Cárdenas isn’t sure what form of body hacking he may perform on himself or what the end of his transsexuality will be. “I’m still a work in progress.”
  • Cárdenas isn’t sure what form of body hacking he may perform on himself or what the end of his transsexuality will be. “I’m still a work in progress.”
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I’m sitting on a leather couch in the middle of a darkened black-walled, black-ceilinged room talking to a man who, at taxpayer expense, takes hormones to become more like a woman yet is in the middle of an experimental performance in which he seeks to become a dragon.

Micha Cárdenas, the 31-year-old man/woman/ dragon in question, sits in a chair three feet from the couch. He’s facing me, but I can’t see his eyes due to the stereoscopic headset he’s wearing as part of a performance art project called Becoming Dragon. The headset limits Cárdenas’s view — except for peripheral vision — to the online world of Second Life, where he’s spent every waking moment of the past 11 days living as a dragon named Azdel Slade.

The room is in the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology building on the campus of the University of California, San Diego, where Cárdenas is a third-year graduate student in the master of fine arts program with a personal emphasis on performance and media. Becoming Dragon is part of Cárdenas’s master of fine arts. For the performance, Cárdenas is spending more than 15 consecutive days living in Second Life. “My contract with myself was to be in Second Life for 365 hours [wearing the headset], except when I go to the bathroom.”

In addition to the headset, Cárdenas wears motion-capture hardware on his body. Eight cameras mounted high on the walls around the 15-by-30–foot room capture his motion and translate it to the brightly colored dragon on the movie screen at one end of the room. The cameras, from my seat on the couch, which sits dead center in the room, look like big red eyes peering down at me. On-screen, the dragon stands in the middle of a Second Life room that has been constructed to look like the room we’re in. What’s on-screen is what Cárdenas sees through the stereoscopic headset. In order to have some semblance of face-to-face interaction with me, Cárdenas has asked his 28-year-old assistant and fellow grad student, Elle Mehrmand, to set up a camera that transmits an image of me sitting on the couch into his headset. The result is disconcerting. I’m watching an image of myself sitting in a room imbedded in a computer version of the same room. To make things more disconcerting, the image has a three- or four-second time delay. And Cárdenas’s voice is being filtered through a modulator, which has a slight delay. So I hear everything twice, once in his soft, yet deep, speaking voice — the hormones don’t seem to have raised his voice yet — and a split second later in a guttural, higher-pitched computerized garble that sounds (to me) more like a sinister gnome than a dragon.

Coming in, I had expected to see someone more, well, drag queenish. Cárdenas doesn’t give off that vibe at all. He’s dressed in a black and gray leopard-print jacket over a black T-shirt and gray pants. Four-inch black piercings dangle from his ears. His arms are covered with tattoos that wouldn’t look out of place on a biker or professional athlete. He wears his hair in an androgynous style and length. His posture, mannerisms, and speech are neither overtly feminine nor masculine. And that’s the way Cárdenas sees himself, somewhere in between. Asked whether his dragon “avatar,” as Second Life characters are known, is male or female, Cárdenas answers, “Neither. Both. Neither and both, just like in real life.”

Asked if he identifies himself as gay, he says, “No, I identify as queer, which is a nice label outside of labels, which means that I don’t identify as gay because that would mean I’m a man who likes men, or as a lesbian, which would mean that I’m a woman who likes women, but as queer: I am just attracted to who I’m attracted to. But generally, I do like femme people, usually genetic girls.”

Cárdenas has a hard time saying exactly when he got the idea to perform Becoming Dragon. “For the last three years,” he says, “I’ve been doing work that deals with the body and technology, specifically putting the body online. I’ve been thinking about online public spaces such as YouTube, MySpace, or Second Life. I think of it as an online ‘public space’ since there are 15 million users. Also,” Cárdenas chuckles, which through the voice modulator sounds like the laugh of an evil overlord in a Japanese cartoon, “I read this one-page short story in the back of a comic book called T-Gina about a transsexual woman named Gina. The story was about this couple sitting at home wondering why their neighbors were so uptight about their recent species-change surgery. And then, when I started to take hormones and think about myself, I started to think about the question of species identity.”

Though the idea of species change sounds absolutely loco to just about everybody, Cárdenas in his travels in Second Life has found a community of people who long to change their species from human to some kind of animal, real or imagined. “I’ve discovered as part of this performance that there are a lot of people who have sex and have relationships and get married as dragons and bunnies and other species. The most common thing is hybrid species. Right now, I’m a dragon. But there’s also another avatar I use which is this thing called a Neko, which is a half-cat, half-human kind of person. Nekos that are half-human, half-animal are really common in Second Life. Something that’s happened in the last few days [during the performance] is I’ve met a bunch of people who call themselves Otherkin, and they have this whole community who feel really deeply, painfully, truly that they are some other species. This couple that talked to me was a dragon-man and a fox-woman. They both said, very seriously, that if they could get species-change surgery, they would do it in a second.”

Does that strike you as insanity of any kind?

“Well, it struck me as surprising,” Cárdenas lets out a long, rolling dragon chuckle that echoes off the walls of the room, “but good. I was worried that maybe people go to Second Life to be dragons and whatnot because it’s safe and easy, and you’re just playing. But after a week of doing this, I’ve had many people come to me and say, ‘No, this is very serious to me.’ ”

Cárdenas adds, “It doesn’t really strike me as crazy. I know people who think about gender as an open kind of expression. That’s what I’m trying to explore and develop in this project, is gender not just limited to male/female and not just in between male and female — femmy boy or butch lesbian or something — but gender as a texture of identity or a layer of identity, so each person could have their own gender. So I know people who feel like their gender is bunny or they feel like their gender is monster.”

My head is spinning, and it’s not just the delayed voice and video making it spin. I haven’t gotten used to the idea of species change; now we’re talking about species as gender. “That’s how they feel about their gender expression,” Cárdenas explains. “They’d say that bunny, for example, is the idea that best expresses or sums up what they think about their gender. And talking to the people who want species-change surgery, gender and species are very closely related to them.”

Cárdenas was seven years old, the fourth of four siblings, living in Miami, Florida, when his parents divorced. He lived with his mom and sister for eight more years, until his mother was diagnosed with schizophrenia. After that, he lived with his dad and stepmom for a couple of years, then with his sister for two years. Given that background, it would be easy to label him the product of an unstable upbringing. But that would be too easy. He was stable enough to acquire a degree in computer science from Florida International University. And as I talk with him, he rattles off quotes from a half dozen or so philosophers and authors, despite 11 days of poor sleep and the mind-numbing effects of wearing the stereoscopic goggles. And there’s a cool-headed albeit radical quality to the goals he’s trying to achieve with this project. “Yeah, sure,” he says, “I’m trying to explore in terms of living in Second Life the potential for species-change surgery, and I’ve been researching the limits of biotech and how far we are away from species-change surgery. I’m also definitely doing it as a political gesture,” he says, “to make more space for transgendered people. It seems like if it were more accepted that people want to get species-change surgery, maybe I wouldn’t get such funny looks for wanting to change genders.”

Cárdenas adds, “I felt a little guilty for talking to the transspecies people because I don’t really identify as a dragon. I picked dragons because, for one, they’re not so easy to gender male and female. And most dragon literature, Western and Eastern, features dragons having shape-changing ability. So that’s something I really want to think about with this performance; how do we think and talk about people who are changing, people we don’t have names or labels for, somebody in transition who is not male or female. And how does that change our ideas of politics. We have had years and years of movements, writing, and struggle based on particular identities. How do we update our thinking so that we’re not talking about the women’s movement or the black power movement but something else? And that’s not to discredit those movements at all or to say that those movements are unimportant, invalid, or anything. But ideas about identity are different now than they were 30 years ago. Feminism nowadays has to do with expanding this notion of who gets to be a woman. And it’s not so much about biological women per se as it is about gender freedom.”

Cárdenas’s thoughts about his own identity and his transgendering efforts seem more nuanced than the stereotypical I’m-a-woman-in-a-man’s-body thinking. Since August 2008, he’s taken “estradiol, a form of estrogen, and spironolactone, a testosterone blocker.” But, he says, “I definitely don’t think I could take hormones, then get surgery, and become a real woman. I just don’t think man and woman really exist.”

The cost of Cárdenas’s hormone therapy is “covered by the University of California health insurance. All gender services up to $25,000 are covered. Which is funny, because if I did want surgery, now would be a good time to do it.”

The University of California Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Intersex Association website confirms that “As of 2007–2008, UC San Diego…programs cover trans health benefits up to $25,000 per year.”

The cost of the Becoming Dragon project Cárdenas estimates to be “around $40,000 to $50,000.” On top of that money are the hours spent on the project by volunteers such as Mehrmand and four other support staff who bring Cárdenas food and help with the equipment. Then there’s space usage and equipment usage. The motion-capture system he’s borrowing from the university “is a half-million-dollar system. So there’s a cost associated with using that. The beginning first few months of this project was me writing grants.” He got a $2500 grant from the University of California Institute for Research in the Arts and a $5000 grant from the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology. “The money I raised went to other equipment, videotapes, and things like that.”

The University of California Institute for Research in the Arts is a grant-giving office that provides up to $5000 to artists within the university system. The institute, says its website, “is committed to supporting risk-taking research that might not otherwise find funding from other University or extramural sources.”

