On Trans, Gender, and Body

I tweeted out a post on Mashable this morning and then, after it went out, I wanted to elaborate on why it’s important. This is the tweet:

Gender is not a binary thing

It would be easy to look at that headline and switch off. I don’t care about trans-anything. Those people aren’t like me. There’s nothing for me here. That’s the nice version. The not-so-nice version might get into the mental states of transpeople or the “right-” or “wrongness” of a 14-year-old taking estrogen for hormone replacement treatment. Having met a trans kid who was living as one gender in kindergarten and first grade and then publicly coming out as the opposite gender the next year, I’ve had to take some time to evaluate my own feelings on whether it’s a nature or nurture thing, of whether we are pushing things, and our own agendas onto kids and that this is a decision rather than a part of who they are.

Despite what you may have been told, gender is not a toggle switch. It’s not Green for male and Red for female (see what I did there?). The reason why there has been a marked increase in articles about transgender individuals and issues and more transgender people in the media is because this is a human thing. This is a thing that exists in the grand scope of human existence and it is normal.

It’s a thing that we just accept as a given that people are different. No two people are alike. “Everyone is a unique snowflake” and all that. So why do we assume that the same does not apply to things like gender, like mental health, like sexuality, like autism? There’s more to it than just XX or XY chromosomes, but even within those, there are more variations than just those two. None of these things are on/off, you-have-it-or-you-don’t things. Like everything else that it means to be a living creature on this planet, it’s a spectrum. And it’s that spectrum, that variety, that makes things interesting.

Speaking from a place of extreme privilege

Look, I’m well aware of how easy things are for me just to exist in our society. I will never know how hard it is to be a woman walking down the street, let alone what it means to be a trans woman walking down the street. I’m white, male, cisgendered and (more or less) heterosexual. I have it easier than most, so it’s important to me to take advantage of that privilege and add my voice to these types of issues.

…and so…why that post is important

I have never experienced the feeling of not knowing/understanding/trusting/feeling comfortable in my own skin. I have maybe experienced mild gender dysphoria but it had nothing to do with my identity and everything to do with the expectations and cultural values assigned to men. Men are supposed to be muscular, drink beer, watch football and shoot guns. They harass women, rape, and are physically and emotionally aggressive. They are villains but they are also heroes. They are the center of the story. They are the ones who rescue the princess. They make the rules and run the show. They are presidents, CEOs, prime ministers. I am not, nor will I ever be, any of those things, or those things I might be because of my gender, I do not accept. Ergo, I must not be a “real man.” It was later, after doing an intense study on gender and transgender issues, that I realized that none of that mattered, really, because society’s expectations are stupid and don’t define any of us. But I digress.

The point is, I don’t know what it’s like to be a teenager who feels like she is trapped in the body of a boy and I never will because that’s not me. I only know what it feels like to be a teenager and young adult who has a lot of self-hate having to do with what it means to be the gender that I was born as. But I don’t have to have that common ground to watch that video and realize what just happened. And what’s happening every. single. day. that posts like this and others are published and more awareness is spread around the existence and acceptance of women and transpeople as human beings deserving of equal rights, respect and privilege.

I am well aware of the demographics of my followers on social media and the sorts of folks who will stumble across my blog. Very few of them are around because I talk about gender equality or gender issues. Mostly it’s nerds like me, or people who follow me because I write about soccer or WordPress. And that’s part of what makes it so important that I also talk about stuff like this. Because maybe someone who would never have looked at that video of a transgirl getting her first hormone treatment from her mom and breaking down in tears of gratitude will be able to see it for what it is — a real, human experience, real joy and acceptance. And the more stories like this there are, the more real, human experiences from transfolk and women and people of color we see, the closer we get to a world that I want to live in. One that accepts you for the person you are. Not for what you look like, not for what society expects you to be, not for the things you like or the way you style your hair or your tattoos or piercings or clothing or money or where you live or where you were born or what god you put your faith into or what the motherfucking scale says. Just you. That’s where I want to live.

Keep your damn guns. Just stop using them to shoot people.

I’ll make a confession. I’m pretty anti-gun. I watched G.I. Joe and other violent TV shows as a kid and I’ve spent hours playing violent first person shooters, but I’ve never been in the military and guns in real life terrify me. I can honestly say that I have never touched a gun, never wanted to, and will hopefully never have to be within 50 feet of one. And it shocks and appalls me how resistant we are as a country to controlling the ownership of weapons. We only have to look across the ocean to see other countries that don’t allow the possession of firearms and see the decrease in violent crimes.

