Jazz Jennings, teen boy, shows women how to “woman”

RoleModel

This is a joint post with the brilliant Hypotaxis.

Hey, gals, guess what? This fourteen-year-old boy is a role model for YOU. Yep, you, full-grown-ass women. Meet Jazz Jennings, YOUR ROLE MODEL.

This weekend, we sat a spell to watch an OWN documentary all about our role model. We wanted to know more about this person that we (dykes aged thirty-eight and forty) should look to and strive to emulate.

What we learned is that Jazz Jennings is a kid who likes pink, dresses, makeup and flipping his shiny hair. Jazz is also a kid who refers to himself in third person. “I like being Jazz,” he says, as he reclines in a pink bed awash with plush animals.

Most of what Jazz says sounds forced, coached, even as he spouts off the ubiquitous tropes surrounding transgenderism: “I’m a girl trapped in a boy’s body” and “I have a girl brain.”

Jazz, again, is fourteen. His parents began transing him when he was in preschool, after discovering that he preferred the company of girls and enjoyed wearing his sister’s swimsuit. Jazz himself never speaks of an inner torment, a period of struggle – his transition has been relatively easy, thanks to parents who immediately recognized his effervescence, his fondness for crimson hues as evidence of ladybrain.

What we swiftly deduced: Jazz’s parents, a relatively conservative duo, could not bear the thought of a homosexual son (much less the screamingly flamboyant, Fire-Island-style homosexual Jazz was on the road to becoming), and preferred instead a more “normal” straight daughter.

“Jazz has a girl brain,” the child’s father insists (he also frequently kisses his girlbrained child on the lips – make of that what you will).

“Jazz plays like a girl,” the child’s soccer coach affirms. “She runs daintily.” (No, really. One of the interviewed subjects in the film actually fucking said this.)

And then there’s the nauseatingly emphatic refrain that the kid is a “perfectly normal girl – no different than any other girl.” EXCEPT, of course, for small differences like how Jazz has to go to an endocrinologist to have his measured to determine if he’s yet reached puberty. (We mean, that’s a rite of passage for all girls. We’ll never forget the day out parents took us to the doctor to have our testicles measured.)

At the above doctor’s appointment, it is determined that Jazz has begun puberty. The child is then asked if he would like to start taking puberty blockers. “You don’t want to grow facial hair, do you?” His mother (who also refers to herself as a “transgender mom”) coyly queries her son.

“No,” Jazz says. “I don’t want that.” And so, a child is encouraged to make a permanently life-altering, fertility-destroying, medically unnecessary decision.

Despite the incessant claims that Jazz is “no different from any other girl,” Jazz is acutely aware of his specialness. In fact, his specialness seems to dominate life in this family, practically eclipsing the existence of his three other siblings. Jazz is constantly consulted regarding what he thinks; what he wants – because Jazz’ every word comes from the Burning Gender Bush.

But, the thing is, Jazz isn’t special. Jazz is a kid whose parents, like so many others, believe the lie that conflates biological reality with outward presentation; the lie that posits an individual’s preferences and tastes are intrinsically representative of the preferences and tastes of an entire category of people: female. They also believe the lie that females’ brains are structurally different from male brains – the lie from whence legally-codified misogyny has sprung since the beginning of time.

And this is where we get down to brass tacks. Jazz Jennings, himself, doesn’t really matter. Jazz is just another kid whose parents hock his “specialness” for reality-TV money and some skin care product commercials (he does have great skin, probably from the hormone blockers). What matters is what we can learn from this kid who’s been shoved into public view – and it’s not a lesson about bravery, or being “the real me” – rather, it’s a lesson in how hopelessly steeped in misogyny our culture still is.

As we watched the trainwreck of Jazz, we speculated about what might be a truly progressive way to work with and nurture a kid like him. Let him wear dresses and makeup, we decided. Let him grow his hair long, and hang out with girls and have crushes on boys. Be a good, vigilant parent and make sure no one is bullying your son for wearing his dresses and makeup and long hair to school.

