Tuesday, July 21, 2009

100 Posts!

Yes, folks, this is the Acting Out Edition's 100th post! Woo! *hands out party hats*

I've decided to give blog-writing a rest for a bit. Ay-Leen and I will be co-authouring an essay on steampunk and I have a novel to write. However!

The Acting Out Edition will bust back with the
3rd Asian Women Blog Carnival!
Do contribute, it will be great to hear voices from all corners of the Asian women diaspora.

If you need to get a hold of me otherwise, you can:
  • message me on MSN: catts_o_catti(@)hotmail.com
  • e-mail me: jhameia.goh(@)gmail.com
  • follow me on Twitter: jhameia
  • check out my LJ (especially my Sunday Linkfests!) or MySpace or ModelMayhem. I can also be found on the Steampunk and She Writes Nings.
So, see you in August, folks!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Steampunking: Eurocentrism

So, steampunk in its current form is Eurocentric.

I've been reading a wonderful book called Unthinking Eurocentrism and while it deals with Eurocentrism within cinema and other such visual media, the same principles apply to steampunk: that the subculture revolves around a Western culture, holds it up as a model, and ignores everything else.

I noticed this when I was speaking to a friend in England, and he said, "steampunk is Victorian, so it all starts here!" He meant well, but it wasn't what I was talking about: I was talking about steampunk manifestations in non-white contexts.

I also recall a discussion on Madame Butterfly, in which I denounced it as being Orientalist, portraying the titular character as a helpless victim. The person I was talking to said, "Oh, but Pinkerton (the Western officer who marries and deserts Madame Butterfly) is painted as an absolute cad!"

Not. The. Point. Was I talking about how white people are portrayed? No. I was talking about how an Asian character was being portrayed on stage (and often in yellowface). But somehow, the discussion got defaulted back to the White Characters and how they relate to everything else in the Non-White Setting.

Eurocentric means that we take our cues from what is recognized as Western culture. Today, we may not hold Western culture up to be the source of everything good (not overtly, anyway; mass media shows otherwise) but even in discussions of "what is bad" we would still inevitably point fingers at Western culture. It's still centering the discussion on the West.

I made mention in my Racialicious essay on how I grew up Westernized in Malaysia, to the point where I felt alienated from my own culture. I really thought the West was the bastion of liberation. Now I know it's not, that it's also where colonialism stems from, where imperialism still extends long arms and holds down other countries, where racism oozes out subtly. It's difficult, in my own life, to catch myself, sift out what's useful and what's not about the things I've learnt.

We need to recognize that steampunk is Eurocentric, and we need to un-learn ways of thought which center Victoriana as a good. It does steampunks little good to denounce, vocally, the colonialism and imperialism of Victoriana if it does nothing to impact the after-effects of the era. We need to de-construct our actions, catch ourselves, call each other out on our -isms.

We can have the best of intentions, but intention matters little when in the larger picture, we are still unequal.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

What's In A Name? Gender Edition

Recently, Queen Emily pointed out at Feministe how a new women-only pharmacy was excluding, well, women. Namely, transwomen.

This is just another incident in a long pattern of ciswomen telling transwomen, "no, you're not really women, you're actually men, and we say so, no matter how you feel, because there are arbitrary rules you have to obey in order to be a woman, and you have to have obeyed them from birth and biology."

Then there are some crazy so-called feminists who attack transwomen, saying, that transwomen are upholding patriarchal values by buying into the gender binary, are tearing down efforts to get rid of the gender binary by using the terms 'male' and 'female' as they like without paying attention to biology.

And then there are just the plain ugly people who call transpersons "freaks" just because the latter group happen to dress in ways that they feel express their true gender which may not be consistent with how their gender appears.

All this is stupid and wrong.

Transpeople, as all people, are human beings, who have chosen a gender identity. Isn't that what feminism is about? Making choices for ourselves? Moreover, making choices that do not hinge on hurting others? We try to be aware of our -isms, our privileges, what we can and what we cannot do. Transpeople, when they choose a gender, are not harming other people when they make a choice.

And yet, they are consistently targeted for harm, attacks, and just piles of ridiculous bullshit.

Just. Look.

How does it affect any of us ciswomen if a transwoman chooses to call herself, behave as, live as, a woman?

Why do we keep buying into this myth that a transwoman is "secretly a man"? And even so, why would we consider believing that just because a transwoman was born a man, she was automatically be considered a predatory danger to women?

Not only is this hateful towards transwomen, it's a meme that's some of the most man-hating bullshit ever to come out of the heteronormative narrative. Don't even get me started on the meme that transwomen are looked on as sex workers - that's classist.

But back to transwomen, and our so-called feminist principle on choices - why do we want to deny them the right to be women, if they so choose?

Even today when we supposedly have "gender equity" ("at least in the West," some others clarify), the male is considered superior, and the female is inferior. Transwomen risk so much by choosing to be one rung down on the hierarchial ladder. In fact, they get kicked down even further. All because they choose the label "woman". Because some women don't like having men in their ranks? Because the gender binary shouldn't be transgressed?

Now, misgendering people. I don't care what the law says: if a woman says she is a woman, she should be referred to as female, with her name as she has chosen it. So what if her legal documents say otherwise? Legal documents are useful in identifying us, but like laws, are subject to change and to error. We shouldn't take it out on the human being for the errors on the law document.

By refusing to call them by their preferred names and genders, we cisgendered people tell transgendered people, "we don't care about you and your identity - we care that you conform to our own rules, and to cater to our comfort."

This is what we say to marginalized people.

We tell them, "you cannot name yourself, that's what we're supposed to do, because our comfort is more important."

Naming ourselves is important. We all have the right to define ourselves within such limits as are not harmful to others.

Letting transwomen call themselves what they feel themselves to right be is their right, and one of the things we should be upholding, as feminists.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Review: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

So first off, I would like to admit that I have never so much as read Pride and Prejudice. I read Sense and Sensibility for my CPU program and that was enough Austen for me. I've heard Austen's books described as "battles of wits" and great critiques of her time.