The California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology has buildings at the San Diego and Irvine campuses of the University of California. The buildings were erected with $100 million of state money. The group’s website is full of nebulous writing about shifting research paradigms and bridging the gaps between disciplines and between academia and industry. It amounts to a telecommunications and information technology research institute funded by a combination of state, federal, and industry money.

Cárdenas says “the bulk” of the funding for Becoming Dragon came from the Center for Research in Computing and the Arts, which, its website says, is “an Organized Research Unit of the University of California, San Diego whose mission is to facilitate the invention of new art forms that arise out of the developments of digital technologies.”

Cárdenas adds, “CRCA estimates that they provided over $20,000 worth of support including the space, the equipment including the motion capture system, and months of staff support time from numerous people. And that number was before an additional $2500 they contributed toward buying computers.”

Ars Virtua, a media and art center within Second Life, provided Cárdenas “a grant of usage of their virtual land. They granted me a parcel that is 4096 square meters.”

Becoming Dragon is Cárdenas’s final performance for his master of fine arts. He plans to push on for a Ph.D. in fine arts. For his Ph.D., he says he’s thinking about doing some kind of performance art involving “body hacking.”

“Body hacking,” I ask, “as in hacking with a hatchet?”

Cárdenas roars with computer-modulated dragon laughter — a terrifying sound. “No, no, no, no, no, hacking as in hacking a computer.”

More dragon laughter.

“I think about hacking with computers as another kind of exploration — finding novel ways of doing things with computers and technology. If you look at the Hacker’s Dictionary definition of ‘hack,’ it’s not breaking into computers, which is more ‘cracking.’ But when people say, ‘That’s a good hack,’ it means, that’s a clever, novel way of doing that thing. The journalist Quinn Norton has written a lot about body hacking, which is people doing DIY [do it yourself] body modification. Usually, it’s DIY body modification that is functional. Quinn Norton got an implant of a magnet in her finger, which basically gave her a sixth sense to detect if something was magnetic. That’s one classic body-hacking example because it’s functional and it’s a modification.”

Cárdenas isn’t sure what form of body hacking he may perform on himself or what the end of his transsexuality will be. “I’m still a work in progress,” he says. “Part of the idea of body hacking is that your body is the platform, which is also totally related to performance art. When I think of body hacks for myself, I think about how could I experiment on myself safely, or relatively safely,” Dragon chuckles, “to move toward some of these things like fur or color changes or something like that. That’s something that I’m thinking about for my Ph.D., or for future projects, at least: how does body hacking and widespread access to medical knowledge transform our potential for being something else? Because, right now, the potential is totally limited by the medical institution and the psychiatric institution. For instance, if you just want to become a woman, you have to go through a year trial, you have to convince them that you’re passing [as a woman] for the whole year.” (Cárdenas chose 365 hours for Becoming Dragon to call into question this one-year requirement.) “But body hacking is interesting to me because medical knowledge and medical hardware are getting cheaper, the way the video cameras are getting cheaper. So it seems like soon we’ll be in a much easier position to change ourselves. Ten years ago, the performance artist Orlan, who is my biggest inspiration, was doing performance by getting plastic surgery live onstage. She was getting body modifications to look more like famous pieces of art. Eventually, she got horns implanted in her forehead. Well, nowadays you can just go to a piercing place to get horns put on your forehead. It’s not the most crazy thing.”

Before I leave Cárdenas to live out his final four days as a dragon in Second Life, I ask, “Do you believe that there’s a God who created you as you are?”

“Oh, no,” the dragon answers, “that’s as far from what I believe as possible.”

Author’s note: Micha Cárdenas asked that feminine pronouns be used in this story. With respect, the author declined.

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LazloToth March 25, 2009 @ 7:03 p.m.

"Micha Cárdenas asked that feminine pronouns be used in this story. With respect, the author declined."

That's not actually respect, then, sorry. I mostly feel bad for Ms. Ernie Grimm, because the Internet is forever: in ten or twenty years, her refusal to allow someone their right to self-definition is going to look about as sensitive as any other slur.


Kaseido March 25, 2009 @ 8:01 p.m.

I agree with the previous poster: that was a shocking coda to a mature, clear-eyed and engaged article. Shameful.


wmwilson72 March 25, 2009 @ 10:52 p.m.

I disagree, give me accurate reporting over political correctness any day.


SingingMum March 25, 2009 @ 11:12 p.m.

Wow. Are we so fat and happy in the USA that we invent neuroses just to have something to complain about?

Think of how this man's mind could be helping people who are really in need around the world. Instead Cardenas is spending time pretending to be a dragon to make a political point. Pointless.

"I just don't think that man and woman exist." Then why use medical intervention to subvert male identifying characteristics?

If Cardenas changes definitions on anything, including his sex, maybe people will/ should go along with it. Or, maybe not. I don't feel the need to, and I don't find it 'shameful' that the author doesn't either. Spare me the righteous indignation.


Fred Williams March 26, 2009 @ 2 a.m.

I'm all in favor of genuine research in computer science and the arts...this isn't it.

If someone wants to morph into a dragon, fine.

But NOT with taxpayer money at a time like this. Who approved these grants?


Vanishes March 26, 2009 @ 3:01 a.m.

This project was great. I saw parts of it from both worlds. It was about gender, and it was about more than just gender.

This project is GENUINE research. This project was very multi-faceted and this article which takes the occasional jab at the performance can't possibly hope to encompass that which was this project.

IE: This project wrote the code for the motion detectors to be able to move an Avatar in Second Life, based off the movements of a real human body in real life, and released the code to those would WANT it.

Micha keeping true to her open source values.

This was also an EXPERIMENT. So of course there are parts that may seem out of place, but the point was to find out what is important, and the only way to do that it to try EVERYTHING humanely possibly that is in your power. For me this project was about our identity, what is important about how we express ourselves when we don't have to "hide", and really Micha is studying and exposing the alter-egos so many of your friends and family are taking on behind you backs in SL.

She is asking a question! She has given us so much great information that will stand the test of time, and a great stepping stone to understanding ourselves and our humanity. Whether it's about gender or just our identity PERIOD.

This project I feel was about even more than Micha realizes, or that we can realize. Micha was an ambassador for real life into the virtual. Micha was taken around like she was a foreigner from another country and shown the best and worst and most creative aspects of what I believe to be the underestimated platform of "Second Life".

Micha was not JUST wasting time making a political point. This was an extreme turning point in technology merging with the body, and how the body holds up when immersed for long periods of time in a virtual environment like this. It is a stepping stone, and in the future when others may have to immerse themselves in a virtual environment they will have research to look-up.

I implore those of you who look at this performance to look into the ANSWER she was given more than the QUESTION she asked.

The best parts of this project for me lie within what she found when she asked this question.


Fred Williams March 26, 2009 @ 6:20 a.m.

Vanishes, you make good points. If what you say is true, then it's sad that none of this made it into the article, which seemed to focus on the freak show value while ignoring the human/computer interface innovations you describe.

My apologies.



LazloToth March 26, 2009 @ 7:45 a.m.


Okay, but in that case, can we actually have a discussion about the complexity of gender instead of you just calling your opinions of it as correct by definition with one snarky comment? It ain't political correctness, genius, it's neurobiology. If you really want to go toe-to-toe on the science and sociology of gender -- and why it's just as arbitrary to use gender pronouns AT ALL -- the queer world has a lot of smart people in it and we can take all comers.


LazloToth March 26, 2009 @ 7:49 a.m.


So what you're saying is that all art and culture should cease to exist as long as people are starving? Uhh... okay. Have you sworn off all "frivolous" things like TV and music for the whole course of your life, just because there were some people starving in Africa? Do you seriously think human culture ever HAS shut down in difficult times? Sorry, sister, this stuff matters even when the middle class is scared it's gonna lose its cushy lifestyle, and it's pretty self-centered to assume people will stop thinking about lofty things because YOUR part of the world is a little less obscenely rich.


SingingMum March 26, 2009 @ 10:59 a.m.

LazloToth- I'm not saying art and culture shouldn't shut down, and I'm keenly aware of how it continues in difficult times.

I am saying that I don't find this 'performance' to be much about art. Yeah, its partly about human/computer interface but I put a higher value on human/human interface.

Before any more assumptions are made about me, I should tell you two things. I spent nine years getting two music (performance) degrees that I use for work everyday. And our family is not comfy middle class, but lower.

I'll repeat my other criticism of Cardenas' efforts, as discussed in the article and in the first two posts- "I just don't think that man and woman exist." Then why use medical intervention to subvert male identifying characteristics?

If Cardenas changes definitions on anything, including his sex, maybe people will/ should go along with it. Or, maybe not. I don't feel the need to, and I don't find it 'shameful' that the author doesn't either. Spare me the righteous indignation.

Maybe you want to look at the substance of my criticism instead of reeling out assumptions?


reddragonfly March 26, 2009 @ 5:58 p.m.

This is as much a misuse of taypayer dollars at this end of the cultural spectrum as giving bonuses to AIG execs are at the other end. The real world is tough - no doubt. It may explain the proliferation of narcissistic/controlling behaviors and experimentation in the virtual world may seem important to some other than for escapism. But let's leave it to the private sector to fund it.

Although, Cardenas' gender identity, as part of this article on the virtual experiment, did open the conversation on transgendering, his attitude towards the process of transgendering may do more of a disservice to those who could use the funding and want to complete the whole process.

