Why There’s No Space In My Gender

I identify as a transman. There is no space in that word for me.

This is somewhat unusual among trans people. In general, it’s convention to call people like me trans men, not transmen. In fact, when talking about the group in general, or an individual other than myself, I use the space. The same applies for trans women – I use the space unless a specific individual prefers no space, which is pretty rare. I use a space for cis men and cis women as well, to be consistent.

The reason for this space is that most people identify as men or women, and trans or cis are a modifier. Being transgender is usually a statement about someone’s history, not an intrinsic part of their gender identity. A lot of people feel really strongly about this, which is why the space has become the standard convention over time, although this was not always the case.

My experience is somewhat different than most people. I am not a man, with a trans modifier. I am a transman, as a complete gender. I do not separate my transness and manness – they are deeply connected for me, inseparable.

The fact that I experience my gender identity differently than many other people does not mean that I have any disagreement with them over the space. It seems pretty clear that for most people the space is important, and that for many people their complete gender identity is man or woman, with a transgender or cisgender history. My gender is not better than anyone else’s – it’s just different. It’s just mine.

Why There’s No Space In My Gender

A Sensation of Helplessness

CN: Transphobia, politics.

You may have heard that North Carolina passed a really awful anti-trans bathroom bill this week. There are 14 other anti-trans bills in the legislatures in other states currently, with more coming up all the time. Usually these bills have not passed but the North Carolina situation shows increasing likelihood of more of these bills passing, creating serious every-day problems for many transgender people.

In most situations this kind of injustice makes me really angry. Usually I feel a strong drive to fix the problem, to call legislators, to participate in protests, and to blog about the injustice.

These bathroom bills, though, have left me with a deep sense of helplessness. There is something different, and very personal about the nature of this kind of bill. The bigotry is SO thinly veiled that it feels very much like being told directly “You do not have a right to public spaces.” Defeating them is a win in the sense that people can pee, but it doesn’t really do anything to fight the idea that we’re just not welcome in society.

I think part of the cause of this hopelessness is my total invisibility. These bills are a direct, vicious attack on trans women, with little or no recognition of the existence of trans men. Clearly these laws are more dangerous for my trans sisters than they are for me, but there’s harm in invisibility too. The proponents of these laws insist that they don’t want men in women’s bathrooms – then require me to go into women’s bathrooms. The lawmakers and proponents of the laws often seem completely unaware that trans men exist.

Many would argue that this kind of law doesn’t really impact me much, even if it applied in my local area, because no one is likely to enforce it with me. But the real impact of the law is on alienating non-cis people from society – trans women by labeling them as predators, trans men, non-binary people, and intersex people by erasing our existence, and all of us by misgendering us and restricting our identities to the sex we were assigned at birth.

Hopefully I will get my anger back. Anger is a powerful tool for fighting injustice, and in my experience one that is necessary. For me, anger can only come in the absence of helplessness and hopelessness, and today I just feel helpless.

A Sensation of Helplessness

A Less Ableist Culture Could Help Businesses Too

CN: Ableism, capitalism

Businesses these days are highly dependent on good reviews. A positive score on Yelp, Amazon, or Trip Advisor can make or break a small business. For service industry businesses like restaurants, retail, and hospitality this can create some unique conflicts. Specifically, not everything people include in their reviews is easy for the business to control, and customers interactions with other customers can have an unexpectedly large impact on review scores.

When customers hold a business accountable for the behavior of other customers, this can have good impacts. It can help encourage a bar to kick out men who are overly creepy to women, or give a reason for a hotel to ask a very loud party group to be quiet or leave. When customer reviews help keep businesses from participating in oppression, or help them to keep rude people in check, this is great!

However, the expectations of customers can also carry bigotry of their own. Customers can, and do, let their own prejudices influence their view of a business, and can bring down the rating of businesses because the perceive them as having too many people of color, or too many queer people, or too many poor people. This can put pressure on a business to be more oppressive, rather than less.

This problem becomes particularly stark when businesses deal with customers who are disabled in various ways, especially those with mental illness or disabilities that make people behave in strange ways. As a result of cultural ableism, many people become incredibly uncomfortable when they encounter someone behaving strangely. If they check into a hotel, and there is someone pacing and talking to themselves, the customer’s whole experience is influenced by the discomfort they have with the possibly mentally ill person. When an autistic child makes noise in a theater, the rest of the audience has reactions to that, and most of those reactions are bad.

