The Audacity of a Female Game Critic, or “The tumblr post that nearly made me throw my laptop across the room.” (Reblog)

Feminist Frequency • Twitter vs Female Protagonists in Video Games.

Do I even have commentary for this that isn’t a string of curse words? Basically, Anita Sarkeesian over at Feminist Frequency (now on the blogroll!) had the audacity to comment on Twitter the fact that ZERO of the games revealed at E3 had a female protagonist. What she received in response is some of the most vile sexist bullshit that I’ve read in some time, and I couldn’t even make through a third of the tweets she posted. They range from a simple “shut up” or to the tired trope of “wharrrr, feminist agenda!” to the sterotypical “girls don’t play games!” to the oh-so-charming “no one wants games about cooking and cleaning HARHARHAR girls are dumb”.

Sadly, women are still having to fight like hell for even the slightest crumb of respect in the majority of the geek/nerd community, and it seems like the gamer portion of that community is among the worst. The tired cliches of “there are no girl gamers” and “geek girls are all fakers” continue on and on. There’s ZERO logical or factual basis for these claims, and they do nothing but make the community look backwards and idiotic. Tirades like the ones Anita received do little more than cement the image of gamers as entrenched sexist pigs with the social maturity stunted and halted at the adolescent stage hallmarked by a deep insecurity with genital development and resultant fear of the opposite sex. Yes, I’m implying they’re acting like teenage boys with small penises who are terrified of girls.

Grow up, boys. And major points to Anita for her audacity. She’s my hero for the day.

A Sad Loss for Literature, or “Iain may be gone, but his words are immortal.”

BBC News – Iain Banks dies of cancer aged 59.

I don’t have a ton to say about this, other than I’m incredibly sad. Iain Banks has been one of my favorite authors for some time, and his Culture series remains one the of the long-form hard scifi series ever written. His world-building abilities are among the most inventive and creative that I’ve ever encountered. And science fiction isn’t even what he’s particularly well known for writing (his “mainstream” fiction is also very good, but I’m a nerd dammit!) I also had tremendous respect for his support of secularism and humanism, and ability to present his atheist views without coming off as arrogant or superior.

I first heard that Iain had terminal cancer back in April, and I was incredibly moved by how eloquent and well…Iain-like he was even when sharing news like this his fans (and the world). I think a lot of us were encouraged by progress he seemed to be making, and were hoping he was going to hold on for just a bit longer. His last few notes to fans were touching and personal, and it was moving to hear him share his last months so candidly.

I am both excited and so very disappointed to be reading the final book in the Culture series in just a few weeks. I’m also very saddened that I’ll never have the opportunity to shake his hand. Iain M Banks is truly among the most talented writers of the 20th century, and the literary and scifi worlds are a little less rich with his passsing.

Good-bye, Iain.

The Reaction to Season 3, Episode 9 of Game of Thrones, or “Why your tears should be music to the the writer’s ears.” (SPOILERS!)

I really enjoy HBO’s Game of Thrones. It’s a fantastic bit of nerd television, with beautiful cinematography, excellent acting, and great writing. Sure, I have some gripes sometimes about the particular uses of violence and/or nudity in some episodes. But, in the end, I think it does an excellent job of translating the original material. One of the most memorable and important scenes in A Storm of Swords, the book upon which season 3 is based, it the so called Red Wedding, where Robb Stark and his mother Catelyn, along with most of his army are murdered at the arranged wedding of his uncle to the daughter of an powerful lord. I think for many of us who have read the books and are now watching the series, it’s one of the most anticipate moments yet.

Well, after the episode aired, every social media outlet exploded with rage and anger from fans of the series (it seems to be mostly from those who didn’t know this was coming). Some folks are angry at the sheer graphicness of the violence, particularly the shot of Robb’s wife, Talisa, being stabbed repeatedly in the belly (she’s pregnant). This is a departure from the books, largely because Talisa’s entire identity is a departure. In the novels, Robb marries the daughter for a Lannister bannerman, and she doesn’t even attend the wedding, nor is she pregnant. Some of argued that there was no need for this level of graphic violence against a pregnant woman, or to make her pregnant at all if the plan was to kill her off. But I didn’t hear nearly his level of outrage last season after the episode where Joffrey orders all of his father’s bastard children murdered, and men with swords brutally murder infants in front of their mothers. I’d argue that scene was MUCH more horrific, but it didn’t gain this level of attention precisely because the writing doesn’t drive you to have a deep care about those children. So I’d argue that readers are upset mostly because of their attachment to Talisa, not the particulars of her murder. And that really brings me to my point, that the strong emotional reaction that people had to the episode is proof that the series is good.

