Monday, December 16, 2013

Pope Francis I is STILL a Homophobic Bigot

This is from the "Are you fucking kidding me Advocate?" files.  The Advocate--a mainstream LGBT magazine for those who don't know--gives out a person-of-the-year deal to somebody who has been the most positive influence on LGBT lives in the past year.

Because The Advocate is apparently distributing the wrong kind of drugs to its staff, they gave it to Pope Francis I, complete with a computer-generated "NOH8" stamp on his cheek.

Let me put this in clearer language for you: The Advocate, which bills itself as the leading source of LGBT news, just gave a fucking pro-LGBT honor to an openly homophobic bigot.

I'm not going to lie: I'm actually really offended.  Reading this literally almost made me vomit on my computer screen.  It's unacceptable.

This is a guy who has called adoption by LGBT people child abuse and is a huge player in fighting against same-sex marriage.  He only supports civil unions--allegedly, as this isn't an official position--as a "lesser of two evils" (essentially to prevent same-sex couples from gaining real equality, the same reason any other bigoted hetero would support civil unions and not marriage).  He's only cool with gay priests because--newsflash--priesthood requires celibacy in the Catholic church anyway.

In short, there isn't a pro-queer bone in this man's body.

This situation highlights a lot of the reasons I don't identify with the mainstream LGBT movement and haven't for many years.  There's a lot of talk about "stepping stones" and "incremental progress" that usually benefits more privileged LGBT folks while leaving everyone else in the dust, and part of that is readying the lips for ass-kissing whenever some public figurehead doesn't want to outright murder us.  GLAAD gave an award to Bill Clinton, the guy who signed the Defense of Marriage Act into law and who was largely responsible for "Don't Ask, Don't Tell..." the very two pieces of legislature Gay Inc. had been crying about for years.  LGBT folk tirelessly campaigned for Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama--draped them in fucking rainbows--even when they both staunchly insisted they did not support same-sex marriage*.

It's not like The Advocate doesn't know that the Pope is not pro-queer, either.  Their entire essay lauding this man is peppered with quotes and stories that totally acknowledge his mediocrity with regard to the subject of LGBT rights:
Pope Francis did not articulate a change in the church’s teaching today, but he spoke compassionately, and in doing so, he has encouraged an already lively conversation that may one day make it possible for the church to fully embrace gay and lesbian Catholics."
 Translation:  "He didn't actually fucking do anything, but he started a conversation."
"The Catholic Church is opposed to the legalization of gay marriage, but teaches that homosexuals have the same dignity of every human being and condemns all forms of unjust discrimination, harassment or abuse."
That "unjust" qualifier is really important, because it basically gives the Catholic church the right to define what "unjust" means.  It also literally means nothing.

“The Catholic Church has never been opposed to the decriminalization of homosexuality, because we have never considered gay people criminals"
See that one's just a bald-faced-fucking-lie right there.

If there's one thing that makes me totally alienated from the mainstream LGBT community it's its consistent dedication to mediocrity.  There are hundreds of queer/LGBT people out there who are tirelessly working toward full equality--whatever they may define "equality" as--and yet we continue to reward straight people who don't have any actual interest in LGBT rights or who have historically botched-the-fuck out of them instead.

That's where this whole thing fails.  It's only natural that a queer or progressive Catholic will be excited that there is a Pope who is slightly less of a shithead than prior popes have been.  As a community, though, it is a monstrosity that such a major--secular!--publication would give this guy cookies.  A monstrosity.

* As an anti-marriage queer it might seem odd that I would be so irritated at the support of people who are against same-sex marriage.  The reality is that there is a huge difference between being against marriage as an institution and being against marriage only for same-sex couples or trans folk.  More can be read here.

** For an earlier take on his popishness you can check out my earlier essay after which this post's title is designed, "Pope Francis is a Homophobic Bigot."

Monday, December 9, 2013

The War on Christmas II: The Baby Jesus Commute

Also known as "13 Reasons Why The Courthouse/Town Hall Doesn't Need Another %@#$ing Nativity."

One of my relatives listens to conservative talk radio a lot and seems to enjoy baiting me into conversations I don't want to have based on whatever he hears on it.  Usually I say right away that I don't want to talk to him about politics, to which he responds that he "just wants to hear my opinion" before dragging me into the never-ending abyss of bullshittery he hears.

One of his favorite things to bring up is how we shouldn't be taking down Nativity scenes from government buildings "just because some atheist doesn't like it."  He usually says this as if there's no chance I'm going to disagree with such brilliance, despite the fact I have expressed my opinion on this subject on many occasions, usually ending with him angrily saying "We should agree to disagree although I think you're dead wrong" ("Dead Wrong," I've learned, is this man's code for "This is something you have lived experience in that I don't but I'm going to fight you every inch of the way anyway because talk radio").

There's a perception among Christians that the reason these monuments are "worth preserving" is because they're traditional.  The reality is that many (although certainly not all) of these monuments are being placed on government property by reactionary Christians who are frantically worried about their dwindling privilege.  They deal with this by introducing new Christian-themed monuments where they didn't always exist and then pretending they've always been there so they can moan about non-Christians destroying American traditions.

As a Pagan this issue touches me deeply because there have been cases where in the interests of fairness legislators have decided to just allow everyone to put their own holiday monuments up just to avoid having to take down the Nativity scene.  In Green Bay a Pagan display was erected that was promptly vandalized, prompting them to bar the Pagan display while ludicrously continuing to allow the Nativity.

This is the thing liberal Christians who support these monuments don't understand:  There's no way to actually make them fair to all faiths.  Minority faiths have their monuments defaced and removed.  We wind up having to use government buildings with the symbols of an oppressive majority faith plastered on them, telling us pretty clearly that our rights are not going to be viewed as quite as important as those of others.

"Well, it's just a decoration."  No, it's not just a decoration.  It's a statement, and it's a statement against minority faiths and nonbelievers.  There's no excuse for it.

The most interesting thing for me, though, is how many people are clinging to this nostalgia as if removing Nativity scenes from government buildings is going to dramatically change the landscape or take something away from the community.  The reason this is so interesting is that practically no reasonable person is lobbying to remove peoples' right to erect Nativity scenes or any other holiday decorations for that matter.  Since Christianity in this country is a majority faith it means there are ample opportunities for people to see Nativity scenes absolutely everywhere.  I photographed thirteen of them--and there were plenty more--on my half hour commute to work last year.  That means I saw a Nativity scene on average every two and a half minutes, most of them tastefully decorating private residences with a fair amount adorning churches.  There are also at least eight of them where I currently work, which is a Catholic institution.  Nativity scenes can be found in abundance in areas where it's totally appropriate to see them... so why do we need them on public property?

Again, the answer is that this is more a statement than a tradition.

But let's pretend it really is a tradition.  Say these are decorations that have been going out every Christmas for fifty, sixty years.  What then?

The answer is this:  Sometimes traditions aren't worth keeping.

This could be an uncomfortable statement for a Christian to read, because people don't like hearing their faith traditions referred to as "not worth keeping."  Part of this is due to the common belief among United Statesian Christians that Christian beliefs and traditions have a universality about them that can be related to even among the most hardcore atheist.  As I've already written about before, this isn't the case.  Hell, a lot of Biblical values aren't even relatable for your average Christian let alone the rest of us.

Unless you're a hardcore Christian reconstructionist who wants to turn the United States into some theocratic shithole (in which case I don't know why you're even here), there's no reason to support Nativity scenes on courthouses, public school grounds, city halls, or anything else of the like.  Put it on your own property.  We'll all see it there anyway.

For your amusement (and inspiration if you're into that), here are 13 of my Nativity photos with varying image quality:

Unfortunate camera phone picture, right next to a
"Keep Christ in Christmas" sign.

This one's kind of shadowbox-ish.

Most Nativity scenes around here are some sort of internally lit plastic.

Is there anything more American than a scene depicting a Middle Eastern deity?

I'm not even sure this is on private property but we'll pretend.

Speaking of which, in addition to greeting cards (pictured), y'all have stamps.

More internally lit plastic.

Internally lit plastic.

This is a popular model, too. It creates a shadow on a building.

This Mary and Joseph don't even really care about Jesus it seems.

This is probably also plastic, but it's a particularly pretty model.
At this angle it looks like Mary and Joseph happened upon
a freezing, snow-covered Christ and panicked.

Same model as above, but without the lighting and with festive decorations.

This internally-lit plastic scene guards an empty flowerbed.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

The War on Christmas Part I: The Cult of Disclaiming Oppression

I'm writing a series I'm calling "The War on Christmas" as an homage to the droves of high-ranking Christian bigots (and a fair number of people who have literally no idea what religious minorities go through) out there.  I expect the series to take at be at least a three-parter but hey, who knows?