Secondly, I suppose I must point out once more that I don't come from that culture where middle-class and upper middle-class ladies sat around drinking tea, contriving to get their daughters married by attending balls and whatnot. Thirdly, I'm really not into that kind of thing. That period, for me as a woman, represents everything that is helpless for women about patriarchal culture. (Which is why I liked and hated the movie the Duchess. I just know what kind of period it's set in, and how since it's based on real events, things cannot be helped.)

Fourthly, I don't like zombies. I don't like the horror genre much, and even parodies can disturb me - Shaun of the Dead gave me nightmares. I know there's some strange metaphor that zombies are supposed to represent which a friend tried in vain to tell me once several years ago, but it made little to no sense to me so I cannot recall it enough to talk about it.

But on to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Let me say I found this book utterly charming. It takes away nothing from Austen's original writing or wit. Even the additions sound like they were written in Austen's voice.

In this version, England has been overrun by zombies for the last fifty years. The zombies running around give us another layer of complexity around the characters - it makes them physically stronger, and a little bit tougher. The plague also makes for some interesting plot twists and changes to certain characters' fates. To keep his daughters alive, Mr. Bennet has taken all five of them off to China to study under Shaolin masters in martial arts. So, not only is class an issue for Elizabeth Bennet when facing Lady De Bourgh, so is her skill in martial arts, as Lady De Bourgh's fame also lies in her considerable reputation as a warrior.

It's not a parody, since And Zombies doesn't really portray caricatures of the characters, but really sticks to their original seemings as much as possible. Nor is it satirical of anything, except maybe the tropes within zombie literature. It's not even a re-write, since the major plot points remain the same on the surface.

It's a very funny book, of course, since the inserts are placed everywhere, in every surprising place, and add a flavour to the prose which is neither too gory nor too dignified. The characters are also improved by the new aspects placed on their circumstances due to the insertions. It is also surprisingly tragic, and characters which I normally wouldn't have cared for suddenly become sympathetic in light of the changes wrought on them due to the plague. I think this version is a huge wish fulfilment for many young women who have read Pride and Prejudice in this day and age!

Nothing is overdone in this book, except for maybe the language. All the self-insertions are quiet self-effacing ones which don't stand up to demand a whole lot of attention. They don't scream, "LOOK AT ME! LOOK HOW CLEVER I AM!" but rather, simply do their job of propeling the plot further (insofar as Pride and Prejudice has a plot). It maintains the slow, plodding pacing typical of Austen. If anything is strange, it's the depiction of life with zombies running amok as perfectly normal.

Good read.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Let Your Girlfriend Take Nekkid Pictures Of You

My friend Tariq tried to show me this blog post at work and I didn't click it, because the latter part of the URL was "let-your-boyfriend-take-nekkid.html" or something similar and I knew what the gist of it was: some dewdly d00d telling wimmenz that they should let their boyfriends take naked pictures of them, because that is what good, sporting girlfriends do, dammit.

Putting aside the notion that this usually ends up in ill hands, particularly spread around as a form of revenge or just for kicks by said boyfriends, and putting aside that this is only another exhortation from some male to women at large to further cater to male interests, and putting aside the fact that pornography already exists, I asked my friend, so, does he advocate the opposite as well?

To which Tariq replied, with great regret on his side, I'm sure, for the iniquity of his sex, that no, said blogger is just generally blaming women. Although for what reasons, I cannot fathom! Nor did I bother checking out the link to see what he had to say, because it was sure to be remarkably self-centered and insensitive to my most delicate sensibilities.

I quickly composed this reply:

"Dear Sir, your douchebaggery in maintaining that only girlfriends should bear the onus of having their naked pictures taken by boyfriends is puerile and juvenile at best. Should you wish to maintain any form of domestic felicity, it is clear that the opposite should occur first - that girlfriends should take pictures of their naked boyfriends, particularly in light of the prevailing gender inequity in pornographic material."

I also wish to add that any man who denies his girlfriend the opportunity to take such intimate snapshots could not possibly be particularly invested in the relationship, and I encourage my fellow women to divest themselves of such deadweight immediately if said man wishes naked pictures of herself.

The quid pro quo inherent in such a proposal should be obvious to all, and I cannot understand how such a glaring solution to the problem of getting your girlfriend's naked pictures is so difficult for many such men to comprehend.

Perhaps they should be sent back to school until they have learnt Basic Logic 101.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Sometimes I Have Skin Trouble: Clothing Edition

So in my Racialicious essay, I said something to the effect, "corsets looked uncomfortable, and being Asian, I'd look dumb wearing Western clothing."

Which kind of made me do a trackback after a bit, because pretty much everything I wear is "Western". You know? T-shirts? Jeans? Blouses? Tank tops?

Of course, I was talking about stuff like Victorian dresses. Imagining myself in one, I feel silly. Wrong look, wrong shape, wrong skin colour, wrong phenotype, wrong everything-with-my-appearance.

But, well, look, it's been done before.

This problem, of course, doesn't apply to aforementioned modern clothes. As part of the cultural assimilation process, we've all taken quite happily to T-Shirts and jeans (besides which, they're bloody practical).

It's when I get to the frilly stuff, the more outre clothes, like that worn in the goth subculture, that I feel weird. I know the Japanese have taken to these kinds of clothing quite swimmingly, but I am not Japanese.

Perhaps my trouble is that I don't like wearing something that marks my race out quite so startlingly. Which then leads to the next question - what then, can I wear which doesn't mark my race? Because I'm pretty sure my face already does that.

I would like to wear something which feels like I belong in them. Something that not only matches my sensibilities but also reflects where I am from, how I grew up. I would like some blend of ethnicity alongside practicality.

I'm not asking for some messed up ethnic fusion which means taking away more fabric from the "ethnic" costume.

....... This may call for some sketches being made.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Body Issues: Makeup Edition

I wear makeup.

Yeah, not often, and not much, but I do.

I love makeup. I love how foundation evens out my skintone, and how eyeliner makes my eyes stand out. I love how lip colour, whether in lip liner (I use lip liner to fill out my lips sometimes) or in lipstick, fulls my lips. I spent a year looking for the right nude lip colour that matches my lips perfectly which still fills my lips, but looks completely natural. I love how blush and bronzer highlight my cheekbones - the first MUA (makeup artist) I ever worked with said to me, "you have nicely defined cheekbones. Makes it easy to work on you." I always get that warm glow remembering it.

