Monday, December 27, 2010

Another Present

The best part about a vacation, is more vacation. With the awesome storm we just had, there are plenty of reasons to stay inside and enjoy some rest in bed.

I would like to say that I got the truck free from the surrounding snow, but I failed. I will try again tomorrow. The rest of the day involves cooking, baking, resting and watching movies. I love holi/snowdays.
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Monday, December 20, 2010

“Easy there pilgrim”: Exploring Gender Assignment within a Binary System

    For a number of reasons, the biggest of which is time, I have not posted any of my papers for the semester on this blog. This is a research paper that I did for my University Writing course.


Citizens of the United States of America take great pride in the numerous technological advancements and various cultural influences that allow them to convey their individuality in a myriad of ways. From New York City to Los Angeles, freedom and eccentricity reign. Liberty is seen as the sacred foundation of this country, yet within this nation, traditional views about gender limit the free expression of those not defined within the current binary system, and in restraining their uniqueness they are inadequately able to express their autonomy.

    Gender has typically been viewed in terms of man and woman; this corresponds with our concept of sex—male and female, yet according to Kristin Zeiler and Anette Wickstrom of Linkoping University, 1.7 to 4% of children born are intersex, meaning to be born with ambiguous genitalia, which is more common than children born with Down's syndrome (Zeiler and Wickstrom 359). In their article "Why do 'we' perform surgery on new born intersexed children?" they point out that parents of these kids are often frustrated when entrusted medical professionals do not know what sex the infant is. If the sex is hard to determine, then the gender will also create more difficulty. This concept of intersex is hard to understand while still holding the traditional view of a binary nature of sex and gender (Zeiler and Wickstrom 364). Parents look to doctors to give them answers which do not always fall in their realm of expertise. If the child is born with a slow heart rate or shallow breathing, a doctor could prescribe a treatment, but with the case of intersex children, there is no clear answer because there isn't a clear understanding of the situation.

    To understand the concept of gender assignment, we must first realize that there is much that we do not know. Laura Erickson-Schroth, a resident at NYU Langone Medical Center and author of many books about trans-gender issues claims that a "common assumption is that gender and sex are the same thing" (Erickson-Schroth 60). While sex is determined by the chromosomes in our DNA, gender does not have clear markers that allow for a positive identification. Many suppose that the best way to determine gender is to assign it to the corresponding sex—the gender of "man" for males and "woman" for females. In severing this traditional link between sex and gender, pathways of expression that have been closed may now open. Erickson-Schroth goes on to describe why this linkage of sex and gender persists today: "Sexuality is more complicated than we could ever imagine, and yet we use rather simple language to describe it" (Erickson-Schroth 67). In other words, we use simple terms like man and woman, male and female, gay and straight to describe the entire population while completely denying the varying levels of each group and thereby suppressing their expression. Using binary terms like man and woman to describe one's gender would be like using only the terms happy and sad to describe our moods. When a person asked you how you felt, your only options would be wither happy or sad, but what if you felt pensive or grateful? How would you express yourself with such limited terms? By restricting our vocabulary to only two words like happy and sad, we hinder our ability to express how we feel—removing the beauty of speech. This inadequacy of our speech has created the deficit of understanding gender. Gender, like our own emotions, needs more than two options in order to be expressed.

    Perhaps one reason why we maintain this binary view on gender stems from one of the most popular American icons, John Wayne. Starring in over two hundred movies as a cowboy, war hero, and athlete, John Wayne's deep voice and natural height of 6'4" captured the attention of the American public, and he still remains one of the most popular movie stars of all time over thirty years after his death. Seen as the "man's man," Wayne embodied the strength, power and masculinity that an "ideal man" ought to become. Bob McGuire, a therapist and life coach wrote about the image of John Wayne and the effort put into keeping him masculine. "John Wayne actually had shorter doors to walk through on the sets, and they made the doors the women walked through higher to give the illusion that this great man, so big and so strong, was actually bigger and stronger than he was and the women were actually smaller and weaker than they were" (McGuire 42). The "manliness" of John Wayne was in part a fabrication of set designs set up to make the hero appear stronger than those that needed rescuing. Although John Wayne was a large man without any assistance, he was still enhanced to meet some unrealistic ideal of a real man. This concept of men being strong and tough trickles down to our perception of what boys should be also—little boys should play with trucks and guns while little girls play with dolls and dresses. While John Wayne may not be the origin of gender identification for men, his image and legacy impact children today.

