Connecticon 2019 Schedule

First off, I’m doing much better with this break, and I’ll be back in full force next month! And speaking of next month, I’ll be presenting panels at Connecticon 2019 in Hartford, Connecticut July 12-14. This will be my last time presenting at a fan convention–after this, I’m retiring.

But I’m going out with a bang! Here’s my schedule (subject to change if Connecticon moves things around):

Friday:

  • Fullmetal Alchemy: The Real-World Alchemical Tradition and FMA: 10:30-11:30 AM in Riverside 2
  • Anime Doesn’t Exist and Trek is for Girls: Fandom Secret Histories: 1:30-2:30 PM in Cityside 4
  • Break the World’s Shell: Apocalypse and Anime: 4-5 PM in Cityside 1
  • The Answer and the Question: The Radical Aesthetics of Steven Universe: 7-8 PM in Cityside 3

Saturday:

  • Queering the Monster: Sympathetic Others in Fantasy and Horror: 2:30-3:30 PM in Cityside 1
  • Lesbians, Flowers, and Free Will: The Anime of Kunihiko Ikuhara: (with the von Hoffmans and Judith & Natalie) 4-5 PM in Riverside 1
  • My Little Pony: A History of Gen 4: (with Viga) 5:30-6:30 PM in Riverside 1
  • The Duel Named Revolution: Making Sense of Revolutionary Girl Utena: 7-8 PM in Riverside 1

Sunday:

  • The Near Apocalypse of ’09: Trauma, Heroism, and Apocalypse in the DCAU: 10-11 AM in Cityside 1
  • The (Surprisingly) Good Place: How a Network Sitcom Became the Best SFF on TV: (with Viga) 12-1 PM in Cityside 4
  • Lost in Transmission: A History of Accidentally Transgender Narratives: (with Katriel Paige) 1:30-2:30 PM in Riverside 2

For those who’ve seen my panels before: Fullmetal Alchemy is unchanged, Fandom Secret Histories is about 2/3 new content, Break the World’s Shell is updated, The Answer and the Question is redone from scratch, Queering the Monster is new, my portion of the Ikuhara panel is content I cut from both panel and book version of Duel Named Revolution, My Little Pony is new, Duel Named Revolution is unchanged, NA09 is heavily revised, Surprisingly Good Place is new, Lost in Transmission is new, and my intent is to record all of these and post them slowly over the next year.

Also: now you know why I came this close to total burnout this month, heh. ^_^;

Pause

As you may have noticed, I haven’t posted NA09 in a week, and I haven’t posted video in even longer. Short version is, I have a lot going on at the moment, and my stress levels hit the point where it was seriously impacting my physical health. So, I’m taking a vacation from blogging and video-making. I’ll resume with the regular schedule in July. I’ll be spending this time working on shorter-term projects and polishing my stress management skills.

Vlog Review: Propaganda Cartoons 1

Bonus episode! As long as my Patreon stays over $150/mo, I’ll post two extra vlogs every month!

Welcome to a new series on propaganda cartoons! We’ll start with some WWII “classics” starring Donald Duck: “The New Spirit,” “The Spirit of ’43,” “Der Fuhrer’s Face” (the infamous “Donald as a Nazi” cartoon) and “Commando Duck” (which is SO RACIST holy crap).

Transition: The Best Year of My Life (So Far)

One year ago today, I realized I was trans. I came out to my best friend later that same day, and to my family and a few other friends that week. I was out to all my friends within a month, and started HRT around the same time. Soon after that I came fully out online. I began the process of coming out at work shortly thereafter.

Today, I present as a woman 24/7, and have no intention of ever not doing so ever again. Frankly, I’d rather die.

The reason is simple: this was the best year of my life by a substantial margin. For the first time since college, I was actually happy; for the first time ever, I was not filled with self-loathing.

They say that you’ll end up regretting anything you write about being trans in your first year of transition. I’ve therefore mostly resisted the urge to write about it in any substantive way—but it’s not my first year anymore.

The Before Times

Some people have always known they were trans. Others know they were always trans. I belong to neither camp.

I’m pretty sure I did not become trans in the moment I realized I was. That just isn’t what that moment was: it was a revelation of something self-evidently already true, not a transformation (except that in the sense that revelation is always transformative).

