ContraPoints just did this awesome video on gender critical transphobia and I’m stoked about it

Warning: language and political stuff

 

ContraPoints is my personal YouTube superhero.  Hands down, favorite social commentator on that platform.  ContraPoints is also one of those rare public figures who I find routinely thought-provoking, in her videos as well as in her debates, wherein she actually engages with the ideas of the other side.  I mean, as a transwoman myself she’s easy for me to root for- and I absolutely cop to that emotional bias -but for a long time trans issues have been used as bonding shorthand and a rallying point for conservatives, sometimes even among purblind centrists on the left.

Sam Harris, whose embrace of conservativism helped inspire me to start blogging, made his comfort with the right even more clear on a recent Joe Rogan appearance where he brought up trans awareness as an imminent threat to free speech.  Laura Ingraham from Fox News recently had a discussion on her independent show about how trans people are going to abolish humanity and usher in a transhumanist cyborg revolution.  Jordan Peterson has echoed nearly identical concerns, about trans people championing an ideology that runs against primal human nature and is designed to replace it.  Between, let’s say, 2014 and 2016, YouTube was absolutely packed with “cringe compilations” of videos from the channels of non-binary people.  Oh yeah, and Donald fucking Trump attempting to legally shut down the mention of transgenderism and transsexuality in medical literature last October and banning us from the military.

Transphobia is absolutely normalized and gender critical TERFS are only another way of normalizing and legitimizing it.  (For those who don’t know: TERF is an acronym for trans exclusionary radical feminist) Gender critical TERFS are especially pernicious because they actually do a careful job of consolidating a lot of older transphobic beliefs and attitudes and rebranding them in ways that are approachable for lay-feminists.  A lot of trans people could probably rattle off endless examples of this since, throughout our lives, they’ve been absolutely impossible to overlook, but most of the cisgendered laity are probably familiar with them as well.

For example, when Chaz Bono came out publicly, my mom said “I could see how a man might think ‘you don’t just get to have an operation and name change and become a man’ “.  When a high profile person comes out as trans, this is kind of a common reaction.  The generalized belief that trans identities were fake was made clear to me in early childhood, when one of my aunts came out as a transwoman.  Everyone referred to her by her deadname and the wrong pronouns, or sometimes invent a demeaning portmanteau of the deadname and real name.   During my upbringing in a small town in rural Alaska, if anyone was in any way not straight or cis, they would probably be referred to as “he, she, it”.  Exactly like that, typically.  Whoever was talking about them would finish whatever thought they had about this person and during the last time they used a pronoun they would say “he, she, it”.  In other words, trans people are either fake (msigendering and deadnaming) or not human (“it”).

In the last few years there have been many genuine gains for transpeople and our visibility has improved, but rather like women and queers in general, contempt for us is so culturally ubiquitous that’s nearly impossible to get away from.  What’s more is that the west generally nurtures a crab-bucket or zero-sum game mentality, where any gains for yourself must necessarily entail disenfranchising someone else.  Gender critical TERFS exploit the zero-sum game perspective by pairing female empowerment with the dehumanization of trans people.

The zero-sum game phenomenon has a lot to do with how transphobia is normalized: hostility toward queers is common enough on the right, but the right-leaning hipsters that adopt the language of libertarianism and the lazier left-leaning centrists frequently come together over hostility toward transpeople.  In a zero-sum game, it makes sense to be primed to fight everyone, since your gain must necessarily hurt someone else, and having an agreed-upon common enemy can alleviate some tension by letting people come together while also satisfying the need for a sacrificial lamb.

A common enemy for everyone can even be an open door for other oppressed groups: by slamming trans people, gender critical TERFS attempt to create parity with males within the patriarchy.  Whether this is intended by any single group of TERFS, it functions like that, since so many lay people on both the left and the right are prepared to attack trans people.  Circumstantial evidence is never wholly conclusive, but if the pattern holds true often enough it becomes impossible to ignore.  If the pattern keeps holding true and the involved parties deny it up and down, it starts to look like barefaced dishonesty.

