Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Deerskin Ritual Costume: First Steps

Warning: This post contains a picture of a deerskin project
"in progress," which may be disturbing to some viewers.

Over the past week my family, partner and I went deer hunting, something I have done since I was 12 excepting a seven year period I was a vegetarian and a couple years I didn't due to other time commitments.  My Pagan path has a lot of spirituality based on animal and plant spirits, and one thing I've wanted to have for years is a ritual costume made out of a full whitetail deer skin, as these animals are very spiritually important to me as a major source of food and other things.  I was greatly inspired by Lupa's artwork made from animal pelts and other parts, as well as the cave painting "The Sorcerer" which may depict somebody in a deer pelt costume.

Try as I might, I didn't get a deer.  In fact, it was a pretty bad year for us, but my brother did get a buck fawn.  My dad would be doing the initial skinning for butchering, and I explained that I had something I wanted to make with the pelt and that I want the face, ears, and tail.

Here's where I would like to show some compassion, as I know a lot of you probably wouldn't appreciate the type of picture I have for the beginning stages of this costume.  Keep in mind that although it's gruesome looking, I was there when this deer was shot and can vouch for him having been dispatched quickly by a compassionate person.  To hearken back to what I would have said when I was still a vegetarian, "if you eat storebought meat you have no business being upset by this, if you don't you should probably focus on the crimes of the former."  On a spiritual note, keep in mind that my doing this is meant to be a respectful action in which this animal's life will continue on a spiritual plane rather than just eating the good parts and throwing away the rest.

If you're viewing this post on the main page, you can see the picture by clicking on the jump link below.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Testosterone Cessation Update... So That's What The Cramps Were

Courtesy note that this one deals with menstruation, a little sex stuff, and other body stuff, some of which is graphic... ish. Near the end there is also diet talk.

Yesterday afternoon I was overcome by some pretty bad abdominal cramps.  I'd been trying to echinacea-and-menthol away a possible mild illness and assumed this was a part of that, but it was low on my body and suspiciously familiar.  OK, I was pretty confident it was uterine something, and I have witnesses as I announced it in the living room last night.

I woke up this morning and... yup, it's happened.  I don't know if it's an actual period or non-menstrual bleeding, but it's definitely not just iffy spotting this time.  So I get up and suddenly panic because although I've been taking my menstrual cup most places, I hadn't the day before and didn't know where it was.  I scrambled to find where it went and put it in the bathroom to wait for me, but I was a little hesitant to try putting it in so found my homemade washable pad that I made to fit in boxer briefs and went back to bed for a while.

So here's the issue... testosterone did some really annoying stuff downstairs that made it impossible for me to enjoy or do a lot of things I used to do without bleeding for other reasons.  I went from being basically entirely self-lubricating to being unable to take even fingers without pain and tearing.  So before testosterone I loved menstrual cups, I had no difficulty getting them in, but that was so long ago.  I wound up getting it in fairly easily this morning with some lube... a slight amount of pain (more like a pinch) and it didn't open up properly so I had to re-insert the damn thing like five times.  Since I wasn't sure if it had opened up right I did continue wearing my washable pad for backup; it's been four and a half hours so far and no issues.

Charted it on MyMonthlyCycles.com and other than the cramps and a little sharpness (I may need to round off the end of the cup more when I get home) everything seems fine.  I've been taking black cohosh and am looking for other stuff to deal with the cramps, as they're either slightly worse than they were pre-T or I haven't remembered them.

Some worries I have... I have heard from some post-hormonal trans men that they wound up having what seemed like months of bleeding early on.  So far none of the serious horror stories of post-hormone transition have happened to me (I'm still emotionally stable, my hot flashes were mild, etc.) so I'm crossing my fingers hoping beyond all probability that I'll wind up with a perfect, calendar-friendly cycle (I know this is a pipe dream as this never happened before).

So this continues to go smoothly.

