27 May 2009

Jane Fonda on privilege

"Why was it that I had not paid more attention and taken action sooner? It wasn't that I was lazy or lacked curiosity. I think it had to do with giving up comfort--and I don't mean material comfort. I mean the comfort that ignorance provides. Once you connect with the painful truth of something, you then own that pain and must take responsibility for it through action. Of course, there are people who see and then choose to turn away, but then one becomes an accomplice." (My Life So Far, p. 197)

21 May 2009

Trans/librarian, Part I

I was reading an article for the collection evaluation I'm doing as part of my internship this summer, and it gave me a lot of food for thought and helped me flesh out the points below, which have been nagging at me for some time. It's mostly just notes to myself to use in the future, but I thought you might find it interesting to read.

This is the article that I reference: Moss, Eleanor. (2008). An inductive evaluation of a public library GLBT collection. Collection Building, 24(4): 149-156.

At one point, the author is talking about ex-gay/anti-gay literature, she makes the point that based on the perspective of users their collection is targeted at ("community relevance"),
"As one of the leaders of Exodus Ministries, and a poster child of the Ex-Gay Movement, Paulk’s book is considered anti-gay, even psychologically and spiritually damaging, by most of the GLBT community. Using a definition of community relevance, one could even make the argument that Love Won Out is not a GLBT book."
Still, she kept the book in her sample, because a) it has the subject headings, and b) it's still in high demand at the library she studied, so it's relevant, if distasteful. I think that this "relevant, if distasteful" concept is going to be key for the work I do with the trans stuff in my internship, and I should expand on it in whatever write-up comes out of this research, since as a research institution, anything is valid fodder for study, especially (humanities) analysis. Ah, I see-- so the question arises of how to "keep" psych/social scientists/medical practitioners from using "bad"/non-trans-affirming materials to inform their new research/practice. It's an information literacy issue--being able to make an informed decision about what info is "good" for a particular purpose, and it's complicated by the fact that the balancing voices that would add depth to the pool are trans people's voices themselves, especially in the psych/ss/medical fields.

So non-trans researchers/practitioners in these fields look for information, find non-trans-affirming/trans-controlling stuff, and this becomes their basis for interacting with/caring for/working with trans people, and since they've read voices of authority that included zero-to-very-few trans authors, it reifies the notion that "non-trans must be better sources of information about trans people than trans people are themselves." Which is why I can't bring myself to be a "neutral" librarian about this issue, because this particular cycle of knowledge production, consumption, and use causes harm (to be clear: harm is certainly not the only produced effect, but it is significant). Still, the answer can't be through censorship, but rather through information literacy education (i.e., giving users context). But how to do that when researchers/practitioners in the psych/ss/medical fields are already imbued with superiority and entitlement? At the root: how to make them respect and value trans people?

No answers yet. What do you think?

13 May 2009

Why it bothers me when you say "lame".

"that's dumb."
"that's so stupid."
"that's gay."
"that's retarded."
"i'm such a spaz."
"that's ghetto."

This post is not about semantics, censorship, or "political correctness". It's about understanding the power of your words, and being intentional about them.

Even though I've gotten used to it, I still flinch every time someone uses "gay" as a pejorative, using those three letters as a sociolinguistic bridge to connect a complex social & sexual identity & experience with a much simpler concept: "bad".

By re-purposing "gay" like that, people reassign the meaning of the word, co-opting a signifier someone else's identity. By misusing it so often and without regard to context, they dilute its significance. It becomes a cheaper word, less valuable and less meaningful.

To me, it may be a mere annoyance at times, a frustration at others, or the last straw on a really bad day. What I'm saying is: when people use a term that has special significance in my life in a negative way, it does me harm, even if only a little.

And I like to operate in a harm-reduction paradigm. If we can make the world a little less bad, a little more good & safe & loving, then why shouldn't we?

Convenience: that's the answer I get most often when I call people out on saying "lame". It's convenient to say "lame" to express non-functionality, interpreted broadly. So "lame" becomes a blanket expression for all minor discontent.

My problem with that is: a) "lame" is a word that has special significance to people with disabilities*, b) your repurposing it therefore does harm, and c) being imprecise in your language compromises your own integrity**.

And of all the daily choices we make without thinking, from how much water to use in the shower to where to get our food to where to go to school to what job to take to what religion to follow, this is one of the most manageable, actionable. It is only a small task to choose to be intentional with our language and respect the power that our words have to hurt or help other people and ourselves.

So, I am asking you to take this small action: when you find yourself about to slip and re-purpose a word that is not yours, reconsider. What is the real message you want to express? It's probably as simple as "I don't like that." And if it's more complex, take the time to allow yourself the freedom to express complexity! It makes life richer for everyone.

* regardless of whether a person's specific experience has anything to do with mobility, because it's a signifier. see metonymy.

** um, this is a rather involved point may seem like a stretch but is deeply related, while perhaps more tangential to the specific point I'm making here. See "The Four Agreements", for example.