ContraPoints brought this up herself in her recent video and it made me giddy with vindication.  Near the end, she summarizes how many common TERF attacks on transpeople end up supporting the patriarchy more than attacking it.  A common TERF opinion is that gender confirmation surgery validates the patriarchy by reducing manhood and womanhood to anatomical forms: therefore, for a transwomen (because, of course, they never address transmen), femininity is a weakness because it betrays submission to the patriarchy and masculinity is a weakness because it attests to the fact that they are not truly female.  Any and all gender expression by a transwoman is a chink in their armor.  One of them reveals the artifice of misogyny and the other reveals their essential maleness.  What this boils down to is that TERFS allow the ciswomen in their ranks to use body shaming and attacks for gender non-conformity against transwomen, which steps right in line with common patriarchal attacks on women and queers.  Essentially, TERFS are weaponizing the patriarchy while simultaneously claiming to be fighting against it.

I think I’ve made this clear already, but along with my vindication over well-constructed attacks on social evils that need to be attacked, parts of this video had a very personal resonance with me.  One thing that most transpeople have been asked is that “you say you feel like a (man or woman), but what does a (man or woman) feel like?”

Contra rebutted this as handily as every other fallacy the video addressed, but it occurred to me that there was an even simpler answer than the one she gave: I don’t know and neither do you.  Selfhood is a messy confluence of pre-existing psychological influences.  At its most substantial, it is a consistency of patterns, but there is no single defining aspect.  It reminds me of a meme I saw on Facebook back in like 2011 when a bunch of states were beginning to recognize same sex marriages.  The meme compared the United States to a bunch of other countries that have long since embraced marriage equality, or have legalized “gay marriage”.  The caption of the meme said “or, as everyone else calls it, marriage.”  The point was that gay people don’t get gay married any more than they gay park their gay cars or gay apply for gay jobs or take their gay dogs for gay walks.

This standard also applies to a lot of firmly felt identities.  The layers of your identity are absolutely real but there is no single quality in your subjective experience that makes them what they are.  To bring things back to the question posed by snide cispeople, “what does (male or female) feel like”, just try to answer that question for yourself.  Men do not man park their man cars and women do not woman apply for woman jobs.  Nor do men and women in general feel obligated to narrow down a single defining quality of their experience that makes them men or women.

So if there is no single defining characteristic, why transition?  Good question.  I’m a transperson and I don’t know why I was born anatomically male with female-oriented body dysphoria.  I seriously don’t know why that exists in my brain.  Bottom line, though, is that it does.  Do breasts, a uterus and a vagina constitute the essence of womanhood?  Absolutely not, but that doesn’t mean that women who survive breast cancer with mastectomies or that men with mutilated or genetically disabled penises and testicles do not experience anguish over what happened to them.

Men or women who have experienced trauma to their secondary sex characteristics often require corrective surgery and psychiatric care, and no one ever attacks them for reducing manhood or womanhood to body shapes.  Or if they do, they’re in the minority.  We could talk about social constructs and psychology until the cows come home, but the bottom line is that we all have some feeling of what our body is supposed to be, so much so that involuntary deviation from it, like dysphoria in a pre-transition transperson or the consequences of physical trauma, is psychologically damaging.

Everyone has these feelings but the thing that distinguishes them within transpeople is that their feeling of wholeness and connectedness with their own bodies matches up with the bodies of the opposite of their genetic sex.  And this is not about some metaphysical division between mind and body- my experience, at least, has taught me that one relies on the other.  I have always known I am female, but I have never known why.  And, like many transpeople, I didn’t have the chance to openly and safely talk about my cross-gender feelings until adulthood, which means I had a nice couple of decades of living as a male and doing my best to function as a male.  One of the oddest and most memorable experience of my pre-transition life were my friendships with hyper-sexual straight cismen.  Quite simply, they did not relate to me like they did to other males.  In public, my straight male friends would not often be seen around me.  If I approached them in public, they would be polite but aloof.  In private, though, I became a confidant.

Men often talk about their relationships with women between themselves, but among the straight men that I bonded with pre-transition, it became an almost urgent part of our friendships.  I think this was because many of them were serial womanizers.  What I mean by that is that they would try to have sex with as many women as possible, which entails trying to distance themselves from the woman they slept with last to make room for a new one.  They often made it clear that they believed women were fundamentally unethical and untrustworthy and even seemed to hate women, but at the same time could not stop attempting to have sex with them.  I was not, and never would be, “one of the guys”, but I was a sought-after listener for a tension that was guided by their socialization as men who must exploit women.  I knew it and the straight men who bonded with me knew it as well, but the frank reason for it was rarely breeched.  Now and then, when alcohol had relaxed some boundaries, they would ask me if I was gay, and I would honestly tell them that I was bisexual, but the investigation never went further than that.