Diet-wise, I'm doing OK at least temporarily.  I gained a lot of weight recently due to anxiety and apathy.  Since the election I'm somewhat preoccupied with eating foods that don't make me feel like hell, so I'm on a shaky paleo diet; my meals have been fairly compliant but snacks have been a problem.  But even with the awkward popcorn-and-cheese-goldfish thing I have going on I'm at least doing better enough to not experience most of my terrible symptoms.  I'm not going to bother weighing myself anymore (I only know I gained because I went to the doctor multiple times in the past months) and am going to focus on avoiding stuff I know gives me headaches, stomachaches, and night-gagging.

The election was the deciding factor in that because I really feel like I need whatever health I can scrounge together within myself in the coming years.  I'm also compiling a list of ideas and resources that will go on this blog when it's done, so if that's something you're into you can look forward to that.

Anyway, that's all for now.  Happy trails!

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Psychic is Not Science and Your Gut is (Probably) a Bigot

A couple months ago (this is one of those essays I'm transferring from elsewhere, FYI) I went to a local Pagan/New Age event, including a couple of workshops that left me feeling more than a little sad about the community.  One of those involved somebody completely disconnected from the Earth (I may transfer that story over too at some point), but the other is a little more insidious.  It had two main points that I take issue with.  The first--and the title subject of the workshop--is the notion that psychic power is scientific.  The second is the idea that your gut feeling is always right.

Let's talk about that psychic science thing first.  I strongly believe that magickal concepts do not have to be justified with science.  Science is important.  Science has saved thousands of lives and will continue to do so.  Science has piqued and assuaged curiosities about subjects that that a couple hundred years ago were solidly demonized.  But we as a species lived for thousands of years without knowing a lot of the things we know now.  Our magickal backgrounds, the roots of knowledge about psychic phenomena, our traditional medicines, these things developed entirely outside our current view of science, and all attempts at creating parallels between them wind up being so absurdly unscientific that it's best we just acknowledge that they will always be irrevocably different.  And that's OK.

In this presenter's case, the way she tried arguing that psychic "is science" was by explaining that the human body (and all matter, for that matter) is mostly empty space between atoms, and that at our most basic we run by electricity.  These are true, but there is also no evidence that these are connected in any way to psychic activity, and there wasn't even a real attempt to explain why these two things were actually connected.  They were merely justifications made by the presenter to try fitting a square peg into a round hole and justify fruit loopy beliefs about intuition.  The worst part is that she doesn't have to do this.  We have nothing to gain by using bad understandings of science to try converting skeptics.  First off, why are skeptics even an audience of yours?  And second, if you really want to convert skeptical minds, use that energy to convert global climate change deniers or fracking apologists or some other genuine expression of Very Bad Science that is going to get people poisoned and/or killed.  If your aim is to teach a group of people--who, being attendees at a Psychic and Pagan Fair, are already likely to be receptive to what you're saying--how to trust your gut, you can do that without pretending it's science.

This is, unfortunately, the more minor of the two problems.  And it's a shame, because there are some great concepts here, largely when it comes to the way we teach our kids.  The presenter's main argument is that by teaching kids to always avoid strangers, we are taking away their ability to trust their gut feelings about people, manufacturing an inappropriate level of distrust, and all manner of unfortunate side effects.  This is not a terrible idea, all things considered.  Most kids who are abused are not abused by strangers.

But let's talk about this whole gut feeling thing, because there's just a winding labyrinth of issues with it.  The reality is that when people trust their gut, they often don't take into account that due to their socio-cultural training their "gut" is telling them some pretty monstrous things.

There are examples of this for every aspect of oppression.  From very young ages we are subjected to a barrage of stereotypes that wind up assimilating into our perceptions of the world so firmly that they seem like natural impressions.  These are our gut feelings.  Gut feelings have meant black women get fewer painkillers, gays and lesbians are viewed as poor parents, atheists are viewed as less moral, transgender people are viewed as being threatening in restrooms, women are viewed as incompetent on the job, Middle Eastern people are viewed as terrorists, police are always justified in using force, and much much more.  These are all things that are statistically untrue, and yet people who learn the statistics still have those "gut feelings."  And even after being educated, these feelings don't just automatically just go away, having been bested by Cold Hard Logic.

