Wednesday, May 30, 2012


It was a lovely summer evening in Covent Garden, and I was engaged in a conversation with a fellow gamer (from the Intellectual Games Society at LSE. I think I was telling him about my degree or something; the conversation had gotten to a point where we were discussing the experience of being male and female; he said something (I don't remember what) and then I replied something along the lies of "Yeah, but that only happens if you are cisgender"; or 'cisgender privilege', or 'this theory is cisgender-centric'. All I remember is that I used the term.

"It's nice to talk to someone who uses the word 'cisgender', he said, with a hint of good-natured amusement.

"Um... that's how people whose self-identified gender coincides with what sex they've been classified as at birth are called...".

Cisgender. I guess there's something subversive about the word. 'Standard' human beings are cisgender; by naming them this you disrupt their privileged status.

'Cisgender' is a word that we need because trans and genderqueer people exist; it's a reminder that they do. 'Cisgender' as opposed to "normal people" (trans people are abnormal and/or mentally ill) and to 'real men/women' (trans people aren't really the gender they identify as). It is a word very factually describing a category of people (that I happen to identify with btw- I am a cis, heterosexual female); yet somehow when I say it I feel like I am making a political statement. Now that I think about it- so many people still casually use "normal" to mean "heterosexual". Yes, it does make me angry.

Ruth Frankenberg once said: 'Privilege is the non-experience of not being slapped in the face'; the privileged: white, male, heterosexual, cisgender- are unnamed. They are the standard human beings. Women, thirld-word men, third-world women, Blacks, Rroma/Gypsies, LGBTQ people bear the mark of Otherness, maintained in language and discourse. We have no words to think them otherwise than as the radical Other to 'normal people'.

From the Judeo-Christian myth of Eve made out of Adam's rib (notice how Adam was still Adam before Eve was created- he didn't become a person -or become male, for that matter- through her creation), to John Stuart Mill's proposing in the British Parliament that the  Reform Bill's clause which read "man" be changed to "person."- and not succeeding, to relationship advices in magazines who nonchalantly assume everyone is heterosexual, to 'nude'/'skin-colored' objects that are invariably the color of a white person's skin, to outraged Romanian people refusing to vote for an Eurovision pre-sellection song with lyrics in rromani (Gypsy language) because "we can't be represented by Gypsies"...

I did get my share of funny looks for using words such as "heterosexual" or 'cisgender', or for referring to trans people with the pronoun of the gender they identified as and to genderqueer people as 'zie'. For the privileged- it is political corectnes gone mad. For the non-privileged, it is as basic as acknowledging their existence as human beings.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Astrida's seminars

"I know it should probably go without saying, but just to et you know- in this seminar, we leave sexist, racist, homophobic, ableist remarks out". We nod in understanding. It's our very first seminar at LSE, in "Gender Theories in the modern world: an interdiscipinary approach". Our professor is named Astrida Neimanis; she's tall, with a friendly face and a funky haircut. There'ssomething very cute, I'd say, in the tone of her voice, her gestures, her way of addressing us.

In groups, we introduce ourselves: we're people from pretty much all over the world, coming from different academic fields, each one of us with eir own fresh perspective. One of us has ended-up studying queer theory because he identifies as queer himself; one of us has been to India and has found hersef surprisingly inspired by a group of Catholic nuns working with young girls; one of us writes a novel. We're confortable sharing our stories with each other and it's fun.

For 10 weeks so far, Astrida's seminars have been our very own dashboard for playing with ideas, for asking deep questions and having a lot of fun coming up with radically different answers- all in the spirit of leaving the discussion at east just a bit smarter than upon entering it. Take, for example, the idea of gender as a social construct being distinct from biological sex- but isn't what we define as "biological sex" also socially constructed? Can gay marriage be liberating for straight women? Are anti-racial discrimination ads presenting succesful/socially integrated members of racia minorities underrmining or reinforcing racist stereotypes? And by the way, if I'm writing a paper quoting an author who was legally and officially male in the 80's (Robert Connell) but then had a sex change and became Raewin Connell, do I reffer to said author in the 80's as "he" or "she"? (To this one, Astrida said I should think of the politics of gender and come up with my own solution.) The questions are always open and the answers are multiple- at times clashing hard, but always in good spirit.

I see a news flash video on youtube about a mayor in Romania being fined for building a freakin' concrete wall around the area where a community of poor Gypsies are living. I dare to make a comment about rampant racism in Romania, and I get called "idiot" and "left-wing loon" by the same people who claim that "all gypsies are scum, they should be deported to India". Same person about me: "She's a *female* philosophy student and that explains it". The guy I'm working with says that "Gypsies refuse to be human beings" and scoffs at the idea that it's maybe the society that doesn't treat them as humans, because you know, the only reason why someone would be dirt-poor in our very fair society is because they outright refuse to live a decent life. He wouldn't haear any of my counterarguments. We argue fiercely about it- that kind of argument no one really gains anything from. My housemate mentions his friends are going for a week in Thailand "to get laid"; I'm tempted to say something about cutural stereotyping or the eploitation of women, but I bite my tongue. I ask another housemate something about the washing machine and he goes like : "How woud I know? I'm a man".I've lost count of the number of peope who, in the context of discussing sexual orientation, use "normal" as a synonim for "heteroseual". Again on the net, I comment about a transgender person (who has been identifying as female for a long time) and reffer to the person as "she"; next commenter says : "Why do you refer to him as she? He's a man". "Freaks like that are mentally ill" soon follows.