The tropes of “good guys win” and “plot armor” are extraordinarily common in literature, particularly in the fantasy genre. Fantasy tends to be an fairly escapist type of fiction, and so the common perception is that those who are on the side of “good” will win the day, and the “bad guys” will get what’s coming to them in the end. After all, who wants to “escape” into a world where genuinely awful things happen and the world isn’t fair or “right”. We have plenty of that here in the real world. But while that may make for a “fun” read or a “fun” series to watch, it really doesn’t make for GREAT literature or GREAT television (just ask Joss Whedon). So much of the dynamic tension and emotion of a series is lost if you’re never seriously concerned about what could happen to the main characters, particularly the characters you like. I argue that what truly draws someone into the action is that anticipation of what could happen, and it’s what makes you root for those characters even harder. To me, whether you’re talking books, movies, or television, the mark of truly well made fiction is the depth of emotion the creators are able to draw out of you. It means you really connected with the characters and the story, and what happens to them MATTERS to you. That’s no small feat for a story. So if you were full of heartbreak and mourning, if tears were streaming down your face, or even if your heart just sank while you watched Talisa fall to the floor, while you saw the dying rob hold his young wife, or when you heard Lady Catelyn beg for her son’s life, then the creators of GoT have absolutely done their jobs, and done them extraordinarily well. And now you are even more fully aware that in Game of Thrones, absolutely no one is safe. And that makes the series just that much more enthralling.

George RR Martin, the writer of the novels and the Executive Producer of the series, has said on numerous occasions that the world he created does not follow the usual fantasy tropes, even if it seems to carry some familiar themes (Queens and knights, dragons and monsters). And anyone who watched the first season should have had any delusions of things turning out happy for almost anyone in Westeros shaken right out of them. As so poignantly stated eluded to by the torturer of Theon Greyjoy: “If you think this has a happy ending, you haven’t been paying attention.” If you don’t want to watch television that can affect you emotionally, I suggest that “reality” TV might be more your style.

Patrick Stewart on the Power of Men to Stop Violence Against Women, or “Now I’m crying my eyes out and want Captain Picard to be my BFF.”

Patrick Stewart: It’s in Men’s Hands to Stop Violence Against Women.

Star Trek Captain + Amazing Speech about Violence Against Women = Perfect Fodder for  TNF.

Really, I couldn’t ask for a more perfect video to share with you all. Sir Patrick gives an incredibly touching and emotional speech about his work to prevent violence against women, how his mother shaped this work, and why men have the power to stop this from happening. All in his perfect English baritone. I broke down in tears right at my keyboard. He even takes a moment to check to see if the young lady who asked the question was okay (I think she, too, was overcome with emotion). I don’t want to say too much else about the actual video, because my puny written words cannot do it justice.

Seriously, can I just have a hug from him and an “It will be alright.”? I’m pretty sure that would make me happy forever.

TheTNF Review of “Star Trek: Into Darkness”, or “I love explosions and textual references, but this is a sausage fest!” (Spoilers!)

So remember how I said in the “About” page that I was going to be talking about nerd stuff in this blog? Well, I’m sure all of you were just DYING to know what TheTNF thought about the new Star Trek movie! Ok, probably not, but too damn bad. Let’s do this!

We’ll get things going with the nerd point of view. Firstly, I’ll admit that I absolutely walked out of the theater going saying “OMG, that was awesome!” But, I do that for a LOT of movies before my brain has had a chance to completely digest everything I took in. Taking the movie as simply a work of science-fiction/action, I still really enjoyed the film. It’s visually stunning, well-acted, and the sound editing is excellent. The action sequences happen regularly enough to give the film energy, but not so often as to make it feel rushed. There’s good character development, some touching moments, and enough comic relief to keep it from getting depressing. So, from a strictly film-geek point of view, I call the film a total win.

