structured information - what stands out

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Jack Chick - Whore of Babylon

we're not trying to recruit, but maybe we should be

so, one feature i've noticed in a number of critiques of the Classic Trans NarrativeTM is that there seem to be a lot of people who identify as trans women who thought it was bullshit when they first heard it, and whose failure to identify with it was a stumbling block in their progress towards self-identifying as trans*.

i'm going at this point to throw in a snarky comment about how ‘if it sounded like bullshit to you the first time you heard it, why on earth would you think repeating it is a good pedagogical strategy?’ but i don't want to stop there.

so, i think the fundamental issue is with the basic way that all Queer 101s conceive of their audience: the audience is presumptively composed entirely of cisstraight people who need to be trained to not make a mess of things, with little or no consideration for the possibility that it might contain under-informed queer folks who might need navigational tools to help them self-identify.

the old homophobic line is that even basic education in queer issues is covert recruitment into queer ways of life, but in fact, it's virtually anti-recruitment - structured to instil in audience members who might be well-served by queer labels and ways of life the sense that this is all about somebody else.

nowhere is this clearer than in the ubiquitous piece of queer mythology that if you're not one of the mundanes, you've known you were Very DifferentTM for as long as you can remember.

this of course erases the experiences of queer people who don't feel that their queer characteristics make them all that different, who didn't start feeling different until some point of sexual awakening, who knew they were different in some way but didn't connect it with sexuality or gender, whose sense of sexuality or gender identity has evolved over their lives so that they only started feeling different at some later point, or who never realized they were different because it never occurred to them that their distinctive thoughts and feelings were non-universal.

if it were just an issue of erasure, this might be tolerable. there's not time to mention everybody in the Queer 101, so some of us just have to accept that we'll be tossed into some wastebasket category, with the details left for a more advanced course. (only, please, can they at least include such a wastebasket category in the 101? it feels like a lot of the time they forget.)

but it's not just an issue of erasure here. it's an issue of confusing and marginalizing people with incompletely articulated queer identities when they are at their most psychologically vulnerable. it's not just that all those people who didn't feel Very DifferentTM from early childhood are going to be mad because their experiences are being erased. it's that the ones in the audience, some of whom haven't figured out how to label themselves - some of whom may not even have previously been aware of the existence of a well-fitted label. are implicitly being told that the labels you mentioned in your Queer 101 are not for them.

think about that for a second? think about every 17- or 18- or 19-year-old undergrad who is just beginning to take the most tentative first steps towards exploring their sexuality and gender identity. who went through their childhood and much of their adolescence without it ever seriously occurring to them that they might be Very DifferentTM in the relevant respects. think about how, by perpetuating the ‘always knew’ mythology you are writing them out of their identity before they even have a chance to understand and embrace it.

this is much, much worse than garden-variety erasure.

as i already hinted, there's a similar effect with the practice of paring lists of queer identities down to a manageable size for pedagogical purposes. in this kind of pedagogical setting, unless the existence of other possibilities is explicitly mentioned, there is inevitably a strong implication that the list is more-or-less exhaustive. again, this means that still-looking-for-a-label queer audience members who aren't good fits for any of the labels that made your list are, again, implicitly being told that they must be mundanes.

so why do Queer 101s keep working like this?

because of an approach to the presumptively cisstraight audience that is at once incredibly condescending and of depressingly limited ambition.

in particular, it seems to me that both of the phenomena mentioned above are rooted in the idea of maximizing the impression that queer identities are a fundamental part of the structure of reality. there are some number of innate, unwavering, immutable, solidly defined, psychological types, membership in which is immediately perceptible to the members. lest we be accused of merely perpetuating a deviant lifestyle or subculture, we must do everything we can to repeat the dogma that queer identities are part of the natural order of things, and not in any way cultural artifacts (even though all available social science seems to support the view that the details of how sexual and gender identities are individuated and realized is to some extent culture-specific). lest we face talk of a ‘cure’, we must preserve at all cost the myth that such identities are unchanging throughout the life of an individual (even if this is contradicted by the actual life experiences of numerous queer people). the ‘born this way’ myth has become a dogma because in a particular time and place it was politically useful, but in the Queer 101 context it is a dogma that must be preserved at all costs, and nothing - nothing - can be allowed to cast doubt on it in any way.

if i might speculate further, i think another part of it is this sense that we will get a bad reaction out of cisstraight audiences if we do anything that might suggest that they do well to interrogate their own identities. i guess we don't want to make them insecure, which we worry would make them adversarial?

the whole thing just smacks of insulting the intelligence of the audience. we know we're telling convenient lies. we know we're dumbing things down. but we expect them not to see through the lies and come to mistrust us. we expect them not to feel insulted by the degree to which we are shamelessly talking down to them. we expect those in the audience who notice that a lot of what we're saying cannot possibly be right to magically reconstruct the more nuanced correct version, instead of doing the natural thing and assuming that we believe what we say, and then concluding that, given the obvious flaws in what we're saying, we clearly haven't thought this through.

but what matters most isn't why Queer 101 so often works this way. what matters most is that it's destructive and it needs to stop.

