A few resources re: Manning’s transition from Bradley to Chelsea.

Not an expert, not a member of the LGBTQ community, etc, etc, all the caveats. Also, FWIW, I’m pretty convinced that Manning’s massive leak to Julian Assange, a foreign national, in the knowledge that Assange would turn around and indiscriminately dump unprecedented amounts of classified information into the public domain was not a good, right, or smart thing to do. Aside from anything else, Manning was a soldier at the time, and had taken an oath. As Josh Marshall wrote at TPM yesterday

Soldiers get in huge trouble for going AWOL, even though one individual soldier abandoning his post seldom does much damage to a country or an army. This is a far graver insubordination with incalculably more widespread consequences….. I think a military force requires a substantial amount of secrecy to operate in any reasonable way. So when someone on the inside breaks those rules, I need to see a really, really good reason. And even then I’m not sure that means you get off scott free.

At the same time, I’m also pretty well convinced the the level of government and military freak out over Manning’s actions does not accurately reflect the damage done, the intent, or the person responsible. As Amy Davidson wrote in The New Yorker yesterday: “This sentence, given all we know about Manning and what he did (and what was done to him), is a strikingly harsh one.”

I highly recommend that you read both pieces (both of which also discuss the Edward Snowden case and both of which are excellent, in very different ways), but, that’s not what I’m here about.

This morning Manning came out as transgender, and asked to be called Chelsea and referred to with female pronouns henceforth. I happen to have read something at Boing Boing some time ago (possibly as long as two years ago) that indicated that Manning identified as a woman — a hugely complicating factor for anyone making the kind of moral and ethical choices that the then-20 year old Manning felt duty-bound to make (as Davidson wrote yesterday [before the request had been made to transition to female pronouns]: “He thought, his lawyer argued in the trial, that he might save someone, or everyone”).

As far as I’m concerned, you are who you tell me you are. Chelsea Manning is a woman. Period, full-stop — and it’s a matter of sheer good manners and civility to refer to her as such. Whether or not I agree with the actions which earned her a dishonorable discharge and 8-35 years at Fort Leavenworth is utterly and completely beside that point.

So. Here are just a few resources that I’ve found useful as I’ve attempted in recent years to become more familiar with the reality of trans folks. I hope you find them helpful, and would love any added recommendations.

  1. Transgender Terminology – a vocabulary resource (the good, the bad, and the don’t-ever), by GLAAD.
  2. Led by the Child Who Simply Knew – a beautiful feature article in the Boston Globe about a girl who knew she was a girl even though her family thought she and her twin brother were both boys.
  3. How To Make Love to a Trans Person – a beautiful poem about how we talk about bodies and making love: “Break those words open/ Like a paramedic cracking ribs…. Scratch new definitions on the bones.”
  4. A good (brief) definition and explanation of “cisgender,” a recently coined term which roughly means people who identify with the gender they were assigned (“it’s a girl!”) at birth.
  5. And finally, I’ve posted it before, I’m posting it again – Hank Green’s video on Human Sexuality. It’s remarkable, and less than four minutes long.

This is VidCon, too.

vidconI haven’t been around virtually because I’ve been away physically: The boy wanted to go to VidCon, dedicated his bar mitzvah money to that precise purpose, and this past weekend, that’s where we were.

And if you’re unfamiliar with VidCon (as every single person I know in Meat Space appears to be), reading “we were at VidCon” won’t tell you much, so A) you might want to click the link I embedded above, and B) I’mma tell you a little something about it.

VidCon is an annual gathering of YouTube creators and their fans, founded by The Vlogbrothers, Hank and John Green, in 2009. It started out in a hotel basement; this year, there were about 11,500 attendees. The content created by all those YouTube creators ranges from daily vlogging, to dissemination of the news (from gossip to politics), to Harry Potter parodies, to Disney parodies (watchthiswatchthiswatchthis: “After Ever After”), to music, to scifi, to imaginary rap battles between cultural icons, to chemistry explorations/explosions, to… well, whatever you can think of and then something else you’ve never imagined.