I love to debate; I love countering arguments with arguments and I think I'm pretty good at it. But I've never really knew how to respond to non-arguments; to prejudiced statements. Either I offer arguments- which the perpetrator dismisses, most of the time with a profanity; or I get emotional, and then I'm "over-sensitive"; or, even though I end-up feeling guilty about it, I say nothing, because I know I'm not in Astrida's seminar anymore.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

L'important, c'est la rose

One more day 'till I'll be in London. Leaving everything behind... Everything including one week of intense and remorseless romance, We will, indeed, keep in touch; maybe not in "that way"- but we certainly will. Maybe it would never have worked out, even if there wasn't the impending fact that tomorrow I'll be on a plane to London, still carrying with me the feel of his hands on my body; it's not something I want to think about right now. All I know is that it's been pure beauty and I'm happy and proud to have lived it.

One more night of sleep 'till I'll start a completely new life.

L'important, c'est la rose.

Friday, September 9, 2011

My Gypsies

I've seen my favourite gypsy punk band live tonight. I wanted to hear them one more time before I leave the country. I danced like crazy with a bunch of fans- among whom many Gypsies, including one very charming little girl in traditional attire. I had fun. I got a bit teary-eyed at that jazzy song about a girl who travels in search of her destiny.I'm happy now.

I like Gypsy art.

I like Romano Butiq- the band that I've seen live tonight

I like this cheesy song that makes me laugh on my worst bad hair day:

I like Cirque Romanes, whom I've only seen online and on TV, but whose shows I hope to see someday:

I like Goran Bregovic, Gogol Bordello, Balkan Beat Box and Dubiozza Kolektiv. I like my Gypsy-style bracelets I bought at a fair. I like most of the stuff on this website.

Among the people I've met and who inspire me, there are a lot of Gypsies; including a very talented actress who had it rough in life more than most of us ever will, the band that makes me dance and dream, a psychologist who does ballet in her free time and two university professors. My Gypsies.

I get angry when people are prejudiced against Gypsies; I get angry at discrimination and hate speech. I feed the trolls when I shouldn't. I get angry when the same people who complain about how Romanians are seen abroad make about Gypsies the same sweeping and unkind generalisations they don't enjoy being made about themselves- and fail to see the irony. I get angry because "gypsy-like" is a common Romanian expression meaning "tacky". I get angry that a lot of time I find myself bringing up in conversation the art that I love or the people that I admire, only to be told "Oh, have you heard about such-and-such crime on TV that happens to be committed by a Gypsy?". As a sociologist with a penchant for critical theory and semiotics you learn to notice these things. A bit too much, maybe.

For every act of prejudice and discrimination, for every stupid "Die gypsies" troll comment on a blog, for every "damn Gypsies are an embarrassment for this country"- let it be known that one of the things I will miss the most leaving my country are my gypsies.

PS: Alina, I hope you got the acting school scholarship you needed; I'd be happy to have at least on of my gypsies in London with me.

Friday, August 12, 2011


the sun shines for you he said the day we were lying among the rhododendrons on Howth head in the grey tweed suit and his straw hat the day I got him to propose to me yes first I gave him the bit of seedcake out of my mouth and it was leapyear like now yes 16 years ago my God after that long kiss I near lost my breath yes he said I was a flower of the mountain yes so we are flowers all a womans body yes that was one true thing he said in his life and the sun shines for you today yes that was why I liked him because I saw he understood or felt what a woman is and I knew I could always get round him and I gave him all the pleasure I could leading him on till he asked me to say yes and I wouldnt answer first only looked out over the sea and the sky I was thinking of so many things he didnt know of Mulvey and Mr Stanhope and Hester and father and old captain Groves and the sailors playing all birds fly and I say stoop and washing up dishes they called it on the pier and the sentry in front of the governors house with the thing round his white helmet poor devil half roasted and the Spanish girls laughing in their shawls and their tall combs and the auctions in the morning the Greeks and the jews and the Arabs and the devil knows who else from all the ends of Europe and Duke street and the fowl market all clucking outside Larby Sharons and the poor donkeys slipping half asleep and the vague fellows in the cloaks asleep in the shade on the steps and the big wheels of the carts of the bulls and the old castle thousands of years old yes and those handsome Moors all in white and turbans like kings asking you to sit down in their little bit of a shop and Ronda with the old windows of the posadas 2 glancing eyes a lattice hid for her lover to kiss the iron and the wineshops half open at night and the castanets and the night we missed the boat at Algeciras the watchman going about serene with his lamp and O that awful deepdown torrent O and the sea the sea crimson sometimes like fire and the glorious sunsets and the figtrees in the Alameda gardens yes and all the queer little streets and the pink and blue and yellow houses and the rosegardens and the jessamine and geraniums and cactuses and Gibraltar as a girl where I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.

