Archive for November, 2011

(un)Thanksgiving, Wu Tang, Knitting a Vest, What My Last Name Actually Is, and a Call for Suggestions: The Stephen Ira Story, a Hallmark Film

I was going to make a post on Thanksgiving about colonialism and genocide, but I completely forgot that I was going to be with my family and you know, I wanted to talk to them and spend time with them, because I happen to very much like them.  And now I’m immersed in academic work–I’m doing a biographical study of Alan L. Hart, a trans man who lived and worked in medicine in early 20th century Oregon–and so any (un)Thanksgiving post I made would be hopelessly untimely.

So instead of writing you that post, I am listening to the Wu Tang Clan and knitting a vest so that I don’t explode from stress while reading different texts about gender variance in the 19th and early 20th century Pacific Northwest and writing a thirty page piece on trans identity, gender, and embodiment in the life of Alan Hart and working full days as a tour guide for part of the week! I feel like this fox.

You can expect radio silence for a little while, but my SLCSpeaks column will be up on Friday as usual.  I’ll post a link when it comes out, both on twitter and here.  And who knows, if I have some free time I may write a post–probably one about history, because I’m thinking so much about Hart and how his life is historicized, often with his trans identity being erased in the process.

In the meantime, though, I really want your suggestions.  You’ve come here to read my blog and you like what I’ve got to offer, but I want to know what specific subjects you’d like me to talk about!  Because now that I have a more substantial reader base (thanks, shlock journalism!), I’d like to know what you guys are thinking about w/r/t social justice.

And one brief public service announcement.  My name isn’t Stephen Ira Beatty.  It’s just Stephen Ira.  I get the confusion, because it’s different from that of my parents or siblings, but that’s my name!  If you’re a news outlet, please stop calling me Stephen Ira Beatty!  If you would like to call me by three names, my middle name is Elliot!

 

Take care, everybody.  Fight evil; queer beauty.

Someone’s There For You

A few of my friends have a project that I thought I should share with you guys.

Someone’s There For You is a blog people submit to with a photo of themselves.  In the photo, they’re holding up a sign.  That sign has the message they most want to share with the world.  Here are some examples–these guys run the site at the moment (there used to be another manager, but right now she’s on a break studying abroad in Cuba) and it’s the brainchild of that handsome fellow on the right, Zac.  Most of the professional looking photography is done by Anna, the lovely lady on the left.

Go over there and check it out!  I’m on there a couple of times.  You totally should be too. Submit submit submit!  Say what you have to say to the world!

Transgender Day of Remembrance: Violence, Distance, and Memory

It’s Transgender Day of Remembrance.  I’m up very late–it’s 3 AM here–because I was drafting a post about what this day means, it got away from me, and then suddenly it was 3 AM.

There’s a reason today is specifically a day of remembrance.  U. Utah Phillips, the great singer and labor organizer, once said that the long memory was the most radical idea.  Oppression wants us to forget.  It’s an incredible force that way–expending all that energy to affect us, then trying to make us believe our world was always this way.  For me, the long memory is the best way to believe another world is possible.

Last year on November 20th, I didn’t take the train into New York City for the annual vigil.  I shared an AE Housman poem about death and fighting with some of my friends, I thought a lot about hatred, fear, and death, and that night I had a dinner party.  It wasn’t intentionally on the Day of Remembrance; it just happened that way–my partner and I had been wanting to have one and that was the date all our friends were available.

So I spent the evening with them, eating homemade gnocchi and then later various baked deserts.  I remember watching one young woman making muffins, whom I now don’t feel safe speaking to–a while back she used a transphobic slur to describe a mutual acquaintance of ours. I remember my partner worrying about the oven, trying to make sure the gnocchi wouldn’t go gummy, gesturing as he talked to our guests, garlic butter all over his hands. Life seemed so solid and warm.  We were playing Benny Goodman.  My partner and I danced; some other people danced.  Even though it was Transgender Day of Remembrance, and I’d been thinking all day about violence and hatred, they seemed like ideas for the moment, and very abstract, far away ones.

A guy who would later go on to be one of the most impressive cis allies I’ve ever met was there, pouring wine for everyone.  I think he was talking about politics, but I do remember him complaining that there was no good vegetarian Worcestershire sauce.  Another couple of people were singing mashups of the Cure and Dr. Horrible’s Sing-a-Long Blog.  Most of our guests were people I loved and valued deeply, and all of them I at least liked, but it was November 20th, and I spent the evening with it humming in the back of my head that there are people in the world who think that I am not a person.

It is equally true, though, that there are people in the world who see that I am a person and feel that I must be stopped from being a person.  That’s how I described murder at the vigil I hosted this year on one of the lawns at Sarah Lawrence, my college, where I’m one of the leaders of an activist organization called Trans Action.  It seems like a good working definition for murder: murder is when you see someone being a person, and you decide they should not be a person anymore.

