Monday, December 31, 2012

Red Lentil Pasta Sauce

Savory cinnamon dishes are delightful, especially in winter. I got this recipe from a cookbook my grandmother gave me, Complete Vegetarian Cuisine by Rose Elliot.


  • 1 large onion -- chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves -- minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano or basil (optional)
  • 8 ounces red lentils -- washed
  • 15 ounces canned tomatoes
  • 2 cups water -- or use up to 1/2 cup red wine and the rest water
  • salt and pepper
  • 8 ounces pasta. The original recipe calls for tagliatelle verde (spinach pasta.) I prefer linguine myself, when I can't find tagliatelle verde.


  1. Heat the oil in a saucepan. Add the onion, cinnamon, and optional herbs and cook for 10 minutes. Then add the garlic and cook for about 5 minutes.
  2. If you're using wine, add it to the pan at this time, stir, and let it come to a simmer. Then add the lentils, tomatoes, and water and bring to the boil. Let the mixture simmer gently for 20 minutes, until the lentils are tender. Taste and season with salt and pepper.
  3. I recommend pureeing the sauce at this point, especially if you have a stick blender which makes pureeing so convenient. The truth is that although this recipe calls for 1/2 pound of pasta I usually go ahead and cook a whole pound. Pureeing the sauce makes it go further.
  4. Around the end of step 2, bring a large pan of water to the boil and cook the pasta.

How to Make Happy Pasta

I was recently watching an Italian cooking show, and the woman said that the reason Italians cook their pasta al dente is that they add the pasta to the sauce and let it cook for another minute or so, absorbing the flavor. This is a good idea. Another good idea which I heard on another cooking show is to take a small amount of the pasta cooking water (after the pasta has been cooked) and add it to the sauce. The pasta cooking water has starch in it which helps to thicken the sauce. It's especially nice in a recipe like this one, because lentils are good at absorbing extra water.

I hope you enjoy this recipe. Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Fear of Coming Out

So there's this guy who blogs about being the single father of an adopted child. I read something by him once, probably a post titled "I'm Christian, Unless You're Gay," but I don't really follow him. Then I saw that he had come out as bisexual and I decided to read his coming-out post.
You see, I’ve never wanted to be anything other than straight. Since I was eleven years old, I’ve been desperate to only be attracted to those of the opposite sex. I’ve masked and obscured any feeling I’ve ever felt that threatened my place within the realm of what I’ve been coached is both normal and acceptable.
Much of what he says resonates with me. For example, he started his blog, which is fairly popular, after his second wife left him because she thought he was gay:
I started this blog as a way to save myself from myself. As a way to force myself to laugh again. As a way to maintain some sort of normalcy. And yes, even as a way to protect me from ever having to be anything other than straight.
I started my first blog shortly after coming out to myself as trans. At that time I had no intention of ever telling anyone else. I wasn't scared exactly, but looking back now I think it's significant that I started writing again around that time. It was a time for new beginnings. (I didn't start writing my trans blog until three years later.)

When Dan Pearce wrote his "I'm Christian, Unless You're Gay" post, he said in it that he was not gay.
I certainly wasn’t lying to you. To lie, a person has to both know and believe a truth and then present it contrarily. I didn’t know and believe the truth. Not yet. In 32 years, I hadn’t even once been able to allow myself a truly open and honest thought about it all.
Now he's afraid that people will treat him differently. That his sister will no longer let him be alone with her children. That his parents will reject him. He knows his life will never be the same. I want to tell him that after the first shock, he'll discover that he's the same person he always was. That anything is better than living a lie - and he knows that, otherwise he wouldn't have come out. I can't tell him that everything will be all right. But it will be better.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012


Last night I dreamed that I was trying to explain to someone how to make arepas, and I said "it's real easy, it's up on my blog." But in fact it is not on my blog. I'm here to rectify that, at great personal sacrifice because I have no arepa fixings in the house and now I have to write about them.

Arepas are a South American food, made from a special kind of cornmeal called masarepa. I use Goya brand masarepa because it's easy to find. Goya masarepa is made from white corn, but I hear you can get yellow masarepa as well. This page describes which brands of masarepa are available in the US, and also introduced me to the existence of sweet arepas and arepa toasting machines. I wonder if I can use my sandwich toaster to make arepas, except they'd be triangular arepas which is just wrong.

I can hear you saying, but what is an arepa and how do I make them? Here are some pictures of delicious, delicious arepas, and here is a recipe:


  • 2 cups masarepa
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2-4 ounces grated mild white cheese, such as Mozzarella or Oaxaca
  •  3 cups boiling water
  • cooking oil


  1. Put masarepa into a large metal bowl and stir in the salt, then the grated cheese.
  2. Make a well in the center and pour in the hot water. Mix well and let sit for 5 minutes, or until cool enough to handle.
  3. Heat a large skillet or griddle and pour in a generous amount of oil. (You will be frying the arepas, not deep-frying them.)
  4. Form masarepa into patties, whatever size and shape is convenient for you. I find it hard to make really thin patties, but some people do it that way.
  5. Put arepas into the skillet and fry over medium-high heat until brown, about 3-5 minutes per side. (The cornmeal is actually pre-cooked, so you don't have to worry about under-cooking.)
  6. Drain arepas on paper towels, and enjoy!