It's interesting that some readers expect Grimm to accept to be told what to write (be used) to promote Cardenas' admitted political agenda and see Grimm's respectful refusal as disparaging to Cardenas. Regardless of the agenda, no author should yield to such a request.

There will always be those looking for offense because they just want to be in an offended frame of mind. Perhaps stepping out of your bubble and engaging society with civility as whoever or whatever you choose to be; as a responsibly functioning member of society without wasting other peoples' money; and refrain from denouncing anyone who doesn't subscribe to your idea of what is culturally relevant as not being enlightened or intolerant would do more for the transgender community. A more indepth article about transgenders would also be helpful.


darrellbery March 27, 2009 @ 4:17 a.m.

Great to see this project getting some mainstream coverage, but your writer and editors should be ashamed of such rudeness towards the subject of the story


tina March 28, 2009 @ 12:38 a.m.

First of all, congratulations to the Reader and Ernie Grimm for reporting on a story that San Diego CityBeat featured on December 2 of last year...right on top of things as usual.

Unlike CityBeat's article that delves into the subject in more pertinent detail in half as much space, the Readers' version ends up being really more of an expose on just how ill prepared a "journalist" can be to actually cover a story than anything useful in understanding the subject at hand...Grimm seems almost proud of his utter lack of understanding of transgender issues or at the very least too clueless to know when he is indicating it-

"...the hormones don’t seem to have raised his voice yet..."

Even a cursory bit of basic research (maybe...asking Ms. Cardenas?) would have informed him that female hormones don't change a male born individual's voice.

Similarly, he reports on an experiment in transhumanism without ever mentioning the term, and no doubt doesn't have a clue what it means if this is any indication-

"“Body hacking,” I ask, “as in hacking with a hatchet?”"

Just pathetically dumb.

But the final nail in his journalistic coffin is this-

"Author’s note: Micha Cárdenas asked that feminine pronouns be used in this story. With respect, the author declined."

In this case, Grimm can't even fall back on the excuse of ignorance; his thinly veiled sneering tone throughout the article makes it clear that his choice to ignore the express wishes of the person being covered was made with the specific intention of DISrespecting her.

Obviously this is his right, but the fact that he would do so without ANY elaboration at the very least shows that he's a lousy reporter...if this was important enough to mention, then it would seem to be important enough to explain and might have at least added food for thought- but either undisclosed personal bias or cowardice (or both) caused him to take this cheap parting shot while pretending that it was simply an insignificant detail unworthy of further commentary.

Again, a simple look at journalistic style guides would have told Grimm that to do what he did is highly disrespectful and akin to referring to people of African descent as "coloreds"...real journalists with a shred of integrity simply don't do things like this.

There was absolutely NOTHING to be gained by refusing to respect the subject's wishes...except to intentionally disrespect Micha Cardenas and pander to the sensibilities of those who are opposed to people exercising their right to express their internal sense of their own gender without being publicly ridiculed, and who like Grimm actively seek to make their lives worse by engaging in this kind of asinine behavior.

That's not reporting, that's just being a cowardly, mean spirited jackass.


snoodlegirl March 28, 2009 @ 7:38 a.m.

With respect, I don't think Eddie Grimm is being respectful of Micah Cardenas at all.

As he stated at the end of his story, Micah Cardenas asked to be referred to in feminine pronouns and, without regards to respect, he chose to refer to Micah in male terms. I don't know how much Micah's wanting to be a dragon in Second Life had to do with it, but that aside, Micah is a male-to-female preoperative transsexual and, as such, should be referred to in the feminine. I suspect that Eddie Grimm probably has disdain for the transgender community and that is a sad thing.

I am not transgender. but I am a Second Lifer who lost a very beautiful sister who was in Micah's position. I do not know Micah personally, although I had been to his dragon transitioning process inlife, and I think I even joined his group while there. Regardless of one's outward appearance, if they are transsexual, the respectful thing to do is refer to them in the gender designation of choice. Eddie Grimm did not do the respectful thing.

Having had a family member who was transgender I came to realize that the brother who had been very dear to me was transitioning into womanhood. I accepted her as my sister, as did my mother and father, and we respected her and her choice of pronouns. It wasn't hard to do because, after all, what set her apart from males is that her soul was female and her spirit was feminine. From the day she ceased being male we respected her by using only female attributes.

Respectfully, I believe that Eddie Grimm needs to apologize not only to Micah Cardenas but also to transgender people in general. I realize that this is a San Diego publication but I live in Las Vegas and his disrespect can become widespread.

Do the respectful thing in the future, Eddie, put aside your disrespectful attitude and honor the wishes of those you are interviewing.

Respectfully, Rachael


Matthew Lickona March 28, 2009 @ 10:05 a.m.

It is not the journalist's job to respect the wishes of those he interviews in every case. Imagine, for instance, that an interview subject wished to see the article prior to publication, to make sure that it presented him or her in a sufficiently positive light. Ought the journalist to yield to such wishes? I think not.

Let's take a different case, say, a crooked real estate developer who makes statements during an interview that reveal his contempt for the city's regulatory codes. Then, at the end, he says to the interviewer: "Make sure you present me as a civic-minded soul, eager to work with the city to best serve the public's interest." Should the interviewer respect his wishes?

Now let me be clear: I am not suggesting that Cardenas is like the crooked developer. I am merely arguing that respecting the interview subject's wishes is not an absolute. Rather, the journalist's obligation is to the truth as he or she sees it. Clearly, Mr. Grimm sees Cardenas - identified by Snoodlegirl as a "preoperative transsexual" - as male. There is at least some cause for this - Cardenas was born male, and is, at this point, still "preoperative." Snoodlegirl says that what set her own transsexual relative apart from males is "that her soul was female and her spirit was feminine." But the reporter cannot see souls and spirits. The reporter can and should let the owner of that soul and spirit express him/herself as he/she sees fit, and Grimm does that here, but it is not clear to me that the reporter is thus obligated to change his/her opinion of the objective truth of the matter based on that expression.

This is admittedly a complex issue, and it seems to me that Grimm is acknowledging that by including the sentence about Cardenas' wishes. Gotta run.

Full disclosure: yes, I do know Mr. Grimm. No, he has not spoken to me about this matter, nor did he ask me to comment.


tina March 28, 2009 @ 1:02 p.m.

mjh, your analogies fail on a number of counts...

First there is the immense stretch of conflating someone's choice of how they wish to be addressed with hiding criminal activity, which even you admit is a dubious tack to take.

Secondly, you say "...the reporter cannot see souls and spirits"

True enough, but I'd be willing to bet that he didn't inspect Ms. Cardenas' genitalia either, and merely took her word for their form and status...so how truly objective can his reporting on them be?

That's the whole point that nobody wants to admit- what is presented as "truth" is simply what Ernie Grimm has decided is the truth, and any claim that his "truth" is based on objective observation fails miserably. He took what Ms. Cardenas told him at face value when it was aligned with his personal biases, and reported what he wanted to believe...that is hardly objective journalism, at best it is editorializing and at worst it is just propaganda.

Here's an analogy for you...say Ernie Grimm reports on a person whose religion differs from his own, and the person asks to be referred to as "Mrs.Smith" having been married in her church.

Now let's imagine that Ernie's church claims to be "the one true church" and he interprets this as meaning that Mrs. Smith's marriage is not valid in the eyes of God- so he refuses to respect her request and calls her "miss" throughout the article, without giving any reason why...

only a fawning apologist for Mr. Grimm would seriously contend that this was a valid and respectful action, or necessary to presenting "the truth as he sees it".

And even if one were willing to accept that specious explanation, for him to refuse the request with no elaboration on his motives or reasoning WHATSOEVER belies any claims that it was in the interests of "truth"...any alleged "truth" that guided Mr. Grimm in choosing to disrespect the subject's wishes is completely and utterly hidden, which is not what a person genuinely interested in exposing the truth does.

To have respected Ms. Cardenas' wishes would in no way have "obligated" Ernie Grimm to "change his opinion" about what he sees as the "truth" of her situation, and wouldn't have even needed to give the impression that he agreed with any assertions implicit in her desire to be addressed as requested...he could have made his opinion crystal clear, but that is just the point- he had the chance and didn't, and instead took the coward's way out of not taking any stand except to refuse the subject's request and only cryptically mention it in passing.

In so doing he not only disrespected her but showed that he isn't AT ALL interested in objectivity or exposing all possible angles of a story; he's not a journalist, but a propagandist- and not even a very skilled one, at that.


reddragonfly March 28, 2009 @ 4:20 p.m.

What about the word "NO" is so hard to grasp. A journalist can and should refuse any specific request from the subject of the article regardless of what that request signifies. There is no scenerio where letting the subject of a story tell the journalist what to write is acceptable. Note to Tina: Stop shilling for City Beat by demeaning other journalists and publications. City Beat's whole business model is based on how controversial it can be to acquire readership. There's not enough newsprint in the northwest for their "journalists" to apologize to all who they have intentionally disrespected. And then there're your words - "dumb", "cowardly", and "jackass" used towards Grimm. If you're an example of how the transgender community wants to dialogue...Good luck.


tina March 28, 2009 @ 5:28 p.m.

"reddragonfly" said:

"There is no scenario where letting the subject of a story tell the journalist what to write is acceptable."

Since you don't like the word "dumb", pick an appropriate synonym to apply to this statement.

If this were true, then why on Earth would anyone ever interview anybody, and what would keep a "journalist" from simply reporting as fact anything they felt like, if they felt that it was "the truth"?

