Some thoughts on Shanghai Dream

While I was looking for videos for A Guide to Distinguishing Sinitic Languages by Ear, I discovered Shanghai Dream, a sitcom in Mandarin/English/Shanghainese/Russian about two European and two American young women in Shanghai. I got in the habit of watching an episode when I had a 15-minute block of time on the computer when I wanted to be distracted. By now, I’ve seen all twelve episodes.

I’ve never been to Shanghai, but I’ve been a young American woman learning Mandarin and living in a Mandarin-speaking society, so I feel like I know at least a bit about the reality of this type of situation. And some things in this show feel very untrue.

Such as the fact that these four women get to live rent-free in an upscale part of Shanghai?

Nah, that just seems consistently ridiculous. What does feel false to me is that there are often two characters who are native English speakers and not native Mandarin speakers speak to each other Mandarin. That. Does. Not. Happen. Native English speakers would only do that when they are specifically trying to practice Mandarin, and even then, they would probably slip into speaking English. And these people are in Shanghai, they don’t lack opportunities to practice with Mandarin native speakers. It’s unrealistic that their default language amongst themselves in Mandarin, not English. Continue reading

In which I critique a magazine article about transgender people’s bathroom access

The article I am critiquing is “Stall Wars” by Gene Callahan. I am going to go through it paragraph by paragraph (instead of quoting the full thing, I’ll quote the parts I am responding to on a paragraph-by-paragraph basis. One may refer to the full article for context).

The Trump administration has made headlines, as it seems to do about once every 15 minutes (if my feed from CNN is accurate), by rescinding the Obama administration’s executive order on school bathroom policies … So a policy that was never put in place was “protecting” transgender students, and revoking that policy will leave them defenseless, as apparently merely suggesting the policy was some sort of super-shield against “hate.”

This is obviously merely another excuse for outlets that already despise Trump to despise him some more.

Yes, I do understand that the executive order never took effect because the judge blocked it. However, even though rescinding this specific executive order has little direct effect, it is a signal of how the president intends to handle trans* policy. And that is why I do not think this is “merely another excuse for outlets that already despise Trump to despise him some more.”

… Solutions to social problems should start with the individual and the local community, and should rise to higher levels of organization only when there is strong evidence of malfeasance at the lower level.

Let’s see where the writer is going with this. (Spoiler: the writer contradicts this point later in the article).

The “gender diversity” activists often say that the advocates of bills such as those in North Carolina and Texas are trying to paint all transgendered people as sexual predators, but that is just about the opposite of the truth: orders like de Blasio’s specifically forbid any attempt to differentiate biological males who really do self-identify as women from perverts who realize that the mayor has created a handy way for them to gain access to their victims…

Errr, what is a ‘biological male’? Is it someone with XY chromosomes? It is someone who has a penis? Is it someone whose testosterone levels fall within the 225–900 ng/dL range? The subsets “has XY chromosomes” “has penis” and “has testosterone in the 225–900 ng/dL range” do not entirely overlap, and I honestly do not know which subset the writer is referring to.

Also, I think “biological males who really do self-identify as women” is really wordy. Why not just say “transwomen”? Especially since the writer is trying to present himself as not being bigoted towards trans* people.

The reason to start at the local level is that it’s here where people meet face-to-face … one is too likely to confront [an opponent’s] humanity on a daily basis to easily turn him into a devil.

I don’t disagree, but … what about when the local level is the problem? For example, what about when a critical mass of a trans* person’s face-to-face acquaintances think that being trans* is sinful, and that they believe they need to shun the trans* person to keep in God’s good graces, or something like that?

Also, trans* people have already started at the local level, and they continue to do a lot at the local level. If merely working at the local level had been enough to solve major problems for trans* people such as, say, stop the trans* unemployment rate from being double the overall unemployment rate, I doubt trans* people would have bothered taking it beyond the local level.

…If a biological man wants to dress up like a woman, or a woman wants to dress up like a man, it really does not concern most people. And if someone who “presents” as a woman, despite having a penis, goes quietly into a stall in the women’s bathroom, goes about his/her business, and leaves, most people will be happy to leave that person alone. When there are special situations, like an inter-sexed child who has trouble fitting in with their assigned locker room, the average person is happy to create accommodations to make the child comfortable. And this is especially true, again, at the local level, where the child is a real human being, rather than a symbol in a political struggle…

Again, with the “biological man [who] wants to dress up like a woman” thing, and now “woman [who] wants to dress up like a man”. This makes it clear that the writer believes that transwomen are men pretending to be women, and that transmen are men pretending to be women. I think this is the real reason why this writer chooses lengthy phrases instead of words such as ‘transwoman’ and ‘transman’. Also, I would not claim that “the average person is happy to create accommodations to make the [intersex] child comfortable” without doing research on the real lives of intersex people. Furthermore, I am going to quote this comment:

Have you met us? Few people are “average”. Roughly half are above average and half are below average. So half the time, you’re going to encounter someone who is below average. About 1/6th the time, you’ll encounter someone at least one-sigma below average and 1/40th of the time a 2-sigma ‘low-ender’. There are quite a number of public institutions with bathrooms and quite a number of people in charge of them.

I can see the logic of winning people over to an idea at the grass roots to build consensus but if you believe that the average person would reach a good accommodation for inter-sexed children and if you agree that the choice has great impact on the welfare of those children, then why would you cast their fates to the whims of chance?

Anyway, continuing with the main article.

