Oscars 2016: On gender diversity

According to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences trivia, only one person has won a gender-bending Oscar: Linda Hunt as the male dwarf Billy Kwan in 1982’s The Year of Living Dangerously.

Guess that means Jared Leto, who won a supporting actor Oscar for playing Rayon in 2013’s Dallas Buyers Club, doesn’t count. So not even “liberal-leaning Hollywood” knows how to classify transgender roles? What do you do when a man plays a woman assigned as a man at birth? That is some complicated back story. We’re not talking about playing the opposite sex but playing someone who matches one’s birth-assigned gender and has gender dystopia. Not gender-bending, mind-bending.

Would Eddie Redmayne break new ground if he takes home an Oscar for playing pioneer transgender woman Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl? Or would someone demand to see a birth certificate?

Nothing new under the sun, The Bard might say. Since Shakespearean days, actors have played opposite gender roles. In opera, “pants” roles are di rigeur for mezzos. What Redmayne, Leto and Hunt have been doing is simply acting.

Going forward, what if a transgender actor/actress were to be nominated in an acting category — Laverne Cox, for example. Or someone who has not undergone gender confirmation surgery “displaying” as one gender yet identifying as another — how would the academy handle that acting feat?

Perhaps one day all gender walls shall be blessedly decimated and the academy will be forced to stop segregating men and women into actor/actress categories. It could honor up to 10 nominees and crown just one winner, as in the best picture category. No matter how you slice it, these awards compare apples to oranges.

Such a transformation might actually shorten the awards show. There’s that.

POST-OSCARS UPDATE: Ha! Chris Rock mentioned this very thing in his monologue. Why segregate the sexes?!

Gallery

Pre-Oscar potty: A photo dump of area facilities

Using public restrooms can certainly be a crapshoot. In my quest to quickly distinguish men’s from ladies’ lounges — or spotlight the creativity behind lavatory door design — here’s more signage I found clogging my phone.

Unfortunately, I forget where I shot this first pair. Based on the embedded info, it was around the time I reviewed “Forever Plaid” at Olney Theatre Center. So let’s call it that. (If my theater dates recall where we went out drinking afterward, that may provide a clue.)

Penelope Cruz

Penelope Cruz … why? (2013 Photo by Terry Byrne)

Penelope Cruz  is instantly recognizable … but who’s the guy (below)? Anybody? Looks like a young Paul Newman. Please let me know your theories in the comments.

If you had to choose someone emblematic to mark a restroom male or female, who would you choose?  Also curious: How is a user supposed to know that the guy isn’t intended to lure in the females, and vice versa?

Am I missing a joke here? So many questions … so few readers … so unlikely to get a response. (Is there an echo in here? That’s why I like bathrooms.)

Mystery guy at Olney Theatre Center

Mystery guy … who? This signage MAY be on the Olney Theatre Center’s men’s room door. I can’t remember. (2013 Photo by Terry Byrne)

Meanwhile, this sign in the stall at Smashburger in Fairfax, Va., earns a rave review.

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(2013 Photo by Terry Byrne)

And given this is Oscar nominations week, let’s shine the spotlight on the bathrooms at Bow Tie Cinemas in Reston, Va. Simple branding, symmetrical aesthetic … if they gave out Academy Awards for bathroom doors, this coulda been a contender.

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FOR MORE PUZZLING BATHROOM DOORS:

Donde esta el bano, por favor?

The lady or the tiger? Still wrestling with restroom doors

How about you? Seen any gems to share?

That’s what s/he said

A PRO’S VIEW: I’M PRO-GENDER-NEUTRAL PRONOUNS

pronounsAs a copy editor at USA TODAY, I was asked by our editor in chief last summer what I thought about the Pfc. Bradley/Chelsea Manning case.

Not so much what I thought about it, but whether I thought we should follow the lead of the Associated Press, which soon after Manning’s sentencing decided to start referring to Manning, a transgender who identifies as female but has not yet gone through any transitioning, as “she” and “her” instead of “he,” “his” and “him.”