How to Serve Arepas

I like them with fresh salsa (storebought or home-made), accompanied by sauteed mushrooms and kale, but there are many, many variations. Some people make their arepas thick enough to cut in half, and then make little arepa sandwiches. I haven't tried that yet.

Some people make arepas with cream cheese instead of mozzarella, but I'm not fond of cream cheese so I haven't tried that. Likewise, you can make them with milk, but I find that if there is too much dairy in the dough then the arepas stick to the pan while cooking. You can also make vegan arepas, with just masa, salt, and water. I tried that but they don't get nice and brown.

Oh god, what have I done? Now I want arepas.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Transgender Day of Remembrance

On Sunday I went to my first Transgender Day of Remembrance ceremony. It's a gathering, usually held sometime in late November, to honor all of the trans people who were murdered over the past year for being trans. The organizers had a list of something like 268 people around the world who were murdered last year - and they couldn't get data from all countries. 17 people were killed in the US. Here is some more information if you're interested.

This all sounds very depressing, and I had never wanted to go to a TDOR event before, because I don't like feeling sad. But in fact, although we talked about a lot of sad things, I felt happy too. Mostly because we were all there together. We are still here. And we know about these others who have been taken from us - even that is something. They are not forgotten and we are not alone.

Some people stood up and talked about their lives. I started wondering what I would say . . . and I still don't know how I would describe my life, but it brought back one memory.

In September 2005, I finally admitted to myself that I was trans. It was around the time of my birthday. In fact I had been thinking about this for six months, but . . . to make a long story short, I had been thinking of it as something that was unique to me. I wasn't thinking of myself as a "trans person" like other "trans people," I just thought of it as some imaginary thing inside my own head. But that September I started to realize that I might have to do something about it. It might have to come out of the closet and become visible in the world.

Monday, November 19, 2012

White Bean Soup with Mushrooms

I have kind of an "Ebony and Ivory" thing going on with soup lately. Last month I made black bean soup - this month it's a new kind of white bean soup. This is based on someone else's recipe for white bean soup with mushrooms and butternut squash. But I didn't feel like messing around with winter squash, so this is what you get.


  • 1 lb. dried cannellini (white kidney) beans
  • cooking oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 16 oz mushrooms, cleaned and chopped
  • 1 carrot, sliced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • salt and  pepper to taste
  • other seasonings: I used cumin, sage, thyme, and a little soy sauce
  • 1 bunch kale, stemmed and sliced


  1. Sort and rinse the beans and soak overnight covered in cold water. Drain the following day, add to a medium saucepan and cover with fresh water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 1 hour or until the beans are just tender.*
  2. Meanwhile, heat a large soup pot over medium-high heat. When hot, add the oil, then saute the onions and your chosen herbs. When the onions are golden, add the garlic and the mushrooms. Sprinkle mushrooms with salt and cook them over moderate heat until they start to shrink.
  3. Pour in water to cover, add the carrot and bay leaf, and bring to a boil. Add the beans along with their cooking liquid and reduce the heat to medium-low. Cover and simmer gently for 20-30 minutes or until the carrot is tender.
  4. I prefer to rinse out the bean cooking pot and use it to steam the kale separately. But that's up to you.
  5. Discard the bay leaf and season the soup with salt and plenty of fresh ground black pepper. Add the (steamed) kale and continue to simmer for 4-5 minutes or until the kale is wilted but still bright green.

*How to tell if the beans are done: if you've been cooking them for a while and they seem like they ought to be done, lift one bean out with a spoon and blow on it. If it is cooked the skin will split open. (Sometimes they will split open simply on being exposed to the cold air when lifted out of the pot.) You may choose to cook them a little while longer but at least you will know that you've avoided the dreaded Beans that are Still Hard.

Friday, November 9, 2012

this Natalie person

Occasionally I've come across blog posts by Natalie Reed, a trans woman who lives in Vancouver. I like her posts. Realized today that I want to start reading them on a regular basis. She blogs as part of a consortium, and I can't figure out how to subscribe to her posts only. So I'll add her link to my blogroll and hope I remember to check it.

Here's a couple of her posts that I really like:

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Obama Won Again

In 2008 I had serious doubts that a black man could be elected President. I was wrong. This time I was cautiously optimistic. And once again it appears that although the haters are vociferous, they are in the minority.

The pundits say that it's unprecedented for an incumbent President to be re-elected when the economy is in such bad shape. But we trusted Obama in 2008 and we trust him now.

This is America. And I can say with Michelle Obama that I'm so proud of my country.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Biden: Transgender Discrimination Is "Civil Rights Issue of Our Time."

This, as the Vice President would say, is a big f***king deal. No, it won't immediately end discrimination, but Biden 1) acknowledged the existence of trans people and 2) didn't refer to us in a negative way. That alone makes me happy.

