“ATTENTION: PLEASE refrain from using anti-semitic language when expressing support for Palestine and Palestinians. It is ABSOLUTELY unacceptable and I will call you out on it. The Palestinian cause invites ALL who stand for justice and equality and all who want to be on the right side of history including American Jews. They have been some of our closest and most loyal allies and the last thing we need is to alienate people by using the same tactics and hateful rhetoric that is used against us. Let’s learn from history. Stay focused, stay principled – your cause is pure, your cause is just. No need to contaminate it with misguided hate.”
Whipping Girl is an outstanding book on transsexual women, feminism and trans-misogyny. Serano draws well thought-out lines from general societal misogyny to the hatred and fear of gay men, feminine men, and trans women. She blows up a lot of tired paradigms of sex, gender, gender presentation, gender identity and all that stuff. M
y main complaint is that she confuses two different definitions of class, one that refers to social/economic differentiation (as in “working class”, “upper class”, etc) and one that refers to a category or group of something (like in “class action lawsuit”). Through this confusion she mostly avoids conversation about the intersections of trans identity and class status, shielding and invisibilizing her own class privilege. The same thing happens with race- Serano is almost completely silent on how race intersects with trans identities. Once again she covers up her own privilege when in fact nearly every facet of life in the racialized US is affected by racial identity, including trans identity.
Critiques aside, there is still much to be gained from the book. I found the following quotes quite illuminating:
“[M]ost of the anti-trans sentiment that I have had to deal with as a transsexual woman is probably better described as misogyny.” pg.3
“From my own experience in having transitioned from one sex to the other, I have found that women and men are not separated by an insurmountable chasm, as many people seem to believe. Actually, most of us are only a hormone prescription away from being perceived as the “opposite” sex. Personally, I welcome this idea as a testament to just how little difference there really is between women and men. To believe that a woman is a woman because of her sex chromosomes, reproductive organs, or socialization denies the reality that every single day, we classify each person we see as either female or male based on a small number of visual cues and a ton of assumption.” pgs.51-52
“The fact that we perceive two major categories of gender enables us to view women and men as “opposites”—a premise that is founded on a series of egregiously incorrect assumptions. [I]n order for the two sexes to be “opposites,” they must first be mutually exclusive. Therefore, on a societal level, we purposefully ignore that variation that exists in sex characteristics and create the illusion that there is absolutely no overlap between the sexes.” pgs.102-103
“Cissexuals may want to believe that their genders are more authentic than mine, but that belief is dishonest and ignorant… [T]he major difference between my life history as a woman and theirs is that I have had to fight for my right to be recognized as female, while they have had the privilege of simply taking it for granted.” pg.169-170
“Not surprisingly, no aspect of my social transition has been more difficult for me to adjust to than the way I am treated by some (but certainly not all) men… On an intellectual level, I knew that I would sometimes be dismissed or harassed once I started living as female, but I underestimated just how frustrating and hurtful each one of those instances would be. Words cannot express how condescending and infuriating it feels to have men speak down to me, talk over me, and sometimes even practically put on baby-talk voices when addressing me. Or how intimidating it feels to have strangers make lewd comments about having their way with me as I’m walking alone at night… [W]hile I had numerous run-ins and arguments with strange men back when I was male-bodied, I’d never before experienced the enraged venom in their voices and fury in their faces that I somtimes do now—an extreme wrath that some men seem to reserve specifically for women who they believe threaten their fragile male egos.” pg.223
“[T]hose who patrol the gates of women-only spaces are often dead set on discriminating against me, driven by the ridiculous belief that my girly little estrogenized penis is somehow still pulsating with hypermasculine energy.” pg.229
I finally read this 1984 classic by bell hooks. A fundamental text on intersectional feminism, stating clearly why race and gender cannot be divided into separate spheres of concern.
I was struck by some particular passages:
“White women and black men have it both ways. They can act as oppressor or be oppressed. Black men may be victimized by racism, but sexism allows them to act as exploiters and oppressors of women. White women may be victimized by sexism, but racism enables them to act as exploiters and oppressors of black people. Both groups have led liberation movements that favor their interests and support the continued oppression of other groups. Black male sexism has undermined struggles to eradicate racism just as white female racism undermines feminist struggle. As long as these two groups or any group defines liberation as gaining social equality with ruling class white men, they have a vested interest in the continued exploitation and oppression of others.” pg.15
“Women must begin the work of feminist reorganization with the understanding that we have all (irrespective of our race, sex, or class) acted in complicity with the existing oppressive system. We all need to make a conscious break with the system. The compassion we extend to ourselves, the recognition that our change in consciousness and action has been a process, must characterize our approach to those individuals who are politically unconscious.” pgs.161-162
Everybody should probably go and get a copy of this book right now. The long title is Normal Life – Administrative Violence, Critical Trans Politics, and the Limits of Law. Spade criticizes mainstream gay politics and suggests a more radical, less marginalizing politics that centers poor trans people of color. The book is amazing.
