Scatterbrain thoughts on gender

I am angry

I am angry about gender

I am angry about the way I have been led to relate to myself

All my life, my gender has never lined up much with femininity, but people would always put me in that box and expect that performance of me

All my life, every single day, I have been subject to “positive reinforcement” whenever I portray conventional femininity

And I have been met with utter silence about any of my other gender expressions.

When I do my makeup

When I style my hair

When I wear dresses

People tell me I look great, I look beautiful, I look stunning, I look amazing, wow that is a fantastic outfit

Wow, I really clean up well

I was taught to cater to this

The only time I ever receive praise is when I’m performing femininity the way society wants me to

So of course I seek praise

I really clean up well

ie. I look “good” when I am furthest towards feminine in my glass elevator of gender

As compared to my other incarnations.

But now I am angry

I look great, I look beautiful, I look stunning amazing fantastic, in any variation of myself

Why do I only ever get acknowledged when I’m performing femininity

I feel like a monkey dressed in a costume

I don’t dance for you

I dance for myself.

Trauma is a Complicated Thing

My last post didn’t cover everything I wanted to say about this topic, and it was a bit all over the place. The thoughts were all very fresh and I was still working through them, and I was also kind of dissociating at the time. Which brings me to the points I wanted to make in this follow-up.

Trauma is messy. It is messy and ugly and it doesn’t make sense a lot of the time. It has been brought up a lot recently, because of the Jian Ghomeshi trial, that there is no such thing as a perfect survivor. This is because rape is a complicated thing, and so is trauma. My personal experience is an excellent example of this. My story is just one story; it does not at all describe the experiences of every survivor of sexual abuse and assault, it may not even describe a lot of them. But it describes mine, and it is an important example of the myriad ways that trauma is messy.

I spoke in my last piece about the fact that I finally came to the conclusion that I have experienced rape. But the fact is, this wasn’t an earth shattering moment for me. I did not feel like I had been severely traumatized by my rapes; during them, I did not feel particularly violated. None of my trauma responses had come from those instances, or had been created by that relationship. That’s why it took me so long to identify it as rape. I didn’t quite feel like, just from those moments, I had been raped. BUT. That doesn’t actually mean that it wasn’t rape. Where the trauma did come from was the entire rest of the relationship. The rapes in particular didn’t really seem to affect me because they were simply one symptom of an already broken, toxic relationship. The decay had seeped so deeply into my bones that doing something I was not interested in doing was just a minor annoyance that was part of the norm. Those moments were part of an entire context of feeling disrespected, dismissed, and less than. So they did not stick out to me as particularly traumatizing; they were simply reinforcing trauma responses I had already learned.

There were other instances in that relationship that left more of a traumatic memory for me; one moment when I had felt triggered and told my partner not to touch me and instead he lay there poking me over and over again as I cried silently, telling him to stop, stop, stop. In a relationship dynamic like that, continuing to do something sexual — that I had stopped wanting to do ten minutes previously — just to stop my partner from giving me the silent treatment seemed pretty mundane in comparison. Hence never really realising or feeling like I had been raped. When coercion and a lack of respect have become the norm, rape is almost an inevitable because one cannot truly give consent in an environment of coercion.

Where I did experience a LOT of trauma, and developed a lot of my coping methods and trauma responses, was from the relationship before. A relationship in which I never even got touched. I never even met him in person. This is where my major trauma lies, and all of my typical responses to trauma happened. My shame. My flashbacks and triggers. My self-destructive coping mechanisms. My dissociation. My shame is still so overwhelming I never even talk about this experience as a relationship. How could I have been so easily manipulated, let my entire life be controlled, by someone I didn’t even know face-to-face.

But the fact is undeniable; I was emotionally abused and sexually exploited to an extreme in this relationship, and I suffered severe trauma. I felt incredibly violated and degraded during that online relationship, and I was emotionally blackmailed into doing things I was intensely uncomfortable with or even disgusted by. I became disgusted with myself. For a long time afterwards, certain phrases or situations would trigger an extreme response; I would burst into tears, or almost throw up, and I would not want to be touched. I was told a lot of horrible things about myself, and I started to internalize them. When I ended the relationship, I resorted to self-sabotaging coping mechanisms as a way to attempt to work through my feelings and take back the control I had felt I lost.

