Showing posts with label gender. Show all posts
Showing posts with label gender. Show all posts

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Trenton Makes by Tadzio Koelb

Rating: WARTY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

If I had known that author was a graduate from a writing program, I would not have requested to read this novel, because whenever I have read such novels in the past, they've universally been sterile, poorly-written, and boring with thoroughly uninteresting characters. The authors of such novels seem to be so tightly focused on the writing that they completely forget that the story is where it's at, not the technical writing of it.

I'd much rather have an indifferently-written, or even poorly-written, novel that tells a really good story than one which is exquisitely written, yet tells a less than mediocre tale. The blurb did its job and made it sound interesting: "...a woman who carves out her share of the American Dream by living as a man." but whereas the blurb was all sound and fury, the actual novel signified nothing. The main character was thoroughly unlikeable and had no saving graces.

How you can make such a story boring is a mystery to me, but this author managed it. I gave up at forty percent in because my mind was going numb. The blurb describes this as "A vivid, brutal, razor-sharp debut..." but none of that is true. Instead, what we get is clinical (have you ever tried to read a doctor's handwriting?!) and unappealing tale which meanders and mumbles and which offered me nothing whatsoever. A lot of it was confusing. To continue the clinical metaphor, I always felt like I was in an operating room after the operation was over. The most interesting part of the process was already long gone, leaving nothing but a messy OR in dire need of sterilization.

It's set in 1946 in Trenton, New Jersey, and Mrs Kunstler kills her husband and assumes his identity. I'd forgotten about this by the time I got around to reading this novel, so it was like coming into it completely blind, and I have to tell you there was nothing in that first forty percent to really clarify exactly what the hell was going on. If I'd wanted a detective story, with me as the detective, I'd have written one myself!

I actually had to go back and read the blurb to figure out why I'd even requested this novel to review in the first place! That's how bad it was. I know authors don't get to write their own blurbs unless they self-publish, but when the story is told in the blurb, you gain noting by being all coy about it in the novel itself. I know that's ass-backwards, but it's the way the professional publishing business actually is: you write your story and then the publisher turns it into something else in the blurb and you get a dissatisfied readership as a result.

If "stylized prose" means tedious, then yeah, the blurb got it right. If by "gripping narrative" the blurb-writer meant that you grip the novel ever tighter out of sheer frustration and annoyance, then yeah, they got that right, too. But no, it was not remotely provocative. No, it was nothing like incisive. The hyperbole of the burb was laughable, but there was nothing funny about a novel that promises so much and then utterly fails to deliver even a semblance of a decent story. I cannot recommend this one at all when the same patient in better hands would have survived the surgery handsomely.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Beyond Trans: Does Gender Matter? by Heath Fogg Davis

Rating: WORTHY!

Note that this is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

In a seemingly radical, but ultimately common-sense challenge to status quo, this author asks whether it's ever necessary to require someone to have their gender flagged on something like a birth certificate or a driver's license. He examines four areas where a true unisex environment is called for - not just to not use a binary sex-marker, but to dispense with sex-markers altogether. These areas are (from the blurb): "sex-marked identity documents such as birth certificates, driver's licenses and passports; sex-segregated public restrooms; single-sex colleges; and sex-segregated sports." A section of the book is devoted to each of the four topics.

While I support this agenda as a general principle - there are far too many areas where gender is irrelevant, but where it's made into an issue of one kind or another - I'd take some small issue with the way this argument is presented in some areas. I felt it didn't make as good of a case as it ought to have, and I felt it was a somewhat biased case - there wasn't much of a serious effort to look at the opposite side of the argument or to seek out opposing views and present them - and argue against them.

Yes, there were some objections raised and summarily overruled, but it felt more like the author was trying to steamroll his case through in preference to offering a completely calm and rational approach. Not that he was raving or ranting, but it felt a little bit like a high pressure salesperson, and I have little time for those!

One example of this was in the section where the author is talking about how long a person has to live as a woman before they're considered fully a woman. It's more complicated than that, and you'd have to read the book to get the full scoop on the issues and arguments, but for my purposes, this fell into the gripe I made about too little use of studies to back arguments and more reliance on personal opinion and anecdote than was healthy to make a solid case.

