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Dudes and sexual violence, Part 2 « The Filing Cabinet

Dudes and sexual violence, Part 2 « The Filing Cabinet.

I wrote some stuff here, but mostly Meg has some great insights, thoughts, questions. When we each stop procrastinating from our PhDs, actually hand in the work we have due, and take a break, I hope we write more about this together. I think it would be really super if DUDE had an issue on sexual violence at some point in the future. There’s so much to say, to ask, to interrogate…

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You can do it!

check out my interview with Art about acquiring surgery not testosterone on DUDE 2 EXTENDED:

You can do it!

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Pronouns can be awkward

I like to think I don’t care which pronouns people use. But…I do. I guess I just like to be open about which pronouns people use because I don’t like stability, or being boxed in to something rigid. But the thing that disconcerts me is the reasons people use she/her/hers pronouns for me. Because if it’s just that they decide I am “female-bodied” – that’s not really cool. It’s true that I use and prefer he/him/his pronouns. And that my friends use them to describe me. But I do want to be cool with people using feminine pronouns. But I want to know what their reasons are for doing so. Leslie Feinberg is pretty awesome at being cool with people using different pronouns, so long as they’re in context:

Leslie Feinberg: For me, pronouns are always placed within context. I am female-bodied, I am a butch lesbian, a transgender lesbian – referring to me as “she/her” is appropriate, particularly in a non-trans setting in which referring to me as “he” would appear to resolve the social contradiction between my birth sex and gender expression and render my transgender expression invisible. I like the gender neutral pronoun “ze/hir” because it makes it impossible to hold on to gender/sex/sexuality assumptions about a person you’re about to meet or you’ve just met. And in an all trans setting, referring to me as “he/him” honors my gender expression in the same way that referring to my sister drag queens as “she/her” does.

I think for me right now, this is not the case: “referring to me as “he” would appear to resolve the social contradiction between my birth sex and gender expression and render my transgender expression invisible.” In fact, the opposite is true. But it does depend where I am. I grew up in a small town where strangers have pretty much always, and continue to, gender me as male and use masculine pronouns for me. I think this is because they don’t realise queer people, or specifically butch dykes, exist. That is, they’re not recognised. But in Melbourne, especially the kinds of places I hang out, I often don’t look male. So for me, Feinberg’s point would work when people use masculine pronouns for me – which I’m into.

I guess I feel my genderqueerness is unintelligible and that’s really tiring.

Judith Butler: To find that you are fundamentally unintelligible (indeed, that the laws of culture and of language find you to be an impossibility) is to find that you have not yet achieved access to the human, to find yourself speaking only and always as if you were human, but with the sense that you are not, to find that your language is hollow, that no recognition is forthcoming because the norms by which recognition takes place are not in your favor.

I lack the recognition (often but not always) to be intelligibly male.

Also  I’m often in places where it’s clear I’m not a teenager (universities, clubs), so I don’t get gendered as a teenage boy, which is the way I am most often read by non-trans strangers outside of these contexts. And as I’ve said before, I think one of the reasons people are so quick to gender me female and use feminine pronouns for me is because of the snaps from male-looking dykes offended at being called ‘he’ (which is fair enough, but also results in this kind of confusion.) So, seriously: ask what pronouns someone prefers. And just as seriously, don’t be offended by someone asking.

I went home for the holidays, and my parents, as well as many of my old friends, use feminine pronouns for me. I don’t want to ‘correct’ them. That seems wrong, because I don’t feel like I have some essential male being or something; that they’re wrong. But I do want them to know I prefer masculine pronouns, because I think they’d feel embarassed to know that was the case and I just didn’t tell them.

I guess I’d want to ask why people used feminine pronouns for me. And if their reasoning is: “You’re a girl”, “You look like a girl” or “Well I always have,” I don’t think that’s good enough. But I also recognise it’s up to me to tell them otherwise. But like, I’m tired.

Dean Spade: there is no innocence nor insignificance to the mistake of ‘she’ for ‘he’ when referring to a person who has chosen to take on a ‘wrong’ pronoun. even if it is done thoughtlessly, that thoughtlessness comes from and supports the two cardinal rules of gender: that all people must look like the gender (one out of a possible two) they are called by, and that gender is fixed and cannot be changed. each time this burden shifting occurs, the non-trans person affirms these gender rules, playing by them and letting me know that they will not do the work to see the world outside of these rules.