Like I said, they knew it and I knew it.  I had always known it.  Throughout my childhood and teenage years, I would fiercely resist any attempt by my parents, schools or peer groups to conform to traditional male gender signifiers, no matter how benign.  Not only was it simply “not my thing”, but it was repulsive and I couldn’t bear it anywhere on my person.  Children can remain androgynous for awhile and I think the psychological violence of my repulsion afforded me a certain amount of strength at times that I could not have had with a clear head.  For example, in elementary school, I always took the girls’ pass to the bathroom.  I would take it to the boys bathroom, but I would never, ever touch the boys’ bathroom pass.  I only actually used the girls’ bathroom a few times, though, out of fear of what might happen if I pushed my luck any more then I already was.

Often, when I tell this story, people tell me I was brave for a little kid, but I really wasn’t- I was just viscerally upset by anything that signified that I was male.  Most of my friends were girls my age and I would have epic meltdowns when my mother forced me to have typically male hair cuts.  The older I got, the more I realized that the expectation that I “be a guy” was not going to go away.  I also realized that, as I grew older, any deviation from my assigned gender role would require an explanation, explanations that I simply did not have.  Like I’ve said ad nauseum, I do not know why, any more than any cis person knows why they are cis.  This unsolvable problem was exacerbated by a predictable load of internalized transphobia and homophobia- when I was thirteen and experienced my first really strong attraction to a boy my age, I felt like I would rather die than act on those feelings- I would rather be dead then be anything so disgusting as what I truly was.  Since I had seen others show nothing but contempt and hatred for anyone who was queer, I don’t think I could have felt any other way.  So I began to realize that I had absolutely no options.  My teenage years were ruined by gruesome nightmares and compulsive thoughts about genital mutilation.

In early adulthood, life sucked as hard as it ever had, but an extra dimension was added that was shockingly uncanny: I was commonly read and treated as a man.  It was wrong and intolerable, but it was true, and it was psychedelic at times.  I knew that I was aping the role I was assigned, simply because I didn’t think I could do anything else.  And like I said about my friendships with serial womanizers, the men that I became friends with seemed to be aware of the fact that I wasn’t a man and even valued me for that reason, as a friend who, perhaps, was not as threatening as their own gender.

Then, after years of substance abuse and mental illness, I began to seriously consider what would enable me to live a happy and functional life, and I realized that the answer was nothing new.

*SIGH*  Dang.  Big personal digression is big.  All that because ContraPoints briefly dealt with the TERFy essentialist “what does female/male feel like” question.  The answer is that I don’t know, and neither do you.  I don’t know why I’m trans any more than a cis person knows why they are cis or a straight person knows why they are straight or a gay person knows why they are gay.  And, as Contra stated, the demand for a reason is always used selectively by people who feel like they are in a unique position to give or withhold the legitimacy of another’s identity.  This kind of cultural gatekeeping is one of the main subjects of Susan Stryker’s amazing essay My Words to Victor Frankenstein Above the Village of Chamounix: Performing Transgender Rage.  The essay relates Stryker’s experience as a transsexual to the creature in the novel Frankenstein, who, like a transsexual, is questioned by someone who claims to be able to give or withhold validation, who requires a justification for their existence.

I know that, to many modern readers, Stryker’s desire to appropriate the label of “monster” from transphobes and use it as a source of power may seem problematic.  I find it comforting, especially since so many accuse us of not being human or of being threats to humanity.  A huge step toward exercising pain and misery is embracing it, of embracing the fact that it is your pain and your misery, and it is right for you to take possession of it.  It’s also why I think one Anna Varney-Cantodea is worth a thousand RuPauls, since both Anna Varney-Cantodea and Susan Stryker frame the ownership of transgender anguish as a source of nourishing power.

