Wednesday, June 17, 2015

A guy can be a gal, but white can't be black. Yet.

 
 
     Who am I?
     Well, I'm a man, for starters, because I was born male, have all the requisite male equipment, and embrace a range of typically masculine behaviors, my interest in opera notwithstanding.
     I'm white, having Caucasian parents, being light-skinned, and reflecting the range of white attitudes (see opera, above).
     There's more. I'm an American, Ohio born. And Jewish, both technically, coming from a Jewish mother, the standard definition, and in practice, holding Seders and such, and enjoying foodstuffs like gefilte fish, which you really have to be Jewish to consider putting in your mouth.
     Some of these identities are mutable: I could renounce my U.S. citizenship and move to France, learn the language and become a French citizen. I could convert from Judaism to Christianity, like Bob Dylan. And based on the Bruce-to-Caitlyn Jenner path, now I can change gender. Society would tolerate these changes, in theory, though in practice not the French, nor Christians, nor women would welcome me with open arms. A convert carries an asterisk, the shadow of stigma.
     But white, I'm stuck with, race being seen as an identity that cannot be changed, yet, not without calls of deception, as the head of the NAACP in Spokane, Rachel Dolezal, demonstrated this week. She thought she could simply declare herself black and be accepted. But while wearing a cross or carrying a baguette might be smiled at, straying into another race's realm is an insult, as Sen. Mark Kirk learned with his "bro without a ho" remark.
     Which raises the question: How come Bruce Jenner can take some hormones and claim he's a woman, spouting the most cliched notions of femininity and the country — myself included — brushes away a tear at how far we've come in accepting the heretofore marginalized, but if Rachel Dolezal insists she's black, that's unacceptable dishonesty?
     Biologically, it should be the other way around, since there is are huge chromosomal difference between men and women (XY for men, XX for women, if you are keeping score) while the genetic shift between races is far more subtle.
     This is a matter not of biology but culture. The differences between genders and races both are mostly social construct. Nothing in human genes makes boys like trucks and blue and girls like dolls and pink. If race were only a matter of skin tone, then George Hamilton was black while Lena Horne was white. Like religion, there's an entire cultural identity to race, one that you can't just seize.
     Why? Why can I embrace Jesus and become Christian, like Shia LaBeouf, but not Asian? I like Asian food. It's complicated, but the short answer is: race is earned, in part. I can't put on burnt cork and pretend to be black for the same reason I can't slap a "Semper Fi" bumper sticker on my car and pretend to be a Marine. Both conditions require annealing in the furnace of experience. A real Marine joins the Corps and goes through basic training. Asians — or blacks, or whites for that matter — are raised in the cradle of their ethnicity. To simply claim membership is to seize what isn't yours.
     There's a backstory to Rachel Dolezal that gets lost in the media roar. A boatload of pathology, and my hunch is she was allowed to be black by her immediate circle for the same reason that a 4-year-old with cancer is allowed to wear a police uniform. We feel pity for the sick child, and you'd be a jerk to complain. ("You can't be a police officer, Timmy, you're far too young and sick.")
     There's no law that says society must limit its sympathy to sick children. I sparred with readers who had a sputtering, the-Emperor-Has-No-Clothes indignation at the newly-minted Miss Jenner. They insisted: Vanity Fair be damned, the guy has a penis, he's a man.
     I see where they're coming from. But Jenner also underwent a personal catharsis, and society, to its credit, is now questioning the utility of oppressing such people. Whether Rachel Dolezal is an anomaly or a pioneer will depend on whether others start wanting to change their race. I have a hard time imagining that, but the future is always tough to imagine. We forget how unimaginable certain identities once were: a woman doctor; a black president; a gay public school teacher. Right now, the idea that people can just pick the race they identify with is crazy. But so was the idea of women wearing pants, once.

74 comments:

  1. As Mitchell said in yesterday's column, her parents had adopted 4 Afr. amer. boys. That may have caused her to straddle the fence, like a true biracial might.