Different, disabled, and ill people should have access to businesses and experiences just like everyone else. That child has a right to attend the theater and the person talking to themselves has a right to stay in a hotel. If the general public becomes less ableist and more understanding of all disabilities, but especially those that are related to the kinds of behaviors that make neurotypical people uncomfortable, this will mean businesses will not suffer when they serve disabled customers. Businesses have a responsibility to serve all customers equally, and those that do so will be more successful when their customers recognize that.

I encourage service industry businesses to strive to serve disabled customers well, and also to work with disabled communities to decrease ableism in the general culture. It will help those businesses in the long run when all of their customers understand that we all have rights, even when our behavior may seem strange.

A Less Ableist Culture Could Help Businesses Too

Saying Yes to Rocky Horror – and No to “Slut!” Jokes

CN: I am going to repeat some offensive and harmful jokes in this article, including ableist and sexist jokes, in order to highlight the kinds of problems I’m discussing here. Derogatory language, including slurs for various groups, are included. Particularly of note is a mean joke about contemplating the murder of a disabled person. This post also includes sexual themes, but not explicitly sexual descriptions.

I sat in a crowded room and yelled the word “slut” over and over and over again. I did it gleefully, at the top of my lungs, for years. I did it as recently as this past July.

I am a fan of Rocky Horror Picture Show.

I first saw RHPS when I was 16 years old in the basement of my high school girlfriend, though I didn’t yet understand what she found so exciting about it. I started attending the show regularly when I was 18 in Madison Wisconsin, where the Tiny Fools floorshow cast did the show every week at the dilapidated Majestic Theater. I soon joined the cast, and they became the first true group of friends I had in my life.

For several years RHPS was my life. I married a woman I met on the cast, and formed the deepest friendships of my life either directly or peripherally because of my Rocky involvement. The night that we closed the Majestic Theater, filling it beyond capacity with screaming fans, was one of the most exciting in my life. I get goosebumps just thinking about it even 13 years later.

For anyone who doesn’t know, part of the tradition of seeing Rocky Horror in a theater is call-back lines – literally yelling jokes in the theater. There are a huge number of traditional lines, passed from generation to generation of filmgoers. New lines are created frequently, often referring to current events, recent movies and politics, or local issues. Remembering thousands of call-back lines, and getting their timing right for the best effect, isn’t easy. I was really good at it, and best when able to play off of a few other friends who were also excellent.

Many of these jokes are mostly funny due to shock value, either because they relate to issues not discussed in polite company, or because they punch down. Rocky audiences are definitely not politically correct and don’t shy away from jokes based on sexism, homophobia, or ableism. Historically, serious fans of the movie tend towards queer and geeky subcultures, these jokes didn’t come with venomous intent behind them, and for many years that was enough for me.

In the past few years I have continued to see RHPS in various contexts – a kinky campground, a huge sci-fi conference, and traditional theaters. Now, with my greater understanding of social justice, it’s increasingly hard to yell “Seig heil!” or call someone a cripple even in jest (two jokes related to Dr. Scott, a character who is implied to be an ex-Nazi and who uses a wheelchair). I remember how freeing it felt to shout some of the more clever jokes and get genuine laughter back. Now I find myself analyzing them, and feeling pretty ashamed of some.

I think Rocky can give me an interesting lense through which to investigate humor. Where do these jokes come from and why are they funny? How does the history and tradition of Rocky impact these jokes and influence their meaning? To what extent does the intent of the joke-yeller matter? In what ways do these jokes influence the attitudes of audience members once they step outside of the theater? Finally, how to the problematic parts of the movie itself influence this discussion?

Some of the call-backs are pretty clearly neutral jokes in terms of oppression.

Frank-n-Furter: “I see you shiver with antici…..”
Audience: “This movie would suck without audience partici…”

These jokes vary from old to new, and from mildly to moderately funny. Many are just observations of things happening on screen that people would miss if they weren’t seeing the same film hundreds of times. “It’s Brad’s unbuttoning, rebuttoning shirt!” My favorites reference other movies, celebrities, and popular culture. The first time someone started chanting “His name was Robert Paulson” repeatedly in the theater after Eddie is murdered I laughed so hard I couldn’t breath. It will always be one of my favorite jokes.