I put on makeup without fail for every modeling shoot, even nudes. I have specific foundation that is waterproof for landscape nudes, especially when mucking about in water.


Here's the thing.

Painting my face this way is really just another way of making myself look as conventionally attractive as possible. It does play into common patriarchal tropes. It does make me more available for admiration from the Male Gaze. Makeup is a form of decorating one's self, and the usual reason for such decoration has, historically, been for attracting sexual partners.

I used to hate makeup with a fiery passion. Why should I make myself look more attractive just for someone else's benefit? I certainly didn't like putting on makeup. And in the Malaysian weather? Die first.

But for some reason, makeup in Malaysia is necessary. I remember reading in an etiquette column a lot of advice for young people looking for careers, and women had to wear makeup, foundation at the very least. I didn't really have a problem with foundation, but it still felt unfair - why should women have to wear makeup, and men don't?

And there was the fear that if I did use makeup, I would be Doin It Rong.

What Not To Wear, bastion of conventional prettiness, helped me with that last bit, and as of a few years ago, I was wearing makeup with some confidence, although not on a regular basis.

I still don't wear makeup on a regular basis. I don't wear makeup clubbing, for example, because I get sweaty at clubs and it is... not good for makeup. I'll wear makeup for special occasions, though, but not everyday wear. I know, Five Minute Face, I can totally do the Five Minute Face, I usually don't think about it.

And once I wore it out and it was a drag hearing my BFF tell me, "You look so pretty when you wear makeup! You should do it more often! You should make yourself look nice more often!"

Yeah, well, howabtno.

Look, my makeup? Is for me. Every sparkly eyeshadow, every purple-pink lipshade, every bright daring red shade, every Pride rainbow across my eyelids, every brushstroke, every line of pencil, every lip stainer -

It's all mine, for me. And for the photographers I work with, but mostly for me, since I do model for my own pleasure.

I don't think I've ever worn makeup specifically to attract a male, and I don't think I've worn makeup to look professional. I may wear makeup to impress, but those events are far and few in between.

And by golly, when I do make up to impress? I'm pretty fucking impressive. And I feel I've done enough reflection on my makeup use to know that when I wear it, I'm definitely not buying into the Patriarchy(tm).

I love makeup.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Seven Deadly Sins Remix: Lust Edition

So this should totally be obvious.

If I had to identify my brand of feminism, it would be sex-positive. Sex is, whenever I get it, pretty good. Not always great but not always bad.

I have often found myself struck by how downplayed sexual desire is, especially if it is female. I understand why we would downplay male sexual desire - it's not exactly the sort of thing we want to hear about on the street.

But Heather Corinna's idea about what "get lucky" should mean - two people desiring each other, wanting each other, wanting to get into the other's pants so much, when they finally get together into one big sweaty mess, it's....


That would indeed be getting lucky.

Certainly any feminist past their 101 would know the reasons for suppressing women's sexuality: by denying us our sexuality, it stops being our own, and it's for our husbands to do as they please, and besides, sexuality is evil and awful anyway, for... uh, no one could actually define why, but it just was! And still is, in some circles.

We should reclaim lust. That shaky, sweaty feel of really wanting someone and hoping they want us back, and the culmination of that desire.

We should get lucky.

Monday, July 13, 2009

"Quintessentially Chinese"?: Costume/Clothing?

Is there any such thing as quintessentially Chinese clothes?

I don't mean, like, special occasion costumes, just like, clothes, dailywear sort of thing. Think about it along these lines: Costumes are worn when we want to be something other than what we are. Clothing are just day-to-day wear. Both have elements of how we express ourselves. Both have their times and places. But one is clearly Other-izing, and the other not necessarily so.

So, the samfu, the cheongsam, the, uh, strawhat with pointy top... these are not clothes. Are they?

I was thinking about this because I recently bought a pretty yellow blouse with a definite Chinese air to it - the way the line goes above the chest, the design. It's definitely not a costume, though. It's just a blouse. Not something I would wear for everyday use (and I was considering steampunking it up, but then, back in those days, yellow was a royal colour, and I have no desire to create some royal persona to match), but wearing it wouldn't make me feel like I was playing dress-up.

But is it quintessentially Chinese? Who wears stuff like this? When I was in China, this design wasn't exactly the It Thing. If anything, anybody would wear a blouse like this, provided they were upper-middle-class and presumably had a party/event to go to that warranted a dainty blouse.

So, if I wear a cheongsam, is it a costume?

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Cultural Appropriation: Stuff vs. People

Following up on a discussion I had with a friend on Sandip Roy's article on culture quoted at Racialicious, I've been wondering about the whole issue of individual representation of a cultural group, individual contexts, and where the line is drawn.

As has been outlined, the problem with cultural appropriation isn't so much the problem that "white people" are wearing "our stuff". That's simplistic and problematic. Firstly, cultural borrowing happens all the time. Secondly, no one of us can speak on behalf of our entire cultures (which in themselves may be splintered).

I note that many Asians who do not live in America don't seem to have all this cultural angst over appropriation, and it tends to be Asian-Americans who are particularly possessive of cultural artifacts. Either that, or it's Asian-Americans who are most vocal about it. I think one of the main issues we non-Americans should keep in mind is that Asian-Americans have a hard time not being stereotyped. Stereotyping, of course, happens all over the world, but either we non-Americans can't see the forest for the trees (and they do) or we don't care or we've stopped caring about the effects.

They can't wear their own stuff, so to speak, and don't feel free to express their heritage and what it means to them, without being asked to strip themselves of it in favour of being American. Meantime, other Americans feel free to water down cultural artifacts for commercial use, or even just use it for their own personal reasons. This sort of assimilation isn't inherently bad, but it is problematic when Asian-Americans (et al) feel they can't even use their own stuff without feeling foreign. In fact, using their own stuff usually means they will be treated as foreign, Other-ing them further.

No one should have to feel foreign using their own cultural artifacts. I don't think it's too much to expect a little consideration for our American cousins in their trials to maintain/reclaim their heritage. I also don't think it's too much to admit that the efforts to break down stereotypes are immensely difficult. Which is why we keep a hand over our cultural artifacts - it's so that we have a cultural community to turn to for solidarity, which is really important, especially for people who feel lost in a cultural sea.

