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I should clarify that my aversion to “should” isn’t in the realm of action, but in the realm of emotion. As I have said many times
on this blog–as needs ever more repeating, I think–it is rarely useful to tell yourself or someone else how you or they should feel. All this does is add a layer of shame or struggle on top of what is there. Acknowledge, feel, investigate, make space for–these are infinitely wiser options. 

That said, I also think there is space for setting intentions. For know where you want to be going. The difference between this gardening-2and saying, “This is how you/I should feel” is partly one of timeframe–“I’d like to head this way” instead of “I should be there now”. It is also cognizant of the limits of control. We can try to create the conditions, heal the wounds, correct the cognitive errors that lead to certain emotional states, but we don’t get total control over the inner life. We tend to it like a garden–pull weeds, plant seeds, water–but you can’t force the thing to grow. 

From Nick: 

Unlike Ian, I don’t think “should” is a terrible word. I think that what you’re describing above is great and exactly how people should behave, regardless of feminist praxis or an urge to support those within your “tribe,” or almost any other factor. If you meet someone who is working hard to bring about something positive in the world, you should encourage her. Period. Full stop.

There is far too much in life that makes us feel small, that makes us feel powerless, that makes us feel that we cannot achieve our goals or improve our world. Yet, in my experience at least, one kind word can blast all that out of the water, strengthen our resolve, and allow us to discover just how powerful we really are. We should encourage one another not just because it brings out the best in each of us, but because it is the single best way I’ve ever found to combat the forces that move our world toward the negative.

A couple grad students joined my lab at the beginning of the summer. And I’ve noticed that I feel a bit threatened by the one who happens to be a woman. I don’t know what of this is because I’m more academically impressed with her than with the male student, and what is because she’s a point of comparison–she’s the competition. 

What do I do with this? Nothing, of course. Just notice it. Don’t shove it aside, don’t tell myself how I should or shouldn’t feel–as Ian so wisely told me, “‘Should’ is a terrible word.” 

What else? She rocked her rotation presentation, and I told her so. I told Andy I thought she was great, and she should join. We were both in lab late last night–my doing the thousandth worm wash, her working on the presentation she’s giving today–and I reminded her that she’s the only one comparing herself to post-docs. Tried to be encouraging. Sent her an encouraging text this morning. 

Why encourage her? Why not leave it be? I have some sense of “us chicks gotta stick together”–wanting to support other women in the boy’s club. Feminist praxis, José would say. And there’s also the burgeoning sense of lab as tribe: we stick together. We support each other. 

Anna Akhmatova is in my mind, and Philip Larkin, and Jason Shinder. I’m exhausted and trying to find the energy to re-engage with my work. Aware of how lucky I am to be at this school, in this lab, and how much time over the past year I’ve lost, too stressed or tired or anxious to engage in my work the way I want to. The way I deserve to, and with the attention it deserves, too. I need to give it that attention–I need to create conditions in which that is possible.

I keep taking a book with me. A book I won’t have time to read, a book for comfort, a book as a talisman. A few days ago, Adrienne Rich. Yesterday, Kierkegaard. Today, Jason Shinder, with all his flavors of quiet and alone. Marie was too wise and gathered and clear for today. Jason is in the muck–like Ed Brown, a friend in the dark.


“Before I go, I want to ask you for something,” I say to Vic at the end of our appointment. He assents. It’s hard to get it out. I’ve gotten better at asking for things, but occasionally it still feels humiliating. Through no fault of his, this is one of those occasions. Those old things reemerge when I’m tired.

After skipping his coaster across the table and exasperating at the stone in my throat, I choke out: “I have this vestigial feminine conditioning, and sometimes it’s hard for me to put my needs first. I would really appreciate some reassurance that it’s okay to do that.”

He takes a second, a stunned look passed over his face, and he says, “Reassurance from me?”

“If that’s okay,” I say, nodding.

“It’s not only okay to put yourself first,” he tells me, “it’s crucial.” And so.

I thank him. “You looked a bit stunned,” I tell him.

“I thought you were going to ask for a note for a handicapped placard or something. It’s always okay to ask me for reassurance.” In fact, doing the thing in that moment, too.

It’s funny–I realize that despite the warm, fuzzy reputation of therapy, our relationship slides into the intellectual. Or defaults to. I suppose that’s part of what makes it a good practice space.

Someone posted a not aimed at a pizza thief on the fridge at worked. So I replied. 
Point of clarification: I am not the pizza thief. 


