Tag Archives: Gender

A Letter To My Allies

(Use of word “faggot”.)

Dear Allies,

Thank you for supporting me being honest about my sexual orientation (pansexual) and gender presentation (nonconforming to the expected male presentation). For me your support seems like a no brainer (I mean, come on, why should you care if I enjoy giving blowjobs and wearing velvet dresses?) but I recognize that some of you have had to overcome a lifetime’s worth of teachings about how homosexual sex is gross and men wearing dresses can only be viewed in terms of comedy so that’s pretty nice of you. Good job on being nice to me about issues that do not actually impact you.

With all this being said there is something I think we should go over.

Allies, sometimes y’all are really irritating. Sometimes I’m tempted to throw up my hands and say, “Enough! I’m done with straight people and done with people whose sex and gender and gender presentation all match society’s expectations! You can all go fuck yourselves for all I care because I am done interacting with you lot.” However not only is this impractical it’s also unproductive. I’d much rather change society than moving to an isolated mountain where you all can’t get to me; which means that I need to teach you what I makes someone a real ally to me.

Here are the ground rules that I expect from my allies:

  1. Don’t Tell Me How I “Should” or “Really” Identify: The labels I use are ones that I feel most at home in, that I feel best represent me. If you’re Straighty McStraight-Straight from Straight St. then I don’t want to hear your opinions on what labels I should be using. You could have a degree in Gender or Queer Studies but if you’re straight I’m not going to let you tell me my identity. Once you know how it feels to live my life that’s when you get to talk to me about my identity/labels.
  2. I Get To Reclaim Slurs, You Don’t: I have a friend that calls me a faggot and I call him faggot as well. If almost any other person called me a faggot I’d probably punch them. My friend and I use such language to each other not only because we know that we both feel safe but because our use of it becomes a “Fuck You” to anyone who has used it as a slur. If you want to use the word faggot around me then talk to me about it first. It may be that I’m comfortable with you using it but I’d rather have you ask then assume. Furthermore if your friend uses a slur as a label that still doesn’t give you permission to use it casually around me or to apply it to me. I respect your friend’s identity but we are two different people.
  3. When I Say “Stop” You Stop: This really should be a given but from my own experiences it isn’t. When we’re talking about gender or sexuality and I get uncomfortable I can shut this motherfucker down. It doesn’t matter if we’re joking around or having a serious conversation, I retain my right to unilaterally stop a situation that makes me feel triggered or unsafe or hurt. Frequently it will have nothing to do with you and everything to do with my own psychological discomfort so know that it’s not personal.
  4. Don’t You Dare Come Into My Safe-Spaces: When it comes to sexual orientations and gender presentations the majority of the world is probably a physical and emotional safe-space for you. In response to this I need to go to spaces that are intentionally created to be safe for people like me. These spaces are safe because people like you aren’t in them. Again, it’s nothing personal but I need the opportunity to be with people like me. You know, like how almost anywhere you go you’ll find other straight and gender-conforming people just like you.
  5. I Am Not Your Punch line: Please, for the love of all that is holy stop trying to make jokes about my identity. Society is full of these jokes and not only do I find them not funny but I find them actually painful. Throughout our relationship I’ll let you know what I’m comfortable with you joking about but unless I say it’s ok please shut your mouth.

Got it? Good.

I know, I know, these four rules seem so utterly basic that it seems almost silly for me to write them down like this but that’s the sad part. This sad part, this utterly tragic part, is that these seemingly obvious rules are violated in my life on a regular basis. On a regular basis I find my identity questioned or my safe-space violated by people who are trying to be my allies and that’s just not cool.

If you read this list and thought, “Oh good! I’m an ally of Samuel and I’ve done none of these things!” then I need you to think long and hard about all of our past interactions. I’m surrounded by wonderful allies but I’m hard pressed to think of a single one who hasn’t broken at least one of these rules at least once. Now that I’ve shared this with you please be mindful. Please remember that sometimes I’m too afraid or too hurt to speak up so you need to take a level of responsibility for your words.

Of course we all make slip-ups. Sometimes we don’t even know that we’re hurting one another but it’s important that we have these conversations to make sure that there’s as little hurt going on as possible. Allies, be aware of what those you support tell you they need or want. Be mindful that sometimes it’s painful or embarrassing or frightening for some of us to tell you that you’re being a shitty ally so don’t assume silence is approval. When you feel that you need to ask questions then ask them (Try to be respectful about this part.) and honor the answers you get.

Thanks a bunch.