    I think it's the deception that's bad.(that could apply for a guy dressed like a lady going into the ladies bathroom type of deception, and seeming more threatening) And the NAACP probably wouldn't have hired her if she was all white. Reverse discrimination? probably so

    But yes, someone who is white that wants to go to Howard , must have to identify with A-A's.

    As to your gefilte fish, I tried a jar of that Maneschewitz stuff from a gro. store, out of curiosity. Perhaps the homemade one is better but after that, I'll stick to Italian food, thanks.

    It's food for thought at any rate.

    As I said in another post yesterday, one can understand blacks wanting to pass as whites yesteryear, due to the rough conditions for blacks. It's hard to understand that the other way around.

    There's a movie called Imitation of Life that was made in the 50's, that covers a bit of this.

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  2. I wonder if Howard or other black colleges have a quota built in that they have to allow a few non whites or get sued. Sort of a reverse affirmative action dictate.

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  3. A lot of great people came out of Ohio. Many U.S. Presidents, some great Generals, LeBron, the Wright brothers and Edison were born there, some astronauts like Armstrong and of course, Paul Newman.

    Anyway, this Dolezal lady had sued Howard for being discriminatory to whites. Good for her on that one.

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    1. Her suit was based on claims that Howard denied her a teaching post and a scholarship because of *her* race, gender, pregnancy, and family responsibilities (whatever that means), not a pattern of discrimination against whites. And the case was dismissed, with her having to pay costs for Howard, an indication of the court's view of the case's merits.

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  4. Right on Rachel! You be who you want to be. One day perhaps all labels will be discarded. When can we start identifying as animals? Who do you want to be today? How about tomorrow?

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    1. good one, Barry

      Coey, it's still discrimination if they'd only hire Black teachers or such at Howard. Can you imagine a mostly white school saying that in this day and age? Racism is wrong, EITHER, way. The EEOC can't have it both ways or only serve blacks.

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    2. You left out "Why can't I marry my dog?"

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  5. Preface: this isn't disagreement, just thoughts. One reason Dolezal is getting little sympathy and lots of blowback is because she selectively embraced "being African-American" when it suited her (i.e., her reverse-discrimination suit against Howard) and that illustrates the key difference between race and religion and to a lesser extent sex-identity. Lena Horne and George Hamilton aside, African-Americans can't do an Eddie Murphy SNL skit and be "Mr. White." Doziel can always be white. I have an African-American fan who grew up in a nearly all-white suburb. She says frequently when coworkers from out of town offices who only knew her over the telephone meet her in person they're surprised she's black. But if she walks into a store or tries to flag a cab at night, etc. she "earns" her race, as NS puts it - she has no ability to leave it. It's just not the same for white people - "white privilege" is their birthright. And because it's the race-based inequities that make "pick a race" offensive today, one wonders that if in the future those inequities go away, will the cultural distinctions that make switching races attractive to these people go away too (or at least be muted so that they aren't as much of a draw).

    I don't know if Dylan converted back or if he "transitioned" to a "Messianic Jew," but Infidels is a great album (especially if you tack on the inexplicably omitted outtake "Blind Willie McGee." "Neighborhood Bully" is the funniest Zionist song ever written ("He's surrounded by pacifists who just want peace / they pray for him nightly for the bloodshed to cease.")

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    1. I never understood the Messianic Jew business. If you believe Jesus is Lord and Son of God, you can't be a Jew. (not speaking culturally)

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  6. Anon-not-anon- It says there you have a fan, etc. Are you a writer, musician, athlete then to have a fan, if I may ask?

    As for Dylan, I prefer his earlier work. i.e. Blonde on Blonde

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    1. Or perhaps ANA is an actor, for the stage maybe.

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    2. Ugh, "friend." This is the point where I should pretend I use voice-to-text and blame that, right? You'd like her - we once joined a reading group and whenever I said something too pretentious she'd kick me under the table.

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    3. sounds good, I'd do the same

      I guess I can't say it must be the Italian in her in this case

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  7. Yes, I read that Dylan had converted back to Judaism. I bet some Jews were angry that he left in the first place. I'm not sure if he was from a conservative background but one can always go Reformed, if not Recontructionist.