    Alice Dreger, a professor of bioethics at the Feinberg School of Medicine, wrote an article entitled "Gender Identity Disorders in Childhood: Inconclusive Advice to Parents" in which she shares an example of a little boy, William, that likes to play with dolls and chooses to identify himself as a girl. William's parents placed him in therapy to cure him of his Gender Identity Disorder. The therapists prescribed a simple beginning treatment: "William will be given gender-neutral toys to replace his Barbie and My Little Pony and will, ideally, be led to develop friendships with other boys—not boys of the rough-and-tumble, army-toy-obsessed type, since William will never relate well to those boys, but boys of a calmer gentler variety" (Dreger 26). This handling already exposes the flaw of binary thinking regarding gender. The therapists feel the need to make William a "boy" despite his own desire to be a girl, yet they acknowledge that William will never be a boy that plays rough but will need to be assigned with softer boys to befriend. They recognize that even within the gender of boy, there are great differences, yet they are all given the same label. If there isn't a two-sizes-fit-all approach to gender, why do doctors, parents and cultural trends demand that everyone assimilate into one of the two accepted genders?

    William's behaviors would then be seen as natural in a different cultural environment such as Samoa where biological male children who express feminine traits from an early age are not put into therapy to remedy the behavior; they fall into a third category of gender called fa'afafine. Fa'afafine are born biological males. As these young boys grow and develop, they begin to demonstrate feminine characteristics, so their parents raise them as girls. Their gender is not seen as fixed, so they are assigned another gender that is a better fit for them. As adults, they dress as women, perform tasks traditionally reserved for women, date and have sexual intercourse with men who consider themselves straight, all with their original sexual organs. In this culture, fa'afafine are not seen as radical outcasts because "the culture has a system that accommodates their difference" (Dreger 28). Their language allows them to experience a more diverse way of life that is lacking here in the US. This open expression of a third gender allows those that do not fall into the man/women categories to claim their identity without repercussions.

     The acceptance of the fa'afafine stands in great contrast to the actions taken in Western societies. One European family was told by the doctor that their child who had XX chromosomes, female genes, would "make a very nice boy because of the child's genitals" (Zeiler and Wickstrom 366). Another family assigned their intersex child the male sex. When asked by the doctor whether they had chosen a name, the family informed the doctor that the child's name would be Johan, the doctor replied: "That is good. He must have a sterling boy's name" (Zeiler and Wickstrom 367). The doctor's implication that a boy must have a strong masculine name highlights the attempt to reinforce manly attributes further explained by McGuire, "Men are generally bigger and stronger and thus thought to be tougher, and women, generally smaller are thought to be weaker and sweeter... a deep, gruff male voice I associate with strength and roughness, and a soft female voice often sounds nurturing and innocent" (Mcguire 42). Just as John Wayne's masculinity was in part a fabrication of Hollywood set designs, families, doctors, teachers and friends continue to strengthen the elementary perception of gender. Western cultures have set up ideas and rules to maintain the two-gender system. These ideas are perpetuated by previous unfounded stereotypes.

     Many advocates, poets and social psychologists reject cultural norms and walk according to their own path, yet their language is still confined to the concept of just two genders. Harold Norse, a popular American writer who recently died in 2009 wrote a poem called "I'm Not a Man" in which he throws the traditional views of manhood aside in order to claim his own identity. He writes:
I'm not a man. I won't play the role assigned to me- the role created
by Madison Avenue, Playboy, Hollywood and Oliver Cromwell,
Television does not dictate my behavior.
Norse clearly understood that there is more to being a man than what we are taught in our culture, and argues against the traditional allocation of gender roles. He asserts that these identities are "created" (Norse) and disseminated by popular media. Men, like women, escape a simple definition. Each gender is complex, and ought not to be categorized simply by sex, yet the feelings that many men experience, like tenderness and vulnerability, must be hidden in order to maintain the illusion of masculinity they are assigned.

