Recently in Politics Category

Andrew Sullivan linked to a blog post on Feministe last night by a transgender woman  and it made me think about my own issues with gender and forms, and how that has affected me over the last ten years.  I have been far luckier than her; my family, my workplace, my doctor, even the civil servants I've had to deal with through my journey have been remarkably understanding and helpful.  However, I still wait for the other shoe to drop -- every time I've had to talk to someone about it I worry that this will be the time that it all goes wrong.  That is the threat that constantly hangs over my head and causes me stress, even if it never happens.

At the root of this are the fact that there are two "genders" at issue here -- legal gender and "biological" gender.  99% of the time, what actually matters is your legal gender, and this is where things get complicated.  Is it what is on your birth certificate, or your passport, or your driver's license?  Some states will never let you change your birth certificate.  Some won't let you change it until you have surgery (in the case of Illinois, it must be in the United States -- one of the reasons I went to Dr. Meltzer, aside from the fact that he's an excellent surgeon).  Some will let you change your driver's license before you have surgery.  The State Department will let you change your passport if you have a surgery date scheduled within a year.

But the bigger question is, why does legal gender matter?  Men and women should be seen as equal under the eyes of the law, so why does the state care what's on my driver's license?  Do I look like my picture?  Are they really going to be looking between my legs during a traffic stop?  It's kind of ridiculous.  There's no reason this has to be such a mess.  If someone is transgendered, they should be able to change that little M or F on their license or simply decline to have anything there.  And on 99% of forms, they are asking about legal gender -- and in most cases, it's completely irrelevant to what they are asking about.  Why does my gender matter when I'm opening a bank account?

And then we come to biological gender.  Here's where it gets complicated.  A doctor should probably know what your chromosomal gender is, simply because it does matter to some medical problems.  But most of the time, even before I had vaginoplasty, it doesn't help at all -- what is more important for the doctor to know?  That I was born male, or that I'm on female hormones?  That I was born male, or that I had vaginoplasty?  If I put an F on that form, and he doesn't pay attention to the rest of my medical history, now that I've had vaginoplasty, he may overlook the fact that I still have a prostate, or that I don't have a uterus, or something else that could cause problems.  That M or F doesn't tell the doctor anything that would be important for a problem where gender was actually an issue.  So the question becomes, when I'm filling out a medical form, is it asking for my legal gender (which is female) or my biological gender?  And which is more important?

Then there's the whole problem with emergency medical care.  There are cases where pre-operative transsexuals have been in accidents, and as soon as the EMTs discovered that their genitals "didn't match" they stopped treating them.  I'm sure that for most medical professionals that would never happen -- but the problem is, you don't know if it will, and in all likelihood you won't be able to do anything about it.  So you worry -- and that's one of the reasons I decided to have vaginoplasty, despite the fact that I didn't have strong feelings about my genitalia either way.  That's a problem that won't ever be solved by a form though, sadly.

I don't reject gender outright, like some people do -- like it or not, those social constructs exist and the whole fact that I feel female while I was born male to me means that that construct has some grounding in biology -- granted, gender may be a continuum with two peaks, like I suspect sexual orientation is -- but the schizophrenic way society treats transgendered people certainly highlights the fact that arbitrary boxes do not fit everyone.

Consider the case of a transgendered woman who marries a man.  In many states, this is illegal because it is considered same-sex marriage.  A transgendered woman I know who lives in Massachusetts married her wife prior to the state legalizing same-sex marriage, however, because she still had an M on her birth certificate.  And then you have cases where a transgendered woman marries a man -- either because her gender has been legally changed or because of a bureaucratic oversight, and then after he dies, she is unable to file a wrongful death suit or carryout other legal action that a spouse would normally be able to do.  This can vary state by state -- adding more confusion, especially if you were married in one state and move to another.  It's a complete mess -- and means basically that a couple with a transgendered person in it requires a ton of extra legal work to convey the same rights a married couple would have, just like a gay couple.

Like Queen Emily, I think gender is going to be around for a long time.  But I hope to god that the law becomes less retarded in its regard sooner rather than later.  I'm not an activist, and honestly, the fact that I'm transgendered is not really important to my identity (though the fact that I'm a woman is), so most of the time I don't make a big deal about the fact that I'm transgendered.  But this is an issue where I can't avoid dealing with that fact, and it drives me crazy every time.
So while reading an article on the ongoing situation in Iran today I made the mistake of disobeying the general advice "never read comments on the internet" and happened to read the following nugget of wisdom:

"Just another day of dealing with the nutcases who run Iran. You know, the ones Obama was so anxious to talk to. Now that the true totaliatarian nature of their government is obvious to all, I wonder if Obama still wants to talk to them..."
Dear Todd, author of the above comment -- the fact that Iran is a a repressive and corrupt government is not something that anyone who has paid attention to world affairs is surprised by.  On the other hand, Iran is far more open than many other totalitarian regimes we've engaged with in the past.