Hank Green — self-described “Internet Guy” — is also a biochemist and environmental scientist, and John Green is also a mega-author whose The Fault in Our Stars is being made into a movie, kind of as we speak. But what they are, really, is wonderfully creative and generous people who have taken bold steps and made great stuff (such as the Crash Course series, in which John teaches literature and history, and Hank teaches science), and occasionally done very silly things, too (and, you know, not always in the good sense of “silly”…), and at every step of the way, every single moment at which their own stars have burned even just a little brighter, they have caught the hands of other people and brought them along.

And this is where we get to my point: In the course of creating what became The Vlogbrothers, John and Hank also created Nerdfighteria, the notional transglobal hometown of Nerds who fight to decrease world suck and increase world awesome — which, while not (perhaps) the most elegant way of putting things, has a way of cutting right through to the heart of the matter.

And baked right into decreasing world suck and increasing world awesome is being generous, and bringing others along, and building up rather than tearing down, and celebrating delight. It’s about being human and humane and allowing the best of everyone to emerge and not telling anyone who they are or how they must be, but letting people tell their own stories and own their own truth. And when Nerdfighteria is at VidCon, it’s not about the inevitable distance between creator and audience, but about climbing over that wall, about collaboration, and inclusion, and engagement. (Ok, here’s an example: Hank and John are forever saying that they got into all this by being impressed and moved by a different vlogger, Ze Frank [I particularly recommend his Sad Cat Diary and Human Tests], and thus all credit for the entire thing belongs to him).

This was a group of 11,000-12,000 people hugging each other, being kind to each other, feting each other’s talent and joy, and laughing a lot. I can’t tell you — I mean, I really can’t, I don’t begin to have enough of the right words for it — what it means as a parent to watch my just-barely-not-14-year-old boy move into the world through that door. The boy and I spent a lot of time entirely apart on Friday and Saturday (I was there, after all, as a facilitation device, not as a boon companion) and at any given moment, when I looked into those vast crowds, I knew he was fine. I knew he was surrounded by people who were kind and generous and laughing.

Kind and generous and laughing and mutually supportive in ways that really matter — here’s another example: At Saturday’s panel on Educational Content on YouTube (on the panel: Emily Graslie of The Brain Scoop, Derek Muller of Veritasium, Destin of Smarter Every Day, and John Green, in this case wearing his Crash Course hat), John fielded a question about his plans for future Crash Course History videos, and in among the response was a sentence that went something like this: “Here’s the problem – as a white, heterosexual, cis-gendered male, I need to acknowledge that…”. I mean, seriously. This guy and his brother (who created this why-haven’t-you-watched-it-yet video on human sexuality) are the people who founded this thing, and this is the way they talk.

Cut to the next day — the boy and I are in line at Disneyland, and he’s staring into the middle distance. Suddenly: “Mom?”

“Yes?”

“I’ve thought of another reason that men need feminism.”

The reason boiled down to the fact that our culture doesn’t allow men to unironically enjoy experiences that aren’t deemed “masculine” — but he had just emerged from two and a half days in which men all around him were doing that, and supporting women in doing whatever they want to do. Which is to say: While the boy is right that men need feminism as much as women do, he’s able to see and articulate that better after watching feminist men and women in action.

Soon after this exchange, while waiting to get on a different ride, I tweeted this:

and of all things, John Green (!) himself replied, thusly:

But that’s the thing, isn’t it? Good parenting (and the husband and I are good parents, I have no doubt about that and will wrestle to the ground anyone who says otherwise, though possibly not in front of the children, because: Role Models!) is very, very important and yes, we talk with both of our kids about all of these things, all the time.

But #vidcon — and by extension, all culture and any community that supports the kind of world-suck-decreasing-world-awesome-increasing humanity that we’re trying to teach our children — is buried deep in a moment like that one my son and I had as we waited to get on the Indiana Jones Adventure. It takes a village, for real, and VidCon isn’t just an opportunity to squeal upon seeing one’s favorite YouTubers (the boy and I didn’t squeal, but trust: there was squealing), it’s also a culture and a community that teaches 14 year old boys to think in ways that the broader culture often fails to do.

And I mean, sure: VidCon was also very, very long lines. It was also pretty Caucasian (though efforts are being made on that front, as well). It was also (if you ask me) way too much veneration of Disney musicals. And I suspect that if you were looking for it, it was also debauchery and people making the occasional bad choice, too.