     However, many feel that gender ought to be protected and valued within the two-gender system. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as "the Mormons," issued a statement in 1995 called "The Family: A Proclamation to the World" where they claim: "All human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny. Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose" (Hinkley 1). Gender, according to the LDS church, is specifically linked to a person's sex, and ought to be a measure on which life assignments and duties should be decided. The LDS Church's simple assessment of sex and gender relates to Erickson-Schroth's previous assertion that we use "simple language" (67) in understanding the nature of human sexuality. By maintaining a binary system, religions are able to synchronize their doctrine and avoid moral ambiguities; Male and Female, Right and Wrong, Heaven and Hell, Salvation and Damnation all reinforce a dichotomous language. While religious groups are certainly entitled to their opinions, these opinions do not allow a significant number of people that do not fall into the male/female roles to have a voice. According to Zeiler and Wickstrom, a limited vocabulary like this leads one to associate anything outside of the male and female genders with "silence and shame" (373). The lack of religious language to describe other genders leads those who do not accept a traditional gender role to associate their feelings with something unnatural, while the indifferent attitudes of the majority push the minority further away in embracing their own doctrine of correctness.

     There is also some merit in maintaining traditional views on gender through sex assignment surgery. Zeiler and Wickstrom point out that for intersex children "Surgery is part of the identity work… if parents do not have their child undergo surgery, they contribute to the child's gender identity confusion" (369). Children are exposed to the binary gender system in every encounter with friends, classmates and family members. In not assigning them a gender, they will be even more confused about their identity than if they were assigned a wrong gender. A child who is not given an identity to explore will face the dangerous world of their peer group without peers. An early gender identity, even a wrong one, gives a child the right "look" in order to fit in. By allowing a child to determine their own sex and gender in their own time, parents set their children up for disaster. Gender identity is a critical step in developing a social identity. Making friends, going to the bathroom and even seating assignments at times require some form of gender assignment. Jr. High School is a difficult time without the added complication of not having a sex or gender identity. Dreger also agrees with this philosophy noting that "children should not have to get caught up in adult politics of sex, gender, and sexual orientation" (Dreger 27). Children are not pawns to be used as fodder in an ever-increasing battle regarding gender issues and sexual orientation, but Dreger also uses an example from Ken Zucker, a psychologist and sexologist, to elaborate on the need to avoid surgery in reference to William, the little boy who identified as a girl: "if yours were a black family and William were insisting that he is white, the right approach would not be to ask doctors to help make William white" (Dreger 27). While the surgical method will certainly "reduce parental distress and trauma" (Zeiler and Wickstrom 361), it may not be in the best interest of the child.

     Determining the best interest of the child presents its own set of problems because there is not simple solution. Just as Erickson-Schroth explained that "sexuality is more complicated than we could ever imagine…," (67) Zeiler and Wickstrom also point out that parents of intersex children discover "sex is much more fluid than they had previously thought to be the case" (368). Modern thought is now learning what Samoan culture has known for generations—there are more than two genders. The fa'afafine may not the dominant gender in Somoa, or the most popular, but at least they are given the chance to live in a way that brings them happiness. This fluidity of gender roles captures the need to open our understanding of gender beyond the current state. If we know that sex and gender do not correspond, and we know that there can be more than one gender within a culture and it will not collapse, then we should be willing in establishing new terminology in gender identity.

    Language regarding gender, sex and sexual orientation needs to be broadened. In expanding the vocabulary within these issues, Western culture and American citizens will find that there are more similarities among that which has previously been viewed as different. A more diverse lexicon will lead to a more diverse population, allowing the disenfranchised to take part in the great American experience of liberty.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Daddy Day

If you ever wonder what Little Man and I do when we spend the day together, this is it. He plays the guitar, and I get free entertainment.
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Thursday, October 14, 2010

Little Man Time!

Every night between 8pm and 9pm we have "Little Man Time." This is a dedicated hour for me to spend with Captain Crazy because my schedule has me leaving the house at 3:30 in the morning and not coming home until 7 or 8. Sometimes we clean, sometimes we read and sometimes we play! Tonight, we played. It was fun. I like Little Man Time.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Global Warming

We went north to the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory's open house this morning, and little man thought that this was the best exhibit--probably because it was his height and it had toy cars. He asked for his picture to be taken, so I obliged. We learned about earthquakes, magma, oceanography, bamboo bicycles, hurricanes and crappy shuttle buses.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Caramel Apples

We bought some apples at an orchard yesterday in New Jersey to make some caramel apples. Even though we were short some awesome ingredients to have awesome toppings, they were still a blast to make. We will see how they taste after dinner, but I have a feeling that Little Man is not going to complain about free sugar...

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Cherry Garcia

At the Pagan Pride festival, little man chose a Cherry Garcia ice cream bar for a snack, and it was delicious. We are chilling at Battery Park watching the boats, people and Sponge Bob.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Making Memories

Since little man and I were awake early this morning, we decided to go share some French Toast at Tom's diner.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

I love my school!

