Just Call Me They

The work of being trans is constant. It is tiring. It is exhausting. And it doesn’t really have to be that way. Is it too much to ask people to pay attention to me as a human being when they interact? To use my pronouns, use my name, and to do both correctly a majority of the time? It is not too much to ask, because how can I keep going in a world where that is too much to ask of the fellow human beings with whom I interact?

Taking people seriously as human beings starts with recognizing and learning how we are referred to in speech. This is not a preference. This is not a special request. This is a normal request for being treated with dignity like a human being and let me tell you, it is hurtful and embarrassing and offensive and infuriating and disempowering all rolled into one when it almost never happens. It is dehumanizing.

Let’s start with the name. I am a white person born in the US; unlike a great many people who must never even hear their names said correctly let alone spelled accurately, I belong to the dominant culture. Even so, my very white Irish German name, Meghan Krausch, is apparently not white bread enough and so I have spent my entire life checking every program, table of contents, and website in which it has ever appeared to see if they got it right. It has not gone well. For this and other reasons, I tried dropping the second half of my first name. But no, people cannot just call me Meg either. They want to try to call me Meghan anyway, usually failing.

Why am I going on about my name? Because I think this is related to people’s issues respecting each others’ pronouns. We insist in imposing our own cognitive schemas on other peoples’ selves. We do not take the time to copy down someone’s name as it is given to us, or to listen when they say it, or look at how they sign their own name. Instead, we are in a rush to fit people into a pre-existing box (in my example: ‘oh! I know that name: Megan’).

So as my name is violated in print, as others’ names are violated even more often and viciously, I am misgendered constantly. In situations where I might expect it, in situations where it was an honest mistake, and in situations where there is no excuse.

I get that there is a social transition. I get that this requires resocialization. And I do in fact understand how deep that socialization goes. I really, really do. In fact, I understand more than most people how early we are socialized to believe in the gender binary; I would argue that we are introduced to the binary before we even leave the womb. I am not sure I even believe that anyone can be perfect at using nonbinary pronouns in a society which is still cissexist.

But it is devastatingly apparent to me that most of y’all don’t even try.

In researching this post, I found this story about nonbinary or genderqueer K-12 teachers who use the honorific Mx. There was a lot that resonated, but thing I identified with most was the teacher who said this:

“I had moments where I thought: I’m too much work, I’m asking too much of my colleagues and students, and that as a teacher I’m there to serve, and part of serving others is not always putting yourself first.”

I fight this impulse every day. Of course “they/them/theirs” is a political choice, just like not eating meat or riding my bike instead of driving. But it also feels like home. It feels comfortable. It feels like not faking being a girl and being worried that I would be caught as a fake. And it’s no more of a political choice than using “he” or “she” or eating meat or driving a car, which are also all political choices.

The work of being trans is constant and exhausting only because other people make it that way. It doesn’t have to be anything other than just being.

Here are some resources for those who have questions about trans pronouns, being good accomplices, and what to do when you screw up:

transsaurus-rex

cite Black theorists

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Cite Black Women t-shirt from the Cite Black Women Collective

On page 8 of Keeanga-Yamahta Taylor’s book From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation she says something that stopped me in my tracks: “Black revolutionary Stokely Carmichael and social scientist Charles Hamilton coined the phrase ‘institutional racism’ in their book Black Power.”

Although I understand the phrase institutional racism so well that I have actually taught its definition and usage regularly, this is the first time that I have ever heard its origin, and specifically that its origin is attributed to Stokely Carmichael. I am dumbfounded.  Of course, there can be no question that I am to blame for this. But there is also a much larger question here about sociology. I use and teach “institutional racism” in the ways

Stokely_Carmichael_in_Alabama_1966

Stokely Carmichael in Alabama in 1966

that sociologists around me use it, and the ways that I learned it. I have never before heard it attributed it to anyone specific, much less to Carmichael and Hamilton or the Black Power movement. We seem to have simply claimed it as something we do, as part of our larger systemic way of looking at the world. In fact it’s often used interchangeably with “systemic racism.” And that may well be a good and important thing. But it should not come at the cost of erasing the contribution of Black scholars, Black people, and Black movements to our theorizing and scholarship. While we can and do debate the ownership of any one person to a word, no one hesitates to cite Judith Butler when they use the phrase “gender trouble” though these words surely had other connotations and meanings before and after this scholar. We cite Marx when we simply refer to “capital” or the “means of production” and sometimes Foucault gets all of “power.”