But mostly it was enthusiasm and intelligence and generosity and celebrating delight and all kinds of things that I want more of in my own life, not to mention the boy’s (the girl’s).

VidCon is an annual gathering of YouTube creators and their fans — but this is VidCon, too.

And that’s my report for today. As they say in my hometown: Don’t forget to be awesome.

nerdfighter-logo

Update: Apparently there were some isolated cases of young girls being harassed/assaulted (I hope it was more the latter than the former, though I don’t know, and Lord knows the former is sufficiently terrible) at the Con — here’s John Green’s response thus far, and based on previous exposure to both Vlogbrothers, there will likely be more forthcoming.

Egypt Explained – no, really.

I just had to post this video by Hank Green laying out the basics of the situation in Egypt (Hank is one-half of the fabulous Vlogbrothers and host of Crash Course Science; the other half of the Vlogbrothers is now-mega-author John Green, author of The Fault in Our Stars, among other lovely books). I will confess: I had no idea of the extent of the Egyptian military’s economic apparatus, and that said apparatus is broad enough to include such things as refrigerators and chickens — so thank you Hank Green, all you Egyptian Nerdfighters who helped him, and especially, apparently, a Nerdfighter by the name of Mokhtar Awad!

“And when Mubarak [was] like – ‘hey, military, we’ve got a problem. Right?’, they’re like ‘Noooaaah, not really.'”

*

Mind you, I was first introduced to the Vlogbrothers and inducted into Nerdfighter culture by my then-12 year old son via a video that John Green [then a respected author, but not yet a MEGA-author] made about the 2008/9 war in Gaza. So the fact that Hank produced this video and hit it so far out of the park should come as no surprise (and didn’t, really. I was not surprised. Perhaps you were surprised? I, however, was not).

Update: It occurs to me to note that Hank Green is also the dude behind an astonishingly good explainer on human sexuality (click here) and an entirely impassioned plea to exercise your right to vote, the latter of which was ultimately posted to the President’s own Tumblr account (click here and scroll down). So. Yeah. Dude’s ok, is what I’m saying.

I told you so.

Remember October 3rd? When the President of these United States had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad debate performance? And progressives and liberals and assorted Democrats were all “WE’RE DOOOOOOOOOOOOOOMED!!1!eleven!!”

Yeah, that.

So, I knew Obama wouldn’t let that happen again. And I knew that Biden would help out. You might not believe me that I knew it, but I actually have proof that I knew it, to wit:

I also knew (even as everyone was wailing that RickPerry-NewtGingrich-RickSantorum-MicheleBachman-HermanCain is going to be the nominee!!) that the GOP would nominate Romney. (I have proof of that, too, but digging up a tweet that old would be a sign of very ill-organized priorities, I think).

I say this because I’m going to make another prediction, and I would like my bona fides in full view, you see.

So first, let me briefly explain why/how “I knew” in these other cases.

  1. Romney: Every other Republican nominee (other than Huntsman, who dropped out) was some version of unhinged. Political parties may occasionally enjoy/exploit “unhinged” in the lead-up to an election, but they (and in particular, the people who spend the money) do not like unhinged as the game gets real. Moreover, while the record shows that many within the party genuinely loathe Romney, I think that Republican big wigs have known for some time that the chances of them taking the White House this year are a little dicey, in no small part because things got a little out of hand with the Tea Party (occasionally, powerful people forget that the unhinged peons they’re exploiting are autonomous beings). So, they throw the 2012 election Mitt’s way — if he wins, huzzah! If he loses, he’s out of their hair.
  2. Biden: Joe Biden is not, contrary to urban myth, some crazy old Uncle who smiles a lot and says wacky things. He’s actually a prodigiously skilled and deeply experienced politician who owns the speaker’s podium and knows how to engage in debate in a way that drives a knife through the ribs while coming across as almost impossibly likable (who occasionally says wacky things). Paul Ryan, on the other hand, is a young, inexperienced politician who came to national prominence at a time when just saying something with real conviction was considered making an argument. Ryan is very good at stating his positions with real conviction and coming across as entirely sincere when he does it — but defending those positions against the skills of a (I believe) far more gifted man who just happens to have been getting legislation passed in the US Senate for decades? Yeah. No.
  3. Obama: Barack Obama, while neither a magic unicorn nor a perfect man, is exceptionally good at what he does (witness the fact that he got a black man elected President). When Obama makes mistakes, particularly mistakes that are entirely his fault, dude gets back up. He gets back up and brings all of his exceptional-ness to bear on the mistake, and he is righteous and furious and wholly dedicated. I knew he would shake off the unforced error, home his (I believe) genius on the facts before him, read Romney like a paperback novel, and mop the ding-dang floor. Which is precisely what he did at Hofstra — occasionally just by letting Romney be Romney (“please proceed, Governor.” Heh).