So clearly, I experienced a great deal of abuse and developed trauma responses from the situation that seems, out of context, far less terrible than a rape. And my rapes simply reinforced my trauma of the relationship as a whole, rather than being particular instances of intense trauma in and of themselves. Trauma presents itself in unexpected ways, and events that may seem more traumatic to an outsider can sometimes feel less so than other moments in our lives. Survivors of sexual abuse and assault each experience their trauma in a different way, and each of us cope in our own ways.

Expecting every survivor to fit into your expectations is not only unfair and unrealistic, but dangerous too. In our legal system, the knowledge that trauma is a complicated thing is not given space for consideration. The expectation is that abuse survivors will all share very similar experiences and thus will act in a particular way. But this is not the truth of our realities. When the reality of survivors’ experiences are not accepted or acknowledged, justice cannot be served, and verdicts like that of the Jian Ghomeshi trial become commonplace. Even when a survivor’s experience contradicts everything you think you know about trauma and people’s responses to it, you must acknowledge that you cannot possibly know their truth. Only they do. Please, believe survivors.

Rape is a Complicated Thing

Tonight I realised that I’ve been raped. I had already recognised and identified a previous sexual assault, and sexual abuse, throughout my life. But this took me a lot longer to see. My rapist would never, in a million years, believe that he is a rapist. If he found out that I was saying this, he would probably roll his eyes, and be genuinely amazed and astonished by my ability to make a mountain out of a molehill.

 

There are a lot of people who, upon hearing the details without the context, would also be quick to tell me that it really isn’t a big deal and really isn’t rape. But the thing is, rape is a complicated thing. Rape needs context.

 

My rapist would absolutely have stopped if I had told him to. So then, how could that possibly be rape? My rapist created an environment in which I felt like I couldn’t say no. But it’s tricky, because I didn’t feel like I was in physical danger if I said no. I didn’t think he would hit me, or “rape-rape” me. Rape doesn’t only happen when the survivor feels like there will be dire, life-threatening consequences when they say no. It doesn’t only happen when they fight back. It doesn’t only happen when it’s a stranger in an alley.

 

The only real consent is enthusiastic, freely given consent. There’s a reason this has grown to be the understanding of consent in activist circles, instead of simply the “yes means yes” phrase. Because consent becomes coerced easily and, sometimes, gently.

 

I never told my rapist to stop. I never told my rapist “maybe.” I never told my rapist “not right now.” I never told my rapist “I’ve changed my mind.” I never told my rapist anything. I never felt, at the time, like I was being raped. But I’ve finally realised that none of that matters.

 

Rape happens as soon as consent becomes tainted with coercion.

 

Times when I stopped doing sexual things when I felt like stopping, my rapist would get sulky. He would give me the silent treatment. He would snap at me. He would spend the whole night subtly punishing me for my decision. It didn’t take long for me to feel like just carrying on even when I didn’t want to anymore was better than stopping. He created an environment where “no” had consequences, consequences that may simply be a minor annoyance – but enough of a consequence for me to feel like it wasn’t worth the trouble to say no.

 

Rape is what happens when someone feels like it’s not worth the trouble to say no.

On Divisiveness in Activism

With the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, I have heard a lot of accusations of activists being “divisive” by asking white protesters to take a back seat at rallies. This is not a new thing; in feminism there is a long history of white women telling women of colour to stop talking about race, that the movement is about ALL women and that they should stop being divisive by pointing out that women of colour have a different experience that goes ignored in feminist circles.

However, accusing people of being divisive is a dangerous thing to do in activism, as it is silencing and can veer into mimicking the very sexist or white supremacist oppression that we are trying to destroy. The problem seems to be that there is a mindset that goes like this: I am taking part in anti-oppression activism, therefore my intentions are clearly good, and we should all just focus on doing that good instead of picking on each other and destroying the movement from within.

