Transwomen in Prison

Image courtesy of Flikr.

By Zaquoya Rogers

The Netflix series “Orange is the New Black” highlights many different female experiences that tend to occur in prisons across the globe. They portrayed the problems of women in prison within every race, sexual orientation and background. One that caused an increase in conversation was about trans women and how they were being treated within prison. Since, obviously, male and females are separated into different prisons, where do transwomen fit? People started asking what it means to be a women. Also, why are transwomen’s gender is being trivialized? Lindsay King-Miller states “A woman, no matter her background, should never be asked to prove she is a woman.”

Laverne Cox, a transwomen actor and speaker, played Sophia Burset in the popular series and accurately depicted the struggle and mistreatment of transwomen in prison. In prison, transwomen go through difficulty in consistently receiving necessary hormone medication. In Season One, Sophia’s medication had been reduced because it wasn’t deemed as necessary which caused her male characteristics like facial hair to return. This happens in prisons today and scars transwomen’s sense of self.  A transwomen inmate named Mary was placed in the male prison Boggo Road Gaol located in Australia. She was denied any access to hormones medication. She states, “It was like my identity was taken away from me. I look like a woman and I think if a transgender person is genuine and they are living as the opposite sex, then they should be housed in a female prison, even if you’re in a wing on your own.” Denial of one’s gender is abuse and is not fair.   

In Season Three, Sophia clashes with some of her fellow inmates and is brutally attacked by the same group. Instead of punishing the perpetrators, Sophia is the one sent to the SHU (Security Housing Units/Solitary Confinement) supposedly for her protection. In reality, this type of solution downgrades transwomen and serves as an injustice. Not only do transwomen experience abuse, discrimination and bullying when serving time but they cannot count on higher authority in prison to ensure their safety. They are turned against and devalued as human beings simply because of who they identify as. This is a problem that won’t change unless more conversations take place about these injustices. I think that a great majority of people still see being transgender as something unnatural. This is why transwomen are subjected to so much abuse. The more we speak on it and accept people for who they are and not who we want to see them as, the better it will get for transwomen.

 

Kat Blaque

By Matiara Huff

http://katblaque.tumblr.com/image/120005457569

http://katblaque.tumblr.com/image/120005457569

Kat Blaque is an incredible Youtuber activist. As a Trans women of color, she has taken it upon herself to educate people on issues unique to her Identity. Her videos range from defining gender, to defining feminism, to issues of race and current events. She has basically made a video on every topic, and they have all been inclusive and educating. She is well educated in the issues that she talks about, and is careful not to offend anyone. Her on-camera attitude is almost neutral which helps in getting people to understand her topic. She is one of my favorite Youtubers, whenever people have questions about race or gender, she is one of the people that I recommend.

Skirts or Pants? How About Both

by Mara Gibson

When I first considered writing on the topic of gender in “classical” composition, I wondered how I could possibly have anything new to say. Then, my colleagues challenged me. Why not? As a consequence, I have read about the role of gender in popular music, punk misogyny, and photography and discussed analogies between film and composition with a number of friends and colleagues. I have conversed with my closest collaborators, both male and female. I have started asking deeper questions, and in doing so, confronting why this issue is so challenging for me.

In graduate school, I consciously disassociated being female with being a composer. In fact, I took that even further and came to the conclusion that being a composer was in direct conflict with what I knew as a teacher, as a student, and as an artist. While I was coming to realize that my work coupled with my teaching style reflected a theme of synergy and convergence, I perceived a dichotomy in trying to fuse my various roles. I am sure some of this can be simply attributed to youth, but also, I believe we have been part of a transformation, where our generation is realizing a gradual shift in the way we view the artist.

Generally, we are coming to accept a more multidimensional role for an artist in the 21st century. Being an entrepreneur, musician, and teacher (and/or any number of other occupations) are all equally important. As Claire Chase said in her 2013 Bienen School of Music convocation address, “You can’t really separate the act of creating music, even very old music, from entrepreneurship.” She examined how entrepreneurship manifests in our time by providing countless examples of how we assume multiple roles: the artist as collaborator, the artist as producer, the artist as organizer, the artist as educator, and the list goes on. The resounding message delivered is that there is no clear roadmap. She inspires her young audience to “blow the ceiling off anything resembling a limitation.” I try to remind myself of this mantra every day; however, it is not always easy.