This is probably where I want to be:

Dean Spade: if comfort was my goal, i could probably have found a smoother path than the one i’m on, right? i haven’t chosen this word ‘he’ because it means something true to me, or it feels all homey and delicious. no pronoun feels personal to me. i’ve chosen it because the act of saying it, of looking at the body i’m in and the way that my gender has been identified since birth and then calling me ‘he,’ disrupts oppressive processes that fix everyone’s gender as ‘real,’ immutable, and determinative of your station in life. i’m not hoping that people will see that i’m different, paste a fake smile on their faces and force themselves to say some word about me with no thought process. i’m hoping that they will feel implicated, that it will make them think about the realness of everyone’s gender, that it will make them feel more like they can do whatever they want with their gender, or at least cause a pause where one normally would not exist. quite likely, this will be uncomfortable for all of us, but i believe that becoming uncomfortable with the oppressive system of rigid gender assignment is a great step toward undoing it.

also, check out Dean Spade’s Pronoun etiquette I’ve re-posted here.

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Pronoun Etiquette

By Dean Spade
People often wonder how to be polite when it comes to problems of misidentifying another person’s pronoun. Here are some general tips:

  1. If you make a mistake, correct yourself. Going on as if it did not happen is actually less respectful than making the correction. This also saves the person who was misidentified from having to correct an incorrect pronoun assumption that has now been planted in the minds of any other participants in the conversation who heard the mistake.
  2. If someone else makes a mistake, correct them. It is polite to provide a correction, whether or not the person whose pronoun is misused is present, in order to avoid future mistakes and in order to correct the mistaken assumption that might now have been planted in the minds of any other participants in the conversation who heard the mistake.
  3. If you aren’t sure of a person’s pronoun, ask. One way to do this is by sharing your own. “I use masculine pronouns. I want to make sure to address you correctly, how do you like to be addressed?” This may seem like a strange thing to do but a person who often experiences being addressed incorrectly may see it as a sign of respect that you are interested in getting it right.
  4. When facilitating a group discussion, ask people to identify their pronouns when they go around and do introductions. This will allow everyone in the room the chance to self-identify and to get each others’ pronouns right the first time. It will also reduce the burden on anyone whose pronoun is often misidentified and may help them access the discussion more easily because they do not have to fear an embarrassing mistake.

From his guide to Making_Classrooms_Welcoming_for_Trans.pdf

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Worst Film Ever.

Or, TAKEN: 93 minutes of my life.

As we get ever closer to the release of Twilight saga movie number 4, and as more films are remade barely after their initial release (‘Let The Right One In’ (2008), ‘Let Me In’ (2010)) to unsurprisingly disappointed receptions, there is clearly a lot of competition out there for the worst film ever.

When I was a kid I remember seeing ‘Bean’ (1997) and it was the first time I had actually wanted to walk out. But as my BFF reminded me last night after seeing ‘Contagion’ (2011) “it’s better to be slightly bored than traumatized” – so while ‘Contagion’ was completely uninteresting, there was nothing highly offensive or upsetting about it. The same cannot be said for ‘Taken’ (2008). Three years ago I wrote the following review and I am yet to see it beaten to the title:

It doesn’t happen often that I find nothing at all redeeming about a movie. But last night my sister, brother-in-law and I all agreed that ‘Taken’ was the worst film we had ever seen. And we have really different tastes in movies.[1]

The only film I have ever actually walked out of was ‘Don’t Move’ (‘Non ti muovere’, 2004) – a love/rape story that I simply couldn’t bare at the time. I walked out after 30mins, post the first (of many) totally sexualised rape scene. When I finally watched the entire film in 2006, I did appreciate it. It is a really wonderful film, but the complexity involved in its greatness was beyond me at the time. And it is utterly painful to watch.

The last film I nearly walked out of was ‘The Dead Girl’ (2006), which I think may be the best competition for ‘Taken’.

The reason I went to see ‘The Dead Girl’ was because I had heard an interview with the (female) director where she explained that the film gave a voice to someone otherwise just seen as ‘the dead girl’, which actually is total bullshit. The film does exactly not that. The ‘dead girl’ only appears at the end. And the film plays into super boring lesbian/drug addict/prostitute/’she was asking for it’ narratives without challenging them.

