen awkward courtships, becoming an atheist, admitting my disinterest in medical school, moving 1600 kilometers away from my family, enduring being grilled by professors until they were impressed enough to turn my nascent MSc into a Ph.D. in waiting, learning the hard way that one of Mom’s six siblings is too toxic a person to have in my life any more than absolutely necessary, recognizing my autism without a formal diagnosis—none of that compares to the thrumming, thrilling existential terror before me now.

I am not even talking about how I am a trans woman of color, and the biggest protection I have from the world’s desire to murder women like me is an ambiguous complexion and a well-off background.

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Love That Does Not Accept Me

Let’s get one thing clear

When someone you know tells you something big, like say, “I’m trans,” these are some appropriate responses:

“Wow, congrats on figuring yourself out!”

“Should I start using new pronouns?”

“Wow, um, it’ll take me a bit to process this, but I’ll try.”

“Cool! I’ve never known a trans person before and I have loads of questions. Let me know if they’re getting too personal, okay? I know this is probably the single most intense conversation you’ve ever had. including that time you were threatened by a vagrant wielding a Bible and a pacemaker scar in the trash room of your building, so I don’t want to make this even scarier for you.”

“You know, I/someone I know is getting rid of some old clothes and cheap jewelry. I can let them know you’re interested and see if they’ll let you pick through them first.”

 

Depending on your relationship to that person, this might also be an appropriate response:

“Sick! Sick and ungodly! You’ll burn for not fulfilling your righteous godly destiny you abomination unto the Lord!”

Provided you’re someone whose connection to the person talking to you is mostly self-contained (unlike, say, family), this can be an appropriate response because it lets them know you’re an unenlightened, trans-antagonistic piece of shit and they will lose nothing of value by cutting all ties with you.

 

The following are not appropriate responses.

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Wibbly-Wobbly Gendery Bendery

CN: Possible TMI and includes very private thoughts. Read at own risk. Comments will be heavily moderated.

It is funny how one little thing can make memories come crashing back. When Alex and I first got together, we spent some time sharing our deep dark secrets. Throughout the course of this sharing I told Alex that as a child I used to imagine that I had a penis. That one revelation began a process of bringing up memories over the next few years.

Suddenly I remembered that I didn’t just imagine this. I would lie awake imagining it. In fact I couldn’t fall asleep until I did.

From a fairly early age I was obsessed with sex and gender roles. A majority of the stories I made up as a child was of girls escaping the expectations of society by dressing up as a man. I would play at this. I desperately didn’t want to identify with what I saw of being “femme”. I hated pink, I bragged about my love for science. I took femmephobia to the extreme and was quite literally a chill girl that saw myself as a feminist. I wanted to reject all that was female about me.

As is my habit, I worked through a lot of this stuff through my writing. Even though my characters often dressed up as men, they often explored their sexuality as women. The ability to switch back and forth intrigued me, although always in a presenting way. My mind never explored the possibilities open in magic of being able to completely switch. It wasn’t until I met Alex that I was able to even consider that possibility.

In my own pretend games, I would often lead the games into situations where our dolls or characters had romantic partners. I would find some excuse to get to play “my character’s” romantic partner. On more than one occasion I employed stuffed animals, socks, and other methods to stuff my pants to indicate that in that moment I was male.

Eventually my characters, like myself, began exploring the possibility that one could be female and confound gender roles. I explored strong womanhood, and pride in womanhood. Looking at myself through the eyes of one of my main characters, Katsyandra, allowed me to embrace a part of myself that I had felt distant from: my womanhood.

Telling Alex about my old thoughts, brought them roaring back. I found myself masturbating to the idea of having a penis. After some time the thoughts stopped being a nightly thing, but they would crop up from time to time. I also began noticing that there were times where I identified myself male in some of my fantasies.

I didn’t know what this meant. I wondered for some time if I was really a trans man. I considered the possibility and tried on male pronouns in my head, but that didn’t quite sit right with me. I had no interest in giving up being a woman. Yes, I sometimes identified as male, but I also identified strongly as being female.

When non binary gender identities began to become more discussed in the communities I belonged to, something resonated. I knew I wasn’t agender: I identified too strongly with genders to think that I was genderless. I felt more like I had a surfeit of gender instead. When I heard the term bi-gender that felt a little closer to the mark. I felt like I identified with both genders. What seemed different however was that it wasn’t a constant thing. I didn’t and don’t really feel a connection with the pronouns They/Theirs, at least not all the time. I didn’t want to be called He/His, at least not all the time. I didn’t mind being called She/Her. But being called Cis didn’t feel right either. I spend too much time desperately wanting a body I do not have, feeling the need to connect with a part of me that I feel isn’t perceived.

So what am I?

I still don’t know. The best I can come up with is that most of the time I am a woman who feels she should have a penis, who is sometimes male, sometimes both male and female at once, and very occasionally neither gender at all. Functionally this doesn’t change much. I am still very much me, and with me barely able to understand my own gender, I am not about to ask anyone to call me pronouns I am unsure I even want yet.

I have been scared to share a lot of this information with people. I am terrified of being accused of being appropriative. Of having people tell me that I am just trying to be part of the cool club. Of calling me a wannabe professional victim. I am terrified that all this is me just trying to be special and that everyone goes through this type of worry and questioning. I am scared that I am lying to myself in some way to avoid facing a hard truth.

My identity right now is genderqueer and fluid, but a more accurate term might be that I am Wibbly-Wobbly Gendery-Bendery.