On gender identity, tomboys, and a New York Times op-ed

Yes, this is going to be another long post, citing multiple external articles and elaborating on many different parts of the topic (gender identity/transgender issues).

I recently came across this reaction by Chase Strangio to a New York Times op-ed by Lisa Selin Davis (paywall with limited free views). I realize both the op-ed and the reaction are almost five years old now. However, this is probably even more relevant today than it was in the spring of 2017, as gender identity and expression have come even more to the forefront now than then.

Chase opens with an acknowledgment that he wanted to avoid the piece but then saw the praise for it. What he condemns the most is the challenge of the very concept of “trans-ness”, which he believes unnecessary. I agree with him for the most part. Howver, I also believe the original op-ed could be rewritten in places to be less abrasive, less offensive, and easier to understand.

Quoting the op-ed first:

“I just wanted to check,” the teacher said. “Your child wants to be called a boy, right? Or is she a boy that wants to be called a girl? Which is it again?”

I cocked my head. I am used to correcting strangers, who mistake my 7-year-old daughter for a boy 100 percent of the time.

In fact, I love correcting them, making them reconsider their perceptions of what a girl looks like. But my daughter had been attending the after-school program where this woman taught for six months.

“She’s a girl,” I said. The woman looked unconvinced. “Really. She’s a girl, and you can refer to her as a girl.”

And Chase’s reaction:

The author’s issue is not with trans people or trans-ness—or it shouldn’t be; it is with enforcement of gender norms and the impulse to situate people outside of real girlhood or boyhood because of who they are or how they look or how they act. But connecting this to the affirmation of trans young people in their genders is reckless and dangerous and wrong.

Weighing in here, I believe that trans-ness is real and support the rights of everyone to express their gender and sexuality as they see fit. The fact that some people see trans-ness as fraudulent and that people still ask many questions of those who do not conform to traditional gender roles is a problem.

At this point I refer to “The Holistic Trans Body Poster” and its related descriptive text on wannalearnmore.com. This poster lists the various descriptions of gender identity, assigned gender/sex at birth, gender expression, sexual orientation, and romantic orientation. It is accompanied by descriptions in text format. These are all slightly different concepts. It is quite possible for someone to be, for example, AMAB (assigned male at birth) and have a feminine or androgynous gender expression, yet still be heterosexual and/or heteroromantic.

Now, under this system, how would we describe women traditionally labeled “tomboys”? According to this list, most “tomboys” would be described as AFAB (assigned female at birth) with androgynous to masculine gender expression; the other items could go just about any direction. Now, it’s still quite possible for even an AFAB with completely masculine gender expression to be heterosexual (sexually attracted to men), heteroromantic (romantically attracted to men), and cisgender (i.e. “not trans” in the sense of not identifying as male). I will admit it’s probably not all that common, but still quite possible. To each their own.

Chase nails it with these two points, made at different places in his reply:

The fact that the author takes joy in this shows her privilege. The fact that the Times published this, shows their absence of perspective.

and then later:

Does it suck that the author’s child has to constantly affirm her gender to others? Yes, sure. But that is happening because we constantly impose gender on others — not unlike the author of the piece is doing — and not because some people have a more supportive approach to loving and affirming trans youth.

As for me personally? In my case, I check pretty much all the boxes for traditional maleness. I’m cisgender, AMAB, heterosexual, heteroromantic, and mostly masculine expression. It’s this last one that’s kind of where things get sticky.

With apologies to Cyndi Lauper, boys just want to have fun too, lest we forget. There are two things about gender identity and expression that I keep coming back to. The first is that a lot of the norms of what is considered masculine or feminine gender expression get sillier the more I really think about them. Perhaps one of the better examples are women’s skirts versus men’s kilts. They are basically the same item of clothing with only minimal differences.

The second is that these norms have a very high amount of inertia. Many people still stick to these norms despite their rather questionable relevance in modern times (i.e. they have become outdated). At least, that’s how I see it based on my experiences. The one that comes to mind for me is skin care and cosmetic products. I’m not expecting most men to channel their inner James Charles, Jeffree Star, or Wayne Goss, but I don’t see the big harm in tasteful use of color cosmetics (i.e. makeup) for hiding blemishes and the like. This norm used to be stricter. Yet, even then, there were exceptions to this norm for those in film, television, the performing arts, camouflage face paint for hunters and soldiers, and probably a few others I can’t think of. (This exception didn’t always include drag queens, which is a whole different story for another day.)