For a quick clarity here: I am a Pagan who celebrates Yule, I don't really make a distinction between Christmas and Yule in my daily life.  They are the same holiday with two different interpretations, and both Christians and Pagans have borrowed from each other various practices.  I also am one of a large majority of non-Christians who doesn't usually get personally offended when somebody says "Merry Christmas."

I say "a large majority" because although I'm certain such a phenomenon exists, the idea that there are droves of non-Christians out there being snide about people saying "Merry Christmas" is pretty much a myth.  In fact, it's often non-Christians who post stuff like this:
Which I think is a nice diagram for ignoring religious hegemony and oppression.

Let me explain here: It's not that I think there's anything wrong with just going with whatever greeting a person happens to use with you.  It's that being subjected with a barrage of endless posts like this is a constant reminder that the way this is treated is not equal between faiths.  You can talk all you want about how everyone should just be able to use whatever greeting is appropriate in their faith or culture, but unless you're celebrating Christmas or constantly around people who share that faith or culture people are not going to look at it as just another greeting.

There's a reason most of us don't stray beyond "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Holidays."  Anything other than these two can reasonably be expected to seen as a direct insult to Christianity if you use it with a Christian.  If you're a non-Christian you're expected to bite your tongue, but there's no way Facebook posts are going to convince Christians to do the same because Christianity is an entitled majority faith in this region.  That's where the disparity is: The lecture being given is essentially "Don't worry what people are greeting you with because it's all meant in good cheer anyway."  It's a great message that can only realistically benefit people who say "Merry Christmas" or a generic holiday greeting, and yet they always stick some other religious holidays in there (usually Hannukah, Kwanzaa, maybe Yule or Winter Solstice) as if they are part of the picture just to make it look equal.  They aren't, though.  That's why most of us don't use them.

It's for that reason I do get unnerved when people say "Merry Christmas" to me without having any understanding of my background or history.  Because I can and do acknowledge that this dialogue is stacked almost entirely in favor of preserving Christian hegemony and NOT interfaith tolerance. 
And you know what?  There's nothing wrong with acknowledging that you are uncomfortable with "Merry Christmas."  It doesn't make you a horrible person, it makes you a person who is aware of a terrible disparity of privilege that is being hijacked by the media as a "War on Christmas" when really it should be called "teaching people not to make assumptions about other peoples' faith practices."

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Sex Is Not Between Your Legs

There's an article going around right now on the subject of preferred pronouns being asked upon admission to a college campus.  There was a lively debate going on in a trans male forum I frequent.  The debate was largely centered on this paragraph:
"Because I go to an all-women's college, a lot of people are like, 'If you don't identify as a woman, how did you get in?'" said sophomore Skylar Crownover, 19, who is president of Mouthing Off! and prefers to be mentioned as a singular they, but also answers to he. "I just tell them the application asks you to mark your sex and I did. It didn't ask me for my gender."
Before I continue, I should mention something about the article.  It refers mostly to genderqueer and other nonbinary trans folk.  Nonbinary transfolk and binary-privileged trans folk have different issues despite considerable overlap.  I include this excerpt from the article not because it is directly relevant to the group I'm talking about, but because it's what springboarded a discussion in a group which is exclusively made up of binary-privileged trans men.

Anyway, on to my point.

In feminist and GASD/LGBT/queer communities, there is often great care taken to distinguish "sex" from "gender."   Sex is used to talk about physical characteristics, most notably genitals and chromosomes but also hormones and body shape and things like that.  Gender is used to talk about roles and identity.  This is often explained quite simply with the phrase "Sex is between your legs. Gender is between your ears."  In many ways this idea is transgender 101.  For years it's been used as a justification for the mere existence of trans folk as well as intercultural third gender categories.
Today I learned about "Anthropology Major Fox."

It's also wrong.

Well, OK, it's not all wrong.  In practice, the sex/gender distinction is a way some academic fields and communities describe things that aren't as simple as a rigid binary gender system is comfortable dealing with.  Making that distinction is an excellent stepping stone to understanding that not all people who have a certain chromosome set or genital configuration are going to have the same gender and that not all cultures have the same gender categories.

The problem is that it's oversimplified as well as contrary to peoples' lived realities.

When I was hanging out with newer trans people more often it was almost a daily occurrence that somebody would complain that they had to fill out a form that said "sex" instead of "gender."  There was a real deer-in-headlights confusion because trans 101 had maintained that sex and gender are two entirely different things.  In other words, even though these were people who were living their whole lives as a particular gender, they had it in their heads that if somebody asks for their sex it automatically means "what genitals are you sporting" or "what chromosomes do you have."  So you'd get a lot of people who said things like "my sex may be female but my gender is male."

This confusion makes sense when you're partially closeted or filling out a request for an ID or you're filling out hospital intake forms or something like that, because what sex you are listed as can affect things like what medical services you can get or your risk of being erroneously tried for fraud.  However, this confusion has spread so far and wide that people even stress out when they're filling out something like a dating site or a survey or some other thing that isn't tied to this sort of difficulty.  There's no reason somebody who lives male full-time should need to put "female" on a social media profile, but many people are wary to do so because we assume--having been cultured by the social justice community to believe this rigid sex/gender distinction--that "sex" automatically refers to assigned-sex-at-birth.  It rarely ever does, though.

It's also a mistake to look at cases in which "sex" is used instead of "gender" and automatically turn our noses up as if we are significantly more enlightened in knowing "the truth."  The sex/gender distinction has never been a universal practice, and like all binary distinctions it's limited in its usefulness to the context that created it.  The vast majority of times people ask for your sex, they are in a practical sense asking for your gender.

This rigid sex/gender distinction can actually be harmful rather than helpful to trans folk because it is yet another way we are obligated to identify ourselves with our birth sex despite that identification being inaccurate (and possibly triggering). The main issue is the "sex" half of the equation.  What constitutes "sex" is much more culturally defined than people assume, and these characteristics are also NOT immutable.  The medical therapies most binary-privileged trans folk go on markedly change our physical characteristics, meaning we wind up with a "sex" that is contradictory and mismatched.  It's perfectly possible for a man to have a penis and two X chromosomes, or a vagina and no breasts, or for a woman to have two X chromosomes and a high testosterone level, or any other number of combinations.  Really the only physical characteristic that can't be changed (yet?) is what sex chromosomes you have, and unless you've had a genetic test done you can't even really be sure what yours are anyway.

In short, your gender is an identity, but when it all boils down to it, so is your sex.

Should we scrap the whole sex/gender distinction altogether?  I wouldn't argue for that.  Like I mentioned above, it's useful in some contexts, including as a way of managing complicated self-identities.  But it is important that we facilitate the understanding that people don't have to identify with what they were assigned at birth, even when people are asking their sex.  That distinction is not nearly as hard-and-fast as people believe it is.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Some Maple Bacon Apple Pies

So yesterday was apparently Thanksgiving.  I went deer hunting.  I didn't get any deer.  I did almost flatten a flock of turkeys on my way home, though.
Delicious Motherfuckers
My family is celebrating Thanksgiving tomorrow afternoon because most of us worked yesterday.  Because of this I decided to make a pie.  A delicious, delicious, Internet-friendly pie:
This one is the "lazy pie" I made for my family party tomorrow, meaning I used a pre-baked shortbread crust.  It's an apple pie (made using this recipe from Deliciously Organic) that I lattice-topped with maple-flavored bacon.

It's not the first time I've made a bacon apple pie.  Somebody made one years ago and I thought it looked cool so I made it.  And enjoyed it.  Last time nobody would touch it but me and my mom.  If the same thing happens this year, all it means is more for me.

I also made three mini-pies.  These are made using the exact recipe I linked to above--including the crust--except instead of the topping I used more delicious, delicious bacon (for the sugar I used the maple sugar I made back in July) instead of coconut sugar.  These ones I made as gifts:
They look the same size as the first one apparently.  They're actually significantly smaller, as I cut the bacon into quarters.

Four Points on Trans Male Pregnancy

Shout out to Heather McNamara for reminding me of this subject.

In the reproductive health and justice quadrants of my life there is an increasing campaign to degender the language used to refer to what are typically considered women's issues:  Pregnancy, childbirth, birth control, abortion, etc.  This is both because they're not relevant to all women and because there are people of all genders (including men) who require these services.  I'm pretty well aware of this; after all, I am a man who has sex with other men, and I can get pregnant.  My own access to birth control, reproductive healthcare, and abortion are very important to me, and by principle the right of trans men to give birth if we choose is also important.

