Dear HuffPost Twitter…

I’d like respectfully to suggest that you stop posting stories (2 within hours of each other today!) about women who find “cute” ways to announce the “gender” of the babies they are expecting to birth.

It strikes me as pretty hypocritical, given than your off-shoot, HuffPostQueer, is simultaneously posting articles about various assaults on personal safety and dignity (they’ve been called “bathroom bills”) at the very same moment you are celebrating heterosexual families (at least the ones in the articles today) who find “fun” ways to announce (declare) the sex of their in-utero baby.

This kind of cis-privilege is hurtful to those of us who grew up trans or gender nonconforming or otherwise queer. It celebrates the very moment when parents declare to the world the sets of expectations they intend to put on their child–and the sets of expectations they condone the world using as well–until that child is old enough or brave enough or strong enough (or, might I remind you, not-dead enough) to make a self-crafted declaration about gender.

I might also remind you that many people who study and teach this stuff (people like me) find an important difference between the terms “sex” and “gender”.  While the assumptions we make regarding “sex” are flawed enough (“sex” intends to refer to biological condition, which is never as clear or as neat as we like to pretend), it’s extremely myopic to assume you can assess someone’s gender by knowing what sex they were assigned at birth (“gender” is used to refer to “the significance a sexed body assumes” in culture, according to scholar Judith Butler–essentially, it refers to the expression of a sex in the world, but doesn’t have to correspond to the assigned “sex”).  This disjunction between sex-assigned-at-birth and lived gender (whether or not it is publicly expressed) can be the source of so much pain and suffering and difficulty for folks when they are not supported by family and community.  Why are you celebrating parents-to-be who seem to be declaring that they aren’t able or willing to make an effort to support or understand their own kids?

I should also point out that the disjunction between one’s assigned-at-birth sex and one’s lived gender can also be the source of much joy, love, creativity and political motivation… especially when someone is supported in their efforts and thinking.

I was raised the child of two language teachers. English grammar was sutured into my bones from a young age. If I, at middle age, can adopt “they” as a personal, singular pronoun out of respect for a person’s desire to define the way in which they might be referenced in language, certainly the Huffington Post can get with the program to (1) learn the difference between sex and gender and (2) stop celebrating what is often felt as a misgendering at the least, and very often an act of insensitivity or hostility towards gender non-conforming and non-heteronormative folk of all sorts.

When the couple filled cupcakes with blue icing in order to announce that they were expecting a boy, they were announcing their expectations for that child before that child was even in the world. “Expecting” is right.

Also, as a little aside from me to you: before WWI, the meanings of the colors pink and blue were reversed from what we assign them now: pink was for boys, because it was a version of red, which is considered a “stronger” color than blue (which, in its softness, was assigned to girls).  So the only thing those cupcakes could mean reliably is… sweetness.

Oops. Sorry, cupcake parents. If it’s a boy, he won’t be sweet. He will be really masculine and tough and intelligent and a thinker not a feeler. That crap is for girls. You shouldn’t have filled that cupcake with blue icing, you should have filled it with snails and puppy dog tails and the tears of a thousand conquered enemies. And a much higher salary.

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Soft! What Lies Through Yonder Window Break?

Ok, so I’m effing with Shakespeare, but I feel I’m justified.

The Huffington Post online Twitter recently tweeted (twat? twoted? twore?) a link to an article about a man who was ejected from his seat on an airplane because he was too fat and the person next to him was uncomfortable.

I have never heard of this happening to a very tall person whose knees were digging into the back of the person in front of him. I have never seen the airline refuse to allow a person who uses a wheelchair to use a wheelchair to get onto the plane.

Furthermore, the tweeted reactions to this story were also incredibly fat-phobic and blaming.  Cf, the bile below:

@DonnaforValues wrote: “Pushing 400 pounds, that is a disgrace to allow himself to become that size, how could people around him be comfortable??”

@JDrewCampbell simply tweeted “Good”

I can’t even bring myself to quote any more of this stupidity, though there was certainly plenty of it.

One person tweeted that the man should have bought two seats.  Imagine saying this about a person of color whose ethnicity made the bigot next to her uncomfortable: “Hey, lady, sorry that guy called you a racist slur and said that you smell weird and refused to sit next to you, but what you should do is pay DOUBLE what everyone else paid for a ticket so you can have the row to yourself and the racist asshat won’t have to sit next to you, and therefore won’t make such a fuss.  Everybody’s happy!”

I’ve scrunched uncomfortably in on myself because the drunk dude next to me hogged the armrest and talked loudly to his companion about crap that burned my ears with its ugliness. I’ve sat in front of a child who threw a screaming fit and kicked my seat for 2 hours because he was scared or his ears hurt or something (kid, I totally empathize). I even sat on a plane in which FIVE ROWS of passengers (me included) were disallowed eating peanuts because someone in one of the rows was highly allergic to peanuts.