But what this mindset fails to acknowledge is that just because you are anti-oppression, does not mean you are magically immune to perpetuating systemic oppression. The fact is that we have all grown up in these oppressive systems, and just because we are aware of them and are attempting to fight against them does not mean we do not still replicate those dynamics within our activist spaces. This is clear in feminism when men like H*** Sch***** (typing his name would inevitably attract his vitriol) become spokesmen for the movement and are considered more legitimate and relatable and a great asset to the movement. Oppressive systems are so pervasive in our lives that we model them without even realising it.

Thus, a huge part of activism is not just to protest against systemic injustice. It is also to constantly look inwards and analyse our own motivations and roles in a movement, to recognize when we are perpetuating an oppressive dynamic that we have learned. That is a huge amount of work, and not something everyone is willing to do; however, it is an integral part of being an activist. This is why activism is someone’s entire work and life – it is hard work. Activist spaces are constantly trying to unlearn oppressive behaviours and systems and create new ones; because if you do not know how to undo oppressive dynamics in your own life and spaces, how could you possibly know how to undo it on a societal level? You cannot come into an activist space, claim to be an activist, and then wonder why other activists are asking you to do the hard work that activism involves.

White people at a Black Lives Matter rally yelling the chants that do not represent their own experiences, acting as if they are affected the same way as their black co-protesters are not practising activism. Viewing people who ask these protesters to step aside and leave room for black protesters as being “divisive” is a dangerous viewpoint to hold – it is usually held by white people. White people do not get to decide where the lines are drawn in activism around racism, just as men do not get to decide what is important or necessary in feminist activism. We as privileged people do not get to define the oppression that we may perpetuate, and we do not get to ignore the voices of the people who are marginalized by a system we are part of. Telling us to take a step back is not a petty demand for people to be utterly perfect; it is a plea for us to take our activism deeper and heal the wounds we have carved into our own activist spaces.

How to Get Your Old Body Back

I was very late to the game in discovering just the other day that corsets are very popular again, thanks to Kim Kardashian. Only, they’re not called corsets, they’re called “waist trainers;” I suppose it’s to fool ourselves into thinking we aren’t just repeating the same archaic fashion trends over and over again. But it reminded me that there’s one element to our culture’s messed up beauty standards that particularly confounds me. That is the idea of “getting your old body back.”

This phrase came up a few times in the fluff article I read about waist trainers, with several celebrities claiming that the miracle tool helped them get their “pre-baby body back.” As if it were some object that had gone missing, or been stolen away, and they had now happily recovered it.

As if they had gone back in time and body-snatched their past selves.

But our bodies never go back. Our bodies keep living. Our bodies are the tapestries upon which our lives are laid out, the canvas our experiences are painted on. Our bodies are proof of our living; each stretch mark, scar, wrinkle, and sag broadcasting where we have come from and what we have gone through.

Our culture despises this proof of life. As our bodies show more experience, tell more stories, they become more abhorrent in the eyes of society’s beauty standards. We are convinced to constantly strive to erase the writing upon our own walls.

We do not have time machines. You can never have your pre-baby body back. You can never undo your life, or the lessons you have learned. Why do you want to pretend that you have not lived?

You are now post-baby, and will forever be post-baby, and that is something you neither can nor want to undo.

Losing weight and becoming a clothing size you once were is not “getting” that body “back”. It is the same body, an inextricable part of you, that has grown and shrunk along with you and will never be the same as it once was. You may be the same weight you were before, but your body is different. Your body has lived.

Sometimes I find myself regretting not being the same size and weight that I was five years ago. But I stop and remember – I was nineteen. I will never be nineteen again. I wasn’t done growing, and I was very much not done living. Nineteen was before I completed my degree, before I started medication, before I realised what was important to me, and before I had even actually finished puberty. Did you know that? – puberty actually lasts until your early-to-mid twenties. Think about all the women being told that they’ll never be as beautiful as they were when they were in their 20s, that their 20s was their peak, and if only they could get that old body back. Women are being convinced that they should strive to replicate a body that hadn’t even finished growing and had only just begun to live.