This is a question of our citational practices and how they reify existing power structures. This is about how we continue to actively create a white academy. Sara Ahmed discusses this (and provides one alternative possibility) in her nourishing book Living a Feminist Life, which does not cite any white men:

Citations can be feminist bricks: they are the materials through which, from which, we create our dwellings. My citation policy has affected the kind of house I have built. I realized this is not simply through writing the book, through what I found about what came up, but also through giving presentations. As I have already noted, in previous work I have built a philosophical edifice by my engagement with the history of ideas. We cannot conflate the history of ideas with white men, though if doing one leads to the other then we are being taught where ideas are assumed to originate.

It is for this reason, among others, that the Cite Black Women campaign was created. As the Cite Black Women’s Collective says, “It’s simple. Cite Black Women.” But also: put in the work. Find the citations and place Black women in the center of your syllabus and your sociological research and even your informal political thinking. The collective has a praxis:

  1. Read Black women’s work
  2. Integrate Black women into the CORE of your syllabus (in life & in the classroom).
  3. Acknowledge Black women’s intellectual production.
  4. Make space for Black women to speak.
  5. ​Give Black women the space and time to breathe.

And a rad t-shirt (pictured above), which supports the Winnie Mandela School in a working class, Black neighborhood of Salvador de Bahia, Brazil. I’ve already briefly discussed how amazing Winnie Mandela was on this blog. The collective has also organized conference events (including ASA)  and #CiteBlackWomenSunday.

Look, this is not just about “you.” I certainly need to do better at this too. The fact is, unless a person has been making a conscious effort to do this for several years now, it’s likely that many of us need to be putting some work in to do better at this. The point is that we all need to do the work because it isn’t going to happen without it – no one is going to start getting the credit they deserve for their contributions to our discipline and to our thinking without all of us practicing the racial justice that we preach. Here is a short list of Black scholars who influenced sociology to get you started.

Regular People Are Deporting Each Other – Or Not

Last weekend I read about immigration lawyers and journalists with US and EU citizenships being denied entry to Mexico. Interpol alerts were placed on their passports because they were involved in assisting the masses of asylum seekers on the US-Mexico border.

We live in times of terror.

There are a lot of people who have to be involved to make a system of terror like this run and keep running. According to the LA Times, it’s highly likely that judges needed to approve the “alerts” be placed on these peoples’ passports. Judges who needed to somehow find it OK to refuse people the right to move across borders because they were assisting others with their human rights; judges who swore to uphold the first amendment and then flagged the passports of journalists. They did not need to participate in this. But that means there were also attorneys who presented the government’s case to the judge. There were people in the courtrooms at the time who have said nothing about this happening, regular people like perhaps a stenographer who have participated in keeping their mouths shut rather than whistle blowing. Even when something happens in judges’ chambers, documents go through a lot of hands.

There are the immigration officers who carried out the orders.

I haven’t even started on the folks carrying out all of this when it comes to the actual asylees, the adults and children who we know have been suffering on our border. I’m talking about the ones participating in the asylum interview bottleneck. The ones turning the locks on the cages. The ones building the cages. The ones actually making money on the cages. There are actually hundreds of thousands of participants in this. It isn’t just Jeff Sessions and Donald Trump, who I think readers of this blog will probably find to be beyond any sense of shame.

I keep thinking of Eichmann organizing those train schedules to make sure all the trains could move everyone around Nazi Germany, and of everyone else involved in running the train system. Bureaucracies are made up in part by individual people and their individual actions, and they are a necessary part of these systems. And while it’s easy to forget, bureaucracies are not faceless.

But I try—I try, because it’s hard–to also think about the forgotten and even intentionally concealed history of everyday resistance that so many people have taken part in throughout history too. I try to hold out hope that we can again find and cultivate those memories, at least among some of ourselves.