 

Let’s listen to Nightwish! (Showtime, Storytime)

Fair warning: lots of colorful language and a few emotional tangents.  Some of which may or may not be the kind of thing you want to read.

 

So for awhile I was planning on revealing this blog on my other social media which, over time, turned out to be less and less feasible.  While most of the content here is pretty innocuous, I do appreciate the opportunity to get a little more personal every now and then.  More personal, perhaps, than would be welcome to my immediate friends and family. Besides, if I keep them separate, it creates the chance for this blog to grow entirely on it’s own momentum without relying on large numbers of people who know me irl.

With that disclaimer out of the way, I’m going to go ahead and say that for years I’ve struggled with alcoholism.  For nearly a decade I was very good at hiding it and, while it never interfered with my job, it did take a toll on my mental health and relationships.  And lately I’ve been sober for longer than I have been in almost ten years.

When one starts to distance themselves from substance abuse it’s interesting to revisit the things that you used to experience often while under the influence.  While one may remember what it was like to be a heavy user, it’s interesting to go back to things from that time with a sober frame of reference.

This brings us to the concert video and live album Showtime, Storytime by the Finnish symphonic metal band Nightwish.  Between 2013 and 2015, I would often watch the whole thing on YouTube from beginning to end.  Not that I didn’t appreciate Nightwish while sober- I absolutely do, but for some reason that particular concert recording had a special resonance for super-wasted Ailix.  No clue why.  Anyway, I was putzing around the internet a few days ago and I came across a few clips of my favorite songs from that concert, which led me to buy the live album on iTunes.  So here we are, with a disjointed live-blogged listening party-

We start, then, with Dark Chest of Wonders and Wish I Had an Angel.  When I first started listening to Nightwish, it was a few years after the release of Dark Passion Play and a person I was in a relationship with at the time swore up and down that Annette Olzon was horrible and the memory of Nightwish should begin and end with Tarja Turunen.  I soon learned that this issue was widely dividing Nightwish fans at the time.  By nature I’m sometimes inclined to be contrary, though, and I didn’t sample any of Tarja’s work until years later.

When I did finally listen to Once, Tarja’s final Nightwish album and one of their most beloved by fans, I was very pleasantly blown away.  Put simply, it made me feel like I was chopping heads off from horseback on a medieval battlefield, which I know many Nightwish fans can relate to.  While I appreciated the opening two tracks (Wonders+Angel) they’re far from the strongest part of Once.  Nonetheless they made my little high-fantasy loving heart giddy.  Wish I Had an Angel reminded me of a Final Fantasy boss fight.  As I listen now with sober ears, I’m loving the difference between Tarja and the vocalist on this recording, Floor Jansen.  Particularly the non-verbal notes while bassist Marko takes the vocal foreground during the chorus.  The original album recording had this intense, narrowed feel, which definitely suits the song, but I love how the open feeling of the live setting gives it some energetic breathing room.

And now we’re at She Is My Sin, which I never heard before, and so far so good.  To my recently detoxed brain, it’s apparent that Floor Jansen is adept at straddling a middle ground between Tarja’s classical vocal acrobatics and Olzon’s rock / musical theater voice.  This particular song is well-suited to that middle ground, as it doesn’t straddle genre’s in the blatant way that Nightwish is famous for.  A conventional bottom-line of rock is a good idea in a song that has a lot in common with ordinary heavy metal with a few more flamboyant symphonic flourishes here and there.

GHOST RIVER!!!!!!!!!!!! Love this song from Imaginaerum!  Both the vocals and the instrumentals straddle metal and musical theater.  I can easily imagine this in a high-fantasy video game or a supernatural cinematic musical with a nice fat budget.  Marko and Floor (also Olzon on the original) sound like they could easily be playing characters.  I have seen the film Imaginaerum and there were a few cool, dramatic visual interpretations, but I sorta felt the absence of Ghost River.  And holy sh!t do I ever love Marko on this song.  One of the things I really loved about Imaginaerum the album is how it kept the symphonic metal blend while creating something that sounded a little more suited to a cinematic musical, maybe something with a bit of irreverent whimsy, a cinematic musical by Darren Arronofsky, Julie Taymor, Terry Gilliam or maybe the Watchoskis or an animated film by Henry Selick.  With a plot dealing with the transmigration of souls and the afterlife, of course.