But it's really not as simple as "make sure people constantly bring up that trans men can get pregnant!"  There are pros and cons to this advocacy. Four of my personal pros and cons (two pros, two cons) are as follows, and while I don't speak for the rest of the community by any means, it's something to think about if you're planning on creating a reproductive health campaign and including trans men so you can hopefully avoid some of the more offensive ways of going about this.

1. Trans men have died because their doctors were to freaked out to work on our genitals or they were too embarrassed to seek proper care. Advocating for doctors to know a thing or two is paramount.

My first pelvic exam was by a nurse practitioner who noticed the odd back-and-forth my medical system was doing with my name change (they couldn't figure out if I was going from Jackie to Jack or vice versa), figured out from the context that I was transitioning, and asked if I'd ever had a pap smear, explicitly explaining that she was aware a lot of trans men do not seek that kind of care.

I know there would not have been a chance in hell I'd have asked for this, so having a doctor who was sympathetic to those issues was extremely important to me.

Although it's thankfully happening less and less, one need only watch the documentary "Southern Comfort" to recognize why this isn't something that should just be ignored.  Trans men who still have our reproductive organs might have access issues preventing us from receiving lifesaving care, just as Robert Eades was denied cancer treatments for no reason other than he was a trans man.

So that goes on the "pro" side.

2. The idea of pregnancy gives a large chunk of trans men extreme anxiety.

Case In Point
Con: After the Thomas Beatie "Pregnant Man" story came out, one of the first pieces I saw written by a trans man was called "I Hate Thomas Beatie."  He didn't actually hate Beatie, but was expressing discontent that after his story broke his mother will not stop pressuring him to get pregnant, a concept which is a huge dysphoria trigger for him.

Although I support the right of trans men to give birth (and be open about it), I often wish people understood how much the media attention given to pregnant trans men has negatively affected some of us.  My grandma, for instance, decided to lecture to me about how I "gotta give birth at least once while I still can" while I was fixing her computer a few weeks ago.  Even pre-T she never would have said this were it not for the media attention implying that giving birth is something trans men as a whole desire.

It's important to recognize that most trans men don't want to give birth... many of us don't even want to be reminded that we can give birth.  Trans men who do want to give birth are a minority, and by overemphasizing our ability to get pregnant we're feeling more and more pressure from relatives to do so.

Dysphoria exists on a spectrum.  Take the poster featured to the left, there.  It's a great thought, but for somebody with extreme dysphoria it's like shoving a sign saying "YOU HAVE A UTERUS" in his face.

3.  There's a tendency for people to use trans men to decentralize women from issues largely affecting them.

Most of the people I personally witness engaging in this advocacy are doing it from a feminist or womanist standpoint, so this isn't a huge concern (not as an intentional thing, anyway).

It's important to remember that trans men are still men, and that what connects trans men to these issues is female lived history, female perception, and biology... not our manhood.  Trans men are affected by these issues (with some exceptions) as an extension of misogyny.

That said, emphasizing trans men can edge dangerously close to a "what about the men" argument if it's not done carefully or if it's done in opposition to feminist efforts.  When somebody brings up a topical, serious issue affecting pregnant people, zeroing in on their having said "women" is derailing rather than enlightening.  The fact that trans men (or cis men for that matter) are affected by something doesn't automatically mean it's not best framed as a women's issue.

I think it's reasonable to believe that one day we will be at a point where not defaulting discourse about pregnancy on cis women will be a viable option.  That said, I do invite you to start using that language now.  I usually do, too.  Be the movement so to speak.  As it stands right now, though, I do worry about the potential to derail.

4.  Pregnant trans men are probably more common than people think they are, and they deal with a lot of unique issues.

Another pro... it's easy to assume that trans male pregnancies are ridiculously rare, so rare that they don't require any unique attention at all.

Personally I wouldn't be shocked if this was mostly a problem of media attention.  Thomas Beatie, who was marketed as the "first pregnant man," wasn't even close to the first trans guy to get pregnant, even after hormones (he wasn't even the first pregnant man who got media attention... Matt Rice was in The Village Voice several years earlier).

This number is likely increasing if for no other reason than now people know it's do-able.  This is part of a major cultural shift... for a long time trans folk were almost universally expected to be perfect specimens of our lived genders if we wanted treatment, so male pregnancy would have been out.  Thanks to those pregnant trans pioneers, there absolutely are more trans men who want to have biological children in this way.

And that brings up a host of problems.  Trans men who do get pregnant can expect to be treated unfairly by their health insurance companies (which may see a client labeled "male" getting services typically associated with women and get suspicious) and denied social services available to pregnant women.  I believe it was Thomas Beatie who had medical staff request he shave his face and pretend to be a woman to make other pregnant people more comfortable.

Bringing up trans male pregnancy, then, can lead to an increased cultural understanding of this issue and the removal of these barriers.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Some Pre-Holiday Recipe Trials

I have a book called the 2014 Sabbats Almanac which starts with Samhain of 2013 and goes through the year. For Yule there is a recipe for a Brie and cranberry bake that I had to try.  It looks kind of gross on the plate but was delicious... I assure you.

In addition I copied a recipe I saw at work. I had no idea what cheese they used, but it tasted goat-y, so I used plain soft goat cheese.  They're Bosc pears cut in half with goat cheese and bacon on top, then baked at 350 until I decided they were done. The bacon didn't cook very easily so in the end I pre-cooked it and just stuck it on top.  Tastes better cold.

A whole wheel of Brie baked in a dish, covered with a
homemade cranberry sauce, and baked again.
Bacon-layered Bosc pears and a scoop of the Brie bake.
Yes, I know what the Brie bake looks like. Still delicious.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Dear Transphobic Fearmongers: This Is My Locker Room Story

Trigger Warning: Detailed description of gender-dysphoric experiences.

 I used a group locker room today in a city that just had transgender-protecting legislation withdrawn (pending hopeful better success later) due to alleged swarms of community responses frantically worrying that it would mean trans people would be in their restrooms and locker rooms.  This is a frustrating development as somebody who was raised fully believing I lived in a community that had at least a shred of decency.

The fact that I did, in fact, use a group locker room on the same day I learned of this was a coincidence, but a telling one.  Cis (non-trans for those not in the know) people thrown into a frantic, ignorant haze spouting bullshit about trans-protecting legislation inviting rapists into women's restrooms are predictable and tiring and entirely ignore the fact that we already use these venues without incident every fucking day.

This fervor isn't about me.  I am a well-passing, mostly-stealth transsexual man, meaning people don't regularly realize I have a female history... and those that do figure it out don't bring it up.  Trans women as well as trans people who do not have the privilege to allow them the medical care necessary to integrate as I have (also known as "non-passing") and non-binary trans people will inevitably get the brunt of this ignorance.  They always do.  Think, for instance, about the transgender child (yes, child) who is being harassed and assumed a predator by grown-ass-adults in Colorado for using a locker room.

Still, because it's topical in that I did just use a group locker room today, I'd like to give you a little taste of how that went.
  1. I walked in the locker room with my duffel bag and tried four lockers before I found an empty one, averting my glance from the naked men changing around me because I don't want them to think I'm checking them out--just in case they're homophobic--and I don't want them to get too good a look at my still-feminine eyes.
  2. I shove my duffel bag in the locker as quick as I can and pull out my gym clothes, taking them to the changing rooms or--if those aren't empty--a bathroom stall.
  3. Even though the doors lock, I stand facing away from the door just in case somebody tries to get in and the lock fails, so if they see me naked they only see me from the back.
  4. I go and work out, almost constantly worrying that my binder (the garment I use to conceal my breasts) is too loose and that people will notice, or that it's too tight and will cause me to pass out.  The latter is no small thing because I personally know people--including other trans men--who have had medical personnel stop working on them when they see their anatomy.
  5. I return and decide whether or not I am going to shower.  About half the time I will decide the vulnerability is not worth it and I will just go home.  Today I opted to shower.
  6. Unlike the changing rooms, it does not lock, so I put a towel over the top bar so people know there is somebody in there.  I hang my duffel bag in the shower with me, risking it getting wet to avoid being too far from my clothing.
  7. As is the case in the changing rooms, I am likely to stare at the back wall just in case somebody comes in.  I shower as quickly as possible.
  8. Before I pull my towel off of the bar, I always place a pair of shorts or something so there is always something over the top bar.  I do not go even a short second with nothing proving that the shower is occupied.
  9. I pull on all of my clothing in the shower, because the short walk from the shower to the changing room is too risky even if I wrap myself in a towel.
  10. I leave the locker room.
  11. I get home and find that a bunch of people wrote my city's lawmakers about how scared they are of me in their locker rooms because they were that infuriated by the prospect that maybe I should have a right to fair housing like every other human being should have in theory.
By this point there is something you should have figured out:  Using public single-sex venues like locker rooms and restrooms is terrifying for trans people.  In this whole discourse, people spend so much time frantically theorizing about how unsafe cis people will allegedly be.  What's lost is that trans people have terrifying experiences because of how we expect cis people to treat us if they find out.