But it was transgender activists who disrupted the possibility of achieving these local accommodations by bringing down the heavy hand of legislation and executive orders. In New York City, for instance, Mayor Bill de Blasio declared that “Access to bathrooms and other single-sex facilities is a fundamental human right that should not be restricted or denied to anyone.” Which is a fairly obvious self-contradiction, since if no one is denied access to a bathroom or changing area, surely it is no longer “single-sex”!

Actually, that’s not obvious. The vast majority of places which have single-sex facilities have two sets, and a plausible interpretation of that de Blasio quote is that he means that nobody can be denied entry to both sets.

The article then goes on to quote de Blasio’s order:

Executive Order 16 requires all New York City agencies to ensure that City employees and members of the public have access to single-sex facilities, such as bathrooms and locker rooms in City buildings and areas, consistent with their gender identity or expression without being required to show identification, medical documentation, or any other form of proof or verification of gender.

I appreciate that the article did quote de Blasio’s executive order directly. Let’s see what the article has to say about it.

In other words, it is now illegal to prevent anyone at all from using any public “single-sex” facility, just so long as they declare their “gender identity” is the same as the sex designated on the door.

The executive order does nothing to make it illegal to prevent someone who, for example, is wielding a knife in a threatening manner, from entering a public bathroom.

…Contrary to the repeated refrain of those advocating these laws, that “they have never created any problems,” they already have, and we can be certain that as the population of voyeurs, molesters, and rapists figures out the import of these new dictates, we will see more such cases.

Okay, I’m going to look at that link, and report back.

[goes off to look at link]

[comes back]

Here’s my report of that link. The headline is “5 Times ‘Transgender’ Men Abused Women And Children In Bathrooms”. Now, I originally thought that headline meant transmen, and that it would be stories about transmen who went into women’s bathrooms and abused women. Which confused me, because if transmen were abusing women in women’s bathrooms, why would the writer oppose allowing transmen to use men’s bathrooms instead of women’s bathrooms?

Anyway, the first example is the incident in which a (cis) man entered the women’s locker room at Evans Pool in Seattle. Since the man never even claimed he was trans*, I do not know why this is on a list of examples of ‘transgender’ men abusing women and children in bathrooms. I agree with this analysis.

Anyway, example #2 is sexual assault, and examples #3-#5 are people peeping on/filming women and/or children in bathrooms. Hey, that’s all illegal! It was illegal before any ordinance/executive order/law regarding trans* bathroom access was put in place, and it still illegal afterwards. If these people are already willing to break the laws against sexual assault and filming people in bathrooms/showers without consent, then how would a law about who is allowed to use which bathroom stop them? What’s to stop them from saying “My religion requires me to enter women’s bathrooms, and keeping me out of the women’s bathroom is violating my religious freedom” or something like that?

And one person in the comments section says:

This whole controversy strikes me as wildly overblown. There are already plenty of laws against harassment and assault. These should be sufficient for dealing with creepers.

Back to the article itself…

What’s more, these activists never rise to their own challenge and provide evidence of any widespread problem that these laws are addressing.

Okay, this is wrong. Flat-out wrong. Trans activists have been providing evidence of a widespread problem for years. For example, there is this article:

Relieving yourself outside the comfort of your own bathroom will give even the overly confident some understandable anxiety. But for transgender people, it’s more than just nerve-racking, it’s dangerous, according to a survey released this week.

The survey, published in the Journal of Public Management and Social Policy, found that 70 percent of responders have been denied entrance, were harassed or assaulted when attempting to use a public restroom of their identifying gender.

And it’s no surprise that these traumatic experiences affect the daily life of transgender people, the survey points out. More than half of respondents reported having physical problems, including dehydration or kidney infections, because they “held it” to avoid using public bathrooms.

More than half also said they have skipped leaving the house because they didn’t feel safe in public, the study says.

That sure seems to me like an existing problem of serious magnitude.

Additionally, I am going to make a linkspam, and exclude anything from after December 31, 2010, just to make it clear that trans* advocates have been documenting the bathroom access problem for years.

Special Linkspam of Trans* Advocates Providing Evidence of Bathroom Access Problems

Re: “Bathrooms for the transgendered” (December 24, 2007)
Maine Human Rights Commission Rules In Favor Of Transwoman (May 21, 2009)
“Some Transgender Bathroom Background” & “More Transgender Bathroom Background” (October 25, 2006)
There is this old blog which collects stories of trans* people who have been harassed in bathrooms.
“Bathrooms in Arizona, Letter to the Advocate (August 3, 2007)
“Alternative Places to Piss” (October 7, 2007)

I put this linkspam together really fast, so yes, I am sure it could be much improved, but the point is not to make the best linkspam ever, but to point in the general direction of just how much documentation of problems with trans* people having access to bathrooms there is out there.

Note that I was able to put that linkspam together even though I am a cis person with no expertise in trans* issues. In other words, since *I* was able to throw this linkspam together in a short period of time, that means that this is all information which is readily available to anybody who can read English and has an internet connection. And I cannot help but notice that the evidence presented in all of these links “of [a] widespread problem that these laws are addressing” is SO MUCH BETTER THAN THE EVIDENCE THIS WRITER PRESENTS to support the claim that anti-trans-discrimination statues enable sexual harassment/assault in bathrooms that it makes the evidence the writer presents seem pathetic.

