Book Review: Orphans of the Carnival, Carol Birch (2016)

Friday, November 11th, 2016

Fell a little short of my expectations.

three out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through Edelweiss. Trigger warning for ableist language.)

She heard a wag in the audience say, “It’s a chimpanzee in a dress!”

Someone shouted, “Loup garou!” She laughed. Her eyes twinkled, her smile was genuine. Now that she was on, she didn’t feel so bad. I’m looking at you, she thought. You are looking at me. And you’re paying.

Funny. After all this time he could still get lost in looking, just looking at her. Marie didn’t have that. Her face, though hairy enough, was completely human. With Julia, you did wonder.

Julia Pastrana was a singer/dancer/musician/actress/all-around performer who lived in the 19th century. The details of her early life are sketchy. An indigenous Mexican born in a small village in the state of Sinaloa in 1834, Julia was raised in the household of Pedro Sanchez, who briefly served as the governor of Sinaloa. Here she was trained as a mezzo soprano and dancer, and also became fluent in Spanish, English, and French, in addition to her native Cáhita. In 1854, she was sold to Francisco Sepúlveda, a customs official in Mazatlán, and was brought to America, where she toured under the management of J.W. Beach and Theodore Lent. She and Lent eloped not long after, and they toured Europe together. Their first baby was born in Moscow in March 1860, but lived only three days. Julia died five days later of “postpartum complications.”

Julia was born with a rare genetic condition called generalized hypertrichosis lanuguinosa, which caused thick black hair to grow all over her body, as well as severe gingival hyperplasia, which resulted in an overdeveloped jaw and thickened lips and gums. She was variously billed as a “Bear Woman”; a human-ape hybrid; and the offspring of an orangutan and a human.

After Julia’s death, Lent arranged to have his wife and son’s bodies preserved by Professor Sukolov of Moscow University. He displayed the mummies in a glass cabinet and toured with their remains for years. Lent found another woman with features similar to Julia’s and remarried. He reinvented Mrs. Theodore Lent: Version 2.0 as Zenora Pastrana, sister of the late Julia Pastrana, and added her to the tour. The show made him a wealthy man. He may or may not have been committed to an asylum in Russia, where he died in 1884.

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Book Review: Magruder’s Curiosity Cabinet, H.P. Wood (2016)

Wednesday, June 8th, 2016

An Entertaining Coney Island Mystery With a Side of Social Commentary

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley. Trigger warning for racist/sexist/ableist language and sexual harassment.)

May 1904. Coney Island’s newest amusement park, Dreamland, has just opened. Its many spectacles are expected to attract crowds by the thousands, paying back investors many times over.

Kitty Hayward and her mother arrive by steamer from South Africa. When Kitty’s mother takes ill, the hotel doctor sends Kitty to Manhattan to fetch some special medicine. But when she returns, Kitty’s mother has vanished. The desk clerk tells Kitty she is at the wrong hotel. The doctor says he’s never seen her although, she notices, he is unable to look her in the eye.

Alone in a strange country, Kitty meets the denizens of Magruder’s Curiosity Cabinet. A relic of a darker, dirtier era, Magruder’s is home to a forlorn flea circus, a handful of disgruntled Unusuals, and a mad Uzbek scientist. Magruder’s Unusuals take Kitty under their wing and resolve to find out what happened to her mother.

But as a plague spreads, Coney Island is placed under quarantine. The gang at Magruder’s finds that a missing mother is the least of their problems, as the once-glamorous resort town is abandoned to the freaks, anarchists, and madmen.

(Synopsis via Goodreads.)

Everything about the Cabinet is grimy and fusty and strange. Nazan smiles. It’s everything she’d hoped it would be. It’s perfect.

Along the street comes the clip-clop of distraction. Spencer recognizes the tinkling bells of Children’s Delight—a portable fourseater carousel pulled along by a fine white horse. The Children’s Delight was such a part of his childhood; he and Charlie used to search for it on every family visit to Coney. What a relief that some things never change. And yet. A young girl with pigtails, no more than ten years old, sits atop the cart. It is packed with corpses.