The problem doesn't really stem from other poeple using our stuff. It stems from a dominant group forcing us to efface our heritage, so that we will be acceptable, while they swipe stuff from our heritage for their own uses.

When we're really equal, and when we can wear our cultural clothing without being treated like foreigners, it's back to swapping stuff freely, because we'd know other people are cognizant of our humanity.

Until then, it can't hurt to be a little selfish.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Review: Yes Means Yes!

So, this book, which came out earlier this year, is revolutionary.

It is chock-ful of discussions, stuff to agree with, stuff to disagree with - this book is thoughtful.

There is so much going on in here: discussions centered around young women, around immigrant women, around minority women, around transwomen. Discussions about legislations, about how larger narratives hurt women personally, about how women deal with their crises and the obstacles between them and owning their sexuality.

There were 27 essays, all about women on some level. Three directly, clearly addressing men and men's role in turning around the sexual narratives we currently have for a true sexual revolution.

Some quick thoughts about each:

Essay #1 by Jill Filipovic of Feministe: This is a great introduction to the general ills which face women today, whether consciously or not. I find it to be quite North America specific at some points, but there are definitely carry-overs to other cultures and countries -some of the stuff I read definitely applies to Malaysia.

Essay #2 by Thomas Macaulay Millar: This was rather revelatory. I read on Pandagon once how sex, to paraphrase, shouldn't be a commodity to be traded, but rather it should be seen as an activity with enthusiastic participants (like Lego Star Wars). Millar offers a similar paradigm: as opposed to sex being judged as a commodity, sex should be judged as a performance, which has its performers who must work together in order to achieve good sex. Brilliantly worded essay, and wonderful ideas which would really give people a turn and make them think about how they view sex.

Essay #3 by Rachel Kramer Bussel: Dealing with consent, this makes for a very good 101 on the importance of verbal communication in getting consent.

Essay #4 by Javacia N Harris: This essay was dear to me because it talked about exploitation, and how a woman may be seen as being exploited when she clearly enjoys what she's doing, but at the same time, she may be exploited while not feeling so because she's clearly not explored her choice in-depth and looked beyond her own choices. If feeling empowered only comes as a side-benefit and only during, Houston, we have a problem. This was close to me because I've done nude modelling, and although I never felt exploited, I can clearly see how the whole industry lends itself to exploitation, and how women have to work twice as hard to dismantle it (hi RenEv!)

Essay #5 by Kate Harding, of Shapely Prose! This amazing woman tackles the issue on the attractiveness of fatnesses, within and without the mainstream culture, and how frustrating it is to buy into the idea that fat = unattractive because it leaves you with little self-esteem to capitalize on and succeed, romantically or otherwise, and how, in North American culture, any body-shape that is not thin is seen as less than ideal, and thus, open for abuse.

Essay #6 by Kimberly Springer: This was difficult for me to parse, because I'm not a black woman. Springer gives us a rundown on how black women are viewed, to the point where they cannot claim their sexuality in any meaningful way for themselves. She then suggests the idea of "queering" black sexuality - that is to say, de-center traditional notions of sexuality, much like what the queers did back in the day, in order to reclaim a piece. It really reminded me of the de-centering theory of Derrida's I had to read in Prof. Heffernan's Post Modern Novel class way back when, and I'm pleased to see my favourite theory in application.

Essay #7 by Leah Laksimi Piepzna-Samarasinha: This is a deeply personal, and deeply moving story of one woman's trip through survival, the many ways she dealt with it, and how she's still dealing with it. It really drives home the fact that the story does not end with fluffy rainbows, and the nightmares follow us the rest of our lives, and we just do what we can to deal with it, and the more we open up about, the easier it will be for other survivors to come out of the dark.

Essay #8 by Lee Jacobs Riggs: This essay starts out perky, and dives into how working at a sex toy store is also working for anti-rape goals, because the opposite of rape is not just consent, it's a whole-hearted YES! While anti-rape initiatives which encourage people to pay attention to "no" and how to articulate consent (or usually, lack thereof) are important, it's just as important to bring about a culture that encourages a full-blown YES! to sex.

Essay #9 by Stacey May Fowles: Again, another essay which was close to my own troubles, dealing with female submissives in BDSM and why so many feminists find them problematic. I find it problematic too, because the mainstream likes to co-opt BDSM images and put on a specific focus which is a very far cry from what actually goes on in the BDSM community (it's like cultural appropriation, BDSM edition!) and as someone who does have female submissive fantasies, it's necessary for me to engage with these questions, and I was glad for this essay because it helped me articulate some of my own concerns.

Essay #10 by Coco Fusco: This. This was. This was eye-opening. There is no other word for me to describe this essay which deals with the role of female interrogators - how female-ness is used against the men being tortured and how, basically, the US government exploits women in order to torture human beings. We hate it when women are exploited in the porno industry, right? Well, the people you vote for are doing the same thing.

Essay #11 by Miriam Zola Perez of Feministing: Yet another issue which does not directly impact my life, which is sexual violence being visited on immigrant women. Just because these women may use illegal methods of getting into another country doesn't justify violence being visited on them and it comes from everywhere: the men they travel with, the guards who stop them at the border, the officers who deal with them after. This essay highlights this issue which we privileged folks get to ignore.

Essay #12 by Samhita Mukhopadhyay of Feministing: More on black female sexuality and its portrayal in the media. It really gives us an insight into how the media controls, affects and influences our cultural narratives which dominate our lives unless we realize what's going on.

Essay #13 by Lisa Jervis: Tackling one of the new favourites of the new millenium: Gray Rape! As if it even existed. Lisa Jervis gives us a rundown on why this is bullshit, how it's not new at all, how it persists being shitted out of North America's cultural asshole, and why it keeps getting swallowed whole.

Essay #14 by Hazel/Cedar Troost: This essay on verbalizing consent, consistently and constantly, has a very interesting exercise! I never thought about it that way before, but I can see how it can definitely "reclaim touch", as that's what the essay is all about. It sounds like great practice, and quite affirming to be able to say "yes" when someone offers a hug or even hear "yes" when offering a hug.

