Sez who?

"Nature and Nature's God" was Thomas Jefferson's lovely phrase for the basis of the rights we asserted in the Declaration of Independence. That was his shorthand answer to the question "Sez who?" He didn't have time in that document for a treatise on the basis, source or origin of human rights. His point wasn't to make the case that such rights existed, or to explain why they did or where they came from. His main concern, rather, was the meaning and the implication of those rights in that particular time and place.

For some of Jefferson's readers and hearers, such rights arose mainly from sectarian religious sources. For others, they arose mainly from the secular philosophy of the Enlightenment. Wanting his Declaration to appeal as broadly as possible, Jefferson split the difference with "Nature and Nature's God."

We don't encounter the "Sez who?" problem when discussing civil rights. Civil rights find their basis in civil law and constitutions. When arguing for equal access to the civil right of marriage, for example, David Boies and Ted Olson (!) do not need to appeal to "Nature and Nature's God" because they have the 14th Amendment with its legal guarantees of equal protection as a civil right.

During the American civil rights movement — which reclaimed the legal rights of the 14th Amendment that had been surrendered to a century of domestic terrorism and the lawless laws of Jim Crow — Martin Luther King and the other leaders of the movement were able to appeal to civil law. They had the U.S. Constitution on their side.

The argument was much more difficult for the 19th-century abolitionists. Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison were arguing for human rights that were not yet recognized as civil rights and they were opposed at every step by that same U.S. Constitution. (Garrison called it, "the most bloody and heaven-daring arrangement ever made by men for the continuance and protection of a system of the most atrocious villainy ever exhibited on earth," a document to be "held in everlasting infamy by the friends of justice and humanity throughout the world." And there he was just warming up.)

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is, in part, an effort to make the struggle for the recognition of human rights more like the struggle for civil rights. By getting all the nations of the world to acknowledge the formal, legal existence of human rights, that document provides the peoples of those nations with a legal basis for claiming them.

In theory, at least. The response to such claims is still often the one given in Tianenmen Square — You have rights? We have tanks.

In recent years a separate challenge to the existence of universal human rights has come from people like Mahathir bin Mohamad, the former prime minister of Malaysia, who argued that human rights are a parochial western construct invented by those seeking to impose American values on the rest of the world. Thousands of indigenous Malaysian voices called bullshit on that claim, but it was a reminder that the simple assertion of human rights also sometimes does need to be supported by the longer, more complicated task of making the case for why such rights exist — the case that such rights do, in fact, exist as truly and undeniably as any line of tanks.

That case won't look or sound exactly the same in every time and place. Some will arrive at the conclusion due to sectarian religious reasoning. When speaking to or writing for an exclusively Christian audience, I have made the case for human rights based solely on sectarian Christian grounds. The Jewish religious case for human rights is well established. The Islamic case, while less established in law and practice, is likewise solid, and if it has not been universally adopted, it has also not been successfully refuted. I do not know enough of Hinduism to follow the argument in that tradition, but from what I understand the Ghandians and the Dalit movement are able to present a forceful case for human rights in both secular and sectarian terms.

Purely secular arguments for the existence of human rights also vary. Reason gives us many reasons and many paths of reasoning that all lead to this same conclusion.

And it is that conclusion that concerns me most. Nature and Nature's God, Nature or Nature's God — the point is these rights do exist and when we have the need to claim them it is more expedient simply to assert or reassert their existence, to point to the fact of their existence, and to move on from there.

I would put the criteria and the conclusions of the just war tradition in the same category. They too can be grounded in a variety of different secular and sectarian arguments. They too exist independent of those arguments, as things that are, in Jefferson's righteously impatient language, "self-evident." They too exist as a necessary response to the logic of tanks.

And just as with human rights, it is often necessary and expedient to assert them with little more than a cursory reference to "Nature and Nature's God." Our brief lifespan won't allow for us on every occasion to go back to square one and rehearse yet again the reasons for the validity of these principles every time we have the need to refer to them.

So instead we simple state them and cite them. "These are the rules." Shorter, but still true.

(All of which is just to say that if anyone reading the prior post was uncomfortable with its aggressively deontological tone — "rules, rules, rules," "categorical" even — well, so was I.)

  • Saffi

    Jessica: Among the Christians I know who’ve had abortions, or know someone who did, etc, there seems to be something like an exploitation of grace– they rationalize some excuse about why the rule doesn’t apply in a certain situation. It’s not altogether dissimilar from the way we frequently excuse the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki—those situations were different.
    Wow. That’s a really offensive statement. If that’s what’s going on when you talk about Hiroshima & Nagasiki, go ahead and confess to it. But please don’t accuse other people of that kind of moral bankruptcy without giving some specifics to back it up.
    Or maybe you’re claiming that the rich parents didn’t want the daughter to have an abortion, but they knew that if she didn’t, then that would cause seven miscarriages among seven mothers desperate to have a child? In that case, I apologize, you’re right – it is “not dissimilar” from the way “we” talk about the nuking of Hiroshima & Nagasaki.
    Whatever. I’m tired of repeating, over and over and over and over and OVER, the simple proof of just why Hiroshima and Nagasaki were NOT in some kind of unique category of Evil. The use of the nukes was the least of a number of very bad options, and people who dispute this fact by engaging in argument-by-assertion need to do the rest of us a favor and start addressing the actual reasoning that established this fact.
    ________________________
    Jessica: Here’s some perspective: the pastor of the church I just visited this past weekend was talking about “things that disconnect us from God” including “the lies of our culture”. A few minutes on the Focus on the Family website is all you need to parse out the subtext: society says gay marriage is no big deal, but that’s a lie, and the gay menace is going to destroy marriage, religion and all of society. They’re also going to molest our kids and turn them gay, too, and then give them AIDS and those dirty f—-ts will all die miserable because they’re denying the truth of the living God.
    They’re articulating bans because in the last 30 years a lot of people have realized that persecuting gay people isn’t reasonable. So in addition to the incomprehension and laughter, you get the vitriol, too. You might argue that the nutjobs are a minority of the religious people in the country, but their scare tactics worked well enough to pass Prop 8. Their legal experts in Perrry v. Schwarzeneggar didn’t have a better defense than “the institution of marriage will be changed and we don’t know how!” Srsly.