A month or so after I went to the workshop I--as I often do--went to a movie in the middle of the morning.  It was Finding Dory, and although I'd hoped I was going there at slow time, I didn't factor in that it was summer, kids were out of school, and morning movies on a Tuesday are dirt cheap, so there were lots of kids there.  As seats are assigned in this theater, a family came in to find they were next to me, and their kid--he had to be like six or seven--was terrified of me and refused to sit next to me.  I have no interest in engaging with kids at all let alone in a negative manner, so the fear was unfounded, but there are a lot of reasons a kid might be terrified of a harmless adult.  I like to think I have a kind of hippie Jesusy look about me, but to a kid I could easily be mistaken for a big biker guy.  He may have read part of my gender expression that his parents didn't and was confused to the point of fear.  He might have a scary (or worse, abusive) relative who resembles me.  It may not have anything to do with my appearance at all, maybe he just has serious social anxiety and would have behaved like that around anybody.  Whatever the case, this kid did not trust me.  I set off all of his gut's red flags.

On the other side of the spectrum?  Lots of kids are harmed by people they trust, because they have no reason--and no gut feelings--that suggest to them that they should feel be safe around these people.  And the idea that they're just ignoring their natural gut feelings is absurd, gaslighting, victim blaming crap.  There's a reason that most child abuse is carried out by relatives and close family friends.

Does this mean that your gut feelings are bad?  Although I believe it depends on the particular feelings, the answer is generally "no."  You should always note your gut feelings, and if you're really in a bad place and cannot feel comfortable around somebody you shouldn't force it.  But you should also be critical of these gut feelings, especially when all evidence tells you that they're wrong, and especially when you find the people who set off the bad vibes detectors in your belly all look similar, and wouldn't-you-know-it all happen to be in the same marginalized group.  There's no guarantee these are messages from the divine.  Sometimes they're just bigotry.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

An Anti-Ecocidal Movement Needs Marginalized People

Today I read an essay on Patheos that just... ugh... it makes me cringe, because there's so many good things about it, and the author has a history of much better work, but the perspective just crashes and burns (mostly bridges, probably).  It's called "Who do you vote for at the (beginning of the) end of the world?"

First, I want to talk about what in this article really resonates with me, things that are really difficult to bring up because of the structure of the overall social justice movement.  Then I'll talk about some of the really gross stuff, and I'm sorry, but there's so much gross stuff.

Climate change and overall ecocide and environmental destruction are issues that I think should be more central to all social justice and political activism on the left.  This is because even if you're an entirely anthropocentric person it's important to recognize that there are key marginalized people who are disproportionately affected by this issue.  We talk about things like the deaths of polar bears and mass extinctions of other animals, but one thing we don't talk about a lot at all is that thousands upon thousands of humans--and they're largely marginalized humans--are also killed by climate change in the form of extreme overheating, drought, storms, crop failure.  Note:  This is not a future tense thing.  It is something happening right now.  Other environmental hazards also disproportionately affect marginalized people, from toxic water to noise and light pollution.  Not only is pollution more likely to be concentrated in places with more poor people, they also don't have the resources to leave.  And yes, if we don't work on environmental issues, there will be no livable world for anybody let alone marginalized people.  So I think Halstead has it right in centering ecocide.

Something that wasn't actually brought up, but which I think about often, is how ecocidal things are justified by talking about marginalized people's relationship with those things.  The biggest example was those damn Whole Foods pre-peeled oranges, which were brought up as an appalling example of waste before being shouted down by people insisting this is somehow an accessibility tool because not everybody can peel oranges.  There were two things I found entirely missed by this discussion.  The first is that it seemed to assume that encasing oranges in a non-reusable plastic package was the only possible way to facilitate accessibility in fruit.  The second was that it gave a lot of people the opportunity to be self-congratulatory about the fact that they would not buy such an absurd product who probably use things that are just as bad... the same packaging is used to encase much, much more than just oranges, and it's just as bad in those cases.  Basically, this was being complained about by people who probably aren't that deeply environmentally friendly to begin with.