2015 saw the publication of so many wonderful carnival- and circus-themed novels that part of (me the bookish part) was sad to see the year end. There was Kristy Logan’s The Gracekeepers, in which North and her bear cub traverse the sea (which now covers most of the planet) with their circus troupe on the Excalibur. Leslie Parry’s Church of Marvels follows Coney Island sideshow performer Odile Church as she travels to Manhattan in search of her sister, who fled The Church of Marvels when it burned to the ground, taking the sisters’ mother – and their livelihood – with them. In The Book of Speculation, Erika Swyler weaves an imaginative tale about a librarian named Simon who comes into possession of an old book – a circus ledger dating back to the 1700s. Only by unraveling its secrets can he lift the curse that’s plagued his family for generations. And then there’s Anna-Marie McLemore’s The Weight of Feathers, a retelling of Romeo & Juliet featuring two rival families of performers, the Palomas (mermaids) and Corbeaus (tightrope walkers/tree climbers). Last but not least is Rachel Vincent’s Menagerie, an “accidentally vegan” tale that features cryptids, hybrids, and shapeshifters, which quickly became an all-time favorite.

While this year doesn’t seem quite as rife with carnies and “freaks,” I was overjoyed to see early copies of Magruder’s Curiosity Cabinet by H.P. Woods and Juliette Fay’s The Tumbling Turner Sisters on NetGalley. I’m also eagerly anticipating the release of Stephanie Garber’s Caraval in early 2017.

Anyway, the point is that I have a soft spot for stories starring circus performers, and H.P. Wood’s Magruder’s Curiosity Cabinet is a welcome addition to the genre. Of all the books I mentioned, it shares the most in common with Church of Marvels: set in a similar time period (1895), it too features a distraught young woman scouring New York City for a missing loved one in the wake of a personal tragedy.

Set in 1904, Magruder’s Curiosity Cabinet involves an outbreak of the pneumonic plague, a pack of wayward leopards, a mysteriously vanished Englishwoman, and a corporate and political conspiracy. At the center of it all is Theophilus P. Magruder’s Curiosity Cabinet, a dime museum located on the “wrong end” of Coney Island. While the dusty old museum doesn’t see much traffic, the basement bar known as Magruder’s Unusual Tavern serves as a gathering place for Coney Island’s extended family of “freaks” – or Unusuals, as they like to call themselves. (By the same taken, “normal” people are “Dozens” – as in “a dime a.”) When Unusuals and Dozens alike start dropping like flies, Magruder’s becomes the base of operations – and, when the quarantine threatens to rip Coney Island apart, Magruder’s is their last stand.

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Book Review: She Is Not Invisible, Marcus Sedgwick (2014)

Monday, June 23rd, 2014

“Coincidences mean you’re on the right path.”

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review through Goodreads’ First Reads program.)

She Is Not Invisible is not at all what I was expecting.

“Laureth Peak’s father has taught her to look for recurring events, patterns, and numbers–a skill at which she’s remarkably talented. Her secret: She is blind. But when her father goes missing, Laureth and her 7-year-old brother Benjamin are thrust into a mystery that takes them to New York City where surviving will take all her skill at spotting the amazing, shocking, and sometimes dangerous connections in a world full of darkness. She Is Not Invisible is an intricate puzzle of a novel that sheds a light on the delicate ties that bind people to each other.”

Somehow from this blurb, I came away with the idea that She Is Not Invisible is set in Las Vegas. With supernatural/scifi elements, possibly involving a blind teenage protagonist endowed with special powers; cue images of Laureth cleaning up at the poker table while fleeing from the law/loan sharks/the mafia/some other Big Bad with her kidnapped younger brother in tow. Needless to say, this only resembles the actual plot in the slightest.

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Book Review: Stung, Bethany Wiggins (2013)

Wednesday, June 5th, 2013

“Sleeping Beauty” Meets “28 Days Later”

three out of five stars

Trigger alert for discussions of rape; also, minor spoilers ahead!