But I do not know how long before that I was a woman. I can point to things I wrote in the years prior that sound particularly eggy, or I can delve into my childhood for memories that suggest something going on earlier. The thing is… well, there’s this game my girlfriend told me about, a sort of icebreaker exercise used to help people recognize they’re more creative than they think. You write a bunch of jobs down on slips of paper—fireman, for instance—and put them into a hat. Then everyone draws a job, and whatever they draw, they have to discuss a childhood memory that leads logically into “and that’s when I knew I would be a fireman when I grew up.” (Or whatever they drew.)

The point is, most people can do this with most jobs. Given a narrative, we’re very good at fitting whatever facts we have into that narrative. But on the other hand, that’s what truth IS—facts plus narrative. And identity is pretty much entirely the latter.

So the facts don’t really matter: if I want, I can definitely construct a narrative that I was always a woman, and the facts fit. It’s not the only narrative they fit; but it’s a truth, a nd that’s all we’re ever going to get.

And I do want. That’s key, the absolute most important thing: I want to be a woman. I wanted to be a woman, for a long time before I realized that was all I needed to be one. The narrative was there and the facts could fit it; it was always a truth. I needed only to claim it; to throw off the narratives of others and embrace my own. (See the first chapter of Animated Discussions for an example of what is very obviously an egg working her way toward the realization that she’s trans.)

But I spent decades in misery because I too readily accepted the narratives of others, and ignored what I wanted. I was ashamed of it, and so I never quite connected the dots. I felt like there was something monstrous inside me, something evil and wrong. I lived in terror of being truly seen, because someone might discover what was inside me; I recoiled in disgust from my own body and from my sexuality. I had dreams in which I was a woman. In times of stress I fantasized about being transformed into a woman; I thought it was a weird, gross fetish. I created accounts on web fora and Tumblr—not to catfish, per se, just so that, in those times of stress, I would have spaces to retreat to where I could be the woman I wanted to be.

And so I proceeded, miserable and self-loathing, for most of my life–until late on January 2, 2018.

The Revelation

I had been starting to question my gender and sexuality for a couple of years prior to that night. I toyed with the possibility that I was somewhere on the ace spectrum, or even that I might not be entirely cis. I hadn’t made the connection yet, but I had written and published Animated Discussions, with its so obviously eggy first chapter. On December 31, I wrote an essay that had been commissioned through my Patreon, about Insexts vol. 1. I wrote about the abjection of femininity, the body as a monstrous entity within which lurks something horrifying and beautiful. Iwas nearly there.

Fast forward a couple of days, to late on January 2, near midnight. I was feeling restless and unable to sleep, so I went on Twitter. And there, I saw a tweet from my friend Ana that would, ridiculously, sublimely, utterly transform my life.

Image of a tweet from Ana Mardoll. Tweet includes a drawing of a redheaded girl in a bikini, on a beach. She is looking with surprise and delight at a flying, iridescent seahorse with butterfly wings. Text of the tweet reads, "The queerest of animals: the Rainbow Butterfly Seahorse. Legend says that just LOOKING at the creature can make you trans."

The tweet that changed everything.

In the moment I looked at that tweet, I distinctly, clearly thought a single phrase: “I wish.”

And then I realized what I’d just thought. I realized what it could mean.

It was like the entire world realigned around me. It was like solving a mystery I hadn’t even realized I was there; all of a sudden details I had never paid attention to fell into a pattern. All of a sudden things made sense. I made sense.

There was an I to make sense of!

My brain fizzed, ideas seething and churning as a new narrative assembled itself, a lifetime of drifting facts suddenly finding a structure to attach themselves to. Truth was happening. It was exhilarating and terrifying.

Not knowing what else to do. I messaged Ana: “If my immediate kneejerk reaction to [that tweet] is “Man, I *wish*…” does that mean what I think it means?” And then I waited in terror, not sure which possible answer frightened me more.

“Oh bless, love,” xie wrote back after a few minutes in which I died of several dozen heart attacks. “Yeah… As a general rule, if you want to be trans, you are.”

That was the answer I’d expected. Was it the answer I wanted? We talked a little more before Ana went to sleep. There was no possibility of me doing the same, however. My brain was fizzing much too much. I’ve never had a religious revelation, or really any kind of religious or spiritual experience at all, but this was what I imagined that would feel like: a single moment of clarity that alters the entire rest of your life, whose full implications could take years to work through.