However, if I take it a step further and let the Trek-geek in me have a go at it, things change. I’ll start with the good. I remain very impressed with the casting decisions for all the major characters. I think they all fit the roles perfectly, and Benedict Cumberbach manages to perform admirably as Kahn Noonien Singh despite the glaring whitewashing. Less well done is the intertextuality the film attempts to establish with Wrath of Khan. There are a few points where this is pulled off brilliantly; the fantastically inverted self-sacrifice scene with Kirk and Spock being chief among them. Unfortunately, to me, this only ends up highlighting what “could have been”. Many of the other references feel forced or just plain unnecessary (see: Leonard Nimoy’s cameo). This leads well into my second point, which is the film tried to cover too much. There’s a lot of canon here to deal with- all of WoK, plus the episode “Space Seed” from TOS. Attempting to pull in most of this material (adapted to the new timeline) leads to “cramped” feeling to the film at times, while important plot points are hurried over. Kirk’s coming back to life, much of Khan’s back story, the introduction of the Klingons, and building of the Vengeance are all areas that could have been played out in a far more detailed fashion if the writers had tried to do a little bit less with their limited screen time. It’s the detail that gives Star Trek it’s flavor, and it was so well executed in the first of the reboot films that it pains me to see it lost in the entertaining-but-flawed sequel. The result is a film that just doesn’t “feel” like a Star Trek film. So from a hardcore Trek fan point of view, the film is watchable, entertaining, but ultimately a little frustrating.

Finally, let’s give this thing a look from a feminist standpoint. In two words, it stinks. While the first reboot film wasn’t exactly brimming with female characters and included its fair share of blatant fan-service (hello, Naked Green Alien Girl), at least the one female lead maintained a strong imagine without a ton of giving in to pervasive stereotypes, and more than two women had speaking roles. We just aren’t so lucky in the second film. I’ll admit that Uhura has a few really bad-ass moments, particularly her stone-faced resolve as she deftly negotiates with the Klingons in their native language. Beyond those fleeting moments, she’s either relegated to the background, or far more insultingly used in an obnoxiously sexist joke about women’s behavior. I’m referring, of course, to her attempting to have a relationship discussion with Spock while on critical away mission. This entire exchange pained me to watch as they slowly eroded Uhura’s credibility as a professional, level-headed Starfleet officer. The writers gutted an fantastic, strong female lead character for the sake of a joke that fell flat and did nothing for the story line. But at least Nyota got a chance to BE a character, instead of a piece of alluring scenery. Because really, that’s all Dr Carol Marcus managed in this film. In the original canon, Dr Marcus is not overly developed as a character, but she’s named as the creator of the plot-critical Genesis Device (and mothers a child with Kirk). In Into Darkness, she’s an annoying stowaway who does little but provide an awkward moment of fan service in her underwear, and serve poorly as a bargaining chip. I actually cringe in my seat as they flashed her nearly naked body on screen. It was a contemptuous way to treat the only other female character is a sea of men, and the film suffered for it. While The Original Series wasn’t always at the forefront of feminist portrayals of female characters, the Star Trek franchise as a whole has been of relatively high quality in its depiction and inclusion of women. The writers of Star Trek: Into Darkness would have been wise to have kept that tradition. From a feminist point of view, the film is a dismal failure.

A last completely nerdy quibble about canon: the ending of the film appeared to contain a glaring Trek-science mistake. Star Trek canon has mentioned on a few occasions that one of the reasons that a star ship is built in, and must remain in, space is that once in atmosphere, the forces of gravity and friction would rip the ship to shreds. Essentially, they don’t have the structural stability to hold up in atmo. Now, I fully recognize that the Vengeance was very much CRASHING to earth as Khan aimed her for Starfleet HQ, but she stilled stayed largely intact through re-entry, descent, and the crash-landing. My interpretation of the canon gave me the impression that a starship in atmo would quickly break up, killing absolutely everyone on board. I fully accept the suspension of disbelief that comes from watching Star Trek, but it would be nice if they’d at least stay consistent with the rules that THEY created! But again…that’s just a geeky quibble because I’m a jerk about details, and feel free to correct me on this one!

