Monthly Archives: December 2012

Feminism, Health and New Media: (Finally) Understanding Their Cohesive Properties

So folks, the sun is setting on our Fall semester of 2012.

New York sunset, from Google Images

New York sunset, from Google Images

I’d say it was a pretty challenging roller coaster ride for me and many of my peers. But the hardest learned lessons always stubbornly turn out to be the lessons hardest to forget, and I think now as I tie pieces of my critical essay together, I am finally learning to understand Professor Daniels’ purpose in titling our Hons201 course, “Feminism, Health and New Media!”

Well maybe I am a little late to the picnic, but you know what they say: never deny a late bloomer her slice of the pie. Is that how that one goes? Anyway, I apolgize for the awkward UN-funniness of this final blog post. I guess I am having separation anxiety, or something. The individual puzzle pieces are finally fitting together for me in my head, forming a cohesive picture that I can somehow superimpose onto my critical essay, and all I am able to do is crack lame jokes. So, what was I saying? Oh yeah! Feminism.

For my critical essay, I will be pulling largely from feminist theory so as to articulate my thesis on, “female to male YouTube Trans* vloggers and the construction of knowledge,” therein. This semester we had focused on the “women’s health movement, 1969-1999” as purposeful practice of autonomy (Morgen). It was inspiring to read and watch self-identified feminists advocate for gender liberation and reproductive justice here in the US. Pulling from those inspirational sources within feminism, I aim to expand upon those cisgender parameters so as to navigate a contemporary discourse – happpening right now in the online vlogosphere – pertaining to transitioning and knowledge of Health.

Health is that which “knowledge” will refer to in the body of my final paper. Knowledge of the body and knowledge of self in relation to social assimilation ideology surrounding what constitutes gender. The discourses upon which we very often find ourselves resisting are those that claim there is a one-way-road to gender authenticity and that that is via genital matching, or in the case of FtM Trans* folks, assimilation. New Media is assembling a strong defensive front to such rigid defintions of gender.

New Media is going to be the B-B-BULK of my critical essay. I have been researching FtM Trans* YouTube vlogs for some time now, and I’m finally zoning in on which ones will be most representative of my central claim, that is to say:

FtM Trans* folks are producing knowledge by and through new media, that knowledge largely pertaining to health: bodily modifications and psychic journey toward self-hood. It is necessary to state that I fully intend on debunking those arguments that wish to assert any kind of homogeneous, monolothic liberation and/or empowerment among Trans* folk, let alone Trans* YouTube vloggers. I argue privilege (along all social identity markers) has so very much to do with the ways in which knowledge gets produced online in the YouTube vlogosphere, as well as the means by which FtM Trans* political identities are made visible.

So, in short, I aim to argue that FtM Trans* vloggers’ feminist intent(s) to (re)claim bodily health-based knowledge are negotiated by and through new media (i.e. YouTube).

And that’s all folks!

I "love" finals week, you guys. Weeeee!

I “love” finals week, you guys. Weeeee!

Please watch some of the following YouTube vlog posts, if you have time, and are interested in learning about the ways and means by which FtM Trans* folk are navigating their bodies in relation to their gender-in-TRANSition:

Stuff Cis People Say to Trans People

Binding the Pain – FTM Binding, by Ryan Cassata

Ryan Post-Top-Op

Liam in TRANSition

2.5 Years on “T”

Binders & Packers, Part 1. by Kamari Marchbanks

FTM Binder, Packer Show ‘n Tell

How I Use My Pee-Cock

Metoidioplasty Information FtM

“T”estosterone & Tampons

Post-meta surgery

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FtM TRANSitioning, Utilizing New Media and Bodily Modifications

So I’m in the process of drafting my critical essay for our class, Hons201: Feminism, Health and New Media. The most inspiring part about this whole process of research has truly been the new media aspect of it all. My purpose is to focus on the way young people are utilizing new media via trans* YouTube vlogs and Tumblr blogs, as a means by which to navigate their bodies in relation to their gender. Throughout the bulk of my online research, I found myself particularly drawn to Female to Male (FtM) Vlogs and genderqueer blogs. In watching and reading, and reading and watching, I noticed certain trends throughout each new media representaion:

