How to be Trans

It always comes as a surprise to me when I hear of discrimination within the LGBTQIA+ community. I assumed that a group of marginalized and discriminated people would stick together, having experienced social exile and not wanting to again. But then I hear someone say, “They’re too masculine/feminine to be Trans”/”They must be faking it”/”How can they say they’re Trans if they’re not…” and I’m floored at the close-minded words of a seemingly progressive concept.

What is the correct way to be Trans?

There isn’t one right way to be Trans just like there isn’t one right way to be any other letter in the acronym. Saying that someone can’t be a Trans-man because he performs femininely is like saying that a woman can’t be a lesbian because she isn’t butch and loves makeup or that a man can’t be gay because his voice is too deep.

The way that someone chooses to perform does not validate or invalidate the way they wish to identify.

The LGBTQIA+ community is filled with people who don’t fit into the Cis-normative/heteronormative boxes that society has constructed. Society said that marriage is between a man and a woman, a heteronormative belief. Lesbian and Gay individuals subvert this. Society says that men have penises and XY chromosomes while women have vaginas and two X chromosomes. The existence of transgender and non-binary individuals subvert that. It shows that there isn’t one way to be a certain gender. You can be a man with curves, with fat on your chest, and with a higher pitched voice. You can be a woman with facial hair; you can be neither on the simple basis that it’s comfortable for you. Gender and the way that it is received in society was created to restrict and label in a way that created hierarchies in our society (i.e. women as the weaker sex to keep them in the home). So why is there a correct way to be Trans? Why put someone in a category that the LGBTQIA+ community was created to resist?

If a Trans-woman says she’s a woman, she’s a woman. You have no right to tell her what she is and isn’t, just as she has no right to do the same to you.

The LGBTQIA+ community was created as a place where an individual could be themselves un-apologetically, a place where they’d be embraced for their differences and spectrum of identity. Invalidating an identity because it doesn’t fit what society says it should be is doing nothing more than participating in the oppressive system that created the need for the community in the first place.

 

 

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Mariam Bagadion is a second year student at SCSU double majoring in Women’s Studies and English. She has a passion for writing and social justice and thinks the coolest thing in the world is when the two can be combined. In her free time, she writes fiction, watches Netflix, and plays one of the three songs she knows on the ukulele.

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The Mark Cohen Complex 

When I traveled to the Philippines for three weeks at the end of last summer, I had a plan to write about my experience. I wanted to share my experiences of seeing my extended family, seeing the sights, and experiencing the difference between cultures that makes the group of over 7,000 islands so unique and dear to my heart. I wanted to write about the horrific traffic, the sky that turned the color of loamy water with the combination of pollution and fog, and the mom and pop shops pressed up against each other like the sardines they undoubtedly sell. I wanted to write about the first day in particular when my uncle picked us up from Ninoy Aquino International Airport and instructed his driver to take us on a tour of “The Real Philippines.” I made a point to bring along a small blue notebook to write down observations and then turn them into a candid analysis of Philippine life through my eyes.

The sight isn’t something that I’ll easily forget. Naked toddlers waddled into the middle of traffic and two five year olds crouched near a drain pipe with plastic Ziploc bags, filling them with rainwater, tinted yellow by God knows what. My sister pressed her finger to the window and said plainly, “That doesn’t look safe.” A few days later, driving in the same car, I witnessed the erecting of a shanty: cardboard and plastic bag walls, sporadic gleams of tin just to give it something resembling strength and to give the illusion that it wouldn’t blow over with typhoon winds. Something deeply bothered me when I looked at this, but I still wrote it down, though keeping most of the details through pure memory. Then, during the last week, we went north of Naga City (where we were staying) to the smaller town of Panicuason. Specifically, to the house on land that my mother and a few more of their siblings owned. It was far from a mansion, just a one story structure with two bedrooms a bathroom and a kitchen; it was one hundred-percent livable. What caught my attention and set off alarm bells in my head was the house adjacent to the main structure, belonging to the maid tasked with the upkeep of the house. Dried out banana leaves and various grasses were woven together for the roof. Posters for cell phone plans made up part of the door, or maybe the outer wall (a literal side by side comparison). And it hit me that I’d never step into that house, that I’d never get close to the shanty or even worry about water to the point that I’d risk my health just to get some. But part of me still wanted to write about it, explore this struggle, and turn it into something.

