What makes a slut? The only rule, it seems, is being female

From The Guardian UK:  http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jun/23/slut-female-word-women-being-female

It’s a warning more than a word: a reminder to women to adhere to sexual norms or be punished

theguardian.com, Monday 23 June 2014

Sandra Fluke heard it when she talked about insurance coverage for birth control. Sara Brown from Boston told me she was first called it at a pool party in the fifth grade because she was wearing a bikini. Courtney Caldwell in Dallas said she was tagged with it after being sexually assaulted as a freshman in high school.

Many women I asked even said that it was not having sex that inspired a young man to start rumors that they were one.

And this is what is so confounding about the word “slut”: it’s arguably the most ubiquitous slur used against women, and yet it’s nearly impossible to define.

The one thing we do know about “slut” is that it’s the last thing a woman should want to be. Society is so concerned over women and girls’ potential for promiscuity that we create dress codes, school curricula, even legislation around protecting women’s supposed purity. Conservative columnists opine that women having sex is tantamount to a “mental health crisis”, and magazine stories wonder if we’re raising a generation of “prosti-tots”.

Leora Tanenbaum, the author of SLUT! Growing Up Female with a Bad Reputation, told me that “a ‘slut’ is a girl or woman who deviates from norms of femininity. The ‘slut’ is not necessarily sexually active – she just doesn’t follow the gender script.”

This nebulous, unquantifiable quality of the slur is what makes it so distressing – there’s no way to disprove something that has no conclusive boundaries to begin with. And because it’s meant to be more of an identity than a label, it’s a term not easily shaken off. “Slut” sticks to a person in a way that “asshole” never will.

So what makes you a slut? It seems the the only hard and fast rule is that you have to be a woman.

Men, of course, are immune – absent, really – from the frenzy of concern. For instance, a new study out of the University of Michigan showed that teen girls who “sext” are called sluts while boys who do the same remain free-from judgement. In another example, the American Medical Association breathlessly released a study in 2006 with the headline “Sex and Intoxication More Common Among Women on Spring Break”, intended to warn women about their “risky” behavior while on break – but there was nothing about the men the majority of these young women would supposedly be having all this drunken sex with.

Continue reading at:  http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jun/23/slut-female-word-women-being-female

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Watching the World Destroy Itself

From Common Dreams:  http://www.commondreams.org/view/2014/06/26-1

by Robert C. Koehler

The video opens with a few bars of adrenalin-pumping music. We see a topsy-turvy camera angle, sky, trees, darkness, then a staccato pop pop pop that blends rhythmically with the music, but of course it’s gunfire, lots of gunfire, followed by a few urgent words in Arabic, then English. “Down here! Down here!”

This chaotic excitement is Iraq, the evening’s International Hot Spot, brought to us by ABC. It’s the news, but it’s also reality TV and big league sports, rolled into an entertainment package of shocking cluelessness. OMG, ISIS is on the move. It’s winning. Stay tuned!

Iraq, Iraq. This is a disaster stamped “made in USA.” Worse than that. It’s a bleeding stump of a nation that we destroyed in our pursuit of empire, at the cost of multi-trillions of dollars, hundreds of thousands or perhaps a million Iraqi lives, and spiritual and physical damage to American troops so profound a new phrase had to be coined: moral injury. And now, our official, moneyed media serve up what’s left of Iraq to us as geopolitical entertainment: the moderates (our guys, sort of) vs. the insurgents. Go, U.S.-trained troops! Stand tough and die for American interests, OK?

Of course, as the Washington Post reported earlier this month: “Fighters with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), an al-Qaeda offshoot, overran the western bank of the city (of Mosul) overnight after U.S.-trained Iraqi soldiers and police officers abandoned their posts, in some instances discarding their uniforms as they sought to escape the advance of the militants.”

This is our terrible baby, but hear the words of another Washington Post story:

“For both sides,” write Gregg Jaffe and Kevin Maurer, referring to sides within the U.S. military, “the debate over who lost Iraq remains raw and emotional. Many of today’s military officers still carry fresh memories of friends killed in battle.”

They add, however: “Iraq and the Iraqi people remain something of an abstraction. For much of the war, U.S. troops patrolled Iraq’s cities in lumbering armored vehicles and lived on heavily fortified bases surrounded by blast walls and barbed wire.”