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  8. A nice attempt to untie an untieable knot, but necessarily inconclusive. I don't really think the Dolezal /Jenner equivalency is valid. And in matters of race, color is certainly decisive. President Obama was raised by whites and, except when he's pandering, "talks white," but he knew he would never be thought of as anything but black. And the lady being discussed affected a black look in a, possibly well meaning, effort to deceive. ("Black" is an interestingly imprecise descriptor, by the way. Having just been in Europe, where most dark skinned people there recently came from Africa and really do look black, it struck me that that most Afro-Americans I know could better be described as "brown." Something to do, no doubt, with their slave past.)

    I would urge Neil, by the way, to stop being defensive about his interest in opera. I know a lot of opera lovers and a few former performers. Many are men and, not that it matters, as "manly" as any other cross section of the population might be found to be..

    Tom Evans

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  9. I'm a bit ashamed to admit this, but I can't get the Robert Downey Jr. character from Tropic Thunder out of my head w this story.
    When I first heard about her, I thought, ok there's body dysmorphic now there's race dysmorphic. Got it. Then it came out she sued Howard and there went any type of understanding on my part. Popping from one side to the other when it's convenient isn't how life is supposed to work.

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    1. Why shouldn't she sue Howard if they discrim against hiring white teachers, or won't give whites scholarships, even if they are an historically black school?

      I think the court bowed to AFr. Amer. pressure.

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    2. I would agree with your first paragraph, if in fact that's what they do. But the fact that they wouldn't hire this one particular white person doesn't prove that's the case.

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    3. Anon @9:21- I think you're missing the point. She was fine in suing Howard for what she felt was discrimination, if that was where the story ended. A person shouldn't claim to be white, get into legal actions as a white person, then suddenly say "oh I've been black all along, why can't you understand?"

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    4. Coey, true, it's not always discrimination but it could be.

      Nikki, I understand what you are saying.

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  10. Mitchell pointed out good examples of white writers in the past who tried to pass for black, but that was just to see what the old Jim Crow so. discrim was like and then write about it, research style. I remember reading some of their stories.

    Darn, my paper didn't get delivered yet today. I called it in, hopefully will come soon. Hard for them to get reliable delivery in Will County.

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  11. What I have found perplexing about the Dolezal case is her parents outing her. They come off as the "Timmy, you can't be a cop, because you're too little and too sick" sort of people. Plus they seem a bit huffy that anyone might think they themselves have a tinge of black blood, whatever that might be.

    John

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    1. No , I think they outed her cause she disowned them. So I don't blame them one bit. Payback is great. Don't get mad, get even.

      It has served me well in life, no one made a sucker out of me with the forgivenss bit. Leave that for the saintly.

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    2. I'd have outed her sooner, if I were her parent.

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    3. meant to add e to forgiveness word

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    4. One thought that got squeezed out of the column is that Dolezal is a reminder of the Rod Blagojevich Rule: Don't screw your family. Understand, she's not an appealing figure. I would underline the "pathology" line. But she raises interesting questions.

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    5. Yes, Blago learned not to mess with his powerful father in law.

      I don't know why his wife doesn't divorce him, unless she's an enabler.

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  12. We had a discussion about this at my book club (we go off topic there, too). We tried to work out why we were so much more sympathetic, if that's the word, to Jenner's experience than Dolezal's, and came to a few conclusions. The first was that we have long been aware of gender dysphoria and transgendered people, while the practice of adopting another race is less common, to say the least. The second thing we came up with is something NS mentioned, that it seems wrong to co-opt another culture without having to have gone through the hardships that the other members have experienced all their lives. Another factor was the nature of the deception involved in Dolezal's case, as Anonymous mentions above. (Although Anon, perhaps tongue in cheek, mentions the deception of a man dressed in women's clothing using the rest room. An actual transgendered person would be using the ladies room because she feels that's where she belongs, not out of any prurient interest in what goes on in there--which isn't very titillating.) and Dolezal hasn't helped her case with her evasiveness and disingenuousness since the story broke.