In an ill-fated attempt to save the world’s endangered bee populations – and prevent the inevitable global famine which would surely follow – the scientists in Bethany Wiggins’s Stung design a new, genetically modified species of “super bees.” Immune to the effects of existing pesticides and fatally aggressive toward their less high-tech honeybee cousins, humanity’s so-called solution causes more problems than it solves: finishing the grim task begun by people, the Frankenbees drive naturally occurring bee species over the brink of extinction. They also turn on their human creators, spreading a deadly “bee flu” that’s ultimately responsible for thousands – if not millions – of human deaths.

After a promising vaccine fails – those given the antivenin develop superhuman strength and go mad – the government falls back on its “last resort”: a new pesticide, specially formulated for use against the GenMod bees. The only downside? It kills pretty much everything in its path: plants, (nonhuman) animals, even some humans.

In the wake of this destruction, the United States dissolves into a collection of city-states. In Denver, Colorado, there is safety behind “the wall” – but only for those citizens privileged enough to buy their way in with money (honey is the prevailing currency) or essential skills. At the age of 15, boys must join the militia, where they are tasked with defending the wall from “beasts” (those who received the vaccine and subsequently turned), “fecs” (refugees living in the sewers, many of them recipients of the vaccine who have yet to turn), and “raiders” (uninfected outlaws who traffic in women and beasts). Girls inside the wall are expected to marry young and have children.

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Book Review: Fever, Lauren DeStefano (2013)

Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013

Before the Fever Breaks

four out of five stars

Trigger alerts for discussion of rape, violence, and drug use.

In a two-star review of Wither, one Amazon reader commented, “I really just couldn’t stand Rhine at all. She kept saying she wanted to be free. But what point was there to being free. She was safe, and treated well, and it was terrible where she was.”

Freedom or comfort – this is the choice facing Rhine Ellery at the end of Wither. Within the walls of Vaughn’s estate, Rhine will never want for creature comforts; she has more food than she can eat, the latest in technological toys, and a “husband” and sister wives who love her. Somewhere (far, so far!) outside of the gates are her twin brother, Rowan; the Manhattan home they shared with their parents, now five years dead; and, perhaps most importantly, choice: the freedom to choose her own path in life, no matter how hard or short it might be.

If you know exactly how and when you’ll die, which would you choose?

* Warning: minor spoilers ahead! *

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Book Review: The Panem Companion, V. Arrow (2012)

Monday, January 28th, 2013

V. Arrow is the Fangirl on Fire!

five out of five stars

Witty, insightful, passionate, engaging, highly readable and with keen attention to detail: V. Arrow’s The Panem Companion is all of this and more. I usually enjoy the stuff that Smart Pop puts out, but they’ve really outdone themselves this time! Arrow approaches The Hunger Games trilogy with the unabashed enthusiasm of a true fan and the critical eye of an academic, resulting in a guide that’s everything I wanted – and more.

In fifteen chapters, Arrow covers a wide range of topics – from gender roles to race and class to culpability for war crimes, not to mention all sorts of wacky fan theories:

1 – Mapping Panem – Drawing on canon, textual clues, and scientific predictions about the effects of climate change, Arrow (with a little help from “geek friend” Meg) posits a likely map of Panem. The maps are printed on glossy, full-color paper, which I appreciate – but owing to the small size of the paperback, it’s also a bit difficult to make out the details. This was the only chapter that didn’t fully hold my attention, but I suspect that’s because I’m not a very visual thinker and had trouble picturing the geographic changes. Still, the map is integral to some of the later discussions (such as race, class, and immigration), so don’t skip it!

2 – How Panem Came to Be – Using modern history as a guide, Arrow considers how the dystopian society of Panem might have risen from the post-apocalyptic ashes of Canada, the United States, and Mexico.