Essay #15 by Heather Corinna of Scarleteen: This essay is yet another amazing essay - it tackles the traditional narrative of what an ideal first time is like, and really illustrates the absence of female desire within most sexual narratives. I'm trying to address this whenever I write heterosexual sex, but this essay quite perfectly, quite neatly, turns our assumptions around and really broadens the horizons on what a girl's first time could be like.

Essay #16 by Brad Perry: One of the few male-oriented essays in the book, this was relevant to me by way of the fact that I have many guy friends, some of whom may be taken in by mainstream guy culture, which is often damaging to the concept of healthy sexuality. It was interesting to see the rape culture broken down from a male perspective - something we women don't see enough of.

Essay #17 by Latoya Peterson of Racialicious: This essay I'd already read, since Latoya had put it up a long time on Racialicious before I got to the book, but it's no less powerful a read. The "not rape" epidemic really puts a spotlight on how we spend so much time defining rape that we don't pay attention to the sexual assaults done to our persons by assailants who will often go on to actually rape others, and how silence is complicity in supporting the rape culture at large.

Essay #18 by Toni Amato: A powerful essay on how shame is used to silence minorities from being honest about their identities, particularly transgender folk. My favourite quote: "If how we choose to clothe our bodies is more important than who murders us, how can we learn to savour all the pleasures of nakedness?"

Essay #19 by Julia Serano, who wrote the Whipping Girl: I can't say I agreed with this fully, but then, I have never been male. However, the suggestion that women as a mass should reject the asshole men strikes me as particularly laying the onus, once again, on women to change the culture rather than on men to change their behaviour. Nonetheless, it was interesting to see the predator/prey binary so well articulated.

Essay #20 by Anastasia Higginbottom: I'm one of the last to suggest self-defense as any form of meaningful defense against potential rapists, and I'm very wary of anything which appears to celebrate violence as any kind of solution, but she found her peace through self-defense training, and her journey and anecdotes are well worth the read.

Essay #21 by Cristina Meztli Tzintzun: This was deeply shocking to my system. I have always known that there are women out there who actually need to go through horrible shit before they realize they need to get out, but I felt for this essayist, because like her, I theorize about being a feminist all the time, and there are some times when I feel detached and judgemental as a result. This quote galvanized me:

My analysis was so emotionally empty that it had allowed me to become a womon I despised

And I thought, that's it. That's why I shouldn't be getting mad at others for being worked up over being abused and hurt. Because I can sit back and theorize and calmly, objectively think things through, whereas they don't, they don't have that privilege of not engaging, and not engaging directly, body and soul, in these issues means that for all our analysis, we still fall short of recognizing the inherently human problems suffered by the survivors. I discussed it further here.

Essay #22 by Tiloma Jayasinghe: This was another privilege-jerker for me, as it talks about the choice of women who are drug addicts and pregnant. It's a good 101 on how abominably we take away the right to have children from women we somehow deem "less worthy" as mothers. Before this, I had always been of the opinion that "drug addicts really shouldn't be having children", but now it's getting clearer to me that "drug addicts really need to get off drugs and we need to help them do so".

Essay #23 by Susan Lopez, Mariko Pasion & Saundra: It's a triple-threat! A dialogue between three women from the sex work industry, speaking to us straight from their own mouths about the issues they face: choice, safety, pricing, the differences between the different kinds of sex work, stigmatization, STDs, decriminalization.

Essay #24 by Hanne Blank: WHOA. SO THIS ESSAY? I'm not even sure how to describe it without summarizing it. The nifty idea is this: virgins get to dictate when they're virgins and when they're no longer virgins. And losing one's virginity doesn't have to be based on whether or not one has had PIV intercourse. Hard to swallow? Of course! But wow, like, how much more sex-positive can one get?! Particularly for virgins? Also, a quote from Augustine of Hippo: "The integrity of the body does not reside solely in its parts" - that's BIG, especially for our time when we're still very much defined by what we do with our bodies. And this quote is 2,000 years old. I guess when good ideas really entail giving young women control of their bodies, they're really resisted.

Essay #25 by Jessica Valenti of Feministing: Ms. Valenti, who has since released a book on the very topic dealt with in this essay, on the purity myth, gives us a nice rundown on how women are told to be nice, personally, and naughty, by every kind of media available. "Sexy but not sexual" is the term here, which is good for the Male Gaze, but useless for women.

Essay #26 by Cara Kulwicki of the Curvature: Cara gives us her ideals on what sex education should really look like, and I gotta say, some of that, I didn't think it fit in sex education, but it really does.

Essay #27 by Jaclyn Friedman: Ms. Friedman gives us a nice wrap-up of the book with a defense of going wild, much like our brethren who do so without any ill consequences, and a call to change the culture at large which prevents our doing so.

So this book? This book is a must-read. Not matter what your orientation, what your sex, what your gender, what creed, whether or not you identify as feminist, sex-positive or radical.

Now I know what they mean by "this book is a buy two, give one away".

I may have gotten some names or blogs wrong. If so, mea culpa.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Malaysiana: No, A Colourblind Politician Isn't Ideal

So, Farish Noor is really smart. Just making sure that's out there: I respect him, I respect his work, I know how important he is in Malaysia. I haven't come across much of him, seeing as I tend to read in different circles, but occasionally my dad sends me stuff written by him, and other friends pass on links.

But occasionally, because the man isn't perfect, he will say things that get my goat. Case in point, this post.

Firstly, we don't even know what being Malaysian means. I assume, in my readings and discussions on nationhood and identifying and immigration and other such subjects, that being Malaysian, much being Canadian, means having been born in Malaysia or otherwise attained citizenship in Malaysia, living in Malaysia, abiding by Malaysians laws, as per expected as a Malaysian citizen.

However, every citizen will have different experiences of these limits within Malaysia itself. The priorities of a Malaysian-Indian will be different from the priorities of a Malaysian-Chinese, which will be different from the priorities of an Iban, which will be - so on so forth.

I presume that being a Malaysian means accepting (not just tolerating), understanding (not just accepting) and actively participating in the diversity within our fine borders. Which, thank God, we do, on so many levels that this amazing first-world country I'm currently living in does not.

