Ding a ling a ling!
Ask not for whom the dinner bell tolls! I’m on a tight deadline to crank out an essay before the bell rings, so here are a few long reads to keep you busy while I’m out roping up some historiographical longhorns. I don’t know why, but all of these links seem to be about good actors struggling to cope with their mixed feelings about the bad behavior of others. Bookmark this post the next time someone tells you that “secular humanists” and “liberal relativists” refuse to deal with the problem of evil in the world, willya?
- Clemson Communications Professor Chenjerai Kumanyika writes at the NPR Code Switch blog about “The Cost of White Comfort,” and nails a sneaking suspicion I’ve had about the (mostly white) chorus of hosannas about the forgiveness shown by the families of the black victims of last week’s terrible massacre in Charleston: “I couldn’t shake a paralyzing feeling: When black people and white people clasped hands in the arena that night, the comfort wouldn’t be evenly distributed. The healing wouldn’t flow both ways.” White Americans just love it when we’re let off the hook, don’t we? We’re the kings and queens of the fantasy that history doesn’t matter.
- Writer Andrew Chee dishes on his time in the early 1990s working as a cater-waiter for William F. and Pat Buckley: “The tuxedo and the starched white shirt—and the fact that each assignment was at a different, often exclusive, place—all made me feel a little like James Bond. Sometimes my fellow waiters and I called it the Gay Peace Corps for how we could come into places, clean them up, make them fabulous, throw a party, and leave. And I liked that when I went home, I didn’t think about the work at all.” But would his recent past as an ACT-UP activist get him kicked out of the famously anti-gay Bill’s household? Or would it get him an invitation to skinny dip with Bill at the end of the evening? (Because “that’s how they used to swim at Yale, after all.”) Really! For you younger people, this essay really captures a slice of gay, urban life in the 1990s, before and just after the invention of protease inhibitors while rendered HIV a condition people could live with instead of just die from. I was an urban straight at the time, but Chee and I are the same age and his recollections really jibe with my memories of the time.
One of the things about L.A. I’m really going to miss is reading the shrunken, vestigial, adware-addled Denver Post instead of the rich and lively LA Times, and one of the writers I’ll miss most is art critic Christopher Knight. Here’s his review of Caitlyn Jenner’s big reveal portrait by Annie Leibovitz on the cover of Vanity Fair published yesterday.
For all the advance buildup, the picture feels flat — a pedestrian celebrity pastiche of rather tired visual cliches. That’s too bad. Jenner’s courage in taking control of the public process of coming out as transgender is bold, and this will be the most widely seen initial image.
. . . . .
[T]he Vanity Fair photograph seems a missed opportunity — a picture from the past rather than the present. Maybe that’s because all its conventional, glamour-girl signals weigh down the lively fluidity swirling at the center of gender identity.
After describing work by photographer Catherine Opie and Judith Butler, and explaining that a more expansive and complicated vision of gender performance has been part of both the feminist and LGBT movements’ DNA since the early 1990s, Knight writes that the VF cover appears to have missed these conversations entirely. Instead, it’s a portrait of a 60-something woman by a 60-something woman that feels dated and conventional. “Leibovitz’s Caitlyn Jenner is a newfangled Vargas girl, one of those airbrushed cuties from the old pages of Playboy. Is that all there is?” Continue reading
Friends! Angelenos! Countrywomen! I’ve been in SoCA so long you probably thought I had traded in my cowgirl boots for flip-flops permanently. No way! Never fear. You can take the cowgirl out of Colorado, but you can’t take Colorado out of the cowgirl.
Anyhoo: I’m too busy to write a real blog post this morning, but a number of items have come to my attention lately that I’d like to share with you. I hope you’re booted and ready to ride, because here goes: Continue reading
From an email I received from the Chair of the Board of Trustees at Bryn Mawr College about the “recommendation from a Board working group that was created at the September 2014 Board meeting to examine the mission of the College with respect to transgender, non-binary, and gender nonconforming applicants” that was “discussed and approved” last weekend. I’m sure this working group came in response to this story from the New York Times last fall about trans* students at Wellesley.
The working group concluded unanimously that the mission of the College at the undergraduate level is to educate women to be future leaders. In its recommendation to the Board, the working group noted that Bryn Mawr’s identity as a women’s college is fundamental to its distinctive environment, one in which women are central, faculty assume and expect excellence from women, and women assume positions of leadership. The working group also recommended that the College use language that affirms our institutional identity as a women’s college (e.g. use of gendered language) while respecting the diversity of individual identities in the community.