Hey there, Ever Dream.  I fucking love this song.  I want to make a movie or a video game just so I could use Ever Dream in the trailer.  I’d say, for this live album, we’re staying in the milieu of Ghost River with this choice.  While the electric guitars seem a little more noticeable in this song (is that just me?) it’s still at that experimental cinematic musical sweet spot.  Aaaaaagh I almost can’t assess this live recording rationally.  I remember being super-wasted and wishing with my whole heart that I was Floor Jansen while I watched her sing this song.  Jesus fucking Christ why is the original studio recording of this song so fucking hard to find on the American market BLAAARRRGGHHHHjfiadjfilksjaefj;oiejfoijiJOLDJFDSKFLSFIJSEEOIHF

Alrighty, what next.  Storytime, shit yeah.  My favorite single from the Annette Olzon era.  Very Henry Selick, Arronofsky and Taymor.  Listening to Imaginaerum is sort of like listening to the freeware Smashing Pumpkins album Teargarden by KaleidyscopeMechanical Animals or Holy Wood by Marilyn Manson, Halfaxa or Visions by Grimes, Flowers and Formaldehyde by Sopor Aeternus or the Silent Hill 4 soundtrack.  I actually heard the SH4 soundtrack before playing the game and it stands on it’s own as an album so fucking well.  But yeah, like those other albums, it’s like I can feel and sort of see a story going through my head as I listen to Imaginaerum or any version of any song from it.

I Want My Tears Back is on now.  Was this song released ahead of the Imaginaerum album, promotional style?  Like, around the same time as they dropped Storytime as a single?  I think I heard it ahead of the album and I was sort of…doubtful, at the time.  It reminded me a little too much of The Islander.  As if they were trying to squeeze a formula for all it was worth.  It made me afraid that the album was going to be trying to milk the concept of a Celtic-sound with Marko singing lead in a completely cynical way.  Luckily I was wrong.  Not that I dislike The Islander- I love that shit, it’s just that my gimmick hackles went up a little when I heard I Want My Tears Back ahead of Imaginaerum.  A part of me sort of wishes Annette stayed around longer.  Maybe I should check out what she’s doing with the Dark Element.  Oh well.  Pretty sweet shredding on this live version.

Nemo!  Sh!t yeah.  One of the more luxuriously visual songs from Once. With a lot of frank literary references in music and other mediums, I don’t instinctively think of any literal expression of the original.  Which is good- making something your own goes a long way.  When I listen to this, though, I either think of vampires or the version of Captain Nemo from Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen comics.  Anna-Varney Cantodea couldn’t resist riffing on 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea either, on the A Strange Thing To Say EP.  The title track from A Strange Thing To Say– that is some shit I would love to see live if Anna-Varney ever broke her rule about never performing.

Aaaaaand what do we have here?  Ooooh cool.  Last of the Wilds.  Either I never saw / heard this back when I was drinking whiskey and vodka like there was no tomorrow or I blacked it out.  I fucking love that intro though.  Very different from the Dark Passion Play original. I’m kinda liking this better than the original, honestly.  Aaaaahh Nightwish, you’re so fucking perfect.  I’m checking out Endless Forms Most Beautiful.  I was grossed out early on when they had bitchy stupid anti-feminist douchebag Richard Dawkins doing a spoken word segment at first, but I think  I can get over that.  Sam Harris kept his intellectual integrity and passion for philosophy for years before he sold out to the right in the wake of the 2016 election, so I’m willing to believe that the so-called Brights of yesteryear aren’t all bad.  That dude was so much cooler back when he was talking about the philosophical dimensions of neurological research and meditation and, you know, not giving platforms to amoral, fascist-friendly dipshits like Jordan Peterson and Charles Murray.

Bless the Child!  I either scorched that part of my memory clear with alcohol back then or I never saw it.  Very cool so far, though.  The chugging metal guitar and Floor Jansen’s non-verbal singing in the beginning makes me think of the opening of a horror-themed action movie from the eighties or early nineties.  Something with colorful magic creatures and demons and vampires and shit.  I’m getting a self-contained vibe from it- possibly for no better reason than that I never heard it in the context of its original album -but I’m liking that effect.  Like a flash-fiction story or something.  I think this is gonna end up being something that I listen to all the damn time like Ever Dream.

