Trans people are people and not some abstract concept

Back in high school and college and graduate school we knew people who were trans women, or, in the case of high school, would realize that they were trans women once they had the vocabulary to know such a thing existed. I don’t think we knew any out trans men– I’m not sure why, but my theory (which could totally be wrong) is that we only knew of the trans people who needed to be out the most, the most femme of trans women.  Other trans people could more easily not discuss gender, and we were the grunge generation so clothing for everyone was pretty gender neutral.  (Man, I miss grunge so much.)

Since moving to this Southern State, I’ve had several trans students in my classes and we had a student worker who transitioned while working for us, but all trans men, or more recently enbys (non-binary).  It is not very safe to be a trans woman here, even in the college town.  This is not where you want to go to college if you can go anywhere else.  This is not a state in which you want to live in if you are trans.

We’ve had a lot of anti-trans legislation, most of it aimed at children.  I spent hours, maybe days or weeks if you add all the time up, calling about bathroom bills.  My sister bought an autobiography for every single member of our state legislature.  The state blocked things.  But then came a new spate of bills, some of which passed through legislature and some of which were proclaimed by fiat.  It is dangerous to be a trans kid here.

DC1 had a best friend at private school.  K-4 they were best friends. They skipped first grade together.  In 5th grade, we went on leave.  While DC1 was gone, everyone at the private school, male and female alike, started doing locks of love, so when we got back everyone had long hair.  In 6th grade the private school shut down and at the public school they didn’t have any classes together and DC1 was so busy with mostly crafts projects for language arts that zie didn’t have much time to socialize with any of hir old private school friends outside of school.  After that they would occasionally have a single class together, but they never really talked anymore.  We heard from hir parents that zie was having difficulty adjusting to academics in high school (though, unlike DC1, the friend actually went to robotics club enough to be considered a member and is now in a leadership position).

DH and the friend’s father are themselves friends and they enjoy boardgaming together.  So pre-pandemic we’d hang out once every month or every few months depending on schedules, and sometimes DC1 and DC1’s friend and hir older brother (and even mom) would join.  At the beginning of the pandemic they did some online games together, but they couldn’t really find online games that were a good fit for them (DH and DC1’s friend’s parents have overlapping boardgame interests, but not completely overlapping) so that petered out for a while until after DC2 got vaccinated and we felt comfortable sending DH and DC1 over to their place to do boardgames again.

The weird thing was that, since the pandemic, whenever DH and DC1 would go over, DC1’s friend would not be present.  They would see the older brother if he was home from college, but not the friend.

At the most recent gaming date, DC1’s friend was present, though not participating in gaming.  Zie stopped by and was acknowledged by hir parents with a new-to-us name and different pronouns than we’d heard used before in conjunction with hir.  (Zie then almost immediately got dumped via text and went back to hir room and hir mom had to take a break from the game to console hir.)  And that was that.  DH and DC1 didn’t react at all, just mentally took notes and got back to the game.

But we talked about it when we got home.  We explained about what you’re supposed to do about gender if you live in a sane state and a person is out (use the correct pronouns and name!) and how that might be dangerous to do at school where we’re living now.  We discussed whether to misname and misgender if the person isn’t out yet in certain environments (“You never out someone without their permission”).  I was of the opinion that at school DC1 should avoid names and pronouns entirely, which is really easy for DC1 to do as zie doesn’t know any of hir friends names.  (“My one friend… My one other friend… My orchestra friend…”  The weird thing is, we generally know who zie is talking about, though, of course, not by name.)

When cross-examined, DC1 said that hir friend is going by hir deadname and incorrect pronouns at school, at least in the one class they have together.  Which is understandable given the current extreme environment right now.  Hir parents are both medical doctors and the dad works with kids.  If I were living in Texas, as a mandated reporter through my job, I would now be supposed to turn them into child protective services (but I wouldn’t!) to be investigated as abuse.  Because they are using the correct name and pronouns for this kid that we’ve known since zie was 5.  This is horrifying and terrifying.

Paired action items:

Track anti-trans legislation in your state and CALL your local representatives and tell them to VOTE NO.  These bills are coming fast and furious.

Donate to Donors Choose so trans kids can read about trans people.

Donate to help trans kids in Texas.