A LOT of the call-backs are crude, but not necessarily oppressive. They’re often sexual, and the line between the non-offensive and the offensive crude jokes is a hard one to parse. I think “Rocky found a hole in the ground!” while Rocky is doing push-ups is pretty clearly okay, as well as most of the many references to spitting vs swallowing. The blatantly sexual jokes are probably what drew me to Rocky week after week in the beginning. At 18 it was exciting to be able to joke openly about sex in a fairly explicit way.

Some of the jokes clearly punch up:

Audience: “Brad, what do you call the White House?”
Brad:“Must be some kind of hunting lodge for rich weirdos.”

Or an audience favorite (which can be adapted for your local area):

Audience: “What do you think of Scott Walker?”
Frank-n-Furter: “I think we can do better than that.”

These jokes are harder to create and do well than the cruder jokes, but they keep being funny. Punching-up humor generally requires a little more thought and work, and the Rocky format does mean that easy jokes are more likely to persist, being picked up by occasional attendees. Only the die-hards learn the jokes that require memorization, precise wording, and careful timing, as well as an extraordinary ability to be heard over the chaos. But when the joke lands, it’s perfect.

Unfortunately, many, perhaps most, of the jokes heard at a Rocky showing are neither benign nor progressive.

Audience: “Slowly I turn, inch by inch, and weigh my options. Kill a professor, gain a parking space. Kill a cripple, gain a parking space. Kill a crippled professor, gain a damned good parking space.”

Ableist, sexist, and homophobic jokes abound. The first callback people learn as new Rocky fans is often the one I mentioned first in this article: Calling Janet a slut every time she appears on the screen for the first 20 minutes of the film. It’s not particularly creative, but it’s easy, so it persists. The problematic jokes range from the incredibly easy to highly complex, carefully timed ones. They persist throughout the entire movie, sometimes overpowering better jokes, and always being carried forward from one group of attendees to the next.

Does it matter? People think of Rocky as being a highly progressive, sex positive environment. Does yelling “slut” at a woman repeatedly have an impact in that context?

I think it does matter. While die-hard Rocky fans, the kind of people who join floorshow casts and stick around for years like I did, may often become politically conscious eventually, the audience members are mostly people who attend only occasionally. At this point, Rocky is mainstream and has been for decades. It’s a fun “subversive” thing people do on halloween once. In that context, the callbacks become one more incidence of catcalling, one more moment of using a slur for a man in a wheelchair, and one more time a drunk straight guy can call the man in a corset a “fag.” This matters – Rocky can become a place that normalizes these hurtful jokes, instead of one that turns the prejudice of the world on its head. I worry that it makes it just a little easier to use those slurs and insults at someone who is not inside of a 40 year old movie.

I also know that many of the people who excelled best in callbacks when I was heavily participating were able, cisgender, straight, white men. They were also generally NOT the ones getting into corsets in front of audiences, exploring the contrasts of feminine and masculine that Frank-n-furter embodies, or the internal sexual conflict of Brad. This makes me seriously wonder to what degree I am not the only one finding discomfort in these jokes. Is it easier for these guys who do not experience oppression to make the oppressive jokes without cringing? Were other people around me quietly less comfortable with some of the content? I remember one of those guys drunkenly going on at length to me about how he objected to political correctness at a cast party once. Years later that’s an uncomfortable memory.

I don’t think I can change the culture of RHPS audiences with one blog post. All I can do is decide for myself how to participate in the future. This means thinking a lot harder about jokes than I have in the past, and being willing to pass up audience laughter in favor of my politics. There’s still plenty of good stuff to shout and I don’t expect to leave theaters with my voice intact in the future, just as I haven’t in the past.

I just don’t think I’ll be calling Janet a slut anymore. It’s 2016. It’s long past time to stop.

Saying Yes to Rocky Horror – and No to “Slut!” Jokes

Uprising Against Tragic Queers

CN: Death of fictional queer characters, queerness as tragic storyline in fictional stories. Mentions but not really spoilers for Star Wars: The Force Awakens and for Battlestar Galactica. Links include extensive spoilers Star Wars and many TV shows.