Religion, I have come to think, is actually a good metaphor for gender. Most people get assigned one at birth, after all, based largely on circumstance. They get raised with expectations about their behavior and nature rooted in that assignment, and over time internalize their own conception of what it really means, though that conception is derived from what they’re taught about it (both deliberately and by example). Most people remain more or less satisfied with whatever they were assigned at birth, though many tweak it to fit themselves better. But for some people it never quite fits. Some of those remain, miserable, in their religion assigned at birth, because they don’t see a way out or because they believe there has to be some way to make themselves fit it. Others find another that fits them better, and convert to it. Still others start their own, or reject having one entirely.

It’s not a perfect metaphor, of course. Some religions don’t allow conversion; most of those that do have requirements of varying stringency that must be met before you can join. To be trans, on the other hand, requires only the desire. If you want to be a trans woman, or trans man, or nonbinary, or what have you? You are, and the implications of that are yours to decide.

By morning of that sleepless night, I was certain. I wanted to be a trans woman. I was a trans woman.

Coming Out

I spent the next few days terrified that it was all a mistake. I had nightmares of being subjected to batteries of tests that “proved” I wasn’t trans, and doomed me to spend my life as a cis man. But slowly I came to accept that it was real and it wasn’t going away. The “monster” I’d been keeping inside me all my life, terrified that others might see it, was out. Her name was Jenny, and she was awesome.

I went to work, I came home, I told my best friend. She was supportive, sensible, pragmatic, everything I could have hoped for. She asked if I’d picked a name yet; I said I wasn’t sure but leaning toward either “Jennifer” or “Meghan.” Talking to her, I realized Jennifer was the right name.

Later that week, I made phone calls to family. I meant to go slow, but my sisters were tremendously supportive, and my parents had questions but were supportive, and my brother had questions but was supportive… there was no reason to slow down. So I kept going. I came out to friends, I came out online; a few weeks later I came out to my boss and discussed coming out at work. While all this was going on, I found a new doctor–who was way better than the old one, and shortly after replaced by one that was better still–and started HRT.

I had the Cinderella coming-out. Everything went right. One family member had serious issues with this–that I only heard about second-hand, and they’ve always been entirely wrong about everything as long as I’ve known them, so I don’t really care. Anyway, they’re the token conservative in the family, so I expected it from them. Importantly, I haven’t spoken to them since before I came out, so I’ve never had to deal with their transphobia, and never had to care.

Everyone else–every family member, every friend, every coworker, my therapists and every member of my therapy group–has been positive and supportive. Some have grown closer: a Facebook friend I’d met in person once, at a convention in 2011, volunteered to go with me on my first makeup shopping expedition. At lunch beforehand we realized she and I had more in common than either of us knew; by the end of the trip we realized there was a powerful draw between us. Within weeks, we had fallen in love.

I know that I am, as transitions go, astoundingly privileged. I live in one of the trans-friendlies cities in the country, with some of the strongest civil rights protections. I’m fat enough to hide my Adam’s apple, quite short, and have small hands and a high-pitched voice–it is less effort for me to pass than most. I have insurance that covers some transition costs; I have access to very good physical and mental health resources via the Whitman-Walker Clinic and the Washington School of Psychiatry; I have a decently paying, steady job and no significant debts. And, most of all, I have that supportive circle of family and friends.

I am the luckiest goddamn trans girl in the world.

And I’m happy. I’m finally, for the first time in life, somebody I want to be. I feel comfortable in my body, happy with the ways it’s changing. The HRT side effects have been minimal–my pre-existing stomach problems now flare up for a week or so every month instead of popping up randomly for a day or two every couple of weeks, and that’s about it–and the effects overwhelmingly positive. My self-loathing is mostly gone, and my body no longer feels like hundreds of pounds of baggage I have to carry around 24/7; it feels like me. Of course my life isn’t perfect–no one’s ever is–and the people at the top of the government very clearly want me dead, along with significant chunks of the population. People misgender me maliciously on occasion, but mostly I don’t interact with people I don’t know, so it doesn’t happen much.

The important thing is that my life is better now, on every front, in every way, than it was a year ago. Being a trans woman is the best thing that ever happened to me; I cannot imagine wanting to be anything else. That ridiculous rainbow butterfly seahorse worked. Just looking at it turned me trans–and I’m so glad it did.

Otakon 2018 Schedule!