Another outdated norm is body hair removal (shaving, waxing, etc). The product descriptions and marketing/advertising still refer to women’s razors for those body hair removal and men’s razors for those designed for facial hair removal. Today, there’s less of a split along gender lines and quite a few people buy both types of razors for different reasons (I’m among them).

As luck would have it, I had done a little research on this a while back. What I learned was a real eye-opener. If you look at stories such as this article on the history of women shaving on Bustle and extrapolate just a bit, the reason most men never took up shaving their body hair is because the razor companies were already making their money from them selling razors for facial hair.

(The razor companies marketed to women by selling them on shaving their body hair. Unlike the men, the women weren’t already buying from the razor companies. It only follows that the razor companies felt they didn’t need to do this for the men, and that they potentially risked alienating some of their male customers if they did try to sell the idea. Of course, back then, the words “shave”, “razor”, and “blade” carried deeply masculine connotations. This meant the early ads were a tricky balancing act.)

As it turns out, there may be more to this than I would have originally have imagined. A recent WWD report blares the headline “Decoding Genderless Fashion, the Future of the Industry”. That’s a bit of a bold statement. However, I don’t have a problem with it in the least if that’s where we are headed. Reading further down the WWD article yields this quote from Rad Hourani, one of the pioneers of genderless fashion:

“In the past two years, [genderless fashion] became a bigger subject, but what I notice the most is they use designs that are loose-fitting, but I think it’s a much deeper look at unisex morphology. There’s nothing new about making a woman masculine or a man feminine. That’s not unisex, that’s making one the other,” Hourani said. “For androgynous, you can’t tell, but it’s not unisex. Unisex is free of any gender categorization or limitation.”

And then we have articles such as this one from an Indian news site Mid-Day which also blazes out what would have been an unthinkable headline decades ago: “Fashion expert shares tips for men on how to ace gender bending looks”. Granted, this article was from 2021 November so maybe it’s not exactly the freshest potato chip in the bag, but it’s still timely enough to be relevant.

The way I look at it, this is a great time for fashion, self-expression, and identity exploration. Tomboys (and janegirls, i.e. males who enjoy traditionally feminine things) aren’t going anywhere. Maybe the terms themselves will fall out of fashion. But it’s likely fashion and self-expression that breaks with the norms of years past will be with us for a good long while.

Aftermath of the Kyle Rittenhouse verdict

I know it’s been a little while since I’ve had much to say over here. While I would have liked to weigh in on the Kyle Rittenhouse verdict sooner, maybe it’s just as well that I have waited a bit for the dust to settle. (Link is to the Wikipedia article for those who need background.)

The regular readers of this blog know I lean left (liberal/Democrat) and progressive on many issues. Gun violence is a problem. The reality of American culture, particularly in southern states such as my native Texas, is that gun ownership is seen as a right and the Second Amendment is interpreted broadly to mean gun ownership should not be prohibited and gun purchases should not be denied except in rare cases. These problems don’t exist in a lot of other countries where gun ownership is considered a privilege. Japan, for example, has a screening process for firearm ownership that would make many Americans either cringe or scream “fascism”. The Japanese police interview everyone who knows the potential firearm owner. New gun owners in Japan must undergo a mental health check and a shooting-range accuracy test (the latter of which on which one must score 95% every three years). The new gun owner must also provide a blueprint of the house where the guns will be stored, and mark that location. Spent cartridges must be turned in to get new ones, and if one goes missing . Japanese police officers must be black belts in judo, as it’s preferred to de-escalate situations without the use of firearms. Japan is probably the most extreme example, but the gun culture is different in almost every other country besides the United States.

Speaking of the United States, here it’s often easier to buy a gun than a car or a boat. Heck, it’s usually easier to buy a gun than get psychiatric counseling! (The last of these can also be seen as a failure of our largely for-profit healthcare system, but is an important reason behind the relatively high amount of gun violence nonetheless.)