Continue reading at:  http://www.commondreams.org/view/2014/06/26-1

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Candace Roberts — Not My City Anymore

San Francisco was never my city.  I always thought of it as being a rather nice place to visit but a lousy place to live.  I always thought Berkeley was much nicer than SF.

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The Feds Have Turned America Into a War Zone: 4 Disturbing Facts About Police Militarization

From Alternet:  http://www.alternet.org/civil-liberties/feds-have-turned-america-war-zone-4-disturbing-facts-about-police-militarization

Why do even small towns now deploy paramilitary forces?

By Aaron Cantú
June 25, 2014

For nearly half a century, America’s police forces have undergone a process of “militarization.” They’ve upped their cache of assault weapons and military defense gear, increasingly deployed SWAT teams to conduct ops-style missions on civilians, and inculcated a warrior attitude within their rank. While major metropolitan areas have maintained SWAT teams for decades, by the mid 2000s, 80 percent of small towns also had their own paramilitary forces.

But beyond deep reporting of individual journalists and scholars, little is known about the extent of militarization across the country. The ACLU has attempted to bridge that knowledge gap with a new report called War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing.

“Our investigation is the first to conduct an analysis using raw data received directly from police departments, by looking directly at incident reports themselves,” says Kara Dansky, Senior Counsel at the ACLU’s Center for Justice and the primary author of the report. The ACLU sent public records requests to 260 law enforcement agencies in 25 states plus Washington D.C., asking for records of all SWAT deployments between 2011 and 2012. Below are some of its most significant findings.

1. The federal government’s war on drugs is the single greatest catalyst for local police militarization.

Far from being used for emergencies such as hostage situations, the ACLU found that 62% of all SWAT deployments were for the purpose of drug searches, and 79% were to search a person’s home with a search warrant—usually for drugs.

These deployments are usually violent and feature bands of heavily armed officers ramming down doors or chucking flash bang grenades into homes. Innocent people are often caught up, and sometimes killed, in the ensuing chaos, including Eurie Stamp, a Massachusetts grandfather who was shot dead by an officer as police attempted to locate Stamp’s girlfriend’s son for a drug offense. Other SWAT-induced tragedies abound: The ACLU found that 46 people were injured as a result of paramilitary deployment.

Continue reading at:  http://www.alternet.org/civil-liberties/feds-have-turned-america-war-zone-4-disturbing-facts-about-police-militarization

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Friday Night Fun and Culture: The Yardbirds

Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page all played guitar with the Yardbirds at different periods during the 1960s, making the Yardbirds one of the most important rock and roll groups to come out of England in the 1960s.

‘Tranny,’ Paths of Pain, and the Ownership of Language

From Bilerico:  http://www.bilerico.com/2014/06/tranny_paths_of_pain_and_the_ownership_of_language.php

By Mercedes Allen
June 23, 2014

Reposted with permission

Marc Maron recently ran a follow-up interview with fellow comedian Todd Glass, who had come out as gay on Marc’s podcast, WTF. Marc’s podcast has often been strikingly introspective, and a moment came up that epitomized this. Glass started talking about language, the way that words can be weaponized, and the way he’s experienced this since coming out as gay:

Glass (at 20:12): “But for me, I want to keep evolving. I don’t want to be the type of person who drops one word out of my act and then the other word and then goes ‘oh my god, when’s it gonna stop? I’m done evolving!’ Don’t f***ing brag about that… ‘Cause… you know, the reason those words — I realize it with the word ‘gay’ — the reason people think it’s not bad is they don’t see the path of pain where it leads back to…”

That sticks out in my mind as important, as it speaks almost directly to the controversy that happened when Marc interviewed RuPaul Charles in the previous podcast, as part of RuPaul’s ongoing string of controversies over language.

Here’s how that went:

RuPaul (at 1:16:41): “No no no, it’s not the transsexual community who’s saying that. These are fringe people who are looking for storylines to strengthen their identity as victims. That is what we’re dealing with. It’s not the trans community, because most people who are trans have been through hell and high water and they know — they’ve looked behind the curtain at Oz and went, ‘Oh, this is all a f***ing joke. But, some people haven’t, and they’ve used their victimhood to create a situation…

“If your idea of happiness has to do with someone else changing what they say, what they do, you are in for a f***ing hard-ass road. Because the ego would have you think… that is a trap that the ego will have you… it gets you every time…

“My 32-year career speaks for itself. I dance to a different drummer. I believe that everybody, you can be whatever the hell you wanna be. I ain’t stopping you. But don’t you dare tell me what I can do or say. It’s just words. Yeah, words [mocking] ‘you… your words hurt me…’ You know what? Bitch, you need to get stronger. You really do, because you know what, if you’re upset by something I said, you have bigger problems than you think. I’m telling you this.”