3 – Race, Ethnicity, and Culture in Panem – This is the discussion that THG fans – rightfully upset over the whitewashing of the film(s) – have been waiting for! Arrow presents a cohesive, convincing argument that Katniss (and her fellow Seam residents) are, if not persons of color as we understand the term, then most definitely “not white”; “other” – at least on Panem’s terms. Taking care to distinguish between race and ethnicity, Arrow examines how race and class intersect to create a society divided into multiple levels of “haves” and “have nots.” She also addresses the fan theory that Katniss has Native American or Melungeon roots.

4 – The Socioeconomics of Tesserae – In a chapter that can be seen as an extension of “Race, Ethnicity, and Culture in Panem,” Arrow examines the ways in which the tesserae system – which disproportionately affects the poorest of Panem’s citizens – deepens race, class, and culture divisions. In addition to providing an awesome show of the Capitol’s power and brutality, The Hunger Games also help to quash rebellious leanings by pitting members of the working class against the merchants.

5 – The Curious Case of Primrose “Everdeen” – Is Prim really Mr. Mellark’s daughter? Probably not, but Arrow has fun entertaining this fan theory anyway!

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Intersectionality ‘Round the Interwebs, No. 24: Three months o’ links!

Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

Considering I haven’t posted a link roundup in more than three months, this one actually isn’t all that long. What can I say; I’ve used what little free blogging time I’ve had to prepare for the upcoming Vegan MoFo madness. Speaking of which, brand spanking new graphics and an up-to-date press release are now available. Go grab some and spread the word! 400 participants and counting – let’s make it 500, kay? Come November 1st, you can follow the fun on Twitter (VeganMoFo, #veganmofo), the (new!) PPK forums, and Vegan MoFo Headquarters International. See y’all then.

Joel Burns tells gay teens “it gets better”;

Stephanie @ Animal Rights & AntiOppression: “You Coming Out or What?”; and

The Bullies Suck T-shirt

In the wake of a spate of suicides, committed by gay teenagers who were each the target of homophobic bullying, the LGBTQ community and its allies celebrated National Coming Out Day on October 11. Together, these events have focused attention on movements to prevent bullying – particularly those aimed at LGBTQ (or perceived LGBTQ) youths – including the It Gets Better Project and The Trevor Project. The former invites members and allies of the LGBTQ community to upload encouraging videos to its website, the message being that “it gets better”; the latter operates a hotline for LGBTQ youths and young adults in crisis, and also provides resources to parents and educators.

As part of this anti- anti-gay backlash, a number of celebrities and public figures have shared their own experiences publicly – including Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns, whose heartbreaking speech went viral and was aired in full on various media outlets, including CNN (where I first saw it). I’ve embedded the video above; even though it’s rather long, clocking in at almost 13 minutes, I urge you to watch the whole thing. It will bring you to tears.

And, while you’re already a sobby, snotty mess, head on over to AR&AO, where Stephanie shares her own “coming out” story. These issues – homophobia, transphobia, misogyny, and the like – are relevant to animal rights activism simply because so many activists belong to marginalized groups; nonhumans are not the only animals exploited and mistreated en masse, for no reason other than the simple fact of their birth. All oppression is bad oppression, and all forms of oppression harm individual activists, as well as social movements and the beings for whom we advocate. These are not “special interests,” to be addressed only after the “important” work is done; these are our interests, to be tackled in concert with other “isms.”

To this end, Ari Solomon of A Scent of Scandal, Josh Hooten of The Herbivore Clothing Company and Jennifer Martin of Ink Brigade created a line of t-shirts to show solidarity with the victims of anti-LGBTQ bullying. Called “Bullies Suck,” the tees are available for purchase through Herbivore (just $20, with kids’ sizes, to boot!); all proceeds will be donated to The Trevor Project.