How about a scenario where the subject says "my name is _" but the author decides to use that person's name as it appears on their birth certificate that isn't the same, while providing NO EXPLANATION WHATSOEVER as to why they chose to do so but acknowledging that they did so against the wishes of the subject?

Only the most twisted mind would characterize that as journalistic integrity and a quest for "truth" and accuracy.

"A journalist can and should refuse any specific request from the subject of the article regardless of what that request signifies."

Can, yes...should? For what purpose? Just to impose their will over the subject and without giving any rational reason for doing so? That is the issue here; not that Grimm made the choice but that he never disclosed his reasons for doing so, either because he's a lousy journalist who left what is an important aspect of the story out, or because he was afraid of standing up on the record for the beliefs and biases that drove his decision.

Your ill conceived blanket pronouncements make no sense at all, and as for my "shilling" for Citybeat, I merely mentioned that they scooped the reader by nearly four months and had a better article- the former is fact, the latter my opinion.

Your demand that I "stop shilling" when I only mentioned it once is not only amusing (and quite telling) in its wild-eyed distortion of the facts, but ironic considering how vehemently you defend the idea that writers should be free to write without other people telling them what they should and shouldn't say.

If your post is an example of the kind of logic and intellectual honesty you have to work with...good luck right back at ya.


NotQuiteADiva March 28, 2009 @ 6:28 p.m.

This article raised several issues…

First of all, I’ve been to the Calit2 facility at UCSD. It’s a very impressive, three-story, multi-million-dollar monument to technology. Some might say that not much of real value in terms of improving the human condition goes on there, and I cannot disagree. Yet it’s freakin’ cool none the less, and in terms of monuments, it’s a lot more interesting than most the others whose only purpose is to get crapped on by pigeons!

Secondly, we’ve somehow gotten entangled here with developing cyberspace technology and gender-related mental illness. The two are by no means interconnected. Much significant work is being done in both these fields separately and the predilections of the particular subject of this article should by no means taint people’s opinions of the merit of each topic individually.

Cyberspace, or Virtual Reality, technology is a rapidly developing realm of science. The sub-field of knowledge visualization is becoming increasingly important in our data saturated modern world. Much of this data is being used at this very moment to track your mouse clicks, internet site movement, cell phone content and locations as we speak. Hmm… And you don’t think cyberspace technology is important?

Gender-related mental illness is a whole different issue. Somehow our society has given legitimacy to people who feel that they were born into the wrong body and I will not now contest this. Yet I think this article raises the salient point – even if you somehow accept the idea that people could be born into the wrong gender – even those who might believe this laugh at the idea that there are those who feel they have been born into the wrong species. What’s the difference? This is my question. I would maintain that there is none. If you accept that people are born into the wrong gender than you must accept that there are people born into the wrong species. And if you accept this – then we’ve got some problems right here in river city…

Frankly, I blame Disney. The inundation of the anthropomorphism of animals in our formative years cannot but have consequences for people with fragile mental states.

Curse you, Bambi!!!


tina March 28, 2009 @ 7:37 p.m.

First off, it is irrefutable fact that the various factors used to create scientific classifications of "sex"- genetics and primary and secondary phenotypical characteristics as well as innate behaviors attributed to sex- do not always match up neatly as so many people wish they did....not because of "choice" or "mental illness" but because of simple biology.

Some XX individuals are born with penises, some XY people are born with vaginas, some with both, some with neither. In many cases, there is no way to make a definitive determination of any one sex and all that can be reasonably done is to ASK the person in question what they feel inside.

Intelligent people who don't let their social and religious biases get in the way accept that any strictly binary paradigm that refuses to acknowledge anything other than two possibilities is as hopelessly simplistic as earlier "science" that said that all humans could be classified as one of a handful of "races", with well defined behaviors and social standing attributable to individuals based on that classification alone, that they should be legally harassed into accepting as "God's will".

Even Christ himself spoke of "eunuchs born so from their mother's wombs"...a eunuch is of course someone with non-standard male genitalia who isn't quite 100% man OR a woman.

What is patently obvious in the wholesale dismissal of any variations in sexual identity beyond the binary, and also the scorn heaped upon the idea of someone feeling that they should have been another species, it the implicit bias against any belief system other than a Western/Judeo-Christian one...the ideas that there are more than two sexes and that the spiritual component of a person's being can exist in the body of an animal or that the spirit of an animal can occupy the body of a human are part and parcel of many non-western religious traditions, and believing that this is possible is no more outrageous or disturbed than believing that a piece of bread is the body of Christ and infused with his spirit.


NotQuiteADiva March 28, 2009 @ 8:23 p.m.

Ah, Tina, you humble me!

Animism, certainly, I forget my primevalism roots…

Yet, I really wonder how much of the true primal animalism is at play here, or just pop culture furriness? How many do you know who have any idea of the philosophies of ancient cultures? Few to none, I suspect…

Is there a metric to measure it?

A good PhD topic, yes?

I’m not goin’ there!


Forget it!!!



tina March 29, 2009 @ 12:56 a.m.


Hinduism is the third largest religion on Earth, and while it is steeped in "ancient culture" (just like Judaism and Christianity, only older) it is hardly some archaic philosophy only known to a handful of scholars...somewhere around a billion people are Hindus.

A good number of those one billion Hindus believe as a basic tenet of their faith that souls can transmigrate among different species.

They also acknowledge more than two sexes/genders, just as current, living cultures in places as diverse as Thailand, Tahiti, Samoa, Indonesia and Mexico do.

So no, I don't think that a billion Hindus are just indulging in "pop culture furriness" or that historical and current non-binary sex/gender paradigms outside of modern western cultures can simply be explained away as nothing but "mental illness", especially as modern western science itself has shown that facile explanation to have precious little basis in fact in most cases of gender variance.


bluenwhitegokart March 29, 2009 @ 4:31 a.m.

I was born an alien (as in the extra-terrestrial kind, not the illegal) in a human body. I'll be expecting some sensitivity, some apologies for the lack thereof, and I'd like to get in on those gov't grants as well.

For your edification, please use the personal pronoun "hir" when referring to me in the third person, both singular and possessive (the "no prize" to whoever recognizes the sci-fi reference).

Thank you.


michacardenas March 29, 2009 @ 10:03 a.m.

KUSI TV refuses to have me on because I’m transgender

This is micha, the subject of Ernie's story and the artist behind Becoming Dragon. I am so upset. The reporter from the San Diego Reader, Ernie Grimm, contacted me a few weeks ago to ask if I would do a television interview with him when the story came out on the cover of the reader. I accepted and the reader’s publicist contacted me about TV interview dates. They scheduled an interview with me for this morning with an 8:50am arrival time for a 9:20am live air interview. I arrive on time, conservatively dressed with a long skirt and a scarf up to my neck. We chat cordially in the break room first and then move to the green room. The publicist goes to talk to the anchor, and returns at 9:18AM to say “Micha I have some uncomfortable news. I’m so sorry, but because of how you’re dressed, they can’t have you on the show.” She goes on to tell me how they want to cover the Second Life aspect of the story and not talk about transgender issues at all.

This is absolutely an act of gender based discrimination. Imagine if they had said “I’m sorry, but because you’re a woman, we can’t have you on. We just wanted to talk about Second Life.” It is also very similar to them saying something like “I’m sorry, but because of the ay your face looks, we can’t have you on. We don’t want to talk about the fact that you’re black, just about Second Life,” if I was a person of color.

Then the anchorwoman comes into the green room to personally apologize to me. I do not say anything in response. I refuse to say that this is acceptable. Admittedly, I laughed at the news at first, nervous and not sure of what to say. As I walk out the door, angry and upset, I realize that I should have told them right then and there that this is an act of discrimination.

I am disgusted. You can contact KUSI to tell them what you think of their homophobic ways here, the show I was to be on is Good Morning San Diego:

Email information

News Story Ideas [email protected]

Community Events [email protected]

Good Morning San Diego [email protected]

MAILING ADDRESS 4575 Viewridge Avenue San Diego, CA 92123 MAIN STATION NUMBER 858-571-5151 SALES 858-505-5120 NEWSROOM 858-571-NEWS (571-6397) NEWS TIPLINE 858-292-TIPS (292-8477)

They proceeded to do the interview with Ernie, trying to avoid the issue, but even he couldn’t avoid saying that the project was about my, in his words “transgendering process”, and they both referred to me as “he” and with male pronouns for the entire interview, completely invisiblizing me. I should have never agreed to do the interview. I was actually up until almost 4am because I was so nervous and excited about doing the interview. I re-read Gloria Anzaldua for inspiration and read up on other cultures with traditions of cross-species transitions such as hinduism and buddhism.


tina March 29, 2009 @ 3:26 p.m.


Sadly , this isn't the first time that KUSI news management has shown itself to be less than fair minded or interested in presenting unbiased appraisals of stories touching on gender variance...they have a history of presenting poorly informed people with religionist agendas as "experts" on these subjects, and allowing them to spew ignorant speculation and outright lies as fact while never allowing ANY opposing view or corrections of deliberate misinformation to be heard.

In my experience, they don't even make the effort to simply acknowledge via form letter having received communications of their viewers' concerns in these matters, as a matter of public relations goodwill...utterly unprofessional, but then again, look where they got today's "expert" from; birds of a feather...