Don’t drop out of classes if it means losing financial aid

We didn’t pay for DH’s relative’s kid to take community college classes last semester because the government was paying for it under Covid relief.  Zie had 3 classes left and would get hir associates degree after finishing them.

But then the kid dropped out of class and moved to California to be with her older (half) sisters and their biological mom.  The three classes she’d been putting off were hard, she didn’t want to be a teacher anymore, and there are jobs in California that don’t require education and she was tired of her new husband and of DH’s relative telling her to take care of her three pets.  (She was still living with DH’s relative.  She gave away the dog and left him with her two cats, who, it turns out, use their litterboxes instead of the rest of the house when said litterboxes are clean.)

Because she left without attending the final classes, she lost financial aid.  So she owes money for the classes (that she would not owe if she had attended them and failed).  She’s blaming DH’s relative for telling her to look into the possible consequences of dropping rather than him looking into them for her.

She wants to get a job as a substitute teacher in California.  They have shortages, so they’re letting people who have taken specific classes (which she has) sub even if they haven’t gotten their degrees.  All she needs is a transcript.

But they won’t give her a transcript because she owes them money for classes.  So she can’t get a job as a sub.

I’m not sure what the moral is here.  Sometimes government programs backfire?  You need to look into your financial aid?  If we’d paid for the classes she probably would have finished them (I would hope?  But maybe we’ve paid for classes she dropped before?  But also before she had better reasons to drop?)?  Sometimes it’s better to fail a class than to withdraw?  Don’t get married young and don’t have pets that you’re not going to take care of?  If someone offers to pay for a tutor, take them up on it?

I don’t know how much she owes.  We’re not going to pay off her debt for reasons various and sundry.  (If it were our kid, we probably would.  But if it were our kid, there would be strings attached to paying it off.)

Link love

Prone to Procrastinating? Why the Way You Set Deadlines Could Make Things Worse, Not Better.

Ask the grumpies: Audio Books for car trips?

Natka asks:

We have a tradition to listen to audio books during car trips. A car trip is coming up in April, but I am having a hard time finding audio books that would be a good match for our family (and exciting to listen to).

We have 3 kids ages 8, 11, and 13. We have already listened to The Hobbit and LotR. Older kids already read all the Harry Potter books. Flora and Ulysses, Matilda, and The Mysterious Benedict Society series were all great hits as audio books. We are not fans of Narnia or The Wrinkle in Time.

Any recommendations for audio books that are not too adult, not too childish, and are entertaining for both kids and grownups during a 5+ hour drive? We have never tried non-fiction titles, but that may be interesting.

My first thought is the Alcatraz and the Evil Librarians series by Brandon Sanderson. DC2 cannot get enough of the audiobooks (DH and DC2 listen to them while doing calisthenics and on car trips).

Audible has some free Sherlock Holmes that makes for good car listening.

We’ve listened to a LOT of John Scalzi on trips (he’s my go-to on long drives), but you have to be careful about what you listen to because there is swearing in some of them.

We also listened to To Say Nothing of the Dog which is a time travel book that does not have swearing in it. It’s a bit complicated so some parts might need to be explained to the 8 year old, but also they might not.

Andrea Vernon was very popular on the last trip but we had to fast forward through some sex-ish stuff (not actual sex, but there’s a very horny water buffalo minor character who isn’t getting any, and there’s hints of it with Andrea Vernon and the Big Axe, but nothing explicit there).

For non-fiction, we mostly listen to podcasts (for a long time we reserved the Splendid Table for car trips, but now we just listen to Dear Hank and John).

Grumpy Nation– what are your recommendations?