“Lesbian and gay organizations have also generally followed a model of governance and efficacy based on private sector norms rather than social justice values. The most well-funded organizations have pay scales similar to the private sector, with executive directors often making three to four times the salaries of the lowest paid employees. Pay often correlates to educational privilege, which again means that the greatest share of resources goes to white employees from privileged backgrounds while the least goes to employees of color and people without educational privilege.” pg.67
“Trans populations are disproportionately poor because of employment discrimination, family rejection, and difficulty accessing school, medical care, and social services. These factors increase our rate of participation in criminalized work to survive, which, combined with police profiling, produces high levels of criminalization.” pg.89
“Three concerns about law reform projects permeate many sites of resistance. First, these projects change only what the law says about what a system is doing, but not its actual impact. Second, they refine a system in ways that help it continue to target the most vulnerable people, while only partially or temporarily removing a few of the less vulnerable from its path. And finally, law reform projects often provide rationales and justifications for the expansion of harmful systems.” pg.92
“The myth of legal equality in the United States is supported by the narrative that US laws used to exclude people on the basis of race and gender but now they do not. Supposedly, all is now fair and equal. However, our nation itself was built by the establishment of population-level systems of property and labor regulation that created and utilized racial and gender categories from the beginning. The population-level programs that were mobilized from their inception by explicit race and gender exclusions continue to do the work of distributing security and vulnerability along race and gender lines, just under the auspices of race and gender neutral criteria.” pgs.116-117
“[L]egal inclusion and recognition demands often reinforce the logics of harmful systems by justifying them, contributing to their illusions of fairness and equality, and by reinforcing the targeting of certain perceived “drains” or “internal enemies,” carving the group into “the deserving” and “the undeserving” and then addressing only the issues of the favored sector.” pg.124
“For those who have long articulated opposition to state incentivization and reward for heteropatriarchial sexuality and family structures and punishment for others, the idea that lesbian and gay people should seek marriage recognition rather than aim to abolish marriage and achieve more just methods of distribution is…problematic.” pg.126
“[O]ne might observe that the lesbian and gay rights agenda primarily operates to restore privileges of the dominant systems of meaning and control to those gender-conforming, white, wealthy gay and lesbian US citizens who are enraged at how homophobic laws and policies limit access to benefits to which they feel entitled.” pg.60
“We must not only refuse reforms that require dividing and leaving behind more vulnerable trans populations, but also try to assume that the most easily digestible invitations to be included are the very ones that bring us into greater collusion with systemic control and violence.” pgs.161-162
“[T]he legalistic approach of [law reform projects] has been linked to concerns about an unjust distribution of power and leadership, especially when the work is funded and directed largely by white, upper-class professionals who inevitably create an agenda that centralizes the concerns and experiences of people like themselves.” pg.172
“[A] challenging dynamic has emerged: social welfare has increasingly become dependent on private businesses and foundations. Corporate funders have become the sponsors and benefactors of social services… The situation translates into overreliance by many organizations on income from corporations and accumulated wealth stored in foundations.” pg.173
“Nonprofits serving primarily poor and disproportionately people of color populations are frequently governed almost entirely by wealthy white people with college and graduate degrees. Staffing follows this pattern as well, with most nonprofits requiring formal education as a prerequisite to working in administrative or management-level positions. Thus, the nature of the infrastructure in many social justice nonprofits often leads to concentrated decision-making power and pay in the hands of people with education, race, gender and class privilege rather than in the hands of those bearing the brunt of the systems of maldistribution… “This dynamic leads to the reproduction of the very same systems of maldistribution that organizations are purportedly targeting. Inside those organizations, white elites determine the fates of the vulnerable and get paid to make decisions about their lives while people directly impacted are kept out of leadership.” pgs.176-177
“Nonprofits are one way that wealthy people and corporations avoid tax liability. Most of the money that gets redirected out of the tax system by philanthropy does not go to social justice.” pg.179
Not to be confused with the book of the same title by Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky, I recently read the Manufacturing Consent by Michael Burawoy. Burawoy spent time working in a machine shop in the 70s in the Midwest, and wrote about his experiences, connecting them to larger historical and social movements.
“Managers…must be aware of the consequences of enforcing restrictive rules—in particular, their inevitable demise. Why then do they persist in this apparently futile efforts? A possible explanation is that the cyclical intensification of “obsolete” rules constitutes a ritual affirmation of managerial domination.” pg.175
“Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?” is the title of a book by Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum. In it she discusses the development of racial identity, focusing predominantly on childhood. I’ve noticed some discussion on the internet of this topic lately, particularly this article by Brittney Cooper, in which she discusses how growing racial identity caused social separation between herself and her black peers vis à vis her white peers.