Samuel A. Zaber

Growing Up Femme: Role-Models

It’s weird developing role-models when you’re different from society norms. I’m not talking about a general teenage angsty feeling of being different (which is totally valid, it’s just not what I’m talking about), but rather the effect of being a minority in the eyes of society. Straight white dudes get to look out into the world and see a world of role-models reflected back at them but for those of us who aren’t as privileged (Full Disclosure: I’m white and am male, though I usually need to butch up before my male-ness is entirely recognized) finding role-models can be tricky. I’d like to talk about my experience  as a femme boy in the world of searching for role-models.

First I want to acknowledge that it’s completely possible to have role-models who don’t reflect your exact identity. Straights can have role-models who aren’t straight and female identified people can have genderqueer identified role-models and so on and so on but there’s something comforting in finding role-models who share at least part of your identity. Particularly when you’re already ‘different’ finding a role-model who shares your differences can be really nice.

The trouble with growing up as a femme boy in rural Vermont is that you don’t really have a lot of femme role-models in general. Carhartts are standard dress for men and women in the town that I come from (and I don’t just mean Carhartt pants but Carhartt shirts and boots and hats and if it has the Carhartt label you can bet people in my hometown are wearing it), and heels really aren’t practical. From the moment I began expressing my own opinions I was leaning towards a femme aesthetic, an early indication that I was going to be different from my fairly butch community.

Before I could verbalize my emotions I was hunting down femme role-models in history books and the pages of magazines. Finding other men who presented as femme was basically impossible. I picked up a few male role-models (Benjamin Franklin and Captain Picard and, well, that was basically it…), but I ended up getting drawn into the world of women who behaved badly and ended up making history. I became fascinated by women who were femme but also were loud and took stands and were sometimes even abrasive. They proved that it was possible to be a soldier in a petticoat (name the Disney reference), that femininity didn’t mean weakness.

The likes of Nellie Bly, Abigail Adams, Virginia Woolf, Coco Chanel, Minerva McGonagall, Queen Elizabeth I, Hillary Clinton and others filled my head. (You’ll notice that all the women I listed are white and cisgender. At the time I thought nothing of it but looking back at it I’m almost horrified at how white and cis my exposure to history and current affairs was.) When I looked at them I didn’t just see people who had done great things but who also looked like I wanted to look like. If this idea, the idea that there is immense power in finding a role-model who looks or acts like you, is strange then I humbly suggest that perhaps you’ve always been exposed to role-models who you can relate to.

As I got older I began to find a few more femme male role-models but these were far and few between. Quentin Crisp was practically heaven-sent for me and watching The Naked Civil Servant and An Englishman in New York warmed my soul but these moments are far and few between. It’s easy to suggest to me that I might take inspiration from drag queens and while I do love a good drag show I can’t really relate to drag queens. As a general rule the drag queens I’ve seen take on characters that are so outrageous that they’re almost comedic portrayals of femininity. Drag is great, I’ve even performed in a drag show, but it’s not who I am in my daily existence.

An arrest of Emmeline Pankhurst

There are some who challenge my femme presentation and say that it makes me a less effective activist. They will say that my lipstick and pencil skirts make me appear too weak. In response I would like to remind them of Ms. Emmeline Pankhurst, a woman who wore skirts and big hats and make-up (possibly, I don’t actually know this for certain but looking at photos of her makes me suspect she had at least a smudge of makeup on her face), and heeled shoes and was most definitely not weak.

Some suggest that my clothing and make-up are the product of a society dominated by the patriarchy and that I’m buying into beauty standards of a backwards and sexist age. The fact that I’m a man makes my daily fashion radical but even if we put this aside all I can say is, “Shove off.” I am consciously choosing my presentation based on how wonderful it makes me feel and not because I’m being pressured into it. (This being said I do have strong issues with the European centered standards of beauty that our society is so fond of and would like to see us begin dismantling these standards.)

I take strength from my femme identity. Being able to express myself gives me strength. Being able to go about my day feeling attractive gives me strength. It’s a wonderful, wonderful strength that helps sustain me when shadows draw near and I know that I’m where I am today because I was able to find my role-models. The fact that I can look at my role-models and see that I’m not alone gives me more joy and strength than I can express. That’s the power of role-models.

So for all of you who will ever interact with a femme boy:Please, please let him have his role-models, it’s damn important.

I Do NOT Cross-Dress

Look at how lovely I am in this dress. I am a man and I’m wearing a dress and I’m not wearing cross-dressing. What. That’s a nice dress. (Photo credit: Skye at “My Kingdom for a Hat” [colormebrazen.wordpress.com])

If you define cross-dressing as a person wearing clothing that their culture expects to see on a different gender/sex then alright, I suppose I do cross-dress. I mean, fine, alright, I guess I’m crossing gender/sex lines when I, a self-identified male with a penis, put on a dress but I don’t really think of it like that. It’s not like I wake up and go to my closet and say, “Well I could wear these pants and turtleneck or I could subvert American society’s traditional and oppressive gender norms by putting on this grey and lighter-shade-of-grey striped dress with three buttons off-center of the collar’s front.”