  • I thought our county’s Covid case rates would start rising about a week after Spring Break.  Turns out no, we were back up to like 44 per 100K by the ending weekend of Spring Break.
  • DC2 doesn’t have a cellphone yet.  So occasionally one of us will have to leave a cellphone with DC2 and go without.  I’m astonished how bad I am out in public without a cellphone.  Both in terms of things like forgetting to make sure I know where I’m going (I had to stop by my office to look at a computer) and in having an excuse to be by myself not talking to people.  And just entertaining myself while I wait.  Sometimes a pad and paper are enough, but sometimes I’m out of thinking.  Also I have discovered I do not like the radio– current pop music seems to be not that great (very heavy on autotune which irritates me) and they’re playing a lot of hits from a few years back which are fine, but boring, and oldies are boring, and news is depressing and there’s no classical station.  Also the funky college radio station I used to listen to at night with world music seems to be no more.  I ended up on the mariachi station until it became talk radio.  I’m so spoiled with podcasts!
  • Both DH and I have this problem where all of the dear hank and john podcast episodes we’ve downloaded seem to disappear whenever a new one downloads.  This doesn’t seem to happen with any of our other podcasts.  It is unpleasant!
  • At the beginning of the semester, DC2 pledged to read 100 chapter books and write little flowers on them before some date.  Zie registered this goal with the school library.  The problem is that zie runs out of the flowers to fill out and ends up holding onto library books forever.  Finally I gave up and found the printout online.  Here it is from Crayola in case you’re in the same situation.  (The other problem is that this sort of thing can turn intrinsic motivation into extrinsic, but I doubt that will have a large effect on DC2’s desire to read. At least not if we keep finding good books.)
  • Sugru that has been expired for 2 years no longer works.
  • DC1 spent some of Spring Break practice driving.  Zie is WAY more coordinated than I ever was.  I suspect DC2 will have more trouble since zie, like me, also has occasional trouble with binaries like left vs. right.  I didn’t suspect I had undiagnosed dyslexia until it was so obvious that DC1 doesn’t.
  • The #2 senior at DC1’s high school (and one of my friend’s kids) got waitlisted from early decision at Harvard and waitlisted at MIT.  This is crazy because he has (literally) perfect SAT scores, including on subject tests he took back as a freshman/sophomore, does a sport, started a chemistry club, got high scores on all the AMC10/12 style exams and qualified for the next round for math/chemistry/physics (yes, all three), is on all the academic teams and does well at them, has straight As (is ranked #2), volunteers (including a summer of candy-striping), didn’t apply for need-based aid, etc. etc. etc.  I think some of what happened was that a number of his friends applied early decision to MIT and got in, so now they have too many from our high school already (plus several of their friends from last year and the year before are all at MIT).  He also had kind of a bad letter from the crazy AP world history teacher (the amazing AP US history teacher died this year :( )– she thought it was a good letter but she’s crazy so it wasn’t.  His college essays were also a bit unfocused and didn’t really tell a story about *him*.  But even so, he is a total package and my own DC1 is like, if he didn’t get into MIT… We’re hoping that the dice go the other way at at least one of the ivies he applied to.
  • DC1 is also hoping that the psychology teacher will count as a humanities reference since the English teachers are fascist, except the freshman one who was just not very bright, and the Spanish teacher last year actively disliked DC1 and the one this year is a little odd in sort of a pro-hallucinogens sort of way and will be upset that DC1 isn’t taking Spanish V with her next year (we urged Spanish V + this teacher as rec letter, but DC1 says zie isn’t learning anything this year in Spanish IV).  Zie skipped AP human geography, but that teacher is super racist so that isn’t a loss.  I guess the world history teacher is racist too, specifically against Indians and Muslims.  It really is such a shame about the wonderful AP US History teacher, both from an unselfish perspective and from an entirely selfish one.  DC1 was at least lucky to be able to take a course from him while he was still healthy.
  • My step-cousin died last week of cancer + heart failure.  She was my age, only a couple of months younger. I’d only met her a couple times, once as a child after my awful uncle married her evil mother, and once at my grandma’s funeral (she wasn’t allowed to attend her brother’s wedding).  They had a go-fund-me and I saw most of my liberal relatives donated a lot of money for medical expenses (I donated $100 anonymously, my mom and one of my aunts donated $500 while another donated $1,000).  At my grandmother’s funeral my awful uncle (a forest ranger) tried to get me (an economics professor) into an argument about “death panels” that was only shut down when my other uncle who had actually been taking care of my grandma while her Alzheimer’s got worse broke in to say he wished he had known my grandma’s wishes before she was too far gone to make decisions herself.  I’m still waiting to find out where to send a condolences card.  This is the first one that probably isn’t covid related since the pandemic started.
  • A subset of Mommy bloggers and commenters seem to be complaining about children wanting to keep their masks on at school.  As if that’s a crazy thing to do when we have BA2 on the horizon (I predict a spike ~2 weeks after kids get back from Spring Break [Update: started spiking up before classes restarted]) and 5-11 aren’t boosted and under 5s aren’t vaccinated.  Like, anxiety about this is not actually irrational. They’re also complaining about kids wearing masks outside which, dude, it’s not a big deal.  Personally, I’m still keeping my mask on indoors with other people (even with covid rates under 11 per 100K, which is what a lot of experts use as a comfort level for indoor dining) not because I am worried about ME getting covid (though many of my colleagues think that’s why, and to be fair, DC2 isn’t boosted and long covid is something I would really like to prevent DC2 from getting), but because I want people who are trying to protect themselves or to protect other people to feel comfortable keeping theirs on.  So they’re not the only one wearing a mask.  I’m completely willing to make that sacrifice, and I’m willing to make that sacrifice because I’ve invested in comfortable, breathable masks that fit me so it’s not actually much of a sacrifice.  These (upper-middle class White) women who want to shame healthy people for wearing masks because said women are “over covid” and their kids are healthy and they already had covid and are fine are unbelievably selfish.  It’s like middle school!  But mommy forums/blogs/etc. have always been kind of like middle school, I guess.  Hopefully not this one!
  • DC1 finally got hir Christmas/birthday presents from my sister when we took advantage of the low Covid rates to head into the city.  One of the things zie got was two *new* editions of ZITS comic books.  Previously they had old copies from like 20-30 years ago (maybe mine?  maybe a hand-me-sideways from #2?)  It’s a little crazy how spot on the new ones are about the mom in ways that the old ones were completely farcical (IMO).  It is in fact, a little creepy.  I keep telling DC1 to be more like Hector (without the sideburns though) and less like Jeremy.  (Or more like Francis and less like Nate if we’re talking middle-school comics.)  There’s also a TON of PDA in the new comics that didn’t show up 20-odd years ago.  Like, Sarah and Jeremy are splayed all over each other while Jeremy’s parents’ are also in the room.
  • Youtube seems to really want me to buy a $500+ composter.  I looked into it and it seems like maybe not as environmentally friendly as our current technique of putting scraps on a plate and then taking them out to the compost pile once a day.  Plus $35/month to buy replacement carbon filters or else it smells bad.  Our compote plate fits in the dishwasher.
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Fencing saga