From my vantage point, the “guru” mentality is an accurate snapshot of the history of the composer/composition teacher relationship. In graduate school, I was encouraged to ignore the gender bias, which at the time was probably for the best in order to preserve my identity; however, this is not the same advice I offer to my students. I want to talk openly and non-judgmentally with them about the inherent challenges of being female and a composer alongside being a composition teacher and entrepreneur. More importantly, I want begin to identify why and how we have fallen into patterns of behavior that support the status quo. We have far too many resources at hand in the 21st century for female composers/teachers/organizers not to have more visible role models.

As women, by and large, we have been taught to view ourselves as made up of independent spheres, separating our profession from our gender, and from our craft. One challenge is to allow and encourage our various roles to operate and shape us in tandem, rather than in silos. For me, this involves accepting that being a good composer is being a good teacher, and that composing is my lifelong lesson. These two essential parts of who I am should not, and cannot, be in conflict. Whether it is teaching and composing, or composing and being a mother, or doing any number of things that we as composers in the 21st century must do to survive, we all deserve the opportunity to merge our identities and define ourselves in our own unique way. Granted, I am primarily coming from the perspective of a female in academia, but I suspect that the challenge of balancing multiple and often simultaneously demanding roles is consistent for female composers in general.

Recent publications about the relationship of women to the field of composition present numerous heartening viewpoints. Amy Beth Kirsten’s “The Woman Composer is Dead” (2012) offers many valuable observations. Kristin Kuster’s “Taking Off My Pants” challenges us to embrace who we are, while maintaining respect for our craft. And Ellen McSweeny’s “The Power List” offers concrete solutions to incite change. These three articles in particular illustrate exactly how much we need to talk about this pervasive issue, so I assigned these articles to students. Their reactions ranged from, “I’m saddened” to “…a women could never have composed Beethoven’s Ninth or Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto…women need to stop having hissy fits about it.”

The teacher in me desperately wanted to understand these reactions, so I researched and looked to the visual art community for answers. As Linda Nochlin probes in her famous 1971 essay, “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?”:

“Why have there been no great women artists?” …like so many other so-called questions involved in the feminist “controversy,” it falsifies the nature of the issue at the same time that it insidiously supplies its own answer: “There are no great women artists because women are incapable of greatness.”

Power structures have long operated along gendered presumptions like the one above. Certainly, all artists struggle to balance both creative and personal life challenges—this has become part of the romantic “plight” of being an artist—but I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that for me, this quandary was further complicated by sex and gender. As women, we are pulled in directions that are conflicted, both due to social pressures and the biological constraints of childbearing during key career-building years. Culturally, we are expected to respond in “feminine,” frequently subservient ways, but to follow the modernist trend, as composers we are expected to provide answers.

repetition-nineteen-iii-1968

Repetition Nineteen III by Eva Hesse.

I agree with Eva Hesse that “excellence has no gender.” But how exactly do we begin to tell that story? Visibility is imperative for role models to succeed.

I also relate to Lucy Lippard, who writes, “Of course art has no gender, but artists do.”

So then, the question is: does being a “female” composer make a difference to being a good composer?

In confronting the question solely in the realm of being a good composer, the answer is inequitably no. There are countless examples of superb, successful, living female composers. However, when confronted with being a good composer, alongside being a good mother, and (for me) a good teacher, it becomes more difficult to quantify.

Nochlin answers the women-artist question sensibly:

What is important is that women face up to the reality of their history and of their present situation, without making excuses or puffing mediocrity. Disadvantage may indeed be an excuse; it is not, however, an intellectual position. Rather, using as a vantage point their situation as underdogs in the realm of grandeur, and outsiders in that of ideology, women can reveal institutional and intellectual weaknesses in general, and, at the same time that they destroy false consciousness, take part in the creation of institutions in which clear thought—and true greatness—are challenges open to anyone, man or woman, courageous enough to take the necessary risk, the leap into the unknown.