I wonder if Biden's interest in trans rights got started when someone informed him that although the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell benefited gays, lesbians, and bisexuals in the military, trans service members are still labeled mentally ill and subject to discharge. God willing (or should that be Iinshallah?) the Obama-Biden administration will be able to do something to improve the legal situation of trans people in the future.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Black Bean Soup with Sherry

I like spicy black beans and rice, Latin style. But sometimes I want to do something with black beans that doesn't involve cumin and chile. Here's an example:


  • 1 lb. dry black beans
  • 1 bay leaf
  • cooking oil
  • 1 onion
  • a couple cloves of garlic
  • 2 carrots
  • 2 sticks of celery (optional - sometimes I feel like celery and sometimes I don't)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tsp. herbes de Provence (or try it with just thyme and marjoram)
  • 2 tbl. sherry
  • 1 15-oz. can diced tomatoes (or a couple fresh tomatoes - or maybe some sun-dried tomatoes - it's up to you)
  • 1 bunch of kale


  1. Sort and wash the beans. Soak them overnight in a large bowl.
  2. The next day, cook them in a medium-size pot, with fresh water and the bay leaf, until tender. (Don't overcook.)
  3. After the beans have been cooking for an hour or so, heat the oil in a larger pot and sautee the onion until caramelized.
  4. Add the herbs, maybe a little salt and pepper, then add the garlic, carrots and optional celery. Cook for about 5 minutes.
  5. Now pour in a shot of sherry (or red wine if you don't have sherry.) Let it return to a boil, then add the tomatoes.
  6. When the beans are tender, pour them and their cooking water into the onion mixture. Taste and add more salt if necessary. Continue to simmer the soup over low heat.
  7. At this point I like to chop the kale and cook it in the empty bean pot, then add it to the soup. Simmer about 5 minutes longer. When the vegetables are soft and it tastes good to you, it's done!
The inestimable Camellia Beans company, based here in New Orleans, includes sherry in the list of ingredients for their Black Bean Soup recipe, which is printed on the back of their bags of black beans. That's where I got the idea to use sherry. Very pleased with it. (Another nice thing about Camellia Beans is that they are quick-cooking and don't really need to be pre-soaked. Maybe they are nice fresh beans.)

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Power of Darkness: Charles Williams' Shadows of Ectasy

Charles Williams is one of my favorite writers (I've blogged about him before.) He was friends with J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis - in fact, during his lifetime he was a more popular writer than either of them. His writings include but are not limited to novels, plays, and criticism. Visit The Charles Williams Society to learn more. So far I've only read the novels.

Williams, like Tolkien and Lewis, was a Christian. Some of his books are more Christian than others - I happened to read three of the less Christian ones first, and I had no idea he was a Christian. Unlike Lewis, Williams doesn't always hit you over the head with his ideology. Unlike Tolkien, he prefers to write about the modern world, with elements of fantasy. As I wrote previously, if you like urban fantasy you'll love Charles Williams.

His seven novels all have very similar themes: ordinary life is disrupted by some supernatural force. Sometimes this force is resident in a magical object: the Holy Grail, the Stone of Solomon, the original deck of Tarot cards. Sometimes it's more amorphous. Another common theme is a character I'll call "the evil magician." He's not always a magician (I believe he's always a "he") but he is hungry for power and ruthlessly uses other people to achieve his ends.

I enjoy some of Williams' books more than others, but I was extremely happy with him until I realized that his novel Shadows of Ecstasy is about Africa. I was immediately filled with trepidation. How is a white Englishman writing in 1933 going to deal with Africa? I've read the book twice now. The first time I was constantly asking myself "Is this racist?" But I feel comfortable saying that, although there are some flaws in Williams' handling of the Dark Continent and its dark people, it's not all bad.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Trials and tribulations at the library

At the end of July I checked three books out of the library. Then I brought them back and checked out three more books. On August 15 I got a notification that the books I had already returned were overdue. So I called the library and said, I did return those books, and they marked them as "Claimed returned."

Shortly afterwards I tried to renew (online) one of my new books, and it said I was not allowed to renew this book because I had three OVERDUE books. Okay. I decided to go back to the library and discuss this with a person.

Then Hurricane Isaac intervened. I had checked all these books out from a branch library, but they actually belonged to the main library. On the Saturday after Isaac, my branch library was still closed but the main library was open, so I went down there.

Friday, September 21, 2012

The pronoun problem

Pronouns are little tiny words that, really, carry a much larger weight than seems appropriate for their size. Pronouns mean a lot. In English, we use different pronouns to refer to men and women. Not all languages have gender-specific pronouns (and some languages go overboard with gender and decide that chairs are female and love is male.) But here in English, when we say "he" or "she" we are frequently piling all of our assumptions about gender onto that small word. We look at someone and decide which pronoun to use for them. And if they tell us that we got it wrong . . .

I myself have been struggling with the pronoun problem. I am trying to fit my definitions of gender into one tiny word. It's a pain. But I can't live with the tiny word I was assigned at birth. So I have to change it. I am trying to decide between "he" and "ze." They each have their pros and cons.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Lazy Manicotti

Did you know that you don't have to mess around with manicotti (stuffed shells) or lasagna noodles? You can use all the same ingredients to make a much easier dish. This recipe is from the New York Times International Cookbook (1971 edition.)