Let me emphasize this: I was denied my right to free airline peanuts because somebody near me was allergic to them.

There are so many points I’d like to make in response to the gross, hateful ugliness that people felt free to post in response to the story of a Fat Man, but I’ll limit myself to two here:

You believe your bigotry is acceptable because (a) it is against a fat person and not a worthy thin person who “can’t help” being Black or a little kid who “can’t help” being scared and (b) your bigotry is socially condoned.

Regarding (a): American culture assumes a kind of moral failing in the fat person that few (outside of certain American religions regarding “sons of Ham” and religious AND non-religious misogyny/homophobia) allow regarding other aspects of identity. Not only do we assume that a fat person has no self-control and believe we fully understand the reasons for that person’s body’s shape, but we assume a kind of moral hierarchy (self-control = superior to gluttony, for instance, or thin=superior to fat).

Our logic, then, is flawed on several counts. It reminds me, too, of the hostile turn-of-the-previous-century cartoons depicting women in hoop skirts as space-hogging, aggressive, selfish witches, forcing men off the sidewalk to make way for their fashion apparatuses.

But it’s morally justified to hate fat people for taking up too much public space (or to hate women whose voices are too strident, or gays who insist on “flaunting” their sexuality in public (I had an advisor in PhD school who leveled this criticism at me when my wife hugged and kissed me after I passed my oral exams)). Meanwhile, I am a bad person if I don’t like the way peoples’ children take up physical, aural and psychic space in public (or the way they smugly look at me, waiting for me to exclaim how cute their kid is, when the kid says/does something precocious), or the way middle-class white suburbanites insist on having a baseball team’s worth of kids and then driving a gas-guzzling giant car to transport them all, or the way most bookstores allotted an entire aisle for wedding books long before marriage was legal for all of us.  Public space, in other words, is not really for the public—it’s for the anointed few. And those few get to be irritated with the rest of us for daring to use it (or pee in public restrooms, ahem).

Regarding (b): Though bigotry CERTAINLY still runs rampant (visit a Trump rally or a college class for proof) against identities marked by a certain ethnicity, social class, gender, sexuality, immigration status, or other factor assigned a “value” in our culture, few of these bigotries are socially-condoned on such a wide scale that DOCTORS feel safe in perpetrating it upon their patients (“your skin is so dark… have you tried bleaching it?” or “Your penis is so small, have you thought about an operation to make it bigger?” or “You’re kind of ugly… have you considered plastic surgery?”). It would not be acceptable for a newscaster to blatantly state how disgusting he finds a certain ethnicity (though I am certain it happens), or for a public US airline to force women to sit in a special section because they make the male passengers uncomfortable. It would not be acceptable for Jack Black and Gwyneth Paltrow to make a film mocking, say, paraplegic people and for Paltrow to then defend this choice in the press by saying, “But [being paraplegic is] unhealthy!”

Though as a disabled person, I’m often dismayed by how disabled bodies are used in film and advertising (or not shown at all), I would press to say that this kind of cultural hate is far less widely-condoned and accepted than is the hate and ignorance concerning bodies deemed too fat. If the kind of vitriol I saw in the comments of the HuffPost tweet were spat at a disability, a gender, a social class or even a sexuality, there would be public blowback, and the publishing entity probably would have responded now.

Look, it’s not a competition. Hate is hate, and it all is awful for the individual and group against which it’s leveled, and the culture that allows it. I don’t write this to compare depths of suffering, but simply to link this widely-accepted bigotry to other, less-accepted bigotry in order to make the point that it IS bigotry and it should be unacceptable.  Studies have shown unequivocally that fat people are more often denied jobs for which they are qualified than are skinny folk, and as a group earn less money than skinny people (short people earn less than tall folk, too). Fat people are more often denied competent, thorough healthcare, no matter their ability to pay. Fat people are rarely represented in advertising, film, television and the plastic arts except as the butt of a joke or as a bad example/warning or as a go-to metaphor for greed, selfishness or gluttony (hello, have you seen Wall-E?).

Imagine if we lived in a culture in which we routinely assumed all men of a certain ethnicity were more likely to be criminals or rapists. Imagine if we always assumed that poverty indicated a personal flaw. Imagine if everyone of a certain ethnicity was forced to shop at a special store that carried clothes for “non-whiteds,” and could not buy clothes at a mainstream store. Imagine if we assumed that women who get raped must have been “asking for it,” or that transwomen are men in dresses wanting to sneak into women’s bathrooms so that they can rape women. (Rape is horrifying when it’s transwomen raping (not ONE reported case, mind you), but totally fine when it’s cis-gendered frat boys or Catholic priests, apparently.) Imagine if we assumed that women are lesbians because they are man-haters or all gay men are confused and want to be women.

Wait. What? We do? Oh. Huh. I assume you think that’s pretty wrong. Then it should be really easy to understand the point I’m making here.

 

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