  • educational HOW TO’s on binders, packers and stand-to-pee (STP) medicine spoons
  • personal accounts of how testosterone (“T”) has affected the body, and at what rate should one expect to see “results”
  • reflections upon top and bottom surgeries, both from experience as well as from speculation

These themes kept on repeating themselves throughout my research, over and over again. I became more knowledgeable on the ways and means by which FtM folks navigate such issues as – Where can I find the least expensive, quality packer for men of color? How can I avoid yeast infections from wearing my packer for long periods of time?How long do I need to avoid direct sunlight, post-top-op? Where on my body can I expect to discover masculine change after X number of months on “T”? – and so on. Each Vlog tells a story: a story of the body in transition, away from ‘entrapment’ and toward one’s self-identified gender.

The corporeal journey to self-hood, I am finding, truly is an autonomous one. That is to say, every FtM TRANSition is specific to the individual. New media provides a space for which #LGBTQIA youth can create communities of online solidarity, support, information and education, reminding me of those brilliant strides made between 1969-1990 in the United States for the women’s health movement, which Sandra Morgan has titled in her book, Into Our Own Hands. Trans* youth are negotiating their own bodies on their own terms via new media. Health is central to TRANSitioning and TRANSformation, from female to male, including mental health and the processing of emotion(s).

In focusing on FtM trans* Vlogs and blogs, I hope to conceptualize some sort of conversation taking place between V/bloggers that is pertaining to perceptions of gender ‘authenticity’ and how much of a role bodily modification plays into that. In other words, does the penis really make the man? And to complicate that question further by suggesting that to be in a position to CHOOSE is to be in a position of socioeconomic privelege; that is to say surgery and hormone therapy can be quite costly (and more often than not are NOT covered by one’s insurance company, assuming one has health insurance). This makes for a nebulous cluster of conditional confusion.

>_^

But I think, by the time I figure it out, my critical essay will argue something like this:

FtM trans* folk are navigating body modification via new media. This online community serves as both a teaching tool on HOW TO perform masculine gender identity ‘authentically,’ as well as a ‘room of one’s own‘ in which to negotiate what it really means to be a man, and under what conditions said self-identity ‘ought’ to be inscribed upon the body via hormone therapy and/or surgery.

This critical essay will also examine the LACK of medical discourse surrounding what effects do hormone interventions have on the health of trans* folk.

Please let me know if you have anything you’d like to contribute; I am very open to critical suggestions! Below are some FtM Vlogs, with which I have been transcribing:

Ryan Cassata

I’m not looking to go on testosterone or anything…I feel normal….it was the first time I ever felt normal in, like, myself. And, you know, it was a great moment for me…my brain was satisfied. And I guess that’s, you know, what the surgery’s supposed to do.

ALion’sFear

Once you hit your year, things slow down and once you hit your two year, things slow down even more. My facial hair comes in a lot quicker. I just started shaving with a shaver and cream only 2 months ago (I used to use a trimmer). My voice hasn’t changed, my feet stopped growing somewhere between the year and two year mark.

DefineGender

Will I ever have bottom surgery? Probably not, unless there’s some way that I can get a penis transplant because what I have down there works really well, it’s healthy and I keep it clean and I’m not going to lie, I like orgasms. Ok? I mean who doesn’t? …I don’t want to muck with it, and I’d rather not mess with it when I know it works perfectly the way it is. For me, having something down there is not about just having junk in my pants or being able to pee standing up. For me, it’s about sex.

laidbaqq

I don’t pack all the time, only occasionally because I do get self-conscious. I do it for comfort so I can feel better about myself…there’s something there and it’s not so empty and I’m not so conscious of it…sometimes I do forget that this thing is not real. Sometimes I forget there’s nothing there. …Most of it is for comfort. …

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UN Humanitarian Aid to Liberia

The United Nations (UN) has recently sent me to Liberia to provide aid to women, men and children in surrounding internally displaced person (IDP) camps. Some critical questions to be asked include: What steps are to be taken by the UN so as to ensure safety, health and well being in the surrounding IDP camps? What information must be recorded and why? What services must be delivered, and how?

