Longform Links – 2008-02-26

by Latoya Peterson

Here are a couple items I’ve come across in my internet reading.

Valleywag: Was an ‘Anarcho-Transexual Afro-Chicano’ Behind the IM Worm?

Yesterday’s ViddyHo worm, which spread over Google Talk and Gmail, has been linked by some to Hoan Ton-That, a San Francisco software developer. A very San Francisco software developer.

Ton-That owns the domain name viddyho.com, now offline, which hosted a form asking people to log in with a Google account in order to watch a video. The ViddyHo worm then seized control of their chat and email accounts and sent contacts a disguised link.

Even if Ton-That had nothing to do with ViddyHo, he (or she? how am I supposed to respect this person’s deeply nuanced personal concept of gender without hearing explicitly the gender narrative he or she has constructed around a completed sense of self?) would still be an interesting character — a classically quirky yet herd-following San Francisco Web-software entrepreneur. His Twitter profile describes him as an “Anarcho-Transexual [sic] Afro-Chicano American Feminist Studies Major.”

Marisol spent all part of last weekend at TakeBack NYU, which is described as: “Take Back NYU! is a coalition of nearly two dozen groups and hundreds of students at New York University demanding budget disclosure, endowment disclosure, and student representation on the Board of Trustees.” The protest ended; many of the students who participated where suspended.

Marisol provided blog updates about the situation, including live video footage:

I highly suggest everyone check out Marisol’s blog and the TakeBackNYU blog – the assembled narrative provides an interesting look at the dynamics of campus organizing.

My boyfriend and I have been talking about this article for a couple days now. It’s a piece on the Sexist Blog for the Washington City Paper about a transgendered sorority brother. Yes, I said sorority brother. It appears to be the only title that fits:

From the time that Devin Alston-Smith became involved in George Washington University’s Zeta Phi Beta sorority, he made it clear that he was not your typical sorority sister. In spring 2008, Alston-Smith began what Zetas refer to as the “intake process.” He knew his sisters would have a lot to take in: He asked them to call him Devin instead of his legal name, Chanise. He told them he preferred male pronouns—”he” and “his” instead of “she” and “her.” At sorority events, he wore a button-down shirt and tie and a fedora over his long dreadlocked hair.

The sorority’s sisters were initially welcoming, friendly, and confused. At the initiation ceremony, all sisters were required to dress in head-to-toe white. Alston-Smith had white pants, shirt, and tie, but he didn’t have any white shoes, so one Zeta offered to buy him a pair. He told her he wore men’s shoes, size 6½. She returned with white women’s flats. “I tried to get a low heel,” the Zeta explained.

“That’s when I sort of knew that they didn’t really get it,” says Alston-Smith. He wore the women’s shoes anyway, the flats uncomfortable on his feet. “I felt degraded, like I was dressing in drag or something,” he says. “I know that all my signifiers, except for my clothes, indicate that I’m female. So I try to be really understanding.” [...]

Over the summer, the sisters hung out regularly as friends, eating lunch together or planning step routines for the fall semester. During one choreography session for a sorority “Step and Stroll,” Alston-Smith saw how his new sorority sisters’ discomfort with his gender identity would be enforced. “We were learning new steps from an older [sister], and I was doing the moves differently,” says Alston-Smith. “One of the routines was to a Beyoncé song, ["Get Me Bodied"] and it involved a lot of feminine gestures. I was just tweaking them so I didn’t have to bend over really sexy, stuff like that,” he says. “They told me I had to do it—that we were going to look stupid if I didn’t.” Alston-Smith stopped dancing. “I’m not going to pop it like a girl,” he told them. According to Alston-Smith, they shot back: “You are a girl. You have to stop acting like a boy.”

It continued that way throughout the summer—friendly interactions would inevitably devolve into critiques of Alston-Smith’s clothes, his dance moves, “the way he was.” Gender pronouns were a particularly sore spot. “At first, everyone seemed accepting, and it seemed like it was something that they would work on,” says Alston-Smith. By the time the administration change was complete, it became clear that the resistance was more than just confusion. “I tried to compromise, because Vanessa says she doesn’t feel it’s morally right to call me by the male pronoun,” says Alston-Smith. “I said, ‘OK—don’t call me by any pronoun. Just refer to ‘Devin’ whenever you speak about me.’ But she just didn’t want to budge.”