I started calling this the Mark Cohen Complex, named after the filmmaker in the musical RENT. I called it this for two reasons:

  1. It’s the desire to help in the form of art. Me through writing and Mark through film.
  1. Too late is the realization that it serves more as a buffer between the artist, their art, and the message it’s trying to convey. A wall. A separation to keep that uncomfortable rolling of your stomach out.

In the musical, an old, homeless woman calls Mark out for filming some police officers urging her to get off the street, saying, “I don’t need no goddamn help from some bleeding heart cameraman. My life’s not for you to make a name for yourself.”

And I couldn’t make a name for myself out of the lives of people I saw for less than a second. The churning won out, and I decided to write this piece instead.

I figure that many artists have at least the first part of the complex. And why not? The purpose of art is expression or attempting to make meaning out of things not easily explained. But for me, it was hard to write about the things I saw. I wasn’t sure if I was stepping into shoes that I didn’t even own, or if I was stealing stories and images from people who barely have even that. The line between creating art and using people to do so became a really big issue for me, and I’m still struggling with every aspect of it. I know it’s not about me but about the people who suffer injustices at the hands of cyclical poverty every day. But I can’t use their voices as someone who stays at hotels, resorts, and three story residences when I visit. I’ll never know their story or feel their struggle, so it’d be wrong for me to try and express it.

Many times what starts off as an attempt to help and raise awareness romanticizes the issue with no real work to fight the issues that are romanticized. I think it’s important for artists to understand this line and to start making a concerted effort that directly benefits what they’re trying to create the art out of. With that in mind, after asking people I know who live in the Philippines and have greater knowledge of the workings of local organizations, here are a few charities to support:

Save the Children: Philippines

Gawad Kalinga

UNICEF Philippines

With this I’m hoping to do my part beyond sharing the beauty of this country through the written word.

 

 

thumbnail_147Mariam Bagadion is a second year student at SCSU double majoring in Women’s Studies and English. She has a passion for writing and social justice and thinks the coolest thing in the world is when the two can be combined. In her free time, she writes fiction, watches Netflix, and plays one of the three songs she knows on the ukulele. 

The Invisible Queer

Someone I know recently looked at me in surprise when I mentioned that I have decided to start using the word queer to describe my identity.  “But you aren’t a lesbian,” she said, “why would you want to identify as one?”  I can certainly understand her confusion.  After all, my partner is a man, and my pronouns are she/her; to the world I look like a cis-gender, straight, white, 42-year-old.  I am an invisible queer person.

I was 20 years old when I acknowledged that I was attracted to women, and I came out as bisexual.  Anyone who knows me is aware that I am a person who isn’t afraid to share her beliefs in loud and boisterous ways; some people even call me (gasp) confrontational.  I immediately came out to my friends and family, without really thinking about any of the consequences that could come with this revelation.  Surprisingly, (at the time) most people ignored it.  I thought I was being accepted for my bisexuality.  It took me a long time to realize that it was something completely different.

Bi-erasure has been a part of my life for the last twenty-two years.  And it isn’t just from straight people, even those in the LGBT community have looked at me and told me that I can’t be bisexual.  This is super confusing to me, since the B stands for BI-SEXUAL!  For some reason, the idea that I am attracted to people on any part of the spectrum seems to be scary to just about everyone.

In twenty-two years, I have heard every stereotypical response to bisexuality, and they always make me feel angry and hurt.  When I discovered the LGBT community in Minneapolis, I thought that I was finding the community that I belonged to, and instead there were many times when I didn’t feel as though I belonged in any community.  I’m in no way saying that every experience I’ve had with LGBT folks has yielded this pain, but there have been enough of them that it’s made an impression on me.

In 2014, even the LGBT Task Force made a mistake when the leadership program director wrote about saying “bye-bye to the word bisexuality.”   And, she made the statement on Bisexual Awareness Day.  The organization later apologized, but that statement shows that there is a real problem when it comes to the idea of bisexuality within the context of the LGBT community.

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It’s as though, because I can “appear” to be straight I really don’t exist as a queer person.  But my queerness shouldn’t be tied to outward appearance.  I read a great blog once that talked about Queer Theory which said queerness is freedom from norms.  It used to be that “normal” was described as heterosexual.  Through the years homonormativity has become a way for the LGBT community to move into some of the laws that have given rights to an entire community, and I am definitely thankful for that.  But it doesn’t mean that it isn’t problematic and we shouldn’t look at it.