But I will never be nineteen again. And I have done so much living in those five years, how could my body have not grown and changed with me. My body is living, as am I, and I hope to be strong enough to never try to silence the stories it tells.

Why “Her” Will Never Appeal to Me

Wow a blog post! That’s right! In the middle of a busy semester I figured I’d take a short break from thinking about important things and instead shower you with trivial and disjointed thoughts about movies! Yay! Buckle up, we’re going for a trip!

 

When I saw the trailer for Her in theatres before Catching Fire, I couldn’t help but sigh. My feelings for the admittedly brief glimpse of the film that the trailer provided are more than just the usual passing annoyance, disinterest, and general sense of disillusionment with a film about yet another straight white man. Don’t get me wrong, that’s certainly part of it; straight white men, I am sick of hearing your stories all the time. Sorry, not sorry. But no, it was more than that.

“Her” makes me angry.

That’s probably pretty confusing for a lot of people. Most people who are uninterested in the film are just that — uninterested. Not actively angered by it. Certainly not enough to write a blog post about it. So why is this particular film eliciting a reaction like that from me?

Well, in short, “Her” rubs me the wrong way because it presents a concept that goes against my core understanding of human relationships. Maybe that’s like a “yeah well duh but that’s what it’s about!!! It’s supposed to make you question what love truly is!!!” Yeah well no, let me tell you why. It’s a long road and there are many facets to my distaste for this film concept, so bear with me.

What, do YOU think, is the fundamental aspect of being human? Apparently someone was arguing that like, when AI can have “flaws” just like humans then “how is it so different” or whatever; I don’t know, the usual stuff that’s thrown around when talking about AI. So is it that, the presence of “flaws” (and whatever that entails exactly)? Is it the ability to love or feel emotions? Not in my opinion.

What really defines humans is free will. The 100% completely free ability to choose. Because what that entails is totally arbitrary, nonsensical decisions. We don’t understand what exactly free choice entails. Even for mundane things like “what makes us like music”. Boy I could talk about that all day, I’ve been doing my research. There are all sorts of theories from all sorts of fields as to what influences our tastes. And there are some damn good theories. But they only explain general trends in our taste. They are completely unable to account for each individual decision.

Each of those theories holds some solid arguments; maybe they are all right. The human brain is vastly complex, and our decisions are affected by vastly complex experiences. Emotions. Memories. Social context. Specific situations we happen to be in at the time. What makes us love someone but not someone else? If we can’t pinpoint exactly what influences our decisions and how much, how would we be able to duplicate that with AI?

Because free will sometimes makes no sense. Humans are not computers. Sure our brains seem like a big huge complex computer system, with neurons firing in specific patterns, etc etc. But we haven’t figured out exactly how our decisions are made, and I don’t think we ever will. The decisions humans make are sometimes arbitrary. Sometimes we will make one decision one day, and a completely contradictory decision the next. They do not follow a clear-cut pattern.

You can’t duplicate the way our brains work without understanding it first. And we clearly don’t understand it. So AI may seem to imitate free will, but I don’t believe they are or will ever be truly duplicating it. Our entire life’s experiences seem to go into each decision we make, along with our emotions at the time, and that’s something that’s hard to replicate. Throw in other factors that we’re not even entirely sure about, and there’s pretty much no way you can really, actually copy it.

So problem number 1 with these movies for me is that they go “imagine if robots become just like humans!” and I pretty much feel that just. No. Sorry.

Okay, we get it, shut up Jenn, why does that even matter? Did you hate every single sci-fi movie about AI as much as this one? No, definitely not. There’s more wrong with it.