    I'm interested in what others have to say on this topic, because I feel I'm still trying to figure it out.

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    1. book club? how pretentious, just read alone at home, no need to get affirmation or discuss it on the internet

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    2. Coey, I have heard of weirdos who like to watch women in the bathroom or installed cameras there and in locker rooms . Stop being so pc and smug.

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    3. Absolutely such people exist. But they are a different breed than transgendered people.

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    4. Oh no, book clubs can be great. They can also be awful! In the one I was in the longest, not only did I make some great friends but I was introduced to a number of authors who I never thought I would have liked and turned out enjoying. It also encouraged (i.e., shamed) me into reading more books than I otherwise would have. But the people there largely had great tastes - I know people who belong to book clubs because they like the people but generally hate the selections.

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    5. Anon, your remark about book clubs is just silly. We do, in fact, read at home, and then come together to discuss different aspects and opinions. I've read a lot of books that I wouldn't have considered before, and gained a lot of insights. It's kind of like here, except with wine.

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    6. okay, that sounds better, be sure to get a good chianti, wink, no , I'm not silly, okay you had me at the with wine it, not that I drink daily

      I prefer to disc. them on internet rather than make appt to meet

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    7. I'm not some easily scared type, but I'd be a bit rattled if someone I can tell is a guy comes into the ladies room and I will give him what for or rattle him some. Or I could play genteel gal and scream at him. That should get him upset. Pervert!

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    8. "Dysphoria." An unfamiliar but useful word. Thanks.

      Tom Evans

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  13. Ana, you have fans? no wonder you have an ego, must be your line of work that causes that

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  14. Take a page from Tom Evans, Coey. He quotes a lot of literature but never comes off as smug or pretentious, when he disagrees. He's a class act and a gentleman.

    Where's Scribe these days? miss his posts and hope to see Jakash too, always interesting as is ANA, even if one disagrees

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  15. there's nothing to figure it out, wrong is wrong, whether you are messed up on gender or race

    (unless singing rap songs) get a good shrink and not an enabling one, take manly hormones if need them, a testosterone shot perhaps, or get estrogen if need that if feeling too butch like as a lady

    let's stop the bull

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  16. The 50's may have been bad for race and women's rights. But on other matters, they were spot on. Even though I didn't live them except for as a baby in the last half year of the decade.

    Things got messed up when the radical later 60s came along. Terrorists like the Weatherman, SDS, which discrim against women, and the Black Panthers. That wasn't fighting for racial equality but hatred. Same for Islam. Yes, I despise Jim Crow southerners-no I'm not super religious and I'm sure not a Repub, believe it or not. What a mess those drugs made.

    Let the pc ,righteous attacks begin.

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    1. meant same for racist nation of Islam and Farakfool

      and Malcom X isn't an angel, yet the reverse racists killed him for daring to not hate all whites toward the end and talk about chaevenists, whew, misogynists

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    2. meant wasn't an angel

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    3. Best I don't go to a book club. I'd argue too much and I wont play diplomat. Why suffer fools gladly? or pretentious ones

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    4. I'm sure everyone else would find you equally insufferable.

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    5. it's a joke b.s., one isn't insufferable just cause they might not agree with you

      I always compliment most of your posts and miss them when you aren't around as much.

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    6. Bitter, add something to the blog that relates to the article. Don't just critique a post.

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    7. OK, sorry. And thanks for the compliment.

      I haven't said anything substantial on this thread because I try not to comment unless I feel I have a clear thought about something, and I honestly am not sure what to think about this issue. Jakash comes closest to my thinking, such as it is.

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  17. No, I wouldn't prefer a conservative blog. Those born agains make me ill, same with rich repubs or chaevenists.

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  18. No, this isn't the same on race changing as someone switching to pants.

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  19. Yeah!