Secondly, I'm not so sure that ignoring racial differences, particularly the power dynamics present in this current era, is exactly a really good thing to do. It is true that racial differences don't actually mean a hell of a lot. It is true that stereotypes are stupid. It is probably not a very good idea to imply that all the groups in Malaysia are of equal importance when clearly, we have been shown that they are not. I do not mean to say that he is wrong in expressing how our racial differences as we know them are an after-effect of colonialism. I do think it is disingenuous to not address the huge power imbalances that have occurred as a result of these schisms caused by the colonists.

Thirdly, it is, for many of us, a knee-jerk reaction that we will seek out People Like Us.

This, in itself, is not a bad thing. Sometimes, I don't want to be around Chinese people. This doesn't mean I hate them. Sometimes, I don't want to be around men, either. This doesn't mean I hate men, either. It just means that occasionally, I will take myself off to find a space where I can find people who relate to my experiences as closely as they can. The chances of them being able to relate to it all are pretty slim. People are complex like that. There are parts of us which are clearly blue and/or pink, and we like to find people who fulfil these blue and/or pink sides of our identity. And we seek out other groups to fulfil the parts of us which are green.

Differences and similarities are not necessarily bad in themselves. They are simply part of what we have to negotiate when defining our identities.

I believe we should be emphasizing this negotiation between each other and within ourselves, as opposed to simply embracing a universality which not all of us may feel at all, which would ending up excluding people anyway, which is... well, totally not the point of universality. It's a bit like committing GSF #4.

Fourthly, it is not the emotionalism that is the problem. Emotions are useful in enabling us to express ourselves and often are the catalyst and adrenaline-pushers that drive us to stand up for ourselves. The problems stem from how emotionalism is used, the consequences of those actions, and the defensiveness of the people who used fucked it up when called out on it.

Fifthly, I would also like to see a politician address issues other than race, too. (Of course, this point is not so much disagreeing with Farish Noor's vision as it is adding to it.) Class, sexuality, able-ism, and other such stuff, should also be part of our holistic vision.

Because I assume that part of the Malaysian condition is the human condition, and the human condition encompasses all.

Safe Space From Hate; Safe Space For Anger

So this is kinda but not quite an entirely new concept for me, stemming from this discussion at Questioning Transphobia on some waah-waah-being-called-cis-is-insulting dipshittery going on at Pam's House Blend. I can't seem to find the comment within which I found this concept, but it struck me as being perfectly relevant, in light of the tone argument:

We need a safe space for anger.

There will be times when we will find it an inhuman request for me to contain the rage that is borne from daily abuse and we want to let it out. Is it too much to ask for a space where the marginalized can go to vent their anger? To be as rude as possible in order to express their frustrations with the dominant, oppressing groups?

Without members of the dominant groups getting pissy and offended?

Taking into consideration that members of dominant groups get to troll around being hostile to members of marginalized groups, abusing them, anywhere, pretty much everywhere, there're so few spaces where the marginalized get to go to vent their spleen.

I'm quite sure it's not healthy for some people to keep in all that anger, so it does strike me as very important to have a space for this anger to be let out, without privileged groups butting in and derailing from that anger.

We need our spaces to name our troubles. We need our spaces to name the sources of our anger, wihtout said sources getting vocally offended and trying to turn the argument around.

I hope if this blog ever gets any amount of attention that I'll be able to remember this and shut down dominant voices effectively, so the marginalized voices can be heard, loud and clear.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Language Disconnect: Appropriation vs. Assimilation

So I read somewhere, I can't remember where, "The Japanese do not appropriate, they assimilate".

This meant, of course, a Great Long Think on what the difference is.

No one can yet define what cultural appropriation is, but from the discussions I've seen, it's a common theme that appropriation happens when a dominant culture takes a cultural artifact from a minority (or subordinate) culture, strips it of its meaning and takes it on as part of its own cultural identity. Hence why, in this day and age of globalisation and underlying fear of white supremacy, minorities are holding their heritages tight to themselves, wondering how much they should share, and if they do, whether the dominant culture appreciates it or sees it as just another source of empty amusement.

This is, of course, the issue of cultural appropriation from my point of view. There have been many discussions on this very fraught topic, for example at Racialicious, What Tami Said, and the Angry Black Woman. The threads are long, exhausting, but ultimately, demonstrate some the problems that PoC have with appropriation.

But cultural assimilation? I had no clue what that meant. I assumed, based on the context I originally read it in, that it meant that one's heritage took a backstage and took on the cultural artifacts of a dominant culture. I didn't understand why it would happen.

Here's some stuff from Wikipedia:
Cultural assimilation is the adoption by an individual of some or all aspects of a dominant culture. Cultural assimilation is a process of socialization. It can be a voluntary process, but can also sometimes be the result of involuntary political decisions.
A group (a state or an ethnicity) can spontaneously adopt a different culture due to its political relevance, or to its perceived superiority. The first is the case of the Latin language and culture, that were gradually adopted by most of the subjugated people.
So far, so good. But didn't explain to me how far an imperialistic culture could stretch, to what extent it could dominate, and, more importantly, why.

Today, I found this: an abstract for the German Anthropological Association Conference, in which assimilation is described thusly:
The term assimilation refers to the selective adoption of cultural imports, in which the adopted ideas or things are adapted to customary life ways and accorded with alternating meanings. In contrast to such forms of cultural nostrification, adaptation to dominant orders results in a break with a group’s own traditions, which – insofar as this break fails – often sparks attempts at retraditionalisation. Finally, the term camouflage highlights a strategy in which external demands are only apparently complied with, so that actors can secure sufficient latitude to pursue traditional goals.
Now, a commenter in my Racialicious thread had mentioned about Japanese steampunks taking on Victorian clothing while still maintaining Japanese rituals, behaviour, and ideals. I refused to touch discussions of Japanese subcultural expressions because I know little to nothing about them. But it seems to me that this quote is perhaps the most relevant quote I've ever come across on the matter.

Of course, it means very little because I don't actually know what the context of the quote, nor what "cultural nostrification" means. But it does make some sense. The other terms being discussed at the conferences, Adaptation and Camoflage, look just as tantalizing to this egghead here.