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Intersectionality ‘Round the Interwebs, No. 12: The Wordy Vegan

Tuesday, December 8th, 2009

The Handmaid's Tale (BBC Radio 4, 2000)

The Vegan Ideal: Our Bodies and Lives

In a series of posts, Ida dissects and rejects the cissexual “colonization” of transsexual bodies and experiences. While transphobia and cissexism are primarily linked with physical violence and systemic discrimination, discounting and silencing the voices of transsexuals – often in favor of cissexuals’ own mis-/un-informed theories and assumptions – is problematic as well. Unfortunately, transphobia and cissexism are all-too common in a number of “progressive” circles – including animal rights and vegan communities. Here, Ida takes vegetarian-ecofeminists to task for their transphobic attitudes.

This isn’t exactly light reading, but I encourage y’all to read each piece anyhow, and with an open mind. If you find transsexuality a difficult concept to grasp, consider this: given your position of not-knowing (read: ignorance), isn’t it best, then, to trust the thoughts, experiences and feelings of those most intimately affected by transsexuality – i.e., transsexuals themselves – and to place their voices in a position of primacy?

Part 1: Our Bodies and Lives: Transsexual Knowledge and Resistance;
Part 2: Our Bodies and Lives: Transphobic Trauma, Transsexual Healing; and
Part 3: Our Bodies and Lives: Questioning Cissexual Politics.

Steven @ L.O.V.E.: Toward vegan language and

Stephanie @ Animal Rights: Not It and That and What — She and He and Who and Whom

The importance of language – including word choice, pronoun usage, framing, writing in the active vs. the passive voice, etc., etc., etc. – is a subject we haven’t discussed nearly enough on this blog. Fear not; a review of An Introduction to Carnism – in which language assumes a starring role – is forthcoming, and once I’m able to return to Animal Equality: Language and Liberation (a year after beginning it, perhaps? oy!), I expect that you won’t be able to shut me up with the language “policing.”

Until then, Steven outlines four reasons why animal advocates should – must! – concern ourselves with language. Also check out Stephanie’s piece on pronoun choice and objectification.

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Attn: Pasadena, California – #A260656 Needs a Halloween Miracle!

Saturday, October 31st, 2009

Update, 11/1/09: Shiny news! The Gentle Barn reported today (via Facebook) that a rescue group is set to take #A260656.

All is right with the world…or at least in Cage 25, Cell Block A at the Pasadena Humane Society.

Like the Gentle Barn, I don’t normally pass along notices of individual animals in need of rescue, but #A260656 really yanked at my heartstrings. The unnamed purebred Labrador is 11 years old, black, large – and has a tumor on her stomach. In case anyone’s counting, that’s four strikes; you do the math. If you live in or near Pasadena, and/or have any connections in the animal rescue community, please help this old girl out. She’s currently staying at the Pasadena Humane Society (Animal Shelter? one and the same?).

Feel free to crosspost or link to this alert; Gentle Barn also posted this to its Facebook album, here.

There are no such things as miracles – just kind, compassionate, caring people.

———- Forwarded message ———-
From: The Gentle Barn – info [at] gentlebarn.org
Date: Fri, Oct 30, 2009 at 7:11 PM
Subject: Sweet Labrador Needs Your Love

Sweet Labrador Needs Your Love

SeniorLab

Normally, The Gentle Barn doesn’t send out pleas to help place dogs or other animals. However, from time to time, one will slip through and pull at our heart strings. Below is just such a dog.

This senior purebred lab needs a home now! She is eleven years young and is the sweetest, most loving beauty. Just look at that face! I can’t believe the look in her eyes. She deserves a loving home and a family to love her, but because she has a tumor on her tummy, she is at risk for immediate euthanasia by strangers in a cold, scary room at the Pasadena Animal shelter.

She is great with other animals and kids. She has more life to live and more love to give. If you are interested in giving this angel a dignified retirement and giving yourself a sweet, black bundle of unstoppable love and cuteness, please ACT NOW! She may not be allowed to live through the weekend. Since The Gentle Barn offices are closed during the weekend, please contact the Pasadena Animal Shelter directly to save her life. Their phone number is 626-792-7151 and her shelter ID# is A260656.

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Be a Fairy Dog-Mother: Adopt a "less adoptable" animal companion!

