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Google Checkout option is gone

Date: April 30, 2007

I received an email from Google Checkout. Below is an excerpt from the email:

During a recent review, we found that your website accepts donations. In accordance with Google Checkout policies, you may only use Google Checkout to process donations if your business has a legitimate tax exempt status and displays this status publicly. It appears that your business doesn’t have a legitimate tax exempt status. As a result, your pending donation orders have been cancelled.

Sure enough, Google’s list of items prohibited includes “Donation solicitations from parties without a valid 501(c)(3) tax exempt status clearly displayed to the public,” along with other things, most of which are either illegal or regulated.

I’m assuming that the concern for Google is that individuals and organizations would use Google Checkout to solicit donations fraudulently for personal gain. But I don’t agree that 501(c)(3) status is the only legitimate way to run social justice projects. In my involvement with many 501(c)(3) non-profits, I’ve come to realize that it tends to create ineffectual bureaucracy, and take away resources from smaller, more radical activist projects. Once dominated by larger 501(c)(3) groups with highly paid professionals as executives, their goal changes from creating solutions to social problems to simply supplementing the state in its effort to maintain status quo–and the movement dies.

I’ve chosen to run my organization, Intersex Initiative as a private entity without any government, foundation or corporate grants in part because I don’t like doing paperwork, but also in part because I didn’t want to turn it into yet another bureaucracy. It is primarily funded through giving lectures at various universities, and also by keeping it cheap (I work out of my own Studio apartment, etc.).

So anyway, I’ve removed Google Checkout as a payment option for all of my websites, including this one. Congratulations, Google!

I went to Brown University, but it was actually White

Date: April 25, 2007

I heard from someone at Brown University (where I gave a lecture earlier this month) that some people are spreading the rumor that I said something that supported “normalizing” genital surgeries for intersex children. I am completely puzzled by this–after all, below is an excerpt from the talk I gave:

While some of these children have come to identify as boys or men later in their lives and are rightfully upset about the feminizing surgeries done to them, that is not the only or even the most fundamental complaint we have about infant genital surgeries. We oppose these surgeries because there is a risk every time a knife hits flesh, including risks of infection, loss of sensation including sexual sensation, and the possibility that repeated surgeries would be required later, in some cases over a dozen times. We oppose them because children aren’t given any choice over what is being done to them, and are often not told about what had been done to them. We oppose them for the pattern of secrecy and shame that surgeries trigger.

Feminizing surgeries often involve removal of all or part of what doctors consider enlarged clitoris (clitoridectomy), and the creation of vaginal opening (vaginoplasty). It should be obvious to us today that clitoridectomy is harmful to a woman’s sexual well-being, but mostly male doctors who came up with the idea back in the 1950s apparently did not realize that clitoris played an important role, assuming that women derived sexual pleasure either exclusively or primarily from being vaginally penetrated. We could laugh about their backward sexist and heterosexist ignorance if it weren’t the case that many mostly male, mostly heterosexual doctors continue to believe that it is possible to remove the “shaft” of an enlarged clitoris, while preserving its “tip,” to reduce the size of clitoris without sacrificing sensation. It’s incomprehensible that such a myth continues to survive and is being used to justify what they now call “clitoral reconstruction surgery,” (which is sort of like U.S. forces “rebuilding” Iraq), when no sane doctor would suggest that men only get pleasure from pressures on the tip of the penis, and that the shaft is irrelevant to male sexuality.

Similarly, vaginoplasty is promoted as a necessity on the same sexist and heterosexist presumption about the female body. The procedure actually involves surgically creating an opening between the patient’s legs, then keeping the vaginal walls from sticking back together over next several months, since human bodies naturally heal, like earring holes would close up if one doesn’t wear piercing to hold it open. When adult male-to-female transsexual women decide to have vaginoplasty on their own choice, they would need to “dilate” their surgically created vagina with a medical version of dildo for certain length of time every day over several months. But when vaginoplasty is performed on infants and young children, parents–usually the mother–would need to insert some foreign object into the child’s vagina every day, even as the child scream from the pain on her recently wounded flesh.

Does that seem like a lecture supporting surgeries?

It turns out that the person who is spreading the false allegation did not even attend my talk. That figures.