Despite their lack of common courtesy in interacting with viewers taking the time to give them feedback, I fully intend to contact them on this subject, and have forwarded a link to your side of the story to other venues dedicated to exposing this kind of transphobic manipulation of the "news", so that their readers can do the same and go on the record to let KUSI know that their ham-fisted attempts to manipulate trans-related reporting are patently obvious and a stain on KUSI's journalistic reputation.


tina March 29, 2009 @ 5:47 p.m.

forgot to add-

Just in case anyone wants to characterize KUSI's decision to cancel Micha Cardenas' scheduled interview at the last minute as some stand against exposing their viewers to the possibility that the subject of transgenderism might come up, or that her choice of clothing was beyond the pale for KUSI's broadcast standards-

let me be the first to remind them that KUSI is the local broadcast outlet for the Jerry Springer show, which regularly features the most flamboyant and vile examples of transgendered people for prurient shock value, as well as the Maury Povitch show with it's recurring "Is it a Man or a Woman?" segments that feature parades of female impersonators, drag queens and transsexuals in provocative lingerie instead of conservative attire.

The message is quite clear- trannies are perfectly OK on KUSI as long as they shock and titillate- but a transgendered individual who is thoughtful, sober, intelligent, well spoken and who doesn't reinforce the negative stereotypes presented in their other trash TV programming is considered unworthy of a serious news presentation, and must have someone else speak for them.


david March 29, 2009 @ 5:55 p.m.


I understand that you were excited about the prospect of appearing on television to talk about your story and that when that did not come to pass you suffered some very serious disappointment. For that, I feel for you and you have my sympathy. However, having seen the segment on KUSI I have a couple of observations and thoughts.

First, though I understand that you would have liked to be able to talk about your story, the fact that KUSI decided not to interview you is not "discrimination". You were not turned down for a job for which you applied, nor did they malign you on the show. They are free to have whomever they wish on their programs. The fact that they do not wish to interview me about my artwork (I am an artist) doesn't make them discriminatory against artists. Actually, what I saw on the program was that you got the publicity for your performance art that I would love to have for my own work!

Secondly, you accused KUSI of being homophobic for not having you on. As I understand it, homophobia would be relating to one's sexuality, but transgenderism has nothing to do with sexuality -- it has to do with gender identification. There are straight transgender people and gay transgender people -- one has nothing to do with the other -- so I am wondering why you included that in your letter.

Again, I understand you disappointment, and it really sucks when we get let down after having been excited and looking forward to something. I would have liked to hear you speak about your story. However, as much of a missed opportunity this may have been for KUSI, they did not actually discriminate against you. To the contrary, they gave you some nice, free publicity that many of us would kill for.

Best wishes to you, I can't imagine that dealing with these issues on a daily basis can be easy.


Joaquin_de_la_Mesa March 29, 2009 @ 7:31 p.m.

Maybe KUSI thought a quickie segment on a light and breezy Sunday morning news show wasn't enough time, nor the right venue to hash out the intricacies of the transgender question. I can't say I blame them. As this thread shows, it's a tough issue with very strong views, opinions, and emotions mixed in with the facts. It was clumsy to invite Micha to come on air then cancel the interview. But clumsiness doesn't equal discrimination.


tina March 29, 2009 @ 9:22 p.m.

"Discrimination" does not have to meet any particular legal standard or be associated with any particular situation like employment or housing to qualify as discrimination.

In this context, "discriminate" simply means "to make a difference in treatment or favor on a basis other than individual merit"

If other women wearing similar clothing are allowed to appear on KUSI news(which they are, daily) and Micha Cardenas was not allowed to do the same based on nothing more than having been legally categorized as male at birth, or because she lacks standard female genitalia, then that is absolutely a case of discrimination based on sex...it may not break any specific anti-discrimination laws, but that is not necessary for an act to qualify as being discriminatory in nature.

Like other private entities such as private clubs that have the right to discriminate in granting membership, KUSI has the legal right to discriminate in choosing who is interviewed on their station...but in the case of a club that excludes women or homosexuals, that is discrimination- legal discrimination, but discrimination nonetheless.

Same goes for KUSI's choice to revoke Micha's invitation to be interviewed on the basis of her manner of dress...a manner of dress that is perfectly acceptable for other women who are KUSI's interview subjects, news anchors, field reporters, etc.- just not transsexual women.


Fred Williams March 29, 2009 @ 11:42 p.m.

Bluenwhite, I know that book! But damn me if I can find it anywhere...those tri-legged/tri-sexed swashbucklers...right? Good call. Another tri-sexual/trans-species book was by Octavia Butler, and again I cannot recall the name, but it also was quite interesting and provocative.

There's another sci-fi I recently read that goes more into the gender aspects..."When Gravity Fails" by Effinger. And of course, John Varley wrote a lot about this, including in his book "Steel Beach".

As to the 2nd Life aspects, one cannot forget "Snow Crash", which first introduced the world to the concept of a walking talking penis in virtual reality...

None of this stuff is new to sci-fi fans.


reddragonfly March 30, 2009 @ 12:41 a.m.

Response to Tina:

My logic and intellectual honesty do me quite well, thank you. I'm not the one taking grant money for the pretense of a computer science project and using it for a personal/political agenda. It would be interesting to see what the universities that approved the grants would say about all this.

Oh, and you might want to recheck your accuracy since you describe yourself as a "writer". You mentioned Citybeat in two different paragraphs - that would be twice not once. And your stating that Citybeat scooped this four months ago while this is still an ongoing project has relevance to the article today because??? Still looks like shilling to me.

Final suggestion - retrack your nails (fake or otherwise) and stop the drama. You're just looking for fights with every media outlet and person that doesn't make you their priority. You are loved but not unconditionally, only children get that kind; it's time to grow up and play nice.


Fred Williams March 30, 2009 @ 6:02 a.m.


Have you considered that KUSI decided against interviewing you because you distract from, rather than add to, the story?

The interesting thing here is human computer interaction.

Frankly, your gender blather is so old and boring that we've all had quite enough of it. Nobody cares, Micha, if you want to identify yourself as he/she or "dragon".

A lot of us care about the interesting technologies being explored...but you're so wrapped up in your precious little navel gazing that you obscure anything that isn't about your oh-so-special gender. Can you stop staring at your genitals for a few minutes and just explain what you're doing?

Nobody cares if you self-identify as a he/she/it. Get over yourself. YOU are not the story. Oscar Wilde and Alan Turing aren't famous primarily for being persecuted gays, but for the important work they created in their lifetimes. Once you recognize that, you'll stop attacking journalists and start being thankful that your experiment is getting so much press.

I, for one, would really appreciate some technical information about what you've learned and how it could be applied to other areas...but I have not the slightest interest in your personal story. When you begin behaving like a researcher who is interested in the pursuit of knowledge, I believe you'll find the reporters begin treating you with more respect. But as long as you present yourself as yet another boring adolescent moaning about your feelings of gender confusion...we're going to ignore the important work you may be contributing to the world.


tina March 30, 2009 @ 10:39 a.m.

reddragonfly -

"retrack" my nails....?

I'd be rethinking my self-appointment as an authority on accuracy in writing if I were you.

And your truculent aside about said nails being "fake", with its obvious insinuations about the validity of others' gender ID fits in with YOUR admonition to "grow up" and engage others "with civility"...how?

You accuse Micha Cardenas of "taking grant money for the pretense of a computer science project and using it for a personal/political agenda", but have you actually gotten any information about the project from anywhere but Ernie Grimm's hopelessly biased screed in the Reader?

The project/performance/experiment in question is one developed by a postgraduate student seeking an MFA in visual arts, as part of that study- if ART is supposed to be completely free of any "personal/political agenda", what pray tell would you have it explore? Cute animals and children with gigantic eyes? Sad clowns? An endless series of cozy cottages with warmly glowing windows and wisps of smoke coming out of their chimneys, painted as if seen through a layer of gauze?

Had you actually taken the time to learn about the project from more than a single dubious source- there's PLENTY of them out there besides any already mentioned- you would have learned that in spite of the fact the it was primarily an ART project, it involved heretofore untested forays into the extended use of motion capture and voice modulation technology and immersion in a virtual space (which all have implications FAR beyond art and "personal agendas", including medical ones monitored by a UCSD affiliated psychiatrist during the duration of project), and that Ms. Cardenas worked closely with other computer programmers in developing and implementing the software and other computer systems used in the project, that have many uses beyond this project alone...

yet Grimm only fleetingly mentions her computer science credentials as a grudging acknowledgment of her having been "stable enough" to get them.

Also, had you done more than accept Ernie Grimm's "reporting" as fact, you would also know that the project you erroneously describe here as "still an ongoing project" ended on December 17 of last year...which is why the fact that the Reader now reports it many months later as if it is a current story is perfectly germane to a discussion of the Reader's overall accuracy and timeliness.


tina March 30, 2009 @ 10:57 a.m.

fred willaims says-

"I, for one, would really appreciate some technical information about what you've learned and how it could be applied to other areas...but I have not the slightest interest in your personal story."

Then blame the Reader and Ernie Grimm, who chose to focus on Micha Cardenas' personal story and gender identity over the many technical aspects of the project and their applications/implications in areas like the remote piloting of terrestrial, aerial and space vehicles in peaceful and wartime roles, remote surgery and abatement of dangerous situations like nuclear catastrophes, as well as the psychological and social implications of virtual realities and total immersion in them.