  • 1 lb. fresh spinach leaves (or 10 oz. package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry)
  • 1 (15 ounce) container ricotta cheese
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh parsley (optional)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • about 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 3-4 cups marinara sauce
  • 1 lb. tubelike pasta such as penne or elbows


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
  2. Rinse fresh spinach leaves, put them in a large pot, and steam for just a couple minutes, until wilted. You shouldn't have to add any water - just use the water that clings to the leaves. Once they have started to wilt, stir so that the uncooked leaves go to the bottom.
  3. Pour spinach into a colander and let cool for a while. When cool enough to handle, squeeze out as much of the water as you can.
  4.  In a large bowl, combine ricotta, spinach, tomato sauce, and eggs. Season with parsley, pepper and salt (if desired.)
  5. Rinse out the spinach cooking pot, fill with water and bring to a boil. Cook the pasta for only two minutes (four minutes if using whole-grain pasta.) You want it to be seriously al dente. Drain and add to the ricotta mixture.
  6.  If desired, spread 1 cup sauce in the bottom of a 9x13 inch baking dish. Otherwise, just oil the pan. Pour everything into the pan and sprinkle with grated Parmesan.
  7. Bake uncovered in preheated oven for about 30 minutes, until pasta is soft but not mushy.
Notes: the original recipe calls for 3 eggs, additional Parmesan in the filling, and two pounds of spinach (including stems.) I buy spinach leaves and 1 pound seems to be sufficient. I haven't tried it with frozen spinach myself. Also I don't always have parsley on hand.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

"I lost everything in the storm."

Almost seven years ago I wrote this poem as my reaction to Hurricane Katrina. I had visited New Orleans once, and had vague plans to go back, but no thought of living there. Now I have been here about two and a half years. When I arrived I was amazed to discover that the city had still not recovered from Katrina. I have observed:
  • Many dilapidated houses, schools, churches, stores, other buildings, and empty lots. I never knew before that a bare concrete slab could be such a chilling sight.
  • Houses that have "someone died in here" painted on the front door.
  • Rental listings which advertise the fact that the building "never flooded." My house itself is in an area that never flooded. But all the same there's an abandoned house on the corner of our street. I don't know what happened to the owners, or why they left most of their belongings behind, even the air conditioner in the window.
  • There is still no Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV, RMV, whatever you call it) office in New Orleans itself.
  • I saw a woman at a yard sale looking at the pots and pans. She said, "I lost all my stuff in Katrina." This was five years later.
  • People date everything in terms of the storm. "I saw that movie before Katrina." "I've been to that restaurant, that was after Katrina."
  • I know people who only got to move back into their houses (or into a permanent home) since I've been here. I've heard about other people who are still waiting.
  • Just a couple months after I arrived here, I went to church one Sunday morning. There had been heavy rains and the streets around the church were flooded up to my knees. I got inside, where it was dry, and those of us who had braved the waters stood  there looking out at it all. One person said, "As long as I don't see any bodies floating by, I'm happy."
What I have never observed is any mention in the media of how many people died in Katrina. No mention of it at the time and no mention of it in the news coverage of the fifth anniversary.  I did a little research and came up with this photo, which appears to be dated August 29, 2010:

The caption says:
Three mausoleums are seen at the New Orleans Katrina Memorial Park. A total of six mausoleums at the memorial hold the remains of 80 hurricane victims who were either unidentified or unclaimed years after the 2005 storm.
I also came across this information from the New Orleans Coroner's Office:
The previous Coroner’s Office was located at 2700 Tulane. It was destroyed by the flooding from Hurricane Katrina. The Coroner’s Office operated out of the temporary morgue facilities that were initially established by the Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team (DMORT) in St. Gabriel, LA and was later moved to a new federal facility that was built in Carville, LA. From December 1, 2005 until March 2006 there was no facility to do New Orleans autopsies. In March 2006, thanks to assistance from FEMA, the office was officially relocated to its present location at 2612 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., New Orleans, LA.

The Orleans Parish Coroner’s Office, working with DMORT and the Louisiana State Department of Health and Hospitals, handled more than 1,400 fatalities while occupying the temporary disaster facilities. Of these 1400 fatalities, more than 1,000 were autopsied. This is the most autopsies ever performed anywhere, in any disaster. Since moving to the new facility in New Orleans and after DMORT closed their operations, additional human remains have been, and still are, being recovered, examined, and identified by this Office.
And of course, it is "the storm."

Monday, August 13, 2012

Gourmet Cheese Fries

Technically these are roasted, not fried. But I promise they're still sufficiently greasy.