I have a friend who will sit on the toilet and wait for everybody to leave before he takes a piss because he's worried the fact that he's sitting is going to out him.  I know somebody else who repeatedly dropped out of her college gym class rather than share locker rooms with cis people because she was so terrified.  There are inumerable trans people who have been beaten up in locker rooms and restrooms just for being there.  Where are these stories?  Why are we so hellbent on focusing on something that might happen in some transphobic cis person's dirty fantasies when there are real stories like mine and theirs that happen every day?

Because we're already using these venues, every day, mostly without incident until some gaggle of transphobic "think of the children" assholes and concern trolls decides to make an issue of it.  And when it comes to trans people using single-sex venues, the only people who really have to worry are us.

Friday, November 8, 2013

The Deer Corner of the Shrine and Pendulums

I (somewhat by accident) created a nice little Deer Spirit section of my shrine, centered by a decorative plate I found at a thrift store and including a pendulum I got at a local Samhain event (I liked the drop from one pendulum they were selling and the deer pendant from another so they put them together for me).  It's actually kind of topical because deer hunting season is coming up in a couple of weeks and I'll need somewhere to leave offerings.
 I also got a pendulum book.  Pendulums are very easy for me and so I've been using it more often.  So that's another divination tool in the arsenal (I don't do much divination anymore but I have a lot of tools).

Sunday, November 3, 2013

The Eleventh Unexpected Trans Annoyance

So I wrote that list a little while ago about unexpected trans annoyances, and I plumb forgot the one annoyance that actually inspired me to write the damn list.  So here it is, number 11:

11. People still expect me to wear women's underwear for some reason.

I focus on underwear in the title, but this goes beyond panties.  It just so happened that my first realization of this phenomenon had to do with panties.

I'd been out for probably a year when I went home for a summer.  As it happens, my clothes got dirty, and I decided it was about time to do some laundry.  I do a load of laundry and forget it in the dryer.  Dad winds up finding it, and is very confused by the fact that there are (gasp) men's underwear in it that clearly aren't his.  Around that same time he also realized I do not wear bras.

Previously I'd already been through the drama when I rejected a pair of embroidered women's shorts from my grandmother and my parents acted as though it was weird that I didn't want them.  I'd written a long rant to them a few months into my social transition because it was clear that they didn't truly understand that when I said I was a transsexual man it didn't mean I was just a particularly butch woman, and after some drama everything seemed fine.

But somehow, despite that rant, despite several conversations in which I was trying to assert very clearly "I am a man now and acting shocked when I do or wear things typically associated with men is very offensive to me," underwear slipped through the cracks.  Also slipping through the cracks included men's scented deodorant and cologne as well as men's vitamins (I've known two trans men who had relatives begin buying them women's vitamins as soon as they came out when they'd never done it before, assuming this would be appreciated).

Here's what really irks me about the underwear phenomenon, as I call it:  It specifically focuses on things that most people don't see.  It makes the assumption that no matter how masculine a trans man looks on the outside, he's "probably" still doing everything the same "behind the scenes," like wearing women's panties or deodorant.  It's an extension of the idea that being trans is a costume rather than a sincere identity, and having that viewpoint crushed makes people uncomfortable.

I assure you: There is no anatomical difference that makes wearing women's panties necessary for trans men.  Some trans men do still wear them (as do some cis men), but typically we wear men's clothes from top to bottom just like other men.  Plenty of us are also more-dedicated consumers of male-advertised products just because it helps with dysphoria in its own way to purchase things specifically advertised to men (there's this ridiculous ad going around for a manly yoghurt and I just know there are trans men who will buy it).

So to conclude, when somebody comes out as trans, if you're going to assume weird things about what we wear under our outer-clothes, don't assume that these are--or should be--clothing cut and designed for our assigned-at-birth sex.  Typically they won't be.

The God Graveyard: Atheists vs. Minority Faiths

A couple groups of campus atheists created "God Graveyards," containing the headstones of deities "Once worshiped by entire civilizations, now only myths."  Notice anything about them?

...literally all of these are still being worshiped.  Not by as many people, but they're still worshiped.  I mean, second from the left there is my Patron God.  I would be limited to rolling my eyes about it (because I'm well aware most people believe my Gods and several others are no longer believed in), but Krishna?  Really?  There are like a million and a half Hindus in the US alone, where it is decidedly a minority faith.  In India Hinduism is a majority faith.  Calling Krishna "dead" as if nobody worships him is at the height of cultural ignorance.

But oh, here's a comment from Saara Wintersgill from the North Georgia Skeptic's Society that I guess makes everything OK:
I organized the Skeptics event. We used Krishna while knowing he is still worshipped, but when there were inquiries about it we showed students how the current number of followers is much less than it used to be.
(The AHA group at UW-Madison, according to a different comment, explains that in their graveyard they took care to only include Gods that aren't worshiped today... despite including some rather popular Gods among Neopagans.  You tried, I guess.  I am focusing on the NGSS for this essay.)

These are people who know damn well that some of these Gods are worshiped by thousands of people, and they still declared them "dead."  This is extremely disconcerting because it's a rather transparent view of some of the bullshit mainstream Western atheist activism has going for it:  Atheists absolutely do experience religious bias and discrimination, but it's mostly in the context of being a member of a minority faith experience.  Things like having to deal with constantly seeing Christian symbolism in places it shouldn't be (like courthouses, legislation, pledges) are not unique to atheism.  In fact, there are even troubles like this that atheists don't regularly experience, like being told to hide required religious symbols to avoid offending people (Muslim women being told to take off hijab, baptized Sikhs have some paraphernalia their faith requires them to wear that they're often told to remove too), getting denied a day off work to celebrate a religious holiday, and so forth.

Rather than accept that religious hegemony is a huge issue that affects a lot of people, there is instead a tendency for atheists to shit on and mock minority faiths without considering that members of such faiths also experience oppression. The assumption by these atheists is that there is such a thing as "religious privilege" or "theistic privilege," in which all people who have a religion are privileged over people who do not.

This graveyard stunt is one among many based on this assumption.  These groups are using minority (mostly polytheistic) faiths--and perceived "dead" faiths--as ammo against monotheistic faiths without an ounce of consideration for the amount of ridicule and persecution members of those faiths experience.

Islam is now a pretty popular target, especially among famous shitmongers like Richard Dawkins.  Today he tweeted this piece of hilarity:
The hilarious thing about this is that Dawkins is a vocal supporter of racial profiling and singling out Muslims at airports, and yet having a little jar of honey taken away means "Bin Laden has won."  Dawkins is in fact a well-known Muslim-basher--one of his favorite targets being hijab-wearing Muslim women--and being a high-profile atheist activist this means a lot of atheist n00bs also become Muslim-bashers because if Dawkins says something it must be cool.

Similarly we have members of the parody faith "Pastafarianism."  What started as a reasonable movement against teaching mythology in science class now involves fighting for the right to wear colanders on their heads in legal forms of identification, a clear attempt at mocking the rights of Muslims and Sikhs to wear their necessary head coverings in the same identification.  These stunts make light of a serious problem affecting a lot of people, in the process implying a false supremacy of minority faiths in comparison to atheism (again, usually Islam).

Finally, I should mention--because I've certainly heard some non-asshat atheists bring this up--that it's easy to see cases of religious hegemony (again, usually Christian hegemony in the West) and view it as something generically religious when you do not personally have a religion.  This is certainly not how it's perceived as a member of a theistic minority faith, knowing that things often labeled "ceremonial deism" are absolutely not either ceremonial or deistic to the people who fight to keep those symbols in place.  References to God are not generically religious when you have several Gods, or you only have one but know from context that that God isn't being referred to.

Honestly, these atheist stunts get more and more grating as time goes by, simply because of the lack of inter-religious knowledge required to think they're appropriate.  The problem isn't atheism, though, it's self-absorbed single-issue activism, something that unfortunately permeates activist culture as a whole.  That's what I really want people to take away from this... atheist activism (and all other activism) needs to have greater world perspective to avoid insensitive displays like this one.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Five Misappropriative TDOR Events

I don't want to write this as a "how-to" because there are plenty of more experienced people than me writing similar things on the Internet.  Instead, I'm going to post a little context and then a few ways people have attempted to honor Transgender Day of Remembrance that I really could have done without.