Shaun Slifer_Sabot

“Slow It All Down” Shaun Slifer – Text and Image from Justseeds: “As an icon of working class history, the story goes that sabots were thrown into early industrial machinery when workers’ demands weren’t met. The term saboter, however, originally referred to the noisy footsteps of clog-clad rural workers, and thus their low-rung, unskilled labor within newly mechanized industrial factories. The word evolved from there to mean the slowing or bungling of a job on purpose: work stoppage.”

What You Need to Know about the Coup in Venezuela

The U.S. is again attempting a foreign coup in Venezuela. This is not the first time, and if it doesn’t succeed, it will not be the last time. For those of us who are United States citizens, we have a tremendous responsibility to inform ourselves about what our government is doing and to not perpetuate the real and devastating harm that is being caused.

Imagine for a moment that another country declared our elections fraudulent because so many of us are unhappy with Trump, or because the person who wins the popular vote does not become the president. Imagine that country has several nearby military bases. In fact, can you imagine another country having a military base in or near the US?

For example, did you know about the role the United States has played in making sure that “socialism isn’t working” in Venezuela and causing a devastating economic crisis? From this interview with two scholars who have both written multiple books on Venezuela (some of which I’ve read and used in my classes):

Juan Gonzalez: “Citgo, the huge American-based subsidiary of the Venezuelan oil industry, which has not been allowed to remit back any of the money that it’s making here in the United States back to Venezuela.”

Steve Ellner: “The sanction that prohibits Citgo from remitting profits to Venezuela is a very important measure. It means that the Venezuelan government is being deprived of approximately $1 billion a year.”

“But, Juan, in addition to that, there is a major impact in terms of discouraging commercial and financial interests throughout the world from any kind of transaction with Venezuela. There is a list of 70—approximately 70 Venezuelan officials who are being sanctioned. And that translates into a situation in which the U.S. government, and specifically Steven Mnuchin, the secretary of the treasury, has undertaken different investigations, workshops with representatives of Japan, Europe, Latin America, in order to find out where the shell companies are. In other words, he has created a situation in which commercial interests throughout the world are afraid to have anything to do with Venezuela. That amounts to virtually a block—an economic blockade.”

Did you know Mike Pence made an announcement to the Venezuelan people declaring someone else the president before Juan Guaidó even declared himself the president? Did you know our ambassadors and VPs made videos to people in other countries for social media? Can you imagine getting a message on FB from Angela Merkel telling us who our president “really” was?

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Original image source: School of the Americas Watch

The coup attempt in Venezuela takes place within a history of constant violent military intervention throughout Latin America. These interventions happen regardless of Democratic or Republican administration; the most recent and obvious example is the coup in Honduras which was supported and ratified by Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and President Obama in 2009. There seems to be no sense of irony to the calls of “lack of democracy” in Venezuela while an explicitly, clearly illegitimate and fraudulent president sits in office in Honduras with the full support of Washington.

Furthermore, in the US we are basically never exposed to how or why anyone would support Chavismo at the grassroots. What do you know, for example about the deeply democratic comunas? Now this environment has changed, but it is still essential to consider, and to wonder critically what accounts are being left out now?

Democracy Now! and NACLA are good places to get reliable coverage of what’s happening in Venezuela.

When we are ill-informed or when we turn away, or worse, when we perpetuate the idea that Maduro is a dictator, that there is another legitimate president, that a coup is legitimate, or any of the other lies our government is peddling to us, we put real people’s lives in danger.

military interventions map

Worrying about Others Is Nothing to Fear


Every day I think about my friends in Honduras and I worry about them. I wonder what they’re doing and if they’re OK, and I wonder if they’re worried about today or tomorrow. Then I worry and wonder about my friends in Argentina who I haven’t seen in a little longer. I feel bad that I owe them a visit and I am concerned that I have lost touch with some of them. But most of all I worry about how much they’re being affected by the deepening crash of the economy, increasing social repression, and overall sense of crisis reaching infamous 2001 levels. I also think about how I owe my good friend in prison a letter, and I wonder how he’s getting along too, and I hope that he knows that my longer than usual stretch without communication doesn’t mean that I’m not thinking of him often.