Looking at this, it seems that the trans* advocates are indeed trying to solve a existing practical problem of serious magnitude, and that the article writer is the one who is trying to defend some particular notion of how gender is and that his ideas about gender are the “essential nature of humankind”.

And it was in response to a similar law, passed in Charlotte, that the North Carolina “bathroom bill” was passed. (By the way, the North Carolina policy permits people to “re-sex” themselves on their birth certificate so they can quietly go about their business in the restroom they wish to use.)…

Well, I did a quick check, and found that North Carolina will only change the sex on a birth certificate if there is a notarized statement from a physician who has done sex-reassignment surgery on the person, or of a physician who has examined a person’s gentalia and confirmed that sex-reassignment surgery was performed. Some trans* people do not do such surgery, so they would not be able to change the sex on their birth certificates. Also, some trans* people who live in North Carolina were not born in North Carolina. Some were born in states where changing the sex in the birth certificate is even more difficult than in North Carolina, or in the case of a few states (such as Ohio) currently impossible. And then there are the trans* people who were born outside of the United States…

Oh, and here is part of another comment from the article, by LisaMullin

The other points made are almost too ridiculous to comment on, but since misconceptions seem rife:
(1) North Carolina makes it nearly impossible for transgender people to change their birth certificates. It requires full gender confirming surgery, which excludes all trans adolescents since the minimum age for this is at least 18.
(2) Some states are framing legislation based on the original birth certificate, therefore changing it will have no affect.

We see the absurdity of this position with the young trans male being forced to wrestle with girls, because they are classified as one and they cannot change that designation.

Anyway, back to the original article…

So it was the transgender activists who disrupted the status quo, blocking the ability of communities to work out reasonable solutions to these matters on their own. The bills so far passed in North Carolina and contemplated in Texas may be heavy-handed, but have no doubt, it is the activists who are forcing the situation here … In response to this attempt to protect their daughters, [the supporters of HB2] are being told they are “bigots,” and that their state will be economically crushed by “caring” organizations like the NFL and NBA if they persist in trying to protect those girls.

So … the writer who advocates solving these issues at the local level supports a state law which prevents local communities with coming up with their own solutions. The comments section definitely notices this. Here are some quotes…

From Oakinhou:

It’s surprising that, for all the recommendations on subsidiarity as the only way forward, Mr. Callahan is glossing over the fact that North Carolina HB2 started as a way to take away from local communities, like Charlotte, the ability to decide locally on these matters.

If Mr Callahan truly favors subsidiarity, he would reject NC HB2. Let’s see if he follows through on what he preaches.

From peanut:

“Leave it to the localities” is such a tired cliche. The most current clash on bathroom rights started in North Carolina, where the city council passed a non-discrimination ordinance, and the state legislature passed a bill that nullified it. So- at what “local” level should decisions be made? Should states stay out?

From chipcassin:

This whole kerfluffle probably would not have happened as it did had the state legislators in North Carolina not themselves obviated local municiple [sic] control with state mandates. To now claim subsidiarity at this point borders on fart level comedy.

Also, Charlotte is not the first place ever to have an anti-trans-discrimination ordinance. Quite a few states, and hundreds of cities, have also passed ordinances/laws/statues/orders that trans* people be allowed to use bathrooms consistent with their gender, and this writer completely failed to mention all of the drastic increases in sexual predation happening in bathrooms as a result of those ordinances/laws/statues/orders … oh wait a minute, that might be because there was no increase. Given that it has been demonstrated by literally hundreds of real-life experiments that ordinances such as the one Charlotte passed do not increase sexual predation of girls in bathrooms, no, these parents are doing nothing to protect their daughters by supporting bills like HB2 (in fact, they are probably harming their trans* daughters – see all of the links above about how bathroom discrimination hurts trans* people).

(I hope my focus on biological men’s interest in women’s private areas is not deemed “sexist.” I think I am on empirically firm footing when I say the odds of a woman being raped by a man are astronomically higher than the reverse, and that there are far more male voyeurs than female voyeurs…)

Okay, it’s the ‘biological men’ thing again! I could not find any statistics about what percentage of sexual predation is done by cis people, and what percentage is done by trans* people, so I cannot cite them. First of all, that footing might not be as empirically firm as the writer thinks (and, on a more personal note, I have been sexually harassed by women, and in my experience, it is just as bad as being sexual harassed by men, which I have also experienced). However, based on what I have read about sexual predation, social forces seems to have a much stronger effect on whether or not someone will be a sexual predator than biology. Female sexual predation perpetrators have not been studied nearly as well as male perpetrators, but in the case of male perpetrators, sexual predations is associated with certain types of extreme masculinity (I emphasize ‘certain types’ – not all types of masculinity encourage sexual predation). Transwomen explicitly reject masculinity, so to the extent that they engage in sexual predation, they are more likely to do so for the reasons that ciswomen engage in sexual predation … and ciswomen are already in women’s bathrooms! Though I do not have data to back me up, I think the odds that a transwoman would sexual prey upon me are roughly the same that a ciswoman would sexually prey upon me.

The “gender diversity” activists often say that the advocates of bills such as those in North Carolina and Texas are trying to paint all transgendered people as sexual predators, but that is just about the opposite of the truth: orders like de Blasio’s specifically forbid any attempt to differentiate biological males who really do self-identify as women from perverts who realize that the mayor has created a handy way for them to gain access to their victims.