Some context, in case you're a total noob:  Transgender Day of Remembrance (or TDOR) is a yearly observance on November 20th that began in honor of a murdered trans woman of color named Rita Hester.  TDOR honors the lives of trans people who have been killed through murder or neglect the prior year due to their gender identity/expression/presentation.  Most of the people honored will be people of color, usually trans women or AMAB people presenting in a feminine manner, often sex workers, often poor, often people in other countries.

It's important to keep that context in mind when you run a TDOR event because boiling the issue down to "transgender people get murdered a lot" takes a great deal of ignorance about intersectionality.  There is a world of difference in experience between a white trans guy like myself and a trans woman of color, a huge difference in risk.  Unfortunately both the event and the amount of risk is misinterpreted, leading to TDOR event fails like the ones I've seen here.

1. My very first TDOR event was a showing of Transamerica and a drag show.

Keep in mind that for my own purposes, any transgender related event that happens around November 20th is labeled a "TDOR event" even if it has nothing to do with TDOR.  The reason I've designed it that way is because making a transgender event around that time is usually an appropriation of the date of TDOR.

My very first TDOR event was in college.  It was a showing of Transamerica and a drag show.

Now, there's nothing inherently wrong with doing either of these things.  I already mentioned recently that Transamerica has a lot of problematic elements.  Drag shows also vary as far as how offensive they are to women and trans people, and drag is a huge part of trans culture.  But on TDOR?  A solemn day of remembrance of people who have been hatefully murdered?  Absolutely not.

2. A happy fun time dance spectacular.

A couple years ago there was a group that decided that TDOR was too gloomy and decided to make it happier and fuzzier by making it a dance spectacular instead.  When some trans people who actually know a little about what they're talking about pointed out that TDOR is not a happy fun day, the organizers criticized them for being too negative.

3.  Any event that tries to create perceived equity between trans female and trans male murders.

There are people who claim trans men do not experience persecution.  And they're wrong.  But I also don't blame them for thinking that way when you have trans men trying to make it look like we share the same risk of murder as trans women, which we don't.

I have an automatic irritation with any TDOR event that tries to create a quota for trans masculine people featured to make it appear as if as many of us are murdered as trans women.  The same would be true if one did the same for white, non-poor, non-sex-worker trans women... but I have yet to actually see this.  I have, however, seen events run by trans men that focus on the trans man known as "Brandon," which happened twenty years ago.  While including him in your event would not necessarily be offensive, taking TDOR and making it about trans men is.

The main point is that if you have a TDOR event you should focus on the people most likely to be murdered and not the people most like you.

4.  Trans male top surgery fundraiser time!

It should be clear by now that I have kind of a disdain for trans men taking over TDOR.  It isn't that we shouldn't be involved, it's that too many of them do it without considering any of the above context.

This year there is at least one TDOR event that is raising money for a trans man's top surgery.  While top surgery fundraisers are totally standard and fine (no matter what Buck Angels says), using TDOR for it is wildly misappropriative.  If you're going to be raising money with a TDOR event, there are so many more relevant causes it could go to.  Find another day for your surgery fundraiser, please.

5. "Transgender Awareness Week"

A couple groups now expand TDOR to a week-long event dedicated to transgender awareness, usually with TDOR set aside on the 20th.  This is certainly an improvement on some other things, but in practice what's happening is taking an observance dedicated to the violent deaths of trans people--again, usually otherwise disadvantaged trans people--and using it to talk about more privileged trans concerns.

That doesn't mean that having a Transgender Awareness Week is a bad thing.  Far from it! You should do that!  But like the top surgery fundraisers, this is really something that should be done at a different time to avoid appropriating TDOR.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

On My Disdain For The Transgender Junk Flash

I had this whole thing where I was going to write a list of transgender-related tropes, but my heart wasn't entirely in it (maybe in the future).  Instead I'm going to write about just this one, because it's one that I don't see people talk about a lot (I'm sure people are at least thinking it) and it's one that gets to me over and over again.  It's a very common media device in film about trans folk.

I call it the junk flash.

Wait, what's that?  Well, the junk flash is when a movie or television show (or some other media) just has to find a way to show a transgender character's "junk."  By "junk" I mean things transgender people in general tend to keep covered... it includes nudity, but also under-the-garments paraphernalia such as binders, packers, the scalp beneath a wig, and so forth.

And you know what?  It infuriates me.  When I see it I tune out.

"But why? Aren't you implying that transgender bodies are horrible monstrosities that should never be seen?"

Well, no.  I don't agree with that assessment at all, hypothetical reader.  There is a big difference between sticking a nude trans person in film and, for example, by-trans-for-trans pornography or nude photography meant to showcase our bodies in a positive manner a la Loren Cameron.

The reason this infuriates me is that there is often no real plot-based reason to do so, when there is a reason it's usually horrible, and the only reason it's stuck in there is to titillate cis people and strengthen their entitlement toward trans folks' bodies... not to validate our existence in any way.

"Wait, what?"

Let's take Transamerica, a movie which is problematic on several levels (those of you who read my Twitter may have experienced my rant about how the movie makes no attempt to challenge the fact that Bree's therapist is a gatekeeping piece of shit) and has not one but two instances of the junk flash.  The first shows Bree's penis as she takes a piss alongside the road.  Keep in mind that at the point Bree is taking a piss, we are already well aware that she has a penis, so there was no reason to show it off to the audience except to titillate them.  In the second she is sighing with relief in the bathtub, full post-op body visible, a scene presumably there to "prove" to the audience that she's finally "complete" and provide another opportunity for gratuitous nudity.

Sometimes the junk flash is meant to be shocking.  In the movies "The Crying Game" and "Sleepaway Camp," it's the display of a penis that reveals the character is trans.  This is a problematic concept in itself as it reinforces the idea that suddenly being privy to a trans person's body is something to be shocked and enlightened by.  Even so, it actually bugs me less because at least it's a part of the plot, however shitty it may be (and I don't think of "The Crying Game" as an overall terrible movie for all its faults).

For trans female characters this is practically a given.  "Orange is the New Black" shows Laverne Cox's character almost immediately, "To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar" features a wig being yanked off Patrick Swayze's character's head, Alice from "Superjail!" often is shown with her penis visible through her clothing, Mrs. Garrison of South Park's breasts (which are portrayed as lopsided and misshapen to drive the "trans people are mutilated" point home) are regularly shown, at one point alongside cis female characters with censored breasts.

Again, it's important to recognize that the problem isn't inherently that people portray nude trans people, it's that the way it's done is in the context of cis peoples' entitlement toward our bodies.  It's an extension of the same mentality that makes cis people believe it's totally cool to ask personal questions about our genitals; there's the assumption that cis people deserve to know what our bodies look like.  They also serve to reaffirm to cis people what they believe our bodies look like... cis people believe trans women necessarily have penises, have obviously-fake breasts, and must wear wigs, and so those are likely to be featured in cis-focused media.

In the case of trans men, I have only rarely seen this phenomenon, but it almost is worth its own problematic device for the couple times I have just so any of you reading don't get any ideas: "perky titted trans guy."  This device portrays nude trans male bodies as stereotypically attractive and sexualized female bodies.  In the case of "Boys Don't Cry," in the scene where Brandon is raped there are several shots which are clearly eroticized for the audience as if Brandon is a woman (I'm sure the people who designed these shots would attempt to disagree but I cannot see any other explanation).  The success of eroticizing a pre- or non-T trans male body in a mainstream film relies on showcasing that body as feminine sexy, being devoid of body hair, relatively thin, with perky breasts.  Although there are certainly trans men who would qualify--and be happy about that--in general being viewed this way is not something trans men are comfortable with.  On an aside, it's also important to recognize that "Boys Don't Cry" is about a real person who was brutally raped and murdered... and now a depiction of that is frequently uploaded to wank websites.  Thanks, Fox Searchlight.

A more egregious example that wasn't in film was the comic "Trans Men Are Ridiculously Hot" by Erika Moen.  Although she has since apologized for this depiction, it's still a good example of what I'm talking about. Trans men are pretty much depicted as being physically identical to stereotypically attractive cis women but wearing binders and packers.  Perky tits and all.  And again, that's not to say there aren't trans men who don't have perky tits (and as I alluded to earlier I have certainly met some who were happy with how perky their tits are), but for a huge chunk of us at least the idea of being viewed this way is a major dysphoria trigger because these are features of our bodies that make us very uncomfortable.