And while you’re doing that, afford that kid a modicum of reality – let him be okay as a male, let him be okay with his body and his biology. Help him be part of a world where a boy can wear dresses if he wants, where a boy can drench his bedroom in pink if he likes, and still be what he is – a boy. A perfectly healthy, loveable little boy who likes things that our fucked up, narrow-minded, patriarchal society has deemed “abnormal” for him to like. And, when he grows from a boy into a man, let him fall in love with normal gay men who might love him back – not people who will simply fetishize him.

The progressive response to a kid like Jazz is NOT to conclude he has a “girl brain” but to accept that as individual human beings our inclinations do in fact vary, and that those variances have precious little to do with our biology. That approach might create a real cultural shift. That approach might take a sledgehammer to regressive notions of gender. Because if a male – a perfectly normal male – can pursue interests that have previously been deemed exclusively “female,” then we really have scrambled gender, really turned it on its head.

People like Jazz’s parents, people who believe in and perpetuate the tenets of transgenderism are the same people who – albeit inadvertently – cause problems for women like us. In a gendered sense, we don’t “do woman” very well. When we’re in rural areas, buying gas, we get stares because we’re not women “doing woman” the way we ought to. The butch-er one of us would probably make folks in some areas more comfortable if she’d just transition. A little facial hair might ward off some looks.

Because that’s gender – it’s not a spectrum, it’s a dichotomy.

Gender isn’t designed to be a playground of special identities – it’s a system that categorizes males and a female based on social/cultural conventions; then subjugates women while exalting men. The system that facilitates rape and honor killings is the same system that says a little boy can’t enjoy wearing a colorful swimsuit without requiring extreme medical intervention. This system says it’s better to medicate and mutilate your male child than have him be a homosexual boy who likes stereotypically “feminine” behaviors and interests. That’s how Iran does it, right? Better he be a girl than challenge repressive gender norms in a way that could, potentially, upend patriarchy. Better he appear on TV and condescend to girls (and full-grown-ass women) how to “be themselves.”

Masculinity and femininity are both bullshit notions. What is deemed masculine, what is deemed feminine – these are nothing but human behaviors. Males can be highly emotional but we’ve filed “emotional” underneath “feminine” so as to trivialize it. Males can like sparkly pink skirts and lipstick, but because we’ve relegated this aesthetic to the realm of the feminine, it is deemed “silly” and “prissy.” We equate femininity, and its coded behaviors and preferences, with weakness and frivolity – and yet, women (and only women) are supposed to be subsumed by these matters. When they show themselves subsumed (because how else to garner male approval in the hierarchical structure of gender?) we delude ourselves into believing that this is a natural state: Women are silly, trivial, frivolous, petty.

Conversely, females can be physically strong (watch any female Olympic lifter, martial artist, or gymnast) but we’ve relegated physical prowess and powerful musculature to the realm of the masculine. Females can be interested in auto mechanics. Females can be highly logical, a quality gender ascribes to the realm of the masculine. Females can also be serious and stoic. And none of these characteristics have jack shit to do with our DNA; our physical, biological reality.

What we do, as a society, when females and males blur these lines, employ behaviors, or follow interests that do not “fit” with the category their biological sex has socially placed them in, is we label them “anomalies” or “transgender.” We claim we can “fix” the male child who wants to grow out his hair and wear his sister’s sundress. We claim the butch dyke who likes tinkering with cars probably has a male brain. We work really hard, and the medical community is fully on board, to preserve gender norms. And transgenderism is a way of preserving gender norms and calling the oppressive mandate “subversive.”

Do we believe that some folks feel better, more comfortable, more “at home” in their bodies by presenting as women when they were born male? Yes, of course. And we support individuals’ decisions to present in a way that feels most “right” to them – but we do not, and will not, buy into a belief in “girl brains.” The very idea of “girl brains” is nothing more than a form of eugenics that’s been used against women (and racial/ethnic minorities) for many centuries in order to deprive us of bodily autonomy, education, votes, and anything else a human needs and wants to enjoy full humanity.