So what am I predicting this time? Let me tell you.

The next debate will not be the giddy rush that the Hofstra debate was. Romney had gotten a little cocky (I think that’s his secret, Captain — he’s always cocky) but now, and I guarantee you this: He is furious.

He was beat and beat good, and it doesn’t matter how right wing pundits are spinning it — he knows he was beat. And I believe that Romney believes pretty strongly that no one deserves to beat him. At anything. (He’s got a wee sense of entitlement, is what I’m saying here). So he is going to prepare much better, and fire whoever gave him that bad Libya talking point, and be as laser-focused as he can — which, as James Fallows points out, doesn’t always work out, but he’s sure as hell going to do his best. And he’s no slouch.

This then leads to my next prediction:

I actually remain convinced that Obama will win re-election (and not just because the prospect of a Romney presidency makes me want to shatter into tiny pieces), but I am equally convinced that it will be way, way closer than it has any right to be, for a whole host of reasons (starting with low voter turn-out, moving through party loyalty, on to whiny disappointed liberals, and not failing to stop at Racism Station).

And if he is re-elected narrowly, you can bet the farm that the down ticket won’t fare all that well.

Which means it’s on us!

I was all set to volunteer with the campaign last week when I got sick and couldn’t go, but I’m all right now, and I’mma hit the streets. Pleasepleaseplease: If you want to see this President re-elected (and while I clearly have a good record as a prognosticator, I have been known to be wrong on occasion!) and you want to see him greeted by a US Congress that will actually work with him, and not work to ruin him, do what you can.

Do an hour of phonebanking; knock on doors with your local Democrats; go to a swing state with your local Democrats; send a small check; send a large check; go out with the campaign for a few hours on election day; remind everyone you know of the incalculable importance of actually voting — and if you need help with that latter, just watch the Hank Green video after the jump (and in case you doubt my endorsement of said video, bear in mind that the Obama campaign posted it on their very own tumblr).

Trust me on this! I have a good track record. Get Out The Vote!

*****

(more…)

“The best video on human sexuality ever” – my 13 year old son.

There I was dozing on the couch (as one does) when I heard my 8th grader, sitting one room away at his computer, say the words “that was the best video on teenage sexuality I’ve ever seen.”

Now, it turns out he’d actually said “human sexuality,” but either way, those are words that will perk your ears right up.

I lifted my head as much as I could, yelled a muffled “Send me the link!” and — irresponsible mother that I am — fell back into a doze. But then! The very first thing I did when I arose from my slumber was to click on that link (responsibility!).

Now, I will admit, the instant I saw that the video in question had been made by Hank Green — of the VlogBrothers, Crash Course, DFTBA Records, and General Awesomeness — any concern I might have had was (and I mean this) instantly erased. The Green brothers have already taught the boy (and me) any number of wonderful things, and I have real confidence that anything either one of them might say about human sexuality is something that I can get 100% behind. Truly.

But you know: Still. If one’s boy is watching videos about human sexuality, one should watch said videos. Moreover, and not incidentally, now I was interested. What, in fact, had Hank Green said?

Well, as it turns out: Only everything. Only everything that anybody should ever say or hear about human sexuality, whether teenage or otherwise. Only everything, and in three minutes, forty-nine seconds, no less. Watch, and marvel.

And then maybe share it around, because honest to Pete. These are words that everyone on earth needs to hear. Especially these ones:

But what’s really important is that we trust ourselves and we understand ourselves, and we love and respect ourselves, and we grant that same understanding and respect to the people around us.

Thanks, Hank!