The working group also proposed that the College more clearly articulate the eligible undergraduate applicant pool in the context of its mission. The Board approved the working group’s recommendation that in addition to those applicants who were assigned female at birth, the applicant pool will be inclusive of transwomen and of intersex individuals who live and identify as women at the time of application. Intersex individuals who do not identify as male are also eligible for admission. Those assigned female at birth who have taken medical or legal steps to identify as male are not eligible for admission.
In cases where an applicant’s gender identity is not clearly reflected in their application materials, the College may request additional information, which could include verifiable legal or medical steps taken to affirm gender. In evaluating such additional information, the College fully intends to be as flexible and inclusive as possible.
Within the context of our mission as a women’s college, all Bryn Mawr students will continue to be valued and supported members of the community, no matter how their gender identity shifts during their time at the College.
The Ellenic vs. Ellenistic Eras
Over at Notches, they’ve got yet another excellent description of a panel last month at the 2015 meeting of the American Historical Association in New York City, this time reporting on “Teaching Queer History.” John D’Emillio described his brilliant periodization for students of queer history: “Pre-Ellen” and “Post-Ellen.” Or, to put it in terms of the Classics, we might call them the Ellenic versus the Ellenistic generations. To wit:
Familiar with the oppression LGBT people faced in the past, the undergraduate students of the “pre-Ellen” generation (before 2001 or so) were thrilled by the stories of resistance to that oppression. By contrast, D’Emilio found the “Post-Ellen” generation (undergraduates coming of age after 2001) more normalized to the idea of LGBT people and less comfortable with the narratives of oppression and resistance. Because of ongoing cultural normalization, LGBT oppression and the resistance movements they spawned seem distant and foreign to these recent students. This shift, D’Emilio noted, is reflected in the students’ own involvement with and awareness of LGBT politics today: while many students know of or attend pride parades, few of them have heard of Stonewall or know its significance.
D’Emilio ended hopefully, adding that while these somewhat more disengaged Post-Ellen-ites were unaware of much of LGBT history, they were nonetheless keen to learn. The clear solution was greater exposure to LGBT history earlier in their education.
Just go read Elizabeth Reis on the Mount Holyoke College non-production of Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues at Nursing Clio:
Intersex activists have coined the insightful slogan, “No Body is Shameful®,” to draw attention to the shaming and forced cosmetic adherence to the idea of a “normal” body. Of course, here they are talking about people born with atypical sex development, like the one in 5000 infant girls born with MRKH Syndrome [Mayer-Rokitansky-Kuster-Hauser (MRKH) Syndrome]. Since the nineteenth century, girls born without vaginas have endured the surgical creation of such anatomy. This reconstructive “corrective” surgery, described eloquently here by Esther Morris Leidolf, in a narrative she calls the “The Missing Vagina Monologue,” has never been done for the pleasure of the girl, but as her physician bluntly explained when she was only thirteen years old: so that she “could have a normal sex life with her husband.”
This is the kind of violence that The Vagina Monologues speaks to, even though there are no intersex characters in Eve Ensler’s play. It doesn’t matter (though it would be a good idea!). Watching the play encourages us to appreciate the profound refrain, “No Body is Shameful,” whether we have a vagina, want a vagina, like vaginas, or just love hearing the word spoken rebelliously and repeatedly on stage.
I like Reis’s point about the surgical violence done to women’s bodies for men’s pleasure. I know that many trans* people have embraced this kind of surgery as something that can make them whole or complete, but I sometimes wonder where the feminist critiques of allopathic medicine have gone sometimes in the trans* celebrations of the power of technology to alter people’s bodies through hormones and surgery. Continue reading
Once upon a time, a privileged white guy with writing gigs at various legacy mags and a prominent perch now at New York Magazine wrote an essay warning darkly of today’s “P.C. Police” on our college campuses and the internet because people sometimes say mean things about him and his writer friends (who also have sweet gigs at legacy magazines) on Twitter or in the comments on his articles. (Or something.) Full disclosure: I’ve mentioned his work exactly once on this blog, and it was only to give him a nod of agreement.
There have been a number of serious and productive responses that point out the folly of Jonathan Chait’s claims about the “dangers” of “liberal P.C.,” but also agree with him that arguments among putative liberal allies can be aggravating and sometimes turn on absurdities á la “the Judean People’s Front” or the “People’s Front of Judea,” such as Megan Garber at The Atlantic, or J. Bryan Lowder at Slate. In other words, they grant that yes, people on the internet are sometimes major jerks.
Yes, people are a-holes in general, and people with blogs are probably on average bigger a-holes than most. But, for the most part, straight, white guys on campus or on the internet just get criticized or maybe called names, or get told to “check your privilege.” White men don’t (for example) regularly get calls for their rape and murder, or death threats if they show up to give a speech on a U.S. college campus, which is the kind of thing that happens to feminist women writers on the internet. A lot. Continue reading