All that said, back to the matter at hand. I am not convinced that the unfortunate loss of life that occurred at the hands of Kyle Rittenhouse and his gun was a criminal act for which he should be held accountable. One of the people that got killed was trying to take Kyle’s gun from him, not exactly the pinnacle of intelligent conduct. The other one was trying to beat him up with a skateboard. I think the old saying “don’t bring a knife to a gun fight” could easily be edited to include “don’t bring a skateboard to a gun fight, either”. The third casualty, who was shot in the arm and survived, was pointing his gun at Kyle, believing him to be an active shooter (i.e. “the bad guy with a gun”).

The standard of proof in a criminal case is “beyond a reasonable doubt”, and in the end Kyle’s defense attorneys did their jobs and showed reasonable doubt to secure a verdict of not guilty. That said I do believe there is cause for concern that a 17-year old wound up with a gun in a situation such as the civil disturbance in Kenosha and wound up firing bullets from it only hours later. The concern is valid even if no crimes have been committed either by giving Kyle the gun or by his use of it.

Common sense and the Texas power grid

For better or worse, this sat around in my draft queue for longer than I had wanted. But I still consider it timely, as I haven’t heard anything new about the underlying problem and what’s been done to solve it.

As recently reported in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram (among many other news outlets), a rather disturbing development has arisen regarding the 2021 Valentine’s Day ice storms and the resultant power grid disruption. Meters which belonged to parts of critical natural gas infrastructure had signed up for ERCOT’s Emergency Response Service (ERS). (ERCOT is the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, Inc., a non-government corporation in charge of regulating the mostly independent power grid in Texas.) Normally enrollment in this service is from large industrial users of electricity which will power down in extreme situations to keep residential customers from being affected by load shedding (i.e. rolling blackouts). From the article:

UT Austin researchers discovered that 67 electric meters run by natural gas companies were enrolled in the program. In turn, those meters, which were part of the fuel supply chain providing energy to millions of Texans, lost power when the program was activated on Feb. 15.

At least five of those meters were later identified as “critical natural gas infrastructure,” including natural gas compressors, processing facilities or other parts of the supply chain, according to Joshua Rhodes, a research associate and co-author.

“It seems inconsistent that critical infrastructure should also voluntarily allow themselves to be turned off when they are needed most,” Rhodes said.

So, not only were key parts of the natural gas supply chain powered off when they were needed the most, ERCOT actually paid these companies to shut off the power, further reducing the availability of natural gas and causing the wholesale prices of electricity to go through the roof.

This is absolutely despicable and unconscionable. How was this allowed to happen? How will we keep it from happening again? You would think this was common sense, that parts of the natural gas infrastructure shouldn’t be shut down when we have power plants that use natural gas to make electricity. The old saying “common sense isn’t that common anymore” comes to mind, thus the title I used for this post.

I’m now in the process of digging through ERCOT’s website and later news stories to see if there’s something I’ve missed. I don’t think there is, but I’ll happily follow up if it turns out this has been fixed going forward.

Ten years of Trenta at Starbucks: a retrospective

So apparently it’s been a whole decade since Starbucks rolled out the Trenta size beverages, judging by the date of my previous post “To Starbucks, size matters“. A lot has changed since then, but as the saying goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

For starters, the Trenta size hasn’t gone anywhere over the last decade. Not surprisingly, I have ordered my fair share of iced teas in this size, though I have backed off to Venti or even Grande in certain situations (when I know I won’t be drinking a whole lot, or when I’m low on funds on my Starbucks account and don’t feel like reloading). Much to even my own surprise, I’m also ordering the occasional Frappucino or iced mocha, though I still consider the iced tea my go-to drink (even if it’s sometimes the passion tea instead of good old black).

I get why Mr. Sorenson objected so strongly to Starbucks adding a fourth and comparatively large size. But the reality is, this is Starbucks doing what a business should do: listening to the customers and giving them what they want. And clearly, the Trenta size is what they wanted.