That last example is particularly disturbing because this comic makes the case that trans men are hot, but the features Moen is describing as hot are not "trans male features."  The way the trans man vs. the cis man are portrayed implies that Moen's fascination with trans men is due to the perception that we are hairless and feminine (and have perky tits).  But even pre-T trans men are not necessarily hairless (I certainly wasn't), binding does weird things to breasts if you do it long enough (not to mention most of us plan on getting them removed), and so forth.

There are lots of tropes and clich├ęs involving trans people that make media a hellhole for a lot of us, this is just one of them.  Whether I write about more of them, I guess, depends on just how often I am irked by them.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Just Look At This Fucking Awesome Goose

Seriously.  Just look at it.  There are three of these at Horicon Marsh right now.  Just chilling, posing for the birders who park alongside Highway 49 to get a gander at them (see what I did there).

When I saw it I had no idea what it was.  Then it dawned on me it was probably some sort of Canada Goose variant based on the bill and some of the coloration.  Some folks on the Internet have pegged it as a hybrid between a Canada Goose and a Chinese/Swan Goose.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

10 Unexpected Trans Annoyances

I don't know what I was thinking about first, but eventually it evolved into the ways cis people as well as some trans people have framed my transsexualism.  This isn't a comprehensive list.  It doesn't apply to everyone.  This is a list of personal experiences that I have had as a white male trans man in the midwest.  Most of them occurred pre-T.  These are annoying experiences.  Please do not repeat them with others.

1. Pointing out everything feminine about me as if you're helping me be a better man.

Unless we are explicitly asking for advice, just shut the fuck up.  In my case, even some really good friends of mine seemed to have been just waiting for a time to inject that my earrings didn't help me pass or that my pendants were too big for a man to wear or that some behavior of mine came off as too feminine.  These are things I was already fully aware of, and pointing them out only served to make me fully, deeply cognizant of the fact that my friends of all people were constantly pulling apart my gender expression.

2. Saying things like "Oh, I wouldn't date you, I'm gay."

Something I've never, ever, ever done: Asked a gay man out.  No, really.  If we were playing "Never Have I Ever" and you said "I have never asked a gay man for sex or a date," I would  not drink because I have never done this. Even when I identified as a gay man myself. This is mostly because I don't expect gay men to be open to me.  So wait... why are people constantly telling me about how undateable I allegedly am?  Because when I made it clear that I was interested in men, the gay men "in the audience" would automatically, without any prompting, make it very clear that they weren't interested in me, usually using the frightfully transphobic excuse that they aren't interested "because they're gay."

Now, rejecting somebody's advances is absolutely your right for whatever reason you want. Not everybody has to be attracted to trans men.  What I do demand, though, is some fucking respect. If you aren't interested in trans men, it isn't "because you're gay."  We're men, you asshole.

You know what else?  You don't even need to mention our trans status at all if one of us does hit on you and you aren't cool with that. Just say you aren't interested.  You're talking about an issue that makes a lot of us really sensitive, and yet gay guys seem to ram through it like a fucking sledgehammer.  Have some tact.  Christ.

3.  Referring to us using terminology almost exclusively used for our assigned sex.

When I first came out at college it was stunning how long it took for people to recognize that I wasn't heterosexual.  One time somebody created one of the world's most disturbing queer games, "Guess My Kinsey Scale," and EVERYBODY defined me as a 0-2 even though they knew I was only interested in men at the time.  This was a constant fight for me.  One of the reasons giving up gay identity when I turned out to be bi was so difficult for me was because it was so fucking difficult to gain that distinction among a sea of well-meaning-but-ultimately-transphobic gays and lesbians.

Media and academia often have this same problem. Some of the first documentaries I saw on the subject of trans people referred to trans men as "transgendered females."  The asinine autogynephilia explanation of transsexualism refers to straight trans women as "homosexual" and trans lesbians as "autogynephiles."

Don't do this shit.  Seriously.  Refer to us using terminology designed for our gender identities.

4. Assuming that being recognized as a third-gender is enough.

Unless the person you're talking to/about really is a non-binary-privileged gender, don't act as if we are some exotic in-between category.  Some trans men and trans women do feel this way, but many of us don't.

When people tell me I should try to identify as genderqueer or something like that--considering I do not identify this way--what I hear is "I'm never gonna recognize you as fully male anyway so you might as well accept it."  Bite your tongue.

5. Making comparisons to therianthropy or BIID without regard for trans peoples' feelings.

Therians believe they are somehow part non-human animal (spiritually, psychologically, or something like that) while BIID (body integrity identity disorder) is a condition in which a person feels as though an abled part of themselves should be disabled (for instance, somebody who feels like their legs are not supposed to be there).  I maintain that these are both respectable conditions.  I am a member of the wider therian community myself as well as a supporter of people with BIID.

Where things go wrong is with lack of evidence and lack of courtesy.  Keep in mind that "what's next, transitioning into a dolphin?" is common snark against trans people (I mean, there was an awful South Park episode about that, right?), and so hearing comparisons like this can be a trigger for trans folk.  In the case of BIID, making this comparison implies that people with physical disabilities have different psychologies/brain structures than abled people, which they don't.

The point is that although there are comparisons that can be made, they really need to be tactful and it's important to recognize that there are some really fundamental differences.  Being a therian, for example, doesn't reflect on your ID, your birth certificate, or your records (because there is no field for "species"), it doesn't affect what bathrooms and public services you can use, and so forth.

6. People thinking they are savvy enough to use trans slurs.

"Oh, I see you're looking for more tr*****s on the Internet again!"  One of my cis friends said that as she walked in and saw me browsing URNotAlone a few years ago.  No, you really don't have the rapport with me to say that.

7. Talking about surgery.

I don't currently have the money for top surgery and that's a serious source of pain for me.   I don't want bottom surgery and don't really like thinking about it.  But people just love bringing up surgery plans, sometimes repeatedly (My dad almost has a little script he goes through that completely depersonalizes my body: "You're just going for the removal of the breasts and not the creation of the penis, correct?").

Most of the time when this is brought up by trans folk it's in the context of people asking very personal questions about what already is.  "So, have you had the surgery yet?"  And so forth.  For me this manifests itself mostly with regard to my future plans because it's relatively well-known I haven't had any surgeries yet.  I know that you're likely trying to act supportive, but all it really does is kick up my dysphoria and lack of self confidence.  If you're talking about top surgery, all it does is remind me I have boobs.  If you're talking about bottom surgery, all it does is remind me that there are a lot of people out there that don't consider what I have enough.

8. Constantly asking if my friends and partners are transgender, or if they know I am.

You know how many friends and partners I've talked about at home without my dad asking if they are transgender, usually in some offensive manner that I can't even begin to get him to understand is offensive ("So this is a guy who wants to be a girl, right?").  Zero.  It's like a constant source of interest, as if the fact that I am trans means I must be in a friendship bubble with only other trans people.

The other, of course, is "Do they know?"  The answer when it comes to me is this:  If work friends, no. If school friends, probably. If close friends, yes.  If partners, absolutely.

The reality, though, is that this is none of your business.  You really don't need to know if my friends are transgender or not.  And whether or not I let them know I am is my own business.

9. Lamenting my inability to have children or pressuring me to give birth while I still can.

No.  No, no, no, no, no.  Stop it.  Christ.  Stop telling me I should get eggs frozen, stop telling me I should consider going off hormones to give birth like Thomas Beatie, just stop it.

10. Bringing up Chaz Bono.

I like Chaz Bono.  He has done a great deal for the trans community, and in many ways referencing him (such as in Dancing With The Stars) has been how my family has told me they support me when they are too embarrassed to outright say it.

But seriously.  Chaz Bono is not shorthand for trans men.  There's a limit.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Some Foods For Today

Yesterday while I was at my local independent bookstore's 25 year anniversary (I go there when I can because in addition to just being a local bookstore they donated to my school's queer scholarship fund) I found a book called 500 Paleo Recipes by Dana Carpender.  I don't normally like paper cookbooks.  I Google my recipes when I need them.  So this is actually only the third cookbook I've owned ever and the first that wasn't vegetarian (FYI, for those of you who are vegetarians, Isa Chanda Moskowitz's Vegan with a Vengeance is freaking sweet).

Today I made two of the recipes and am preparing for some more.  So for starters:

I'm not going to put actual recipes here because... well... that's a little rude (maybe if I had modified them but I didn't).  This is a poached egg on top of a blob of homemade guacamole on top of a portobello mushroom.  Transparency: I don't like portobello mushrooms very much.  I know, I went through the motions as a vegan, as they make convenient burger substitutes, but I have to be in a very specific mood to eat portobellos.