As a final note, I have genuine hope that many of the issues in Star Trek: Into Darkness are a symptom of taking on more than could really be handled in a single film, rather than actual disregard for female characters. I’ll be anxiously awaiting the next film the franchise, and crossing my fingers from improvement.

PS: I plan on doing many more of these film reviews, taking them on from nerd, trans (when applicable), and feminist points of view. So help me name this segment! Comment below with your ideas!

What is Penguicon?, or “Where nerds go to play.”

What is Penguicon? » Penguicon 2013.

It’s clearly not a big secret that I’m tremendously nerdy. As a unapologetic nerd/geek, I happen to like to spend time around lots of other folks of the nerd/geek variety. As it turns out, conventions are a pretty amazing place to do exactly that. One of my very favorite cons, Penguicon, happened just a few short weeks ago in Michigan. It combines science fiction, open source computing, an enthusiasm for all things DIY, and a lot of other good geeky fun.

I’ve been going to this particular convention for about 5 years now, and it’s one of the highlights of my year. This year they produced a fantastic video about just what exactly Penguicon is all about. Check it out, and then come join us next year!

Neil Gaiman’s Final Book Tour, or “Yes readers, TheTNF can actually squee.”

Neil Gaiman – Where’s Neil?.

I just wanted to briefly fan-girl for a moment here. I’m SO ridiculously excited about Neil Gaiman’s new adult novel. I’ve loved all of his novels so far, and I’ve re-read his short story collections (not to mention Good Omens) until the books nearly fell apart. He definitely ranks among my favorite authors (I should write about that sometime).

I’m a little sad that this will be his last signing tour, but I can completely understand…he’s mentioned before that he finds public appearances to be exhausting (so do I, and I’m not famous in the least bit!). I feel so lucky to have tickets to see him when he’s in my town. I also couldn’t help but giggle at the clever names for each of the events on this tour (because even I’m sometimes a giggling fangirl; deal with it). I saw him briefly while I was at ChiCon 7 last year, but he was so completely mobbed with fans (and he was just trying to check into the hotel!) that I didn’t want to be THAT kind of fan girl. But now I’ll get to meet him, hear a reading, and get my copy of “The Ocean at the End of the Lane” signed! Yayy!

Seriously, if you’re a fan, get your tickets already!

The Story So Far, or “I’m about to commit the biggest cliche in all of blogging.”

I went back and forth about whether or not this sort of thing should actually be a blog post, a static page, or if I should even bother with it at all. Life is changing quickly for me, so a “static” page would be far from static, and I don’t have the desire to try and keep something this onerous up to date. And in the end, given the nature of this particular blog, I think it makes sense for it to have a beginning of sorts. So I think that means I’m stuck with the most stereotypical blog opening ever…the one where I tell you all about who I am. So in the immortal words of Inigo Montoya: “There is too much, let me sum up.”

The basics. I’m 30. I was born in the Midwest, grew up here, and here I remain for the time being. I have a Bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry and in Medical Laboratory Science, and I’ve made medicine and science my career. I’m a woman who happens to have been born in the wrong physical sex, and I’m in the process of correcting that problem. I’m about 45 days into hormone therapy. I’m a person who is on the autism spectrum, but I’m on the high-functioning end. I identify most as “queer”, but my attractions lay primarily in folks who identify as female. I am not married and have no children.

I’ve always been a bit of a nerd. I’ve loved reading, science, learning, and all that as long as I can remember. I was an obsessive PC and console gamer when I was younger, and could lose myself for hours in an RPG. Beyond just games, I also just kind of loved computers. I could take one apart and rebuild it before I was in high school, and I’ve been an internet nerd since the days of the BBS.  I was one of those weird kids who actually liked going to school. I did all the stereotypical nerdy things in high school…I was in the Science Club, played Quiz Bowl, was on the Debate Team, did Model United Nations, and pretty much anything else competitive that wasn’t sports. I forever had a scifi or fantasy book in front of my face, and still do to this day. I’ve never shied away from being called a nerd; if the shoe fits, wear it with pride I say! In 2009, I attending my first science fiction convention after many years of vehement encouragement from a few friends. I was hooked from the first night. I met a ton of really awesome new people, and found a place where I felt more comfortable than I ever had. These days, I make it around 5-7 cons a year around the midwest, and I was lucky enough to get to attend the 2012 World Science Fiction Convention in Chicago.