  • 1 lb. potatoes, sliced (I prefer them "cottage fries" style.)
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 cup of grated cheese (or as much as you want), any kind you want - Cheddar, Jack, etc. Pepper Jack is good, if you're not using other seasonings.
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Cooking oil
Additional seasonings (optional):
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • Some diced chile peppers OR rosemary OR thyme OR a little salsa


  1. Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Slice the potatoes, put them in a bowl, drizzle a little oil over them and toss to coat. Lay them out on a lightly oiled baking sheet*. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and bake for about 20 minutes. (If you want you can turn them over halfway through, but I never do. This is a recipe for lazy people.)
  3. Meanwhile, in a large skillet with a lid, saute the chopped onion in a moderate amount of oil for at least 15 minutes. The more caramelized it is, the better.
  4. If desired, add a clove of garlic and some of the optional seasonings. Do not use more than one of the suggested seasonings. Simplicity is the hallmark of cheese fries. (This is a good way to use up the last little bit of salsa in the jar. Pour a little water into the jar, shake, and add the salsa water to the pan once the onions are browned.)
  5. Add the roasted potatoes to the skillet and stir until they're coated with the onions and oil. If they need a little more cooking time, then let them saute for a minute or so.
  6. Sprinkle the cheese over the top and reduce heat to low. (If you're using an electric stove you can turn the heat off altogether.) Cover and let sit for five minutes, until the cheese is melted.
  7. Stir the cheese into the potatoes, and chow down.
*Tip: when arranging potato pieces in a baking sheet or roasting pan, try to put them skin side down. The skin side is less likely to stick to the pan, and it will cook more thoroughly when the skin is against the hot surface.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

No Justice, No Peace

My grandfather died recently. He was not a nice person. He physically and sexually abused several of his children and grandchildren (including me.) Many years ago, my cousin wrote me a letter, describing some of his abusive behavior. I always intended to publish it after he died, and now here we are. There's nothing else I can do.

As you may know, it's very difficult to prosecute child abuse. You may not be aware that victims are often reluctant to press charges - this is common in all forms of domestic abuse. I wish my grandfather could have gone to jail, but the rest of his family didn't feel that way.

Based on my experiences, I've come to believe that child abuse is condoned in our society. You may find that unreasonable, but consider: a certain number of abusers exist. And if my family is a typical example, each abuser is surrounded by a number of enablers. Frequently they were also victims, but they make excuses for their abuser, cover up the abuse and even, I believe, are willing to lie for him or her. If people like that condone abuse in their own families, how can they oppose it elsewhere? How can they, for example, support legislation that extends the statue of limitations on abuse cases, or promote campaigns that encourage people to speak out against their abuse?

Anyway, here's the letter. I have changed all the names and removed certain identifying details. There is nothing graphic in it, but it does refer to abuse and enabling behavior. You have been warned.

Friday, July 13, 2012

How to Eat Food

This article about healthy eating habits has been making the rounds. It turns out that "normal" eaters follow four basic rules:
  1. eating when hungry.
  2. choosing satisfying foods.
  3. eating with awareness and enjoyment, and
  4. stopping when satisfied.
This is usually the way that I eat (although I do wonder sometimes if I'm being sufficiently mindful of my food.) Or rather, it's how I eat when I'm in a good mood. As I've mentioned on this blog before, my reaction to stress is to stop eating. Therefore, this comment really struck me:
What became clear to me immediately is that my eating is completely detached from my hunger, that in fact the hardest part so far is telling when I am, in fact, actually hungry.
That's how I feel under stress - either I'm not hungry or I tell myself that I can't eat right now, it's more important to get this other thing done first . . . and then it's the end of the day and I haven't eaten. Depending on the circumstances, I can go from normal attitudes about food to stressed-out attitudes in less than 24 hours. Which is a weird experience.

Food is so vitally important to us. I guess that's why we develop eating disorders. But nonetheless it's strange to think about all the different reactions that people have to such a basic thing.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Gender Presentation in The Boys in the Band

I finally got around to watching The Boys in The Band, which might best be described as a fictional portrayal of gay men pre-Stonewall. Some find it demeaning - overall I liked it. That is to say, most of it I simply adored, a few scenes grated on me, and some of it was genuinely moving. The characters are wonderful. I see it as a story of survival, and a record of an earlier time. I also watched the film commentary and the documentary, Making The Boys.

What I found most thought-provoking is the story of the man who played Emory, the most effeminate character. Everyone who knew him agrees that this actor, Cliff Gorman, was straight, and not effeminate in real life at all. But most people who saw the movie decided that he must be gay, and when they saw him on the street, with his wife perhaps, acting "normal," they would accost him with such comments as "What are you trying to prove?" Apparently his career also suffered, despite his great gifts as an actor.