I definitely have some privilege that I have to take a hard look at because of this invisibility.  I don’t have to currently worry that someone is going to be negative towards me if I hold hands with, or kiss, my partner in public.  I don’t try to be, but I can be someone who can walk around with all of the privilege of heterosexual people.  But on the other hand, I have experienced all of the negative effects of heterosexism in my life.  That is the reason that I chose to identify as queer; I felt the need to step away from both heterosexuality and even homosexuality. After all, I am neither of those things, and I’m both of them.

 

Photos:

http://everydayfeminism.com/2014/12/bi-erasure-hurts/   

http://www.glaad.org/blog/dear-prudence-telling-bi-people-stay-closet-bad-advice 

 

 

melissa-anne-frankMelissa Anne Frank is majoring in both Women’s Studies and English Rhetoric at St Cloud State University.  She plans on continuing her education with a Master’s degree and then a Doctorate.  Melissa is a white, cisgender, pansexual who is proud to be part of the Social Media team at the St. Cloud State Women’s Center.  Melissa also writes a personal blog called Musing with Melly on WordPress. Melissa loves reading, writing, video games, spending time with her partner and two children, and crushing the patriarchy! 

Battle of the Bodies: Learning to Accept Ourselves

Why is it okay to call me skinny (generally accompanied by a disgusted face) and it’s inappropriate for me to call a heavier woman fat? Both comments are equally hurtful (depending on the individuals’ insecurities). And of course, this incessant debate stems from the current expectation that women should be thin and not weighed down by extra weight. But why is extra weight deemed unattractive today? Why is being thin shameful and envied? Why can’t both be mutually accepted and admired?

What people tend to forget is that no one has the same body structure or metabolism. We all come from couples that have unique body chemistries and even our siblings have different characteristics than us. For instance, I have three siblings and each of us have dissimilar body types than one another. Body diversity is a beautiful thing and it’s time that we all embrace it because no one’s body will ever be the same and fit into the mold society has set out before us. It’s not fair or rational to be upset with someone because they effortlessly (or with effort) embody the current fad of what makes women sexy and appealing today.

The ideal female body is a myth that continually changes in society with each time period. You will notice that during the Renaissance, curvier women were highly coveted; other cultures have marveled at women with mustaches (of all things), and Victorians admired pale women because they symbolized a sense of delicateness. Of course, this list can go on, and in other cultures and nations women are renowned for assets that Americans find odd. Even today when we look at the past few decades, there are startling differences in desired body shapes and beauty. So this trend with thin women will change and (especially with the many movements and campaigns created to promote women of all sizes) society’s tastes are expanding to accommodate curvier women, and those new groups of thin women not fitting the ideal figure will yet again be alienated by society. And all of this has been perpetuated by the media, beauty industry, and archaic ideas of fitness and health.

When we pull out our phones, laptops, etc., we are immediately confronted with impeccably beautiful women. These women tend to have slender physiques and flawless skin. We idolize these women because they look perfect and allow our minds to desire looking like them. It’s obvious the women in these pictures and commercials are re-touched to appear more attractive than they are naturally; we revere them because they are what’s expected of us. It’s a never ending cycle of realizing models are caked with makeup and/or re-touched and vowing to remember this, but it is our inherent need to fit into the mold the male gaze (coined by Laura Mulvey) has designed for us that keeps us at the will of society’s presumptions.

I personally find curvier women sexy even though it’s not my body type; this expectation that only slender individuals are sought-after by men and women is absurd and disproved in many ways.The expectations of sexiness stem from our patriarchal society and I find it surprising that being slender is in right now considering the high adoration put on hourglass figures. Contrary to this, we are lead to believe that women with smaller breasts, a narrower frame, and a definite thigh gap are attractive due to the media and how celebrities (who have personal trainers, chefs, and nannies) look. However, as the media is streaming these ideas into us, we are being brainwashed with flawlessly airbrushed pictures and videos designed to target our insecurities and make us buy makeup to cover our imperfect and un-like model skin, purchase diet systems/foods, buy workout equipment and videos, and so on. Society preys on our existing insecurities and creates new ones in order to fill a capitol need and maintain control through objectification.

So before you shame your body, remember that it’s unique. Although most of the women you see in the media are thin, remember that they’re not the entire female population; they were picked out of thousands of women just like you to maintain the female body stereotype and in almost every case, their appearance is not natural. Before you see a thinner woman and think, “She’s so skinny. I bet she never eats,” remember that that woman may have a health issue preventing her from gaining weight or maybe she’s struggling emotionally and needs support. And before you see a heavier woman and think, “She’s so fat. She needs to lose weight,” remember that she may have a health issue making her gain weight or is struggling emotionally and needs help. It’s paramount that we don’t judge because we don’t understand what other women are going through and it’s not our job to evaluate how well they fit in society’s frame of the ideal woman.

