Saturday, April 9, 2016

Pinning My Identities

I love Pinterest. It’s such a poignant symbol of modern U.S. culture. It’s communication
Is anything funnier than soc theory humor?
through shiny, colorful, visual symbols. Per Jameson and
Baudrillard, it’s postmodernism at its flashy, depthless best. Also, Jameson would say Pinterest is another example of the flattening of technology, or the inward turning, postmodern use (implosion?) of technology to project our selves rather than striving toward new physical and tangible places. And, of course, we can’t forget Giddens, who would say this is the ultimate in reflexivity, or how we use modern, consumable culture to reflect on our identities and recreate our understandings of our being.

But enough theory. Just kidding – there’s never enough theory.

My pins say something about being a social justice warrior. This is not only accurate, since I imagine most folks who know me would say I’m rather committed to fighting for equality, but it’s also essential to my sense of self to portray this as part of me. When I’m dead, I want my grave marker (i.e., a totally old school meme) to say, “Here lies Elle, who fought so that others can live better.” It would probably include a kitty emoji underneath that. Because kitties.

An actual example from my Pinterest.
Social justice warriors (SJW) come in all shapes, colors, sizes, and flavors. We SJW-ify for myriad reasons and focus on countless social issues. Because we tend to exist in opposition to some forms of institutionalized oppression, we’re not regarded universally as heroes and trailblazers. This opposition often makes us even more committed to our identities and ever-more likely to voice them with volume and pride. We SJWs often sport bumper stickers and clothing (primitive, non-digital technology) that identifies us to those who oppose us but, much more importantly, to those who agree with us. My use of bumper stickers, literal political buttons, and Pinterest pins visually marks me as an ally. Other feminist, queer, or anti-racist activists know they, as Woody might sing, have a friend in me.

Also, when occupying a not-entirely-understood counterculture like fat activism, it’s enormously important to distinguish between fat people who still feel burdened by guilt and shame over their bodies and fatties who have politicized around their identities. Finding another fat, proud person, especially in South Dakota, would, yes, shock me, but also make my year.

And let’s be honest, being regarded as social justice warrior makes me look pretty selfless. I could do with a worse identity.

In other news that shocks no one, I love animals. I have two Pinterest accounts, and both of them teem with pictures of adorable furry, scaled, skinned, and feathered beings. I find great comfort in looking at pictures of non-human creatures. Animals and nature are my spirituality, and reveling in the joy and fabulousness of faunae is to me like attending synagogue. And, like many people of faith, I feel obligated to proselytize.

All this said, I’m aware, of course, that I’m one of many middle-class, White persons who finds inspiration in animals. Environmentalists tend to be White and upper middle class, in part because it’s kind of hard to worry about deforestation and habitat loss when you’re stressing over whether you can pay rent this month or agonizing over the toxic waste dumped near your house  (since, as we know, people of color are much more likely than White persons to live near commercial waste facilities). Understanding the racial and classed implications behind my love of animals helps me contextualize it, but that doesn’t mean I love my babies any less or still don’t squee at the sight of my neighbor walking his pug.

Let's be honest --
this is the real reason Pinterest exists.
Oh and no, I don’t use Pinterest for pictures of food or DIY. I don’t cook or do DIY (unless the “yourself” means, literally, “that person not me”). While I’m all over portraying my radical fat politics, putting my “Fat, Fierce, and Fabulous” board next to “Yum Yums” (note: not an actual board) might feel a little, um, itchy. Okay, yeah, but it’s mostly because I don’t cook, anyway.

Pinterest has become an important tool for me. Not only do I use it to perform my desired self, but I also find others who have pinned similar items and may just share some of my politics. It’s like a meet-up, but with pictures and pithy captions. Jameson says technology has flattened to turn us all inward, but Pinterest both projects my sense of self and allows me to find others like me, not an easy feat for a SJW living in South Dakota with her fiancĂ©e and many animals. 

Note: I wrote this post to help my Social Psych students navigate a course assignment that asked them to post pins to Pinterest and then analyze why they chose the ones they did and what that says about them as people. 

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Transgender Allies 101

What is a transgender ally?

Anyone who advocates for the cultural, social, economic, and political rights of transgender persons. Allies don’t have to march in parades or lobby legislators; we can work for transgender rights via interpersonal conversations, while posting on Facebook, by signing online petitions, and so on. Allies come in all shapes, sizes, and flavors.