    I got through to those fuckers at United health care




    trying to stick us with bill for spouse that the right clinic sent to the wrong lab




    we followed the hmo hoops to jump through



    hub was doing it the polite way with the appeals process as was suggested, it didn't work, I went went over head of cust. service by letter and phone and gave them a piece of my mind in writing and on phone, , lol, it worked

    va fa indo cullo to corporations, they are needed but must be watched at all times

    no good republicans with govt run by oligarchy let's them get away with that







    I duked it out with the ceo of gm once too but got my way and some justice from the dealer

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    1. same with Comcast, facebook sure helps too

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  20. As you can imagine, I had no trouble at all with students, not even football players. They actually liked my rough around the edges demeanor and passion for topics and didn't like prissy teachers.

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  21. oops sorry, meant to write this on the non topic blog

    no, I'm not an "asshat" dear author, if I don't agree with trans or with your thoughts or ultra libs on this one

    here's more bull, this must be the new fad

    https://www.yahoo.com/politics/transgender-movement-may-not-have-to-wait-long-for-121673736131.html

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  22. Very interesting and provocative column. I don't really know what I think about this, but a big difference to me between Jenner and Dolezal is that Jenner seems to have attempted to tell the truth about what was going on, whereas Dolezal, whatever her reasons, chose to be deceptive. Which was referred to by the first commenter here, and perhaps others. As the sanctimonious Republican crew that impeached Bill Clinton put it, "It's the lying, not the sex." That was mostly bullshit, of course, but in this case, I think there's a bit of truth to the idea that "It's the lying, not the race". Had she been open about what was going on, explaining how she perhaps over-identifies with her step-siblings, it very likely would not have been accepted nor gone over well, but at least people wouldn't feel like they'd been lied to all along by somebody in an important position.

    NS writes: "To simply claim membership is to seize what isn't yours." Coey writes: "...it seems wrong to co-opt another culture without having to have gone through the hardships that the other members have experienced all their lives." I'd just point out that this is a problem that a number of women also have with Jenner. They may well support the idea of people fully expressing themselves in whatever way they feel they are meant to, but they're leery of people who have grown up experiencing a lifetime of male privilege and advantages in this culture now saying "I'm really just like any other woman." As this New York Times piece puts it: "Their truth is not my truth. Their female identities are not my female identity. They haven’t traveled through the world as women and been shaped by all that this entails." The article got a fair amount of notice, and is ancient history by today's standards, having been published on June 6, but it's worth reading for anybody who might care. I just have to note this amazingly prescient sentence: "Imagine the reaction if a young white man suddenly declared that he was trapped in the wrong body and, after using chemicals to change his skin pigmentation and crocheting his hair into twists, expected to be embraced by the black community." Well, she got the sex wrong, but the "hair into twists" was on target, and it didn't take very long at all before we no longer need to "imagine" the reaction...

    http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/07/opinion/sunday/what-makes-a-woman.html?_r=0

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    1. Well, if Caitlyn Jenner ever tries to identify herself as an "Everywoman," I will take issue with that. (I think some people have the same problem with Gwyneth Paltrow.) But I'm pretty sure she's not going to find herself too oppressed by the patriarchy.

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    2. Paltrow is a joke as an actress and has been anyhow.

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  23. Jakash, good point about male privilege. But I heard some blarney today on news radio on white privelige as if whites should be ashamed or guilty. Only if they are southerns of the past, I'd say. While I'm for womens rights as long as they don't try to play superwoman, wearing themselves down, I'm not one of those male haters.

    Not all whites had a hand in slavery or Jim Crow and white immigrants contributed a lot to building this nation as well.

    My beef is that Jenner bought all this with money, didn't work hard enough for it , outside the Olympics and many can't afford that, if they wanted to be trans. He's no more a real woman than I'm a martian.

    Paltrow, as with many in the acting field, is a spoiled, dum bitch. And I say that even being female myself. Im glad that singer from Cold Play, Chris, dumped her ass. She has the gall to talk about how hard it is to parent, with a nanny, chauffeur, exercise coach, maids, etc.