You know what differentiates “biological males who really do self-identify as women from [sexual predators]”? (I did that word switch because some people do consider transwomen to be ‘perverts’ even if they never hurt anybody ever). Whether they actually sexually prey upon people. And nothing in de Blasio’s order forbids distinguishing between “sexually preys upon people” and “does not prey upon people.”

…To convince my many progressive friends that this approach—adopting a respect for local preferences and not trying to economically crush localities that pass laws you don’t like—is their best bet right now, I might suggest that starting a civil war, when the other side owns the vast majority of the guns in the nation and has most of the police and military on its side, is probably not a winning proposition.

Let me flip this around. How about “adopting a respect for local preferences and not trying to threaten with the use of guns, police, and military—is their best bet right now, I might suggest that starting a civil war, when the other side can economically crush you, is probably not a winning proposition.” Okay, I take the issues of wielding economic power and wielding guns/police/military more seriously than that, and there are a lot of implications of one group in this nation having one type of power, and another group having another type of power, but that is not the topic of this post. I’m just trying to make the point that suggesting that it’s wrong to use economic threats, but that using threats based on guns/police/military is alright … is not convincing. And the last time I checked, boycotts are legal, and threatening to hurt people with is not, and futhermore, most people consider those who use boycotts to promote their cuase to have higher moral ground than people who use guns to promote their cause.

Of course, this article is full of stale old arguments against anti-trans discrimination policies which were stale and old ten years ago. However, since they keep getting recycled, and evidently have some effect on policy, they are still worth critiquing. If you are wondering why I did not criticize some particular aspect of this article, the answer is probably because either a) I am not an expert on trans* issues or b) I did not want this post to be even longer than it already is.

Why critique this article? 1) it was linked in the linkspam of a blog I respect and 2) I looked at the comments sections of a mainstream news article I saw about the rescinding that executive order. Out of about 50 comments, I could not find a single trans-friendly comment on that mainstream news article, which surprised me. The combination of those two things convinced me that it was worth writing this critique (which is super-long by the standards of this blog).

Passive vs. Active Femininity: Does Asexuality Affect It?

This is for the March 2016 Carnival of Aces: Gender Norms.

I’ve previously talked about acting femme, but in this post I am going to focus on how I express femaleness in a general way, not when I consciously amplify the femme factor for a specific purpose.

Once upon a time, I took a sociology course, and one of the exercises was to give an example of how each of us was performing gender at that very moment. I went first, and pointed out my long hair as an example of how I was performing a female gender norm. It was fortunate that I went first, because I could not think of another example of how I was performing a female gender norm. All of the examples pointed out by other female students in that class were things I wasn’t doing.

However, the long hair thing is a passive choice. I suppose, if I really had to choose between long hair and short hair, I would choose long hair, if only because that is how I am used to seeing myself. But if my hair spontaneously cut itself in a way which was not hideous, I probably would not bother to do anything to make it grow long again. It’s not so much that I choose to have long hair to conform with a female gender norm (and in some cultures long hair is not associated with femaleness!) as that, by being female, it is culturally acceptable for me to grow my hair long without standing out.

I suspect that, if I started growing facial hair (technically, I already do, but it can only be noticed upon close inspection), I would be inclined to let it grow until it became physically uncomfortable and/or it caused social problems which motivated me to shave it.

Aside from situations where I have a specific purpose (discussed in those posts I linked to above), I generally conform to female norms passively, rather than actively. I do what I was going to do anyway, and sometimes what I want to do conforms with female gender norms.

Okay, so what does all of this have to do with my asexuality?

My gut feeling is that this is not tied to my asexuality – I was aware of my ‘tomboyish’ nature long before I suspected I was asexual – and I feel that, in the alternate universe where I am not asexual, I would still have similar feelings about my gender presentation.


Maybe if I were not asexual, or more accurately, if I wanted to pursue sexual relationships (yeah, I know asexuals can want to pursue sexual relationships too, but I strongly doubt it’s a coincidence that I am asexual AND I don’t want to pursue sexual relationships), I would take an active approach to conforming to feminine norms more often. And maybe I would do it so often that an active compliance with some set of female gender norms would start to feel like a part of my self-image, rather than something I put on for a particular purpose.

An Aromantic American Saw the Movie ‘Husband Factor’ (Part 1)

The poster shows a woman with glasses holding a coffee cup with the steam rising from it forming a heartshape, as said woman is bound together at the hips to a tall, handsome man behind her by a giant diamond engagement ring.  In the background there are eight people standing in various poses, mostly women.

The poster for the movie Husband Factor

This post is going to be full of spoilers for Husband Factor, though to be honest, if you are familiar with romantic comedies, there isn’t much I can spoil for you.

In this part, I’m going to focus on describing the movie without directly evaluating it. I express what I think of this movie in Part 2 of this post.

The Beginning: A Confident, Bookwormish, Happy 30-year-old Female Protagonist

The movie starts with a cheerful 30-year old woman, Efsun, who lives in Istanbul. She doesn’t care about making her appearance appealing (she doesn’t wear makeup or ‘sexy’ clothing), she has a bedroom with some very full bookcases, she loves reading, in particular reading a specific book over and over again, and she has managed to channel her love for books into a career in the publishing business.

But She’s Unmarried!

Her older female relatives are not so cheerful about her unmarried status. In fact, they think that this state of affairs is a disaster, and that she should get married before it’s too late. Efsun tells the camera that obsession with marriage is in the ‘DNA’ of Turkish women.