To be honest what I’m thinking when I get dressed is, “Shit, shit, shit, shit, late, shit, shit, this clean, shit, shit, shit.” OR “What would Emily Gilmore wear?” OR “How much like Virginia Woolf will I look if I wear this?” I suppose the question I most often ask myself when getting dressed is, “What do I want to wear today?”

When I look at clothing I don’t look at how they’ve been gendered by society. I see trousers that would fit me, skirts with waists that are too big for me, pencil skirts that make my ass look damn wonderful. I see them in terms of how they relate to my body, how they’ll look when placed on my physical body.

This tendency to forget that clothing comes with gender implications can sometimes get me in uncomfortable situations. There have been times when I forgot I was going to pick up a job application from a store and put on a pencil skirt before leaving the house. I’m not ashamed of my pencil skirts but I do recognize that depending on where I’m getting my job application my clothing may have a negative impact on the hiring process. I’ve been so fortunate that I’ve never been in physical danger because of my clothing but I’m aware that this could change. If I feel that I’m going somewhere where my clothing might draw “danger” from people then I wear pants. The trouble is that I’m so used to wearing what I fucking want to wear that I slip on a dress or heels without a second thought.

It’s at a point now where if someone describes me as a cross-dresser or transvestite I tend to get confused by what in the name of hell they’re talking about. It’ll take me a few seconds to realize that they’re talking about my nylon stalkings from Rite-Aid, black dress with white lilies and short sleeves, strand of fake pearls and light mascara. There’s nothing wrong with being a cross-dresser or a transvestite but it’s not how I see myself. In my mind I’m not crossing gender lines or wearing another gender’s clothing, I’m just wearing… my clothes.

“This is my daily activism,” I tell myself when I’m made aware of my nontraditional clothing choices (This awareness is usually triggered by someone staring at me like I’m a chimp in a mu-mu singing “My Sharona.”)  Sometimes this reminder, this reminder that I’m fighting the gender binary simply by putting on a sundress, is nice but sometimes it makes me sad. It makes me sad that my clothing is in anyway provocative or even interesting beyond the fact that it’s nice.

My day-to-day clothing is fairly conservative. I like clothing that makes me look like Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, or Miss Marple or your grandmother. My colors tend towards darker tones and my favorite fabric is tweed. Yes, I wear loud broaches but if I my body had prominent breasts and didn’t have stubble and wasn’t so tall then my clothing wouldn’t raise eye brows. The fact that I get stares because I’m a man wearing this clothing can get pretty annoying.

Clothing trends will change. I predict that in my life it will be commonly accepted for men in my society to wear dresses but I’m afraid that these dresses will have some stupid name like “he-dress” or “man-robe.” (Think of the “man-purse.” Why, why, why for the love of all that I hold holy, why did we need to call it a “man-purse?”Isn’t it a purse period, full stop, end of story, stop right there mister you’re going to jail, hold it, go no further, do not pass go?) When women started wearing trousers regularly in the early 1900’s did we call pants for women “woman-pants?” (No seriously, did we? I want to know if someone can answer this.) By fixing these new gender labels to clothing we’re perpetuating this highly unnecessary habit of assigning clothing to various genders. Let’s call a dress a dress, no matter who it’s on.

In conclusion: No, I do not identify as a cross-dresser or transvestite or as a drag queen or, or, or, or… I identify as male and look forward to the day where I can wear what I want to wear and not have to explain my sartorial choices.

Why Are We Still Making Jokes About the Bieb’s Masculinity?

Two things:

  1. This title sucks.
  2. This is my third rant-y/complain-y post this month but I don’t really feel sorry about that.

According to Wikipedia Justin Bieber was discovered when he was around 14 years old. For the last five years he’s been growing up in the public eye and he’s been exposed to a lot of harsh criticism. The idea of a teenager being in that hyper-exposed world is something that I have qualms with but for now all I really care about is why we keep making jokes about Justin Bieber being a girl.

When people don’t like Mr. Bieber’s music or how he presents or what his fanbase is like they tend to either bring focus their critiques on his perceived feminine qualities. His hair, his voice, his body, his songs’ content, his clothing, everything seems to be too effeminate for large swaths of our society. Whenever these insults are brought up I end up grinding my teeth until my gums are bloody and ripping the hair from my head.