Our vigil happened on Friday, to be clear–all week we were having a series of trans related programming as part of an annual college event called Genderfuck Symposium.  Any trans related programming during the week is highly visible, so we decided to hold our vigil on Friday to raise awareness more effectively.  Powerful a group of silent, thinking people holding candles can be, I didn’t want our college’s vigil to be just a gathering of people being sad together, although such gatherings can be beautiful and important.  (I’ve certainly needed them quite a few time in my life so far.)  I wanted it to be a venue for emotional release, discussion, and growth. To that end, I asked some musician friends of mine to perform, and several student poets were to read their work.

We lit our candles and arranged ourselves in a horseshoe formation on the lawn.  From the dorm building on our right, an anonymous voice shouted, “IT’S A FUCKING CAROUSEL!”  Presumably in reference to the fact that we were lit up and sort of in a circle. There was a moment in which we all tried to compose a response to this disrespect, and then one of us (a braver person than me) yelled back, “It’s the Transgender Day of Remembrance, you asshole!”

The band we’d gotten together performed a song, Ain’t No Grave, and I thought about what it means to yell back at someone by naming what you are and how they have disrespected it.

My co-chairman, Kevyn, read a poem in which he talked about the wrong name being engraved on Brandon Teena’s gravestone, which Kevyn had visited in Nebraska.  I thought about the enormous truck that had honked at my partner and I walking down the street in Yonkers last week, its driver shouting slurs.  I thought about yelling back at the truck driver, about going to Nebraska and engraving Brandon Teena’s real name over the lie cis people have put there to make themselves feel more comfortable.

After the vigil itself, we adjourned to our usual meeting space and talked about violence.  What’s violence?  Is violence only physical?  Is it violent to call someone a slur, or to mispronoun them, or to force them to use the wrong bathroom?  Since those acts support a culture of violence against trans people, are they themselves violent?

This Transgender Day of Remembrance, I challenge you not to do what I did last year–don’t think of transphobic violence as something far away and strange, even if you are in a room full of good people, eating gnocchi and listening to Benny Goodman.  It is not far away and it is certainly not abstract, although it may be complex.  It is something happening in all our lives, right now, because all of us deal with cissexism and transphobia in some form.  Some of us are treated badly because we’re trans and have to decide on the best response.  Some of us are cis, hear a joke about trannies on TV, and have to decide whether or not we should laugh along.

Be present in your life and in all your actions, and remember that oppression takes root in the most basic human interactions–stories, shouts, laughs, dinner parties.  When you see violence, I encourage you to yell back. Yell kindly, yell tactfully, yell in a nuanced manner–but yell.

All the November 20ths I’ve spent in the almost six years since I’ve been out as trans have been quiet, sad, private affairs.  I haven’t lost a friend to murder, but I have lost friends to suicide.  I think often of what messages the world was sending them about their personhood as transgender people, and whether they would have made the choice they did if we lived in a different kind of world.

Below is the poem I shared with people last November.  It’s still relevant, I think.  Everyone take care.  If you’re planning on going to tonight’s NYC vigil, I may be there if the nasty cough I’ve been having calms down, and if you see me you’re welcome to say hi.  I’ll try to stay cheerful and make a better world if you do.

 

 

II

As I gird on for fighting

My sword upon my thigh,

I think on old ill fortunes

Of better men than I.

 

Think I, the round world over,

What golden lads are low

With hurts not mine to mourn for

And shames I shall not know.

 

What evil luck soever

For me remains in store,

‘Tis sure much finer fellows

Have fared much worse before.

 

So here are things to think on

That ought to make me brave,

As I strap on for fighting

My sword that will not save.

 

by AE Housman, from Last Poems

Who I am, what I do, what I don’t, and what you can expect to find here.

Some information has come out about me; I always knew if would, if I tried to do activist work.  I’ve considered seriously what I should say, if anything, and ultimately I’ve decided to acknowledge what has happened, both recently and in the summer of 2010, when I was forcibly outed as trans by the National Enquirer.  (The Daily Mail followed up by outing me as gay.)

My parents are two people who are well known because they are very good at making art.  Their names are Warren Beatty and Annette Bening.  I’m proud to be their son.  There’s a reason my blog didn’t initially have my full name on it: I knew at least a few rags would pick it up and try to make my political views into a sensationalistic story.  I figured it wouldn’t be the end of the world if they did–I’m proud of my politics and of the writing I’ve done on this blog–but not my favorite thing either.  And of course it’s happened, and I’m not so much surprised as irritated, but I’d like to take the opportunity to say something.

