Monday, January 12, 2015

Different from the Others

Source: Wikipedia
You might have noticed that I like old movies. I just watched a silent German film from 1919, Anders als die Andern (English title: "Different from the Others.") It stars Conrad Veidt (on whom more later) and the famous Magnus Hirschfeld. Hirschfeld was probably the first person in the West to advocate for LGBT rights. He co-wrote this film and appears as a "sexologist," telling everyone that homosexuality and gender non-conformity are natural and should not be punished.

This film was made during that brief postwar period when people had more important things to worry about than film censorship. It dealt with Paragraph 175, the law which criminalized male homosexuality. Veidt plays a homosexual -- said to be the first openly homosexual character in film -- who's arrested under the law and ends up committing suicide. (Spoiler.)

Even his father says that suicide would be the honorable thing for him to do. Naturally this reminds me of the recent suicide of transgender teen Leelah Alcorn. Here we are a century later.

Well. Conrad Veidt. He's best known for playing the lead Nazi in Casablanca. In fact he was one of the many people who found it expedient to leave Nazi Germany. One of the stories told about him is that when the Nazis required people to provide their ethnic background on job applications, he always wrote Jude even though he was not Jewish. And then there's the "playing gay" thing.

I liked the film though. Just wanted to mention that although Hirschfeld subscribed to the then-popular belief that lesbians and gay men constituted a "third sex" and that they were all, in effect, transgender (being "male people in female bodies" or "female people in male bodies,") the sexologist does point out that in fact not all gay men are effeminate and not all feminine men are gay. It's a distinction that often gets overlooked when discussing the late 19th and early 20th century theories around gender and sexual orientation. 

Friday, November 28, 2014

TDOR 2014: Deaths in Foreign Countries

This past Saturday I went to a Transgender Day of Remembrance event at my church. It was much like the one I wrote about last year. I didn't go to any TDOR event hosted by people of color this year. But I did read the article "Remembering Us When We’re Gone, Ignoring Us While We’re Here," which agrees with my experience of white TDOR events:
Trans Day of Remembrance is filled to the brim with the names of murdered Black and brown trans women, but is a single evening of remembering enough? And what does it mean that TDoR doesn’t explicitly talk about race and is often dominated by white people? . . . We only hear about trans women after their deaths. And even our deaths are not our own. A week doesn’t go by without a white queer citing the deaths of trans women of color as the evidence of how oppressed they are.
Let me reiterate: white people using the deaths of people of color as an example of how much danger they, white people, are in, does not make sense. It is not fair. In fact, it's selfish.

One of the names we read was the name of a black trans woman who lived and died right here in New Orleans. Brenisha Hall. (Ironically, her name was spelled wrong on the list of names that was handed out to us.) As far as I know, none of the people at our event knew her personally. Why didn't we know her?

Also, no one mentioned Leslie Feinberg, who died on November 15. Technically ze was not murdered. But ze still deserves to be remembered. (How often does a famous transgender person die, anyway?)

Maybe I'm being overly judgmental. The other people at this event all seemed very much moved by the ceremony. But I can't put these questions out of my mind: do we, white trans people, have a relationship with trans people of color? What is that relationship? Shouldn't we acknowledge the relationship before they die, as well as afterwards? We claim their deaths as ours. But while they lived, they might as well have been living in a foreign country.

Monday, November 24, 2014

The New Cheyenne Autumn

Recently I read the book The New Jim Crow as part of an online book group. Aside from recommending that everyone should read it, I don't really know what to say about it. Why does America, "the land of the free," have more people in prison than any other country? Why do police have free rein to confiscate the property of citizens who haven't been charged - let alone convicted - of any crime?

Supposedly this is caused by the war on drugs. But when we learn that black people and white people sell and use illegal drugs at equal rates - and yet black people are much more likely to go to jail for drug offenses - then it appears that there is something else going on.