Some of Efsun's female relatives

Some of Efsun’s female relatives

We then get an abrupt switch to a … date? It is coded like a date … Efsun eating in a restaurant with a man her age … but I am still not entirely sure since Efsun had earlier said something about being happily single. In any case, the man is more interested in sports than her.

It then turns out that her 20-year-old cousin is going to marry a young, handsome, rich guy, and that they are truly “in love”. This increases the pressure on Efsun to get married, and the preparations for her cousin’s wedding is the perfect opportunity to give Efsun a makeover which will finally get her a husband.

The only relative who isn’t pushing Efsun onto the marriage track is her father, a ‘househusband’ who cooks and watches TV all day. Efsun also is close friends with the ghost of the man who wrote her favorite book.

The Transformation of Efsun

Efsun’s female relatives start dolling her up – changing her hair, getting her new clothes, etc. It’s pretty clear that most of the initiative is coming from Efsun’s family, not Efsun herself. I don’t understand why Efsun went from ignoring all of her relatives exhortations to dress up, meet guys, etc … to submitting to their demands. Did she cave in, or does she actually want this? I’m still not sure. It would have helped if the movie had either a) shown Efsun put up a stronger resistance only to be defeated, or b) shown Efsun changing her mind about letting her family doll her up.

Meanwhile, even at work, Efsun’s [female] colleagues are pushing her to do what it takes to get a husband.

The Nightclub

After Efsun has had her makeover, her younger relatives take her to a nightclub. She asks for mineral water, and then gets told that she should drink. She doesn’t understand, isn’t mineral water a drink? A mere thirty seconds later, Efsun suddenly decides she needs more courage, and since certain bold man at the nightclub had drunk some alcoholic drink, Efsun decides to drink the alcoholic drink as well … a lot of it.

Efsun at the nightclub

Efsun at the nightclub

[Note: it’s obvious by now that Efsun lives in a very secularist segment of Turkish society – I cannot imagine a devoutly religious Muslim women pressuring an unmarried female relative to make her appearance more sexually revealing, or drink alcohol]

Upon getting drunk, Efsun goes wild, flashing her panties by accident a few times, draping over a man she never met before, etc. She also runs into the one boy she had a crush on in high school, Sinan, now a grown man, and vomits all over him.

Efsun & Sinan

From this point on, much of the movie is preoccupied with Efsun and Sinan’s interactions with each other. They start dating, and Efsun’s female relatives micromanage her interactions with him. They control her appearance, tell her not to kiss on the first date because she shouldn’t be too ‘easy’, tell her to tell him she likes sports and not books (even though she loves books and finds sports a bore) etc. In short, they tell her ‘Don’t be yourself, be the ideal woman to catch a husband’.

Efsun and Sinan

Efsun and Sinan

In fact, Efsun and Sinan nearly do kiss during their first date, but this happens to be just in front of Efsun’s house, and one of her relatives throws a slipper to interrupt the imminent contact between their lips.

It becomes clear that Sinan was also in love with Efsun back in high school, and he’s looking for the girl he had fallen in love with all those years ago. However, Efsun is acting like a ‘marriage freak’, just like all other Turkish women. Eventually, Sinan gives up.

Pre-nup Crisis

As Efsun’s cousin is about to marry rich young handsome dude, the wedding is suddenly halted because … she might have to sign a pre-nup. The groom then explains that it’s a misunderstanding, and then Efsun’s family says that they don’t care about the groom’s money at all, that they aren’t greedy. Since there apparently isn’t a prenup, Efsun’s family lets the wedding continue.

Efsun Pours Out Her Heart

After Efsun gets dumped, her female relatives immediately try to set her up with a banker. “But didn’t you say that Sinan was my last hope?” Efsun asks – indeed, her family pressured her into going into Marriage!Freak mode by saying that Sinan was her last hope of getting married – but it turns out that even with Sinan out of the picture her family isn’t going to stop pressuring her. Moving goalposts indeed.

Efsun’s father continues to be the emotional rock in Efsun’s life – in fact, I think he is the only character in the film who accepts Efsun as she is and doesn’t push her to take a particular course of action, whether it’s to because a ‘marriage freak’ like Efsun’s female relatives, or even to pursue Sinan at all.

Her father also says that, as a child, when all of the young girls were given chicks, the other girls’ chicks grew into chickens, and only Efsun’s chick grew into a rooster.

Efsun's father reads aloud from her favorite book as she is upset about being dumped by Sinan.

Efsun’s father reads aloud from her favorite book as she is upset about being dumped by Sinan.

Meanwhile, the ghost of the man who wrote Efsun’s favorite book says that maybe it’s time that she stop being best friends with a ghost (himself), and go after Sinan. Wait, how is this different from what Efsun’s female relatives want her to do? Oh, that’s right, he wants her to go after Sinan because she’s been in love with him for 14 years, and he wants her to get him by being herself.

So Efsun goes after Sinan, confesses her feelings, and gets rewarded by kissing him multiple times in an elevator.

The End.

What is this movie trying to say?

Finally, before I go full steam ahead into my own aromantic perspective of this movie, I want to try and clarify what the movie’s message is.

The movie says that Turkish women, with the exception of Efsun, are obsessed with marriage, particularly marriage which improves their economic prospects, and they will use manipulation and deception to get it. Part of that manipulation/deception is insisting that they are totally into romantic love, but as the ‘prenup-crisis’ reveals, they are ultimately more interested in economic/social standing than romantic love.