This form of mockery encourages a strict adherence to gender norms that is restrictive, outdated and generally absurd. Our society already likes its separate gender norms and we really don’t need to be encouraging it. Bashing Justin Bieber based on aspects of his poor adherence to “masculinity” is loud and vocal in prominent areas of our popular culture and the fact that they’re rarely contradicted gives legitimacy to what they say.

While I think this is concerning for all members of our society (I think every one is negatively effected by a black-and-white gender binary.) I am particularly worried about children and teenagers who are trying to find their identity. This sort of humor tells them that it’s not alright to go outside of their gender norms, that they should adhere to these norms unless they want to get made fun of.

More specifically I am concerned about males who are growing up while exposed to this. Speaking from personal experience I feel that I can safely say that it’s not always easy being a male who doesn’t always present as your gender is expected to. We need more people telling boys that they can have “feminine” characteristics if that’s what they feel comfortable in and that we’re not going to laugh at them for it.

 I’m also irritated by that saying that Justin Bieber has “feminine” qualities is meant to be offensive or degrading. What message are we sending to young children when we say that having stereotypical feminine features is bad? Are we telling girls that they way society wants to them to behave are ways that are less-than the way we want boys to behave? Are we telling boys that it’s beneath them to have anything in common with girls? There’s an Iggy Pop quote that gets trotted out frequently during discussions like this one and I want to trot it out again (I’m also having a hard time sourcing it and would love any primary sources you can provide me.), “I’m not ashamed to ‘dress like a woman’ because I don’t think it’s shameful to be a woman.”

My final point is that people say really cruel and horrible things to celebrities they’ve never met. When looking through the internet before writing this post I kept coming across slurs and death threats and rape jokes and all matter of general horrendous language. (The “I Hate Justin Bieber” fan-page on Facebook is a pretty good snapshot of the shit being thrown.) Look, I get that when you put yourself into the spotlight by becoming a celebrity you need to expect a level of hate coming at you. Can we just think about the fact that Justin Bieber is still a teenager, though? I mean, since he first became famous adult men and women have been saying really cruel things about him in public forums. What sort of society are we that seems to think this is alright?

I’m not saying that you need to love Justin Bieber. What I am saying is that we can think before we can speak. Yes, he is a celebrity and yes, he’s probably not going to hear what you or your friends say about him but this doesn’t mean that other people won’t hear it. Be aware of the words you use and the weight they carry in society and the context in which they use them. We don’t need to perpetuate a society where boys are afraid to expose their less “masculine” sides. We don’t have to encourage people to use slurs and other terrible language about a teenager. We sure as hell don’t need to talk about traditionally feminine qualities as if they’re second-class or something to be ashamed of.

Censorship is a crappy and terrible thing that I want no part of but when we hear this sort of language used we can use it as an opening to start conversations about gender and whatnot. So please, don’t stand silent when your friends are talking about “Justine” Bieber. Please help to end this sort of behavior in our culture.

Review: “Trans/Love: radical sex, love & relationships beyond the gender binary”

I don’t know when I first heard of Trans/Love but I do know that at some point I got it into my head that it was a collection of beyond the binary erotica. Last week a friend met me for coffee and they lent me a copy for my train ride up to Vermont. I read the first story somewhere South of Brattleboro, Vermont, and went, “Meh.” As I plodded through the second story something clicked in my head and I went back to read the introduction. I was entirely wrong: These were not erotic stories but rather personal essays of, to quote the subtitle, “radical sex, love & relationships beyond the gender binary.” In that moment everything changed. I had been reading as if I was reading erotic stories designed to get me off and once I realized that these were non-fiction essays I found them intensely more engaging.

I’m not going to review every single essay in this anthology. Frankly I think that these essays work together to create a beautiful entity. I’m not saying that there aren’t any that can stand on their own but as a whole these essays weave tell stories from the East Coast to the West, from people of varied ethnic backgrounds, from privileged and not-privileged backgrounds, and from a variety of identities. There are 29 stories, the majority only a few pages long, and they touch upon almost any non-binary gender and sexual identities you can think of. From this highly enjoyable collection I’d like to showcase a few that I found to be particularly wonderful.

You know what we need more of in our progressive and positive communities? Acceptance and representation of “other” bodies. Joelle Ruby Ryan’s “Fat, Trans and Single: Some Thoughts from an ‘Othered’ Body on Control, Alientaion, and Liberation” talks about their experiences as a “fat, single, genderqueer, transfeminist, writer, teacher, [and] activist.” Beyond discussing the experiences of fat or otherwise differently bodied queers they also do an excellent job of addressing bi- and asexual erasure.  For some this essay might be a wakeup and for others it might be a reminder but no matter what it’s a damn important essay.