Nor do we believe that it is moral, ethical, or in the best interests of a child to medically alter his or her perfectly healthy body in order to make our sexist, misogynist society feel more comfortable with who that child is. Nor do we believe that swallowing large amounts of synthetic hormones MAKES one female or male, and we think selling that lie to a child is most pernicious because it denies a developing human being the opportunity to weigh her/his options as an adult with adult reasoning/critical thinking skills. It denies a developing human being the opportunity to know reality – i.e. biology.

And, at the end of the day, it hurts girls – you know, actual female children. In the documentary about Jazz, the child’s father laments that his daughter (son) cannot play on the girls’ soccer team at school. The child’s father CRIES (seriously) when discussing the grave injustice of a male-bodied person not being able to play on a girls’ sports team. (Especially when he runs so daintily!)

We encounter real problems when we sacrifice basic biological knowledge at the altar of special identities/feelings/and gender – e.g., biologically, boys and girls develop differently. Like, our bodies are actually different. And, particularly in adolescence, boys have a distinct physical advantage over girls. And athletics have, historically, been a great way for girls to gain access to college scholarships, as well as to develop healthy relationships with their bodies. Now, of course, in order to placate the feelings (delusions) of boy children, girls will be made to compete with male-bodied persons in the field of athletics, placing them at a disadvantage.

But this is what gender always does; this is what gender is meant to do – put females at a disadvantage in all things. Our needs, our feelings as females do not really matter. What matters is that we do what girl-brained people are supposed to do, shut up and suck it up, and accept the version of reality that’s being sold to us – even when it doesn’t make any fucking sense.

In the documentary about Jazz, no hard questions were asked of the child’s parents. Like, “what does it mean to have a girl brain?” Or, “Do you have any qualms about delaying your child’s normal growth when we don’t understand what the long-term ramifications of that decision might be?” Instead, the entire scenario was presented as “adorable” and “inspiring.” It’s adorable to delude your male child into believing he’s female. It’s adorable to pump a healthy, pre-pubescent body full of chemicals. It’s adorable to interpret meaningless penchants as biological imperatives. It’s inspiring when a child’s every whim is indulged. It’s inspiring when children emulate the repressive gender stereotypes laid out for them by the society in which they live.

But no one challenges the transgender line of thinking, because transgenderism is comfortable; transgenderism challenges nothing about the dominant gender paradigm, or the hierarchical structure that positions women on the bottom of everything. And those of us who dare ask meaningful questions about where all of this leads are slurred, villified, de-platformed.

The adults encouraging Jazz’ transition, though, are all presented as white gender knights. In one scene toward the end of the documentary, Jazz’ mother brings him to speak on a university panel. The only minor in attendance, Jazz is surrounded by grown-ass trans people who, frankly, look and sound pretty miserable. They all tell Jazz how lucky he is, and how happy he’ll be that he began transitioning early. This is the only time Jazz drops his confident, shiny-haired posing and looks like what he actually is – a scared little boy. He cowers toward his mother, and doesn’t have much to say except, “I want boobs.”

At the end of the panel, one of the transwomen wraps Jazz in a long hug and says, “I’ll trade you my boobs for your hair.”

How is this anything but skin-crawlingly weird?

So we hope, for Jazz’s sake, that the kid turns out all right, that the world is kind to him, and that he doesn’t grow to resent the bullshit line he’s been sold about “girl brains” and “boy brains,” that he doesn’t have to shoulder the profound burden of regret created by what his parents, the medical community, and the adults around him did to his perfectly normal body when he was still a child.

Sadly, however, we’re positioned as a society to only see more stories like Jazz’s – where parents apply gender dogma to their children’s behavior, and allow their firm (albeit erroneous) convictions about what “girls do” and what “boys do” to justify wreaking havoc on their children’s minds and bodies.

As for females, the consequences of continuing to perpetuate the lie of ladybrain will be increasingly devastating – as we make room for males who believe our lives are nothing more than a hunch; a feeling in a man’s head; we can say goodbye to women’s colleges, women’s sports, women’s clinics. As an understanding of reality becomes synonymous with bigotry, we will part with all language and art that allowed us to address, deconstruct, express and celebrate our lived female experience. Our feminist folk heroes will be grown men, our role models adolescent boys.