Here are my criteria for judging a film:

1-does it reinforce stereotypes/cliched narratives?
2-does it depict women as victims/helpless/mindless consumers?
3-does it reinforce racist, sexist, homophobic assumptions/stereotypes?
4-does it contain rape (as threat, allusion, or graphic image)?
5-does it play well as a film (that is, have good cinematography), or does it rely more on just a story?
6-does it contain some pathetic love story, where things work out in the end?
7-does someone hot make up for it?
8- does it glorify something repulsive like patriarchy/war?
9-is it critical of oppressive social structures?
10-is the main message of the film super lame unoriginal?

SO. This is why ‘Taken’ is the worst film ever:

Brief synopsis:
Ex-Army Liam Neeson retires to live closer to his estranged daughter. She wants to go to Paris with her friend and needs him to sign a form because she is 17. He says she can go only if she calls him twice a day. She doesn’t call. He calls her and while they are on the phone guys break into their apartment and kidnap the friend and then her. Neeson tracks down every person involved and kills them all, rescuing the daughter.

‘Taken’ rates as follows:

  • (1) does it reinforce stereotypes/cliched narratives?

Oh my god Yes. It is a super boring ‘action’ movie. Badly written (so many bad one liners by Liam Neeson in the style of ‘this time it’s personal’). Terribly weak narrative (Neeson’s daughter goes to Paris on a trip and he is worried about her going alone and then lo and behold she is kidnapped on her first day).

  • (2) does it depict women as victims/helpless/mindless consumers?

Absolutely. We never see the daughter’s story (for ‘narrative effect’, we are supposed to identify with Neeson ‘not knowing where she is’), thus she is depicted as completely useless/helpless to do anything herself. The (female) friend is found dead and she is just never brought up again.

There is also this thing about her being a virgin, which is so terrible: like she’s a virgin so instead of getting used in a brothel she gets sold off as a virgin, and then it is implied that she is still a virgin when he saves her (and therefore still ‘pure’), which I find super unlikely.

  • (3) does it reinforce racist, sexist, homophobic assumptions/stereotypes?

Classic America takes on evil ‘Others’. The guys who kidnap, traffick and pimp the girls are Albanian, one is black. The story takes place in France and the French government is implicated as supporting the ‘trade’. When the girls are auctioned off, the buyers are of Asian appearance, or with dark skin. The final super bad guy (who purchasers the daughter) is West Asian Muslim.

  • (4) does it contain rape (as threat, allusion, or graphic image)?

Yes. The girls kidnapped are given heroin and put to work in warehouse brothels. The threat that the daughter will be raped is the basis of the suspense of the film.

  •  5) does it play well as a film (employ cinematography), or does it rely more on just a story?

No. but it is an action movie, so that’s to be expected.

  • (6) does it contain some pathetic love story, where things work out in the end?

The main love story is the father/daughter, so that’s pretty cool (although obviously lame conservative and unoriginal in other ways), there is no main het love theme. But the father/daughter love story, esp. ending is pretty pretty bad:
When the story begins, Neeson is estranged from his family because of his long absences due to active army service, and he is trying to build a relationship with his daughter. He works for one night on security at a concert and saves the singer’s life. In return she says he can bring his daughter to meet/learn from her (the daughter wants to be a singer). Guess how it ends.

  • (7) does someone hot make up for it? 

Only if you’re into Liam Neeson, but the acting is so so bad in anyone. Even Neeson is terrible.

  • (8) does it glorify something repulsive like patriarchy/war/…

Yes. Patriarchy: father saves all. The film also has super dubious morals: it condones the use of torture (pretty standard these days but still), Neeson also kills so many people without caring, often unnecessarily, including women at a brothel, and he shoots a guy he’s after’s wife – all in order to save the daughter. He only ‘rescues’ one other girl from a brothel because she has his daughter’s jacket, but he doesn’t seem to give a shit about ‘anyone else’s daughter’.

Neeson is also a trained soldier. He is able to save the daughter because of the skills he gained in the army (the army is really great like that).

  • (9) is it critical of oppressive social structures?

It is critical of America’s ‘bad guys’: Eastern Europe, France, Muslims. They appear to suck while white, manly America is there to save the day (world).

  • (10) is the main message of the film super lame unoriginal?