Ice cream, Low Library, cute baby, awesome city, Columbia has it all!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Wings Worth Driving For

We spent some time this morning/afternoon driving to Long Beach Island in New Jersey for some most delicious Sloppy Fries (french fries covered with sloppy joe and cheese) and chicken wings.  I would have posted a "before" picture of this great meal, but I couldn't wait to start eating.  NJ may have a bad reputation, but it is home to me.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Something Creative

I chatted with a friend recently and reminisced about the Creative Non-Fiction class we shared. This conversation made me realize that I missed sharing some of the more creative aspects of my life, so I am sharing this story. I wrote this for A, and it is meant to be read as a children's book. Take the time to read it (if you want to read it) out loud and pause at the appropriate breaks.

I hope you like it.


The Princess's Journey

In the very recent past, and in a Royal Kingdom close to this very spot, The Most High Queen and The Great King had a baby. They loved this little princess so much that they wanted to give her a kingdom of her very own!


This kingdom had customs that were not like those we know here, and this little princess needed to make a great journey to arrive at her kingdom. They could not take her themselves, so they selected others to teach the princess about her kingdom and how to get there.


The Most High Queen and The Great King entrusted the infant to a Brave Duke and Learned Duchess. The Duke had fought in many battles and helped other royal children journey to their kingdoms. The Duchess had traveled through many distant lands and learned the many languages and cultures of the different people.


Together they journeyed through the land, meeting the people, singing their songs and playing their games. They taught the princess about trust, learning and compassion. The Brave Duke reminded the princess everyday about the beautiful kingdom she would inherit, and about all the power that would be hers.


As the princess grew older, so did the Duke and Duchess. One night, while lying down for the evening, the Duke commented that he felt particularly tired that night. The next morning he was nowhere to be found. The Duchess and the princess continued their journey together. Soon the princess found herself traveling alone to find her kingdom.


Undaunted, the princess set out to learn from the best scholars the path to her kingdom. She traveled to many distant lands and met with the brightest and smartest people, but they could not tell her where her kingdom was at. When she was hungry, people gave her food. When she was cold, people gave her clothing, and when she was tired, people gave her place to rest.


One day she met an old man by the side of the road. "Do you know who I am?" she asked. "Of course your majesty," replied the elder. "Is this my kingdom?" asked the princess. The old man laughed and said, "No, this is not your kingdom. No one can own this land. That would be like owning the sun or wind. It does not belong to us. Keep looking and you will find your kingdom." The princess thanked him and continued her journey.


Over the years she had many friends travel with her. Some would travel for a few minutes, and others would travel for a few years. Then she met the prince. This prince was on a journey much like the princess', but he had found his kingdom and decided that he wanted to help the princess find hers.


This prince was not like the other people that she had met along the way. There was something about him that she liked. Maybe it was the way that he made her laugh, or maybe she like the way that he could make her angry. Maybe it was because he loved to meet new people and see new sights just like her.


Together they made many friends and traveled very far. When they met people that were hungry, they gave them food. When they met people that were cold, they gave them clothes, and when they met people that were tired, they gave them rest.


The princess loved the people that she met, and made sure that everyone was treated fairly and honestly. Some days the princess would be sad that she had not found her kingdom, but the prince would cheer her up and tell her that her kingdom was getting closer every day.


They grew older and older, teaching, learning, sharing, blessing, loving and traveling.


One evening as they were going to sleep, the prince said that he was particularly tired that night, and the next morning the princess was alone.


Still she continued to look for her kingdom, but she found that she was much happier as she helped those around her. Many came from faraway places to learn from the not-so-young princess. She gave food to those that were hungry, clothes to those that were cold, and comfort to those that were sad.


Finally, there came a night where she felt particularly tired.


The next morning when she awoke, she saw The Great King standing beneath a tree and ran to him. "Father!" she yelled as she gave him a giant hug. "Hello my daughter, I have missed you," said The Great King. The princess wanted to tell him everything that she had learned, but as she pulled away from his embrace, she saw that she was young again and did not know what to say. "Go to your mother," said the Great King.


The princess looked around and saw the most loving form of The Most High Queen and wondered how she didn't see her there before. "Mom!" was all she could say before tears came running down her cheeks. "Why are you crying?" asked The Most High Queen. Through the tears, the princess said, "Because I never found my kingdom." The Most High Queen hugged the princess tightly and whispered, "You have never been far from your great kingdom. Turn around."