When we love a human, (hopefully) we love them in part for their humanity. We love the essence of their being human. Part of loving someone is loving their ability to be 100% their own complete person who makes their own decisions and has their own life experience. I mean, people who want their partner to no longer have the ability/desire to make decisions is abusive, we can all agree on that. But if AI can’t fully replicate free will, their ability to make decisions the way humans do is lacking. So if someone loves an AI the way they would love a human (instead of, for example, a pet; in which the importance of complete human free will isn’t as much of an issue)… aren’t they missing something integral in a relationship?

And here we get to why the concept makes me angry: maybe that’s the point. If someone who otherwise is attracted to humans finds themselves in love with an AI instead of a human… is it because that AI is missing the essence of humanity? No offense to our imaginary future AI brethren, but I’m pretty sure with 7 billion people on the planet you can find a human who’s just as awesome as that AI (I mean, there isn’t even only one person on earth we find awesome, so there’s no way an AI replicating human-ness is going to be like so totally way more awesome than any human ever), so what makes the AI so attractive? I’m not talking about people like the woman who fell in love with and married a bridge, or the man who’s dating his car. That’s a different kettle of fish. I’m talking about the people who are convinced their one true love is this almost-but-not-quite-human. But it’s more than that. It’s the story that’s being sold to us.

It just seems too… convenient.

In a society where women are constantly dehumanized, objectified, belittled and attacked for having opinions, a man being in love with a woman who is quite literally objectified and not human hits a little too close to home. Wow you’ve happened to fall in love with the one woman who doesn’t quite have free will! You lucky bastard! Yeah, but this is a movie, not a true story.

Which kind of makes it worse for me. It’s a movie; it’s trying to sell us this idea. Everything about it just squicks me the fuck out.

There are far more men in movies than women (especially when it comes to white men vs. women of colour). The past three years have actually seen a decline in representation in blockbuster movies. This movie doesn’t even have to have a real female lead. Convenient!

We live in a society in which we see women turned into objects, and women are told constantly to be quiet, to be smaller, to take up less room, to not rock the boat, to not step out of line, that their “no”s and “yes”es (but especially “no”s) aren’t quite as important as men’s. And now hollywood is selling us a story all about a white man and his little computer girlfriend who literally isn’t quite human, in a way that is sort of weirdly the ideal for women? Convenient!

In a movie that is trying to sell us on relationship dynamics that I consider to be incredibly iffy at best, I can’t help but feel there’s a reason it’s about a man and not a woman.

The Quick Fix: Disability in Media

It’s July 2011 and the teaser trailer for the final instalment of Nolan’s Batman trilogy has just been released. Theories fly from every corner of the internet. There is a brief moment in the mini-trailer in which Bruce Wayne is seen with a limp and a cane. Are we seeing the after-effects of his back being broken on Bane’s leg? people wonder. Will the movie spend a portion of its screen-time focusing on Wayne’s life after his ordeal with Bane? Does he have a cane for a completely different reason, a mark of passing time and changing bodies that will complicate the plot arc of his return as Batman?

Now it’s 2013 and we all know that none of those theories were correct. We see Wayne limping around with his cane for a few scenes before Alfred tells him he needs to suck up all his angst (and mobility issues) and be Batman again. Wayne slaps on a ~~**MAGICAL KNEE BRACE**~~~, his mobility issues disappear, and are never mentioned again.

Oh, and then of course he gets his back broken. But don’t worry guys, he’s put in a prison-pit-thing and in a montage of working out and grunting and pained expressions, he’s all good again! But it was HARD! It did take WEEKS! Maybe even MONTHS! Wait, some of you were sort of expecting it to have some kind of lasting impact? Pfft, sure OKAY, yeah we’re going to make Batman disabled YEAH RIGHT GUYS THAT’D JUST BE STUPID.

Let’s go back in time a little more. Avatar was by no means a groundbreaking movie in any sense other than its computer generated imaging and special effects. But it most certainly was a very popular movie. A movie in which the main character is disabled, but spends the vast majority of screen-time trying to escape from his disabled body. Despite his disability, the main character still manages to spend most of the movie in not only a totally-abled body, but a super-abled body. As the main protagonist, we are of course meant to relate to him and be sympathetic to his feelings. If we were in his place, we think to ourselves, we would want to escape too. We don’t blame him for running off wearing his avatar. After all, we’d do the same, wouldn’t we? A whole lot of people saw that movie. A whole lot of people were supposed to sympathise with those sentiments.