It amuses me to think that when you see someone acting effeminate onscreen, and then if you meet them in person they don't act that way, you decide that in real life they must be pretending. After all, real life is where most of us spend most of our time pretending. But I also think that Gorman was in fact transgressing gender norms, because a "real man" cannot act effeminate, under any circumstances. If you have it in you at all to act that way, then you are suspect. None of the commentators on the film expressed it like that - they all seem to formulate the problem in terms of Gorman's sexual orientation. But I think it was about gender.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Gender: we don't know what it is but we know we have it

Last month I was involved in a rather enjoyable online discussion on the subject of "Is gender socially constructed and what does that mean for trans people?" (I meant to blog about it sooner, but I've been busy and I had to finish the Baldwin piece and get the book back to the library.) This question gets discussed a lot in feminist/gender studies circles. We know that our society has fairly strict gender roles, and that many people find them oppressive and want to change them. Often this gets confused with the problem of transgender: if you're not happy being a man, or a woman, then do you really need to change your gender, or do you just need to modify your gender role? Or, as the person who started the thread phrased it:
Is it that beyond the body parts, we built gender roles so rigidly that to live the way one wants to live ... one needs to identify as a different gender instead of just ... being?
To which I replied:
I want to tell you that trans* people hear this all the time. "Why can't you just loosen up a little? Why do you have to go the whole nine yards and decide you're not the gender that everyone thinks you are?" It doesn't work that way. I don't know how to explain why it doesn't work, but it doesn't.
She answered:
This is basically the genesis of my question.  The way I have thought about gender, as an absolute construction, suggests it should work this way. Yet the lives of people who live this stuff says it doesn't. Ergo, the way I have thought about gender goes wrong somewhere.

What worries me about not knowing where the errors are is that that stuff can get into the work you do, the way we make policy. If I reject the idea of gender essentialism ... and use the notion that it is socially constructed in my work, but that is incorrect, what damage could the work do on the levels that I don't notice?
And my reply was:
Part of the reason might be, even if you stretch your own personal definition of gender, as long as you call yourself "male" (for example), enough people will treat you as male in ways you don't want to be treated that it's just not worth it.

In any case, when it gets right down to it, I think it's more important to uphold everyone's right to express their gender identity than it is to decide where gender comes from. I mean, even if it is socially constructed, is that any reason why people can't choose their gender presentation and/or reject their socially assigned gender?
For me, the final paragraph was what made the discussion worthwhile. I had never realized that before. But it's so true. Moreover, I find it hard to believe that feminism really supports the notion that we're stuck with our socially assigned gender. And yet many feminists keep trying to lock trans people (especially trans women) into their socially assigned gender. Anyway, it was fun.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

James Baldwin: the price of the ticket

James Baldwin (1924-1987) was an African-American writer. I had not read anything by him until recently, when I picked up his 700-page collection of essays, entitled The Price of the Ticket. It's quite a read. Baldwin expresses himself with a directness and passion that seemingly few writers have. He cuts to the heart of the matter - and then he does it over and over again. In forty years and seven hundred pages one can't help but repeat oneself occasionally, especially when it seems that one's readers still aren't getting it. Nonetheless, I never found this book boring, although there was one thing about it that really troubled me.

Rather, there was one thing which troubled me a little and one thing which troubled me a lot. The little thing is that Baldwin often says "Americans" when he means "white Americans," and he says "we" and "us" when, again, he seems to mean white Americans. As far as I can recall, the only piece where he consistently refers to "black Americans" and "white Americans" was written for Ebony. If he felt that all of his other essays were written for a white audience, that's rather disheartening. Personally I would hate to spend my career explaining my people to foreigners.

In one essay, "Strangers in the Village," he asserts that Negroes are Americans ("Negro" is the term he uses for almost all of this book) and then on the very next page returns to saying:
Americans are as unlike any other white people in the world as it is possible to be. I do not think, for example, that it is too much to suggest that the American vision of the world--which allows so little reality, generally speaking, for any of the darker forces in human life, which tends until today to paint moral issues in glaring black and white--owes a great deal to the battle waged by Americans to maintain between themselves and black men a human separation which could not be bridged. It is only now beginning to be borne in on us--very faintly, it must be admitted, very slowly, and very much against our will--that this vision of the world is dangerously inaccurate, and perfectly useless. For it protects our moral high-mindedness at the terrible expense of weakening our grasp of reality.
That essay was written in 1953. I have the impression that these days black people are allowed to speak for themselves. Anyway, it struck me as strange.

Here is the thing which troubled me a lot: I was aware before reading this book that James Baldwin was homosexual, and I naturally wondered what he would say about that. The short answer is: very little, and none of it good.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Moroccan Stew

This is a simplified version of the recipe from The Moosewood Restaurant. If chopping vegetables is your most favorite thing in the world, then use their version.The flavor of this dish is astounding. Traditionally it's served over rice or couscous, but it's also very good with pasta.

  • 1/4 cup oil (I use a mixture of olive and canola)
  • 1 small to medium onion, coarsely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne
  • ½ teaspoon paprika
  • salt to taste
  • 1 lb. cubed eggplant
  • ½ lb. sliced zucchini or summer squash
  • 2 large tomatoes, chopped, or one 15-oz. can diced tomatoes
  • 1½ cups cooked garbanzo beans, liquid reserved
  • a handful of dried currants or raisins (about 1/4 cup)
  1. In a stew pot, heat the olive oil and sauté the onions and spices for 5 minutes.
  2. Add the garlic and sauté for 2-3 minutes.
  3. Add the eggplant and sprinkle with salt. Sauté for about 5 minutes. Stir a couple times.
  4. Add the zucchini and sauté for a few minutes more.
  5. Stir in the garbanzo beans, tomatoes, and the currants or raisins.
  6. There should be some liquid at the bottom of the pot from the cooking vegetables. However, if the stew is dry, add ½ cup of tomato juice, liquid from the garbanzo beans, or water.
  7. Cover the stew and simmer on low heat until all the vegetables are tender. It shouldn't take too long.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Robert Byrd and Me

In case you don't know who the late Robert Byrd was, he was a US Senator from West Virginia, who in the early part of his life was a segregationist and a high-ranking member of the Ku Klux Klan. In later life he renounced his racist views. (It is interesting to note that he was also pro-choice and opposed to same-sex marriage.)