Speaking of building inclusive communities- There’s a two-and-a-half page excerpt from Imani Henry’s play B4T (before testosterone) that tells of a non-binary sexual encounter between two people of color. Alright, it’s actually so much more complicated than that but I’m going to say that you need to read this piece to fully take it in. Jennie Kermode’s “Getting It Out In Public” tells the story of their discovery that they are intersexed. Their story is interesting as is but I highly appreciated their discussion of their intersex identity as I feel that this is an identity that is far too frequently left out.

It might be the fact that I’m baby/toddler crazy at the moment but I am in love with the two family-with-children focused essays in this anthology. “Milk, Please” by Patch Avery is a lovely meditation on fatherhood, queers in “traditional” family models, and being brown in America. “Out Loud and Pride Six Months Before Surgery” by Dee Ouellette is also lovely but focuses on her experiences as a “queer tranny […] mother” and her own process with adopting the labels that felt right to her.

“City Hall,” the story of Phyllis Pseudonym’s green-card marriage, gave me the warm-cuddlies all throughout my body. This snapshot of her life, the few hours in the morning that follow along with her wedding, was, well, well it gave me a hope for my own romance. Besides finding her writing to be enjoyable to read I also found myself envious of her relationship. Alright, maybe not envious since I’m happy with my life right now but it gave me comfort to know that there are other people in the world who are looking for the same sort of relationships that I am.

I don’t want to say that I had a favorite essay but, um, yeah, I’ve got two favorite essays. While I was touched and inspired and brought to tears and to laughter throughout this collection there were two that I found particularly relatable and significant. Don’t know if you’ve picked up on this yet but I’m fascinated by the act of sex and how sex is important to us as individuals. “Made Real” by Sassafras Lowrey and “Resexing Trans” by Kai Kohlsdorf are both on this subject. Please just read them, they come highly recommended by me.

Look, I really think you should read Trans/Love. Buy it, borrow it, steal ( well, no, don’t steal it), do what you need to do to get your hands on it. This anthology is important, and not just for members of the queer community. There are so many topics and themes brought up that don’t receive enough attention from us, whether we’re queer or straight. For many of you this slim collection of the stories of people from a wide variety of marginalized sexual/gender identities will end up educating you and expose you to new ideas. Some people might be afraid of the words “radical sex” on the but if you can handle HBO or George RR Martin then you can easily handle Trans/Love.

Trans/Love; Morty Diamond, ed.; copyright 2011; Manic D Press, pub.

An Open Letter to Alison Bechdel (Review: “The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For”)

Dear Alison Bechdel,

By Michael Rhode (101_3633 Alison Bechdel) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Thank you.

I know, I know, you’ve received ten-thousand letters like this but let’s make it ten-thousand-and-one, shall we?

I grew up a queer outcast in a very heterosexual little rural farming town. My exposure to any sort of queer identities was limited to the occasional “let’s be nice to people” discussion in class. At a very young age I identified as not comfortable with how I related to heteronormativity. True, I didn’t always have the vocabulary to express my thoughts on my gender/sexual identity but I was aware enough to recognize that I was different.

I didn’t have the sorts of role models that my normative friends had. Where were the male superheroes that wore pink and why couldn’t Luke and Han make out? (Answer: Because Luke’s a weenie and Han and Leia are bad-ass soul-mates.) What I did have was 7-Days, the alternative paper that my parents brought home every two weeks. I thank my agnostic deity(ies) that I was introduced to 7-Days while in elementary school. Not only did their “Hot2Trot” personal section help guide me through puberty but it introduced me to your comic.

When I read Dykes to Watch Out For I had role models, I had superheroes. A bearded dad in a utility kilt and a transgender teen and people of color (I’m from the second whitest state in the union so this point is particularly important) and liberal intellectuals and queersDykes to Watch Out For was my exposure to the idea that queers came in all shapes and sizes and that we didn’t have to confirm to stereotypes. Yes, I was a male with same-sex attractions but that didn’t mean I had to be limp wristed and lisping (though I do have a bit of a Jon Inman wrist). There’s nothing wrong with happening to share characteristics with society’s ideas of queers but you helped me see that I didn’t need to let it define me.

For a young boy who was being introduced to sex primarily by his male, similarly aged friends (all of whom had very cis-centered, heterosexual, patriarchy themed ideas about sex that they wanted to share) Dykes to Watch Out For also expanded my ideas about what sex could mean. Your cartoons regularly covered discussions about sex as well as depictions of responsible and healthy sex. I can distinctly remember reading a strip featuring masturbation and realizing, “Oh! I can do that! And that’s not a bad thing and in fact it seems like it’s a good thing!” So on behalf of the sexually frustrated adolescent who relied on masturbation to help get him through years of celibacy I must offer you a tremendous THANK YOU.