This is what the USA TODAY style guide says about that:

transgender people

Transgender is an umbrella term that refers to people whose biological and gender identity or expression may not be the same. This can include preoperative, postoperative or non-operative transsexuals, female and male cross-dressers, drag queens or kings, female or male impersonators and intersex individuals.

If an individual prefers to be called transsexual, drag queen or king, intersex, etc., use that term.

When writing about a transgender person, use the name and personal pronouns that are consistent with the way the individual lives publicly.”

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Chelsea, meet Bradley. Bradley, Chelsea.

Therein lies the catch for Manning: “… the way the individual lives publicly.” For the crimes of espionage, theft and fraud for leaking classified documents to WikiLeaks, Manning is serving 35 years at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas — an all-male prison. And the Army has denied Manning’s request for hormone therapy. As far as dressing male or female goes — aren’t prison jumpsuits fairly unisex (Orange Is the New Black)?

Laverne Cox

Laverne Cox plays a transgender on TV (well … Netflix’ … in”Orange Is the New Black”), a role close to home.

If Manning has no opportunity to live publicly as a woman, how can we, the media (includes you), honor the request or apply an institutionalized style?

At the time, and on deadline no less, I suggested avoiding pronouns and writing around things — introducing the situation on first reference: “Pfc. Bradley Manning, who prefers to be known as Chelsea” then using only Manning on second reference. But that seems wimpy. The point of setting style is to be bold, even dictatorial. Besides, the name “Manning” leans male — unfortunate surname for a transgender woman.

And “writing around things,” I realize now, is the equivalent of sweeping things under the rug — precisely what society has done with pegs who don’t fit into precise holes. We ought to address this issue here and now. As much as human brains construct language, language can help to shape minds.

When the story broke in August, the media was vigorous in debating the issue, and many outlets took an immediate stand in allowing Manning to declare her own gender. We follow similar styles on name treatment: We strictly don’t use Jr. … well, that is, unless it’s required for clarity or a source insists, so it’s not so strict — and same with middle initials.

But if the media went around allowing anyone to declare which gender they identify with on a given day, without requiring precedent or proof, doesn’t that invite capriciousness and — horrors — inaccuracy?

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An earlier photo of Bradley Manning. Could s/he have been given a more virile name?

The issue comes down to who is making the determination and whether this might be an extreme example of self-determination vs. predetermination. In other words, do we trust our eyes to recognize and make judgments about sexual dimorphism? Or do we trust the source to make a judgment for themselves? (Note the use of the singular “they.”)

Maybe — brilliant — remove the act of judging entirely. Introduce a new, non-judgmental word.

In Sweden, gender-equality activists are working to get ahead of the transgender curve by proposing a third, gender-neutral pronoun. (Although “hen” wouldn’t work in this country — leans female, and sexist, at that.)

In Nepal, the census recognizes a third gender, but doesn’t name it.

Another wordpress blog examines many options, attempts to consolidate all reasonable suggestions for epicene pronouns and explores how to make this linguistic transformation happen. But a related Facebook page has only 40 members as of this posting.

Carmen_Carrera

Carmen Carrera, from that RuPaul drag show.

Look — people have been discussing this not just since last summer, but since the mid-19th century. What’s the big hang-up? As more transgenders do the talk-show circuit or become household names, such as Carmen Carrera and Laverne Cox (Orange Is the New Black), we realize: People are getting used to the idea. Let’s simplify the process with language.

Adopting new words and changing old patterns can feel daunting. So I’m not proposing inventing any new, weird-sounding pronouns, which would serve only to alienate. Rather, we could repurpose ones we already use and understand, just as body parts get transfigured.

Many men use the personal pronouns “she” and “her” to describe random inanimate objects, like ships and car engines. And oogenesistically speaking, we all start out as female. So let’s use “her” for both possessive pronouns and personal pronouns to describe gender, including those in the objective case. Men shouldn’t complain — they have been objectifying females for eons, plus “her” has the word “he” built in. This streamlines things significantly, eliminating not only “his” but also “him.” “Her” works both ways. You can even spell it he/r, kinda poetically aloof to sexism.