He became known as someone who completely changed his views on race and was willing to admit that he had been wrong. I do not know why this is so noteworthy. Most of us have to admit we were wrong at one time or another, and if it is so very unusual for a racist to change his mind, then this country is in big trouble. But anyway. A few months ago, one of my favorite bloggers happened to write a piece in which he quoted Robert Byrd:
I am loyal to my country and know but reverence to her flag, BUT I shall never submit to fight beneath that banner with a negro by my side. Rather I should die a thousand times, and see Old Glory tramped in the dirt never to rise again, than to see this beloved land of ours become degraded by race mongrels, a throw back to the blackest specimen from the wilds.
 Believe it or not, this post is not about race. It's about bigotry. When I read that quote, something about it reminded me of the transphobic things I've heard people say. I think it's the desperation and the overblown rhetoric. It's the idea of this beautiful, sacred thing which is in danger of being polluted by creatures who aren't really human.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Red Lentil Balls

I took these lentil balls to a potluck this weekend. Although they were prominently labeled "VEGAN," they were quickly devoured. I got the recipe from a Turkish food blog. The Turkish name for them is Kırmızı Mercimekli Köfte.They are good warm or cold.

If you want to make them spicy, the traditional ingredient to use is harissa, a chili paste from Morocco - but any hot sauce or chili paste will do. When I went to the Middle Eastern store they had a whole shelf of various chili sauces from around the world, including sriracha (which actually would probably not be good in this dish, because of the sugar.) But their harissa was much more expensive than the other chili pastes, so I went home and used the hot sauce I already had.


2 cups water
1 cup split red lentils (sometimes called Egyptian lentils or masoor dal.)
1/2 cup fine bulghur (look for it at Middle Eastern stores)
1/4 cup olive oil
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 large onion, chopped finely
1 teaspoon of tomato paste (optional) and/or chili paste
1 teaspoon cumin (whole or ground)
1 teaspoon paprika
½ teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup fresh, chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/2 cup green onions (scallions)
lettuce leaves (I prefer to use Boston lettuce, because it forms natural "cups." Endive might also be good.)


Bring two cups of water to boil in a pot, and add the lentils. Cook on low heat until the water is absorbed, and the lentils are mushy, about 20 minutes. Turn off the stove, and stir the bulghur into lentils. Let the mixture rest for 15 minutes to allow the bulghur to soften and expand.

In the meantime, fry the cumin seeds, finely chopped onion and minced garlic in olive oil until lightly browned. Add tomato paste at the last minute, stir and turn off the stove.

Stir the fried onion and garlic into the lentil mixture along with the spices and salt. Taste, and adjust salt and spices. Stir in the parsley and green onions. Oil your hands and shape the mixture into egg-shaped balls. Sprinkle with paprika, and place the balls in lettuce leaves. Pick up a lettuce leaf and enjoy!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Mythological Musings

I think I've mentioned before that I love mythology. It's fascinating to contemplate the fact that these ancient, stripped-down stories still have resonance for so many people today. What makes them eternal?

And although we have only the bare bones of each story, still it often happens that mythology contains concepts which our modern civilization has forgotten about.

The term "hermaphrodite" comes from a Greek myth in which the deities Hermes and Aphrodite had a child together, who, as they say, "combined the attributes of both genders." One encyclopedia of mythology describes this child as "a female boy," as if everyone knows what that is. According to another source, The Dictionary of Classical Mythology, Religion, Literature, and Art (available online):
The fable probably arose from the inclination, prevalent in the Eastern religions, towards confusing the attributes of both sexes. In Cyprus, for instance, a masculine Aphroditos, clad in female attire, was worshipped by the side of the goddess Aphrodite. Figures of hermaphrodites are common in art.

Friday, March 16, 2012

I watched Birth of a Nation.

The Birth of a Nation, as you may know, is a silent film about the Civil War and its aftermath that was made in 1915 by famed director D.W. Griffith. His father was a Confederate soldier, and his film glorifies white supremacy. Many people have said that it is a "great" film, not because of its racist content but because of its film-making techniques. Having finally seen the film, I feel ambivalent about that viewpoint. It is a stirring piece of propaganda, no question. It draws you in. I assume that Griffith not only felt strongly about the end of African-American slavery, but also had the skills needed to present his feelings accurately on film. Both the passion and the knowledge are required: in this case, I don't see how you can separate them.