The sad thing about that is, earlier in the interview, RuPaul had some interesting but challenging things to say about building social movements around identity and about deconstructing “the matrix” of social illusions that people have. While I don’t really agree with him on all points, it does provoke some thought and provide some insight about where he’s coming from. “Identity” is a vague enough concept that it deserves to be questioned and picked apart from time to time, and that’s what RuPaul does.

Of course, language is also the means that people use to become self-aware, communicate that self to the world, and build common cause… so your mileage on that will vary.

The Spirit of It

Now, I don’t like playing word police. I’ve done it a few times, and I recognize the importance of words and the evolution of language. The effect that has on both forming social movements and shoring up one’s sense of self-respect (if not pride) is admittedly significant. But the bigger issue is often the spirit with which something is said or intended, so my overall thoughts on language are mixed.

Sometimes we only have the language we’re given. We’ve only relatively recently coined “cisgender” and “cissexual” (words to mean “not transgender” and “not transsexual,” sort of like “heterosexual” is to “homosexual”) because using “normal” drips with judgment and condemnation, and “genetic” is not scientifically accurate or verifiable.

We still fight over terms like transgender, transsexual, trans* (with or without the asterisk), etc. Depending on where you are, sometimes you need to be keeping a bloody scorecard. In one group, people prefer “transgender” because it doesn’t imply that being trans is about sex; another group will prefer “transsexual” because it’s always been the term they knew, or because for them, it is about changing the physical sex; yet another group will totally reject “transsexual” because it was coined by the medical community and they want to reject the mental health stigma or the clinical abuses that people have faced in the years prior.

The words changed over time, too. It wasn’t that long ago that people embraced “tranny,” and sometimes even accepted the word “transvestite,” however inappropriate that might have been — either because they didn’t realize the implications of the word, or because it was the only label available in a drop-down menu, in one of those rare spaces we were welcome, at the time. Although there’s a relatively consistent aversion to “tranny” and “shemale” now — aside from a few people who still use them to describe themselves — it hasn’t always been that way, and the labels each come with a plethora of nuances and occasional people who embrace the terms for themselves.

I tend to prefer trans (or trans*), because it’s open-ended. It’s supposed to be an adjective, not a straitjacket. Personally, I’d hate to ever find myself parsing a descriptor so narrowly and precisely that it starts to define me, rather than the other way around. But I really don’t blame people for getting a little peeved about there being a minefield of language.

If you’re thinking that this kind of fight over language is just particular to trans* people, then keep in mind that decades later, LGBT people still have divisions over whether they want to retake or banish the word “queer.” Divides exist in other communities as well, such as the split over the terms “First Nations,” “native,” “indigenous,” “aboriginal,” “Native American,” etc.:

“But lately, I question if we are empowered or disempowered by this term and this assigned title –and if it permeates and weakens our identity.

“Not the term in itself, but by all matters, machinery, and meaning (explicitly and implicitly) implied by the assignment of the title onto us by Canada, the acceptance of it on our part, and all that comes with such uncritical acceptance and internalization…”

The above passage almost looks as though it were plucked right out of an article on trans*-related language, doesn’t it?

Words are important to us. They’re inevitably used to define us, so it’s natural for us to want to be the ones who determine what those words say… ecept that we can’t. Abolishing a word isn’t going to erase the pain that went with it, nor will it change the attitudes of the people who wield the word as a weapon.

There can indeed be a path of pain associated with “tranny.” Because it’s often the word used whenever a person is attacked, disrespected, disowned, denied services, threatened, refused entry, humiliated, or more, it becomes a foci of microaggression, where any one incident can seem surmountable or even trivial, but when multiplied by thousands, it becomes monumental.

Perhaps RuPaul had the luck or privilege to escape a lot of that — he is, after all, able to take off the wig, makeup, and sequins when it gets to be too much — or perhaps he found the rare strength to power through it all without it eroding his spirit, but trans* people at large aren’t always able to do the same. Words have power.