I asked on Twitter what the difference between appropriation and assimilation is, and I got: 'the former steals, the latter effaces'.

Which sounds as bad as each other, because to efface is to "wipe out", to "erase".... to be self-effacing is to withdraw one's self. What does it mean, to assimilate? Who assimilates? What are the power dynamics involved in assimilation?

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

We Visit America

I was in a bookstore today, and I saw a book called Stephen Fry In America.

I was piqued by this, certainly, because I love Stephen Fry, and I think he is the Oscar Wilde of my generaton. Also, that he's travelling through the States is so very similar to Wilde!

Sometimes, I get the sense while reading that some people, when talking about "the West", really mean "America". So this book really got my attention. I opened it and flipped through a few pages. In each state, he has a table with digestable info on each state: "Initials" and "capital" and "flower" and other inane stuff like that.

It amused me, seeing America treated like a tourist spot, because it reminded me that America is, after all, just another country on this planet, and for all its cultural imperialism, for all its superpower status, for all its cultual exports - it's still, for many people in the world, a country we visit, and don't live in, a country full of novelty and people who are Not Like Me/Us, even though their media posits them as the default.

My country, too, is a tourist spot for many people who visit. Yet for people like me, it is still home. Same with other countries. It's nice to have this put back into perspective for me.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Steampunking: Finding L'Acadie

It's been pointed out to me by my friend Tariq that there is a problem with one of the statements I made recently:

Being accepted is not the same as being actively welcomed.

He responded, and I paraphrase him, being actively welcomed still has that sense of being invited into a space that is not our own, and part of the challenge that PoC face is to find spaces where we are not the Token Minority, and seek (or create) spaces where we feel at home.

Not just tolerated, not just accepted, not just welcomed - spaces where we belong.

You know, places where we can go home to.

When my parents were last in Canada, we went to PEI, and ended up at a museum of sorts, and stayed to watch one of those multi-layered shows which combined film, light and backstage flats on Acadians, how the British and the French tussled over the land, unsurprisingly with few references to aboriginals at all, and how some of the Acadians were deported to places like New Orleans.

I was struck by a scene wherein some of the Acadians were allowed back to the Maritimes, to Acadie, as they called it, and the narrator was an old woman, telling us about the trip back to Acadia, and finally someone on deck sighted land and cried, "Acadie! Acadie!" and she says something like, "we heard, home".

Acadie means "idyllic land". I don't know what the aboriginals called the Maritimes, but Halifax region was Chebucto - Great Harbour.

It makes some sense to me how the Acadian French could have carved out a home here. According to various sources on the Interwebs, they made friends with the local aboriginals, and it remained that way until the usual stuff happened.

Anyways, the point is that, the Acadians managed to carve themselves a home on the coasts of the Canadian Maritimes, at times at the cost of the aboriginals.

While I do not want to encroach on the traditionally Victorian territory of steampunk - mostly because I like it, and partly because I know the pain of appropriation, and while it might be nice revenge to have my white peers feel it for a change so they actually get what I'm talking about, it would be utterly unproductive - I do want to carve out for myself, and for my SoC peers, a space where we can call home. Where we can build lives and narratives and myths for ourselves that isn't forced on us by the larger narrative. Where we don't feel like minorities simply for factoring in parts of ourselves.

The nice thing about steampunk, and how it's so markedly different from colonialism of the past is that steampunk is an abstract thing, and I highly doubt SoC are ever going to reach the same level of cultural genocide as committed by the colonists. We are not here to encroach, we are not here to take over, we are not here to push anybody out of the way. We are here to participate and we are here to share.

But at the moment, despite protestations from many steampunks I've seen that "in steampunk, race doesn't matter", it feels like I am a guest in someone else's house. It doesn't turn me off because I've been a guest in many places and I've learned how to deal with it fairly well, but I know it's one of the reasons why many SoC do not participate as wholly as they would like to. But it's sometimes not enough, to be a guest.

We want to feel like we are home. And to do so, we must speak, openly, about how we feel our heritages will factor into our steampunking, or how it will not. We must look at our lands and imagine them without colonists, or if there are, we must imagine the colonists on our own terms. We must see ourselves in these foreign lands, understand our privileges and lack thereof, and critique the colonialism of the past. There are many many more other things we could be doing before we can say, we own our places in this subculture.

It'll take time because we find our l'acadie.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Steampunking AND Star Trekking at Once!

CaitieCat said,

... it occurred to me last night that the Borg?

They're steampunk zombie Fremen. How's that for meta?
I am so extraordinarily pleased at this intersection of my two favourite nerdy realms in the world.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Quick 101 / Turning From Religion: Of Gods and Men

This is derived from reading Marilyn French, particularly Beyond Power, although it comes up in From Eve to Dawn. I also found it in a book called When God Was A Woman.

I have been expressing it in many ways in order for me to really condense it into something more cohesive and so I don't fucking stutter when I talk about it, but the theory does come up often. Namely, what do the Patriarchy, monotheistic religion, men, and power have to do with each other?

So, it's posited that way back when, the earliest civilizations were matriarchal and worshipped an Earth Goddess.

The Earth Goddess is irrevocably tied to the Earth and all phenomena on Earth - she waxes and wanes with the moon, with the seasons, with stuff that humans do on her soil.

Back then, women giving birth was a specific gift, magical, because nobody had figured out how men figured into the whole thing yet.

I'm guessing at some point they did, but nobody really gave a shit. A child belongs to the whole community, after all.

Then for some reason, some men decided they needed to make themselves distinctive from women.

This is why the gender binary (masculinity vs. femininity) is complicated; on the one hand, it's useful in helping us negotiate our identity. On the other, it's wrecked some nasty-ass shit on our cultural psyches. Particularly with what happened, and what still happens.

The concept of a Sky God was created - All-powerful and could affect anything on the Earth. More importantly, transcendent - not of the earth, therefore not affected by nature, not affected by anything.

For some men, who possibly had small roles then and wanted more, wanted to be more important, wanted to validate themselves (but this is all conjecture), this must have seemed a pretty damned good deal: being able to affect nature without being affected by it?