I feel connected to these folks, and my worries are personal rather than abstract. The problems they face—in the form, often, of risk to their lives—are elements of large social problems of the kind many of us read and hear about in the news. The visibility of these problems happening to people who are faraway makes both the people and the problems seem invisible. But they are not abstract social problems. They are everyday problems faced by real humans. They are the concrete problems faced by my living breathing friends, even if these concrete problems are overwhelming oppressive social structures.

It seems to me that I also know many people who have refused to face or even acknowledge these problems. Their reaction, it seems to me, is one of fear. They fear, perhaps, becoming sucked in to the sense of worry that I described above. They fear, perhaps, becoming overwhelmed by the extent of the world’s problems. They fear, perhaps, their sense of helplessness. It is true that “you can’t help everyone.”

But I wouldn’t trade my constant sense of worry and obligation for the disregard or the protective ignorance or the fear or whatever it is that stops people from engaging. Despite the fact that injustice will never be solved, I know that I am connected horizontally in relationships with others that are mutual, loving, and creating alternatives everyday to the systems which tear us down. I am engaged in nurturing myself and others. I know that I am not hiding from reality.

Every week I try to do what I can. It is overwhelming, and so I try to work first on the corner of the giant puzzle of injustice closest to me, while keeping the whole picture in front of me and making sure that my piece will still be able to connect. I work on always increasing my network of solidarity and especially its diversity. And I try to hand puzzle pieces to passersby, who happen to know me but no one else, and get them involved too, and I guess this for me is also part of how solidarity works.

Sometimes I fail, but every day I worry and I make all the room in my life I can to change the world. I reflect, I criticize, and I work at it. I know that I am obligated to others because my humanity is bound up in theirs. Without them, I am not fully human.

Graveyards and Gardens

I came across this short passage suddenly the other day in Jeanette Winterson’s Written on the BodyIn this radically shifted perspective I found myself able to move toward more radical acceptance of death and constant change. Maybe you will find something else.

Six bearers in long coats and white scarves carried the body to the grave. To call it a grave at this stage would be to dignify it. In a garden it might be a trench for a new asparagus bed. Fill it with manure and plant it out. An optimistic hole. (p 176)

The Grave of Rowan Morrison

“The Grave of Rowan Morrison,” Cathy G Johnson. Image found separately and used with artist’s permission.

Happy Holidays—would you please put your pain on hold so I can enjoy my perfect life?

The Rebel Prof is honored to present a guest post written by an anonymous academic of color.

“I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice…”—Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Your silence will not protect you.” –Audre Lorde

Black and white text that reads We Want to Destroy White Power

Image by Roger Peet

The host of this blog, who kindly invited me to write a guest post and helped me edit the post, suggested a picture like the one on the left.  While the image definitely screams my deepest desire, it is not quite what I had in mind while writing this piece. Thus in an attempt to better articulate what I wanted to capture, I went on Google image search and typed in “happy holidays family” (not “white family” or “Merry Christmas,” just to be clear).  Tada~

 

"Happy Holidays" screen shot

I have noticed that the images we constantly get from Google (or anywhere) often invoke a mix of feelings in me—anger, pain, sense of absurdity, shame, to name a few. What these images share is their relentless salespersonship of white comfort.

I have been thinking about white people’s comfort for a while. You see, growing up, I didn’t get to read “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” or “The Uses of Anger” so I wasn’t taught about the danger of white comfort beyond white hatred. For so long, the nice white people around me have been pointing at the angry white dudes with torches marching down the streets of Charlottesville as the true enemy, the only enemy, as if their comfortable place in this oppressive reality were just an unfortunate coincidence , as if they had no control. I have seen nice white people giving up fights with the system because the system was “nice” to THEM. Then, I hear them requesting appreciation for THEIR suffering and silence, because their mere lack of enthusiastic participation in white supremacy makes them heroic and yet vulnerable, as if the torches in Charlottesville are burning down THEIR lives and those of THEIR children. I have felt the guilt planted in my heart for wanting to fight, for wanting them to fight with me, as if I were rude for having dared to disrupt THEIR comfort.