When it comes to our bodies, let’s look inward at ourselves and dig for our redeeming qualities; this’s not always easy, but essential in building our confidence and having the strength to appreciate the various appearances of others too. Let’s not compare ourselves to others, but appreciate and accept that we’re all unalike and that’s okay.

 

Photo: http://xonecole.com/beyondbeauty-11-images-that-celebrates-body-diversity-self-love-within-women/

 

mara-martinsonMara Martinson is a freelance editor, creative writer, and graduate student. She received her Bachelor’s degree in English from UW-Superior and is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Rhetoric and Writing at SCSU. She teaches ENGL 191 and in her free time, enjoys writing, reading, knitting, crafting, and spending time with her partner and family. Her creative work has appeared in journals including The Nemadji Review, Kaleidoscope, and The Upper Mississippi Harvest. Mara describes her work for Collective Feminism as feminist, capturing the occasional brutality of life and the emotional struggles we all face. 

Don’t Succumb to Anti-Somali-American Backlash

Last Saturday night at the Crossroads Mall in St. Cloud, an armed man took to violence by stabbing 9 people who were along different parts of the mall. According to a St. Cloud Times news report, he was eventually shot and killed by an off duty police officer after he allegedly attempted to lunge at said officer. The victims of the stabbings were taken to the St. Cloud hospital, and all but possibly 1 of them did not sustain life threatening injuries. And at the time this piece is being written, (the night of Sunday, Sep. 18), the motives of the suspect remain unclear. But such a jarring and heinous, violent crime cannot go unnoticed by the surrounding St. Cloud community and beyond and has left many people in a state of shock and fear. It is this state of fear that I would like to explore some more in this piece.

It is no secret that the perpetrator of this violent attack has been identified as Dahir Adan, a young Somali-American man who lived in St. Cloud and was in his junior year at St. Cloud State University. I identify him as such because every media outlet that I’ve seen reporting on this violent crime already have, and I strongly fear that such an incident will incite further Islamophobia and anti-Somali-American racism in our community. The extreme violence that the perpetrator committed is devastating and inexcusable, but we as St. Cloudians must unite and refuse to let the actions of one individual member of our community speak for an entire group of Somali-Americans, who are valued and important members of our community. And let’s be real here, the resolution and interpretation of this crime may have been very different if the attacker had been white.

People have already begun speculating that the incident in question was an act of terror. Since the motives of the suspect remain unclear, it is still unknown as to whether the perpetrator had any terrorist affiliations. According to St. Cloud Police Chief, Blair Anderson, as reported by CNN, “We still don’t have anything substantive that would suggest anything more than what we know already, which is this was a lone attacker,” “And right now, we’re trying to get to the bottom of his motivations.” (Narayan & Visser). It is important here to recognize if the perpetrator of this crime had been white, and non-Muslim, mainstream media outlets would not be speculating as to whether the assailant was a terrorist. This evidence of white privilege is abundant. An article interrogating Islamophobic ideologies by pointing out that “For instance, there were over 300 mass shootings in the United States in 2015 and less than 1 percent of them were committed by Muslims; but it was the one committed by Muslims in San Bernardino that was immediately labeled an act of “terrorism.” We, especially white folks, need to acknowledge the instrumental role that racism and Islamophobia play in the rhetoric that is used to describe incidents and perpetrators of mass violence and critically engage in these social issues by making sure to call white terrorism by what it really is: terrorism.

The author goes on to depict recent examples of terrorist attacks committed by a white, and often Christian men, of which corporate owned media and others were way too reluctant to label as terrorist attacks,

Just one week before the December 2015 San Bernardino attacks, a white man named Robert Dear walked into a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs (with a radical Christian ideology according to his ex-wife’s court testimony) and killed several people in an act of mass murder. But that was never called Christian (or domestic) terrorism in our American media. Only six months before that episode, our nation witnessed a 21-year-old white supremacist named Dylan Roof who walked into an African-American church and then proceeded to slaughter nine innocent African-American parishioners; including a South Carolina state senator whom he had asked for by name.