As creative artists, we are students forever; otherwise, we would not have chosen such an infinite language to study. And frequently we have to act like a teacher, student, and artist simultaneously. Whether it is building music, art collaborations, schools, teaching, or learning, we create materials, build forms architecturally, and communicate those ideas creatively. Remember, maestro, male or female, as artists, we are inherently collaborators.

Gaining a broad perspective through all of the roles we must play has provided a critical lesson for me. Beyond social construction and convention, judgment, joy and anger, we must confront the abyss and challenge, question, and listen. And, above all, we should celebrate being female, and choose to wear pants or skirts as we see fit.


This blog was originally posted to New Music Box.–

Composer Mara Gibson is originally from Charlottesville, Virginia, graduated from Bennington College and completed her Ph.D. at SUNY Buffalo. She attended London College of Music; L’Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Fontainebleau, France; and the International Music Institute at Darmstadt, Germany. She has received grants and honors from the American Composers Forum, the Banff Center, Louisiana Division of the Arts, ArtsKC, Meet the Composer, the Kansas Arts Commission, the National Endowment for the Arts, the International Bass Society, ASCAP, and the John Henrick Memorial Foundation.

Internationally renowned ensembles and soloists have performed her music throughout the United States, Canada, South America, Asia, and Europe. Recent projects include a world premiere of D(u)o in three movements, a residency in Norway funded through the Trondheim Arts Council including a premiere performance of Fanfare, and a premiere of E:Tip with Madeleine Shapiro made possible through an Encore Award. During Summer 2009, Mara was an Artist-in-Residence at Silpakorn University, Bangkok, Thailand where she returned again during Summer 2011 in Chiang Mai.

Recent and upcoming projects include a new work for duo Contour based in Freiburg, Germany, as well as several newly commissioned works for the Pangea Piano Project, and Chicago-based violist Michael Hall which was premiered in conjunction with the installation of Roxy Paine’s FERMENT at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in April 2010. In 2011-12, she will complete these projects while teaching at the UMKC Conservatory and leading the Conservatory’s Community Music and Dance Academy as director. She is also founder, UMKC Composition Workshop for Young Composers and co-director/founder of ArtSounds.

Email Dr. Mara Gibson at gibsonmb@umkc.edu.

Leave Your Lipstick At Home

By Courtney Neaveill

“Gwyneth Paltrow lipstick lesbian”: Google that and you will get over two pages of results – all of which reference a recent interview that Ms. Paltrow gave with Harpaar’s Bizarre. The 39 year old film star mentioned her daughter’s affinity for pink, ruffled clothes and remarked that IF her daughter were a lesbian she would be a ‘lipstick lesbian’ – as opposed to a ‘butch’ lesbian.  So now you may be thinking, ‘what the hell is that?’ Definition incoming! The most popular description on UrbanDictionary.com, defines the lipstick lesbian as “a feminine lesbian who is attracted to other feminine lesbians. They generally enjoy fashion, flowers, perfume, sex and the city, lingerie, lipstick of course, and (gasp!) passionate sex with other women.” The authors at Wikipedia expand on their similar definition of a LL by adding “most female same-sex sex scenes in mainstream pornography [portray women] this way.”  I take issues with this designation.  It’s as if people are saying “ok- now that we know what she is, we’ll know more appropriately how to deal with her.” I think of scientists uncovering a new species of animal or better yet, Jack Hannah. “Hey everyone, how’r  ya’ll doin – I’m Jungle Jack Hanna and on today’s episode we’ll be looking for the allusive Lipstick Lesbian.” What about the lesbian who does not fit into the nicely outlined “lipstick” category – is she butch by default? Is there no such thing as a normal, everyday lesbian? I’ll admit when I first heard the term lipstick lesbian I was amused – but does this label serve a purpose or is it damaging to the gay and lesbian community?