The author says, "...does it matter that some transgender women will have been socialized as boys and/or men for certain periods of their lives?" The problem with this is the inherent assumption it carries that they have indeed been fully socialized as their biological gender as opposed to their desired or self-identified gender.

I could see my argument being irrelevant if a need for a gender-switch was triggered from a head injury or by a sudden whim or need for attention, but this is flatly not the case. One thing I learned early in my reading about transgender people is that they had lived all their life feeling like they were the gender they eventually (hopefully!) were able to migrate to. So why would they honestly be socialized as boys/men or as girls/women necessarily?

It felt presumptive and patronizing to leap to the conclusion that they had or likely had. We had no evidence presented to support (or refute) this - it was just out there like it was self-evident, and this felt like the author had fallen into the same trap he was arguing against: if it's always been this way, why should we change?

Of course we haven't always been this way. Binary gender is just a convenient convention we fell into because historically we were too ignorant and blinkered to think it through. Maybe a biological male who has always felt female might be rather less acclimatized to male patterns of behavior and thinking than we should feel comfortable assuming, and so might a female in inverse circumstances. This is what I mean when I talk about making better arguments.

So one issue I had with the book was that it felt like it relied too much on anecdote - some of which was personal - which left some holes where a wider survey or study would have filled the gap. Some studies are quoted, but the inline references in this book are not actually links, which is a problem in this day and age for an ebook. In a print book you can flip through pages to get to end notes. It's a lot harder in an ebook, which is why actual links would have been a big help.

That said, the anecdotes were engrossing, saddening, disturbing, and downright horrifying at times, and this is the main reason people need to read this book, because the hit is still shitting the fan, even after all these years, and it needs to stop now. If getting rid of sex markers is guaranteed to do that, then I'm pretty well on-board! But I have some qualms about the arguments, mainly because of the area the book did not cover, which is medical care.

You can argue all you want about men and women and everyone between and on both sides being treated equally in areas of sports, rest rooms, college admissions, and state and government documents, but being treated in hospital is another issue because the fundamental fact is that men and women are anatomically and biochemically different and sometimes it genuinely matters what gender you are.

Let me give a simple example:- a traffic accident victim is brought into an ER unconscious, and xrays need to be taken. if this is a man, there's usually no problem, because men never get pregnant, but if this is a woman, the doctors need to be sure they're not harming a fetus.

Often, it's easy (or at least seems easy!) to tell what gender the patient, but also often it's not and it's downright foolish to make assumptions, as this author has pointed out often! If the woman is a mtf individual, then short of religious miracles, there's going to be no fetus, but if the doctors do not know, then there's potentially a problem.

I'd argue this is a case where gender does indeed matter and more importantly, knowing the gender matters, and while this is a simple demonstrative example, it's not the only medical instance where the gender (or sex if you like - I don't like to use that term because it's so loaded with baggage) of the patient matters. Men and women react differently to some medications, so knowing the gender of the patient can be vitally important.

Now you can no doubt press arguments against my simplistic example, and maybe against medical treatment and knowing the birth sex of the patient, but that's just the problem: since this critical topic wasn't covered in this book, none of this was ever addressed. Having a sex-marker on the driver's license could be in some cases, the difference between life and death here. So maybe we should not argue to eliminate the sex-marker at least on driver's licenses or state ID cards, but to make it voluntary? It's just a thought.

I don't typically comment on book covers because my blog is about authoring, not façades and lures, but in this case I have to say that this cover was quite a stunner. The ambiguity and charm in it were remarkable! It's a credit to the book and a pity the publisher rarely sees fit to give some credit to the model.

One curious personal comment I found was when the author volunteered, "For example, my birth mother was white and my birth father African American. I identify as either biracial or black" but he never went on to explain why he doesn't ever identify as white. It seems to me he has an equal case for either or both. It's not a big deal to me, but I just found it interesting and curious that someone with one black and one white parent had to be (at least historically), considered black instead of white!

To me, that's just as screwed-up as the gender issues discussed here, but I guess it's none of my business; however, it was one of several times things were tossed into the mix which I found curious. Another was his reference to the 2013 movie Identity Thief. The author cites this as an exemplar of the inadequacy of sex verification as fraud protection.