One thing that I can’t thank you for is inspiring in me the idea that I could easily find a community like the one you wrote about. First of all I assumed that all the action in DtWOF took place in Burlington, a mere forty-five minutes from my house. I believe it was sometime when I was in high school and your book Fun Home was being promoted that I found out that the city was probably somewhere near Michigan. (I was actually really upset when I found this out.) Even with the knowledge that Burlington wasn’t the city you were writing about I still figured that if I went to a medium/small-sized liberal city then I’d find the queers. Well, Ms. Bechdel, I went to the University of Vermont for a year-and-a-half and didn’t meet as many queers as I would’ve liked. My own antisocial nature and reluctance to interact with humanity might have been a stumbling block but if Mo could find friends like that then why couldn’t I? (Side note- I’m now in Amherst and there are a lot more active queers so things might not be as bleak as I once thought.)

Reading The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For brought me back to my days of smuggling a 7-Days into my room and losing myself in the black-and-white lines of Mo and Co.’s endless pursuit of life, liberty and the perfect lentil soup. I tore through The Essential (even setting aside the book on Catholic priests in Protestant England I was currently reading, so you know, it was pretty serious) only to find myself reaching the end far too soon. When I closed the book I could feel my heart sinking as I realized that the lives of characters who I love and adore were frozen in perpetuity. The ending wasn’t all pain though as I found the fire you helped to light all those years ago suddenly flare up as it feasted. Not only was there a rekindling but a new fire was lit. I’m older and a different person than when I first read DtWOF and I’ve found new ways to connect with the work. Now I’m super-charged and ready to take on the patriarchy. I’m looking for my own Mad Wimmin Books and searching for my own Stuart/Ginger/Clarice (Hey, it’s not my fault you wrote such wonderful characters that I want to be in relationships with.) It’s time to be subversive and time to be radical and time to kvetch over hummus.

Thank you, Ms. Bechdel.


Yours most humbly and sincerely,

Samuel Aloysius Zaber

The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For; Alison Bechdel; Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Company, copyright 2008.

Sexual Desires: Not Just For Men

Sprint put out a new ad featuring NBA star Kevin Durant and here it is:

I was actually really, really, really into this commercial when I first started watching it because I thought we were going to see a woman having a sexual attraction to a dude. What? Women have sexual urges? But that’s only for teh mens!? Then we see that the mom is all excited because her husband can now clean out the gutters. Silly us thinking that women could be sexual.

Yes, I’ll totally admit that I’m an emotionally volatile person and that when I first saw this commercial my mind immediately went to, “FEMINISM! Let that woman have her own sexual desires!” Maybe I’m missing part of the joke. Maybe the joke is that this woman is excited not only because she likes her husband’s new reaching abilities but maybe she’s also excited about his body. Curious to see if there were other reactions similar to mine I turned to Google and wasn’t happy. The entire first page of search results that I got were just websites posting the commercial along with a sort description, not exactly the critique or discussion that I was looking for. Desperate for any discussion I went to the comments section of YouTube and found… nothing. Aside from the usual trolls all the comments were just about how funny this commercial is*.

I don’t think I’m entirely immune to humor. The set up is that we think the mom’s thinking about sex but then we find out she’s thinking about housework! Hilarious! This humor seems to be very similar to that of Porn for Women, you know, that book of “beautiful PG photos of hunky men cooking, listening, asking for directions, accompanied by steamy captions: ‘I love a clean house!’ or ‘As long as I have two legs to walk on, you’ll never take out the trash.'” (From their Amazon page)

Alright, so there’s an element of satire to these pieces but I’m concerned that this represents our society’s overwhelming attitude toward’s female sexuality. Yes, we are admitting that sexual appetite’s aren’t only for men but we still cling to the “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus”-model. Porn for men? Grunting, pounding, rough. Porn for women? Muscly men wearing tight jeans and moving slowly to terrible background music. Obviously this isn’t all porn but our media seems to think this is most porn. Admitting that women have sexual urges is a step forward but confining their sexual urges to a very limited role isn’t so great.

In fact why do we need to give certain types of sexual urges to people based off of their gender? Men can be into slower, more “soft” porn and women can be into more grunting and pounding. Of course, these two gender roles completely ignore gender-neutral, gender-queer, third-gender and every other gender identity out there. Basically I’m extremely pissed off that in this day and age we still assign sexual desires because of someone’s gender. Let’s just admit that you can like what you like! And not only that but what you like is allowed to shift and change. Some days I’m interested in porn that involves power-play and some days I’m into porn that focuses on oral sex and some days I’m not interested in porn what so ever. So Sprint (and anyone else who buys ad-time or ever interacts with another human ever), please, please, please stop reinforcing these outdated ideas about sexual desires. Thanks.