The people over at Belladonna.org not only find lipstick classification necessary but they also commit an entire section of their website in support of feminine lesbians. The claim is that they are unidentifiable by appearance and therefore need a support community where they can find tips on how to navigate the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT), dating and social scene. “Since we “don’t look like Lesbians”, other Lesbians don’t recognize us, which means we are often excluded from the united front. (Also, we don’t get asked out.)” This makes sense. In 1998, the Village Voice published an article in which they addressed the lipstick lesbian phenomenon.  According to the article, after series like the L Word, Sex and the City and Grey’s Anatomy portrayed lesbians in a more feminine light, lesbians no longer felt obligated to wear Doc Martens and rainbow colored jewelry but instead ventured to strut around in designer clothes and high heels.  Executive producer and director of L Word, Ilene Chaiken, feels that lesbians are liberated by the increasing social acceptance of the feminine lesbian.

“I think that we all need representation, we need aspirational figures, and it’s a positive thing for girls growing up to look at a TV show and say: ‘Oh, so that’s a lesbian, and she can be successful and wear glamorous clothes. Feeling that I might be gay doesn’t relegate me to some dark corner of society.’ “

Sociologist and professor, Jane Ward, calls this “’an echo effect’: The media prefers images of beautiful women, so lesbians put energy into being pretty, and then the media reports that image as the new ideal. “It’s the same way that heterosexual femininity is packaged and sold to female consumers.” Lesbians are therefore more palatable to the media-crazed, consumer public.

So which is it – have lesbians been forced by the general public into acting and dressing more feminine or have they been liberated by lipstick and high heels? I think it is a matter of both social pressure and personal expression. Either way, it is not a very flattering reflection of U.S. American social culture when public figures like Gwyneth Paltrow keyhole people into such inescapable categories. Actress Portia de Rossi once quipped “Everyone is their own kind of lesbian. To think there’s a certain way to dress or present yourself in the world is just one more stereotype we have to fit into.”  We should not be persuaded to make the distinction between two potentially harmful clichés; the ‘lipstick’ and the ‘butch’ lesbian.  Why is it anyway that lipstick lesbians receive the special feminine treatment? One of the most beautiful expressions of femininity is the deep love and affection that one woman can have for her female friend, partner or lover; with or without lipstick.

Gender Stereotypes In the Classroom

Image from flickr.com

By Bonnie Messbarger

Recently I was reading some of the blogs on Ms. Magazine’s blog site, and found this article to be really interesting.  It talks about the new book written by Caryl Rivers and Rosalind C. Barnett called The Truth About Girls and Boys: Challenging Toxic Stereotypes About Our Children. The book takes a look into the pseudoscience of gender essentialism, which basically is the idea that because we have different genders that means there is a natural difference in their biological and psychological makeup. This belief has bled into parenting styles, media and corporation strategies, and even education. Some see the differences between boys and girls to be so great that they need to be educated not only separately (as in a private all girls/boys school), but in completely different ways.  The Ms. Magazine Blog says, “In the U.S., 524 public schools now have at least one single-sex classroom; nine years ago there were only a dozen.” Leonard Sax and Michael Gurian are the faces of gender separation in the classroom with books like “Why Gender Matters” and “Boys and Girls Learn Differently”. So, what exactly are these people suggesting we teach in these single-sex classrooms?

For starters people like Sax and Gurian tell us girls learn most effectively in a calm and quiet environment, where there isn’t much noise and everyone learns home economics, poetry, and other subjects that they see as useful to women. They are taught to be passive, quiet, and to nurture and listen.  Also according to these stereotypes, boys learn best in an active environment, where they are moving constantly, and there is lots of noise. They disassemble electronics, and cars, and learn how to make things fly. They do not read literature critically, or discuss art and music, that is for women. They are outgoing and persistent, and taught to take charge and lead.

In my opinion, these stereotypes, which are basically what they are, are dangerous to be teaching young children.  This system of separation could be very damaging for both boys and girls because of how limiting it is. This idea of different education methods for boys and girls claims to be based on science. But this “science” doesn’t account for boys who like to cook and teach and girls who like to build planes and take charge. This whole idea of separatist education is shocking to me, because it seems more like something out of a classroom in the 1900’s than a classroom in 2011. As a woman who’s outgoing, bakes, works on cars, can’t sit still, plays video games, sews, reads, and learns best by being hands on, I don’t see how these separate classrooms can be beneficial to anyone.