Americans’ refusal to label white terrorism as terrorism is a blatant upholding of white supremacist ideologies in which white people are never assumed to be a threat to society.

In relation to the resolution of this heinous crime, which ended with the killing of Dahir Adan by an off duty police officer, it is vital to note that a different outcome would have been much more likely to have occurred had the attacker been white. Black people are assumed to be more dangerous and more deadly than their white counterparts, no matter if that person has a violent history or not. Just look at the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting, in which a white assailant killed 20 children as well as adults, who escaped from his rampage practically unscathed. Want more proof? Look to the outcome of the 2012 Aurora shooting, in which a white assailant killed a dozen people waiting outside of a movie theatre to see the new Batman film who also was detained by law enforcement practically unharmed. In no way am I bringing this up in defense of the violent actions that Adan took on Saturday, and I recognize that some sort of action definitely needed to be taken to stop Adan from hurting more people. I am simply stating that, statistically, if Adan had been a white, non-Muslim person committing this grotesque crime, he would have had a much higher probability of coming out of it alive.

But even with all of this information and feminist analysis, I anticipate that there is, and will be, a lot of white (and non-white, non-Somali) members of our community who will demonize and generalize the entire Somali-American community as responsible for the violence of this one individual. Again, what happened at Crossroads Mall this past Saturday was not okay, but we cannot blame an entire community for the actions of a single person. It is our social responsibility, as the community of St. Cloud, to challenge and deflect hateful, bigoted backlash aimed at our community’s Somali-Americans. My heart goes out to the victims of this violence and their families, and also the family of Dahir Adan, who must reconcile with Adan’s unusual act of violence and his subsequent death. We need to unite, responsibly process, and respond to this traumatic event without participating in more hatred and violence towards members of our St. Cloud community. If it wasn’t for Islamophobia, racism, and xenophobia, this entire incident may never have happened in the first place (again, this does not in any way excuse Adan’s actions, but is merely a reflection of the reality of anti-Somali and Islamophobic oppression that festers in our community, and how everyone’s actions have consequences). Let’s move forward and heal from this.

Sources:

http://www.sctimes.com/story/news/local/2016/09/17/reports-several-hurt-crossroads-center-incident/90607870/

http://www.cnn.com/2016/09/18/us/minnesota-mall-stabbing/

http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/37633-why-are-mass-killings-by-white-people-in-the-us-almost-never-called-terrorism

http://www.citypages.com/news/st-cloud-is-the-worst-place-in-minnesota-to-be-somali-7976833

Photo:

http://www.ksdk.com/img/resize/content.kare11.com/photo/2016/09/17/St%20cloud%20mall%20dp%201280_1474169675788_6099541_ver1.0.jpg?preset=534-401

 

andy-blog-photoRuth Sybil May is a junior undergraduate student at SCSU, studying Gender and Women’s Studies, Human Relations, and Film studies. Ruth is a transgender, non-binary femme person from a poor, working class background with a passion for feminism, fashion, film, and rad tunes.

Black Cool

By Sharai Sims

I have started a new phase in my life. I am a black woman, 22 years old, and living in rural Minnesota, ­­ where assimilation is a must for social acceptance. For so many years, I thought I was accepted because of my light skin and the ability to flat iron my hair so bone straight that you never saw my nappy roots at the nape of my neck.  I thought it was the traces of whiteness in my family line that separated me from the other black kids. Just as ambiguous as my looks, I couldn’t be placed nor did I try to limit myself when moving through social crowds and groups.  I was accepted seamlessly.

Because of the necessity I felt to assimilate, I never acknowledged the things that were actually setting me apart: my humor (black), my style (black), and my insight (black).

When I was a sophomore in high school, I remember a party that my white friends were throwing. At the party, all the popular girls (there were about nineteen of us) wanted to do a group shirt saying “sophomore class of 2012.”  Funny, I was actually flattered to be considered a) popular and b) the only black person invited, even though our whole school was pretty diverse.

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Is Birth a Competition?

By Amy L. Peine

Lately, I’ve been noticing a disturbing trend on my Facebook newsfeed: As more of my friends become mothers, I’ve noticed an influx of posted memes with images of 1950s style housewives with captions such as, “Don’t let this face fool you, I delivered a baby without drugs and will snap you like a twig.” There has also been a new movement of shaming women who have cesarean deliveries, whether planned or not, with a call to “cover up your shame” and not wear bikinis that show cesarean scars. This is, in my mind, another ploy to pit women against each other.

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