    See the bold – I think you just made my argument for me.
    My point was that as bad as it is now for GLBT persons now, it doesn’t make sense to argue that things are worse now than they were in pre Stonewall, pre Lawrence v. Texas, pre DSM-III America, when it was perfectly legal to have a person arrested, imprisoned as a felon, publically excoriated by instruments of the State, denied any visitation with their children even if they were the only living relative, confined to a mental institution (sometimes for life) and subjected to repeated unanaethetized electroshock therapy or even lobotomy, simply because they might be gay. When hate speech came not just from so-called men of God, but from everyone else, including the thugs who would beat you for kicks and the policemen who wouldn’t arrest them. So, yeah – you need more perspective.
    ________________________
    MadGastronomer: Oh, I just like fiction better than abstractions, is all. Yes, yes, it’s more precise. Don’t care, fiction is nicer. ;)
    Except “fictional” means that something doesn’t exist, and I thought you were defending the existence of rights. Something abstract can most certainly exist, you just can’t touch it.
    ________________________
    Bugmaster: This difference is important, because it means that rights exist only as long as we believe in them, and enforce them…
    I couldn’t disagree more. Inalienable means that you can’t be deprived of something, period. You always have it. That’s why we can say that slavery violates a human being’s right to liberty. It might have been sanctioned by US or state law, but it was still wrong.
    Inalienable rights can be violated, and frequently are, even in ways that are defined by governments as “legal.” I don’t think the distinction is purely semantic, because if rights can be taken away, then there are significant (and to me, unacceptable) implications for decisions about whether something is moral or not.
    Bugmaster: They require constant maintenance.
    On this, we are in total agreement.

  • http://lightupmy.wordpress.com Jessica

    Saffi–
    Being as I don’t know you at all, I imagine you probably don’t know much about me, either. I think your statement that I need some perspective is not only unfounded, but I also get the feeling that you’re not actually *reading* what I’ve written– did I say that things are *worse* for gays than they were pre-stonewall, pre-DSM-III? No. I apologize if you read it that way, but I can’t do much for your third grade reading skills. What I said was that progress isn’t an excuse to sit back and *wait* for victory. Sheesh.
    ————-
    Whatever. I’m tired of repeating, over and over and over and over and OVER, the simple proof of just why Hiroshima and Nagasaki were NOT in some kind of unique category of Evil.
    Way to not really read my post there. Whether you think the bombing of Hiroshima was uniquely evil or not has no real bearing on the statement I’m making here– I’m stating an opinion and tying that into the behavior of others who use the mindset of “we’re going to break the rules because those rules don’t apply to us”– some individuals will use it to justify getting an abortion while keeping others from getting care they need. Hell, some individuals will use that as an excuse to fight against socialized medicine. It’s the mentality of “I’ve got mine so screw you and your inability to get it.”
    So you don’t agree, you’re tired of making an argument that doesn’t even have anything to do with my comment and I’m wasting my time on this why, exactly?
    *wanders off to read new LB post*

  • http://profile.typepad.com/metabug Bugmaster

    I couldn’t disagree more. Inalienable means that you can’t be deprived of something, period. You always have it. … Inalienable rights can be violated, and frequently are, even in ways that are defined by governments as “legal.”

    How can you “always have” something that you are regularly deprived of ? That’s a contradiction.
    Ultimately, we will all be deprived of our right to life, with or without government intervention, because biology is a harsh mistress. Thus, even the right to live is quite demonstrably aliable.

  • http://www.nightkitchenseattle.com MadGastronomer, whose father was once bitten by a llama

    Except “fictional” means that something doesn’t exist, and I thought you were defending the existence of rights. Something abstract can most certainly exist, you just can’t touch it.
    I’m sorry, I thought I was clear: I admit that my language was imprecise, and it was so purely because I like one word better than the other.
    Also: My point was that as bad as it is now for GLBT persons now, it doesn’t make sense to argue that things are worse now than they were in pre Stonewall, pre Lawrence v. Texas, pre DSM-III America, when it was perfectly legal to have a person arrested, imprisoned as a felon, publically excoriated by instruments of the State, denied any visitation with their children even if they were the only living relative, confined to a mental institution (sometimes for life) and subjected to repeated unanaethetized electroshock therapy or even lobotomy, simply because they might be gay. When hate speech came not just from so-called men of God, but from everyone else, including the thugs who would beat you for kicks and the policemen who wouldn’t arrest them. So, yeah – you need more perspective.
    Holy crap, do you sound like an asshat here. Trans women ARE still fired, still murdered horribly, still denied visitation, still subjected to some really nasty medical stuff (more likely these days to be denial of treatment — a transwoman DIED a week or two ago because the hospital wouldn;t treat her because she was trans), and in many places not treated any better. Sure, treatment for the rest of the LGBT community is better in most places in the US, but trans people, especially trans women, are still far behind in that. Please don’t tell a trans woman to get some perspective. It sounds like you need it a lot more.
    Plus, as Jessica said, that wasn’t at all what she said. You do seem to be having some problems with actually reading what people are writing here.
    Jessica, sorry if I come across as speaking for you here, but this really got up my nose.