The princess turned around and finally saw her kingdom.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

New Table

Eating mac&cheese on our new table the wife bought for 20 dollars, is a great way to spend an evening.

Monday, July 05, 2010

WallE Won

Nap time is always best with a good movie and a comfortable carseat.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

NIghtime in Morningside

Last night was our first family night in Morningside Heights, and we took a walk through the Columbia campus.  That is the Butler Library behind us.  This is going to be a great place to live!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Wednesday, May 05, 2010


The last few months have not been easy. Moving to NYC, not starting classes at NYU, not having secure housing for my family, and UPS dragging their feet on my work transfer put my faith in life, love and religion to the test. While I do not claim to have undergone any trial that surpasses those of my friends and family, this past season of chaos has allowed me to search deeper into the personal relationship I have with my Deity. Time and time again, this poem by Whittier, one of my favorite poets, has returned to my memory.

I hope you find some aspect of his work that relates to you.

The Eternal Goodness

O Friends! with whom my feet have trod
The quiet aisles of prayer,
Glad witness to your zeal for God
And love of man I bear.

I trace your lines of argument;
Your logic linked and strong
I weigh as one who dreads dissent,
And fears a doubt as wrong.

But still my human hands are weak
To hold your iron creeds:
Against the words ye bid me speak
My heart within me pleads.

Who fathoms the Eternal Thought?
Who talks of scheme and plan?
The Lord is God! He needeth not
The poor device of man.

I walk with bare, hushed feet the ground
Ye tread with boldness shod;
I dare not fix with mete and bound
The love and power of God.

Ye praise His justice; even such
His pitying love I deem:
Ye seek a king; I fain would touch
The robe that hath no seam.

Ye see the curse which overbroods
A world of pain and loss;
I hear our Lord's beatitudes
And prayer upon the cross.

More than your schoolmen teach, within
Myself, alas! I know:
Too dark ye cannot paint the sin,
Too small the merit show.

I bow my forehead to the dust,
I veil mine eyes for shame,
And urge, in trembling self-distrust,
A prayer without a claim.

I see the wrong that round me lies,
I feel the guilt within;
I hear, with groan and travail-cries,
The world confess its sin.

Yet, in the maddening maze of things,
And tossed by storm and flood,
To one fixed trust my spirit clings;
I know that God is good!

Not mine to look where cherubim
And seraphs may not see,
But nothing can be good in Him
Which evil is in me.

The wrong that pains my soul below
I dare not throne above,
I know not of His hate, - I know
His goodness and His love.

I dimly guess from blessings known
Of greater out of sight,
And, with the chastened Psalmist, own
His judgments too are right.

I long for household voices gone.
For vanished smiles I long,
But God hath led my dear ones on,
And He can do no wrong.

I know not what the future hath
Of marvel or surprise,
Assured alone that life and death
His mercy underlies.

And if my heart and flesh are weak
To bear an untried pain,
The bruised reed He will not break,
But strengthen and sustain.

No offering of my own I have,
Nor works my faith to prove;
I can but give the gifts He gave,
And plead His love for love.

And so beside the Silent Sea
I wait the muffled oar;
No harm from Him can come to me
On ocean or on shore.

I know not where His islands lift
Their fronded palms in air;
I only know I cannot drift
Beyond His love and care.

O brothers! if my faith is vain,
If hopes like these betray,
Pray for me that my feet may gain
The sure and safer way.

And Thou, O Lord! by whom are seen
Thy creatures as they be,
Forgive me if too close I lean
My human heart on Thee!

-John Greenleaf Whittier

Monday, April 12, 2010


We went to one of our favorite stores in Chinatown over the weekend. They have an assortment of crystals, teas and oils used for the enhancement of one's energy. They also take aura photos there, and we each had one taken.


Just another reason as to why we are awesome!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Daddy Lessons

I took Little Man to the park this afternoon, and taught him the art of rolling down a hill.  That is what dads are for.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Friday, March 12, 2010

Party of Two

Little Man decided to join his mother in the shower.  I hope next time he remembers to take his clothes off first. 

Thursday, March 11, 2010

I Must Smell Funny

This morning I got my very own subway car.  I had just finished at UPS, so I must have smelt really bad if no one wanted to come in with me.

Thursday, January 14, 2010


Spent some time tonight in Washington Square Park thinking about life.  No answers, just thoughts.