Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Three Things

1. I have a guest post at Bitch Flicks on the movies Water Lilies and Tomboys. You should read it. (Also, if you never read the post I did for them last year on No Country For Old Men, you should read that too.)

2. I've been diagnosed with PMDD. I start Prozac next week; fingers crossed that will make me feel more generally positive, more motivated, and capable of updating more often.

3. I've never had cause to institute a comment policy here before, because there aren't enough comments to need moderating, but there have been a couple of nasty anons lately, whereof new comment policy: nasty anonymous comments will be deleted. Disagreement is welcome, provided it's conducted in a polite and constructive manner that's conducive to discussion. Anonymously posting “this sucks” or “you're wrong” contributes nothing to the conversation. (Anonymous positive comments, however, contribute to my self-esteem, and thus continue to be welcome.)

That is all. Keep calm and carry on.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Trans*masculinity And The Pop-Culture Gender Binary

It may shock you to learn that I have been thinking a lot lately about trans*masculinity. (Holla at Genderfork, who recently ran a terrible photo I sent them probably a year ago! I look a lot more androgynous now, but my webcam is still just as terrible!)

It's occurred to me that there's an interesting pop-culture trope around trans*masculinity: it's okay to have a tomboyish/trans*masculine character, provided there's also a really femme-y girl to balance things out.

Like – okay, don't judge me too harshly for this, but between the ages of seven and maybe nine I was super into The Famous Five, and my favorite character was (of course) George. George had short hair, a rough-and-tumble attitude, and enormous pleasure at being gendered male. “I won't be a girl; I'm a boy!” I can remember her shouting at some point in the endless book series. George also had a cousin named Anne, who was timid, pretty, and conventionally feminine. (Anne was the one who was always, “Please let this be a normal field trip...”)

Or look at A Song Of Ice And Fire. Aggressively gender-non-conforming Arya wants to fight, hates sewing, and presents as male for a while. Meanwhile big sister Sansa is about as conventionally feminine as you can get. (I actually love what the series does with these tropes – it presents both of these choices, as well as those of other women like Cersei and Danaerys, as part of a range of possible options for AFAB people trying to stay alive and reclaim a little agency in a ferociously misogynistic society.)

Last year's lovely French film Tomboy also uses this trope, and it even crops up among portrayals of girls who are strictly on the cis end of the tomboy spectrum: Jo March has her sister Amy, Buttercup has her sister Bubbles, Petrova Fossil has her sister Posy.

I understand why it's a trope. I get that it's an easy source of conflict, a stark way to characterize two people as different, and an attempt to avoid accusations of either stereotyped femininity or femme erasure. But all too often I think it ends up reinforcing the masculine/feminine binary, even in instances where it might have been intended to disrupt it, because this constant pop-culture pairing of GNC girl and femme sister implies that the (conventionally) masculine and the (conventionally) feminine have some kind of yin-yang relationship that needs to be held in delicate balance. Plus, the hierarchized nature of the binary opposition means that all too often the femme gets denigrated (see: half of fandom on Sansa – including, admittedly, yours truly in the first book).

Then again, maybe there's also a grain of truth in this trope. I know I personally would have felt able to embrace androgyny a lot earlier in life if I hadn't been beset with the (probably instinctive, certainly not malicious) gender policing of parents toward their longed-for and only daughter. Maybe I am setting too much store by a pop-culture trope; maybe I am just making excuses because I am afraid; but every time I try to imagine having a conversation about gender identity with my parents, I think:

This would be a lot easier if I had a sister.

Friday, June 15, 2012

A Short List Of Things That Do And Don't Matter In The Ongoing Quest For Authentic Discernment Of My Gender Identity

Things that don't matter
My parents' opinion
Wider society's opinion
Anybody at all's opinion but mine
My mother's desire for a daughter
“Why” I feel the way I do
What, precisely, I “really” am (trans, genderqueer, just confused...)
How long it's taken me to admit any of this to myself

Things that do matter
My pain and dysphoria at being gendered female
My delight at being gendered neutral or masculine

Monday, June 11, 2012

Why Do *You* Believe In God?

It's interesting to me that several people – both Christian and non-Christian – have told me recently that they believe in God because of the natural world or because of existence itself. It interests me because that is absolutely not why I myself believe in God.

Let me state off the bat that I mean no value judgment: I don't think one reason for believing in God is somehow more or less valid than another. (Frankly, I think all God-belief is to some extent irrational – that's why it demands the logic-defying leap we call “faith.”) Everything that follows is my own personal belief, feeling, and experience, and I hope it doesn't come across as denying or discrediting anyone else's belief, feeling, or experience of God.

As a matter of fact, I think it is monumentally important to give credit to other people's experience of God most especially when it differs from your own. If you declare your own experience of God to be the only true or valid one, you are confining God to your tiny mind-box and denying the vast, multifaceted, ineffable divine. Giving ear and credence to experiences of God that differ from your own is a matter of humility, of recognizing that God is much much bigger than you are, of acknowledging the divine mystery that God is able to bring billions of unique human individuals into unity without erasing our individuality.