    Same with Brady's ho, Giselle who criticized Amer. women for not breast feeding enough. I'd like to kick her ass or tell her off. No, I don't live in a trailer park, but these types make me so angry!

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    1. oops, make that privilege

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    2. maybe that bitch Giselle didn't have to go work in an office while breastfeeding or pumping

      I wish Brady would dump her sorry ass and marry an Amer. gal

      she has a big nose anyhow

      supermodels, lovely but mostly with pea brains, no not jealous

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    3. Brady had a far better American woman, Bridget Moynihan, who was also pregnant with his son & he dumped for that Brazilian model.
      Brady is the real problem.
      He's an asshole!

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    4. yes, I remember that story now

      yes, he is an ass, in more ways than one and he's also a fraud

      while some women may have thought him attractive from afar,money not withstanding, I always thought he looked plastic

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  24. Jenner wasn't able to earn money outside his wife's trash show anymore and was seen as being castrated by that Kris. So now he gets money and attention and can play pretend.

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  25. no, ana, it wasn't my voice to text, but typing on phone is hard , when not so used to it

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  26. looks like Susan Sarandon, with fading, aging career also wants to get in on the gender game with her son as if this is something to be proud of, where's those tough dad's and grandpa's when you need them

    https://www.yahoo.com/tv/s/susan-sarandon-says-her-son-142900812.html

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  27. as I said, the latest fad, in some cases, especially among celebs looking for attention, like that flake Angelina jolie pushes it about her daughter

    like the whole Oscars is a sham and mostly about dresses

    half a dozen much lesser paid people from a NY or Chicago stage theater could act things out just as easily-its not brain surgery folks

    what a crock all of hollyweird is, I won't pay those overpriced tickets at theaters either to add to coffers, either go to aft. show or wait till on demand, if at all, most stuff on pbs better anyway


    and who with half a brain really gets into starwars, avengers, transformers or Jurassic park bull? that's not acting, that's technology tricks

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    1. I can understand some teens getting into that or young adults a bit but middle aged men going to Star Trek conventions? please

      no offense if we have such nerds here, it's not personal

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    2. and the money they waste, then they claim nothing left for retirement or assisted living when need it later, they don't look at impt things or don't have college money for their kids, same with those paying so much a sports ticket or sleeping outside to get some concert ticket or into the latest computer store

      where has common sense gone?

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  28. Comeon, I say what some of you want to or are thinking it but won't verbalize. Admit it.

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  29. Odd that this subject has inspired so much commentary, but perhaps not, since the idea of "changelings" has fascinated mankind for centuries. The Greek Gods were always assuming human or animal forms to accomplished their aims, notably Papa Zeus, who became a swan in order to have his way with a lady named Leda. Difficult to imagine how this might work, but William Butler Yeats gave it a try.

    "A sudden blow: the great wings beating still
    Above the staggering girl, her thighs caressed
    By the dark web, her nape caught in his bill,
    He holds her helpless breast upon breast."

    Ovid introduced the notion of lycanthropy, which instilled fear of werewolves in rural communities through much of history and was considered a treatable disease well into the 20th Century. Viking warriors called berserkers believed that covering themselves with bear skins would give them the fierce attributes of animals and have given us a modern term for uncontrollable frenzy.

    And Virginia Woolf, who herself had gender issues wrote "Orlando," about a young nobleman who, over several centuries, becomes a woman. A good read, actually.

    Tom Evans

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    1. Tom, I bet you could step in seemlessly to a professor's spot at St. John's College.

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  30. I don't equate this to Jenner; this is not "transrace". I see it more as unacceptable to claim a certain class, or caste if you want to go there. This woman crossed a boundary not acceptable by either blacks or whites, and the comments by both races, including her own family, bears this out. She violated a cultural boundary, claimed a status she wasn't intrinsically entitled to. Her desperate attempts to justify this status should be pitied, not criticized. She obviously believes she's entitled.

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  31. Isn't it simpler? That Jenner was honest, and Dolezal wasn't? Everything else is handwringing and blather.

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