In the fifth season of Supernatural, Bobby is paralysed from the waist down and becomes wheelchair-bound for basically the entire season. The fact that his disability wasn’t fixed by the end of the episode, or even the next one, gave me hope for the potential it presented. We got to watch Bobby coping with and working around the necessary changes in his life that came with being disabled, and at times it even made us think about accessibility as he struggled to do the things he used to be able to do and go places he used to go with ease. But in the end, with a wave of Crowley’s powerful demonic hand, Bobby literally gets up and walks out of his wheelchair, perfectly healed.

Supernatural does, of course, have a smaller audience than either of the aforementioned blockbusters. And in each case, the way the plot point of disability is dealt with and the way the character responds to their disability makes a lot of sense. After all, Batman is supposed to overcome anything, a soldier WOULD understandably hold a lot of resentment towards his body becoming wheelchair-bound, and Bobby is a similar personality type to that of a soldier. Many disabled people in the real world voice frustration with their bodies and even feelings of being betrayed by their bodies, etc. Those feelings are real, and they are valid, and they are legitimate.

But the fact is, these are not the only movies and TV shows portraying disability in this way, and they do not exist in a vacuum. Disability is repeatedly portrayed as an obstacle for the character to overcome, a burden for them to bear with great reluctance until the writers save them with a totally convenient magic cure. Characters are repeatedly portrayed as wanting to escape from their disabled bodies, and we are meant to sympathise with those feelings. When a type of body is constantly portrayed as being a disadvantage, as being something less-than-perfect, something that people strive to escape, that has real implications for people who have those bodies in the real world.

The use of the “quick fix” for disability in these media means that the long-term effects of living as a disabled person never have to be dealt with. It means TV show writers and movie makers can wash it off the whiteboard and carry on with the plot without a hiccup and without having to factor in a new aspect of plot or character. It means the makers of these shows and movies never really have to deal with the realities of having made a character disabled, they don’t have to deal with the complicated issue of yes there will be accessibility differences now and other uncomfortable, inconvenient, but totally important plot and character changes.

If Being Disabled isn’t like, totally the character’s entire identity and their entire point of existence, then it seems to be considered a barrier and an annoyance that should be swept away as soon as possible. But it severely limits the plot and character possibilities when we never get to see a person honestly and realistically portrayed as disabled. When disabled people are only ever either A Lesson to Be Learned or quickly fixed before it makes anything complicated, that’s an entire group of our population being completely erased and overlooked. And, as we should all know very well by now, that is a dangerous thing to do.

I am in no way an authority on disability rights and issues, and I in no way intend to be one. I have only recently started learning about disability; over the past year I have started following blogs and other online media regarding both mental and physical disability rights and justice. Because of my place of privilege as an able-bodied and neurotypical person, I have unfortunately had the option of not thinking about disability rights for the majority of my life. I am now making the effort to learn about my privilege, and share my awareness with other able-bodied people. I find that voicing my basic understandings of new concepts, flexing my writing muscles, giving a new topic some air-time in my writing, helps me to develop my understanding of said topic. Thus, this post is not meant as some Look I Know Everything About Disability Issues Aren’t I a Cool Ally kind of strutting, but as an exercise to help my little seedling of awareness sprout some more leaves.

If you want some help sprouting your own little seedling, here are some of the blogs I’ve been following (some are about physical disability, some are about being non-neurotypical) and of course a Scarleteen article for good measure:

http://icedteaandlemoncake.wordpress.com/

http://blog.cripchick.com/

http://feministsonar.com/

also just this whole tag: http://www.tumblr.com/tagged/disability+rights

http://www.scarleteen.com/article/politics/no_big_deal_sex_disability