By Guest Contributor Samantha Allen, cross-posted from The Border House
[Trigger Warning: Discussion of transphobic joke, real-life experiences of transphobia.]
Like many graduate students, I was still finishing up last week’s work at 6 PM on a Saturday. I put on Spike TV’s annual Video Game Awards (re-branded this year as VGX) to have some background noise while I put the finishing touches on a paper.
I expected the usual: some Michael Bay-esque graphics packages, some puerile pandering to their core demographic of adolescent boys, some Mountain Dew, some Doritos, some trailers. I can stomach that, even laugh at it. Less than five minutes into the program, however, co-host Joel McHale jokingly put the rumors to rest that Wario had “undergone sex reassignment surgery.”
If you’re reading this, you might know that a joke like that is politically ill-advised. It violates the comedic wisdom that one should punch up rather than punch down. It not only repeats the exoticizing focus on transgender people’s genitals, it also casts transgender identity itself as something scandalous and laughable.
What you might not know is what it feels like to hear a joke like this, what it’s like to be triggered. To that end, let me tell you a story about a period of my life that I don’t often discuss. Seven years ago (prior to my transition), I was still in a place where I could only present female occasionally. I hadn’t yet had the earth-shattering realization that I needed to transition but I still needed space to explore crucial aspects of my identity. I was fortunate enough to be dating someone who supported me in that endeavor.
We were in New York one night while I was presenting female. The night was warm, the sky was clear; we decided to be tacky tourists and go to the top of the Empire State Building. In line, some boys approached us and tried to talk to us. At the time—without the benefits and, indeed, the privileges of experience and hormones that I have now—my appearance did not hold up under close scrutiny and they “read” me, they recognized that I was not cisgender.
They laughed and laughed and laughed. They howled. They followed us all the way through the line and into the elevator where the laughter continued in our faces. My very existence was hilarious to them. The fact that there was a human underneath the sloppy eye makeup and the tattered dress either did not occur to them or, worse, it didn’t matter to them. I realized for the first time that night that, were I to transition, I would be a living, walking joke. It’s experiences like this that keep people from transitioning for years.
When I hear a trans joke in a venue as public as a nationally broadcast television show, I’m instantly back in that elevator. I’m no longer the confident woman that I’ve become over the last couple of years; I’m a scared little girl cowering in the corner, reeling from the ridicule, wondering if they’ll follow me all the way home.
Spike, do you realize what you do to people outside your target demographic when they try to engage with your work? If you realized, would you still do it? Do I want to know the answer to that question?
I could write you an angry polemic about video game culture right now. I could undertake educational efforts to help video game commentators understand transgender identity. I’ve done that. I keep doing it and nothing happens. Nothing changes. There’s always another gaffe, another joke, another game.
So tonight, Geoff Keighley, producers, journalists, if this note manages to make it to your desk, all I’m asking is that you stop. Please stop. Please stop.
Update: Immediately after this article went live, Joel McHale introduced a reader comment by saying, “He, she or he-she says …”
It took a man like Madiba to free not just the prisoner, but the jailer as well — (applause) — to show that you must trust others so that they may trust you; to teach that reconciliation is not a matter of ignoring a cruel past, but a means of confronting it with inclusion and generosity and truth. He changed laws, but he also changed hearts.
For the people of South Africa, for those he inspired around the globe, Madiba’s passing is rightly a time of mourning, and a time to celebrate a heroic life. But I believe it should also prompt in each of us a time for self-reflection. With honesty, regardless of our station or our circumstance, we must ask: How well have I applied his lessons in my own life? It’s a question I ask myself, as a man and as a President.
We know that, like South Africa, the United States had to overcome centuries of racial subjugation. As was true here, it took sacrifice — the sacrifice of countless people, known and unknown, to see the dawn of a new day. Michelle and I are beneficiaries of that struggle. But in America, and in South Africa, and in countries all around the globe, we cannot allow our progress to cloud the fact that our work is not yet done.