  • http://j.com/ Tonio

    a transwoman DIED a week or two ago because the hospital wouldn;t treat her because she was trans

    Holy shit! Do you have a link? If it were in my power, I might punish the hospital staff by destroying their dreams and turning all their loved ones against them.

  • http://www.nightkitchenseattle.com MadGastronomer, whose father was once bitten by a llama

    Actually, it looks like I had it wrong: she was refused treatment, but fortunately did NOT die. Erin Vaught went to a Muncie emergency room coughing up blood. Two hours later, she was refused treatment on grounds that she is transsexual. Still, she could easily have died.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/femgeek1 Melle

    Ian: In that sense, a right asserted cannot be taken away. You can tear gas me, but that doesn’t take away my right to free assembly. In general, you can take the thing, but you can’t take away my right to the thing. Sure, you can brainwash me or kill me, but that won’t change the fact that I stood here today and asserted it. Even assuming that rights do not have any basis in universal reason or God’s command or whatever, it’s hard (though not impossible) to kill an idea with a tank.
    I pretty much agree with this. I have the right to life, and if someone were to kill me tonight, that doesn’t mean I didn’t have that right; it means that someone violated that right. A bit of pedantry, perhaps, but I think it’s important in the framing of, for example, queer rights, to frame it not as demanding (more) rights, but as demaning people stop violating our existing rights.
    Drake Pope: The man responded by stammering something about how he didn’t know when all those countries started admitting homosexuals and that he can’t be sure the effect (he seemed to be under the impression that all of those policies were recent).
    He also seems to be under the impression that queer folks never served from the closet, so to speak, and that banning them from the army will actually keep them out entirely. Or are they only ferocious and whatnot whehn they’re openly queer? o_O
    Not to mention the historical examples of, say, the Theban Band.
    Tonio: The same show played clips from another one, Boys Beware, that had the memorable line “One never knows when a homosexual is about.”
    That’s ’cause we’re secretly all NINJAS! :D
    Although in that case, you’d think they’d be all for us multiplying, given the Conservation of Ninjitsu theory — the more there are of us, the weaker we are individually. If they succeed in their goals, it’ll eventually result in one single, all-powerful UberQueer.

  • Will Wildman

    Although in that case, you’d think they’d be all for us multiplying, given the Conservation of Ninjitsu theory — the more there are of us, the weaker we are individually. If they succeed in their goals, it’ll eventually result in one single, all-powerful UberQueer.

    *multiple deaths from laughter*
    …Although, suddenly, Guy Blodau’s origins become clearer. He’s the end result of the various Tribulation judgments killing three-quarters of humanity. TurboJesus is already sowing the seeds of his own downfall.

  • Thalia

    Speaking of not reading enough, I didn’t understand that @Jessica, you are transgendered. I can somewhat more understand your frustration. It doesn’t make a difference to most of us in (or satellite to?) the GLBT community, but a lot of grown people who should know better still make jokes about “it,” and so forth. GRRRR….
    Doesn’t change the fact that I’m amazed at how far we’ve gotten, but I understand why you feel disenfranchised.
    Once, I got annoyed at Bob Barr (sponsored/authored “Defense of Marriage” Act) for talking about “special rights,” so I wrote him a note saying that I would understand his statement about “special rights” much better if he would show that he was willing to protect the “not special” rights of GLBT people, such as having the directions of their wills followed, being able to take care of their children, having safe places to live, not having rocks thrown at them, and so forth.
    Then he left the House and went to work for the ACLU. Coincidence? I think NOT. ;-D

  • Froborr

    I pretty much agree with Bug: There’s no magic list of “These are what everyone’s rights SHOULD be” that exists independently of individual humans deciding for themselves what that list is. Even if such a list did exist, we have no means of discovering its contents; all we can do is each, individually, decide for ourselves what such a list would be.
    But so what? I have decided for myself what that list ought to be, so I will, in my own small way, work to make the real world more closely resemble my ideal world. That means, among other things, supporting efforts to bring equal rights to everyone.

  • http://lightupmy.wordpress.com Jessica

    MG– no problem. Thanks for saving me the trouble. As I was saying to Saffi, zie and I don’t know one another (and most of the longer-term slacktivites have heard me prattle on dozens of times about being trans), so that’s obviously part of where the miscommunication comes from.
    ————-
    @Thalia–I can somewhat more understand your frustration. It doesn’t make a difference to most of us in (or satellite to?) the GLBT community, but a lot of grown people who should know better still make jokes about “it,” and so forth. GRRRR….
    Welcome to my life.
    I admit that it wasn’t entirely clear from my posts that I’m trans, though there was at least one post in this thread that focused more on the struggles of trans people than the larger LGB community (I identify as bisexual, so there’s a confusing amount of overlap sometimes). Frex, I’m married, but was married before I transitioned. Technically, my marriage is still valid, but I still argue and fight and donate to SSM causes because if SSM is illegal then my marriage will be on the target list, too.
    Anyway, after I lost my job in April, I got a new job and most of the people here don’t know that I’m trans. I think there’s four people that I’m sure do know, but the other people haven’t brought it up or said anything to anyone. And I’m working in a company of 1000+ people. Not that I deal with all of them, but it’s also not a problem for me to use the ladies’ room in one of the other buildings.
    In one sense, I think I’m passing very well, not because they can’t tell that I’m trans but that people treat me like I’m just another woman. It’s a role that’s taken some getting used to, especially since I’m used to being othered and treated not so well by people who know that I’m trans. But I guess, in some sense, I’m trying to get used to not wearing it on my sleeve all the time anymore, and that seems to be happening in other parts of my life (and writing) so that’s probably a part of why it wasn’t terribly obvious that I was speaking as a trans woman. So, I apologize for the confusion there.

  • Froborr

    In one sense, I think I’m passing very well, not because they can’t tell that I’m trans but that people treat me like I’m just another woman. It’s a role that’s taken some getting used to, especially since I’m used to being othered and treated not so well by people who know that I’m trans.