Meanwhile, the men – particularly Sinan and the ghost – are for genuine romantic love, and for being one’s true self, which naturally leads to romantic love. Efsun’s father is also for being one’s true self, though he doesn’t combine this with ideas about romantic love like Sinan and the ghost do.

It turns out that Efsun herself has a ‘masculine’, not a ‘feminine’, approach to marriage/romance, as symbolized by the fact that as a child she was the only girl with a rooster. Eventually, she realizes that she should take the ‘masculine’ approach, go for being herself, accepting romantic love. Instead of marrying Sinan, she kisses him.

Okay, now that I’ve got the description of this movie out of the way, in the next part, I’ll really chew into it with my aromantic teeth.

What Do We Mean When We Talk about ‘Humanizing’ and ‘Dehumanizing’?

A drawing showing a male mikado pheasant (top, mostly dark blue, with a red face, and long, black & white tail feathers) and a female mikado pheasant below (brown, shorter tail feathers).

In the discussion of many topics using the English language, it is common for people to say thinks like ‘we want to be seen as fully human’ or ‘these stereotypes dehumanize this group of people. One set of topics – though certainly not the only set of topics – where I see these kinds of language frequently is asexuality and/or aromanticism.

So what do we mean when we say things like ‘aces/aros want to be seen as fully human’?

Is there somebody who sincerely doubts that we are homo sapiens? Sure, there are boatloads of people who think that homo sapiens cannot be asexual and/or aromantic, but their logic is that we’re not really asexual and/or aromantic, not that we’re something other than homo sapiens.

There are a few cases where the issue really is determining whether somebody is, in fact, a homo sapiens, but I would guess that in 99% of the conversations which talk about humanizing/dehumanizing/being recognized as fully human/etc. are not actually about whether or not a set of people are biologically homo sapiens.

Discussions of sexism are another place where the ‘humanizing/dehumanizing’ language is used a lot – as in ‘misogynists don’t regard women as fully human’. As a female, I will say this – if I could choose between the status quo, and an alternate universe where most non-female people mistakenly thought that women were Syrmaticus mikado rather than homo sapiens AND there was no sexism or misogyny, I would choose the alternate universe. Yeah, it’d be annoying if lots of people mistakenly thought I was a mikado pheasant, but (assuming that there is no prejudice against mikado pheasants, and people still correctly discerned my abilities – i.e. they knew I could use human languages, and did not expect me to fly, I could still receive medical treatment appropriate for humans, etc.) I think it would not be nearly as bad as sexism and misogyny. I think most female people would agree with me on this. Therefore, the issue isn’t really whether or not others recognize us as ‘human’.

So if we are not talking about whether somebody should be classified as a specimen of the species homo sapiens … what are we talking about?

I think, most of the time, what we’re really talking about is that a set of people are worthy (or not) of empathy, that their needs are valid (or not), that they are a member of the tribe (or not), that they are part of us … or part of the other.

So why do we describe this sense of belonging/respect/fairness/in-groupness as ‘human’ (or more accurately ‘being recognized as being human’)? Should, say, dogs be excluded simply because they are not homo sapiens?

The thing is, there are an awful lot of people who don’t consider a wide segment of the homo sapiens population to be worthy of respect, fairness, support, empathy, etc. I’m no psychologist/sociologist/anthropologist, but it seems to be that it’s part of ‘human’ nature to divide beings into in-groups and out-groups, and that one generally doesn’t need to respect members of the out-group the same way one needs to respect members of the in-group. And membership in the in-groups and out-groups rarely cuts strictly along species lines – for example, a lot of people would put dogs they have a personal relationship with in their in-group. It’s not even limited to animals (yes, homo sapiens are animals) – some people put, for example, trees in their in-group.

I think that what asexuals and aromantics are asking for is that we will not be pushed out of the in-group into the out-group (a.k.a. ‘the Other’) just because we are on the asexual and/or aromantic spectrum.

But language is never perfect, and I think most people understand that ‘humanizing/dehumanizing’ rarely refers to a literal debate about whether a set of people are homo sapiens. Is there a problem with framing things in ‘humanizing/dehumanizing’ language? I think there is, and I’ll discuss that in the next post.

Don’t Look at Me, There’s Nothing to See (I’m Playing Femme)

I’ve read the submissions to the recent carnival of aces about nonbinary people, and both Stormy’s submission, and an essay linked to the Thinking Asexual’s submission bring up the notion that many people consider sexually pleasing others / sexual objectification to be an essential part of being femme. Stormy says:

If femininity is supposed to be centered around pleasing a partner (usually men, but not always), then how can I even be considered femme? I’m always reading queer anthologies, blog posts, articles, and critiques trying desperately to find a gender journey I relate to. Every femme/non-binary narrative I find is saturated with the role that sexuality played in the writer’s gender. I look and look but never find someone like me. I often ask myself if I can exist as a femme without a fuck given about sexually pleasing others.

The Thinking Asexual says:

I realized recently that I’ve always felt the most sexy when I’m dressed up femme, and I associate that feeling of sexiness with being in someone else’s sexual gaze. On the other hand, when I’m dressed masculine and feeling masculine, I love the way I look and I do feel very good-looking, but the “sexiness” factor isn’t there in the same way. The admiring looks of strangers are toned down and less openly lustful, than they are when I’m provocatively femme.

Now, I am binary cis-female and tomboy. I’ve sometimes said that I am ‘occasionally venture into butch territory’ or something like that, but to me, ‘butch’ is something I might do, just as I sometimes do ‘femme’, whereas ‘tomboy’ is something I simply am.