What is privilege?

Every person is a glorious combination of our identities: our sex, race, sexuality, gender identity, religion, class, ability, family status, and so on. However, not all identities are equal. Structurally and interpersonally, we tend to assign more value, and therefore more status, to some identities (e.g., male, cisgender, straight, White). As individuals and as members of groups, we experience these valuations as privilege. This comes with a ton of unearned benefits, such as being listened to, earning more money, not worrying about violence, and not having our true selves questioned.

On the flip side, some identities are devalued. We experience these devaluations as oppression. Oppression comes in myriad forms, ranging from not finding oneself represented in pop culture to being at much higher risk of physical and sexual assault.

For example, I am a White, able-bodied, cisgender woman. I experience racial (White), ability (able-bodied), and gender identity (cisgender) privilege and oppression in my sex (woman).

Who has privilege?

All of us, albeit in different ways. It’s important to note we also experience oppression, although again, because our identity combinations are unique, not in exactly the same way as others.

How does privilege pertain to transgender allies?

Anyone can be an ally to transgender persons. If we are cisgender, regardless of any of our other identities, we experience privilege. Allies rock, but when our advocacy in any way contributes to the oppression of transgender persons, we are abusing our privilege.

Ways to be the Best Trans Allies We Can Be!
From One Ally to Another

1. We shouldn’t equate our own oppressions with those of our transgender friend/s. Whether we are genderqueer, pansexual, asexual, non-White, disabled, or whatever flavor of oppression/s we experience, it is not the same as being a transgender person. It’s no better or worse – it’s just not the same.
2. We shouldn’t assume we can relate to transgender folks because we know other transgender persons. Each person’s experiences vary. Some transgender folks may identify differently than we’re used to, may or may not “pass” (may or may not want to pass!), may or may not want to transition in any way, may use pronouns we’ve never heard of before, and so on.
3. Never out a transgender person. Let them take the lead in identifying themselves in various spaces. Keep in mind that in oppressive places, a transgender identity can be very dangerous.
4. Allies rock! That said, as allies, we shouldn’t presume to know the best way a transgender person should act, feel, behave, or advocate for themselves. Our transgender colleagues, friends, and family members may not want our help, and if they do, it may be in ways we don’t expect. We should never presume to speak for transgender persons. Allies are helpers, not saviors.
5. Try to avoid assumptions about a person’s sex, gender identity, pronoun preference, or sexuality, whether or not we know them to be transgender. Transgender persons differ from one another and may identify and talk about themselves completely differently than we are used to or might expect.
6. As allies, it is imperative that we listen to determine a person’s preferred pronouns and ways of discussing their experiences. If we can’t determine a person’s pronoun choice, there’s no shame in asking. Also, as the University of Wisconsin-Madison says, “Instead of using prefixes like bio-, real-, or genetic- to designate that someone is not trans, use the prefix cis-. Using real, genetic or bio sets up a dichotomy in which trans people are not considered real or biological.”
7. Avoid at all costs asking a transgender person their “real name,” their “actual sex,” or where they’re at in their transition. Speaking of transitions, they may or may not choose to transition using hormones or    surgery, or they may transition in ways we don’t expect; honestly, whether/how a transgender person transitions is really none of our business. Just as no one asks you what it feels like to have an innie belly  button or a double chin, so should we not presume to ask intimate questions about transgender bodies.
8. It’s lovely to show support, but we should be very aware of backhanded compliments. Some examples include: “You look just like a real woman!”, “You’re so brave!”, “I’d date him even if he is trans!”, “You do womanhood better than me!”.
9. In our daily lives, we have the wonderful opportunity to advocate for more inclusive situations and spaces: gender-neutral bathrooms, avoiding gendered language (I’m a huge fan of using “they” instead of “he/she”), asking about pronoun choice, shutting down transphobic comments and jokes, and countless other examples. Let’s use our privilege for the powers of good!
10. We may mess up from time to time. Let’s be sensitive to our transgender friends but show the same compassion to ourselves and one another. Don’t give up. We can work on ourselves while working for social justice.
11. Educate ourselves! We have the entire Internet at our fingertips and can learn about the issues facing our trans friends as well as their variety of experiences.

Sources: Elle Hill, Ph.D.; Terri Bruce, MA;;;;;