Everydaymisogyny.com

“The assertion that dykes – females who form romantic attachments to other females — actually exist, that female reality exists and not as some hypothetical notion, not as some accumulation of “feminine” ephemera, not some hunch – all of these assertions have been rendered hate speech. We now live in a society where it is hateful for women at a “women’s college” (quotes now warranted) to put on a play about vaginas. Think about that for a minute. And think about who benefits from that form of censorship. (Hint: not women.)”

Hypotaxis

I got really pissed off last week – so pissed off I couldn’t write about it – when I read about how Mt. Holyoke, a formerly female-only college, cancelled their production of The Vagina Monologues for fear it would alienate women-indentifying males who have penises. It’s not that The Vagina Monologues is all that amazing – I mean, in 2015 it’s a bit outmoded for a whole host of reasons, the least of which being “doesn’t talk enough about dicks” – but it’s the principle of the thing, it’s the terrifying realization that women cannot talk about their truths if their truths inconvenience/upset/upend males’ delusions about their lady-ness.

In a world that reviles women, art – writing, painting, sculpture, all that shit – has been one of the few conduits available to female persons in which they may – subversively and not so subversively — express their realities. Interestingly enough…

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Language and the lie of “erasure”

Hypotaxis

I was thinking the other day about a class I taught some years ago, in which, as part of the curriculum, I was to cover Aristotle’s Nichomean Ethics. Part of Aristotle’s aim, in this text, is to provide a formula for how to “live the best life” (a rather arrogant endeavor, if you ask me), and so I started teaching the text by asking my students, freshmen, Millenials, what it meant to “live a good life”: What does a good life look like? What does a good life entail? How can we define this?

My students were, as so many of their generation, reticent to answer any of these questions, for to do so would be to take a position and possibly “invalidate” the perspective of another classmate. Each pupil had been raised in a culture of such impossible relativism that each believed to take a stance, to offer forth…

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Why I don’t own a gun

If you visit me in Arizona, I’ll collect you at the airport and tell you: Remember, you’re never more than a few dozen feet from a gun. People here keep guns in their homes, their cars, strapped to the insides of their boots. If we stop at the grocery store for popcorn, strawberries and beer (that’s what we’d have for dinner at my house) at least one man will be casually wearing a handgun on his belt. Twenty others will be carrying concealed weapons. You do not want to get into it with a stranger in this part of the country. He wants to cut in the checkout line? Let him.

Yesterday at work, a couple of ladies were happily discussing their personal arsenals.

“I have four guns right now,” one said. “The biggest one is Czechoslovakian, and I keep it right on my nightstand.”

I allowed as to how sleeping with a gun that close might creep me out a little.

“Well, it’s not gonna get up and shoot someone all its own SELF,” she told me. “I’d be scareder of sleeping with a clown doll on the nightstand.”

Can’t argue with that! It’s not gonna get up and shoot someone all its own self! But what if:

(a) I accidentally exercise my Second Amendment rights and blow my own foot off? (I’m a woman whose pens inksplode all over her fingers at the slightest provocation; who’s afraid to own a gas mower because of what happened that time with the rocks and the anthill). What if one of the cats knocks it off the nightstand? I don’t even have any decent drinking glasses left; that’s how much those goddamned cats knock shit off my nightstand) OR

(b) I, sleepy and afraid, uphold the Founding Fathers’ inimitable American vision by shooting one of my idiot friends who decides to make me a surprise visit (when I brought this up, the the work ladies said, in unison, “They should call first!”) OR

© Some unarmed nutjob breaks into the house, sees the gun, and is inspired to take his ordinary burglary up a level?

Talking to the work ladies about their guns, I picked up on a lot of fear – specifically, fear of rape.