Women wouldn't be able to be part of this exclusive club because women were affected by nature, as evident in their menstruation. Men had no such limits.

Eventually, somehow, this transcendence, which all men could aspire to, began to be a huge draw. Being able to wield power over others without anyone holding you accountable for your actions?

It still is resonant today.

In fact, it continues to be the main driving force for many - to be able to be free from people telling you to do shit, while at the same time being able to affect others. It's pure positive liberty, and complete negative liberty, while everyone else you fancy messing over has no such freedom from your actions, nor freedom to retaliate.

Because as much as people wax poetic about how Man is made in God's image, nobody thinks about what kind of godliness it is we're aspiring to.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Steampunking: Inclusivity, Not Merely Acceptance

One of the themes that crops up at the Racialicious essay I posted runs like this:

"In my experience, steampunk accepts all races!"

Usually, this will be said by someone who's, well, white. Occasionally it will be said by someone who's not, and thus, clearly not my audience, who are PoC and feel all the attendant baggage.

So, in my fucking experience, as a person of colour who will definitely be affected by race issues, it could do a hella lot more.

This is what I'm emphasizing. Do I see that steampunks can be very accepting of various races? Hell yes I can see that. Most other subcultures are the same.

Being accepted is not the same as being actively welcomed. Especially in a subculture that has roots in what is something coded as exclusively very white. Whether or not you mean for the subculture to be exclusive doesn't matter - here's another 101 for you: Intent doesn't matter.

Here's another 101 for you, when you say "in my experience" and you are a member of the default culture, speaking in a discussion which is centered around the experiences of someone who is not part of the default culture, you automatically imply that my experiences - which are at best dismissed, at worst silenced - are an aberration to the norm. Which they are, because they are different from the default culture's, and thus, yours! And, oh, you know what? I don't like that! And here I am telling you how we can make it better! Bigger! More inclusive! So I, and people like me, don't feel like freaks anymore!

This whole fucking noise about acceptance when I'm talking inclusivity is like you saying, "the sky is blue! Of course it's blue! Scientific fact shows that when light bounces off the particles in the sky, it will show up as blue!" when I am pointing out gray clouds on the horizon.


Cross-posted to the Redux Edition

Friday, July 3, 2009

Rick Rolling Is A Joyful, Joyful Thing

Until last November, I did not know what Rick Rolling is. I knew who Rick Astley was, certainly. I knew his signature song, "Never Gonna Give You Up".

I came across the concept of Rick Rolling a little after NaNoWriMo '08, when I was leading my merry crew of NaNo-ers back to my house for a TGIO party. It started with a couple of us singing "Gay Or European?" and then went to the whole group singing "Bohemian Rhapsody", and someone started singing Rick Astley, and one of us said, "OH NO I'M NOT GONNA GET RICK ROLLED."

Recently, I came across this clip:

There's absolutely nothing wrong with this picture.

Nothing. There is no coercion involved. There is no violation. There is some little resistance. But it all eventually breaks out into a joyful chorus of song. It's like pushing someone to do the right thing which will result in excellent benefits for all.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Steampunking: From A Former Colony

So, I'm from Malaysia, which was Malaya. And I moved to Canada to study. Most of the communities I engage in (or observe) are comprised mainly of North Americans.

One thing I've noticed about North American steampunks is a general Euro-centricism. This isn't really relegated to just the steampunk subculture - it's also seen in other communities I participate in.

But what spurred me to write this post was Ay-Leen's essay on colonialism, a kind of exploration on what America would be like if it had remained a British colony for longer than it was. I was struck at the starter conversation. Struck, in the "let me go get my facepalm on" sense.

In another essay of hers, this time on Orientalism, Ay-Leen highlights one of the things that [American/Euro-centric] steampunks like to do: imagine a time when the world was ripe for exploration, and there were empty spaces on the map to explore.

My country is probably part of that blank space on that map that these fellows wish to re-create and re-imagine.

Now, I understand that for the purposes of roleplaying, some would have to imagine my people not existing within their imaginary world view as, well, people, just yet, but rather as, uh, potential discoveries.

Which ... might be fine, except I get a distinct whiff of MammothFail on the horizon when I see this happening.

Which is also weird and not-so-historically-correct because the borders of my peninsula and Borneo were already drawn by the time of Victoriana. Unless we are talking about the savage North.

Taking further into account the fact my country was also colonized by the British, the Portuguese, and the Dutch, variously, at different points in time, but mostly the British, and we were already trading with the Chinese and the Arabs.

European imaginations about the Orient has led to all sorts of weird fucked-up ideas. For example, the numerous paintings of harem women, nude and langurous and waiting for the master to come visit... by men who have never actually been in harems.

Let go get our facepalm on.

Now let's take this a little further and imagine that maybe, just maybe, "Orientals" don't want "Occidentals" doing the re-imagining.

Whilst I understand that part of steampunk is about the Victorian aesthetic (and thus, Victorian-centered ideas / ideals), there are some of us who like the subculture because its alternate-history aspect allows us to forge our identities, generally considered a minority identity within the North American (and European) context(s), into a context where we are not minorities, but merely other people living on the goddamn planet.

I don't know what my fellow Asian steampunkers are doing. I frankly will not touch Japanese steampunk with a ten-foot-pole, (and will not touch Japanese anything with a hundred-foot-pole) but this steampunker from a former colony would like to colonize the history of the colonials, so that she won't be colonized. Not necessarily a colonizer, that's not important.

But definitely, resistant to colonialism.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Language Disconnect: The Point Is! Edition

Here's a question that comes up occasionally regarding fandom and subcultures and whatnot. "Isn't that the point?"

I saw this come up a few times in the comments to my essay at Racialicious, and maybe I'm being a pedant, but it seems kind of silly to declare what the point of certain things are.

Here's something that occurred to me:

There is no point.

I don't mean this in the "there is no spoon" sort of way, but, declaring what the point of steampunk is - "the point of steampunk is to re-invent the past!"

Well. Not really. It's certainly the purpose of some of its participants, but I hesitate to name that the whole point.

Now, I recognize that it's possibly useful as a rhetorical tool, but the more I see it, the more confusing it gets.

Some things... just are.