I come from a relatively uninteresting working class background, the daughter of a factory worker and a school bus driver. They’re still married. I have just one sibling, a younger brother. I’m originally a military brat, but then grew up entirely in the same boring suburb. My extended family is large and full of Catholics, and most of them can’t effing stand me…the feeling is mutual. I’m not yet out to my family, and that remains the most anxiety-inducing coming-out that I have pending. I’m not even a little worried about my brother; he’s gay and I was the first person he came out to. My parents on the other hand…I just have a feeling that they’re going to take the news badly.

The story of how I came to terms with being transgender, and how I made the decision to transition is something I may write about later, but it’s still something that’s triggery for me to talk about. So for now, we’ll just go with this: I made my decision to pursue transition in the last week of December of 2011, and I made it my goal to start hormone therapy before the end of 2012. I’ll admit, I drug my feet a bit on getting the medical bits started. While I was happy and resolute in my decision, it took me a few months to prepare myself mentally for the journey. I was already out to a fair number of friends by that point, and I started spending more and more time presenting female as the year went on. I started laser treatments on my face in April 2012, which was my first big step. In the late summer, I found a therapist that I liked and really got the ball rolling with my first session with her in August of last year. Therapy was a little slow going at first due to the expense and my work schedule, but I got my referral letter for HRT in January of this year. I didn’t quite make my initial goal of starting hormones before the end of year, but it was close enough to feel like a real accomplishment. Getting into the endocrinologist proved to be far more complicated than I had anticipated, but I finally started hormonal transition on February 21, 2013. Since then, it’s been just learning to cope with some of the side effects and emotional changes, but generally being a much happier and better adjusted young woman.

I’m MOSTLY out at this point, and getting closer to the goal of being completely out a little more each day. The biggest impediment to that is my current job. It’s just not the kind of place that I could happily and safely come out without risking job loss or worse. However, I was recently accepted into a PhD program in Genetics, and I will be leaving my current job at the end of the summer to pursue my doctorate full-time, and I’ve already come out to the program and the university. The start of school also happens to be my full-time goal, and I should easily reach it, as work is pretty much my own “detransitioned” period nowadays. I have ridiculously amazing and supportive friends. I’ve been completely blown away at how readily they’ve accepted this change, the lengths they’ll go to support me, and the amount of love they’ve heaped on me since I started the process. I’m so very lucky to have that support network, and I wouldn’t be as happy and healthy as I am now without them. Every trans person should be this lucky.

So why this blog? For one, I’ve always enjoyed writing, and I think blogging is a fantastic way to keep one’s skills in practice. And really, I seem to only write scientific work and technical documents these days, and it would be nice to work out other parts of my brain. Secondly, I’ve long used writing to get thoughts out of brain. Sometimes I just have a pile of ideas floating around inside my head, and the only way to clean that mess up is to stick the ideas in a document. I have more than a dozen different files full of random stuff I’ve thought about, and I think a lot of it has the potential into being edited and expanded upon into essays that I’d be proud to share with others. Third, while I know that LOTS of trans people blog about their transition, I think every one of our stories are important. At least for me, when I was struggling with my identity and all these weird feelings, reading the thoughts and experiences of other people was incredibly comforting and had a big hand in finally feeling comfortable with who I am. Every person’s experience is different, so if my story can help even one other person feel better about who they are, then all of the effort of this blog will have been worth it. And finally, I’m just passionate about what’s going on the in the world, and I think my friends are tired of me filling up their facebook feed with angry tirades on news articles. This is will be a much better venue for that sort of thing.

So that’s my story and how I got to the point of starting this project. And dear god is this post boring and awful to read or what? But, in the end, it’s honest and authentic. With any luck, my later writings will suck less and will include a lot fewer cliches, and. I’ll get better with practice. Bear with me; it might take me awhile to knock the rust off, but I’m hopeful that it will be an interesting ride.