Transgender and Male at an All-Female College

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Once individuals have enrolled and announced that they are trans, the schools, more or less, leave it to the students to work out how trans classmates fit into a women’s college. Two of those students hashed it out last fall after Kaden Mohamed, then a Wellesley senior who had been taking testosterone for seven months, watched a news program on WGBH-TV about the plummeting number of women’s colleges. One guest was Laura Bruno, another Wellesley senior. The other guest was the president of Regis College, a women’s school that went coed in 2007 to reverse its tanking enrollment. The interviewer asked Laura to describe her experience at an “all-female school” and to explain how that might be diminished “by having men there.” Laura answered, “We look around and we see only women, only people like us, leading every organization on campus, contributing to every class discussion.”

Kaden, a manager of the campus student cafe who knew Laura casually, was upset by her words. He emailed Laura and said her response was “extremely disrespectful.” He continued: “I am not a woman. I am a trans man who is part of your graduating class, and you literally ignored my existence in your interview. . . . You had an opportunity to show people that Wellesley is a place that is complicating the meaning of being an ‘all women’s school,’ and you chose instead to displace a bunch of your current and past Wellesley siblings.”

Laura apologized, saying she hadn’t meant to marginalize anyone and had actually vowed beforehand not to imply that all Wellesley students were women. But she said that under pressure, she found herself in a difficult spot: How could she maintain that women’s colleges would lose something precious by including men, but at the same time argue that women’s colleges should accommodate students who identify as men?

— In The New York Times Magazine, Ruth Padawar looks at the growing trans community at schools like Wellesley and Mount Holyoke and how they’re sparking a discussion for policy changes at colleges that have been historically all-female.

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Photo: Wen Zeng

Virginia Woolf’s ‘Orlando': ‘The Longest and Most Charming Love Letter in Literature’

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Orlando has long had a towering, and very much deserved, reputation in the LGBT community; it was published the same year Radclyffe Hall’s controversial The Well of Loneliness, depicting lesbianism as a tragic curse, became a bestseller. Woolf’s creation of a figure who effortlessly changes sex casually upends any notion that biological sex is related to gender or orientation—even the notion that biological sex is fixed and stable at all.

Sackville-West’s son Nigel Nicolson would later call Orlando “the longest and most charming love letter in literature,” and whether or not it began as a private missive for Vita, it’s also clearly much, much more, and early on in its genesis it began to exceed whatever initial idea Woolf had for it. “For the truth is I feel the need of an escapade after these serious poetic experimental books whose form is always so closely considered,” she wrote in March 1927. “I want to kick up my heels & be off. I want to embody all those innumerable little ideas & tiny stories which flash into my mind at all seasons. I think it will be great fun to write; & it will rest my head before starting the very serious, mystical poetical work which I want to come next.”

-Colin Dickey, in Lapham’s Quarterly, on Virginia Woolf’s time-warping novel Orlando.

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Photo: Wikimedia Commons

When Our Troops Are Abandoned and Neglected at Home: 6 Stories

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The latest New York Times investigation by C.J. Chivers is about more than just the discovery of old chemical weapons in Iraq—it’s about how shabbily we still treat our troops when they return home. We leave our all-volunteer army with inadequate medical care, emotional trauma, and fragile families. Here are six stories on our veterans.

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The Art of Arrival: Rebecca Solnit on Travel and Friendship

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Rebecca Solnit | Orion | Summer 2014 | 20 minutes (4,780 words)

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The word “journey” used to mean a single day’s travels, and the French word for day, jour, is packed neatly inside it, like a single pair of shoes in a very small case. Maybe all journeys should be imagined as a single day, short as a trip to the corner or long as a life in its ninth decade. This way of thinking about it is a;rmed by the t-shirts made for African-American funerals in New Orleans and other places that describe the birth date and death date of the person being commemorated as sunrise and sunset. One day. Read more…

Interview: Simon Rich on Guilt, Humor Writing, and Being the Worst Person Ever

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Jessica Gross | Longreads | Oct. 2014 | 17 minutes (4,290 words)

By the time Simon Rich graduated from Harvard, where he served as president of the Harvard Lampoon, he had a two-book deal from Random House. Less than a decade later, the humorist has written four short story collections and two comic novels. He also spent four years writing for Saturday Night Live (he was the youngest writer SNL ever hired) and about two years at Pixar, and is now at work on a film and a television series.

Rich’s level of productivity, impressive as it is, takes a backseat to the quality of his humor writing. His stories are crystalline, eccentric, and universally hilarious. Many of the stories in his new collection, Spoiled Brats are built on an unusual premise, or told from a surprising angle. In “Animals,” a hamster narrates his wretched existence as a class pet at an elementary school. In “Gifted,” a mother insists that her son—born as a monster, with horns and a tail—is exceptional. And in “Distractions,” a writer believes the whole world is out to get him, and they really are.

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How old were you when you started actively, seriously writing?

Well, I always loved to write. As early as kindergarten, I plagiarized Roald Dahl stories that I would try to pass off as my own. But I think it sort of shifted around when I was 17. That’s when I started writing every single day, whether or not I had an idea. Until then, I would only sit down and write a story if one occurred to me, and then I started to wake up every single day and write for a few hours whether or not I had anything worthwhile to say.

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The Undergraduate Experience in Moderation: Our College Pick

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College students do most things in excess. They sleep for hours and hours, or not at all. They skip meals during the day only to eat a pizza at midnight. They put off studying until they must cram. Drinking is no different. The goal is not to sip and savor but to gulp and turn up. In a college environment, it’s newsworthy, then, for people not to participate in that lifestyle. University of Pennsylvania student Manola Gonzalez found a range of sources to talk to about their drinking habits. Some don’t drink at all. Others waited till they were legal and then drank only a little. The reporter found a range of approaches to alcohol at Penn and included many points of view in her reporting, which was thorough. The article’s glaring flaw — the number of anonymous sources — also provides an unexpected takeaway: Is not drinking in college so socially crippling that students don’t want to be identified as non-drinkers? 