Ulysses by James Joyce- last chapter. Read yesterday in the train, with the sunset on my window. It's the end of a holiday. I'm happy :)

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

A good observation- and a few question for future research

Found at Sociological Images (specifically- here)
Finally, Cheryl S. noticed that J. Crew decided to market some of their boys’ clothing to girls. Rather than designating the clothes as unisex, or listing them as boys’ items in the boys’ section and girls’ items in the girls’ section, they instead created a section in the girls’ part of the website called Borrowed from My Brother:

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As Cheryl points out, there is no “borrowed from my sister” section for boys. We accept the idea of women wearing men’s clothing, even seeing it as potentially sexy, in a way that we don’t tolerate or condone men crossing gender lines to wear women’s items or take on other aspects of femininity. J. Crew simply applies this wider cultural acceptance of women taking on some aspects of masculinity (as long as they balance it with enough signs of femininity), which we see in the marketing of “boyfriend jeans” to women, and applies it to kids.

Interestingly, J. Crew are also the ones who featured in an add a boy with pink painted toenails:

Scandal ensued, with media comments outraged about how the ad is "“blatant propaganda celebrating transgendered children.”- or about how it would make the child gay (no kidding!).

So, why is it that we as a culture are OK with girls wearing guys' clothes, yet we are terribly appalled by guys wearing girls' clothes? Gender-egalitarian masculists and feminists argue that the idea that it is "wrong" or "abnormal" for a guy to wear female clothing is detrimental to men, as it limits their choices, and to women as well, as it is based on the assumption that male-specific things are somehow "superior" to female-specific things, therefore a woman acting like a man is to be admired while a man acting like a woman is to be ridiculed.

I wonder how far can the comparison go between men in our days who are attracted to clothes/objects/activities/habits that are deemed specifically female by our society and women who were trying to take up more "manly" roles in the XIXth or early XXth century.

On the same note... I wonder why popular culture associates so strongly crossdressing with homosexuality, while actually the percent of gay crossdressers is not higher than the percent of gays in the population.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Different perspectives

A while ago, I took part in a funny little tagging game on facebook; a colleague from Sociology tagged me into this photo:

The rule of the game demanded that I tagged a few facebook friends in the photo in return and pay it forward; I merely saw it as a way of spreading out a few smiles to people I thought might need them; and who doesn't need a little dose of corny-soapy-adorable from time to time? (Okay, maybe I'm a sucker for cuteness...)

Pretty soon, however, I received a message from one of the friends I had tagged:

"I don't want being pretty/the prettiest to be conditionned by being happy, because it's politically incorrect- if you see Hugh Grant being all mopey and sad you'd still think of him as the prettiest guy, but if you see one that's more plain or so- you'd ask him to be happy to be accepted and even then it'd take other factors like a good sense of humor and you being drunk at a party for the poor guy to get some action; it's only life that;s fair to us and its fairness is better illustrated by the saying "No one dies a virgin, life screws us all"."

The interesting point here isn't that...well, sometimes in life pleasing everyone is technically impossible. It isn't about me being surprised by his reaction or grasping it more or less; the interesting point is that it had never occured to me the photo can be "read" in this particular way. A baloon with a writing that would have said, for instance, "You're pretiest when you're skinny and blonde if you're female OR with huge muscles if you're male, respectively - I would have found it offensive enough to launch into one long tirade of "how dare they make people who don't fit their narrow ideal of beauty feel excluded?" I intuitively feel "you're prettiest when you're happy" is different, but as of now I couldn't tell exactly why. Maybe it's because I believe potentially everyone can be happy?

Or, is it merely because I attach a very different mindset to the words? To me, "you're prettiest when you're happy" sounds very acceptant (again, back to my beliefe that being happy is an ideal that potentially everyone can reach, as opposed to being skinny or successful or smart or whatever). To the guy quoted above, it doesn't. How do we negociate significances?

The one solution I know I DO NOT want -yet some people resort to it quite often, from what I've noticed- is getting very impersonal/avoiding expressing your thoughts, feelings and oppinions for fear you might offend someone. Think excessive political corectness- for instance. I mean- life without a healthy dose of controversies would not only be utterly boring, but will live horribly little room for personal growth and evolution of ideas. In layman's terms, we'd still pretty much be in caves without it.

I'm not advocating for the opposite extreme either: not caring at all about how other people understand what you are saying and leaving this responsibility up to them only. It also doesn't leave much room for fascinating controversies: you can't have a debate without an actual dialogue with your opponent.

So, the answer to this problem, I think, would ultimately be: when faced with a missunderstanding of this type, explicitate your significances: what do you mean by what yiu say? what sort of message are you trying to convey? how do you relate to your message?

(Note to self: Good luck with that :P)