I thought it was an inappropriate reference in a book that rightly tries to set a more scholarly tone, but the objection here was that, as the author explains, "...the fact that many people have gender-neutral or 'unisex' names, Sandy being just one of many examples." I get that this is irrelevant when credit card fraud is perpetrated over the phone,or the internet, but it does prevent some abuse in person when a woman might try to use a credit card which clearly has a male name on it. It's not foolproof, especially in these days of fast everything, but it does offer some preventive opportunities! The real question to ask is: is it worth the hassle some people might get for the prevention it offers in other cases?

But that's not the reason I thought the example of the movie was a poor one; it's that, in the movie (which I have not seen I have to say), the man whose identity has been stolen, Sandy, seems like a sad sack of an example to offer since he apparently never thought to report his card stolen and thereby avoid all of the issues he was subject to in the movie! Hollywood is not real life and I think it was a mistake to cite what seems to be a rather slapstick comedy movie in support of a serious topic like this.

That said, I recommend this because it needs to be read - it's that simple. It has important issues in it about an ongoing problem that needs to be cut off summarily at the ankles, and it makes some good arguments, especially in sports, which has long been a pet peeve of my own. Some of the sports anecdotes are truly upsetting, as indeed are the anecdotes in other areas. Read them and weep - seriously. I felt like it after reading what some of these people - including the author - have had to endure.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The Story of My Tits Volume 2 by Jennifer Hayden

Title: The Story of My Tits volume 2
Author: Jennifer Hayden
Publisher: Top Shelf Productions
Rating: WARTY!

Note that there are two authors named Jennifer Hayden, so please don't confuse them! One, this one, is the graphic novelist and artist. The other isn't! It pains me to review negatively a novel about an important topic like this, but I cannot in good faith recommend this. The title, as it did with volume one, suggests this is about breasts, and as metaphorical as it might be, it really wasn't about breasts as much as it was about the author's life, which was plagued with family issues and with health issues not only for herself, but also for her mom.

I'm not sure how much more I can say about this pair of graphic novels that I haven't already said for volume one, so this review may be unusually short for me! Please read the review for volume one to get the bulk of my views and insights, such as they are. I think my main problem, apart from not liking the art work or the insanely crowded images, was that the topics discussed here were really rather mundane - as sad and tragic as they may well have been for those persons involved, so there was nothing here for me to learn, and nothing to entertain or engross me. Volume one was better than two, but both were largely the same - a simple biography about the every day life of a rather dysfunctional family, but these "revelations" were neither unique nor particularly unusual in the big picture.

This volume covers the author's later life, post marriage, and it's really a comedy of irritations - using comedy in the Shakespearean sense. I really had little interest in these stories because there was very very little here which I have not experienced in one way or another, even if only vicariously by reading about it. In addition to his, I am not into hippie or new age stuff, and cannot take seriously books laid at the feet of a goddess or dedicated to a husband who is evidently superior not only to all husbands, but to all possible husbands. That just seemed unnecessarily unkind to me - as though everyone else's husband is second-rate at best.

This volume covers later events in the author's life, and the deaths of some family members. This is fine and I am sure it has import for family and friends, but it's nothing that other families do not go through, including my own so there is, sad and tragic as these events are, nothing to move me about these events. Death is a part of life, and it's coming for all of us sooner or later, so while we need to acknowledge that, and be prepared for it, we don't need to dwell on it or take pains to write paeans to it.

As I mentioned, the art work wasn't very good, and the images were way too crowded, and dark and insanely detailed to get the best out of them. In addition to that, there was often way too much text, which meant it was too small and hard to read at times, so I found myself skipping a lot of it because it was rambling or because I didn't want to go to the trouble of straining to read all that tiny text. That said, the writing itself, apart form being too wordy, was decently done. There were no spelling or grammatical errors that I saw, so this author can write, but perhaps needs a better topic.

I didn't appreciate the bad language in this case. I don't have a problem with it in a novel where it fits, but in something like this, it felt out of place. It could have been avoided and thereby perhaps made the message accessible to a wider audience. For me, it contributed nothing to the story, and it may keep some potential readers away. That said, this novel is explicitly about female function and organs, so maybe the language would make no difference! Some people are just too squeamish no matter what.