To be fair, I'm not really sure what the best approach is with Iran -- I'm not particularly thrilled about a country run by hardline theocrats with a blood feud against most of the West getting nuclear weapons, but I don't think convincing them that having nuclear weapons is the only way we'll actually talk to them is going to solve the problem either.  I think I'd almost feel safer if the situation was reversed, considering the fact that Iran, at the very least, has more than one person who might be able to act as a firebreak for a nuclear conflict.

I do know, though, that simply ignoring Iran until they doing something that is a cry for attention won't work.  Neither will meddling in their internal affairs or bombing the hell out of them.  Iran is not a country of 65 million spoiled children, it's a country with thousands of years of history, with a great deal of regional influence, and with a comparatively well-educated populace.  Telling them to sit in a corner until they are sorry is not an effective way to deal with them.  Showing them the respect they deserve, to run their own affairs and participate on the world stage, making them connect to the rest of the world, is how you bring about change.  This is what happened with the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc, what is slowly happening with China, and what will happen elsewhere as the world becomes more and more interdependent.

This doesn't mean sitting idly by while they develop nuclear weapons, but it doesn't mean thinking the only solutions are ignoring them or beating the hell out of them either.  Punishing the general populace for the actions of their (largely oligarchical) leaders or for simply wanting to be taken seriously is not a solution.

As an aside, Andrew Sullivan appears to be doing a decent job of collecting stuff coming out of Iran on his blog, if you're interested.

CLI is not a crime.

| No Comments | No TrackBacks
Every once in a while I see something like this:

"Mr. Calixte uses two different operating systems to hide his illegal activities.  One is the regular B.C. operating system and the other is a black screen with a white font which he uses prompt commands on."
Yes, you read that right.  The police considered the fact that this guy used a command line interface as probable cause for the seizure of all his computers, in order to investigate the "crime" of outing another student (which, as far as I'm aware, is not actually a crime, despite arguably being in bad taste).

Whenever I see something like this, I think two things.  First, I thank the heavens that the EFF exists.  If you don't know what the Electronic Frontier Foundation is, or how its history is intertwined with the gaming industry, you owe it to yourself to at least read about Steve Jackson Games vs. The United States Secret Service, the case that spawned the EFF in the first place.  If you're at all familiar with the gaming industry, Steve Jackson should be a name you're intimately familiar with, as one of the RPG industry's old guard -- the creator of GURPS and many other games.

The other thing I have to think is, how the hell can the police be so fucking stupid?  I understand that not everyone is as computer literate as I am -- but jesus, if you are investigating computer crimes (or "crimes"), you really need to know something about computers.  Of course, if you're even more cynical than I am, you could say the police do know, but the general public (and possibly judges) don't, so they use the flimsiest pretexts to get overreaching warrants and confiscate thousands of dollars in equipment from someone who can't really afford the spend tons of money fighting things in court.  I'm not sure which is more frightening.

I have immense respect for people in law enforcement -- most of them are dedicated individuals who have volunteered to risk their lives to protect the rest of us.  Unfortunately, I think they have become a victim of the same culture of fear that seems to plague a lot of the other more conservative parts of society, and that makes it easy to demonize anything new that they don't understand.  It doesn't help when people like the RIAA and MPAA start hijacking law enforcement to enforce ludicrous copyright lawsuits for doing things that, for good or ill, probably a majority of the general public does not consider a "real crime."

As the years wear on, and we get further into the Information Age, I hope to god we see the end of this kind of insane overreaching and computer stupidity, but I'm not holding my breath.  While it's true that the first generation of cops that have grown up with the internet since their childhood is going to start hitting the beat very soon now, I suspect most computer science majors or even just Linux enthusiasts aren't really going to be signing up to walk a beat.  Part of that is because being a cop is frankly a high-stress, largely thankless and underpaid profession, even compared to the sometimes hectic IT professions (where at least your life is not usually in danger), but I think another part of it is the antagonism that has existed now, for decades, between law enforcement and much of the "computer nerd" community.  That doesn't even address the problems with encroachment on civil liberties that were taken over the last decade in the name of "protecting us from terrorists," which is bigger problem.

I dunno.  I don't want to point the finger entirely at law enforcement here, because I don't think it is all their fault, but until there's a general increase in the computer literacy of the police and other law enforcement agencies (even the FBI and Secret Service have a pretty poor record with this stuff at times), this is a problem that isn't going to go away.
Lately, I've been rewatching the last seasons of The West Wing on Bravo.  I know it's a TV show and it's definitely an idealized version of the Presidency and politics in general; characters on the show get away with saying things in political speeches and news conferences that you wonder how the heck anyone would get away with it in real life.  Vinick and Santos are basically the "dream candidates" for a large part of the country, and they make speeches written by TV writers to evoke drama for storylines the writers have complete control over.