In the meantime, I wrote a draft of the FAQ on the controversy over the term “DSD” (disorders of sex development). Please take a look, and give me feedback.

Cyborg isn’t a good metaphor for everything

Date: April 20, 2007

I went back to the annual meeting of the Cultural Studies Association, this time to see this particular panel on various applications of the cyborg theory. I’m not all that into cyborg theory (after all, I haven’t read much beyond Donna Haraway’s original Cyborg Manifesto, which is almost 20 years old and I’m sure that the theory has since evolved considerably), but what caught my attention was the title of Maura Daly’s paper, “Pain at the Interface: Thinking about intersex as cyborg embodiment.” When I searched for her name, a bio came up, which mentioned that she was writing a book called “Technologies of Intersex.” The title sounded like one of those typical Cultural Studies texts in which real people are reduced to theoretical device to advance abstract ideas, and I dreaded having to confront it.

To my surprise, Daly’s presentation turned out to be extremely sensitive to the fact that intersex is a lived experience for real people rather than just some concept or theoretical point to be made, and she was well educated in the latest development in the field as well. Daly explained that she had wrote her dissertation on cyborg theory and approached intersex thinking that it would be a good subject matter to apply it, but as she learned more about intersex, she began to question if cyborg really was an appropriate metaphor here. It made me happy: when a scholar commits to a particular theoretical position or mode of inquiry, it’s easy for her or him to view everything as objects to be analyzed or explained using that particular tool. That Daly was willing to question and possibly abandon the theoretical tool she was familiar with shows her dedication to ethical scholarship in relationship to real, live people it may impact.

Which is not to say that intersex doesn’t raise interesting questions to the cyborg theory: for example, intersex as a cyborg embodiment is said to challenge dichotomized and naturalized sex categories, and yet such notion itself carries, ironically, a strange sense of essentialism, that for intersex bodies to occupy the in-between space (i.e. forgo surgical technology) is “natural.” Similarly, Haraway criticizes older feminisms’ yarning for organic “wholeness”; and yet, much of the intersex movement is driven by such yarning. But when the discussion headed into theoretical direction, Daly was careful to clarify that most people born with intersex conditions actually identify and live as ordinary men or women, and that being born with an intersex condition therefore doesn’t imply occupying the social space between males and females. “Most people identify as male or female,” she said, “because it’s torturous not to.” In the end, Daly said that perhaps more complicated analysis is needed to properly address intersex embodiment than cyborg theory’s critique of “natural body” and “wholeness.”

Another part of the presentation I was intrigued by is how intersex movement is committing itself to more medicalizing discourse in order to transform the treatment–and it’s far more complicated than the recent controversy over the term “DSD” (disorder of sex development) versus “intersex”: for example, when we criticize clitoral “reduction” surgery because it “reduces sexual sensation,” where sexual sensation is scientifically measured and compared to the control group, we are in effect medicalizing our dissent. Of course it’s more effective, but nonetheless something I feel is important to keep thinking about.

Anyway, I was very glad that I attended the panel. Daly said that she was worried about misrepresenting intersex people or doing something wrong by writing about it, but it is precisely people like her who should write about it. There are scholars who don’t care about the real world impact of their scholarly work and there are those who do: the former don’t care about what we think, so they keep publishing stupid papers; the latter often are too afraid of making mistakes to actually write. I encouraged Daly to write about her own process of approaching the topic of intersex with a predetermined agenda (i.e. showcasing cyborg theory) and how her goals have transformed as the result of learning about the issue, because I feel that other scholars should definitely emulate her in this regard.

It was my first year at the Cultural Studies Association

Date: April 19, 2007

Today I went to hear the first plenary (“Ethics and Environment”) of the Cultural Studies Association annual conference, which conveniently is happening in my home town, Portland. Panelists were: Jill Casid of University of Wisconsin; Andrew Ross of New York University; and Devon Peña of University of Washington.