In short, I cannot recommend this volume because I didn't feel it was the best the author could do, or that it offered anything really new and engaging. I feel bad about this because I know there are important messages to relay about such events, and I also know that these things are important parts of the author's life, but I also think authors need to grasp that not everything that carries weight with them has the same gravity for anyone, let alone everyone else out there. I think we need to pick and choose what to relate and how to relate it, and I don't think this was the best approach.

The Story of My Tits Volume 1 by Jennifer Hayden

Title: The Story of My Tits
Author: Jennifer Hayden
Publisher: Top Shelf Productions
Rating: WARTY!

Note that there are two authors named Jennifer Hayden, so please don't confuse them! One, this one, is the graphic novelist and artist. The other isn't! I really wanted to like this graphic novel, but no matter how hard I tried, I just could not get on its side, I'm sorry to say. I think there's both a need and a market for this kind of story whether it's autobiographical, semi-auto, or purely fictional, but this autobiography just didn't work for me. Your mammary-age may differ!

I was excited to get this and volume two from Net Galley, but I had to read volume 2 first because volume one flatly refused to download until the next day, and I didn't want to wait in case it never downloaded! At first I thought maybe I should have waited, because there seemed to be parts of volume two which were dependent upon the first one for better understanding, but when I finally read one this morning, it did not clarify the things I thought it would, so in the end it made no difference that I read them out of order.

I preferred one to two, but only marginally. For me, the biggest problem was that there were no insights or points of interest in either volume for me. There was nothing really unexpected, nothing I didn't know, nothing I found fascinating, and no ah-ha moments, so for me, it did not deliver.

What I did get was too much trope and cliché for my taste. It felt like watching one of those truly crappy TV sitcoms where the wife is pregnant, and the husband can't cope, and every tired joke is tediously retold. A story like this deserved better and this one is better than those stupid, clueless, pedantic, canned-laugh shows, but it still lacked too much for it to appeal to me.

I felt really bad to feel so negative about this because it's an important subject, but I can't in good faith recommend something which I don't feel gets the job done and this one didn't, starting from the title on in. I felt that the title was slightly misleading. I do get that the title was designed to shock, to perk interest, and to be metaphorical and to show how women all-too-often feel defined by their basic physical appearance, but the story was much more about the person than ever it was her breasts. I get that for a woman, living in a male-dominated world, it can become hard to differentiate yourself from your breasts. We're mammals, defined by our milk producing ability so they are out there, so to speak, and they have unfortunately become so representative of womanhood. This is wrong, obviously, but for now, it's what we have to deal with. It would have been nice to have had more observations on, and insights into that.

For me, it was hard to empathize with this character to begin with. I think that might have been one of my root problems. She doesn't come off as very smart. She seems like a slacker with little self-motivation. She's a smoker - although commendably she gives that up, but it's because she goes on the pill, not because there's a history of cancer in her family. She didn't get regular health check-ups. Although her honesty in revealing all of this is commendable, it just didn't appeal to me or make me feel like I was on her side. If she had been more proactive, she would have been more appealing. That said, she does take more charge in volume two.

This volume deals with her childhood and youth, up to college, and meeting the guy she wants to marry, and ends with them finally marrying, but I didn't feel like there was anything new here. There was a lot of old - a lot of addressing the same issues through which everyone goes, which seemed pointless to me. It's sad to think that any of this could be news to your typical modern women, but that said, there are unfortunately too many who have not been well-educated by parents or by schooling.

I think that what I found most annoying was how over-crowded the images were. Where there wasn't too much shading and scribbling, there was too much text. I read this on an iPad, not as a print book. I don't know how large the print book would be, but the iPad screen is fairly large, yet the text was often hard to read, and I found myself skipping lots of it because there was simply too much and it was too small to bother with, and it was rambling anyway with endless asides and footnotes. It was amusing in parts, but too often tedious to read. I did get the impression that it might be more fun to listen to the author talk about this than to read what she's written about it. Maybe she should try an audio rather than a graphic novel?

The art work wasn't very good either. It was all black and white line drawings with heavy, heavy shading and overwhelming detail, and the character depictions felt more like the weekend children's cartoons in a newspaper than they did a graphic novel. I can't recommend this as a worthy read, and I take no pleasure in that.