The new movie “Her” serves as my PR campaign. That tangle of 0’s and 1’s isn’t even human, yet a
man projects a gender — and much more — onto it.

Likewise, “she” will be the new “he.” I’d be willing to spell it “s/he” until it caught on and we abandoned the slash. Punctuation does add punch somehow.

Having lived so long with an androgynous name like Terry, I have enjoyed knowing that few can tell what I am by my writing alone. It has made for some interesting instant-messaging exchanges — they go from good-ol’-boy crass to suddenly polite and tender when my gender dawns on men.

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Joanne “Jo” Kathleen (fake middle name, borrowed from her grandmother) Rowling

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Pamela Lyndon Travers

In the patriarchal publishing world, I think both P.L. Travers (Mary Poppins) and J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter) tried to circumvent some sort of sexism by initially masking their gender — as if being female creates some drag on the sails of success. Is that where the term “drag” comes from? What’s it called when a woman “dresses as a man”? Normal, right?

The worlds both authors created spun on transformational magic — poof! We can change things with a flick of our hands.

My one regret in naming my daughters is that I didn’t bestow unisex names on them. But maybe boys’ and girls’ baby-name lists are taking care of this naturally, as dual-purpose names like Morgan, Andy, Alex and Sidney grow more popular. People can spell them however they choose, adding clues or not, branding their child from Day One with arbitrary name baggage.

So this campaign is my new baby.

Presenting … h/ers and s/hes. Poof! There s/he is.

Hers and Hers towels

Hers and Hers towels

RELATED LINKS

Where is “Sandy?” on the list of popular baby names? (mommytongue.com)

I've got this language thing down pat.

I’ve got this language thing down pat.

The lady or the tiger? Still wrestling with restroom doors

A seasonal update on the universal struggle to differentiate which public restroom is meant for you. Ever find the signage be-which-ing?

Spied these at the Applebee’s in Fair Lakes (Va.)

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An idea obviously concocted by a man. Why are the women always the witches (rhymes with …)?!?!?

For more on this conundrum, see my previous post: “Donde esta el bano, por favor?”

And if you see any interesting men’s/ladies’ room signs across the country, please share them with me. I will compile them and credit you in a future post.

Donde esta el bano, por favor?

Putting aside my obsession with what goes on inside men’s rooms (See “The Daily Journal Urinal: Who knew?), I’m freshly fixated on how owners of establishments, typically bars, seem to go out of their way to disguise restrooms. It’s enough of a challenge to navigate one’s way to the potty after American-style partying, but having to puzzle out which door is for men and which is for women (The Lady or the Tiger?) seems a dangerous hurdle in emergencies.

Is this a sign that strict lines of gender matter less and less in modern society and that it wouldn’t much matter if we chose the wrong door?

These recent examples go way past Damas y Caballeros. If you enjoy these, please send me yours, so I can compile them. Maybe I’ll even sign up for Pinterest for this.

Starting with the highly judgmental World of Beer (this shot was taken in Evanston, Ill., but they’re the same in Arlington, Va.). They also have those machines on the wall that you stick your legs through and they vacuum-pressure things dry and shut — at least I THINK that’s what those machines are for.

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What language even is this? Greek to me. Photo by Terry Byrne, 2013

At Piero’s Corner, an Italian restaurant anchoring Fairfax, Va.’s Main Street, these made me LOL. Go ahead, read them aloud:

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Photo by Terry Byrne, 2013

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Photo by Terry Byrne, 2013

The dignified Samuel Beckett’s Irish Gastro Pub in Shirlington, Va., caters to linguists. Luckily they come with translations, if you can decipher the script after one too many Black & Tans.