Looking back, the controversy surrounding the Trenta size reminds me a lot of another event I wrote about, the New York City large soda restrictions. Though the latter happened later, there is definitely a common thread. For soda fans with quart-sized appetites, the good news is the New York state courts struck down the restrictions stating that the New York City Board of Health exceeded its authority in establishing the rule, and it was eventually formally repealed.

While I get that there is a point at which soda consumption starts to become unhealthy (some of that, unfortunately, comes from personal experience), I believe that the public backlash from the NYC soda size restriction shows that people don’t like being ordered around and, in a way, herded like cattle. The backlash against Starbucks rolling out the larger size never materialized as some might have feared or welcomed, whatever the case may be.

Long live the Trenta. Here’s to many more great years to come.

The Dylan M. versus Google incident, ten years later

So it was ten years ago this month I wrote two posts about one Dylan M. and the sudden disabling of his Google account over some photos (under the titles “When ‘the cloud’ delivers a thunderstorm” and “Warm bodies are still smarter than silicon (When ‘the cloud’ delivers a thunderstorm, part 2)“). The first post concluded with the advice to back up data on USB flash drives and use optical discs for long term archival, while the second post discussed more of the aftermath and how it’s a bit heavy handed for Google to disable an entire account over just one image which arguably isn’t even their business unless it’s being shared with the public.

Everything in both of those posts is still true today, more or less. There’s been an unfortunate move away from optical discs, and it’s a bit harder to find recordable CD and DVD media these days. As for me, I was lucky. Some time ago I was able to buy both the drive and discs I’m using at Target. (I find it easier to use an external DVD-R drive due to the arrangement of my laptop on my desk.)

I’m not sure if Target is still selling the drives or the media. I do remember the last Walgreens I checked was not selling any optical disc media at all. They also weren’t selling USB flash drives either, so it may just have been that one store. I don’t particularly like buying from Amazon when I can avoid it, but they appear to be selling both the drives and media. Best Buy was selling at least the drives online as well.

Unfortunately this move to obsolete optical disc media goes back to Apple and their sudden refusal to put optical disc drives in their computers. On a laptop I can kind of get it, as space is precious and there is the option of an external drive (like the one I’m using). On a desktop, though? Space is not the issue, though I can see forgoing an optical media drive for cost reasons (especially if the money saved is instead going toward a larger SSD, more RAM, or more CPU).

I also mention my luck with failing USB drives. I have since had a few more USB drives fail on me, and at least two or three SD cards give up the ghost. For short-term copies, they might be good enough, especially given how hard it can be to archive larger files on optical discs. (Though, as I write this, external Blu-Ray recorders have come down to around $100-$150. Of course, the media can still be expensive. My spot price check shows a 10-disc spindle of 100GB BD-XL at $52, or $5.20 per disc, from one supplier.)

The key lessons remain the same. If it’s important, make backup copies. Make and use multiple accounts for cloud-based services if your situation warrants (and the terms of service allow). If you go this route, you should have one for the mainstay of your personal then activities, one or more others for riskier activities. Keep them separate, ideally using separate computers or devices and never mixing them up.

You should not assume anything is private when companies like Google, Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, Adobe, etc are running the service. Companies often analyze and use your data to figure out what kinds of ads to serve you elsewhere (particularly in the case of Google and Microsoft).

Finally, if you can’t touch it (or the device it is stored on), you don’t really own it. Sometimes this is close to unavoidable (email and web hosting in particular, at least for the majority of people). Still, back up your email and, if you have one, your website. (Don’t forget to also make a copy of the database if your site has one.)

It’s really unfortunate that things really haven’t changed on this front. If anything, I think the situation has gotten worse.

They used to teach an actual computer literacy course as part of the middle school curriculum. (The school I went to for sixth grade would have had me take a full semester of typing–on typewriters!–as a prerequisite to the actual semester of computer literacy. Thankfully, the school I was transferring to did not.) Now, the technology literacy (as it is called now) is woven into other courses. As an acknowledgement of the increasing role technology is playing in our lives, this makes sense.

I do remember learning about backups and things like ethics as part of computer literacy. I’m not sure if today’s students still learn about these things. (Of course, I would hope they still are.)