Several great posts lately have appeared on my social media feeds in rebellion against tropes in media (movies and TV mostly) about tragedy and queer life. I want to highlight these, largely because I’m also annoyed with the idea that queer life has to be tragic to be interesting or identifiable to audiences.

Do Not Make Luke Skywalker Another Tragic Gay Character – This article is amazing. Honestly, I would rather no queer characters exist in the Star Wars universe than for this to be the storyline, for EXACTLY the reasons Emily Asher-Perrin points out here. I’m a diehard Stormpilot shipper (one who believes that Finn and Poe are completely adorable and should do it a lot) but I’m open to other characters being queer in Star Wars. I just cannot stomach queerness being a tragedy again. Luke is tragic enough, don’t make my sexuality a part of that. Asher-Perrin concludes that if only one character should be gay it should be Poe and she has me utterly convinced. I recommend the whole article.

All 142 Dead Lesbian and Bisexual Characters On TV and How They Died – TV really loves to kill of lesbian and bisexual women. Like REALLY loves it. Want a good tragic story? Kill off a queer woman! Several of these are from series I adore (Battlestar Galactica has several) and I’m still mad as hell. Can’t we have some awesome lesbians that get to live through the end of a series please? I don’t mean one or two – I mean a percentage similar to the number of straight people that get to live through the end of series.

Queerness doesn’t need to be tragic. Much of the time these days it isn’t. I look forward to media figuring that out.

Uprising Against Tragic Queers

Zootopia – A Physical Accessibility Near-Utopia

CN: Mild spoilers for the movie “Zootopia” (aka “Zootropolis” in some countries) but I don’t think they’ll ruin the movie for you at all.

I had the pleasure of seeing “Zootopia,” Disney’s new animated film, on the second day it was out. Spouse and I went with little knowledge of what the movie would be, primarily because it looked cute and had a bunny as the main character. I tend to really love animated family movies.

Much has already been written about the racial politics of this film. It’s excellent and really complex, working hard to tell a story about prejudice that’s far more complex than movies aimed at kids usually are. It explores prejudice, and overcoming it, on both the individual and systemic scale. It shows how structures of power can be corrupt and wrong, and how those in power can manipulate the prejudice of others to build their strength. I loved it.

Additionally, I noticed something else while watching this movie. The world “Zootopia” takes place in accommodates animal characters of a huge range of sizes and shapes. All of the characters are mammals (the scientist part of me appreciated that they acknowledge this in the script), but the mammal class is hugely varied.

“Zootopia” is both the name of the film, and the name of the capital city in which most of the movie takes place. The city comprises several ecosystems, recognizing that the same environment is not comfortable for both a savanna gazelle and a polar bear. All mammals can cross these ecosystem borders, and it seems clear that the immediate downtown area is where all species interact regularly.

As the main character, Judy Hopps, sees the city for the first time we get a beautiful sweeping view of all of the ways Zootopia recognizes the needs of its different citizens. Hippos in business suits come out of the water to blowdryers. A beverage stand sends a drink up a small lift for a giraffe. Hamsters (who apparently make good bureaucrats?) come from the small mammal part of the city via habitrails.

This scene is a stunning way of showing how a community could work to make public spaces accessible to people with varying needs too. The creativity put into making the city easy to use for such a diverse group is beautiful.

The team at Disney didn’t stop there. Once Judy is settled into the city and the shine wears off, the ways in which inaccessible design is used for institutional oppression become clear. There are certain places not everyone is welcome, and the spaces themselves show that. Judy runs up against this in her first moments on the job. This is something people with physical disabilities encounter constantly in our world. No ramp? You’re not welcome here. Reception desk too high to see over? This establishment isn’t really for people like YOU.

I applaud “Zootopia” both for displaying really creative ideas for accessibility and for recognizing the ways built environments can send messages of non-inclusion. I especially like that they included this in a broader story that’s mostly about race, displaying intersectionality in a way that perfectly melds with the world building and doesn’t feel preachy.

Edit notes: This post experienced minor editing on 3/17/2016 to fix a few small typos. Nothing of substance changed.

Zootopia – A Physical Accessibility Near-Utopia

Blog Startup Housekeeping

I’m going to need to spend a few minutes today doing some basic blog housekeeping. I hope you’ll bear with me, and I intend to keep this quick.