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Photo by Terry Byrne, 2013

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Photo by Terry Byrne, 2013

Finally, these are clearly labeled, but I wasn’t sure what to make of the preponderance of ants near the ladies’ room at the Artisphere in Rosslyn, Va. Is it because women are sweeter and they’re following the sugar trail, or are men’s rooms too toxic even for insects? Perhaps the buggy décor simply helps cut down on lines, weeding out the squeamish.

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Somebody call sanitation, the ladies’ room is crawling with ants! Photo by Terry Byrne, 2013

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Photo by Terry Byrne, 2013

The Daily Urinal Journal: Who knew?

urinals PLAY

Exploiting a new niche market: A veritable pee palace!

So what ELSE has been going on in men’s restrooms all these years I’m not privy to?!

It has come to my attention that at my favorite Mexican restaurant in Reston the current edition of USA TODAY is displayed in a colorful array above the urinals.

This poses many interesting questions: What did you THINK men were busy looking at while they went? Do they fight for the urinal beneath the sports section? Is that sexist of me? How do they turn the pages? Will the papered walls one day be replaced by iPad screens, or will men’s rooms be the final (edition) bastion of print journalism?

I’m ever intrigued how the world plays out differently for men vs. women, but it blows my mind I’ve never been let in on this boys’ club secret. And in downtown D.C., my husband informs me, The Washington Post has dibs at every self-respecting Irish pub washroom. After several Harps or Guinnesses, I’d imagine, men could consume a lot of news in relief. Women, at best, get advertisements, crisis-center hotlines or lovesick graffiti inside their stalls, while men are soaking up a FREE news stream?!

It’s a wonder there aren’t longer lines to get in.

Anyone who has ever lived with a man knows that a newspaper and the john go hand in hand. We even refer to the “men’s room” at home as the “library.” Moreso now, since laptops and smartphones have made access within the facilities more facile.

Still, I can’t help but think media companies, fighting to keep from going down the drain, haven’t somehow capitalized on this fecund opportunity — the last-standing outpost to the newsstand. Could prove a gold(en) mine. All those averted eyeballs, looking for something respectful to do.

I’ll humbly volunteer to do more market research.

urinals

A ‘salute’ to women’s power over men?

The secret’s out, ladies.

A barrage of “Betrayus” news has blown our cover. Now everyone will know that if you want to bring even a good, powerful man down, just show him a little whoopee-ass.

It’s an age-old ploy. You see it in every spy movie. Only a sexy Russian agent can get the goods on the hunky, slippery, non-communicative leading man.

Women know deep-down that every man has his weakness, deep down. And the armor always comes off by wielding that same weapon: sex.

Indeed, it is a sad state of affairs.

I was an “other woman.” Never intended to be, but I was. I was raised better, but I did that, overstepped boundaries of decency. It was a time in my life when I felt powerless, rejected by a man I loved, so I transformed into a cha-chink-whirrrr-beep-beep-hacha-mama with one secret mission (secret even to myself): to exact revenge upon the male race.

It seems there are basically two seriously damaging sexual scenarios. The first, which I’ve spent a lot of time this year thinking about, is rape — in which one twisted, sadistic monster abuses someone perceived as less powerful. A survivor of rape can spend a lifetime recovering, reclaiming lost power.

A goliath goddess slew the mighty David Petraeus.

But here’s this other scenario, the flip side of toxic sex, in which someone perceived as an underling sidles up to a powerful figure and, with one glimpse of her underthings, ratchets him down a notch, adding notches in her headboard. The victims are usually the target’s spouse, family … in Gen. Petraeus’ case, generally anyone who trusted him to serve in a classified-level, clear-headed capacity. Sometimes, even the perp becomes a victim — it’s a slow boil, though.

I liked David Petraeus. Considered him basically a good man, also handsome. Good men are hard to come by; some women on the prowl justify taking “someone else’s” man based on that theory. OR on the premise that the liberties they take (on another’s premises) are actually gifts to the warrior with a sad chink in his armor.

Why is it we find being defenseless so sexy?

It’s complicated. And a damned shame.