From Daniel Coffeen:

To enjoy equanimity is to be equal to the world — to be congruent, as my shrink would say. It’s what Nietzsche would call being equal to your accidents…

But then there is magnanimity. It’s a surprisingly tough word to say which seems apropos: it’s a surprisingly tough state to achieve. If equanimity is how you stand towards yourself, being equal to your own accidents, magnanimity is how you stand towards others, allowing others their accidents. If equanimity is letting yourself happen in the world, magnanimity is letting others happen in the world. It is a supreme social and existential generosity…

The fact is that our response to others’ immediate terms of engagement is less ethical than it is aesthetic: it is a temptation. It’s more tempting than sex, food, or drugs. Someone says something and our first response is precisely to respond, to react. Someone asks a question, we answer. Someone yells, we yell back. I am always struck by the fact that if someone cuts me off when I’m driving and I honk, they give me the finger. It’s not an ethical, contemplative response. They see my honking as a provocation and, without thinking, reply in kind. Over the years, I’ve learned to respond differently: I try to meet a driver’s anger with calm and generosity (try being the key word).

This is perhaps the greatest temptation of life: to react immediately to stimuli. This is Nietzsche’s definition of the slave mentality: to be reactive, constantly responding to what other people say and do until you don’t exist. You become a pinball, hitting off the last bumper; a zombie; an absence.

Magnanimity asks us to do otherwise. It asks us to engage others not on the immediate linguistic or emotional terms. It asks that we survey the wider psycho-existential and rhetorical expanse of what’s being asked for and what’s being asked of us. And then, rather than jockeying for position, magnanimity asks one more thing. It asks that we be generous.

To be magnanimous is to honor the other’s state of being. Rather than defending, attacking, or parrying the words and actions of another, magnanimity allows words and actions — allows other people — to happen as they will, sees them as necessary and, in their own way, beautiful.

We’ve all had this experience of a parent, child, sibling, lover screaming at us out of frustration, anxiety, even well deserved anger (my friend’s son was not wrong in his accusations of his father). We can, and often do, reply in kind. They yell; we yell. But magnanimity replies otherwise: it lets it all happen, lets the other person be, lets the other person express, feel, live while we bear witness.

What’s tricky about magnanimity is that it can look like indifference. This is particularly difficult when dealing with your child. Your son is yelling at you. Shouldn’t you try to calm him? Soothe him? Somehow help him? Yes, and that is precisely what magnanimity does. But rather than forcing him to be calm and cool — which is impossible —, magnanimity performs calm and cool. Rather than proffering a salve, magnanimity is the salve. Magnanimity doesn’t say I don’t care. On the contrary, it says I care absolutely. In the place of retaliation or even help, magnanimity offers the sweeping embrace of love and respect. It offers the understated grandeur of a respectful presence, without agenda, need, or pressing desire…

This doesn’t mean to be cold. You can be hurt and sad by what someone else says or does. To be magnanimous means not letting those emotions get the best of you. It means letting the feelings happen — that’s equanimity. And then letting the other person be: that’s magnanimity.

Philip Larkin:

Talking in bed ought to be easiest,
Lying together there goes back so far,
An emblem of two people being honest.
Yet more and more time passes silently.
Outside, the wind’s incomplete unrest
Builds and disperses clouds about the sky,
And dark towns heap up on the horizon.
None of this cares for us. Nothing shows why
At this unique distance from isolation

It becomes still more difficult to find
Words at once true and kind,
Or not untrue and not unkind.

Other people talk about gender as a personal identity, a felt sense of self. I can’t relate to this. Gender, to me, refers to a social classes. Gender is how people treat me as a woman, and what they expect of me as a woman, and what I’ve been socialized to expect of myself because I’m a woman, and what I’ve been socialized to expect of men because they are men. Or, more succinctly: gender is how I am treated, not who I am. In my psychological or emotional proprioception, there is no sense of gender. I don’t inherently feel like “a woman”, or feel like I am “inherently a woman”.

In this way, I fundamentally don’t have an emotional or empathic understanding of gender as a personal identity (whether cis or trans). I can imagine it from what I’ve read and heard, from other identities I have or have had, but I don’t truly empathize with it.

And sometimes I want to denounce gender all together. The idea that gender is more than oppression and limitation, but affirmation; the idea that gender does anything good besides provide some fodder for fetish–I don’t understand it.