What we can do in the discussion about language is assert our right to be respected, and to be dignified as the people we say we are. We are only ever entitled to speak for ourselves. We never were empowered to label everyone who’s trans*.

RuPaul, of course, is speaking for himself, and that’s cool. But the whole word debate arises because he is speaking for himself, and trans* people — and just about everyone else, for that matter — also assume that he’s labeling trans* people. If there were a way to achieve clarity on this, it wouldn’t matter what terminology he embraces and throws around.

But where RuPaul Charles derails is not from pointing out the inevitable failure of communal self-identification (because we are not some homogenous collective Borg hive — I get that), but by invalidating those who are targeted by said language, and validating the ways the words are used to target them. “Grow up, get a spine” is not helpful, and it minimizes another’s pain.

While we’re busy trying to turn that “victimhood” into empowerment, RuPaul is there to act like there wouldn’t be any pain at all, if we only had more spine. That’s not helpful, and it’s quite inelegant at that.

The language debate became an argument over the willingness to respect. Does one surrender the use of the word out of a willingness to listen to what someone has to say about who they are, what they need, and what their life experiences mean… or do they instead extend a big middle finger to them and declare that they know better, and that — whether anyone likes it or not — they’re appointing themself the arbiter of another person’s reality?

Not One-Sided

But that respect goes both ways.

Something that always bothered me about this discussion was that often it became an angry shouting match about who trans* people are not. Most often, this has to do with people distancing themselves from drag queens. Now I’ll admit, it’s difficult to change the impression that the public has, when society routinely conflates trans* with drag. Virtually every newspaper story you see on trans* issues is illustrated with a photo of drag queens in a Pride parade (okay to be fair, some are finally starting to know the difference).

Drag isn’t the same thing as trans*, although some trans* people find drag a safe space to explore and/or come out, so there can be some overlap. Trans*, though, is different — not better, but different.

Clarity would be nice. But what happens is that instead of calling for clarity, people slip into the same bigoted stereotypes and assumptions about others that they don’t want applied to themselves. Denigrating someone else in order to elevate oneself is very low.

The new argument is that “drag is trans* blackface.” But drag was never meant to lampoon trans* people — it lampoons gender itself, both masculinity and femininity simultaneously. It’s quite likely that drag is becoming an art that’s past its time, because of the effect it has on intersecting groups and issues — i.e. that regardless of the original intent, trans* people are lampooned in the current context — and the buttons that it now pushes.

But I’m not going to start that discussion here, nor will I malign the integrity and motives of the people who engage in drag, some of whom set out to challenge gender as much as anyone who is genderqueer, but simply took a different avenue and during a different time. It’s a conversation that’s looming, but not one that trans* people can have arbitrarily and unilaterally — at least not if you believe in decolonizing activism.

There’s also another group of people that are often taken issue with, in the discussion about the word “tranny.”

While composing this article, I ended up getting into a heated exchange in probably the worst venue to have an intelligent conversation: Facebook. One follower had been pushing me to write on the subject and decided to elaborate on why she felt words like “tranny” are offensive: she associated the word with the porn industry and prostitution, and didn’t like the implication of being associated with such “sleazy,” “freakish,” and “deluded” people. (Because apparently, doing sex work means that one must not be really trans*.)

People like me.

I don’t do sex work now, mind you. I did at two points in my life, though: once when I first left home at 18, and again later when I transitioned and was more or less dropped off the payroll by my employer. I was outed on this point a couple years ago and haven’t written about it much here — but I’ve been having to discuss it a lot more recently because of legislative issues in Canada. I’m not proud of it, but I’m not ashamed of it either.

I didn’t use words like “tranny” or “shemale” then, mind you, unless it was part of a date’s fantasy (at which point one inevitably has to put up with it). And currently, things are fading far enough into the rear-view mirror that it would make as much sense to call me a tranny as it would to call me a soup can. So I have no vested interest in defending the words themselves.

But the words used are no longer relevant, because the question of intent goes both ways. What I was really being told on Facebook was that my conversant’s pain stemmed from having to be associated with what they felt was a lesser form of person.

Your path of pain does not entitle you to create more pain by bulldozing through me.