    I’m really glad you’re being treated better! I don’t actually know any trans people irl (that I’m aware of) but I know a LOT of people who’ve been treated poorly to varying degrees (everything from teasing to child abuse to outright assault) for not fitting into the standard categories of Permitted People Types ™. It sucks, and trans people in particular are very nearly invisible when we talk about persecuted minorities.
    Seriously, it’s NOT HARD. Any living human is a creature of infinite worth and potential, and therefore all living humans have exactly equal worth and potential. Nothing a person is or does can change that. Period, end of story, STFU you stupid bigots.
    (That last paragraph wasn’t directed against anyone in this thread, just a general anti-bigot rant. I need to vent sometimes.)

  • http://profile.typepad.com/mmy mmy

    @Jessica: I think I’m passing very well, not because they can’t tell that I’m trans but that people treat me like I’m just another woman.
    How strange it is that you should have to pass as being what you are. You are a woman.
    BTW — there is a class component in standards for ‘what a woman is.’ In Victorian times upper class even middle class women were considered of such delicate a fabric that reading might overtax their brains and carrying a bag or parcel might exhaust them — at the same time (and in the same houses) working class women were working hours and carrying burdens that would have been beyond the physical and emotional strength of upper and middle class men.
    So, the world of privilege has long liked to play the game of deciding who is a woman.
    The fuckers are denying the humanity of others in order to buttress their own privilege.

  • http://lightupmy.wordpress.com Jessica

    How strange it is that you should have to pass as being what you are. You are a woman.
    It’s interesting that you say that– I’m sort of going through an interesting phase right now vis a vis some soul searching– am I a real woman?, what does that even mean?, am I a freak?, am I happy this way?, was transition the right decision for me?, do I pass?, does it matter?, how much does a person’s internal gender identity really affect their gender as it’s perceived by others (c.f. David Reimer)?, am I a fraud for trying to be a woman or a fraud for trying to have been a man?
    Those aren’t all simple questions, and they’re also not as rooted in self-doubt as they all seem. Some of it is just a periodic self “check-in”, a way for me to look at how I feel and how things are going. So yeah, there’s all that.
    And then actually addressing the comment: of course I should have to pass, I should have to be good enough at being a woman that others will see me as one. Whatever that actually means. In most cases, it involves a certain style of dress, a way of fixing my hair and make-up, making sure that I keep up with my electrolysis so that I don’t grow a beard on accident, body language, posture.
    This is part of what makes gender identity such a fucked up concept– the person’s identity matters but only inasmuch as it can be validated by society. If I say that I’m Napoleon Bonaparte reincarnated, you’d laugh at me, but if I say that I’m a woman, I can transition. Not that I’m equating the kind of mental illness that makes a person think they’re the French Emperor with having GID, but at least in my own experience, the validity of my identity very much depends upon how I’m received and treated by other people.

  • http://www.kitwhitfield.com Kit Whitfield

    Congratulations on getting the new job, Jessica! It seems like you’ve been going through way more crap recently than someone as nice as you deserves, so I hope the upward trend will hold. Whatever identity works best for you, you’re a good and decent person; the other stuff matters, of course, but I think you’ve got it taped where it matters the most.
    (None of which is very intelligent commentary on your posts. As far as they go, you know your identity and experiences way better than I do, so I’m just interested to listen. I just wanted to let you know I’m wishing you well.)

  • http://profile.typepad.com/6p0120a5ec953d970b Cat Meadors

    Ok, yes, I’m taking a break, I swear. I can quit any time, I just don’t feel like it right now. Or something.
    Anyway, just caught the tail end of this thread and it reminded me that I wanted to say thanks to Jessica. It’s not your job and you shouldn’t have to do it, but you’ve completely* educated me about transgender issues and radically changed my thinking, and I’m grateful that you took the time and made the effort to do it. Which means you’ve actually changed the way two people think, since I’ve blah blahed at my husband until he saw the light too.
    I dunno; it may not mean much but I thought you might like to know.

    *Completely as in “taught me everything I know”, not “now I know everything about”. In case that was unclear.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/jpc101280 Jason

    @Jessica
    What Cat just said.

  • http://www.kitwhitfield.com Kit Whitfield

    Yeah, I’m with Cat and Jason. Thanks, Jessica.

  • Will Wildman

    Fourthified, Jessica. Until meeting you here I knew zilch about transgender anything, and never really thought about it. I’m sure there’s still plenty I don’t understand, and maybe never could (the whole notion of gender-independent-of-physiology is a hard one to fit inside my head) but your efforts have been tremendously eye-opening. I’m pretty post-modernist, in the sense of ‘the whole truth about anything is so big that no single person would ever discover it all alone’, so – thanks for pointing me in the direction of another part of truth.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/mmy mmy

    Fifthed, Jessica. I spent years teaching a class that involved, in part, the social construction of identity but I have learned at least as much from you in your postings here as I did in my research for that class.
    I appreciate your willingness to respond to comments and explain things from the inside.