All of this has been discussed elsewhere, and Ernie Grimm could have accessed and reported on this information without having to rely on any input from Micha Cardenas at all...so again, blame him and his editors for shoddy, incomplete reporting and focusing on one sensational aspect of the story to the almost complete exclusion of any others.


michacardenas March 30, 2009 @ 12:18 p.m.

As for homophobia vs. transphobia, I think that homophobia is largely based in a hatred of the feminine, and a fear of the loss of masculinity and a fear of anything that might destabilize patriarchy in our male supremacist city/country/society. So, I see transphobia and homophobia as closely linked. Also, in many cases, people don't understand what transgender even means, so they're actually just expressing homophobia when they are acting against trans people. Yet transphobic is more accurate. I can't imagine them saying to an effeminate man "I'm sorry, you can't be on today because of your feminine hand gestures."

As for the technical vs social/conceptual merits, it is a new media performance art piece and as such the focus is on interdisciplinary practice and finding the critical intersections of technology and culture. And if you want to downoad all the source code for the motion capture and stereoscopic patches, some of which I wrote, you can do so at http://secondloop.wordpress.com , which is the project blog. That's another huge hole in the story, not pointing people to the huge wealth of documentation online. I see it the same way I see the cover image, in an effort to discredit and undermine the seriousness of the project. Seeing the images of the installation would probably make viewers more interested and sympathetic, and they'd realize the technical achievements involved, so the reader chose to not publish a single of my images, even though I provided them with hundreds.

I wonder if KUSI is going to refuse a trans person from being on their station today. "I'm sorry, we can't have you on to talk about your son being shot / your store being broken into / your lost dog , because of what you're wearing. We're not talking about transgender issues today." Now that's a real "news" station for ya.


violadace March 30, 2009 @ 3:39 p.m.

Micha-- Have you ever watched KUSI? Oh, my Lord, child. I would have worried more about you and your project had you BEEN on such a sad station. My husband and I always stop on it to laugh when we're flipping channels on our old school analog-convert TV. Cry over something important.

Take it from an old lady who is proud of her gender. Grow up. Life is hard. (Even Dragon Life.) An artist's life is even harder. Never trust a journalist. Talking to the media isn't Show an' Tell. Others will always tell the story they want. Don't like it? Learn to write and tell your own. I went to your blog to find out more about your project-- and couldn't! It was impenetrable. The prose sounded like a teenage girl's diary.

After reading your comments, I now believe that Mr. Grimm's story dignified you and your project.


Fred Williams March 31, 2009 @ 12:29 a.m.

Viola, you've summed things up nicely.

Micha, journalists aren't there to tell the story you want, and if you insist on bombarding them with annoying drivel about your gender-angst, they shouldn't take you seriously.

Get off yourself, and start figuring out how to clearly and compellingly explain your work. That's what real artists do, my friend. They get out from in front of the work and let it speak for itself. Only posers rattle on and on about their inner turmoil to somehow excuse the shallowness of their work.

Now your work has some real promise...but only if you get your overly indulged personality out of the way and let the work evolve.

I recommend you write a concise explanation of your work. No more than 500 words, where the word "I" does not appear even once. Give that to every journalist from now on. It will provide the context and background facts so that it's always included in the story, instead of buried under yet another tangential explanation of your gender issues.

I offer you my best wishes, because your work could be interesting and innovative. Please, let it be so...


tina March 31, 2009 @ 4:56 a.m.

Fred, Micha did not choose the title "My Gender Is Bunny", and she didn't force Ernie Grimm to focus on her gender ID or transition while glossing over most of the technical aspects of her work. As was pointed out, links to the technical details of the project and photographs were provided, all of which were ignored in an attempt to discredit her in the service of the Reader's well known LGBT-phobic religionist agenda.

She has no power to force anyone to report anything according to her wishes- she couldn't even get Ernie Grimm to respect her request to be addressed in accordance with the Associated Press Stylebook which instructs journalists to-

"Use the pronoun preferred by the individuals who have acquired the physical characteristics of the opposite sex and present themselves in a way that does not correspond with their sex at birth.

If that preference is not expressed, use the pronoun consistent with the way the individuals live publicly."

The AP stylebook is widely acknowledged to be the industry standard usage guide, but Ernie Grimm, his editor and KUSI News all chose to ignore it and disregarded the go-to authority for news reporting commonly known as the "journalist's bible", but you pretend that Ms. Cardenas could steer their reporting if only she gave them a properly worded press release- which totally contradicts your earlier statement that "journalists aren't there to tell the story you want", but that's no surprise.

Your posts have focused FAR more on Micha's personal "gender issues" than she has here or in the various discussions of her work that can be found online and elsewhere, and one has to wonder what drives such a singular obsession and urgent need to focus on that one aspect of her life and work and completely ignore everything else.

The open discussion of sex/gender being anything but rigidly defined and immutable from birth clearly bothers you to a degree that borders on the pathological, and your overly zealous efforts to discredit and malign Ms. Cardenas for her thoughtful attempts to foster such a discussion reek of desperation and panic.

What drives this panic is no doubt the creeping realization that try as you might, your pronouncements about how others should live and think and act have lost any power they might have once had, and people like Micha Cardenas cannot be easily shamed into hiding and self loathing any longer...your attempts to belittle and mock her and others like her for standing up to discrimination and speaking for themselves and challenging bigotry lack any real power to deter anyone, and it scares you...

no doubt you are also secretly a bit jealous of someone who would enter into the public arena and willingly face the kind of contempt you and others have heaped on Micha Cardenas for simply being open and honest about her life, work and thoughts....that kind of courage is REAL power, and any weight your pathetic insults might carry is puny and laughable in comparison.


violadace March 31, 2009 @ 9:14 a.m.


I've been a playwright for 25 years. I've had savage reviews-- I've had many great disappointments in my career. (Try facing 11 actors who must go on stage every night knowing the audience is half empty-- and you wrote the damn thing.) Most of my disappointments came from being a woman playwright. But any artist has this choice: do the work in silence and hope it speaks for itself. Or speak up. If you choose to speak up, you learn very quickly that you must live with what's said about you.

Being courageous does not take the pain away. It's just what you have to do. You are a fierce apologist for Miss Cardenas. But she will learn to stand on her own or crumble. My husband has trouble listening to me talk about my pain-- why would you ever think that strangers want to hear emotional whining?

That's what the art is for.


michacardenas March 31, 2009 @ 9:41 a.m.

Here is the press release that Ernie Grimm received:


which begins with this summary of the project:

Becoming Dragon questions the one year requirement of Real Life Experience that transgender people must fulfill in order to receive Gender Confirmation Surgery (Sexual Reassignment Surgery), and asks if this could be replaced by one year of Second Life Experience to lead to Species Reassignment Surgery. For the performance, Micha Cárdenas will live for 365 hours immersed in Second Life with a head mounted display, so that all she will see is Second Life and a motion capture system to map her movements into Second Life. The performance space will be open to the public for the duration, during the hours that the building is open, 9am to 7pm. During the entire duration of the performance Micha will stay in the performance space at CRCA and in Second Life.

and then goes on to explain details...


violadace March 31, 2009 @ 10:36 a.m.

thank you, micha. that explains alot-- and that's the story to tell. One more time: never trust a journalist or anyone in the media. Never. Mr. Grimm did his job. You do yours. Good luck.


tina March 31, 2009 @ 11:43 a.m.


I am both a visual artist and a musical performer so I don't totally disagree with your opinion about the nature of art and reactions to it...however I do respectfully take issue with a couple of points:

  1. A feature article that purports to enlighten people about an artist and that artist's art is not a "review" or should strive to separate any element that does review the work from the parts that ostensibly report facts about the individual presenting it.

At the very least, there should be some clear distinction between what is presented as fact and what is the reviewer's personal opinion...to twist any presentation of facts in such a way as to cast aspersions on the subject is propagandizing.

  1. An interview of an artist is also not a "review"...you say, "If you choose to speak up, you learn very quickly that you must live with what's said about you."

Except that in her experience with KUSI, Micha never got the chance to "speak up" and was replaced by Ernie Grimm speaking FOR her. Gender variant people have a vested interest in not allowing this to go unchallenged, as a major source of the societal friction they face results from having been historically pushed aside and marginalized by clergy, doctors/medical researchers and "journalists" who appoint themselves as authorities on their lives and motivations, and presume to speak for them and often paint a wholly distorted picture.

On top of that, where is it written that the accuracy and motivations behind any bias or spin in a particular writer's coverage are sacrosanct and not up for review?

Why should Ernie Grimm's artistic license be immune from critique and the "If you choose to speak up, you learn very quickly that you must live with what's said about you" standard not be applied to him?


tina March 31, 2009 @ 11:54 a.m.

-continued from above-

Finally and most importantly, you characterize me as "a fierce apologist for Miss Cardenas"...

the crux of the issue is this: there's NOTHING Ms. Cardenas needs to apologize for in either the facts of her personal life or her work at UCSD. She has been more open than most about how her personal views and experience inform her work, and despite Ernie Grimm's heavy handed attempts to characterize them as something else, her actions in securing funding for her medical expenses through her health insurance and for developing her project were perfectly honest and legal and done through standard channels...if this were not true, that would certainly be a story worth reporting- but in the absence of any hard evidence, any complaints about this legal allocation of funds is just so much "whining", as you put it.