I’m at Otakon this weekend! I’m presenting two panels I haven’t done in a while:

  • Eva Pilots, Rose Brides, and Puella Magi: Heroic Trauma and Anime (10:45 PM Friday in Panel 7)
  • Hinamizawa Syndrome: Time Travel and Trauma from Higurashi to Erased (5:45 PM Saturday in Panel 5

If you’re there, come check me out!

My Anime Boston 2018 Panel Schedule

I’ve been sitting on this for a while: I am a featured panelist at Anime Boston 2018! With, like, perks and stuff!
It’s also going to be my first time presenting as a woman in public! I even used she/her pronouns in my bio in the program book! I’m exceedingly nervouscited.
Anyway, I’m presenting the following panels:

  • Firing the Canon: How to Stop Suspending Disbelief (and Why): 3/30 1:30-2:30 pm in Panel 310
    Yes, I am starting off the con by pissing off everyone there.
  • Spiralling Back: Gurren Lagann 10 Years Later: 3/30 6:00-7:00 pm in Panel 311
    With Viga Gadson! This is the same panel we gave at Otakon last year.
  • The Duel Named Revolution: Making Sense of Revolutionary Girl Utena3/30 11:00 pm-12:00 am in Panel 309
    Trying something a bit different–instead of being an ultracondensed version of the chapter of the same name in Animated Discussions, I instead drew on the first and last chapters to discuss queer identity, because OH HEY for SOME REASON that’s on my mind lately, plus it ties in well with the color symbolism stuff I posted here a couple months back, so a discussion of that is in there too.
  • Anime Doesn’t Exist: The Secret History of a Fandom:  3/31 10:30-11:30 am in Panel 310
    Why yes, I DID take advantage of featured panelist status to submit two panels that exist solely to piss off the audience. How kind of you to notice! This makes use of a lot of the same information as the secret history chapter of Animated Discussion, but to a slightly different place–that while the Japanese word anime refers to a sensible category of things, the English cognate creates a distinction without a difference.
  • Fullmetal Alchemy: The Real-World Alchemical Tradition and FMA: 3/31/2018 5:30-6:30 pm in Panel 311
    This is my standard alchemy panel. I like giving it, people like seeing it, why change?
  • The Avatar in Amestris: A Comparative Study3/31 9:30-10:30 pm in room Hynes Panel 309
    I’ve been sitting on these ideas for a while: Avatar: The Last Airbender and Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood as mirror images, (inevitably failed) attempts by one culture to tell their own stories through the medium of the other, with an astonishing amount of (entirely coincidental) similarities.
  • More Forgotten Classics and Overlooked Gems: 4/1 12:00-1:00 pm in Panel 206
    My not-a-recommendations-panel-but-it-totally-is is back! I swapped out about half of the things from last year for new things, and by “new things” I mean “old things that have been forgotten or flew under the radar in the first place.”

Movies I saw in 2017, ranked

The following is a list of movies I saw for the first time in 2017, ranked from the one I liked most to the one I liked least, and with brief comments. (Comments are written with the assumption that the reader has seen the movie.) Note, though, that I liked every movie I saw this year.

  • your name.: This is it. This is the movie where I can finally stop qualifying the statement “Makoto Shinkai is a genius.” Prior to this, I always had to append “but this movie only points to his potential without showing its full extent.” But your name. shows what he’s truly capable of–like almost all of his work, your name. uses a science-fictional high-concept premise to tell an intensely personal story of love and loss, but in the past he’s had trouble landing the emotional beats and pulling off the concept at the same time, generally succeeding in one or the other, but never both. In your name., he does both. (And, of course, it’s visually stunning, but that should go without saying–it’s Makoto Shinkai.)
  • Thor: Ragnarok: The only way to truly move on from the horrors of empire is to burn the society built from that empire. Keep the people, but destroy the structures of power. Easily the best Thor movie and the best Guardians of the Galaxy movie.
  • Lego Batman Movie: This is the best Batman movie ever made.
  • Wonder Woman: Incredibly important for what it does and what it achieved, and many moments are brilliant–but the whole ends up less than the some of the parts. Plus it implies that Diana sat around doing nothing during the Holocaust, which goes beyond being out-of-character and shades into character assassination.
  • Spider-Man: Homecoming: Finally, a Spider-Man movie that gets it.
  • The Last Jedi: This is the best Star Wars movie because it’s the only one that realizes Star Wars is actually terrible: heroes get people killed, desperate last stands against overwhelming odds usually fail, terrible fucking people who do one good deed usually go right back to being terrible, and rebellions are built on sacrifice, not hope. Now if we can just get that droid uprising…
  • Guardians of the Galaxy 2: Looks great, and I’m a sucker for father-son stuff, but it’s fluff. To its credit, it knows it.