  • http://lightupmy.wordpress.com Jessica

    well, wow. you’re all very welcome. That’s the very nice benefit of being out about being trans– there are nice people out there and explaining what my life is like is educational. At the very least, I hope it makes others lives easier/filled with less ignorance or discrimination, etc. I’ve met (online anyway) a few trans people that have said my writing has meant something to them and made them feel less alone, so I feel like this pursuit is hardly a waste of time. It’s a little weird at the new job, not being quite so “out and proud” anymore has required some adjustment (maybe more than some).
    @Kit specifically, since you said, “None of which is very intelligent commentary on your posts. As far as they go, you know your identity and experiences way better than I do, so I’m just interested to listen”
    That just reinforces my need to answer some of those questions above– and I can probably also add some questions like what does it mean to ‘identify’ as a woman?, what does it mean to ‘feel’ like I’m a female? The difficult thing is that I can’t exactly compare and contrast, I can only go off of other people’s experiences. But what does it mean to even be a woman? Building off of what I said earlier, it’s actually more than just how I dress, or how I do my makeup or fix my hair, so what are the necessary components to being a woman? It can’t entirely be tied to reproductive capacity since there are plenty of women who never have children but are still women.
    So I guess my point is that I don’t feel entirely comfortable saying “I feel like a woman” which is something I believe I’ve said before, primarily because I don’t know how other women feel. I’m happier now, and I absolutely believe that transition was the right decision for me, but that doesn’t get at the essential question: what does it mean to be a woman?
    /ramble

  • Andrew Glasgow

    @Jessica — You’re a girl, girlfriend, and don’t let anybody tell you otherwise! <3
    Don’t worry about whether you feel “like a woman” — I’m a cis-gendered male who is the biological father of two children and the emotional father of a third, and I still occasionally wonder whether my experience of being a “man” is the same as what other men experience. (Being bisexual may have something to do with that.) I also have the whole “I can’t believe I’m an adult” feeling from time to time as well. I need to get one of these t-shirts.

  • http://www.kitwhitfield.com Kit Whitfield

    I don’t know how other women feel
    It’s an interesting question. And the trouble is, from a cisgendered point of view … well, I don’t have any points of contrast either. I’ve just always been a girl, and then moved to calling myself a woman at some point in my late twenties. I suspect that one reason why cisgendered people have difficulty getting their heads around the trans thing is that we can assume that our sense of gender comes from looking at our bodies: something like ‘If I could look down and see a female body, I must have worked out that I was female.’ Your experience (and a couple of documentaries I’ve seen) introduced me to the idea that this was probably wrong: more likely I was born with a girl brain, and was just fortunate enough to have it dropped into a body that matched.
    So I don’t know how I got here. I feel female. Part of it feels like a specific texture – and with a slight air of difference, of specificity, which is probably a reaction to growing up in a male-normative culture. At the same time there’s a natural inclination to feel that femaleness is somehow more human, simply because that’s what I am, and that it’s maleness that’s the aberration (which I suspect, therefore, is a feeling common to many cisgendered people, but men have simply been more able to get away with it). (The latter is also something I’ve worked particularly hard to shed since I discovered I was bearing a son, because seeing his maleness as Other would be doing him a disservice as a parent. And would probably also be silly, because boys have feelings too and women should be perfectly able to relate to them.) So to me, femaleness feels both mainstream and deviant, universal and individual, a collection of opposites.
    It also feels like something completely woven into me, the same way that my heterosexuality does. Since I try to support LBGT rights and to stay reasonably current with the various arguments around the issue, I’ve had occasion to think about my own orientation, and have come to the conclusion that it’s something I simply can’t help; it’s part of my warp and weft, and trying to go against it would feel like some kind of mutilation. (Which is why I think that the ex-gay types are talking rubbish; I couldn’t be ex-straight, so expecting someone else to be ex-gay seems completely unrealistic.) Listening to you has brought home to me how privileged I am to live in a situation where nobody is going to call me a freak for something so inherent.
    …All of which is really just me rambling back at you. But what I would say is that when you say it’s an important issue of identity, but that it can be a confused and difficult to answer set of questions, and that your experience is full of conflicts and contradictions – well, cisgendered or trans, I don’t think you’re the only woman to feel that way.

  • hapax

    I want to seventeenth or whatever the thanks to Jessica, for simply being herself, and thus helping me learn more about what it means to be trans, to be a woman, and to be human.
    Which, along with mmy’s comment, made me think of this:
    “Well, children, where there is so much racket there must be something out of kilter. I think that ‘twixt the negroes of the South and the women of the North, all talking about rights, the white men will be in a fix pretty soon. But what’s all this here talking about?
    That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I could have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man- when I could get it- and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen them most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain’t I a woman?
    Then they talk about this thing in the head; what’s this they call it? [Intellect, somebody whispers] That’s it, honey. What’s that got to do with women’s rights or negro’s rights? If my cup won’t hold but a pint, and yours holds a quart, wouldn’t you be mean not to let me have my little half measure-full?
    Then that little man in black there, he says women can’t have as much rights as men, ’cause Christ wasn’t a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.
    If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them. “

    (That’s Sojourner Truth, like anyone needs to be told, whose feast day (along with fellow “Liberators and Prophets” Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Amelia Bloomer, and Harriet Ross Tubman) we celebrate on July 20)
    And I think that speech has answer to one of the questions we’ve been niggling at on this thread, too. Rights are neither “preexisting” nor “created.” They are taken, they are seized, they are grabbed with both hands and held in fists so tight that those rights can never be pried away, but also so warm, so protective, so gentle that their tiny seedlings can grow and thrive and come to shade an entire country and world.

  • MercuryBlue

    I find it horribly sad that Sojourner Truth actually seems to have thought she wasn’t as smart as a white man. Her education sucked, of course, but from the looks of that passage she was smarter than most people.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/mmy mmy

    Oh thank you Hapax — that was exactly the speech I was thinking about when I made the comment to Jessica.
    Jessica — I don’t know if you are an Eddie Izzard fan — but there is a DVD of a one of his concerts that I used to show parts of in class. Because he is a big guy and he wears makeup and he wants to shag women he is someone outside the sexual norm who American college guys don’t simply reject. He actually is quite a favourite with them.
    I played an excerpt where he explained that he was a guy who likes to wear women’s clothes and sleep with women. Then there is a long and wonderful piece where he described the horror of puberty and his rather unsuccessful first attempt at losing his virginity (“she disallowed it” “the word premature was used”). After that finished one of the guys in the class said “but what IS he?” to which another replied “he’s Eddie Izzard.”
    That’s what I would say to you — You are Jessica. Cool, interesting human being who looks way better in a corset than I ever did. And it is cool that you are reflective and questioning about your own social identity — more of us need to be like that.
    @Kit Whitfield: I discovered I was bearing a son, because seeing his maleness as Other would be doing him a disservice as a parent.
    Connecting your point and Jessica’s concerns. I am glad you have thought about that — I have seen far too many women who so take for granted their own view of sexual identity that they do other their sons. Indeed I have seen it in my family.
    Anyway, I hope what I am trying to say makes sense to you Jessica.