Casid introduced me to a subject entirely foreign to me, which is the burgeoning industry of Caribbean cruse ships. Tourism’s relationship to colonialism has been heavily theorized and critiqued, but this particular subsection of the tourism industry seems to go extreme length to Give Customers What They Want: tropical wonderland away from cold rainy North American cities, while keeping tourists completely safe and protected from potentially dangerous terrain of the actual, unfiltered Caribbean world. Tourists are taken to various ports across the Caribbean, complete with duty-free shopping malls that have been specifically built for the cruise ship travelers; in some places entire ports are being built just for them. Of course, these mega-Disneylands are built by the same companies that bring the customers there to maximize the profit for the Western tourism industry.

Comparison can be made between these tourist honey-pots to the colonial plantation of the past (and present) but I almost feel that it’s better that the tourists are kept in their own ports and shopping malls instead of invading where locals live: it’s less disruptive, even after accounting for the land being taken away to make room for them. One of the concerns is that the money spent at the tourists-only shopping malls don’t benefit the local economies, but I would think that reliance on tourist dollars would weaken the local economy, rather than strengthening it.

Ross spoke about the contradiction and unintended consequences of urban sprawl policies and how it impacts housing problems (especially, lack of low income housing), as well as its relationship to anti-immigrant rhetoric. Years ago I was part of this “task force” on gentrification, which was a huge concern for me since I’ve had to move out of house four separate times due to the change of ownership, but the politics of urban development continues to confuse me. I suppose that the reason it’s so confusing is because we are largely talking about unintended consequences of well-intentioned policies (e.g. rent control laws resulting in lack of low-income housing, or development to enrich communities of color resulting in higher rent, which in turn push many people of color out) and innocent individual choices.

As Ross mentioned, Portland is often cited as one of the most successful of the “smart growth” cities–that is, a city that limits urban sprawl through land-use regulations. At the same time, it is more expensive to rent than “dumber” cities, which pushes low-income households out. One of the very convincing argument against sprawl had been that it would segregate residents by race, class and income levels–and yet, anti-sprawl measures may also have the same consequence! No wonder it’s so confusing…

Last but not least, Peña presented about the 14-acre community farm in South Central, Los Angeles, which was started shortly after the Rodney King riot and closed down last year by the land owner (they raised money to purchase the land, but the landlord refused to sell and evicted them). The story was truly remarkable–so much so that I sort of became a little bit suspicious that he might be glorifying it too much. Of course even if there were some problems that he chose not to discuss in this presentation, that doesn’t mean that their attempt to build an environmentally-aware, democratic, self-sustaining collective farm for indigenous Mesoamerican people isn’t valid or crucial (ooo, double negative!)…

Someone from the audience asked Peña in the question and answer time what the difference between someone from Mexico bringing in seeds from Mexico to grow food they are familiar with and the colonialists transporting sheep or tea or coffee or whatever to plantation in the global South was. Huh? Well, a collective farm is not a plantation, Mexicans are not foreign to the land, and they are making food that they themselves eat. In other words: they are very very different, period. How superficial must someone be? But I was also weary of Peña’s response: for example, he mentioned that the seeds are for the species that are native to North America so farmers weren’t introducing any new species, just “different alleles”–but that different allele may cause a huge impact in the surrounding environment, and is a valid environmental concern.

Bitch magazine digs “Disloyal to Feminism”

Date: April 17, 2007

In the new issue of Bitch: Feminist Response to Pop Culture (No. 35), Keidra Chaney says something nice about my contribution to Color of Violence: The INCITE! Anthology:

[…] The range of contributors is both the book’s greatest strength and its weakness. Some of the weaker essays rely too strongly on anecdotal accounts and individualistic analysis, rather than critical inquiry; many read more like position statements, reflecting their conference-presentation origins. The best essays, however, combine anecdotal and personal experience with nuanced critical analysis, such as “Disloyal to Feminism: Abuse of Survivors within the Domestic Violence Shelter System,” in which Emi Koyama deftly melds her own experience as a domestic violence shelter worker with short vignettes that critique the criminalization that occurs from within the battered women’s shelter system. […]

Thanks Keidra! :-)

Okay, so let’s see if this goes anywhere…

Date: April 17, 2007

Several years ago I started writing blog on this very page, but quit after a month or so because there weren’t any responses–I guess it was too early. So this is my second attempt at maintaining a blog, and I’m not sure if it would stick this time around… Stay tuned as I configure the site and get it running properly.