My personal opinion of guns aligns with the Eddie Izzard bit on “the gun thing” — “‘Guns don’t kill people, people kill people’…But I think the gun helps…”

I also know that because guns are part of the foundation upon which this country was built, we will never, ever be a country that does not allow the possession of firearms. Ever. And I accept that.

None of that matters, though. Because I’m through fighting the gun thing.

You can have your fucking guns. Just stop killing people.

The right to own and carry firearms does not give you the right to walk into a fucking place of worship and start executing people. There’s no justification that can be made for something like that. And this problem isn’t going away. If the NRA thinks the solution to this is more people carrying firearms, fine. Have your damn guns. Just. Stop. Killing. People. I don’t care what it takes.

There is a culture of violence and hatred in this country, and it’s not against people who are foreign — although we sure as hell have that, too — it’s against ourselves. It’s the exclusivist culture that allows some idiots in Utah County to think that having a Caucasian Heritage Night for a minor league baseball team is a pretty freaking swell idea.

So fine, NRA and gun toting assholes. I give up. You win. Take your guns. Wear them to church. Walk through the malls and down streets with me while carrying. Keep me safe from lunatics trying to kill me because obviously it’s only those lunatics over there that actually kill people, not you. Never you. If you think that will make this country safer, have at it. Whatever. Just stop using those guns to kill other human beings.

This is not a thing that is happening to them over there. This is happening to us. Right here. And the sooner we realize that someone who looks different than you, who is maybe a different color or a different shape or loves a different kind of person or has different hair or eyes or came from a different background than you is part of us, is just like you, the sooner we can maybe start to treat this disease that is creating “lunatics” and “outsiders” who “seem like a nice kid” but are really planning on hunting down and killing women, or walking into a school or a church and opening fire. These people, they are us, too. And we need to accept that the way you accept that you have a terminal disease. Oh shit, that’s bad. And then you deal with it. Talking about it, making these assholes out to be something other than us is saying “this problem…it’s not really a problem. That’s a one-time case.” If only that were true. Killing and hurting people who are different? That’s a fucking cultural tradition in America. That’s not a new concept. That’s been done countless times in every state in this country. Accept it. Treat the disease. This isn’t an isolated incident. It’s the product of our cultural upbringing.

I’ll end with Jon Stewart’s reaction to the Charleston Church shooting on The Daily Show.

The Sansa treatment

sansa-ramsay

Trigger warning: This post talks a lot about the sexual assault that happens, frequently, on Game of Thrones. If these topics are personally distressing to you, please don’t read this post. TL:DR; What happens to Sansa is horrible no matter who it happens to.

This is my first post ever about Game of Thrones and it’s a biggie. A lot has been said about the treatment of Sansa Stark in Game of Thrones, Season 5 – Episode Six. Continue reading “The Sansa treatment”

A Formal Request for More Female Creatures in Magic: the Gathering

Hey Wizards of the Coast. I have a request. Let’s see more female creatures, yeah?

Depictions of women in Magic are not entirely uncommon. It’s often enough that a deck will have at least a couple. And yet, when I think about creatures — specifically non-human creatures — almost always they are shown as masculine. For example, Selesnya Sentry:

Now, that’s a generic creature card. The creature type is Elephant Warrior. There’s no specific reason it needs to be male. Why can’t an elephant warrior be female?

Typically female creatures in Magic are reserved for more traditionally “feminine” types — Faeries and Angels — or androgynous races like Elves. In the history of Magic, I can only recall ever seeing one female goblin, the repulsive Hasran Ogress.

Hasran Ogress

And often when you do see female creatures or characters in MtG art, it’s for T&A purposes.

Seeker of Skybreak Liliana Pacifism
Elvish Ranger

Surely, Wizards of the Coast, I don’t need to remind you that women are just as capable of performing tasks that men can, and that their sole purpose on this (or any other) planet is not simply to look hot for men. I mean, seriously, of those costumes above, in what way are any of them even remotely useful for the tasks that those women might be performing (unless underwear model is a popular profession amongst Elvish rangers in Phyrexia…)?

I applaud you for adding the Planeswalker, Chandra Nalaar, to the core sets and making T&A distinctly absent from most of her depictions.

Chandra

But we need to see more of this. There’s nothing remotely resembling gender equality in the Magic: the Gathering universe.

Here’s why it matters to me personally. As players, we anthropomorphise our creatures. We say “I attack with this guy.”

“I attack/block with this guy” is much more common than “I attack with her” (unless you’re playing an Angel or Faerie deck). And this matters. It matters in how we think about women as people, outside of the game, and it matters in who is interested in playing the game (more realistic female creatures and characters that weren’t just there as sex objects would be more likely to attract more female players). Magic benefits from being a distinctly social activity — you play with other people — if you’re a woman walking into a game shop and the only people playing are nerdy dudes, you’re probably not going to be very interested in playing Magic. Certainly you’d be less interested in the game than you might be if the gender balance was more level and you saw other women like you playing.