It was still pretty good.  I made three of them and for the second two I didn't actually eat the mushrooms.  It was a good attempt.  If I made it again I'd just stick it all on a plate and forget the mushroom.

 Later I made steak tartare.  Raw beef dishes are common at holiday parties here.  Last time I saw it it was literally just like... regular ground beef with onion and salt on rye crackers (considering the stuff that goes in commercial ground beef it was very unsettling).  I made it from good ingredients and minced it myself, so there's less risk.  Not no risk, but less.  It's surrounded by onion and capers, topped with an egg yolk, and the parsley is there because my plates are very non-pretty:

One thing I've learned about this cookbook: It has a recipe for almost every cut of meat in my freezer (the only two exceptions being mourning dove and all venison except ground).  And I'm the kind of person who literally buys random meat parts just because I've never had them before.  So soon I'll be making her recipe for pigs' feet, because yeah I have those.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Curly Dock Seed Flour

I've been sick for the past week and so I'm just starting to bounce back and get back into things I enjoy getting into.  One of those is traditional practical skills; things that people generally don't learn but that will make me extremely valuable after the rapture or zombie apocalypse or whatever other catastrophe.  Also they're just fun.

My last major experiment making staples from scratch was making granulated sugar.  Today's experiment was making flour out of curly dock seed.  This is a plant that is relatively common in lawns, it's an invasive plant brought from Europe in the same family as buckwheat, and as I am totally averse to mowing of any kind I have basically three acres of random wild plants sprouting all the way to maturity outside my house and that includes a lot of these dark brown stalks.

I took a picture of me collecting the dock seeds, but unfortunately my phone decided to eat that picture so instead you get the picture of the utterly awful cookbook I saw at the bookstore today:
So I got several stalks of curly dock and deseeded them into a basket.  I put them in the oven for a while to dry them and ran them through the food processor for a long time.  This is the result:
As you can see this is some pretty hardcore, dark flour.  I've been trying to find a recipe to use it in, but none of them so far involve just dock flour without some other kind of flour to cut it... because it's so hardcore.  I have corn flour but I'd rather try making something with just homemade flour.  I did find some that involve "nettle flour" which is just dehydrated and ground stinging nettles, or lambsquarter flour which is the same concept but with lambsquarters (I have a huge patch of lambsquarters but it's right where the dogs hang out so... no thanks).  They also look adorably rustic.

Friday, September 27, 2013

On Paganism's Diversity Problem 2: On Hetero-Cis-Sexist Norms

In my last post on this topic I talked about the friendly-racism within the Pagan community compelling people to believe that if we just stopped pointing out race racism would go away.  It's an important topic, but it's also one that doesn't directly affect me, being a white guy.  This next topic does affect me.  That doesn't make it more important, but it does mean I have lived experience.

That same workshop also delved into queer Pagan issues.  First, a story.  It'll set the stage, don't worry.

Here is a run-down of my very first public ritual.  I'd been a Pagan already for a full decade and had had serious coven-envy... I'd tried (and failed) to form covens as a teen, succeeding only in finding a few kind-of friendships that mostly fizzled away over the years.  I was excited to finally meet a large number of other Pagans all in one place.

The event started with a woman dressed as Glinda from the Wizard of Oz who proceeded to give a hilariously inaccurate Paganism 101 presentation before we all went to do an Ostara ritual.  There were maybe forty or fifty people in this ritual, mostly non-Pagans there to get class credit.  And one of the first things the caller did was tell us to "step forward" according to our gender as she called the God and Goddess.

This ritual not only forced me to choose between being accurate and outing myself in front of a large general-population group, it was also woefully heterosexist despite the (really neat) primary activity absolutely not needing it to be.

And you know, things haven't really improved much since then.  I've been to rituals where the organizers have actively attempted to make things inclusive to non-binary and non-hetero people, but they're usually either done from a place of misunderstanding or thrown in in a half-hearted attempt to appease people who have complained about it in the past.  There are still more attempts to rationalize why hetero symbolism in ritual is necessary even for queer people ("we all have a mother and a faaaather!" or similarly inaccurate tales).

This is an environment I'm actually quite used to, as disturbing as that may sound.  When I go to public Pagan events, it is with the full understanding that I will feel like an outsider.  I do not usually bring this up to organizers because experience has shown that it usually will not help and I'll feel like even more of an outsider.  This is an important thing to mention because the first thing I hear from people is that they had no idea that people were uncomfortable with the way they were doing things... most of us have pretty much learned that people don't listen to these concerns, so we stop bringing them up.

So the workshop I mentioned in my last post happened and the first topic was queer inclusion in Pagan spaces, to which multiple people immediately got angrily defensive and proclaimed that "this was not their experience."  So I said what I said above... I've never, ever been to a public ritual that actually made me feel included because all of them have been steeped in gendered terminology or heterosexual symbolism that I do not identify with.  Which of course also resulted in lots of questions and statements for which I have answers and, well, you might not like all of them.

1. The symbolism you're using at public Pagan rituals is hetero- and cissexist.

"What?!" as the response I usually get to this goes, "this isn't my experience!"  Well, no, it wouldn't be... if these symbols apply to you there's a good chance you won't notice that they're not universal.

Remember first when I say these are "heterosexist" or "cissexist," it's with the same spirit that I point out movies set at prom are usually heterosexist and pro-choice ads referring to people who require abortions as "women" are cissexist.  They aren't "wrong" so much as they leave out a big chunk of the human experience and are blissfully unaware of the fact that they do so.

Garden-variety Pagan rituals tend to use symbols that are very much geared toward heterosexual, binary-gender-privileged people... the dualism of the God and the Goddess, fertility symbolism, psychosexual symbolism with the dagger and chalice, the marriage-and-birth symbolism of the Wheel of the Year.  People think these are universal symbolism, but they aren't... they're only relevant to people who are able to conceptualize things from a hetero- binary-gender perspective and be comfortable with that.

I say "able to conceptualize..." rather than "queer Pagans" because the fact is there are queer Pagans who are fine with these symbols.  There are even people who actively justify it (Christopher Penczak justifies it in his book "Gay Witchcraft," for instance) and go to great lengths to rationalize why queering Paganism is unnecessary.  It's also worth mentioning that a large chunk of Pagans identify as bisexual, but that this doesn't make them above scrutiny for their treatment of queer issues (I wrote this before, but bisexuals can be pretty privilege-blind).  In fact, being bi--especially if you have kids or have primarily been in opposite-sex relationships--might make you more receptive to this kind of symbolism than if you are childfree, marriagefree, gay or lesbian, or non-binary-gendered.

2. Any rationalization you do to explain why queer Pagans need to identify with hetero- and cis- symbolism is through a privileged lens.

Before I go any further, I should explain that this has nothing to do with your personal practices or your coven practices.  If you identify with this symbolism, go ahead and use it.  There's nothing wrong with the symbolism itself.

What's wrong is the assumption that queer Pagans--or any other group of Pagans--should just inherently identify with it just because you do.  That's what's happening here.  People rationalize why these symbols are universal rather than accept that they aren't.

I'll give you an example.  There's talk of "The God" and "The Goddess."  This concept is actually not only alienating to queer Pagans.   It's sharply alienating to hard polytheists and therefore most Reconstructionists.  But as this essay is about queers, I'll just let you mull that over on your own time.  Even among soft polytheistic queer Eclectic Pagans this concept might be alienating as fuck, but people still try rationalizing why it shouldn't be by making some statement that says--in a nutshell--that all creation comes through "symbolic" hetero sex.  Any creation that doesn't look like it on the surface is chalked up to "mixing of male and female energies" of which we all allegedly possess both to some degree.

This is horrendously heterosexist thinking.  It only makes sense if you already identify with it.  Because no, not all creation comes from heterosexual sex.  There are plenty of lifeforms--including animals--that do not reproduce sexually or who have only one or more than two sexed forms.  In fact, conversations surrounding animal and plant reproduction should always be regarded as seen through a heterosexist and cissexist lens... animals and plants do not identify their sex to us, they are assigned a sex by humans!  (I once named my assigned-male Betta "Bella" and had a great time bringing up this fact).  Another favorite?  "We all have a mother and a father!"  Well, no, that's not true... in fact, it's increasingly untrue as more trans people decide to keep our right to reproduce (there are gay and bi trans men who gave birth as men with male partners... their children do not have a father and a mother, and any twisting you may try to do to rationalize why they do is transphobic to the point where, well, you can kind of fuck right off to be honest).

In other words, it just isn't as simple as people are making it out to be.  This symbolism might be just fine and dandy for you--and I invite you to continue using it--but don't assume the rest of us have to identify with it.  There are loads of ways to perform ritual without referencing gender, without referencing sex, while using a queer framework, and so on... and these are fine!