  • Will Wildman

    “Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.”

    That entire passage is magnificent, but I wanted to single this bit out, because it is literally stunning, in a stop-and-try-to-process way. Curious how that gets skipped over so much.
    Of course, any mention of being made “in His image” is always tricky for me, because the logistics are confusing. Presumably, we know that humans in Eden originally had parts-that-were-not-to-be-displayed, because there was something to hide when they invented modesty. Which parts those were vary from culture to culture, so I can’t pick a more specific term, but the reproductive organs are popular. In many ways. Ahem. So the notion that God is male does sort of naturally flow from the idea that the first man was shaped to look just like Him, and then the first woman would be an improvised variant on that shape meant to allow for reproduction.
    So first question: if humans in Eden were immortal and didn’t have sex (because there was no childbirth and sex that’s not to make kids is The Evils), why did God add those parts to us to begin with? It seems to imply that He once again knew from the start where this was all going and yet let it happen anyway, which is the core of the many problems I have with the notion that eating the fruit was Wrong and we’re still all paying for it.
    And then it seems the only justification for Adam’s irrelevant gonads is that he was made as an exact copy of the shape of God, which raises the vastly more confounding question (try to imagine Jim Kirk saying it): what does God need with testicles?
    And yes, I realise there was that thing with Jesus a few millennia later, but I think a significant bit of that event was the total lack of penises involved.
    …Um, [/blasphemy] ?

  • http://lightupmy.wordpress.com Jessica

    wow, hapax, just wow. that’s an amazing bit of quotation there. Thank you so much for sharing that. And even though it’s not Sojourner Truth, I particularly liked this: They are taken, they are seized, they are grabbed with both hands and held in fists so tight that those rights can never be pried away, but also so warm, so protective, so gentle that their tiny seedlings can grow and thrive and come to shade an entire country and world.
    ———–
    Kit–
    Part of it feels like a specific texture – and with a slight air of difference, of specificity, which is probably a reaction to growing up in a male-normative culture. At the same time there’s a natural inclination to feel that femaleness is somehow more human, simply because that’s what I am, and that it’s maleness that’s the aberration (which I suspect, therefore, is a feeling common to many cisgendered people, but men have simply been more able to get away with it)… So to me, femaleness feels both mainstream and deviant, universal and individual, a collection of opposites.
    This. Just this. It’s just some kind of little feeling in my head that used to say “hold up a second, this just isn’t right” everytime I was doing some kind of “boy” thing. There was a very nice little bit in Julia Serano’s book Whipping Girl where she says something to the effect of ‘femininity is bold, daring and powerful. If you don’t believe me, look at all the trans women who are still women in spite of all the shit they put up with. Whatever else, femininity, and my sense of it, are so strong, that you essentially couldn’t beat it out of me.’ And I think her book is just full of win like that. It’s not altogether unlike what hapax was saying about rights being seized with hands that are both fierce and gentle– I’m discovering that femininity is like that, although masculinity can be like that too. It’s the *lack* of an actual dichotomy, of anything recognizably male or female in my life, aside from my physical body that leads to these weird bits of depression and soul searching where I sit and wonder “who the fuck am I?”
    I guess part of why this is so hard for me is that people do usually have a look at their body and say “oh, i’m a man”, or “I see I’m a woman” but I have this experience of saying “that’s a man’s body but WTF does it feel so damned *weird*?” If that makes any sense.

  • http://www.kitwhitfield.com Kit Whitfield

    I am glad you have thought about that — I have seen far too many women who so take for granted their own view of sexual identity that they do other their sons.
    Yeah, it seems like something one can do. But it also seems like something that would hurt the boy’s feelings, because the more of men and women I see, the more I think that basically we all have the same emotions and needs, and the difference is largely in how we’re allowed to present them to the outside world. Some people seem to have the idea that boys don’t need as much love, but I think that’s sad. I think boys often get shamed into pretending they can do without love, which is not the same thing at all.
    And othering your opposite-sex child on the grounds of his or her gender doesn’t seem likely to give them good ideas about either gender. The men I know who have the best attitudes and relationships with both women and with their own masculinity consistently had strong mothers who loved them. They grew into men who didn’t see a strong woman as a threat to their manhood: as boys, a strong woman meant a parent who’d protect you; as men, a strong woman meant an ally who’d have your back. If I can do something like that, I’ll have done what I hoped.
    (Though actually, parents being imperfect, my main aim is this: if he’s more or less all right and still speaking to me by the time he’s thirty, I’ll have done about as well as can be reasonably expected.)
    But yeah, when it comes to gender in childhood, I think the only thing you can really do is treat the child as a human being, and let them tell you how to support whatever gender identity they turn out to have. There are a million different ways of being male or female, and as long as you’re a nice person it really doesn’t matter which.