Ms. Cardenas has been approached by media outlets and asked to speak about and explain a work that is intrinsically and inextricably tied to her personal gender identity and transition experiences, and when she graciously tries to accommodate them and makes ANY mention of those experiences or how they inform her work, she is then accused of pushing an agenda and being narcissistic...again, when her response isn't to the liking of someone who freely chose to read about her or invite her to speak, they whine about it.

I seriously doubt that any of your plays are completely devoid of subtext that could be described by some hack "journalist" as an "agenda", or that you could field a request to describe your life background and views without ever talking about yourself..but this is exactly the standard that Ms. Cardenas is being held to...and if Ernie Grimm or anyone else used their position to impose this double standard or grossly distort the facts about you under the guise of "journalism", I'd be just as quick to hold their feet to the fire.

There is an element of art to journalism, but in comparing visual/conceptual art and performance vs. journalism, the obvious difference is that agendas and personal opinions don't belong in what is ostensibly fair and balanced reporting, while agendas and personal opinions are critical to art that has anything to say.

But in the comments here, the tables are reversed- the "journalists" are given carte blanche to promote a personal agenda while the artist is excoriated for doing the same and anyone who questions this is called an "apologist" for Ms. Cardenas even though there's nothing to apologize for, while those who apologize for Ernie Grimm's and KUSI's prejudice and disrespect and contempt for basic journalistic standards profess to be seekers of "truth" and "civility"...

it's bizarro world.


violadace March 31, 2009 @ 3:23 p.m.


–noun 1. a person who makes a defense in speech or writing of a belief, idea, etc.


NotQuiteADiva March 31, 2009 @ 3:33 p.m.


You are clearly far more articulate and passionate about this issue than Ms. Dragon, which makes me wonder – just what is your stake in all of this? Are you Cardenas’ publicist? A spokesperson for some advocacy group? A media watchdog? Or just some lone, caped, Transgender Avenger? =O_O=


tina March 31, 2009 @ 6:21 p.m.

My only stake in all of this is in challenging mindless bigotry towards people whose only "crime" is being unapologetic about who they are.

If I'm passionate about it, it's because I've witnessed the needless suffering caused by slavish adherence to antiquated cultural norms whether they be the systematic subjugation of women, ethnic and religious minorities, homosexuals, or those intersexed and transgendered people who are to this day blamed, legally harassed and punished for a condition not of their choosing...all based on sheer ignorance and superstition masquerading as "truth" and "common knowledge", the same way that conditions like epilepsy, schizophrenia and even left handedness used to be considered a sure sign of innate character flaws and/or moral failings that invited demonic possession. Sadly the current general state of "common knowledge" about sexual differentiation and gender identity is not much more advanced.


tina March 31, 2009 @ 6:26 p.m.

-continued from above-

So to answer your questions:

I've never met Micha Cardenas and have zero connection with her on any level.

I absolutely advocate for anyone bullied by sanctimonious nitwits who would use mob rule to punish people for not bowing to their self-appointed authority in matters of dress and self expression that are none of their business and harm no one, but not in any official capacity or in affiliation with any group.

"Media watchdog"? I can't imagine why anyone wouldn't act as their own media watchdog and do their part to expose bias and propaganda masquerading as balanced news...if consumers don't act to keep reporters and media outlets honest, who will?...the parent companies that get into the media business for the express purpose of manipulating coverage of their other business ventures? Publishers who use their newspapers to create a veneer of legitimacy for their religious agendas by calling it news? The government? Please.

"Or just some lone, caped, Transgender Avenger?"

I'm hardly alone and there's more people of a like mind every day, which is why LGBT-phobic bigots and those who wish to impose fundamentalist theocracy on other citizens who don't think like them are ramping up their rhetoric to almost unimaginable levels of disingenuousness and stupidity, which only serves to show just how little they care for the "truth" they claim to want to expose.

With that in mind I have very carefully avoided identifying myself in any way with any group...

it avoids wasting time with those who would use the disclosure of personal information against someone the way Ms. Cardenas has been attacked here, where even the most innocuous self reference is characterized as "whining" about a "personal agenda"...

it also helps to keep those who would use the messenger to vilify the message from being able to do so without the faulty logic of this tactic being evident...Micha Cardenas is at a disadvantage here because to those whose minds are satisfied by prejudice and bigotry, anything she says is already unworthy of objective consideration because she's one of them...

but I haven't identified myself as one of them or 'us' or anything else, nor will I...which forces those who can only think in those terms to do what they do best, which is to make foolish assumptions and attempt to discredit me for simply having a differing opinion...by implying that I must be transgendered and therefore unworthy of objective consideration...it exposes the extent of their intellect for what it is far more effectively than I could.


Fred Williams April 1, 2009 @ 5:36 a.m.


Your own words prove my point.

My point was NOT that gender issues are irrelevant. Clearly, they are relevant to many people, including you.

My point was that the gender issues get in the way of explaining the research Micha is conducting.

The Press release says:

"Becoming Dragon questions the one year requirement of Real Life Experience that transgender people must fulfill in order to receive Gender Confirmation Surgery (Sexual Reassignment Surgery), and asks if this could be replaced by one year of Second Life Experience to lead to Species Reassignment Surgery."

That's four references to gender in the first sentence.

That's a distraction rather than an explanation.

Now, don't tell me that my taking the trouble to point this out is somehow an attack on you and the entire LGBT community. In the first place, I just spent a year working on issues near and dear to my LGBT friends.

Go back and have a look at what I've written both here and elsewhere, and then tell me with a straight face that I'm somehow your enemy, motivated by religious hatred. Tina, I'm the biggest most aggressive atheist on this site. I've lost job prospects because of my political activism. Notice that I even use my entire real name here...unlike you.

I'm telling you (and Micha) this because I honestly think the experiment itself is potentially worthy and important. I would like to see some more news devoted to exploring it, especially its technical aspects.

I'm telling Micha to lay off the heavy-handed gender stuff because it's getting in the way of her story.

Look back at your comments here. It's almost all about gender, gender, gender, gender...enough, Tina. We got it already.

You'd attract more interest, and more sympathetic journalism, by muting the gender focus and enhancing the technological aspects of this story.

Think instead about the recent District 3 race for the city council. Two gay men ran. As a result, it wasn't even a part of most news stories that their sexual orientation happened to go one way or the other. Instead, the news was on city-wide issues like redevelopment abuse and levels of police funding.

I would hope Micha would take this to heart, and basically not even mention the transgender aspects because they aren't that important compared to the technological possibilities. At the moment, it's clearly the MOST important aspect of this whole project to her and you.

So long as that's the case, people will fail to see the deeper aspects here.

So stop beating us all over the head with your gender diatribes. Just assume we get it, alright? Put your focus on the very interesting technology, and we'll see for ourselves how it's additionally relevant to discussions of gender...and you win your point without driving people off.

That's my advice to you. Take it or leave it. But please stop calling me names. Like the lovely Viola, I'm a friend, not an enemy.





tina April 1, 2009 @ 7:25 a.m.

Sorry Fred, but the fact that you insist or referring to ANY mention of gender identity as a "diatribe" and a "distraction" as well as "blather", "annoying drivel", etc. and call Micha Cardenas a "poser" for choosing to use art to explore something you don't want to hear about just proves that you don't "get it" at all.

If you don't want to be exposed to ART that explores gender or fosters a discussion of it, fine...but rather than just exercise your right to avoid it, you go out of your way to attack it and cast aspersions on anyone who doesn't agree with you.

You say-

"The Press release says:

"Becoming Dragon questions the one year requirement of Real Life Experience that transgender people must fulfill in order to receive Gender Confirmation Surgery (Sexual Reassignment Surgery), and asks if this could be replaced by one year of Second Life Experience to lead to Species Reassignment Surgery."

That's four references to gender in the first sentence."

You'd think that someone as perceptive as you claim to be would have understood from reading that that GENDER and associated beliefs, constructs and perceptions is THE MAIN FOCUS of the work in question...did you ever stop to consider that the four references in the first sentence alone could be used by people with an aversion to this focus on gender as a sign that they should look elsewhere, as the work was probably not for them?

I'm not particularly interested in immersing myself in a detailed discussion about the human excretory apparatus either, but I'm not silly and boorish enough to willingly read about a study by a proctologist and then complain that he used the word "rectum" too many times for my taste and presume to tell him how to address the subject.

So stop beating us all over the head with your asinine demands that your personal take on how gender should be discussed should be adopted as a universal truth, and that everyone else should shut up just because you aren't smart enough to avoid things you don't want to be involved in, or to filter out the parts that aren't relevant to you and focus on the parts that are.

You don't like material that freely discusses gender and/or transition, so please spare those of us without a similar aversion YOUR relentless diatribes and just assume we get it, alright?


violadace April 1, 2009 @ 8:28 a.m.


I disagree with the lovely Fred. What turns me off is your name-calling and rude language. You've savaged Miss Cardenas' work, now, far more than the READER. Sad when the apologist becomes the perpetrator.

Viola D.


cityheights32 April 1, 2009 @ 3:34 p.m.

Great point, Viola. Tina's constant harping and name calling isn't helping Micha's cause. Harping and name calling seldom help any cause. I think Fred makes a pretty good point -- albeit with very little tact. Gain acceptance through your accomplishments, not by complaining and playing up your persecution and victimhood. Victimhood does not play in Peoria as the expression goes.