However, when I have put on a ‘femme’ performance, I haven’t experienced intense sexual gaze the way that the Thinking Asexual (and many others) describe. I used to present as femme at work, yet never received concentrated sexual attention.

To me, the ‘sexually pleasing (masculine) people’ thing is just one aspect of being femme, and I always felt it was a disposable aspect. I was able to dress as what I think was a very femme way without being sexy.


I wore a clean, simple black skirt with black pantyhose and simple black shoes. These aren’t particularly pretty, but also not ugly – ugliness attracts attention.

My blouse was silver-lavender, and again, was nothing beautiful, but also visually non-offensive – great for smoothly sending the gaze any stray eyeballs to something else.

In a way, I made an equivalent of a hijab for using femininity to deflect instead of attract attraction.

I dressed this way partially because I don’t want sexual attention, thank you very much. I also tend to be loud, and can sometimes seem a bit forceful to people, so this ‘don’t mind me’ manner of dress helped soften the blow.

See, another aspect of ‘femme’ is making oneself silent and unnoticed. This is obviously just as rooted in patriarchy and sexism as sexual objectification of the ‘femme’. However, given that it’s there, it can be used to present as femme *without* sexually pleasing others.


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Takarazuka: Passionate, Yet Non-Sexual

I love this poster for Takarazuka’s Flower Troupe’s “The Last Tycoon”. It is set in the 1930s! It features two people in some kind of intimate relationship, it is clear that one is a very femme woman and the other is on the female-presenting-as-male spectrum, yet officially this is non-sexual and non-lesbian-romantic – which makes it not unlike my fantasy of an ephemeral evening.

So, I have written posts about a) the Takarazuka Revue and b) passionate aces in fiction. I have been leading up to something:

If I cannot get passionate aces in my fiction, I can settle for non-sexual displays of passion – and this is where Takarazuka comes in.

Takarazuka makes a point about *not* being about sexuality, and from a certain angle, not even being about romance, yet being passionate most certainly is the point.

Takarazuka performers are required to be unmarried and not involved in any sexual/romantic relationships while they are working for Takarazuka. I do not know how strictly this rule is enforced, and there probably is somebody discreetly bending/breaking it. When I discuss this with fellow Americans, many assume that the performers must be involved in lots of lesbian activities/relationships (which must be true to some extent because, before we even get to the fact that theses are female performers who regularly act out romantic love with other female performers, when you have hundreds of women, quite a few of them are going to be pan/lesbian/bi based on sheer statistical chance). However, the Takarazuka Revue claims that this is not at all what it is about. And on top of that, being a Takarazuka performer requires a ton of time of energy, so I think that even if they were allowed to openly pursue sexual/romantic relationships, many would not because they need to pour so much of themselves into their work.

And pouring yourself into performing in the Takarazuka Revue because you love singing and dancing is a passionate act in itself.

So, we have here a) people doing something (singing and dancing and acting) with great passion b) people professing their passionate feelings for each other and sometimes other things (for example, singing passionately about how beautiful the flowers are) and c) none of it is intended to be sexual (unless it is required by the story) and d) when they declare romantic love, they do not *really* mean it romantically, because they are all women and not presenting as lesbians/queers.

To me, this feels like a burst non-sexual passion. It validates passion as I experience it.

That is not to say that Takarazuka is ace/aro-friendly. For example, the structure of the shows means that the stories often center around a heteronormative romantic relationship (even if the ‘heteronormative’ part is being subverted by the lack of male performers), and what they say often affirms heteronormativity (even if it is being subverted, again, by the lack of male performers).

Perhaps that is the true source of the appeal. In Takarazuka, the words say one thing (HETERONORMATIVY), yet the physical reality is saying something else (women expressing their SUPREME love for each other – and flowers too of course). This offers lots of room for interpretation, and everyone can find the interpretation they needs. Cis het women can get their fantasy ‘men’ (Takarazuka fans often claim that the Takarazuka’s otokoyaku are more appealing than men in real life), pan/lesbian/bi women can watch a woman dressed as a man have a passionate romance with a very femme woman, genderqueer people can watch people who are messing with the gender binary, and I, an ace, can watch people expressing passionate love, knowing that this is officially non-sexual and that the romance bit is not really romance. In short, people of different genders/sexualities can find themselves in the ambiguity of Takarazuka.


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Takarazuka for the Women

A poster for “The Rose of Versailles: Oscar Version” (2014)

In Osaka, I met a Japanese man who is a fan of the Takarazuka Revue. I commented that the vast majority of fans are women, and a fellow American asked what the Takarazuka Revue is. I explained that all of the performers are young women, and she (the American) was surprised that it mainly appeals to women. I talked about how, since all of the performers are female, all male characters are played by female performers, and my fellow American said she still did not understand why it does not have a large male audience.

An aside: to observe the gender ratios in Takarazuka audiences, just look at the bathrooms on the first floor of the Takarazuka Grand Theater. The women’s bathroom is huge … it has about 50 toilets … and yet there are still epic lines at intermission. The men’s bathroom is quite small, yet I never see any lines outside it.

Now, I think the American’s line of thought was 1) all of the performers are young women 2) young women = sex for straight men 3) therefore men come to enjoy the ‘sexiness’ of the young women.