This film is a peerless exercise in world-building: the construction of an alternate reality. There is nothing sloppy or superficial about it. As a Yankee, I've never really been exposed to these concepts before - certainly not with such heartfelt conviction. And sadly, I now see echoes of the film in our modern race relations. For example, if you believe that the sole purpose of the KKK was self-defense against marauding blacks, then there is a direct link between that and the recent killing of Trayvon Martin. (As it happens, the town where that killing took place traces its history of racial tension all the way back to 1911.)

But back to the film. Birth of a Nation is three hours long; the first hour depicts the war itself, and the next two hours cover Reconstruction and the rise of the Klan. The first hour moves quite slowly (the war scenes especially are not what we've come to expect in a war movie) but after that it picks up and gets more exciting. I like silent films, so I perhaps have more tolerance for old-fashioned film techniques than most people. One of the interesting things about silent film is that the characters talk all the time - you see them having conversations, you just don't hear what they're saying. And in this film especially, it would have been nice to know what was being said in some of those scenes. Did the actors have lines to learn?

There is no way I can convey the scope of this film, the breadth and depth of its fearful imagination and sheer implausibility. I can only focus on a few things that most struck me:

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Southwestern Chickpea Salad

I love chickpeas.  They're one of my most favorite things in the world.  Hummus! Falafel! Chana masala! But they're also great in salads - either as a salad base, or as just one ingredient.  Here's something I threw together:

3 cups raw chickpeas (you can use canned if necessary, but freshly-cooked chickpeas are so much better.)
1 lb. tomatoes
1/2 lb. poblano chiles, or other mild chile pepper.
1 red onion
garlic to taste
fresh cilantro to taste
1 tsp. cumin seed - whole or ground
1/4 cup oil
1/4 cup vinegar and/or lime juice
1 tsp. dried oregano
salt and black pepper to taste

Soak the chickpeas overnight (sort through them first!) Drain, put in a large pot and cover with fresh water.  Cook for about two hours, until soft.

Meanwhile, roast the chile peppers in oven or broiler, until they are soft and the skin is blistered all over.  Let cool, then peel and chop.  Mince the onions and place in a large bowl.  (Hold off on chopping the chiles and other vegetables for now.)

Optional: if using whole cumin seeds, roast them first by heating 2 tbl. oil in a small skillet and adding the seeds.  Let cool - and deglaze the pan with vinegar.

When chickpeas are done, drain them and pour them over the onions, while still hot.  Let them cool a bit, then add all other ingredients.  Mix well, cover, and let marinate overnight.  Serve with tortilla chips or pita bread.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Tortilla Lasagna

Well, I haven't been blogging much lately, but I'm back now.  Wanted to restart my blogging with this yummy recipe:


16-18 corn tortillas

1-2 cups cheddar cheese, grated
6-8 oz mild white "non-melting" cheese, cubed.  The kind I have is just called "queso blanco." If you can't find any non-melting cheese, use something like mozzarella or jack cheese. Or more grated cheddar.

1 16-oz can corn, drained
1 16-oz can black beans, drained
1 16-oz jar of your favorite salsa

1 onion, chopped
garlic to taste, minced
fresh chile peppers, or chile powder, to taste.  (I actually use some kick-ass chipotle pepper flakes.)
cumin, to taste
salt and pepper, to taste
some oregano or sage
some cooking oil and/or butter

1 lb zucchini, sliced
1 lb mushrooms, sliced


Preheat the oven to 350.  Heat some oil in a large skillet and saute the onions, garlic and spices.  Add zucchini and cook briefly, then add mushrooms and cook for a few minutes longer.  Turn off the heat.

Meanwhile, mix together canned corn, beans and salsa in a large bowl.

Grease a large baking pan and layer six tortillas in the bottom of it.  Pour in the zucchini mixture and spread it around.  Distribute the pieces of white cheese across this layer.  Cover it with six more tortillas, then add the black bean and corn layer.  Finish off with a layer of tortillas (sometimes I only put four tortillas on top, instead of six) and sprinkle the grated cheddar on top.

Bake for about 30 minutes, until cheese is melted and everything is bubbly.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Outside Looking In: Sylvia Townsend Warner's Summer Will Show

Sylvia Townsend Warner is one of my most favorite writers.  It's hard for me to describe how wonderful she is.  Her work consists of cutting and polishing a diamond until it shines out in all its facets, cold, burning, phosphorescent.  And funny.  Moreover, I admire her life as much as her work.  She is very much like a queer Communist Jane Austen. 

Her novel Summer Will Show tells the story of a love affair between two women, who to a certain extent resemble herself and her life partner, Valentine Ackland.  (Interestingly, she imagined the two characters long before meeting Ackland, but didn't write the book until after they were together.)  As much as I enjoy the book, I couldn't help but recognize, upon re-reading it recently, that it has some flaws in its approach to race.

Sophia Willoughby (rather like Emma Woodhouse) is young, handsome, rich, and mistress of all she surveys.  She lives contentedly on her country estate with her two children.  It doesn't really bother her that her husband has run off to Paris to live with another woman - she doesn't want him back - although her conventional mind is rather unsettled by the discovery that this woman (whom she's never met) is not only older than Mr. Willoughby, but also Jewish.