Magic is also unique in that there are no specific playable characters — you’re benefitting from the fact that you don’t pigeonhole your players into a specific gender role the way video games with a single male protagonist do. But then you throw away that advantage by showing women in provocative poses, depicting them as objects for your male players, to be manipulated, moved and sacrificed by your male players, without providing an alternative. Tits and ass is fine provided that that’s not all there is, and provided that you give your male characters the same treatment.

My kids are playing Magic. I have a boy and a girl. They are 9 and 7. They are playing as I write this. I would like them to grow up with Magic as an empowering game for boys and girls, that depicts gender in fair and realistic ways and does not objectify women exclusively the way so many other games do.

The single greatest contribution to open source by WordPress is documentation

I’m going to throw an idea out there, and that is that the single, most important contribution that WordPress has made to open source software as a whole is documentation.

When I first started using WordPress 8 or so years ago, that was the biggest difference between WordPress and other platforms. You could search for something and actually find the answer. There was even a huge wiki dedicated to how to use — and modify — the platform: the Codex. With other open source web application software platforms at the time, documentation was always scarce. The first Magento project I worked on, I had to teach myself how their theming system worked. Likewise for ZenCart and Joomla!. This self-education takes time, and this is the whole reason we say “I am a WordPress developer” as opposed to “I am a web developer.” Sure, I have skills that extend beyond WordPress, but I know WordPress in a way that I don’t know other platforms. I am much more able to work on the fly on something I’ve never tried before in WordPress than I am on a roll-your-own platform or some other CMS. And the availability of documentation plays a huge role in this.

The two WordPress-specific businesses I’ve worked for — Event Espresso and WebDevStudios — both have had their own, internal documentation based (at least in part) on the WordPress Codex. That’s in addition to the user documentation that’s readily available for most premium plugins. The docs may not always be complete — and they may not always be good — but they are there and you can usually find answers. Plugin developers specifically are motivated to provide good documentation to eliminate the amount of support requests they get via support forums. These support forums are a form of documentation, too. I asked a question on a Magento forum a few years ago and I don’t think I ever got a satisfactory answer back. If that happened on a WordPress forum, the hounds of hell would be unleashed on the plugin author or, at the very least, everyone would start to avoid that plugin. If it was a WordPress core component, a Trac ticket would crop up pretty quickly with a long discussion about how best to solve the problem and, eventually, a fix would get built into WordPress core.

WordPress people are always talking, always communicating, and this is part of what helps WordPress grow. The first blog platform I used was sBlog, which had little-to-no documentation and a very small community around it. If you’ve never heard of it before, that’s because it doesn’t exist anymore. A slightly better platform I played with for a couple years (which does still exist) is Ampache, a web-based music player where a lot of discussion and documentation happened in the forums or else in the IRC channel on Freenode. But because there aren’t blog posts about “I built this awesome thing with Ampache” — and because there isn’t the amount of documentation for Ampache to help developers build awesome things — not many people know it exists.

And that’s part of the reason why I was initially lured into the Docs contributor team. WordPress documentation is a huge part of how I got where I am today, it’s what sets WordPress apart and helps it grow, and it’s vitally important to the continued success and growth of the software. But what I’ve noticed in those years since first toying with Joomla, Magento ZenCart, sBlog, and Ampache, is that other projects now have more documentation available, and put more of an emphasis on documentation. Look at HTML5 Boilerplate or Bootstrap. Look at Git and jQuery. Spend some time on StackExchange. There are tons of answers out there now, answers that weren’t there for us 8 years ago. I feel like the success of WordPress has brought with it the rise of better documentation — and those platforms that fail at documentation get passed over by ones that have documentation. And that documentation increases in relevance and quality as things like MediaWiki have cropped up and allowed for the crowdsourcing of said documentation so that anyone can be an editor or an author of a tutorial or code reference. Yes, I credit at least some of this to the popularity and rise of WordPress as a publishing platform, and I suggest that it is the most valuable contribution by WordPress to open source software. Even if WordPress someday fades, its’ footprint will be left by the emphasis on — and prevalence of — good documentation.

Is it possible that my glasses are rose-tinted because of my involvement in the WordPress community? Sure. But the thing is, WordPress is the most common CMS in the world. More than 20% of the web is built on WordPress and the percentage of new sites using WordPress is even higher. So, one way or another, other projects will need to learn by the example set by WordPress if they want to stick it out and become a viable platform that people can pick up and use without having to dig through lines of code to figure out how.