Here are my favorite quotes from the book:
“The task of resisting our own oppression does not relieve us of the responsibility of acknowledging our complicity in the oppression of others.” pg.27
“We need to understand that in racially mixed social settings, racial grouping is a developmental process in response to an environmental stressor, racism. Joining with one’s peers for support in the face of stress is a positive coping strategy.” pg.62
“The social pressure from friends and acquaintances to collude, to not notice racism, can be quite powerful.” pg.101
I just finished reading Deep Secrets: Boys’ Friendships & the Crisis of Connection by Niobe Way. Way is a Psychology professor and performed her own research to create this book- a study of boys and their friendships, and how the pressures of “being a man” create loss as the boys grow up and feel they can no longer be emotionally intimate with other males. Recommended!
“The gender divide — where girls don’t think and boys don’t feel — the virtual “DNA of the patriarchy” does not capture how boys actually experience their worlds.” Pg.263
“The very social and emotional capacities, needs, and desires that are associated with being female and gay are not only the very same skills that are at the foundation of our survival as individuals and as a species; they are also capacities, needs, and desires that boys themselves have and are explicit about if one is willing to listen.” Pg.265
“Friendships as well as our emotional and social intelligence are central to our emotional, cognitive, and physical well-being. Yet we continue to ignore the evidence and blame female teachers, mothers, fathers, and the “feminized” school curriculum for boys’ problems. We fail to see that they stem from our idealization of a stereotypic version of manhood…” Pg.268
“Just as our masculine stereotypes rest on constructs of autonomy and stoicism, so does our definition of maturity — revealing, of course, the patriarchy at work, with manhood meaning the same thing as adulthood.” Pg.268
“The opposite of patriarchy is not a fictional matriarchy where emotions rule and thinking is passé. It is a thick democracy where thinking, feeling, learning, and having a range of different types of relationships are possible and encouraged for every “citizen.” ” Pg. 276-277
Tavis Smiley and Cornel West published a book called The Rich and the Rest of Us. I recently read this book, and here are my favorite quotes. I highly recommend this book as an excellent introduction into poverty issues and America’s class system.
” “There has been something crude and heartless and unfeeling in our haste to succeed and be great,” President Woodrow Wilson declared in 1913 at the beginning of the 20th century…”
“Poverty is 21st-century-style slavery; its eradication should serve as the battle cry of a new civil rights movement.”
“[A] condition of truth is to allow the suffering to speak.”
“Transsexual people are everywhere: in corporate board rooms; in prisons; in academia; on HIV wards in hospitals; on factory floors; preaching from pulpits; litigating in court rooms; working as nurses, artists, managers, research scientists, sex workers, software engineers, architects; sitting near you on an airplane or in the movie theater; and riding on the subway. We are in schools as students and as teachers or administrators. Some of us are very old, some are very young, most are everywhere in between. Some are attractive, beautiful, handsome; some are average; some are unattractive; we are all human beings.” Pg.214
“[S]traight people don’t organize around their sexuality unless they’re intent on separating themselves and protecting themselves from anyone different from themselves.” Pg.157
I recently read Anarcho-Syndicalism, Theory and Practice by Rudolf Rocker. I pulled out the take-away lessons, so now you don’t even need to read the book yourself!
“[In industrial democracies] the role of the public is to ratify decisions taken elsewhere, to adopt the doctrines prepared for them by their superiors, and in general to observe passively while performing their duty.” Pg.ii (Part of the introduction written by Noam Chomsky.)
“As long as within society a possessing and a non-possessing group of human beings face one another in enmity, the state will be indispensable to the possessing minority for the protection of its privileges.” Pg.11
“The urge for social justice can only develop properly and be effective, when it grows out of man’s sense of personal freedom and is based on that.” Pg.14
“[O]ne cannot at will hear with his eyes and see with his ears, so also one cannot at pleasure transform an organ of social oppression into an instrument for the liberation of the oppressed. The state can only be what it is: the defender of mass-exploitation and social privileges, the creator of privileged classes and castes and of new monopolies.” Pg.15
I just finished Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow. I can’t recommend it enough. For everyone. READ IT NOW!
Here are some quotes that struck me:
“One in three young African American men is currently under the control of the criminal justice system – in prison, in jail, on probation, or on parole – yet mass incarceration tends to be categorized as a criminal justice issue as opposed to a racial justice or civil rights issue (or crisis).” Pg.9
“What is key to America’s understanding of class is the persistent belief – despite all evidence to the contrary – that anyone, with the proper discipline and drive, can move from a lower class to a higher class.” Pg.13
The rest are here:
“Behind every great fortune is a crime.”
