Monday, August 21, 2006

bigotry: the malignment of the misunderstood or the vilification of the potentially competative other

I put "or" between my two thoughts about bigotry not to suggest that it could be one or another but rather that either path can be taken to arrive at the same place.

I like Steve Gilliard's blog, as anyone who reads this blog has to know. I probably refer to it more often than any single other site and it is generally the first blog I read when I find time to sift through them. The article that he linked to in this post is interesting, though it seems a little bit intentionally sensational. It seemed like he originally posted it up to somewhat dismiss that sensationalism by not commenting on it but instead titling it in a way to point out that the conflict isn't exceptional: "But I dated a woman."

Then Jen started commenting.

I'll spare you a detailed synopsis, but the bigoted mindset isn't terribly subtle. In the title I hinted at why I'll call what she had to say bigoted:

1)the malignment of the misunderstood- I don't fully understand transgender stuff and tranvestitism and a whole lot of stuff which goes along with the different ways in which people find themselves feeling compelled to identify one way or the other, but judging from Jen's comments, she really doesn't understand much about it and doesn't seem interested to learn or understand more. She communicates clear and ossified positions which she doesn't seem inclined to reexamine and these positions belie some gaping holes in her knowledge of the subject. An anecdote about a tranny friend and generalizations about how transfolk dress too much like charicatures doesn't really speak to an extensive knowledge of the community though how strongly her feelings about trans folk were stated suggested that she regarded her knowledge and experience as fairly comprehensive. The point being that she obviously doesn't understand the subject at hand but took tough positions none the less and lashed out to malign those falling outside her realm of experience by extrapolating from the nearest negative example within her realm. So she doesn't want her tranny friend in the ladies dressing room? From that she goes on to denigrate trans people in general and hops up on a you-could-never-understand-you're-not-a-real-woman high-horse? You have a limited realm of experience with members of a group and from your discomfort in that interaction you assume that everyone else acts like that too? Bigotry, very human, very common, but bigotted none the less.

And let me point out at this moment that I am saying all this not as an attack to label Jen a bigot. We've all got our bigotted ideas which we have to wrangle with and calling this spade a spade is where it starts. I don't think, from what I have read of her commentary on the blog or what Steve writes about her, that ignorant misjudgement of anything/anyone outside her comfort zone is a defining component of her personality, like say our president or pat roberston or james dobson. They start from that holier than though position and lash out at the dirty bits and pieces which don't fit in their utopian fiction of the way things are supposed to be. It defines their public persona and for this I can't stand them and lose respect for people who I hear lauding them, but we all have a little bit of this fear of the misunderstood in us and can easily find ourselves in positions where we are dealing with the ragged edges of our experience and make misinformed judgements based on the limits of our understanding. We don't fully understand, so it is easier to vilify and keep that distance open than trudge through the work that it takes to search out these furthest reaches.

...which somewhat ties into my second complaint:

2) the vilification of the potentially competative other- Again, I'll freely admit that this is a natural response. Biology folks are obviously intimately attuned to the concept of competition for limited resources. It is where we begin in our understanding of the world around us and how life finds and holds a place in it. So the idea that someone in one group might vilify someone who they see as a competative other who is edging into their established territory isn't shocking. In a way this side of things I'm more sympathetic. I'd rather deal with territoriality than ignorance anyday. Still, "This is mine, I won't share it with you!" has caused plenty of wreckage in its time. It is interesting the territory which Jen staked out in her commentary. Partially it seemed defensive simply of her own ideas in the thread which were being growled at, but it also seemed like she was using commenting on this article and situation as an opportunity to stake out territory which she had previously felt was threatened. She related the on-going disagreement with her tranny friend about men who dress like women entering women only zones like bathrooms and dressing rooms. Here is a physical territory and it is valuable by way of it being inaccessible to men. Her friend's insistance that he is a woman despite the fact that he is biologically a man doesn't lessen her feeling of infringement when he enters these zones. I'll concede the right of those interested in maintaining the value of a space to set up limitations on it, but how it was discussed in the comments went beyond simply staking out the limits. It was taken further into conflating the acceptance of transfolk into these spaces as an assault from that perpetual enemy, man. She clearly chopped the populace in two, 'men' and 'women,' each assigned there separate territory then conceded some sympathy that not everyone might fit into either camp and might constitute some third 'other,' who should go out on their own find some other place to plant their flag. Convenient advice from someone already in one of the two territoried-up camps. She recognizes shades of someone with whom she has felt it necessary to to stake out boundaries with in the past and extrapolates her feelings of intrusion and competition over her resources on to the broader range of people with non-traditional gender identifications.

This is something that I am again in some ways sympathetic and it isn't the desire to stake out boundaries which bothers me about this. It how they are being staked out and how these desired boundaries are then being as points for defining and dissing the potentially competative others. The right wing yahoos are screaming bloody murder about how gay people marrying will destroy marriage as we know it, and they stake this hard and fast boundary around ideas of what marriage is and isn't and they then work outward from this definition to define those who they are trying to exclude.

I want to sleep so I'll close this with a brief and limited commentary on gender/sex variation. As I have said before I'm no expert on such subjects, but again studying biology edged me towards a little understanding (or at least acknowledgement of the limits of my understanding). When taking a genetics class, sex and gender expression in animals came up and it blew my mind to consider how much everything in our bodies and systems ends up along a sliding scale. Even amongst organisms in which most individuals fall clearly into one sex or gender or the other, there are those who vary in each of the multiple ways which sex and gender are expressed. In my class we talked at length about chickens and how some chickens who were biologically roosters, testicles and all, none the less express hen behavior and/or plumage and vice versa. There are many more examples, but I'm tired and don't feel like being more exhaustive right now. So I'll leave it at the point being that while organizing the world according to our most frequently encountered types may be a useful starting point, we have to be able to recognize the limitations of our experience and understanding and acknowledge when met with these blessed and troubling outliers that it might be our organization of the world which is incomplete rather than assigning them straight away into dangerous enemies to be kept at arms length. This is where liberals have to differ from conservative assholes, in our willingness to adapt by always striving for further understanding rather than bunkering down and trying to just blow away anyone who is different or vunerable in an attempt to preserve their precious world order.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Who could it be?

I shouldn't have allowed myself to follow links emailed to me by a partner-in-crime who watches Project Runway with me, but I did and soon found myself clicking along until I was sucked into speculation about who gets dismissed this week for cheating or breach of contract or killing a kitten or something.

Everyone seems to pretty much agree it is Keith. All the other speculation seems strained at best, still somehow I have this feeling it isn't him. Don't know why, maybe just knowing that the producers on this show love setting someone up and then making inexplicable decisions just for effect I naturally assume it won't be the person who it appears most likely to be. Still, it stands to reason that the someone who played fast and loose with the terms "self-taught" and "34" on his application might assume he can get away with other shit as the show bops along and the judges can't stay gullible forever.

Still, I kind of hope Keith survives, though I don't know who I would want to kick off in his place.