I’m not afraid of rape. I’ve cut down on my risk by not dating men – it’s usually a guy you know – and I’m over 40 and I stay alert and sober in bad neighborhoods and I walk like a woman who benches her own bodyweight (because I can) and all of this stacks the deck in my favor. Not, of course, that hundred-year-old ladies haven’t been raped in their own beds, but I choose to look at the larger statistical picture. And I decline to live in fear.

The only rapist I’m afraid of is one with a gun. If he’s got a gun, it would behoove me to have one as well. I could decide to become one of millions of Arizonans who feel the need to have the means of lethal force on their person at all times, even at goddamn Panera Bread or Lucky Strike Lanes. But there’s an emotional and mental cost related to owning a gun, and to being surrounded by firearms in casual, everyday contexts. This is a dangerous world, you’re saying with your very own personal gun. I need this weapon to protect myself and my family so we will be safe. 

It’s a simple individualistic response to a complex, growing, shared social problem. You hear the same argument for breast implants: I’m doing it for me! It’s empowering! 

This is when you know people have given up on looking for root causes. This is when you can be sure no analyses are forthcoming re: the whys and wherefores.

If you look at NRA and other gun-marketing materials directed at women, you’ll see a lot of pink; a lot of fashion-oriented concealed-carry items; a lot of fear-based Mama-bear stuff. What you won’t see is anything remotely honest about who women are protecting themselves from (again, your rapist and/or murderer is usually a man with whom you share a home) or about the ingrained sex-class system that allows and encourages men to make women afraid because men stand to gain a lot from women’s fear. They stand to gain lots of money (guns are spendy!) and power (the NRA is, well…the NRA).

Men who do not cherish women’s interests stand to gain when women think the solution to male violence is to be found within the violent male power structure.

You can’t paint that shit pink and expect me to buy it.

 

In ancient Sparta

Truth. And brilliantly written.

Hypotaxis

There’s a play/movie that I like called Doubt. I have an affinity for nuns, and the play centers around nuns, so there’s that. In any case, in the film version, Meryl Streep delivers a line that often resurfaces in my head: “In ancient Sparta, important matters were decided by who shouted loudest. Fortunately, we are not in ancient Sparta.”

But we are in ancient Sparta, in a way. All too often the opportunity to have reasoned, rational discourse around gender, women’s space, women’s boundaries, women’s lives is hijacked and destroyed by those who “shout loudest.” Worse still, perhaps, is the fact that women who speak openly, who are willing to assert their positions (and who are unapologetic about those positions) are fiercely attacked — mocked, berated with misogynistic slurs, threatened with sexual violence. Those who most often engage in these tactics are male. Or, sometimes, they are employed by women…

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smart-things link roundup

While I find the words for some of my own experiences this winter, please enjoy the following roundup of lesbian/feminist/fitness/political brilliance.

Scold’s bridle by glosswitch

“Right now I’m done with the female social code that commands me to express shame at myself, assume good faith in cruel people and deny my own qualities just so that my presence isn’t too disruptive.

This abuse is because I am a woman, not because I am a white woman. I do not believe reverse racism exists, whereas misogyny clearly does. However, this abuse does need to be placed in the context of “white feminism” – after all, it’s a phrase I used in my tweet – because it’s related to the shorthand people use for a particular type of perceived female privilege (as though privilege is not a shifting, intersecting thing that everyone with access to twitter enjoys in different ways, but a line you cross which makes you less credible, less capable of experiencing pain and less capable of acting in good faith).”

Woman-hating by any other name… by Meghan Murphy

“It seems as though we are expected to divulge every single horrific trauma we’ve experienced, every personal moment of oppression or abuse, every single problem/illness/addiction/struggle we might have faced or currently be facing, publicly and via bullhorn, before we are acknowledged as credible or worthy of a voice. Without this outpouring of every-single-horror it is assumed we’ve experienced nothing but diamonds and champagne. Do I need to tattoo “working-class” on my forehead in order to avoid being called “rich” or “classist?” Because I don’t want to. Women shouldn’t have to tell the entire world every gory detail of their stories in order to have a voice. Many women are not in a position to do this, even if they wanted to.”