Here are two things that I like:

xkcd: Porn For Women

There’s also this piece from CollegeHumor about the male stars in porn films (mildly NSFW):

(Am I completely alone in this? Is there a large male/female** divide in porn? And if you think there is a divide do you have any non-anecdotal evidence? Want to tell me I’m full of shit? Comments are really, really welcomed.)

Also- I’ve got a bunch of new things in my Etsy/Redbubble shops. Check out the links at my blog post on my website: hypatiaofvermont.com/news. I’ve got rent and stuff to pay and would really appreciate any support, that includes telling your friends about the cool stuff I’m selling. Thanks!

*I also looked at the “behind the scenes” video that Sprint put out. Nothing.

**Ugh, binary, GENDER DOES NOT EQUAL BINARY. I just feel like this conversation so often boils down to a strict binary and we should really start having a conversation about being inclusive. Going to write that blog post at some point.

Sunday Steals: Femslash February!

Due to the nature of today’s topic this post should be considered somewhere around 18+ only. Honestly I just don’t know what the real cut-off is but if you’re under 18 and don’t read fanfiction or don’t know what slash fic is then you probably shouldn’t read this. Also, just assume that every link today is going to be Not Safe For Work. Got it? Sweet.

I’m a really big fan of fanfiction. True, I’m not as avid a consumer as some of my friends but I’m an enthusiastic supporter of the art. My view of fanfic is that it makes the art of writing more accessible and that’s fucking awesome. You don’t need to be a prize winning author to write fanfic, hell, you don’t even have to be a great writer to write fanfic. The fanfic communities seem to be based around the idea that anyone who wants to write can write.

Yeah, you’re going to deal with some really stupid trolls who think it’s a grand old time to be a fucking big dickhead and write cruel comments when they don’t like the story. So yes, those assholes do exist but they do seem to be in the minority and most fanfic communities I’ve come across online have been more positive than negative (Disagree with me? Please leave a comment, I’d really like to hear your thoughts on this.)

My previous post on how much I value erotic Harry Potter fanfic probably has already tipped you off that I like my fanfic like I like my chicken pot pies: steaming hot and full of floating hunks of flesh. On average I probably read more male-on-male (m/m) fanfic than male-on-female (m/f) or female-on-female (f/f) but I recently came across a Tumblr post that made me consider if maybe that’s not just my personal preference. What if I read mostly m/m fics because there are significantly more fics of this type than any other? Homosexual love and sex does seem to be a current fetish among the producers of fanfic so that might explain the imbalance. Then again, it might not. I don’t know. I haven’t actually done any studies…

The post I read was this one from soaringrachel on Tumblr. If you’re too lazy to click that link then let me break it down for you: soaringrachel basically asks the very important question, “Where are the girls?” Since we humans love alliteration she calls for Femslash February, a month where fanfic writers focus on f/f stories! I love this idea and would like to provide some links to femslash topics:

  • soaringrachel put together the #FemslashFebruary tag on Tumblr where Tumblr folks can pool their resources
  • Mephistophilis created a nice list of links but because I can’t get their list to show up when I’m on the blog I’m linking you to where I saw it: LGBT Laughs. Some of the links are to femslash collections and others are to posts like this one, calling for Black Women femslash!
  • I’m a big fan of Hermione/Ginny femslash. Like a really big fan… I think I might like it better than Hermione/Ron… Here’s the H/G LiveJournal community and the H/G Archive of Our Own page.
  • Alright, so I don’t really have a lot of links to post but I mostly want fanfic people to get into Femslash February.

Leave some femslash links in the comment section? Please.

Note Bene: Sunday Steals is my semi-weekly series where I pick a theme and post links to other people’s stuff. Want to suggest a topic? Leave a comment or e-mail me at HypatiaOfVermont@gmail.com.

Etiquette: Approaching a Man in a Dress

(Let’s start things off with a disclaimer: I am a man who wears “women’s” clothing but I can’t speak for every man who wears dresses. Like most questions of etiquette all advice given must be then applied in regards to the situation. To quote Stephen Fry in his excellent piece on the beauty of language, “Context, convention and circumstance are all.”  But onto the meat of this post.)

It’s 2012 (soon to be 2013, dear mother of everything that’s holy) and it’s highly probable that you’ve encountered a man in a dress. Maybe you were behind a man in heels while online at the grocery store, or perhaps a close male friend sometimes wears muumuus  to parties. For the past two years  I’ve been that man (well, I do prefer pencil skirts to muumuus, much more flattering for my figure) and I’ve had a some… awkward encounters  with strangers, family members and friends who feel uncomfortable with my sartorial choices.  Understandably, many people are uncomfortable when they first meet me. It’s not that they’re looking at me and comparing me to the Son of Satan, it’s simply that they really don’t want to offend me. I appreciate it that, I really do.