Wednesday, August 12th, 2009

1997-07-xx - Kelly-Shannon-Shadow - 0001

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, today is the first (?) annual Adopt-a-Less-Adoptable-Pet Day! Petfinder created the holiday in order to raise awareness about animals who have an extra difficult time finding their forever homes, for a whole host of reasons.

Among cats and dogs, animals who face added obstacles to being rehomed include:

– Seniors and adults;
– Animals with medical issues, including disability and disease;
– Animals with emotional or behavioral issues, such as shyness or a nervous temperament;
– Animals who must be the only nonhuman in the home;
– Bonded animals who must be adopted as a pair – or, worse still, a trio, quartet, etc.;
– Cats with feline leukemia (a transmissible disease);
– Black dogs (for additional information, please see my post at Change.org on Black Dog Syndrome); and
– Dogs who belong to a so-called “dangerous” breed (pit bulls being the “dangerous” breed de jour).

If you plan on adopting an animal companion (or have adopted in the past), congratulations! With this one simple act, you become a hero to two animals – the one you rescued from a pound, shelter, rescue group or sanctuary, and also to the animal for whom you’re freed up a space in said pound, shelter, rescue group or sanctuary. According to the HSUS, between 3 and 4 million cats and dogs are killed (note: not “euthanized”) in U.S. shelters every year. While adopting one or two or even ten animals might seem a drop in the bucket, it makes a world of difference to the animals whose lives you’ve saved by adopting instead on buying.

But, as always, there’s more you can do! In regards to animal adoption, go out of your way to choose a cat or dog who meets the above criteria. Naturally, you may not be able to deal with all of these issues; for example, if you already live with one healthy cat, a FIV+ feline is out of the question. Instead of focusing on what you cannot do, however, concentrate on how you can help animals in need. For example, adopting a black dog doesn’t take any more effort than adopting a multi-colored one.

If your home is already filled to capacity, you can urge friends and family members to adopt – and to consider adopting a “less adoptable” animal, to boot. Or make a donation to any one of the hundreds+ animal rescue organizations across the country (and the globe) – many of which specifically focus on a population of “less adoptable” animals, be they companion, farmed, or “exotic”/wild animals.

Of course, you can also help by spreading the word. Make this Adopt-a-Less-Adoptable-Pet Day a success by linking to Petfinder on Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, etc., and by telling the world about your “special” kids!

Speaking of which, part two of my family’s own story is coming up next!

[Pictured above is a very young me, circa 1997 – note the leather purse, ugh! on each count – with two of my family’s own “less adoptable” girls:

Shannon the black mutt, one half of a 6-year-old pair of sisters we adopted from the local humane society (her sister, Shana, had already passed when this photo was taken); and

Shadow the pit bull mix, who had been hit by a car and had a crushed leg when we found her.

As with all our kids, they were both pure awesomeness, and I miss them more than words can say.]

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Coming Soon: Adopt-a-Less-Adoptable-Pet Animal Companion Day!

Thursday, July 30th, 2009

2006-09-30 - PM-Kaylee&JayneMake5-0299

I’m usually one to roll my eyes at pseudo-holidays – National Hot Dog Day, anyone?; and, hell, even some of the “real” holidays like Easter and Thanksgiving – but I’m pleasantly surprised to see that Petfinder has designated August 12 Adopt-a-Less-Adoptable-Pet Day:

To help senior, special-needs and other often-overlooked pets find homes, We’ve named August 12 Adopt-a-Less-Adoptable- Pet Day. Visit our special section to:

* Get widgets to help pets find homes
* Find out which pets have it hardest
* Read touching adoption stories
* Learn why “less adoptable” pets rule!

And help us spread the word: Some pets are “less adoptable,” but they’re just as lovable!

Which animals have it hardest, you wonder?

Big black dogs. FIV+ cats. Senior pets. Special-needs pets. To help these and other often-overlooked pets find homes, Petfinder has named August 12 “Adopt-a-Less-Adoptable-Pet Day.”

We asked our shelter and rescue group members: Which pets are the hardest to place?