The first step in any kind of outreach is to acknowledge that I am an outsider coming into a conflict zone which I know very little to nothing about in comparison to those who have experienced life in the Republic of Liberia. All too often, well meaning aid efforts from the global north have historically misinterpreted and imposed ethnocentricites onto communities of the global south. Hence my first course of action would be transnational in nature, to listen to what women, men and children had to say about their living conditions since the 2003 resignation of Charles McArthur Ghankay Taylor and the 2005 democratic election of Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

President Sirleaf has been dealt a complex history of Liberian Civil Wars: the first from 1989 to 1996 and the more recent having lasted from 1999 to 2003. These conflicts pose serious challenges to the current reconstruction and rebuilding of Liberian politics, economy and social landscape – namely the severely sensative reintroduction of former combatants into society.

“For post-conflict societies, the challenges of reintegrating…war-affected youth are likely to far outlast and outsize the formal demobilization, disarmament and reintegration (DDR) of ex-combatants… In Liberia, where the bulk of the population is young, poor, and underemployed, many rural youth continue to make their living through unlawful activities, including unlicensed mining, rubber tapping, or logging…ex-combatants, and some remain in loose armed group structures, doing the bidding of their wartime commanders..” -ipa (innovations for poverty action)

After I attempt to initiate an open dialogue with internally displaced persons living in conflict zone camps, it is necessary to examine those social relations, which are particular to Liberian culture, through a gender lens, as Professors Daniels and Richardson often say. This might mean respecting certain restrictions pertaining to space and gender when constructing UN IDP camps; can men and women occupy the same space at the same time? This deeply impacts the lived experiences of girls and self-identified women, in terms of proximity to safe or potentially unsafe toilet facilities, coming out from under IDP camp tents for fresh air, etc.

These considerations are vital to the physical construction of safety and security among those who are most vulnerable to sexual violence. Women and girls disproportionately face the atrocities of rape as a weapon of war in conflict zones such as Liberia. Hence access to medical facilities and free-of-charge mental health care are imperative to addressing the physical and psychological consequences of war on women, among which include but are not limited to:

  • unwanted pregnancies
  • unwanted abortions
  • genital trauma
  • post traumatic stress disorder:

“an anxiety disorder that develops after exposure to a traumatic event characterized by ‘actual or threatened death or serious injury, or a threat to the physical integrity of oneself or others.” -Evan D. Kanter, The Impact Of War On Mental Health

  • spread of sexually transmitted infections such as HIV/AIDS
  • incontinence
ICRC Resource Centre: ICRC / N. Kero

ICRC Resource Centre: ICRC / N. Kero

Humanitarian aid workers ought to be well versed in these kind of ramifications of war as well as in the languages spoken in Liberia, so as to most effectively assist IDP communities in both physical and psychological healing. Another step in the reconstruction of Liberian conflict zones will be to provide gender-specific aid to girls and women as well as to boys and men, respecting those societal gender-based divisions which may or may not allow women to interact with men who are not their husbands, even if those men are UN humanitarian aid workers, doctors, psychologists or medical assistants.

“Gender training is necessary for peacekeeping troops and humanitarian aid workers to prevent reoccurence of rape and exploitation of women and girls by men who have power and money. Greater efforts must be made to ensure that humanitarian aid reaches women and is not first derived to men.” -Mary-Wynne Ashford, The Impact Of War On Women

Ashford urges UN aid workers, ‘like myself,’ to ensure the safety of women and children in refugee camps by providing, “adequate cooking fuel,” so as to avoid the, “necessity for women,” to unsafely leave IDP camps, “in search of firewood,” and by providing, “efficient cooking stoves to conserve fuel” (6). Particular considerations such as these are to be integrated into UN relief efforts, so that actual relief might take root in conflict zones such as Liberia.

My main goal, as a UN humanitarian aid worker, is to help local communities negotiate reconstruction on their own, peace-keeping terms. By listening to women, men and children’s needs, more direct solutions can be of service.

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Vlog Assignment #4: A Transnational Approach to US Feminism

What a pleasure it has been to work with the wonderful Kerishma Panigrahi, on our final Vlog assignment!  This video is meant to depict our own interpretation of what a US feminist approach to assisting women living in conflict zones should represent, keeping in mind the questionable politics of saving so as not to invoke neocolonial ‘white savior’ tropes.

Short Video Assignment #4: Working in a small group, produce a short 1 – 3 min campaign video directed to United States feminist communities explaining at least two (2) effects of war/violent conflict on women, why these issues need our attention and what resources might be used in order to address these effects and create a more stable life for women living through conflict.

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