The rest of this article is mostly about why Halstead is voting third party.  As I said back in February, I staunchly support people's right to vote third party without shame.  I don't always think people have great reasons, but the idea that only privileged people are "able" to do this is absurd.  The reality is much more complicated, with people both at the top of the privilege ladder and way at the bottom both feeling very little difference between the two primary candidates.  It always goes like this.  You have the privileged white dude types who don't see a difference because they're easily able to live approximately the same regardless of who is president, who get chewed out by the less-privileged people who proclaim that their voting choices are invalid because they are privileged, who are then chewed out by a group of people I don't think we talk about enough, those who are so underprivileged that their lives will be miserable under either a Democrat or a Republican and who rightfully seethe at the idea that their voting choices are based on privilege.  And regardless of people's reasons, it's a moral crime that Democrats can get away with behaving as though left-wing votes are inherently owned by them.

But then we hit this:
The best argument I have heard in favor of the “Clinton compromise” is that it is privileged to vote for a third-party candidate [link in original quote].  I can’t argue with that.  I’m white, male, heterosexual, cis-gendered [sic], middle-class.  And so, a Trump presidency would be less disastrous for me personally than for women, people of color, etc.  So, yes, it is easier for me to overlook the evils of a Trump presidency.  And yet, I’m not convinced that my privileged position is a handicap in this election.
I'm pretty sure it is, but go on:
In fact, I think my privilege gives me a unique perspective: it enables me to look beyond the short term eclipse of human rights and focus the long term eclipse of human life.  That’s a terrible calculus, I know.  But on the one hand, we have Trump, who would terrorize women and people of color and who would continue policies that will lead to the end of life as we know it.  On the other hand, we have Clinton, who would do better for women and marginally better for people of color … and will continue policies that will lead to the end of life as we know it.
Here's where Halstead loses me, and actually to a degree makes my jaw just sit agape.  I agree so much with the analysis of the Democratic party as being ecocidal just as Republicans are, and how that will eventually lead to a collapse of the environment and by extension humanity that renders focus on human-on-human rights a moot point.  But the idea that this is a unique perspective that he's able to have because he's a white cishet middle class guy is miserably fucked up, like the height of ignorance in this statement makes my eyes bleed.

Halstead is able to say this shit because of the longstanding, bullshit belief that being a white cishet man makes you inherently impartial because you're not targeted racism, misogyny, et. al. and can pretend to be an emotionless robot about the ways these things deeply and disproportionately affect marginalized people.  This erases the work done especially by racial justice and indigenous rights groups that are informed precisely by the fact that they are not impartial to the issue.  High profile members of Black Lives Matter and similar groups--and entire chapters--have actively opposed climate change and the Dakota Access Pipeline.  Indigenous groups are at the forefront of climate justice in general, fighting against the destruction of the Amazon and the institution of projects that harm fragile ecosystems, release carbon, and destroy human life.

Yes, you have your Al Gores doing mass educational work, but this is an anomaly:  The distance white middle-class-plus cishet men have from the effects of global climate change are more likely to prevent them from doing anything (due to the perception that nothing is happening) than give them some magical ability to see the forest where most just focus on the trees.

Furthermore, and I brought this up earlier, how do you expect people to focus on the overall environment when they aren't experiencing any justice?  We can't assume that climate change is going to be fixed by just sending Democrats a message led by an army of white cishet dudes who are terribly ineffective at convincing anybody they aren't just irritated that a woman beat their favorite old white guy.  We need overall environmental and climate justice that seeks out non-ecocidal methods for giving marginalized people the ability to progress beyond the activist hierarchy of needs, and you absolutely cannot sit there implying that you're an impartial observer just because you personally aren't targeted by more imminent threats to your life.