When approaching a man in a dress the most important thing for you to keep in mind is that (get ready for this, it’s a shocker) IT’S NOT A BIG DEAL. Seriously. The fact that I’m a male identified person whose wearing a fitted black black dress, fishnet stockings and sensible librarian shoes doesn’t mean that I’m a homosexual or a child molester or confused about my gender or an anarchist (For the record: I’m none of those four.) Smile, keep calm and treat me like you would anyone else.

There is the big issue of gendered words in the English language. I’ve had many encounters with people in retail where I’m addressed like this, “Hello, sir, sorry, madam, I mean, sir?, sir, madam, hello? I’m sorry.” If you’re in this situation then just breathe and remember, it’s not your fault. If anyone is to blame it’s the English language and its male-female based language. A few intrepid folks are trying to help rectify this by bringing in third-gender/gender-neutral pronouns (this is a link to the Wikipedia page on the topic) but these pronouns haven’t yet been fully adopted into language. When the time and situation allows for it a friendly, “Excuse me, may I ask what your preferred pronouns are?”, can’t hurt. In cases where there really isn’t a chance to ask about preferred pronouns then I’d have to recommend that you try to skip over any gendered-words. If you really, really, really have to use gendered-words like ma’am or sir then I suppose you’ll have to go with your gut.  Really, we could totally use a form of polite address that doesn’t carry gender…

There’s a strange trend where complete strangers will meet me and then seem to want to demonstrate how down-with-blowing-up-out-dated-gender-stereotypes-and-roles they are by immediately saying something that acknowledges the fact that I’ve got a penis and I’m wearing a dress. These comments tend to divide into two categories:

You know, my cousin’s daughter has a friend who also realized he’s a girl.


 How do your parents feel about you wearing dresses?

The first is, is, well it’s ridiculous. My clothing tells you jack-shit about my gender identity. To assume that you know anything about my gender identity is just a bunch of bull. And let’s talk about why you think I’m trans (AND let’s also point out that the way the first comment is phrased is quite problematic. If you don’t see anything wrong with the first comment please look at the links to resources at the end of this post.)- Maybe I am, maybe I’m not but either way YOU DON’T KNOW.  You can ask my preferred pronoun or just don’t bring it up. This first type of comment is also irritating since it relies on a very divided concept of gender and gender performance that says that only female-identified people wear “women’s” clothing.

The second type of comment is really uncomfortable and quite frankly not really your business. If we’re close friends or are having a nice conversation about gender and gender-identity in which I share a bit of my own experience then great, ask away! When you’re a stranger this is just weird. You have no idea about my history with my parents and my sartorial choices. Perhaps I’ve had some really horrific experiences that I simply don’t want to talk about or maybe I haven’t, either way you simply don’t know. So please, unless we’re not complete strangers, how about you don’t bring this up? Great, thanks.

Here’s a quick re-hash of what we’ve learned today:

  1. Men in dresses isn’t a big deal. Really. I promise.
  2. A nice polite, “Excuse me, do you have preferred pronouns?”, is nice.
  3. Calm down, it’s not a big deal. Seriously.
  4. My clothing tells you nothing about my gender identity (or any other aspect of any of my other identities, for that matter) and to assume that you know my gender identity is kinda rude…
  5. Take a deep breath, you’ll be fine.
  6. YOU DON’T NEED TO TALK TO ME ABOUT MY FASHION CHOICES. Compliments? Compliments are great. “You look better in a dress than most women”? Not so great.

Most importantly- What I’ve written can’t be applied to every situation you’ll find yourself in. I’ve laid out my opinion on the subject but you can bet there are other men in dresses who disagree with me on this. Please feel free to respond with your thoughts on my suggestion.

Super Cool Resources On Gender And Fashion And Cool Things:

Genderfork: According to their “about” blurb: “Genderfork is a supportive community for the expression of identities across the gender spectrum.” This is less of a resource for self-education on gender identities and more of a beautiful online community that I highly recommend looking at.

LOOK HOW PRETTY THIS IS! The graphic originally is from TSER but I discovered via Project Queer.

Actually, just go TSER’s sweet graphics page for some rather well designed presentations. The focus is on trans* identities (and let’s face it, who among us couldn’t use a brush-up on how to not be a stupid-head on trans* identities?) but it includes some excellent information about gender identities.

And of course Planned Parenthood has a lovely page on gender.