Our fence was falling apart so DH decided to try to get it replaced.

He got two quotes.  One was better so he took that one.  We gave him a check for half the amount to buy materials and he said he’d start work the next week.  I think his quote was like $2k.

Then the fence guy came and realized that our rotting wooden fence posts were buried in concrete in brick.  But we don’t own the brick, the HOA owns the brick.  We only own the fencing.  We asked on Nextdoor if anyone else was in this situation and talked with the HOA and found out that we’re really the first people who need our fence replaced since it was put up (partly because we had a lot of wisteria entangled with it).  Since we needed the HOA to approve any changes to the brick *and* they needed to pay for any changes to the brick, we sadly got our check back from the contractor.

The HOA was really hard to get into contact with.  They would talk to us, say they would look into things, and then go MIA.  The people we were supposed to talk to changed.  The only person who knew what they were doing was someone we weren’t supposed to talk with for some reason (I think he has his own contracting company or something?)  The person we were supposed to talk to got cancer.  Basically 10 months of sporadic contact passed.  The HOA also said that we needed to completely get rid of our wisteria to keep future fences from degrading even though that is definitely not covered in the HOA contract.

During this period, they suggested just keeping the rotting posts.  Our original fencing guy said he was out– he would not work with those posts.  Another fence guy said he would add some kind of stabilizer to the posts to fill in the gaps.  That guy cost something like $10K.  Finally we got a contractor who said he could drill out the wooden posts and replace them with metal posts without damaging (much) of the brickwork.  By this point we were sick of dealing with the HOA and decided it was better to ask forgiveness, especially if the HOA wasn’t going to be paying for any of the brick changes.  It took 2-3 days (including waiting for concrete to set)– they basically did another project during the day and did ours in the evenings on days 1 and 2.  The metal posts are on our side so we shouldn’t get in trouble for it, and hopefully the wisteria will cover them again someday.

Total cost:  $5400, though that also includes the cost of replacing some of the boards in our deck that were damaged by hail which we had done at the same time (they replaced these during the day on day 3 right before a rainstorm).