Check Your Privilege: Rise of the Post New-Left by Steve D’Arcy

“If a handful of time-travelling activists from our own era were somehow transported into a leftist political meeting in 1970, would they even be able to make themselves understood?”

Making Sense of Modern Fitness by Kat Whitfield

“I too enjoy doing tricep extensions with 2lb weights while looking contemplative.”

Found this through my other favorite, Fit and Feminist. Let Kat make you laugh as you navigate the bullshit-infested waters of today’s body-dysmorphic diet-and-fitness zeitgeist. She’s written a free ebook, but if you only have time for one post, make it her takedown of a certain kind of fitspo on Pinterest.

roses– how the purity culture taught me to be abused by Samantha Field (if you have an evangelical/conservative background, or know women who do, or are seeking understanding, Samantha Field’s Defeating the Dragons is the one of the best blogs there is):

“…the modesty/purity/virginity culture, especially in more conservative areas, is one of the main reasons why Christian young women stay in abusive relationships.”

…and An Open Letter to the White Woman Who Felt Bad for Me at Yoga by Maya Rupert (policy director, National Center of Lesbian Rights): is the sharpest and most compassionate of many responses to a bad personal essay on xojane:

“The problem is that at some point you got the impression that you — in all your ‘skinny, white girl’-ness — was the ideal. And that I would, if given the choice, choose to look like you.

And that didn’t happen because your yoga class doesn’t have enough black instructors or even because you seem uncomfortable around black women.

It happened because we live in a society steeped in a system of patriarchy so strong and so insidious that we learned from a young age and have it confirmed daily that you and I can’t both be happy with who we are. Because, if in order for Cinderella to be beautiful her stepsisters had to be ugly, and if in order to compliment Jennifer Lawrence we have to insult Anne Hathaway, then in order for you to be content in your whiteness, I have to despair in my blackness, and in order for you to be at peace in your body, I have to suffocate in mine.”

Back soon.

“Shared girlhood,” red herrings, and the creation of the Third Wave

Here be an excellent takedown and analysis of the myth of “the myth of shared girlhood. “

culturallyboundgender

Have you heard the one about the “shared girlhood”?

 

The “myth of shared girlhood” is an idea that has been developed recently by intersectional feminists to explain why it’s wrong for radical feminists to want women-only events that exclude people who were born male.  According to the doctrine of the myth of shared girlhood, there’s nothing that really makes anyone female, because there’s no one universal defining experience of girlhood.

It’s true that there is no universal experience of femaleness.  Not one.  For anything you can come up with–even things that are experienced by huge, huge percentages of women–some women, on an individual basis, don’t meet those qualifications.

According to the “myth of shared girlhood” analysis, this means that organization based around femaleness is inherently improper, and that since trans* individuals have shared some experiences that some women have had, they should be considered no different than any other…

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lesbian couplets

I save my poetry unit for April, when everybody’s tired and has no more fucks to give. After Heart of Darkness and Macbeth; after Black Boy and Jane Eyre and the sticky-thick short stories of Katherine Anne Porter. Because when the kids are just OVER reading and writing; over it over it over it; that’s when the moon is in the seventh house and Jupiter aligns with Mars. In the letting go, they learn. Despite themselves. And, if I can go limp enough, I write. Some couplets from today:

i wanted to fuck her poems

instead, i found her.

  •  

“i’m the villain, baby,” you said, and i swooned

but you stole that quote from “girl, interrupted.”

  •  

root vegetables, dark beer

the taste of you

  •  

you were a long list of ingredients

but no recipe

  •  

she was like my first hit of ecstasy;

i kept trying to repeat the experience, and sometimes cliches are all we have.

  •  

you left, and i was like a liquid

trying to do a solid’s job

  •  

she pulled a stake out of the train tracks and handed it to me

i was the one who crashed

  •  

i’m making a list of things that won’t get done today

and you are nowhere on it

 

In other news, today I subbed for the Health teacher, and I learned from the textbook that marijuana is addictive and sexual abstinence until marriage is the only acceptable choice. Dang. For so many years, I got those things confused!