I am rather overwhelmingly preoccupied with the concept of a unity that does not erase individuality – in fact I'm convinced that it is the foundational philosophical conundrum of our time – and that is why I am so interested in ideas about God that do not resonate with me personally. Natural beauty, clearly, is a powerful witness of God to many people; which makes me wonder, why is it not one for me?

For a start, I think, it's because of the emphasis on science throughout my childhood. As far back as I can remember, my brothers and I were encouraged to be interested evolution and natural history and astronomy. Even though I did grow up going to church as well, I never saw God as a necessary factor in the natural world. My schema of the origins and development of the universe was complete in itself; your cosmological argument never made a great deal of sense to me.

Moreover, I am not a big nature person. Like, it's pretty and all, but that's about as far as it goes for me. I'm the world's biggest townie: a picture of the New York skyline makes my heart leap into my throat in a way that, say, one of Everest just doesn't. The closest I get to a religious experience in nature is when I look up at the night sky (somewhere out there an alternate universe version of me is a very happy astrophysicist). I have seen many a breathtaking sunset or waterfall in my lifetime, but those are not the things that stay with me. Maybe my childhood, surrounded by some of the most astonishing natural beauty on the planet, caused me to take it for granted.

The moments that do stay with me – the things I absolutely cannot take for granted – are the ones that give me what I lacked in childhood: namely, friendship. The natural world may not speak to me of God's goodness and love, but I find that goodness and love attested to in overwhelming abundance every time another human invites me to spend time with em, tells me ey cares about me, demonstrates that ey values my presence in eir life.

Creative and artistic works also bear witness to me of God. A book I love so much it hurts; a favorite TV show; “Spirit of Radio” or a Brandenburg Concerto – I can't not believe in God when I experience these things.

And yet, though friendship and creativity both witness to me of God, neither of them is the reason I believe in God. The reason, I'm afraid, is very much a product of my time among the evangelicals, and it comes down to this:

sola Jesu.

I believe in God through and because of (to, for, by, with, from, in, on) Jesus Christ. I can't go into detail, because my relationship with him is very very personal, but to me he is the grounding of everything. Throughout all of my consideration of lofty theological conundrums; in all of the ways that my first year of graduate theological studies has exploded my every attempt at understanding God into a million pieces; whenever I am so lost in deconstruction and postmodernism that I don't know which way is up – it all, in the end, brings me back to him.

If it wasn't for Jesus – for his life as recorded in the Gospels, for the countless theological and creative works interpreting that life, for the transformative encounter I had with him four years ago (whilst reading a passage in Mere Christianity on, of all things, penal substitution!) – I would still be an atheist-leaning agnostic, finding meaning in friendship and in creativity, but not God as such. He is the logic-defying leap for me, the inexplicable that transfigures “meaning” into “God.”

Sunday, June 3, 2012

"Non-Belonging Is My Very Substance"

"I feel that I exist only outside of any belonging. That non-belonging is my very substance."
--Edmond Jab├Ęs, From the Desert to the Book

I was born in Scotland, I went to high school there, and my parents still live there. In the US, I tell people I'm Scottish – it's just easier. However, it's not strictly accurate. Both my parents are English, so I lack the Braveheart ancestry (which is what most people in the US mean when they say “Scottish”); I spent my childhood continent-hopping, so I lack the emotional ties, personal history, and identifiable accent of one specific place (which is how a lot of people seem to relate to a place they call “home”); and, to be perfectly honest, if my parents moved away tomorrow I doubt I'd ever go back to Scotland.

I'm not really Scottish.

At first, I tried telling people I was “British” or “from the UK,” to which if not my accent then at least my passport can attest, but nobody who's really British ever says that. People claim England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales: the place they identify as being from. The UK is a political fiction – not that any nation-state isn't; but the UK seems to be a particularly unconvincing one, at least as far as hearts and minds are concerned. I certainly don't “feel” British. I have no heart-and-mind national allegiance.

I'm not really anything.

These days, I try not to be a douche about this. It is both easy and insufferable to bang on about being “a citizen of the world, you guys” when you possess both the geopolitical privilege of a UK passport and the socioeconomic privilege to take advantage of the myriad doors that passport opens. I also try not to fall into a self-pity-party about my sense of alienation. My errant childhood may have robbed me of any place to call “home,” but it also gifted me broad horizons and an unslakable wanderlust – a tradeoff I'd not reverse for anything.

Sometimes, though, I do feel a secret wish to able to participate in outpourings of jingoistic fervor.

I've been witnessing such an outpouring from certain of my Facebook friends over queen whatsit and her diamond thingamajig. I am, as that last sentence might have tipped you off, firmly in the small-r-republican camp when it comes to the whole monarchy malarkey. Even if I somehow felt myself to be authentically British, my deep cynicism regarding autocratic headship, even of the mostly-symbolic variety, wouldn't permit me to do anything other than sneer at the whole business.

But, gosh, it looks like such fun.

I feel the same sense of alienation and frustration at international sporting events. Look at all these people, who are capable of (a) claiming a national identity without feeling like an impostor and (b) giving a rat's rear-end about the event in question! They all seem to be having SUCH FUN. I wish I could have fun.

Alas, I am a fun-killing overthinker with no ability to switch off my cynicism and no sense of belonging anywhere. But, on the upside, Salman Rushdie says I am a special snowflake.