Movies I know I need to see:

  • Get Out
  • Coco
  • Professor Marsden and the Wonder Women
  • My Little Pony: The Movie

What movies did you like this year? Dislike? Are there any movies not on this list that I need to go see?

Book Review: Neoreaction a Basilisk by Phil Sandifer

Due diligence: I’m friends with the author, read and commented on an early draft of the titular essay, and backed both this book’s Kickstarter and his Patreon, and received the book through those channels. I have no financial stake in this book.
That out of the way: this book is properly brilliant. Perhaps the best testament to its brilliance is that I’ve tried three times to express how brilliant it is and ended up a couple paragraphs into an inadequate summary of the first essay before I deleted my review and started over.
This is a book full of monsters–philosophical horrors that represent the degree to which the worst ideas of the worst people are strangling our world in their tentacles, with each essay explores a different branch of this theme, one of the tentacles of the skulltopus. One by one, it looks at technophiliac white supremacists, nihilistically misogynistic gamers, Trump, anarcho-capitalist authoritarians, conspiracy theorists, transphobic second-wave feminists, and Peter Thiel, exploring their ideas (or, in the case of Trump, who doesn’t seem to have any, the psychic landscape of New York that spawned him) and seeking the monsters within.
But this is not simply a litany of all the ways in which terrible people are terrible. Instead, Sandifer repeatedly gives his subjects the opportunity to hang themselves by their own ropes, and shows how inevitably they do; ultimately, all seven topics are haunted by what Sandifer calls “basilisks,” ideas from which they flee but which they can never escape. In this, Sandifer borrows the name from Roko’s basilisk, a frankly hilarious incident in which a community of AI cranks accidentally reinvented Pascal’s wager and terrified themselves with it; the concept itself, however, he accredits to Eugene Thacker’s observations on the relationship between philosophy and horror.
Along the way are typically Sandiferian delights. As always, his ability to sensitively elucidate the bizarre thought processes of utter cranks is without peer; the first essay in particular is impressive in this regard, as it is constructed as a widening spiral through the thoughts of AI crank and Harry Potter fanfiction author Eliezer Yudkowsky, political crank and designer of questionable software Curtis Yarvin (a.k.a Mencius Moldbug), and drug-addled philosophy crank Nick Land. Throughout, one gets the feeling that Sandifer is going out of his way to be kind to his subjects, but it is not because they deserve it; instead it is to give them plenty of rope with which to hang themselves. The three ultimately come across, respectively, as a well-meaning crank who’d be harmless if not for the people listening to him, an utterly despicable human being, and a fascinating train wreck. The fifth essay is also a delight along these lines, as it playfully uses David Icke’s “lizard people” conspiracy theory as a basis from which to take apart conspiracy theories as a whole. (But again, Sandifer’s obvious fondness for cranks never quite crosses the line into forgetting that, for example, David Icke’s ideas are repulsively anti-Semitic, or that Land is providing intellectual cover for racism.)
Admittedly, the book is not perfect. I adore “Theses on a President,” for example, but it’s definitely out there–I love the metaphor of a Faustian exchange, giving up his name to become a brand, to represent the kind of toxic performativity that Trump exemplifies, but I suspect readers less familiar with Sandifer (and let’s face it, if you need a review to help you decide whether to buy this book, you’re not) might find it a bridge too far so soon after being asked to swallow the psychogeographic approach. At least, I know I would discounted the essay at that point, if I didn’t already have the introduction to psychogeography Sandifer helpfully provided in his earlier work. At the other end of the scale, the last two chapters feel a little perfunctory–particularly the last. Admittedly, it doesn’t take a whole lot of words to say “Peter Thiel’s basilisk is that he’s an idiot who got lucky,” but ultimately Thiel gets little more attention than some of the figures discussed in passing in the first essay–and given that he comes up in the first essay, it’s not clear why he deserves a chapter of his own.
All that said, this is still a vitally important book, and more importantly an excellent one. I cannot recommend it enough–and indeed, I intend to recommend it to everyone I know who is even remotely interested in politics, philosophy, or their intersection. This is Phil’s best work yet, and that is saying something.

You can buy Neoreaction a Basilisk here.