This goes back to this assumption built into our culture that a young woman’s raison d’etre is to supply sex to men. If I describe a show as consisting entirely of young male performers, people generally do not assume that the audience primarily consists of straight women who want ‘sexy’ entertainment (in fact, ignoring what entertainment women are interested in is also a feature of mainstream American culture).

However, as can be demonstrated by the composition of the audience, that is not how the Takarazuka revue works. I have no doubt that some Takarazuka fans are queer women, but I also have no doubt that many are straight women.

In Japanese theatre, actresses have traditionally been forbidden, and all female roles were played by male performers. That meant that female performers could not express themselves publicly, and that female audiences could not see people of their own gender in public performances.

Granted, there are exceptions – for example, geiko and maiko sometimes put on public performances (I went to one, and I saw a lot of women in the audience, though there were also plenty of men).

But in Takarazuka, not only can women see women express themselves, but they can see women express non-femininity. This is hard to come by in Japan, particular in the relatively conservative space in which Takarazuka Revue exists. Since the Takarazuka Revue is conservative, it is ‘safe’, and it does not demand the same level of boldness as, say, radical feminism.

In other words, women can watch women step out of rigid female gender roles, with society’s blessing, even if it is just for the duration of a song and dance. I think might be part of the Takarazuka Revue’s appeal.

I know this is part of Takarazuka’s appeal to me. I appreciate the relatively low level of male gaze. As far as other reasons it appeals to me … well, that would be a subject for another post.


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Is Straight/Queer a Binary? Should It Be a Binary?

Note: The first draft of this post was written on December 19, 2013. Since then, there has been a lot more discussion about asexuality and queerness in the ace blogosphere, which Queenie has conveniently collected into a linkspam.

Though I am not an expert on queer theory, I generally encounter two definitions of queer (with variations of course)

1) Narrow Queer: Only people who have been oppressed with the word ‘queer’ as a pejorative can claim this label, primarily trans-people or people who experience homosexual attraction.
2) Broad Queer: Anyone who does not fit into social norms, particularly but not necessarily norms around sexuality and gender, is queer.

So, is straight/queer a binary i.e. all that is straight is not queer and all that is queer is not straight? Or is it possible to be neither queer nor straight?

If we go with ‘narrow queer’, the answer is a big NO. I am *not* a straight person, and I am definitely not queer per the narrow definition, so either there has to be a space for people who are neither straight nor queer, or I do not exist. I do exist, therefore straight / narrow queer is not a binary.

As far as ‘broad queer’ … this could be in a binary with straightness. But I actually do not like a conceptual framework which says that everybody must either be queer or straight, even if ‘queer’ is defined very broadly.

I think everybody on the ace spectrum – including cis heteroromantic greysexuals who are currently in a sexual-romantic relationship with a cis person of a different gender – should be allowed to claim the ‘queer’ label if it feels right to them (I mean this in the broad-queer sense – though even narrow-queerness is relevant to some aces). I understand that some queer people feel that it is an appropriation of a term which has been tied to their oppression … yet I think that denying anybody on the ace-spectrum a claim on the queer label further entrenches heteronormativity rather than weaken it.

That said, just because I think we all have a claim on the ‘queer’ label does not mean I think we have to adopt the label.

Even if we’re talking about ‘broad queer’, I do not identify as queer. Why not? First of all, I have had a lot of interactions with ‘queer’ communities, and always as an outsider. I would prefer to keep it that way, since I do not think I’ll gain much by being accepted as an insider – I’d rather invest more in communities specifically for ace-spectrum folk. Things like the fact that organizations such as Human Rights Campaign (which focuses on LGBT rights) offer ‘heterosexual’ but not ‘asexual’ as an option in surveys asking about supporters’ orientations does not make me inclined to join them. And even when these ‘queer’ organizations acknowledge our existence, they often act as if we do not exist.

There are queer communities which fully embrace the asexual experience … and I still prefer not to identify as queer. Why? I do not like the notion of the binary itself.

Even if we’re talking about a broad queerness which embraces asexuality … I do not want to use a conceptual framework in which all that is not straight is queer. I do like the idea that one can be neither straight nor queer, and I put myself in that non-straight PLUS non-queer space. It where I feel the most comfortable.


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Why Identify as Panaesthetic?

When I first encountered the idea of aesthetic orientation, my first reaction was ‘why bother’? But after a few moments, after it sunk in, it made sense.

I am panaesthetic. I like looking at beautiful people of all genders, and between beautiful women, handsome men, and gorgeous people who defy the gender binary, I do not have a preference (well, I do have preferences, just not based on gender).

The fact that I find certain people aesthetically pleasing is one of those things which made it just a little harder to realize that I am aro-ace. If I thought somebody was pretty, that MUST mean I am sexually/romantically attracted to them, and that what I felt towards such people is like what sexual-romantic people feel towards their crushes, right, RIGHT?


I want to look at pretty people. I do not want to have sex with them or get in a romantic relationship with them.

It’s not just something which confuses questioning people on an introspective level. It’s also something which certain people use to “prove” that we are not really aromantic/asexual – ‘AH HA HA HA! You think that person is pretty, you can’t really be aromantic/asexual!’

Our culture has wrapped lots of different things into sexuality. One of the things we ace-spectrum folk are doing is breaking it down, so that we can find out what we have in common (in my case, I do experience aesthetic attraction, like most people), and what does not apply to us.

I do not think aesthetic attraction is particularly important, but the concept does bring a little bit more clarity to my experiences.


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