My incredibly adorable mascot was made for me by Jodi Thiebault. I really love her art! His name is Scrappy (because mascot) and anywhere you see him on the net say hi!

On Content Notes/Trigger Warnings:

I intend to use content notes at the start of most, if not all, blog posts. They will be in bold text and start “CN:” followed by anything I think people will want to be forewarned about.

I want to do this on most or all posts for a few reasons. One is that it will help me remember to do them, if I’m doing them on a regular basis. I’d hate to forget to warn of something really important. Another reason is that I’d like to see a normalization of content notices on lots of media – blog posts, books, TV shows, podcasts, articles I have to read for class, etc. We have some level of content notice already for movies (included in the rating system) but I think that needs to improve. Public radio tends to be good about certain kinds of warnings, and I like that too. But in general media could be better, and I want to be better.

If I have missed something in a content note that you think should be there, please let me know and I will add it.

On commenting:

Comment moderation is currently turned on for your first post on this blog. After I approve your first comment, you should be able to comment here without moderation after that. I intend to keep this setting indefinitely.

Abusive comments will not be approved, and those that come up on the blog will be deleted. I define abusive the way I want, since this is my home, but some examples would include flagrant use of slurs and advocating for violence against any person. Egregious or repeated abusive comments will get you banned.

I will very quickly get bored of arguments about 101 level atheism and 101 level social justice issues. Repeatedly arguing about these things, such as arguing that the word “cisgender” is oppressive, will get you put on moderation, and will get you banned if you keep it up. Don’t be boring.

Why Scrappy Deviation?

Scrappy because I’m ready and willing to get down to work on the issues important to me, and I can be surprisingly feisty when roused. Also, I’m short, round, and adorable, and the word brings those images to mind for me.

Deviation for two reasons. First, it’s a science/math related word, and I wanted my title to have a nod towards the science I intend to keep present on this blog. Second, because as a teenager as I was coming out about being queer and non-traditional in other ways my mother, in absolute horror, said “You don’t want to be like that. People like that are deviant!” and it has stuck with me every since. So “deviation” here is both as in “standard deviation” and “deviation from typical social norms.”

Blog Startup Housekeeping

Criticizing Caitlyn Jenner Without Being Terrible

CN: References to violent, transphobic, and ableist language. Mentions of the murders of trans people, deadnaming, and negative attitudes on mental illness and mental disability.

Every time Caitlyn Jenner’s name appears in my social media feeds, and every time I hear her name out loud, I sigh. Between tabloid rumors about de-transitioning (unlikely) and adopting a baby, new interviews in the media in which she says she wants to be Ted Cruz’ “trans ambassador,” and her ongoing TV show “I am Cait,” it’s hard not to see her come up frequently. Family members and co-workers ask me about her. Other trans people rant about her. It’s impossible to get away.

But the reason I sigh isn’t only because of anything Jenner says herself. Sure, she’s a pretty bad representative of the trans community, since her enormous economic privilege makes her immune to many of the daily struggles trans people deal with every day. She says harmful things I disagree with on a regular basis. I was worried when she was coming out that Jenner would be seen by many as the public face of the transgender community, and this has unfortunately turned out to be largely true. But I am also sighing because of the responses. So many people’s responses are, frankly, terrible.

Every time Jenner says something awful people respond. Mostly I see these responses on Facebook and Twitter, though occasionally I hear them in person too. People rightly get frustrated and angry when she says she likes the political positions of Republican politicians. But much of the time the responses don’t address the problems with her comments – they attack her in ways that are transphobic, violent, or ableist.

To start from the simplest part: It is simply not okay to missgender someone, no matter how vile their views may be. Yet I often see comments from people who disagree with Jenner using her deadname and calling her “he” when writing about their disagreement. This simply isn’t okay – it’s not okay to missgender Jenner, me, or any other trans person or cis person or genderqueer person you disagree with. It’s not okay to call Ann Coulter a man either, by the way. You use the correct pronouns and names for people, no matter what.

It’s worth asking why on this – why should someone with vile opinions be respected like that? It’s an issue of splash damage. In fact, this will be true of all of my criticisms of how people talk about Jenner – it’s not because of the damage done to her when horrible things are said about her online. I’m not really that worried about Caitlyn Jenner’s feelings. It’s because calling her by her deadname normalizes the idea that there are circumstances in which that’s an okay thing to do. Doing it to Jenner makes it easier for people to do it to someone like me with far less power, or someone like my black trans women friends, who have even less power in the world than I do. It gives legitimacy to the idea that our identities are dependent upon living up to some standard of behavior, and it’s simply not true. Our identities are legitimate, no matter what.