Yes. Women who travel alone will be kidnapped, sold into prostitution and become drug addicts. their only possible escape is if their father (some man) rescues them.

Even Holly Valance doesn’t make up for it.

Other notes:

It’s also SO unbelievable. And I understand the classic ‘bad guys can’t shoot straight but good guys always do’ scenario, but this is RIDICULOUS. Neeson must be like 60 (and the character is supposed to retired, ie out of practice or at least fitness), he repeatedly beats off 2, 3, 5, 7 (younger) guys without getting injured at all, mostly he is unarmed while they are armed. At one stage a guy shoots a machine gun at him at close range and still completely misses. At another he is handcuffed to a drain pipe against 5 guys with weapons. He is also pursued by the French government and then for no reason they give up, and he is able to leave the country.

Which movie do you think deserves the title WORST FILM EVER?

[1] Here are some of our favourite films:

Me: Charlie Kaufman’s ‘Adaptation’ (2002), ‘I Heart Huckabees’ (2004), Penelope Cruz in Pedro Almodovar’s ‘Volver’ (2006)

My sister: ‘The Usual Suspects’ (1995), Al Pacino in Oliver Stone’s ‘Scarface’ (1983), Neil Gaiman’s ‘Stardust’ (2007)

My brother in law: Jim Carrey in ‘Ace Ventura’ (1994), Chuck Palaniuk’s ‘Fight Club’ (1999), Oliver Stone’s ‘Platoon’ (1986)


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Born This Way?

The recent “Born This Way” episode of Glee, featuring Lady Gaga’s latest single of the same name, draws attention to the posited-as-postmodern fixation on so-called ‘body modifications’. The episode revolves around self-acceptance and, for the most part, asserts acceptance in opposition to body alterations via plastic surgery. That is, the fairly conservative view that plastic surgery and any desires for such are bad. In this way, Glee positions problems of self-esteem as individual and suggests they are to be conquered via changes to thinking, while plastic surgery is presented as self-hating and conformist.

Earlier in the series, Santana is vilified for having a boob job, and throughout this episode the gang rally to dissuade Rachel from having a nose job. There is no question that Rachel’s flirtation with plastic surgery is “a terrible idea” within the diagesis of the show. But while the gang all profess how much they love themselves, it is Santana — ‘the brutally honest bitch’ — who calls them out for lying to themselves (“As if there aren’t things you’d all change about yourselves”). Self-hatred is conveyed as highly unattractive and unfashionable in this hipster context (as opposed to self-hatred celebratory emo-culture).

The showchoir purport various reasons (other than self-hate) for their body modifications, such as the improvement of talent (Rachel) or trying to be in fashion (Tina), both of which are presented as highly unconvincing; mere excuses for a deeper-rooted and shameful self-loathing.

Rachel: “Look, I’m happy with the way that I look and I’ve embraced my nose, but say I wanted to have a slightly more demure nose, like Quinn’s for example. I would never change my appearance for vanity but the doctor said that it could possibly improve my talent…”

Against conformity

Glee sets up a dichotomy where self-acceptance is ‘good’  and conformity is ‘bad’ (in this case via plastic surgery). This has been the main aim of the show from its inception; the geeks and misfits of the Glee club are constantly juxtaposed to the bitchy cheerleaders and bullying footballers. This distinction is hardly complicated by a number of the popular kids joining the Glee club. There is also a reiteration of the idea that the misfits are ‘authentic’ and the popular kids ‘fake’ — referenced in “Born This Way” through Lauren Zizes comment to Quinn that she is “two different people”, as well as the character of closet-gay footballer Dave Karofsky. It is not coincidence that the two characters who are revealed to have had plastic surgery (Santana and Quinn) are cheerleaders: the archetypical high school example of popularity due to conformity.

With the exception of this one-liner,

Mercedes: “[T]he thing that makes you different is the thing people use to crush your spirit.”

the show really avoids the complications of trying to be different in an unaccepting social sphere; that there are costs to being different.

As Jack Halberstam reminds us: “the experience of transgression itself is often filled with fear, danger, and shame, rather than heroic self-satisfaction.” (Female Masculinity, 1998: 59)

Or, as Quinn puts it: “I pretty much have a warped sense of the world. Being a hot seventeen year old you can get away with or do anything you want, so I just kind of assume that people are always nice and accommodating.”