Then I think of those who are uncomfortably white but also do not want to make other whites uncomfortable. I think of how they would rather spend time apologizing for white silence than break it. I remember being told not to judge a person by their occasional participation in oppression and to embrace forgiveness, as if I were vicious for failing to heal wounds that are only “occasionally” cut open. I think of being constantly reminded of the perfect survivor, resilient, quiet, forbearing and extraordinarily successful against all odds, as if suffering is not worthy should the sufferer fall short of perfection, as if there were such a thing as perfection outside of what whiteness desires.

I write this piece, 55 years after MLK pled with the “white moderates” to acknowledge the urgency of Black suffering and 37 years after Audre Lorde invited white women to get over their fragility and guilt and embrace the anger of women of color. Yet here I find myself, struggling to prove my worth to white people by white standards and being told my frustration is due to my personal lacking. Unlike Lorde, my anger is not sharp and focused, it is confused and disorienting. So I write. This writing did not start with the intention to inspire but to clarify so I save the last part for myself.

Why can’t I tell the nice white people in their face that their silence is toxic and their excuses are utter bullshit? Is it my job to tell them so?  Should I like or even love those who have treated me with respect and love as an individual but remained unmoved by my shared destiny with other dispossessed and intimidated by our rage? Is it my survival instinct or cowardice that made me decide to publish these words anonymously? Have I made myself too comfortable?

 

Saturday Rec: Fiction I Read in 2018

To celebrate the end of the year I’m recommending a whole slew of things to read! This is a non-exhaustive list of the novels I read this past year that I loved and would love for you to read. Why read fiction, you ask? Please watch the fabulous (and dearly departed) Ursula K LeGuin at the National Book Awards in 2014 explain that it is in part because we “need writers who can remember freedom” (transcript here).

  • LaRose – Louise Erdrich
    • I’ve read several of Erdrich’s books and I plan on eventually reading all of her work – but slowly, so I don’t run out of it.
  • The Killing Moon and the Shadowed Sun (The Dreamblood Duology) – NK Jemisin
  • She Would Be King – Wayétu Moore
    • A magical realist tale of the founding of Liberia. I actually recommend not reading any more summary than that.
  • Troubling Love – Elena Ferrante
    • A painful but beautiful novel about the sudden disappearance and loss of the narrator’s mother in Ferrante’s signature style. I think I have now finished Ferrante’s catalog and I feel a bit lost.
  • Pachinko – Min Jin Lee
    • A book about four generations of a Korean family from before the two Koreas and their migration to Japan. A great transnational novel on race, identity, and migration.
  • Unsheltered – Barbara Kingsolver
    • I’ve read and loved all of Kingsolver’s work and this is her newest.
  • The Ministry of Utmost Happiness – Arundhati Roy
    • A very beautiful and surprising novel about nonbinary genders and the militant struggle in Kashmir.

If Ursula K Le Guin did not convince you, my favorite academic advice columnist has also recommended reading fiction among many other wonderful suggestions for those experiencing “outrage fatigue.” Here’s to imagining (and building) a different world in 2019.

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Ursula K Le Guin at the National Book Awards in 2014.

List: Things that Outlasted My Prestigious “Job for Life” as a Professor in the State of Wisconsin

Things that outlasted my “job for life”:

  • Electronic drip coffee maker on sale at Sears purchased the night before beginning my exciting new dream job
  • Expensive brand name satchel selected to differentiate me from students and celebrate the completion of my PhD
  • $4 cactus purchased from Home Depot to beautify my office, variety “Peruvian Old Lady”
  • 300 unused business cards
  • Moist towlette left in the drawer from a first week take out meal, still moist!
  • Cheap ball-point university branded pen given to me during orientation, still full of ink!
  • Tide to-go instant stain remover stick, still functional and ready for use at whatever exciting new employment adventure awaits me! (Probably retail.)

Things that did not outlast my tenure track job:

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