Queer 101 needs to stop being about them or about us on stage and start being about us in this room. really, it needs to stop being Queer 101 and start being Gender & Sexuality 101. it needs to be about explaining, in respectful, non-stereotyped, at least moderately nuanced terms not only what queer experiences of gender and sexuality are like, but also what typical kinds of cisstraight experiences of gender and sexuality are like. the message needs to be neither ‘here's a checklist of options - if you're not any of them you're a mundane’ nor ‘here's a list of weird things that need explaining, as distinct from the normal experience which needs no introduction’. it needs to be ‘here are some landmarks which can help you to orient yourself and to understand how your experiences may be like and unlike the experiences of others’.

explaining what cisstraight experiences are is really important here. they're one of those things that's just assumed to be known, but which is never explained, so that people often in fact have radically divergent ideas of what they are. since almost everything is explained relative to the cisstraight experience as a point of reference, the possibility of different conversational participants having vastly different ideas of what the cisstraight experience is like is sort of a huge problem for successfully communicating much of anything. more specifically, if questioning audience members are going to be comparing themselves against different myths to see which one fits best, they damn well ought to be presented with the myths for all the labels on equal footing, instead of just wastebasketing themselves into the cisstraight label when none of the other myths fit quite right.

and we need to be less afraid of making the cisstraight majority in the audience uncomfortable. forcing them to confront the fundamental diversity and heterogeneity of cisstraight experiences of gender, romance, and sexuality may make the interaction more awkward in the short term, but, done right, it has the potential do drive home that we are all different from each other, and to set up a mythology that puts everybody on an equal footing instead of leaving queer identities as strictly more complicated others - and even if that part doesn't work out, the awkwardness is a small price to pay if it helps us meet our recruitment quota by connecting queer audience members with labels, identities, and communities that work for them.
i teach logic

an analogy

say there's this really, really popular LARP or ARG or something. sometimes, it seems like everybody is playing all the time.

you're not actually interested in playing, and have only a vague and incomplete understanding of the rules and setting, but, because the game is so popular, everybody always assumes you're playing, and gets confused (or, occasionally, angry) when you don't know how to answer when they ask about what character class you are or what spells you know.

despite being popular, this game has bunch of problems, and there are lots of people proposing revisions. they want more character classes. or they want more options for customizing your character build within a particular class. or they want to make it easier to switch to a different character class. or they want to improve the game balance with the goal of making all the character classes equally playable. this is, of course, all for the good: the game should be fair, and, to the greatest extent possible, should be fun for all the players.

but the thing is, although the proposed improved revised rules sound like an improvement, you're still just not interested in playing the game. it's not that you think it's an intrinsically bad game, necessarily - it's just not the kind of game you're interested in.

now, when you say this, the reformers act like you're one of them, which is a little weird, but whatever. i mean, you're one of them in the sense that you want the game to be well-balanced and have lots of options, because you care about the wellbeing of the people who are playing, and you figure it's better if the game is better, and in the sense that you sometimes get roped into playing, and when you do the proposed revisions make for a game that sounds less annoying to you.

but it's more than that. the proposed reformers have this whole system where they're going to invent a new character class in-game, that's used to classify people like you who don't want to play, so people who are playing can interact with you without breaking character, by treating you as a member of this class. this sounds okay (they get to stay in character, you get to have your not playing recognized), but then you're expected to memorize the name of the new class, and say it when people ask about your character build, and so on, which is not the end of the world, but seems like a weird thing to be doing if the whole point is that you're not playing the game. still, it doesn't sound so bad.

except that there's something fundamentally frustrating about how you keep saying ‘no, i'm just not playing the game. i do not have a character class. i have not allocated skill points. i don't know any spells. i am not playing.’ and it seems like people are not getting it, or are always trying to sidestep this or weasel around it instead of just accepting that not everybody has to play the game.

anyway, that's how i often feel about gender.
structured information - what stands out

(no subject)

‘It’s like having a really amazing TV in your house, only if there’s a glitch, or the batteries in the remote go dead, the TV will murder you.’

-Zack Handlen, regarding the holodeck [source]
structured information - what stands out

nano-review for 'The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey'

your reaction to The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey will depend on the expectations with which you approach it.

you must not approach it as an adaptation of (part of) Tolkien's novel The Hobbit.

you must not approach it as a prequel to Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings films.

you would do well to approach it as a fun but severely under-edited piece of fan fiction for Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings films.
structured information - what stands out

(no subject)

a rather large chunk of my part of New Haven appears to be without power. sort of annoying from a productivity standpoint, but of course not an actual big deal, as long as it comes back in time for my frozen fruit to survive.