-Honore de Balzac, 1799-1850
I recently read Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America. I pulled out some interesting quotes that seem relevant to America’s current political situation.
Occupy Wall Street’s critique of the superrich and wealth inequality
“The picture of American society has, if I may so speak, a surface covering of democracy, beneath which the old aristocratic colors sometimes peep out.” Pg.47
“But beneath this artificial enthusiasm and these obsequious attentions to the preponderating power [the interests of the middle & working classes], it is easy to perceive that the rich have a a hearty dislike of the democratic institutions of their country.” Pg.187
Centralizing power and removing citizens’ rights
” “The will of the nation” is one of those phrases that have been most largely abused by the wily and the despotic of every age. Some have seen the expression of it in the purchased suffrages of a few of the satellites of power; others, in the votes of a timid or an interested minority; and some have even discovered it in the silence of a people, on the supposition that the fact of submission established the right to command.” Pg.57
“Unlimited power is in itself a bad and dangerous thing. Human beings are not competent to exercise it with discretion.” Pg.270
Jingoism and nationalism
“Patriotism… is frequently a mere extension of individual selfishness.” Pg.402
Intolerance of difference
“In the United States… all parties are willing to recognize the rights of the majority, because they all hope at some time to be able to exercise them to their own advantage. The majority in that country, therefore, exercise a prodigious actual authority, and a power of opinion which is nearly as great; no obstacles exist which can impede or even retard its progress, so as to make it heed the complaints of those whom it crushes upon its path. This state of things is harmful in itself and dangerous for the future.” Pg.266
Some sound advice from George Washington that should be applied to Israel & Palestine
“…Washington makes this admirable and just remark: “The nation which indulges towards another an habitual hatred, or an habitual fondness, is in some degree a slave. It is a slave to its animosity or to its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interest.” ” Pg.242
“Medical education does not exist to provide students with a way of making a living, but to ensure the health of the community.”
“I feel ambivalent about selling my services in a world where some can’t by them.”
-Doctor Paul Farmer, in Mountains Beyond Mountains
“The fate of the country does not depend on how you vote at the polls–the worst man is as strong as the best at that game; it does not depend on what kind of paper you drop into the ballot-box once a year, but on what kind of [hu]man you drop from your chamber into the street every morning.”
-Henry David Thoreau, Slavery in Massachusetts, 1854
This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it. Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing government, they can exercise their constitutional right of amending it, or their revolutionary right to dismember or overthrow it.”
-Abraham Lincoln, at his First Inaugural Address
From Brownsville, Brooklyn by Wendell Pritchett (published 2002):
Much debated among academics and policymakers, the popular perception of many American cities was that they were filled with poor, black and Latino persons mired in a “culture of poverty” that prevented them from joining the mainstream of American life… According to many analysts, the underclass was a self-selected group of the poor responsible for a disproportionate amount of crime, deliquency, drug addiction, teen pregnancy, and other social problems.
Throughout the twentieth century, urban elites attempted to erase physically decayed neighborhoods. They failed because the slum was an integral part of urban society.
Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%:
Virtually all U.S. senators, and most of the representatives in the House, are members of the top 1 percent when they arrive, are kept in office by money from the top 1 percent, and know that if they serve the top 1 percent well they will be rewarded by the top 1 percent when they leave office. By and large, the key executive-branch policymakers on trade and economic policy also come from the top 1 percent. When pharmaceutical companies receive a trillion-dollar gift—through legislation prohibiting the government, the largest buyer of drugs, from bargaining over price—it should not come as cause for wonder. It should not make jaws drop that a tax bill cannot emerge from Congress unless big tax cuts are put in place for the wealthy. Given the power of the top 1 percent, this is the way you would expect the system to work.
Oligarchy? I’m just asking.
“As usual, in every scheme that worsens the position of the poor, it is the poor who are invoked as beneficiaries.”
— Vandana Shiva
“Recessions are for the little people, not for the corporate chiefs and the titans of Wall Street who are at the heart of the American aristocracy. They have waged economic warfare against everybody else and are winning big time.
The ranks of the poor may be swelling and families forced out of their foreclosed homes may be enduring a nightmarish holiday season, but American companies have just experienced their most profitable quarter ever. As The Times reported this week, U.S. firms earned profits at an annual rate of $1.659 trillion in the third quarter — the highest total since the government began keeping track more than six decades ago.
…What’s really needed is for working Americans to form alliances and try, in a spirit of good will, to work out equitable solutions to the myriad problems facing so many ordinary individuals and families. Strong leaders are needed to develop such alliances and fight back against the forces that nearly destroyed the economy and have left working Americans in the lurch.”