The second worrying type of response I hear when people are angry about Jenner’s comments are ones of violence. The violence ranges from people saying they wish someone would slap her, all the way to calls for her murder.

Trans people are murdered and staggeringly high rates, and trans women are at an even higher risk than trans men (though we get killed plenty too). So when someone directs violent language at a trans woman, even one as economically privileged as Jenner, it’s frightening. Even jokes about running her over with a bus or similar are said in the context of the real fear trans people have about violence. It’s a very REAL threat in our lives.

I’m not generally one to like violent rhetoric towards anyone, but I can understand it when people in seriously marginalized groups direct real violence (riots) or jokes about violence against those with enormous power. But when this is done against someone who is from a marginalized population, especially one with as much risk of violence as trans people, it runs the risk of minimizing or even legitimizing
the violence against that group.

Finally, a lot of what I see from comments from friends of friends is highly ableist responses. The most common ableist slur I found on a recent Facebook post was “delusional.” People also call Jenner “stupid” “retarded” and “crazy.” She is, of course, none of these things. To the best of my knowledge Jenner does not have any mental illness and is not mentally disabled, though even if those things were true these words would not be okay to throw around.

The thing is, people can be wrong – even painfully, harmfully, or extremely wrong, without being “stupid” or “crazy.” Jenner has attitudes and beliefs that are seriously harmfully wrong, and they are not the product of a brain condition. Wrong beliefs and harmful attitudes exist without the help of mental illness or mental disability, and many mentally ill and disabled people have lots of true, good, and helpful attitudes and beliefs.

It does harm to mentally ill and mentally disabled people to equate harmful and wrong attitudes with these conditions. Mental illness doesn’t make someone a bad person, and mental disability doesn’t create bigotry or authoritarian attitudes or anything like that.

All of these harmful attacks also mean that attitudes like Jenner’s get written off without being meaningfully challenged. Instead of going after Caitlyn Jenner and anyone else that we disagree with by attacking their identities, threatening violence, or using ableist attacks, instead it’s worth taking a little more time to talk about why those attitudes are harmful. By all means, discuss how Jenner’s decision to put herself before the media as a spokesperson for the trans community is hurtful, especially to those who have been working for these issues for a lifetime. Talk about how conservative politics like Jenner’s lead to serious harm to the rights and lives of trans people and other minority groups.

Go after the ideas, and we might make some progress.

Criticizing Caitlyn Jenner Without Being Terrible

Allow Me to Introduce Myself

Welcome to Scrappy Deviation, the new home blog of Benny Vimes. This blog is part of The Orbit network, and I’m excited to be a part of this new endeavor.

For more information on The Orbit click here.

Unlike many of the other bloggers on this network, I have not had a blog of my own for quite awhile. I have, however, been part of the excellent blogging network, Skepchick for many years, as a blogger and editor at Queereka, administrator of Skeptability, and writer on Skepchick itself. There I wrote about queer culture, neurodiversity, and the way fans interact with popular media. I look forward to continuing to talk about these issues here, plus a LOT more!

I look forward to discussing social justice issues related to some of my own identities, both marginalized and privileged. These include the facts that I am transgender, queer, polyamorous, autistic, fat, adopted, white, male, kinky, atheist, and others. I also look forward to learning more and writing about the experiences of others, in order to elevate the voices of people of other backgrounds and experiences than me.

I am also a geek and a fan, so I will definitely spend time writing about the books, movies, and TV shows I’m enjoying. If you’re looking for discussion on animated films and shows, or SF/F audiobooks then I hope you will enjoy those posts!

Finally, I’m a student of science (specifically, an undergraduate in Environmental Science), and will absolutely be writing about the things I’m learning and the experience of being a non-traditional student. I will occasionally share some of the undergrad (and eventually graduate!) level scientific concepts that I find particularly interesting, so I hope some of you will be curious to discover more about all areas of science.

So welcome to my blog, and welcome to The Orbit!

Allow Me to Introduce Myself