By revealing Quinn’s “size 2 teenage dream [body]” to be one obtained via various modificatory practices (rhinoplasty, extreme weight loss, acne medication, contacts, hair dye, as well as changing her name and moving schools), the show could be read as embracing both self-acceptance without plastic surgery and self-love via changing what you don’t like “when you look in the mirror”. When confronted with her ‘Lucy Caboosey’ past, Zizes suggests “So, you hate yourself?” to which Quinn retorts:

“No. I love myself, and that’s why I did all those things. I’ve been that girl and I’m never going back. I was a miserable little girl and now I’m going to be prom queen.”

Here, Quinn and Zizes offer a different reading of two perhaps similar looking people with starkly contrasted ways of living it. Zizes just gets off on her subversiveness (which is tied into her ‘badness’); that is, she embraces the ways she is different from dominant cultural expectations of femininity. Zizes clearly loves herself — which is highlighted when she is praised for it by the post-surgery, self-love professing Quinn. But, as Deb Jannerson remarks: “[it is troubling] that the writers didn’t come up with something other than ‘she used to be heavier and bigger-nosed.’ Don’t quintessential popular girls have issues with their appearances sometimes?”

This juxtaposition is perhaps more interestingly explored through the male characters Finn and Sam, each of which are often depicted as lacking in manliness because of their body mass; Finn not muscular enough and Sam obsessed with his musculature. These two can also be seen as representing ‘acceptance’ or ‘change’ in relation to body modification; Finn as self-conscious-if-not-hating of his flabbiness and Sam as obsessed with the constant militant eating and exercising regimes necessary for maintaining his stature. Hence, both ‘acceptance’ or refusal and change can be seen as ongoing systems of self-‘modification’. As opposed to Quinn’s which is seen as a classic before and after; that is, no ongoing work seems to be required.

“it is not enough to unquestioningly assume that conformity is bad  and transgression is good or to presume that such categories are stable, discrete, identifiable, and unambiguous.” (Nikki Sullivan, “Transmorgrifications”, 561)

The overwhelming ‘lesson’ of the episode remains that self-acceptance is — if not necessary at least — preferable to other types of self-modification: Tina concludes that as there are no Asian sex symbols, she should become one. This idea is reiterated in the ‘Barbaravention,’ where Kurt reminds Rachel that Barbara Streisand “refused to believe that beauty could only be defined by the blonde chiselled faces of Hitchcock’s beauties, so she redefined what beauty was and became the biggest female star in the world.” This possibility of reform is highly optimistic, but is in keeping with the show’s feel-good, idealistic raison d’être.


Glee itself purports to be transgressive and celebratory of diversity, but it presents a fairly palatable — conformist — type of diversity (see, for example, nyx mathews’ article on Glee and disability): all of Glee‘s self-congratulatory diversity is sugar-coated (with the possible exception of Lauren Zizes). Furthermore, the purpose of presenting difference as a result of being “Born This Way” disavows other forms of cultural representation and body-modification, rendering desires for such as less, if at all, legitimate.

Quinn’s self-acceptance is side-stepped in the narrative. Or rather, it is only considered in her relation to others: after the publicity of her alter-ego Lucy Caboosey, she’s still popular, adored by the masses (represented by the three identically-dressed fat girls) and her boyfriend, Finn. How she feels about herself after this ‘outing’ is not depicted. And neither is the reality of the suffering endured by rebelling against cultural norms, as Professor Xavier remarks in X-Men: The Last Stand: “Is it cowardice to save oneself from persecution?”

Is Rachel still pandering to social pressure, just that of her friends rather than the greater school community? And where does that leave the characters who have undergone plastic surgery? While it is not highlighted within the text, I think both Quinn and Santana characterise a get-what-you-want attitude that challenges the timidity of refusing change. Quinn’s self-acceptance revolves around not hiding the fact that she changed a lot in order to get where she is, regardless of the stigma attached to cosmetic surgery. And I’m into that.

If only Santana and Quinn had (been allowed to) own it and sung a girl power encore, like Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” or Madonna’s “Express Yourself”.

Glee cast perform “Born This Way”:

Lady Gaga’s original “Born This Way”:

Quinn and Rachel sing a mash-up of TLC’s “Unpretty” / West Side Story’s “I Feel Pretty”:

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