I did not want to come out to the media.  I figured that information was private, and honestly, probably not very interesting.  After all, I’ve never sought fame or done anything interesting enough to warrant fame.  My parents have.  I haven’t done anything fameworthy, unless you count being born in a certain context.

I have had my privacy invaded and deeply personal information about me broadcast.  And nothing about the situation has to do with me.  It has to do with a cis supremacist society, one in which trans people do not have the right to privacy or basic human courtesy with respect to our lives or our bodies.  The world does not have the right to know whether I am on testosterone, whether I intend to have various different surgical procedures, or anything else about my body.  The fact that my body is a trans body does not make it public property or a matter of public knowledge.  The fact that my life is the life of a trans person does not make it a matter of public knowledge.

I am not a “she-man” or a “he-she.”  “She-man” and “he-she” are oppressive slurs, like “faggot.”  If you are reading journalism that refers to me with slurs, and it’s brought you here to my blog, I encourage you to question what you’ve read previously.  Similarly, if you’ve been reading journalism that discusses my private life, question why this is being reported on, why I am being treated like a laboratory specimen and not a person.  These ways of talking about transgender people enforce violent narratives.  They help to produce a culture that is not safe for transgender people, and we do not deserve that.  We, like everyone else, deserve to be safe.

I choose to continue the work I’ve been doing on this blog: talking about trans issues, queer issues generally, and my efforts to be an ally to those who don’t share my oppressions (i.e. disabled people, people of color, women, and more).   If you’ve come here looking for Hollywood gossip or some sort of “feud,” I’m not who you’re looking for. I am a poetry and anthropology student at a liberal arts college, man.  I sit in my room, read, drink tea, knit, and think about social justice politics.

If you’d like to read about oppression and difference in the world–mostly queer politics, with a focus on trans folks, but also race, disability, class, and women’s issues–then you’re in the right place.  I’m a young guy who is at the beginning of a lifelong learning process.  I have a lot of privilege to check and dismantle; I’d appreciate if you’d help me do that if you see me saying something fucked up.

One of the most important tools I’ve found to fight oppression with is art, especially poetry, so you may find talk about contemporary poetry on my blog every so often.  (For example, a queer female poet of color just won the National Book Award!)  I’ve had some of my work published.  If you’re curious about my work as a writer, there’s some information on my About page.

I don’t want a free pass into the world of activist writing and thinking just because my parents happen to be well known, so don’t stick around for that!  Stick around if you’ve read a couple of my posts, think you like my politics, and are interested in what I’ve got to say.  If you’re new to the world of social justice oriented writing, I assure you there are lots of much better social justice bloggers out there than me.  I’ve just linked to two of my favorites, Monica Roberts and Julia Serano.  You should go read them right now.

If you’ve come here looking for some basic education about trans issues, that’s fabulous.  Check out this Trans 101 post by Asher Bauer!  If you’re confused about terminology, you can check out these columns I wrote a while ago on the subject–one of them is a glossary of basic terms.  I can’t promise they’re ideal, but they’ll give you some basis and background.

For reference, I have the WordPress’s comment moderation on.  If your comment contains any cissexist or transphobic language, it won’t be posted.  If your comment is a request for education on trans issues, I’ll post it, but I can’t promise to answer you personally!  Sorry. Hopefully one of the links I just posted can help you out, or someone else in the comments will give you a hand.  I’m a full time student, I have a part time job, and I run a student activist organization.  It makes for very limited free time.

So, that’s about the shape of it:  If you’re here for the activism, pull up a chair.  If you’re here for some other reason, you’re probably going to be disappointed.

Take care!

With regard to Chaz Bono

I noticed that my post about him was getting some attention, and I’d like it known: I bear the guy no ill will. I just don’t want anyone thinking that he’s qualified to offer Trans 101, you know?

He’s in a difficult position and he’s chosen to deal with it in a certain way. I disagree with the way he’s dealing with it. I think he’s got serious issues with women, and I think he’s needlessly prescriptive in the way he chooses to talk about trans identity.

But Chaz already gets so much shit, and you know what? Just a couple of years after I came out, I was saying prescriptivist misogynistic nonsense too. I read a lot, I learned a lot, I spent time living as a trans guy in the world, and I came out the other side of that worldview. I didn’t have a huge amount of fame or exposure when I came out, though, the way Chaz did, and didn’t feel obligated to make myself a spokesman.

I’m not “infuriated,” or trying to start something, or any of that. Don’t put that on me. I am just a guy who tries to point out fucked up things in an effort to make the world better!

I would be more than happy to sit down with Chaz, have a drink, and talk with him about how he can think and talk about gender in a way that’s more inclusive. He seems like an all right guy, his questionable views aside.

And from what I’ve seen, he’s really remarkably good at the cha cha.



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