Here’s what they said:

* 30% senior/older pets
* 15% pets with medical problems
* 13% victims of breed prejudice
* 10% shy pets
* 10% those who need to be the only pet

“Pit Bulls are the No. 1 dog put down in our local shelters. There are too many of them, and there is never enough time to get them all adopted.”

“There’s also a ‘big black cat syndrome’! Hard to believe, but many people are still biased against black cats, especially if they’re big.”

“Once a dog is past 1-2 years old, people flat-out expect it to be housetrained. They consider the dog too old to be trained if they’re not housetrained by 2.”

(Links mine.)

Speciesist language aside (HIM! People expect HIM to be housetrained!), I love the idea of promoting not just adoption, but the adoption of “special needs” animals, who usually fare worse in shelters and rescues alike. (Though, happily, some rescues do specialize in hard-to-place animals, while others provide them permanent sanctuary; Old Dog Haven is a personal favorite!)

My own family is a mix of “normal” and “special needs” animals.

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Blogging Against Disablism Day: Sexism & Personality Disorder Diagnoses

Thursday, May 1st, 2008

null

By way of Elaine, I discovered that today is Blogging Against Disablism Day. (There are so many blog against/blog for/blog about days, it’s hard to keep track. Anyone know of a roundup or a calendar something? Similar to The Truth Laid Bare’s Ubercarnival? Which has been giving me a database error like forevah? Anyones?)

Initially, when Elaine mentioned Blogging Against Disablism Day, I wasn’t planning on participating; not because it’s an issue I don’t care about, but because I wasn’t sure what I might contribute to the conversation. In today’s post, Elaine discusses mental disability, more specifically, depression, generalized anxiety disorder and borderline personality disorder, which got me thinking.

As an undergrad, I majored in psychology (I know, *groan* – not another one of those human resources assholes. But I was *serious* about my classes, dammit!) and, aside from the required courses, was given some degree of latitude in my psych studies. Between my psych major and my honors classes, I was even allowed to earn six credits through independent study projects – two fairly comprehensive literature reviews, one of social anxiety disorder (“The Identification and Etiology of Social Phobia”) and another on personality disorders (“Assessing Axis II: Issues & Controversies Surrounding Personality Disorder Diagnoses”). Even cooler, the lone clinical psychology professor at my college was also heavy into women’s studies, so I was able to take several of her courses – while she supervised my projects. As a result, one semester I had the opportunity to tackle the same topic for two different classes, both with my totally awesome feminist prof.

So my last semester of college, I literally spent half my time researching and critiquing personality disorders – categorical vs. continuum models, the Axis I/II distinction, problems with diagnostic instruments and criteria, the biased application of personality disorder diagnoses, etc. By far the most fascinating topic – perhaps because I was simultaneously taking my first and only women’s studies course, Psychology & Women – is the amount of gender bias inherent in Axis II diagnoses. That is, in most of the personality disorder labels.

For my contribution to Blogging Against Disablism Day, I thought I might excerpt a portion of “Sex & Gender Bias in Personality Disorder Diagnoses” (2001 – my, how I date myself!), my final paper for the Psychology & Women course. Why, you ask? Well, it’s important to recognize that the psychiatric and medical communities are just like any other, warts and all; even supposedly objective professionals bring personal agendas and biases to the table. These color both the research and application of mental disorders and their diagnoses, such that a seemingly scientific condition such as depression can serve to reinforce (or enforce) gender roles. In the past, the DSM identified homosexuality as a mental disorder, and in the ’50s, lobotomies came into favor with the families of women who did not, or could not, fulfill their gender roles satisfactorily. In short, medical professionals don’t always operate with the patient’s best interests in mind.

While there are a number of ways in which personality disorders reflect sex and gender bias, tonight I’ll focus on the criteria itself. The very symptoms one must exhibit to “earn” a personality disorder diagnosis oftentimes reflect gender roles, such that a woman (or man) who conforms too closely to her or his stereotyped gender role may be diagnosed with a personality disorder.

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