It’s sort of like religion. I mean, here, religious folks who have spiritual experiences—who feel, perceive, experience the world, and themselves in the world, in fundamentally different ways than I do. I tend to leave some space and respect around this, partly because it’s fundamentally none of my business (Sontag: “I believe in the private life”), but also because I am wary of denouncing something I simply don’t understand. Both of these things—my belief in the private life, and my hesitancy about making definitive judgment calls about things I can’t understand—apply to gender as a personal identity, too.

Diane Dimassa, on the exclusion of transwomen from Michfest:

But, as Susan has explained to me,
Michigan’s official policy is that Michigan is a space for women-born
women who have experienced what it’s like to grow up female in our
patriarchal society. And just by saying that, they recognize that there
are different types of women.

Now–should I say this on the record? It’s just fucking typical that a
man-born lesbian can’t get the concept of not being allowed somewhere.
“How dare you! I must be allowed in there.”

Unfortunately, this is going to get interpreted that I am antitranny,
and that’s not the case. Daphne has become sort of the transgender hero
character. But I never used that word. I never said which way she was
going. I never said if she was MTF or FTM. At one point, I was going to
announce that she was transitioning from butch to femme. I wanted the
point to be: Why do you have to know what she is in order to know how
you feel about her?

[Animal] wants to start another festival that’s inclusive of everyone.
Because her stance is the same thing: Michigan is for what it’s for,
and instead of wasting your energy protesting, go start one. So she’s
working on that.


Call me a TERF: this makes sense to me. It makes sense to me that there be spaces just for women and just for men, just for certain types of women–cis, trans, intersex, black, brown, white, or along whatever other lines. It makes sense that there are certain things any group has in common that would make exclusive meetings worthwhile. In this case in particular, without pretending cis-womanhood is monolithic, there are things cis women tend to have in common with each other that they don’t have in common with women who were socialized as boys and men. This alone is enough for me to understand that cis-only spaces have worth. Further, some transwomen haven’t fully let go of the destructive parts of being socialized as boys and men, and a space where you can expect to be truly insulated from that–well, I’ve never been in that space, but it sounds like a bloody amazing relief, and perhaps crucial for some women that have been badly traumatized by men.

To say that there are different kinds of women, and that sometimes that matters, is not to say that transwomen “are not real women”. I don’t know what that statement means, and I don’t care. I have no interest in determining who is “real” and who isn’t, or any other type of gender policing. I’m a radfem, and maybe from this post you’d call me a TERF, and I think that people, including trans people, have the right to exist on their own terms; that people, including trans people, have the right to do as they wish with their bodies; that trans people should be called by their preferred pronouns and names (common courtesy, folks); that trans people should have access to hormone therapy and surgical interventions as part of their transitioning; that trans people should be protected from discrimination in education, employment, housing, and so on; that trans people have the same right to freedom from violence and harassment that everyone else has; that fighting these fights is, and should be, a crucial part of queer activist work.

And that there should be women-only spaces for all women, as well spaces for transwomen from which I am excluded, and spaces for ciswomen from which transwomen are excluded.

It feels like a dangerous time to put this in writing.

Andrea Dworkin via Renee Martin via Twisty:

Transsexuality* is currently considered a gender disorder, that is, a person learns a gender role which contradicts his/her visible sex. It is a “disease” with a cure: a sex-change operation will change the person’s visible sex and make it consonant with the person’s felt identity.

Since we know very little about sex identity, and since psychiatrists are committed to the propagation of the cultural structure as it is, it would be premature and not very intelligent to accept the psychiatric judgement that transsexuality is caused by a faulty socialization. More probably, transsexuality is caused by a faulty society. Transsexuality can be defined as one particular formation of our general multisexuality which is unable to achieve its natural development because of extremely adverse social conditions.

There is no doubt that in the culture of male-female discreteness, transsexuality is a disaster for the individual transsexual. Every transsexual, white, black, man, woman, rich, poor, is in a state of primary emergency as a transsexual. There are 3 crucial points here.

One, every transsexual has the right to survival on his/her own terms. That means every transsexual is entitled to a sex-change operation, and it should be provided by the community as one of its functions. This is an emergency measure for an emergency condition.

Two, by changing our premises about men and women, role-playing and polarity, the social situation of transsexuals will be transformed, and transsexuals will be integrated into community, no longer persecuted and despised.

Three, community built on androgynous identity will mean the end of transsexuality as we know it. Either the transsexual will be able to expand his/her sexuality into a fluid androgyny, or, as roles disappear, the phenomenon of transsexuality will disappear and that energy will be transformed into new modes of sexual identity and behavior.


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