  • http://www.kitwhitfield.com Kit Whitfield

    I guess part of why this is so hard for me is that people do usually have a look at their body and say “oh, i’m a man”, or “I see I’m a woman” but I have this experience of saying “that’s a man’s body but WTF does it feel so damned *weird*?” If that makes any sense.
    Well, I can totally see why that would be hard for you; feeling disconnected from your body like that, I don’t see how it could be anything but hard.
    It’s a curious thing. I’ve seen pictures of you and my eye registered you as female, so I can well believe it’d work that way in real life … but mostly I know you as a kind of disembodied voice, a personality. I don’t know whether it’s just the female name, or the things you talk about, or something else, but every post I read, my mind clocks as ‘intelligent sensitive woman’. For what that’s worth.
    Which is just a personal reaction; you know who you are better than anyone does. As much as any of us ever really gets ourselves taped. It’s generally been my experience that when I try to define myself by asking what I feel like, I can wind up getting lost, because feelings are by their nature fluid, responsive, protean: I’m trying to base a definition on something that keeps changing, which can feel a bit house-on-sand. I find it easier to define myself as a creature in a constant state of flux, and I often find a greater sense of identity by looking at Kit-in-action rather than Kit-in-reflection. I’ve been more introspective at unhappier phases of my life; my sense of self has tended to be at its strongest when I’ve questioned it least. It could, of course, be the other way round – certainly it would make sense to say that one is less likely to question one’s sense of self when it feels robust – but just in terms of personal experience, it’s seemed to me that actually, asking ‘What shall I do?’ rather than ‘Who am I?’ gave me a clearer sense of identity.
    Which is, of course, just my own experience, and is the experience of a person who’s always had the luxury of being certain about her gender identity and living in a society that didn’t question it besides, so it may be just a whole lot of waffle as regards your own life. I guess I’m just putting my own experiences out there because I’m trying to connect and it’s totally not my place to tell you anything about yours. So make of them what you will, which might well be nothing but ‘What a lot of piffle.’ Your choices. :-)

  • Robyrt

    if humans in Eden were immortal and didn’t have sex (because there was no childbirth and sex that’s not to make kids is The Evils), why did God add those parts to us to begin with?

    A functioning reproductive system is assumed in Eden: God commands Adam to “Be fruitful and multiply”, God’s curse to the woman is “I will multiply your pain in childbirth”, and Adam names her Eve “for she was the mother of all living”.

  • MercuryBlue

    Presumably, we know that humans in Eden originally had parts-that-were-not-to-be-displayed, because there was something to hide when they invented modesty. Which parts those were vary from culture to culture, so I can’t pick a more specific term, but the reproductive organs are popular. In many ways. Ahem. So the notion that God is male does sort of naturally flow from the idea that the first man was shaped to look just like Him, and then the first woman would be an improvised variant on that shape meant to allow for reproduction.
    I heard, though damned if I know where, that Adam was androgynous until shortly after the creation of Eve, who was also androgynous until God yanked a chunk out of Eve and stuck it on Adam, hence vaginas and penises. Though if we go with the Lilith midrash, Adam and Lilith having different tender bits but otherwise being equal was the original plan, and then when Adam didn’t like the equal idea and Lilith didn’t like the submissive idea, Eve was modeled on Lilith.
    I also now have entertaining images of Eve wearing a fig-leaf niqab. Nothing else, just the niqab.

  • Will Wildman

    A functioning reproductive system is assumed in Eden: God commands Adam to “Be fruitful and multiply”, God’s curse to the woman is “I will multiply your pain in childbirth”, and Adam names her Eve “for she was the mother of all living”.

    Good points – I was misremembering the ‘multiply your pain’ part as ‘having kids will be your responsibility and it will really hurt’, not ‘and when you have kids it will hurt more‘. It’s a bit strange that she be named for motherhood when she hasn’t borne or raised any children, but hey, forward thinking.
    I assume I’m also mistaken then that humans were immortal in Eden? Because immortal people who have kids would tend to fill up space pretty fast; it strikes me as more of an either/or.

  • renniejoy

    IIRC, Adam and Eve got kicked out of Eden before eating the fruit of the Tree of Life, which would have made them immortal.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Pius Thicknesse

    How convenient. :P

  • MercuryBlue

    I thought they weren’t fertile till they stopped being immortal.

  • http://www.nightkitchenseattle.com MadGastronomer, whose father was once bitten by a llama

    This is part of what makes gender identity such a fucked up concept– the person’s identity matters but only inasmuch as it can be validated by society.
    Between this conversation, and several others I’ve had recently, I wish to say: I think we use the word “gender” for too many things. Discussions of the intersection of performative* gender presentation with gender identity get awfully confusing. So do discussion of Judith Butler, because she just says “gender,” when the specific section of gender she’s talking about is gender presentation.
    *”Performative” means that an action as the thing itself. Introductions are performative: You say, “let me introduce you to,” and that action serves as an introduction. Acting (well, and looking, but that’s fairly performative too) like a woman or a man is being a woman or a man for all social purposes.
    Kit: I don’t know whether it’s just the female name, or the things you talk about, or something else, but every post I read, my mind clocks as ‘intelligent sensitive woman’. For what that’s worth.
    I strongly suspect that if Jessica and I were both to go to a place where nobody knew us, used gender-neutral handles, and didn’t mention gender or gendered experiences at all, more people would peg her as female than they would me.

  • http://lightupmy.wordpress.com Jessica

    mmy and Kit (but mmy first)–
    I think I do understand what you mean– it’s not altogether unlike what Kit was saying upthread as well– Jessica-in-action is a little easier to peg down than Jessica-in-reflection, because when I’m examining my feelings they feel much more changeable, much, much less solid in any sense.
    These kinds of discussions are good for me, too, by the way, so I should be thanking all of you, as well. They help me with some of those little esoteric problems that come from overthinking my own feelings and all it takes is something as simple (or seemingly simple) as Kit saying, “when you think about your own feelings too much, they become much more elusive”. The Whitfield-Heisenberg feeling-uncertain principle? LOL
    @MG– that’s another good point. Gender presentation (as a performance) and gender identity different ideas. The trick is that intersection where you think you know who you are and that’s how other people see you too. That’s where my ground is shakiest because there are instances where those things just don’t match. When it happened to me as a kid it was weird but not upsetting– in fact I thought it was fun (usually) when someone thought I was a girl. As a thirty-something woman, it’s a little distressing if someone still pegs me as a guy.