Oh hey, Marko is addressing the audience, talking about a previously established tradition I know nothing about, involving a recitation of an open letter to either an imaginaery or hypothetical significant other.  Is that the tradition, or is the live recording of the DVD the tradition?  Hm.  The dude loves sausages, apparently, and with that disclosure we will proceed to Romanticide.

Already I’m loving the different feel that Floor Jansen is adding.  I don’t know if this is her, the soundboard arrangement of the recording or both, but I feel like her voice is more in the foreground and it’s giving this song way more personality than the original.  I think this was something the former significant other (from the beginning of the post, remember her?) and I used to go the rounds over.  She’s actually a classically trained soprano and a music nerd’s music nerd.  As such, she was able to appreciate the operatic chops of Tarja Turunen better than I could.  Anyway, I’m loving it when Floor get’s guttural with her voice- and holy shit, did the drums sound that good on the original?  Holy shit, sweet skin-pounding with Marko singing while Floor does that sweet fucking dramatic metal snarl with her huge-ass voice.

Oh hey, Amaranth!  That’s pretty cool.  The call-and-response with the crowd is a neat touch.  For a giant horde of randos, they sound pretty good.  Sorta like Dark Chest of Wonders, though, this is kind of a typical metal song which has it’s own set of limits.  That call-and-response with Floor’s delicious enthusiasm gives an exhilarating sense of the hugeness of the venue and the performance.  Gaaahhh I’m won over, this totally mops of the floor with the original album version.

GHOST LOVE SCORE SHIT YAAAAZZZZZZ!!!!!!!!  Fuck yeah.  I remember listening to this song a lot around the time I was reading the Anne Rice book Cry To Heaven and I instinctively associate it with Tonio Treschi and his gradual climb toward vengeance near the end.  And it’s such a gloriously huge sounding song and with so many other songs on this album I think of gloriously explosive high-fantasy chaos, but Ghost Love Score reminds me of Cry To Heaven of all damn things.  I guess it also kinda makes me think of things that were happening around that time.  I had just come back to my hometown and I was struggling with this dread that I may have to be totally closeted for the rest of my life and just acclimate myself to sneaky, fearful, private crossdressing and alcoholism.  Yeah, I’m pretty sure there’s strong emotional connotations there.  I had to reiterate my promise to myself not to commit suicide like every damn day, only to break that promise years later.  And then pick up the pieces after that particular disaster.

And holy shit, does Floor ever make this song her fucking own.  This woman is a fucking miracle of a singer.  Someone needs to cast her as a swash-buckling dark anti-hero in a high fantasy cinematic musical.  Maybe some sort of bad-ass, brooding, gothy super-heroine version of Gerda in a dramatically interpretative movie-musical adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen.

Song of Myself!  One of my absolute favorites from the intoxicated nights of hard liquor and dark, dramatic music!  And of course her voice is this total personification of a blood-letting superheroine.  I mean, I really do appreciate the work Annette Olzon did with the band, but if Tuomas & co. decided to re-record the two Annette Olzon albums with Floor, I’d be okay with that.  This live version dispenses with the spoken word segments that were at the end of the album version, which I can live with.  The thing with mediums like rock bands, where you are expected to do live versions of old material regularly, it makes sense that you’d have to reinterpret them every now and then to suit the band’s current creative swing and the sensibilities and aptitudes of any personnel changes.  Some musical acts are absolutely amazing at that.  This one, for example.

Our next song is Last Ride of the Day.  I’m fucking ready.  The back and forth between Floor and Marko is fucking awesome in this version, and I feel like this is sort of a return to the same feel that the live version of Ghost River had earlier but more pounding and urgent.  Aaaahhh the fireworks.  Sigh.  I remember that from the YouTube video(s).

And we’re closing with the Imaginaerum outro.  I don’ think I ever stuck around for this back when I was drinking.  I can tell things are happening on stage from the crowd noises.  This is a nice little breather, easing us out of the listening experience.  Which I appreciate.  I mean, I figured Showtime, Storytime would hold up well from a sober perspective but goddamn.  I’m definitely gonna be playing the shit out of this album.