3. As a group we aren't nearly as feminist and queer friendly as we think we are.

Alright, roll-eye-worthy-memory time:  Sitting in this workshop listening to some straight white dude talking about how he's a "minority" in the Pagan world because everything is so focused on queer people and women.

This is a numeric bias.  If you're a straight cis white dude--oppressed in that you have a minority religion but otherwise pretty damn privileged--seeing a higher-than-usual regard for the feelings of women and queers can feel as though you are being disadvantaged.

You're not.  Seriously.

In fact, Pagan men are in many ways a heavily catered-to group.  There are more books dedicated to Pagan men than there are to Pagan women.  Pagan women's traditions are heavily influenced by second-wave feminism which has a less-than-stellar reputation as far as queer, trans, and race issues.  Pagan communities have been remarkably shitty at curtailing men's feeling of entitlement toward women's attention/touch/sexual behavior/nudity.  Pagan men are basically on a pedestal but we don't even realize it because the community pays somewhat more attention to women's issues than society at large.  We aren't even that much of a numeric minority.

And queer people... well, I don't need to go into that in this section, because I'm going over it in the rest of the essay.

The point is, the only reason we even have the ability to think we have a stellar record on these issues is because the bar is set ridiculously low.

4. People need to stop rationalizing trans exclusion in public Pagan space like yesterday.

If you are organizing any sort of event anywhere: NO PUBLIC RITUALS THAT EXCLUDE TRANS PEOPLE.  Fuck.  Why do I even need to say this?  People who are that dedicated to rituals that exist solely in relation to their genitals have the opportunity to do those rituals somewhere that isn't the general Pagan population.  I can't define peoples' traditions for them.  If people have all-cis covens, that's their business.  But public events are not covens.  They can't be selective about the type of energy they'll be inviting into their ritual anyway.  Why single trans people out as undeserving?  The only answer there is transphobia.  Don't be that person.

"But... but... this group insists on doing a trans exclusive ritual!  Can't trans people just have their own ritual?"

Whenever this comes up there's the suggestion that there be a women's ritual, a men's ritual, and either a "trans ritual" or a combined-gender ritual to appease the rest of us.  This is a big problem.

When trans people go to single-gender rituals... women's mysteries, men's mysteries, etc... it is because we are interested in affirming and celebrating that gender.  As a trans man, I took a different path to manhood and I value my transness, but when I celebrate gender mysteries I want to celebrate that manhood and not my transness.  Saying I should swap a men's ritual for a trans ritual is entirely missing the point.  Saying trans women should swap a women's ritual for a trans ritual is also entirely missing the point for the exact same reason.  Trans men and trans women could come together to create such a ritual, but it would only be in addition to and not as a substitute for men's and women's rituals.  Believing it's an appropriate substitute degenders us--makes our genders into "trans"--and that's to be frank really disgusting.  "Trans" isn't my gender, it's a descriptor of my gender... which is male.

I mention my own value of men's mysteries because it's important to me and I try to speak mostly from my own experiences, but the fact is that's an unfair characterization.  In reality men's Pagan groups and rituals are highly unlikely to exclude trans men.  All of the ones I've been involved with have gone out of their way to be supportive of trans men (one got rid of people who believed trans men should be excluded with enthusiastic abandon).  It's trans women who experience this problem, but that's another big reason this is such a problem:  This is a very crisp and clear case of transmisogyny rather than transphobia.  There is no rhyme or reason to it.

"What about non-binary gender people?"  There's a great idea here, but it's also a different issue.  Non-binary folk don't usually want access to "binary" gender rituals.  So a trans or non-binary ritual would be absolutely fantastic for these folk and I would totally support that... just not as a consolation prize for trans women (and less often trans men) who are shoved out of rituals dedicated to celebrating our genders. 

5. Queer practitioners of Paganism aren't shoehorning the Deities into our lifestyles any more than you are.

Alright, now that I've gotten past my trans exclusion tantrum (for now), I'd like to get back on track here... up in points one and two I talked about how hetero and cis symbolism isn't actually universal, it only looks that way if you're hetero and cis (or aren't but have spent a great deal of time rationalizing).  Along with this comes the accusation that people who queer Paganism are "shoehorning the God and Goddess" and making them into something they aren't.  "The God and Goddess don't need to be like you, so why would you make them queer?"  And other such tales.

I actually want to laugh really hard when I read this.

The reason is that many--not all, but many--Neopagans are viewing this Goddess as the culmination of all Goddesses throughout history, and the God similarly a combination of all Gods.  You're taking thousands of deities and packing them all into two... and then you say we're doing the shoehorning?

Were you not aware that there have been queer Deities throughout history that you've been shoehorning into this hetero couple God and Goddess?   The great bisexual Deities like Pan and Set and Zeus and Leto... and modern interpretations of Diana and Bast, not to mention figures and Deities that changed gender or have androgynous qualities like Aphroditus/Hermaphrodite, Loki, and Hapy.

Worshiping two Gods or two Goddesses as a couple or a genderqueer Godde or anything like that is no more shoehorning than deciding Bast, Hathor, and Sekhmet are an aspect of the Triple Goddess.

Alright, now for the practical stuff.

What can we do about it?  These are a few of my own ideas.  Keep in mind that these are not meant to trump your personal coven/circle/solitary practice (unless you want them to).  These are some ideas I've brainstormed to consider for public events where you're dealing with people from multiple traditions.

1. Just flat out admit that your rituals are not "universal" or "general Pagan." Ideally, allow people to view the ritual beforehand if they choose.
When people say "general Pagan" like 99% of the time they mean "Wiccan" or at least "Heavily Wiccan Inspired."  There's nothing wrong with just putting on a Wiccan ritual... but call it that.  There is literally no way to really create a Pagan ritual that's going to represent everybody.

2. Create rituals honoring specific Gods instead of soft-polytheistic Godheads.
This is my preference, being a hard polytheist navigating a soft polytheist community.  The first thing that alienates me from a ritual is having "The Lord and Lady" being called... not just because they're a hetero couple, but because people think these are nice and generic and universal when they absolutely aren't.  I don't actively worship Hekate, but if I were to go to a ritual honoring Hekate--even if most of the organizers and people going to the ritual view her as an aspect of the Goddess--it would be a lot more comfortable than going to one that presumed soft polytheism.  In addition, this will give people more context so they can duck out or observe from the sidelines rather than participate if it's something they're not comfortable with.  Speaking of which...

3. Don't say ridiculous shit like "Paganism isn't a spectator religion!"
My task for my first Pagan ritual was to hand ribbons out to people.  I was supposed to give them to everybody even if they didn't want to participate in the actual ritual, and that was their excuse.  "Paganism isn't a spectator religion!"  They kept pressuring me to force ribbons on people who had refused them (mostly Christian students who were there for class credit), but that's just the thing... not everybody is going to be comfortable engaging in your ritual, and you have to accept that that is OK.  If you're doing something for a Pagan Pride event or some other event that's in theory supposed to advocate, you need to respect peoples' boundaries.

4. If you are having a recurring ritual event, like a monthly esbat ritual, rotate who writes the ritual and from what lens.
Maybe one month you have a queer mysteries practitioner write a same-sex ritual and another you have somebody write one around a Divine Androgyne figure.  Maybe you might have a Kemetic practitioner do a Wep Ronpet ritual.  Note: Although it should always be an option to not attend a ritual, if people claim these are nonrelateable remind them that queer mysteries practitioners/Recons/etc. may feel that way at every ritual.

5. Allow people to call their own Deities.
This can get cumbersome if people want to say lengthy invocations, and Recons might not be comfortable mixing pantheons in a ritual, but this is an option if you're an eclectic group.

6. Do an Ancestor or Nature Spirit ritual.
These bypass the entire concept of Deities which is where a lot of this angst comes from.

7. Don't require people to disclose a gender.
Unless you're in a tight-knit coven or circle environment, don't split people off into gendered groups or force people to disclose.  This can force people to choose between lying or outing themselves (like my story above) and can alienate nonbinary-gender people.

8. Recognize that you can hold an event without a ritual.
A lot of this stress stems from rituals.  Rituals are great.  I'm not saying that you shouldn't do them.  But if you're tumbling with a lot of this stuff, realize that having a get-together or a sabbat celebration or whatnot doesn't inherently require a ritual... I mean, how many people celebrate Christmas but don't go to church?

It's getting late and although I feel like I'm forgetting something I guess I'll just write an addendum if I did.  Probably because it's a heavily expansive topic that's been a thorn in my side for a long time.