Sober, So What?

Manola Gonzalez | 34th St. | October 2, 2014 | 6 minutes (1,441 words)

‘I Began Refusing Sedation Out of a Work Ethic; I Continued Through Fascination’

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Yesterday I saw my appendix. It was pink and tiny, quite hard to see, but how interesting to be introduced to it for the first time. In for a routine colonoscopy (my fourth, on account of a family history), I refused sedation as I always do, and I had the enormous thrill of witnessing parts of myself that I carry around with me every day, but never really know or acknowledge. I chatted with my doctor about many things, including the various justices of the Supreme Court, the details of my procedure, and, not least, the whole question of sedation and anesthesia. He told me that 99 percent of his patients have either sedation or, more often now, general anesthesia, since that is increasingly urged by the hospitals. (In Europe, he said, about 40 percent refuse sedation.) He listed the costs of this trend: financial costs that are by now notorious, lost workdays for both patient and whoever has to drive the patient (whereas a non-sedated patient needs no caretaker and can go right back to work), lost time for nurses and other hospital staff, and, of course, the risks of sedation and the even greater risks of general anesthesia.

And, I’d add, the loss of the wonder of self-discovery. You are only this one body, it’s all you are and ever will be; it won’t be there forever; and why not become familiar with it, when science gives the chance? I began refusing sedation out of a work ethic; I continued through fascination.

What are the countervailing benefits of unconsciousness? Naturally someone benefits from charging the notoriously high fees, and no doubt greed is part of the explanation for why U.S. hospitals increasingly push anesthesia. But what benefits might there be for the patient? There are no pain nerves in the colon, so any discomfort is due to pressure (unless one has done 300 sit-ups the previous day, and thus has inflamed abdominal muscles, a practice I have learned to avoid!) and, of course, to disgust and shame. On a scale of discomfort from 1 to 100, with childbirth way up there, colonoscopy ranks around a 5, much less uncomfortable than a facial peel, and it lasts only 30 minutes. So we must conclude that a great part of what motivates people to choose sedation, imposing great costs on society, on their loved ones, and on themselves, is disgust and shame. The way the nurses talked made it clear to me that patients are terrified that they might fart during the procedure—and of course it is the cleanest fart in town, since the colon has already been thoroughly cleansed.

Martha Nussbaum, in a short essay in the New Republic, on how we view our bodies.

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Photo: UCD School of Medicine, Flickr

Eight Days In a Hong Kong Hotel Room With Edward Snowden

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Profiling documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras for The New Yorker, George Packer writes of her latest film, “Citizenfour,” which tells the story of N.S.A. whistleblower Edward Snowden. Packer describes the documentary as a political thriller in three acts, with the second act chronicling Snowden’s time in Hong Kong. Over the course of eight days Poitras filmed Snowden in a Hong Kong hotel room for twenty hours, and “the act proceeds chronologically through the eight days in the hotel room, taking up a full hour of the hundred-and-thirteen-minute film.”

We watch Snowden explain his background, his motivations, the nature and extent of N.S.A. eavesdropping, and his fears for the future. His control under immense pressure is unnerving. “I am more willing to risk imprisonment,” he says, “or any other negative outcome personally, than I am willing to risk the curtailment of my intellectual freedom and that of those around me, whom I care for equally as I do for myself.” The interviewer is Greenwald, and, soon enough, he and Snowden become defiant collaborators against power. Snowden, explaining why he plans to reveal his identity, speaks as if he were confronting a government heavy: “I’m not afraid of you. You’re not going to bully me into silence like you’ve done to everybody else.” Greenwald exclaims, “You’re coming out because you want to fucking come out!” (It’s a moment of inadvertent and unregistered humor, since Greenwald is gay.)

Snowden watches the global fallout from Greenwald’s stories on the TV in his hotel room. Snowden’s girlfriend, Lindsay Mills, whom he left behind in Hawaii without a word of explanation, writes him that police have come to question her. He is shaken, imagining her realization that “the person that you love, that you spent the decade with, may not be coming back.” He types something on his laptop—presumably, a reply to Mills—but Poitras, respecting his privacy, doesn’t move the camera to show its content. As the days go by, Snowden’s anxiety increases, and the room becomes claustrophobic. A fire alarm keeps going off—routine testing, he’s told. The bedside phone rings—“I’m afraid you have the wrong room,” he says, and hangs up. “Wall Street Journal,” he explains. His chin is stubbled and his hair won’t lie flat. He seems to be growing visibly paler, and the many stretches of silence last longer; Poitras’s camera stays close to him, at once exposing and protective. In such a small space, from which there’s no exit, the presence of a camera has a distorting effect, and it turns Snowden into a character in a play. Unlike Dr. Riyadh and his family, who went about their lives as Poitras trailed them, Snowden can never forget that he’s being filmed. There are few moments of self-betrayal.

“How do you feel?” we hear Poitras ask.

“What happens happens,” he says. “If I get arrested, I get arrested.”

In shots of him sitting on his unmade bed—white sheets and covers, white headboard, white bathrobe, white skin—Snowden seems like a figure in some obscure ritual, being readied for sacrifice. At one point, we hear his heart beating against a microphone. Still, he keeps speaking in the hyper-rational, oddly formal sentences of a computer techie. And then he’s gone.

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Photo: Wikimedia Commons