As for the story that spawned this conversation, I think Ernie gave Micha quite a lot of space to expound upon the philosophical views and political goals behind the project/performance. The story was not a grand overview of the project, but a first-person account of talking to Micha in the midst of the project. As such, I think it was fine. Not perfect, but certainly not a "screed" as Tina called. As one artist (David) pointed out above, lots of artists would love to have the publicity that Micha was given here.


cityheights32 April 1, 2009 @ 4:12 p.m.

Regarding pronouns, Micha, you told Ernie that your avatar dragon's gender was "Neither [male or female]. Both. Neither and both, Just like in real life." You also told Ernie, “I definitely don’t think I could take hormones, then get surgery, and become a real woman. I just don’t think man and woman really exist.” Okay, Micha, if you're truly both male and female, and can never become a real woman, then the masucline pronouns are just as appropriate as feminine, aren't they? Possibly more so. If you truly believe the "neither and both" stuff you told Ernie, you shouldn't care what pronouns are used to refer to you. So why all the griping about discrimination and people "invisibilizing" you by referring to you as he? It smacks of crying "I'm a victim!" to get attention, which I think is pretty low.


tina April 1, 2009 @ 11:30 p.m.

Fred says-

"Notice that I even use my entire real name here...unlike you."

Thanks for proving out my point about my reasoning behind keeping identity out of this discussion as much as possible when I said-

"...it also helps to keep those who would use the messenger to vilify the message from being able to do so without the faulty logic of this tactic being evident."

Faced with a message that he can't refute using logic, Fred decides to change tack by imposing a new standard where the validity of the message is somehow critically dependent on the use of full names...an ad hominem attack that is nothing but diversionary innuendo that has nothing to do with the matter at hand.

I've managed to respond to people on this board by addressing their words and actions directly, and haven't made any distinctions or inferences whatsoever based on the screen name they used...who they are (or claim to be, as there is no verification required to choose a screen name here) has absolutely ZERO to do with the ideas expressed...pretty simple, really, but evidently a concept beyond comprehension for some.

And for the record, I NEVER called Fred a name; I never called anyone a name here besides calling Ernie Grimm a "cowardly, mean spirited jackass", which I stand by-

"cowardly implies a weak or ignoble lack of courage ..."

the only reasonable explanation for denying Micha's wishes re: pronouns is one of standing on some principle, but the author coyly chose to not openly commit to one, which is cowardly.

Mean spirited- "Having or characterized by a malicious or petty spirit."

Disrespecting Michas' wished re: pronouns served no real purpose; it's not as if her gender identity and transition history weren't front and center in the article, so anyone reading it could make up their own mind whether 'he' or 'she' was more accurate; no one would be misled...so the choice certainly qualifies as petty.

Jackass- "a contemptibly foolish or stupid person"...

the author says without a hint of embarrassment-

"I had expected to see someone more, well, drag queenish..."

"the hormones don’t seem to have raised his voice yet..."

"Body hacking,” I ask, “as in hacking with a hatchet?..."

"Author’s note: Micha Cárdenas asked that feminine pronouns be used in this story. With respect, the author declined."

These statements along with the general tone of ignorance and incredulity in his writing point to someone wholly unqualified to report on the subject, who is either not smart enough to do the basic research and self-editing necessary to keep from making himself look ridiculous, or too egotistical to think that his credibility depended on it.

Either way, it's foolish, and the added combination of cowardice and pettiness raises it to the level of being contemptible.


ErnieGrimm April 2, 2009 @ 12:55 p.m.

Come on, now, Tina. I think you're being unfair to me. This story was about Micha's performance and my visit to it. As you've pointed out, other outlets had already covered Micha's project, I wanted to approach it differently. So I went without having pre-immersed myself in transgender lore. That was intentional. I wanted to go into the performance with an open mind, with no pre-conceived agendas, and let Micha explain things in Micha's own words. That doesn't make me a jackass, it makes me honest. And, I think it shows courage, not cowardice, to step out of one's comfort zone, and engage a different segment of society from what one is used to. Micha and I spent a pleasant hour or so discussing the philosophy and creative vision behind the project, as well as some of the funding questions. I think I faithfully recounted what Micha told me.

When I wrote, "I expected someone more drag queenish," I was being honest. What's wrong with honesty?

When I asked, "Body hacking, as in hacking with a hatchet?" it was an honest question? I had never heard of body hacking. Ask a few random people you meet if they've heard of body hacking, Tina. I venture to guess that most have never heard of it. Does that make them jackasses?

Re: the pronouns, it would have been dishonest to myself and my beliefs to use feminine pronouns when I, in fact, believe Micha to have been created as a man by God. Out of respect, I told Micha before we went to print about the pronouns. Micha strongly disagreed with my stance, but respected my decision and my beliefs and thanked me for my willingness to engage the subject.

Take a hint from Micha, Tina, and respect the fact that others have different beliefs from your own. You ought not be so eager to apply labels to me or anybody else. And if you're going to be spokeswoman for all things transgender, you ought to do it with more kindness and patience toward those you're tying to convince, and with less bitterness. My grandma always said you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.


eighthprice April 2, 2009 @ 4:40 p.m.

Ernie Grimm said: "Re: the pronouns, it would have been dishonest to myself and my beliefs to use feminine pronouns when I, in fact, believe Micha to have been created as a man by God."

Gag me. You have no business being a journalist - you're hiding behind God to justify your bigotry. You're exactly like racists past who used to hide behind God to justify their bigotry. Here's an example from the case of Loving v. Virginia, 1959:

'The trial judge in the case, Leon Bazile, echoing Johann Friedrich Blumenbach's 18th-century interpretation of race, proclaimed that "Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix"'.


eighthprice April 2, 2009 @ 4:52 p.m.

As an intresting aside to all this, and not mentioned in this article... the company that runs Second Life, San Francisco based Linden Labs, has quite a few transgender people working for them, including programmers. Some of them are friends of mine. They are a very trans friendly employer, and they are well aware of how their virtual world is being used to explore the boundaries of identity.


eighthprice April 2, 2009 @ 4:56 p.m.

And as another aside, the computers we're all using wouldn't even be possible without the contributions of another transgender woman, computer science pioneer Lynn Conway, who transitioned from male to female in 1968 while working at IBM.


David Dodd April 2, 2009 @ 5 p.m.

eighthprice: You're being quite arrogant. If no one is permitted to make assumptions based on their perceptions, then writers are lost. Stop reading, just watch videos. Writing is the art of perception based on experience, combined with a knack for telling a story. Grow up a little bit, wrap your head around the viewpoint of the writer rather than to expect that a writer has to be a drag queen in order to write about one.

I thought that Ernie's story was entertaining, odd, fascinating, and somewhat enlightening. All of he static in this thread confirms it. The note at the end of the article was very fair, it alerted the reader as to the wishes of the person being interviewed.


fxp April 2, 2009 @ 6:25 p.m.

I'm sure that the author of this article didn't mean any malice by her intentional disregard of Cárdenas's pronouns. I'm sure that Cárdenas found her writing as honest, yet the honesty tiring and repetitive as anyone who doesn't know how to act like a normal, respectful human being around trans people.

I'm sure that Ernie would prefer to be referred with male pronouns, but with "respect", I declined; I believe God to have taught as the first commandment, love and thus treat others as you would like others to treat you. I am sure he would not extend that people such as myself.


eighthprice April 3, 2009 @ 8:46 a.m.


I think you've proved my point - journalism isn't about 'making assumptions'. It's about asking questions and conveying well-researched information to a wider audience. You should never be in a situation where your readers are more educated than you are.

Ernie's choice of pronouns is a deviation from contemporary journalistic norms. He went out of his way to buck the mainstream when it comes to refering to transgender people. The Associated Press Stylebook even recommends that when referring to transgender people, you should respect the wishes of the subject when deciding which pronouns to use.


David Dodd April 3, 2009 @ 1:10 p.m.


The AP Stylebook is not a bible for journalists. It is a guide. It makes recommendations. I've never met a journalist that even keeps a copy on their desk. Good journalists are not cookie-cutter products made in some factory that produces writers.

Journalism is about making assumptions. Otherwise, only transgender people would have the capacity to write about transgender people. Your comment about readers being more educated on a topic than the writer very much proves this point. For example, most great sports journalists never played the sports that they write about. Somehow, the people who read their columns that have played the sports written about aren't the least bit upset by it.

Also, careful when purposefully misspelling my name or readers will assume that you're being insulting.


Letter to the Editor Aug. 31, 2016 @ 10:26 a.m.

I was digging through the archives to try and find a story I'd read years ago that had fascinated me and likely sparked my interest in questioning my gender identity, and found it in this 2009 cover story titled "My Gender Is Bunny." The article was still just as fascinating as when I originally (and hit harder than it had back when I read it as a high school freshman, having since come out as a transgender woman), but I was stunned by the ending to the article:

"Author’s note: Micha Cárdenas asked that feminine pronouns be used in this story. With respect, the author declined."

Now, I know 2009 was years ago, but it definitely wasn't so long ago that the idea of showing some decency to the people you interview was an alien concept. What was something I once enjoyed and wanted to share is now a shining example of contempt towards the article's subject, and it makes me (as one of countless queer people enjoying the Reader across San Diego) profoundly uncomfortable.

I'm not asking that you alter an article from seven years ago (though I'd be delighted if you did; changing the pronouns would take all of two minutes), but I will ask that future submissions be checked to not be so willfully offensive to the queer community that helps define this city's character.

Lex, Hillcrest


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