The struggles that follow the victory of formal equality or universal franchise may not be as filled with drama and moral clarity as those that came before, but they are no less important. For around the world today, we still see children suffering from hunger and disease. We still see run-down schools. We still see young people without prospects for the future. Around the world today, men and women are still imprisoned for their political beliefs, and are still persecuted for what they look like, and how they worship, and who they love. That is happening today.
And so we, too, must act on behalf of justice. We, too, must act on behalf of peace. There are too many people who happily embrace Madiba’s legacy of racial reconciliation, but passionately resist even modest reforms that would challenge chronic poverty and growing inequality. There are too many leaders who claim solidarity with Madiba’s struggle for freedom, but do not tolerate dissent from their own people. And there are too many of us on the sidelines, comfortable in complacency or cynicism when our voices must be heard.
- Full transcript available here
Section 377 which terms same-sex a criminal offence is often used to harass the gay community—in the process making them vulnerable to HIV/AIDS
The Supreme Court on Wednesday declared gay sex illegal and said that Section 377 of Indian Penal Code (IPC), which terms same-sex relationship as an offence, is a valid constitutional provision. Overruling the 2009 Delhi High Court judgement which decriminalised gay sex, the Supreme Court suggested that appropriate changes can be made to section 377 by Parliament.
National Green Tribunal threatens contempt proceedings if pollution control panel fails to comply with orders in a week
The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has pulled up the Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC) for failing to carry out inspections to ascertain whether government bodies have installed rainwater harvesting systems in their premises and said that the tribunal will initiate contempt proceedings if the order is not complied with.
Three more corrections are planned during the satellite's journey to the orbit of Mars to prevent it from straying from trajectory
The Indian Space Research Organisation carried out the first trajectory correction manoeuvre (TCM) of its orbiter to Mars at 6.30 am Wednesday morning. The orbiter was catapulted towards Mars on December 1.
Three more corrections are planned during the satellite's journey to the orbit of Mars to prevent it from straying from trajectory
The Indian Space Research Organisation carried out the first trajectory correction manoeuvre (TCM) of its orbiter to Mars at 6.30 am Wednesday morning. The orbiter was catapulted towards Mars on December 1. The first course correction in the orbiter's journey has been carried out early to ensure that it does not stray too far from its predetermined path. A total of four corrections are planned in the orbiters' 300 day journey to the orbit of Mars http://www.downtoearth.org.in/content/ma
Only 143 persons have been convicted till date under PC&PNDT Act that bans sex determination test
While the child sex ratio in the country is dipping, not much seems to have been done to check sex determination tests and selective abortions. Data for the whole country shows only 143 people have been punished for conducting sex determination tests since the enactment of the Pre-conception and Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques (PC&PNDT) Act in 1996. This number was disclosed by Union health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad in a written reply submitted to Rajya Sabha on Tuesday.
Experts believe with implementation of the plan, India's health care would largely depend on the private sector
A report released by the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII) on Monday recommended that a model which allows public sector to deliver services like antenatal care and immunization and private insurance to cater to emergency and curative services will be effective in implementation of universal health coverage.
By Guest Contributor Lisa Wade, PhD; originally published at Sociological Images
Sociologists observe that cultures are centered around some people and not others such that members of some groups just seem like people and others are perceived as deviations from that presumed norm.
Names are part of how we divide the world into the normals and the deviants. Illustrating this, the sketch comedy duo Key and Peele are super creative in this 3 minute skit. They reverse the white-teacher-goes-into-the-inner-city trope and put a non-white teacher into a suburban school. As he calls roll, the skit center HIS reality instead of that of the white, middle class kids. He pronounces their names like stereotypically black names, confusing the heck out of the kids, and never considering the possibility that the names he’s familiar with isn’t how all names really are.
It’s not a safe skit — it potentially reinforces the conflation of non-white and urban and the stereotypes of inner city students and the names low-income black parents give their kids — but it does a great job of playing with what life might be like if we shifted the center of the world.