And from this point forward, I am no longer interested in this argument about language — or at least not until we have a good, solid discussion about intent. Because while I recognize that there is genuinely a path of pain that some people have regarding the word “tranny,” sometimes it’s really about disdain.

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About the Word “Tranny”

Further proof there is no “Transgender Umbrella”.  Mostly the “Transgender Community” gloms onto post-op transsexuals for legitimacy and disowns sex workers and drag queens for their outlaw status.

But heaven forbid post-ops claim they aren’t transgender because that makes them separatists.

And people wonder why I just report the stories rather than engage in “trans-activism”.

From The Stranger:  http://www.thestranger.com/seattle/about-the-word-tranny/Content?oid=19946137

Banning Words Is Censorship, and Censorship Is a Conservative Tactic

June 25, 2014

Last night, I was talking with someone who is in their early 20s about the troubles developing around the use of the word “tranny,” and they got very passionate, saying, “I HATE GENDER! Fuck gender!”

I asked, “How could gender change so that you wouldn’t be so upset by it?” They said, “I don’t know, I just wish I could set it on fire and get rid of it and make it go away! IT’S SO STUPID! I HATE IT!”

All I could say was: “I totally understand how you feel. So try to imagine feeling the way you feel right now for every day of your life until you’re 50. Then see how that weighs on ya!”

Gender, as we know it, sucks? Okay! Let’s try to come up with something else!

Why don’t we start by addressing the recent controversy over the use of the word “tranny”?

Tranny was invented as a term of affection between those of us who wished to live outside the gender binary system, but now a new generation of trans activists finds that word to be deeply offensive and have sought to banish it entirely. For the record, I’m sorry the word we made up was overheard by mean people and has been used to cause so much pain to those who are experiencing transphobia in their young lives. It breaks my heart that transphobes from within and outside of our “community” have used that word to inflict pain on people. I am delighted that the word “queer,” a word that continues to be loathed by a huge number of conservative, mostly bourgeois members of the LGBT community—a controversial and reclaimed umbrella term we fought hard for—has become a word that many conservative, state- and university-educated young “activists” seem to be able to cope with. For now.

You never know, though—next week, “queer” may once again become a forbidden word. But ultimately, we live in the present, and if it’s not important to them how their level of comfort with the word “queer” came about, it really, truly doesn’t matter.

Some of these young activists have been attacking self-identified trannies on the internet for using that word. I have felt the rage and anger they’ve directed at those of us who have different understandings of the words “queer” and “tranny.” It hurts to a degree, but it’s not a new pain. My greatest wish, and I mean this with my whole heart, is that the strategies they are using to combat transphobia now will lead to the better world they are hoping for. And it seems to me that there is room for both strategies (reappropriation and word-policing), because progress will most likely come about through trans visibility and dialogue around these issues, which will educate and illuminate, with the desired goal of ultimately making room in the world for an infinite variety of gender expressions.

But if by erasing the word “tranny,” they hope to get rid of embarrassing associations with trans sex workers, drag performers, trashy gender fuckers, and other self- identified “freaks” who choose to live outside the binary gender system, they are in for a big disappointment, and in my opinion, they should be ashamed of themselves. Long before and even since Stonewall, the gay bourgeoisie has tried to hide the drag, leather, and trans subcultures away from the mainstream media to present a “positive” face in order to gain mainstream acceptance for the heteronormative LGBT people of their own class. This was also a strategy adopted by many feminists when they tried to purge lesbians from their ranks when feminism started to get a lot of mainstream attention. It didn’t work for them, and it won’t work for the (hopefully) well-intentioned trans “activists” who are getting a lot of mainstream media play and who have been have attacking other people who have more liberal and fluid notions of what gender can be.

This argument around word-policing has mistakenly been described as “a generational thing.” It’s not. It’s about conservative tactics versus more progressive ones, and traditionally conservative media outlets like the Advocate as well as private and state-run academic institutions are more than happy to give them a platform. Before “Queer Studies” programs became institutionalized, there were loudmouthed, rebellious queers who were a threat to the status quo, and they were hated. Banning words is censorship, and censorship is a conservative tactic. Maybe you’ve heard this one? “I don’t mind that you’re gay, but do you have to talk about it all the time?”

Complete article at:  http://www.thestranger.com/seattle/about-the-word-tranny/Content?oid=19946137