  • renniejoy

    I am probably revealing nothing but my cis-hetero-privilege (I am completely open to correction), but it would never have occurred to me that either MG (in person) or Jessica (in pictures) were not female. :)
    OTOH, I just spent much of a week with a FTM man, and it never would have occurred to me until I was specifically told, in a related to figuring-out-your-role-in-life context. (and I didn’t say anything to him because the talk about roles never came up, or my husband or children, because it wasn’t any of their business). OTOOH, my first experience with the idea of transexuality was at the age of 18, when I was introduced to a friend of my parents (in the SCA) and told, somewhat offhandedly, “he used to be a woman”. Just in a “everybody’s quirky” kinda way. :)

  • Will Wildman

    IIRC, Adam and Eve got kicked out of Eden before eating the fruit of the Tree of Life, which would have made them immortal.

    It’s pretty strongly implied that there’s more to it than immortality – specifically that if a human ate from both the Tree of Knowledge and Tree of Life, they would actually become God’s equal. Although maybe there are interpretations of that portion that I don’t know.

  • renniejoy

    so , really I was lucky to have open-minded parents. :)

  • http://www.nightkitchenseattle.com MadGastronomer, whose father was once bitten by a llama

    I am probably revealing nothing but my cis-hetero-privilege (I am completely open to correction), but it would never have occurred to me that either MG (in person) or Jessica (in pictures) were not female. :)
    Hee. It’s mostly men who clock me as a guy online, I find. And mostly because I’m “very aggressive.” *shrug* It doesn’t bother me, indeed, I’m quite entertained by it.
    And no one has ever mistaken me for a man in person. I’m 5’1″, have long curly hair, and ridiculously large tits (no, really, I’m up to a GG cup now).

  • renniejoy

    I thought you did mean IRl, oops. :)
    “aggressive’, “assertive”…boils down to bitch, amirite? ;)

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Pius Thicknesse

    You know, I have not been able to understand why stridentness is “coded” as male. Or why privileged groups in society (straight white males) seem to feel so threatened when minority groups purposely create spaces where the straight white males are uninvited.
    It’s like straight white males occupying 100% of the wall-to-wall metaphorical space of personal expression going down to 99% is the world’s biggest calamity.
    I’m sort of reminded of this old clip on the Prelinger Archives about a boy who never lost at anything he did until one day he lost a debate. Then he was a ocmplete dick to a girl who had been successful at winning debates, and the teachers was like “Son, I am disappoint.”
    I thought it was pretty interestingly allegorical: people who’ve never had rough breaks seem to resent it for some odd reason when they’re told to kindly lay off the preening bootstrappy rhetoric and failing at the walking a mile in another person’s shoes thing.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Pius Thicknesse

    Bingo! Found the clip: The Good Loser.

  • Amaryllis

    mmy: working class women were working hours and carrying burdens that would have been beyond the physical and emotional strength of upper and middle class men.
    Women and children both.
    I give you The Testimony of Patience Kershaw, a teen-aged girl who worked as a hurrier in a coal mine — and wasn’t she a girl?
    MercuryBlue: I find it horribly sad that Sojourner Truth actually seems to have thought she wasn’t as smart as a white man.
    I don’t know that she actually thought that. It’s more that she wasn’t going to get sidetracked by arguing about something that, in that context, didn’t matter– her right to equal treatment didn’t depend on equal intelligence any more than on any other characteristic ascribed to race or gender, but on equal membership in the human race.
    Then that little man in black there, he says women can’t have as much rights as men, ’cause Christ wasn’t a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.
    Repeated just because it’s one of my favorite lines from that speech, and I’d like to send it daily to the Pope, by mail or telegram or carrier pigeon or skywriting, until he and the entire college of cardinals get the point.
    Well, I can dream, can’t I?

  • http://city-of-ladies.blogspot.com Rebecca

    *”Performative” means that an action as the thing itself. Introductions are performative: You say, “let me introduce you to,” and that action serves as an introduction. Acting (well, and looking, but that’s fairly performative too) like a woman or a man is being a woman or a man for all social purposes.
    Slightly related, but posting because I’m a linguistics geek – I just discovered the concept of a “performative utterance.” I’m not good at describing things, but basically it’s where the utterance describes itself – so, in saying “I pronounce you man and wife” you are doing so by saying so.
    And the interesting thing about truth values is that they’re not as easy to assign – because when you say “I promise to meet you tomorrow” it’s true even if you don’t meet the person tomorrow, since you are indeed promising.
    Then that little man in black there, he says women can’t have as much rights as men, ’cause Christ wasn’t a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.
    Also re-quoted, because awesome.

  • renniejoy

    Gah, bored, depressed and needy are horrible colors on me. I need a new wardrobe.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/femgeek1 Melle

    Will Wildman: …Although, suddenly, Guy Blodau’s origins become clearer. He’s the end result of the various Tribulation judgments killing three-quarters of humanity. TurboJesus is already sowing the seeds of his own downfall.
    Now there’s an Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny I can totally get behind! :D

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    There’s a nice bit in Milton, where Pre-Fall Adam is talking to Gabriel, and he points out that, what with all the angels being male, he was just wondering what they did for sex. And Gabriel’s answer boils down to: 1. It wouldn’t be heaven if there was no sex. and 2. None of your damned business.


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