Counterpoint by Tamara Winfrey Harris, Racialicious editor
I have wrestled with the popularity of this Key & Peele skit for a while. And I’m afraid, for me, that it doesn’t pass the race bias smell test. The comedy here, while it may appear “edgy,” is really business as usual. The bit doesn’t “punch up,” instead the blow lands right smack where it always does: on black cultures and, particularly, the poor, working class and urban. I agree with friend of the R, Lisa Wade, when she says the skit uniquely centers the point of view of the black teacher and his idea of “normal.” Sadly, though, that decentering of whiteness is the joke. The audience is meant to laugh at a situation where creative pronunciations of common, European-derived names is acceptable. How absurd! It’s okay if this skit makes us laugh. But we need to recognize how and why it is problematic.
FYI, Key & Peele have a habit of going to the funny black name well.
Shadow & Act big ups the phenomenal work being done by black women documentarians. Out of 151 Academy Award-qualifying documentaries (admittedly a large pool), more than five were directed by black women, including Free Angela and All Political Prisoners by Shola Lynch and Valentine Road by Marta Cunningham. Jai Tigget writes, “…black documentary filmmakers – and black women in particular – are doing groundbreaking work that continues to be overlooked even within the doc and independent film space. The films listed above have been awarded and recognized widely on the film festival circuit, but many are still struggling to get mentioned on the shortlists that will push them towards serious Oscar consideration.”
Also included among the qualifying documentaries by black women, Yoruba Richen’s The New Black, about race, sexuality, and the black church.
From Muslimah Media Watch:
I wrote part of this piece when Dr Laury Silvers asked me for a few words she could read in her khutbah at El Tawhid Unity Mosque in Toronto. She wanted to open with words from a South African, and I am grateful to her and the congregation for the opportunity to express these words on the passing of our beloved Comrade, President, Tata Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, who returned to his creator on Thursday night, December 5 at the age of 95.
Tata (father), as we fondly call Nelson Mandela, represents so much to me, as a South African Muslim woman, as he does to all South Africans. His name is synonymous with struggle and sacrifice. His contributions to dismantling Apartheid in South Africa and his lifelong commitment to non-racialism and non-sexism has made my years growing up in South Africa an incredible experience. I still cannot fathom that he spent the total sum of my life (27 years) imprisoned!
I was born in one of the areas to which South African Indians had been forcibly relocated, at the tail end of Apartheid. Madiba’s rise to presidency, however, meant that I would no longer be confined to racially-segregated towns and limited options for education as my parents experienced.
Mandela taught us important lessons about the deeper meanings of peace and forgiveness but he was by no means a passive resistor against the indiscriminate violence of the Apartheid state, and nor was he without severe critics and opposition. Whilst I do not wish to sanitize or idolize the life of Nelson Mandela, neither is today a day to critique or analyse his policies and politics – it is a day to celebrate the immense goodness that one person brought to the world around him. What I do wish to highlight is that he overcame many of his own inner weaknesses (such as his rather tumultuous relationships with women) during the struggle years, and wrote openly about his development. He taught us to own up to our lives, our mistakes and our choices – and to walk for the ideals we profess to stand for.
Even after his rise to presidency in the new democratic South Africa, Madiba continued to show support and solidarity for global issues of social justice, especially HIV/AIDS, education for all
children, the occupation of Palestine, and of course, gender equality… all issues that still require our commitment and activism today.
(Left) Mandela with struggle activist Fatima Meer. [Source].
Madiba had a wonderful and open relationship with the Muslim community, and many of his closest friends during the struggle were Muslim. Figures like Ahmad Kathrada, Ismail Meer, Yusuf Dadoo, Fatima Meer, Rahima Moosa and Amina Cachalia are household names in South Africa and represent some of the key stalwarts in the anti-apartheid movement, many of whom were close confidantes and intimates of Nelson Mandela, and some of whom spent decades in prison with him. Read more…
71 per cent of those with dementia will be in lower and middle-income countries by 2050, says report
A report predicting a shift in the global burden of dementia from rich countries to the poor countries precedes a G8 summit called to discuss the rising health problem. The United Kingdom is hosting the G8 summit on dementia in London on December 11. The meet aims to develop a co-ordinated global action on dementia.