I’m worried that our wisteria won’t grow back at all.  They cut it down pretty low.  It was pretty glorious.  And obscured the F* Joe Biden flags in the backyards across the street from us.

Does your HOA ever cause you grief?  Have you escaped having an HOA?  Have you ever had to replace a fence?

Link love

In case you’re wondering, permanent Daylight Savings Time is a really bad idea.  Children will die (mostly from traffic accidents during dark mornings– kids getting hit by cars is still pretty bad just like it was in the 1970s the last time they tried this experiment).  Even more children will have worse academic outcomes than they otherwise would unless somehow schools all move an hour up, which may eventually happen but probably not right away (and that will make it difficult for parents to get kids to school before they have to get to work for people with standard work schedules).  People do die during the changeover each year, so it’s not necessarily a great time to keep changing.  BUT going to permanent Standard Time would save lives and help kids’ academics.  I’m not citing things, but there’s a lot of great work on these topics both from psychologists and independently from economists who rediscovered the effects of kids getting up earlier (compared to sunrise) using different methods but without citing the psychology literature.  (Also, from an anecdotal level, my college kids are much more likely to not show up when it’s dark in the morning, even if it’s warm and just overcast.) I’ve been trying to figure out what benefit the plutocrats are getting from DST since apparently this was all rushed through by Kirsten Synema without Senators even being aware there was going to be a vote.  They want more light after work so people get to work at 8 and then don’t grumble when it’s still light when they go home at 7pm?  Hopefully it won’t pass the House.

Clarence Thomas’s wife attended the January 6th Rally and he was the lone vote blocking the House Select Committee from getting January 6th documents from Donald Trump.


  1.  Wrote 10 postcards for Judge Lori Kornblum (if you’re in her district in Wisconsin, vote for her on or before April 5th!)
  2.  Called my (Republican) senators to confirm Kentanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court.  She is as qualified if not moreso than John Roberts and more qualified than the last 3 confirmations.  (You can call your senators too!)

Ask the grumpies: How do people screen colleges these days

First Gen American asks:

What are the tools people use to screen colleges in this era? Do people still use the us news and world report ranking? I am so out of date.

Yup, same as before for selective schools.  US News and World Reports (which has also become more important for graduate degrees) plus the Fiske Guide plus competitors like the Princeton Review rankings etc.

In addition to these, however, it has become easier to screen non-selective colleges.  There are a LOT of online pages that you can plug in your GPA and testscores and get an idea of your chance of being accepted (absent extracurriculars etc.) and other pages that you can plug in all your financials and get a good idea of how much financial aid you’ll get.

DC1 is a little bummed out because the school zie was planning on applying to early has jumped way up in the US News SLAC ratings this past year.  There’s going to be a lot more competition for those slots.

Grumpy Nation residents who have recently gone through this process, how did your kids screen colleges?

The good side of video games

This is a post hanging out in drafts (in outline form) from 2011!  A lot of the things mentioned below were new back in 2011…

People commonly malign video games as being a waste of time (too much screen time) or that they cause violence.

That violence thing is often used as an example for “correlation is not causation”.  If people who play video games are more violent, that doesn’t mean that video games cause violence.  It could be reverse causality– people who are more violent seek out violent video games.  Or it could be omitted variables bias.  Men are more likely to play violent video games and men are more likely to be violent.

In fact, video games can be used to prevent violence.  Biofeedback is awesome.

Video games can have other beneficial effects.

Other benefits of video games:

Here’s some savings games for kids.  (We didn’t link to the one from 2011, so who knows what we were talking about then…)

Video games have been shown to improve cognitive health for older adults.  There has been a lot more work since the 2009 study that we linked to.

Videogamers are better at attentional tasks-– since 2011, there’s been a lot of work at understanding to what extent and why!

Video games can increase persistence.   We wonder if they also affect goal striving and perfectionism.  Certainly with #2’s kid it seems like video games have helped decrease the need to get everything right the first time.

There’s some optimal level of video game playing… we’re not hitting it!  (Maybe #2 is… she’s cold turkey on no video games, not even wordle, because she gets easily addicted and neglects the rest of her life.)

Do you think video games have improved or harmed your life?