Monday, July 4, 2011

Privileged People are Privileged, Even When I Love Them

Do you know what sucks? Sweat glands behind your knees.

I'm trying to write this cross-legged, so I don't think I'm long for this world.


Have you ever wanted to be a couple?

Not just one person in a couple, but, like, the couple itself?

Imagine running into them at The Strand. 
It has been scientifically confirmed that the couple demonstrating the highest statistical levels of awesome at present is Namanda Paiman. I mean, Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer.

He is the coauthor of what is verifiably the best book of ever--Good Omens--in addition to approximately 2398098 other noteworthy sci-fi works in novel, graphic novel, film script, and song form. Though perhaps best known for his seminal work American Gods, I prefer its gentler, funnier spin-off, Anansi Boys, possibly the only book I've read by a white author that successfully features believable, not-highly-problematic protagonists of color.

Before her solo career, She was one half of the Bostonian duo The Dresden Dolls, a musical throwback to the cabaret form circa the Weimar Republic, with a queer twist. She now sings solo, perhaps most famous for her Riot Grrrl aesthetic as demonstrated by songs like "Map of Tasmania."

Who wouldn't want to affix playing cards to her own pubic bone, amiright?

Srsly, though, it's refreshing to see women reacting so strongly, and with such queer sensibility, to the rampant policing designed to keep female-presenting bodies in their places. Ever since Freud, women have been deemed intrinsically excessive (perhaps to make up for our "lack".) Amanda uses this designation, so often portraying women as hysterical and out-of-control and overturns it. By doing so, she puts female-identified bodies back in, um, c*ntrol.

Look, I wanted to write the word, but do you have any idea how mad my mom would be??

So. Palmer and Gaiman. I can haz over for tea and crumpets?

And then.

And then.

One day--yesterday--I was listening to Palmer's CD samples on itunes, trying to determine exactly how to spend my monies. And I heard something that I found--say it with me--very problematic.


The focus of my ire today is the Dresden Doll's song "Sex Changes."

Is it a shock that people who aren't trans* (aka. cissexual, or cis, people) can sometimes be transphobic? It shouldn't be. 

The song--which I had, of course, hoped would be trans* positive--includes lyrics like:

No second thoughts the knife is nearing
You'll never hear the little pitter patter pitter patter
Of this little feat of engineering
Of course I love you and of course it's what's inside that matters
But I think the whole charade is ending
It seems to me to be the only way to keep from getting
Caught up in a long life of regretting
The doctors said that once you get a taste for it you'll keep on cutting
So I guess it's about a girl whose boyfriend--or, possibly, girlfriend--is getting bottom surgery. And she [the narrator] seems to think that the surgery is both addictive and unnecessary (she references a charade.)

Of course, it could also be about someone who's getting an abortion. It's ambiguous.

Reading the entirety of the lyrics, it could really be either. But the discourse on trans* issues is especially troubling. 

Critique of surgery undergone by trans* individuals is hardly a newfangled thing. It's one of the most common excuses Radical Feminists use to pile their hate on the bodies of trans* folks. You know, the whole "you're not a feminist because you want to be a man now" and "you're not really a woman, you're still a man genetically and you'll always be a man and that's why you can't be in the Michigan Womyn's Festival."

So to see these fears and misunderstandings about trans* people in the lyrics of a song by a cis woman makes it really hard to give Amanda the benefit of the doubt. Do some trans* people regret their surgeries? Of course. Do all trans* people get surgery? No. Do trans* people get "addicted" to surgery? Only if you consider wanting to physically resemble your inner gender concept an "addiction."

I googled "Amanda Palmer transphobia" to see if anyone had written about it, but all I could really find was this quote from Amanda in an interview with

"The Dresden Dolls have always waved the giant flag of expressionism and individualism. We've always been very clear that we're a trans-friendly, gay-friendly, freak-loving band."


Aside from the lumping in of trans*, gay, and freak--whether or not Amanda, as neither gay nor trans* has the authority to reclaim that word for those communities--did we read the same lyrics? 

Amanda and I are bi (sounds like a good name for a band), but that doesn't give us the right to appropriate the experiences of other QUILTBAG individuals (Queer/Questioning, Unisex/Undecided, Intersex, Lesbian, Transgender/Transsexual, Bisexual, Asexual/Allied, Gay/Genderqueer). 

We may be sexual minorities, but we are only ONE kind of sexual minority. We can't speak for other people. 

You know, I think this incident can deepen our understanding of "Map of Tasmania."

I love the song, I love the video, both for its camp and for its unapologetic pubic hair love letter. But I think there's something more going on here. 

One of the many criticisms lodged against Radical Feminists is that they see the world in essentialist terms. Men and women, gay and straight, patriarchal and matriarchal. They celebrate the (cis) female body BECAUSE they see it as the epitome of the feminine. Sometimes called Difference Feminists, these ladies (and they're ALWAYS ladies) conflate being female with having a body scientifically designated as female. With this understanding, many RadFems believe that what makes them "real" women is their possession of vaginas. This understanding, of course, excludes many trans*, genderqueer, male-bodied, and intersex folks who identify as female or femme. 

I, on the other hand, follow the belief that I have a body, but I am not my body. 

I am more than my physical body. 

So, no matter how much I love "Map of Tasmania", I think that it is possibly a reflection of Amanda Palmer's essentialist beliefs. The song sends a great message on the surface--don't shave just because you're expected to--but it also does some body policing of its own, knocking the choices of women who choose to shave (and who apparently look like "eight-year-olds".)

I mean, I flout a lot of social norms, but I don't make fun of other people for following them if that's what they want to do. 

In some ways, the song is fetishizing the "ideal" female form just as much as Radical Feminists are. 

It's like a woman's worth is based on the length of her pubic hair, and, well, that's not really any better than being forced to shave. 

And, of course, for those who don't fit the form--there's the message that you don't belong. 

So...I guess what I'm saying is that the only couple I want to be right now is myself. 

I'm going to get a towel. I've had to wipe the back of my legs, like, five times over the course of writing this.