Tonight though, I saw Obama's "State of the Nation" address.  I wrote a month ago about his inaugural address, and I said that it kind of blew me away.  But when I saw this address tonight -- when I saw him display the same kind of confidence and not pull any punches, when he gives some firm plans and bold statements -- it really felt like I was just watching another episode of The West Wing.  Supposedly, Santos was extensively based on Obama, but if anything Obama's rhetoric and manner of speaking seems more impressive than the "idealized" version.  When he lays out specifics and (holy shit) tells people that he is going to raise taxes, that's pretty bold -- at least compared to the kind of (attempted) feel-good pap we've been fed for the last eight years.  Yes, he goes for inspiring words, and the proof really lies in the pudding, but he's really pushing an agenda that is not "get out there and shop."

In contrast, Bobby Jindal's response...well, first off, compared to Barack Obama wading through a clamoring crowd, looking completely comfortable in the element, when Jindal walked out he struck me as looking really awkward.  Maybe that's shallow, but body language is important, especially for a politician.  Also, I couldn't put my finger on it when he was talking, but jesus does he sound a lot like Kenneth the page from 30 Rock.  I suppose that's just a Southern accent, but I couldn't stop thinking about it.

And then we get to the content.  There are some good Republican ideals, and I think that it's extremely important that there be an "honorable opposition" in government.  But to have a Republican use the mess in New Orleans during Katrina as a reason not to trust big government, to have a Republican say they are going to clean house and cut out corruption after one of the most scandalous administrations in history, it comes across as unbelievably ridiculous.

Sure, Jindal tried to show some introspection, but it fell horribly, hilariously flat.  He said that Republicans had "gone along" with massive government spending -- who, exactly, were they going along with?  For six years, the Republicans had control of both Houses of Congress and the White House.  Come on.  It's not that I don't understand what the deal is here -- no Republican wants to sit there and go "yeah, we kind of fucked up the country here," especially when most of the people who were in charge during those 8 years in Congress are still there.  But what that shows to me is that the Republicans still just won't take a long hard look and own up to their failures.  Jindal tried -- maybe.  But his hesitance in going all the way makes it seem like he doesn't actually realize it was the Republicans fault.

Also, "Americans can do anything" is an okay catch phrase.  But when you repeat it about ten times in 15 minutes, after a powerful oratory like Obama's, it shows that you either have nothing to say, or you badly need a new speechwriter.

It's been a long time.

| No Comments | No TrackBacks
No, not since I blogged last, smartasses.

Today, we got our new president.  Finally.  Last October, I wrote this entry, shortly before Obama won the election.  Needless to say, I was pretty happy about that.  It's been a very long two and a half months waiting for him to take office, while Bush has lurched around and tried to shine the turd that has been the last eight years.  But frankly, I would have felt that about almost any of the candidates on the Democratic side, and that's not because I love the Democrats a lot -- let's face it, they've been pretty mediocre in the face of adversity the last eight years.

Today though, something else happened that showed just how different Obama is, or at the very least, has the potential to be.  It wasn't the massive crowds at the Inauguration.  It wasn't the fact that Obama rejected basically every disastrous, right-wing, anti-intellectual, anti-science policy that the Bush administration put forward to the man's very face (seriously -- if you haven't watched his inaugural address, go do it now).

No, the thing that really stood out at me is because he called us on our bullshit.

"Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age."

"In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned."

Now, this might not seem like much, but contrast it with the last President, who, when confronted with the worst attack on the United States since Pearl Harbor, told people to go shopping, and gave the impression that forcing average Americans to make any sort of sacrifice was horrific.

It was pretty funny, actually, listening to the inaugural address, because the sort of things that Obama was saying were along the same lines as what my character has been saying in Eve about the way the Caldari State has been going (though obviously some of the details were slightly different).

Now, I know Obama isn't the first politician to give a speech like this.  And I would have been a lot more impressed if he had given this kind of a speech six months ago.  Think about it though -- when was the last time we had something like this?  I know this is the first time I listened to a present-day political speech and really felt something, and that includes Obama's speeches during the campaign.  People say Reagan was charismatic -- obviously I was too young to really take much from those years but I never saw him give anything like this.  It's been 45 years since JFK was in office -- has it been that long, almost two generations, since we've seen someone like this?

Obviously, the proof will be in the pudding, as they say -- he's only been president for about 10 hours, so let's not start canonizing him yet.  But for the first time in my life, I really do feel inspired by a politician (a living one, anyway).  I've been a cynic for a long time, especially about politics -- mostly, I think, because I want to be an idealist and just know better.  Maybe, just maybe, I don't know as well as I thought I did.

About this Archive

This page is an archive of recent entries in the Politics category.

Personal is the previous category.

Technology is the next category.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.