Thursday, February 28, 2013

Birthday Birding Blog

I politely declined when my dad asked if I wanted to go to dinner for my birthday, so we went birding instead.  We didn't see anything in the original location we planned on going, but after we drove around a bit it got more exciting.  What we saw:

Horned Larks, new to my life list.

American Kestrel, not new to the list but first pic I got.

Wild Turkeys. Again, not a new one, but new today.

Haven't had any good pictures of male Ring-necked Pheasants before.

A Northern Harrier. I couldn't get a really clear picture,
but this was one gorgeous bird.




Almost a top view of the Northern Harrier.


Northern Harrier had a very interesting, graceful flight pattern.

Aspartame, the FDA, and the Milk Lobby

Yesterday I found a lot of things circulating on Facebook about the aspartame-in-milk controversy.  The problem is that a lot of what's being posted is totally backwards.  For example, this one:
The FDA wants to start adding aspartame to milk.

According to the FDA notice issued this week:

"IDFA and NMPF state that the proposed amendments would promote more healthful eating practices and reduce childhood obesity by providing for lower-calorie flavored milk products. They state that lower-calorie flavored milk would particularly benefit school children who, according to IDFA and NMPF, are more inclined to drink flavored milk than unflavored milk at school."

The FDA can't find enough ways to pump humans through Big Pharma.
First, the truth from which this post springs:  Milk lobby groups are trying to get the go-ahead to put aspartame in milk without having to label it in the way they are currently required to do so.  They're already able to put the sweetener in milk, but the milk has to be labeled artificially sweetened.  What the milk lobby would like is the right to use aspartame in flavored milk beverages (like chocolate and strawberry milk) without labeling it as artificially sweetened.

Here's what this (and many other posts) are getting wrong or not making public:
  1. The FDA is not the one pushing for this.
  2. Aspartame would still have to be listed as an ingredient.
  3. They aren't considering putting aspartame in just flat out plain  milk; just flavored milk.
  4. The real health problem here isn't the aspartame.
First, this is not the FDA's idea.  There are so many posts and articles out there that are making this an issue of "big government tampering with America's food supply."  The FDA actually has a huge hand in protecting our food supply... if it weren't for the FDA, food companies could (and definitely would) put whatever the hell fillers, chemicals, and sketchy ingredients in our food and they wouldn't even have to label it.

So when you read anything about the FDA and food labeling controversies, what's usually happening is that either the FDA wants something new to be put on a label and food lobby groups are pissed off about that, or food lobby groups are trying to get the FDA to change a labeling requirement so they can make more money.  The FDA, in theory, is basing their labeling requirements on consumer needs and consensus, and they generally don't do a terrible job.

For example, the corn industry petitioned the FDA to allow them to call high fructose corn syrup "corn sugar."  This was blatantly because people view high fructose corn syrup as unhealthy (which it is), so the industry was taking a hit and they wanted a friendlier name.  The FDA rejected this for two reasons:  "sugar" and "syrup" are defined differently, and "corn sugar" is already used to describe dextrose, which is eaten by people who are fructose intolerant.

To use another example, the FDA requiring the labeling of trans fats on food caused a huge decrease in blood trans fats because people could see just how much of this crap they were eating, and companies tweaked their recipes specifically to get that magical goose egg on their labels.  There are definitely still problems with this, because the labeling still allows people to say zero trans fats when there are still trans fats, but without it companies would have much less incentive to reduce it.

When shitty labeling practices are promoted, it's usually the businesses doing it.  Even the big-brand make-me-feel-ethical companies are known to petition the FDA, the USDA, and other regulatory agencies so that they can use deceptive labeling, such as Annie's Homegrown supporting the degradation of "organic" over a food coloring.

That's what's happening here.  Milk lobby groups, the International Dairy Foods Association and National Milk Producers Federation, are the ones who want labeling practices to change.  The reason is that milk products are declining in popularity, and they would like to decrease the sugar/calories of flavored milk products without the "artificially sweetened" label that they believe convinces kids not to drink it.

In conclusion of that point, I want people to recognize that anti-government-agency sentiment about this issue is terribly misplaced and incorrect.  The FDA is there specifically to prevent things like deceitful advertising, they aren't the ones petitioning for more of it.

However, it's important to recognize that this does not mean aspartame would be a "hidden" ingredient.  It would still appear in the list of ingredients, so it's not as big a deal for people with aspartame allergies as one might expect.  However, people such as these who are used to quickly looking at a label would likely still be affected negatively.  It's also important to recognize that they're only proposing changing their labels, not adding new aspartame to old products.  It's deceptive that the images circulating about this issue almost exclusively include pictures of plain white milk... they aren't planning on adding artificial sweeteners to it, so if you're drinking plain milk only you should be in the clear.

But I'm going to make a statement here that I hope at least one person will take to heart:  People are making a huge issue out of the aspartame itself without looking into the bigger issues at play here.

The first is that these sorts of petitions very squarely place profits over consumer health concerns.  Again, the reason this is happening is because an industry is losing profits because people are gravitating toward other products they feel are healthier for them and their kids.  This is not something that should be discouraged, but that's exactly what food lobbyists do by petitioning to have less information on their labels.  I simply do not believe that aspartame is the ridiculously deadly substance people would have you believe, but people still have the right to know it's there, and even a small gesture impeding that knowledge is a cut on consumer rights.

But my real issue from a health standpoint is this:  Sugar in general is not good for you, nor are artificial sweeteners.  We're as a culture becoming extremely sweet-insensitive... we need more and more sweet for things to taste "normal," and industry's go-to tactic for getting consumers to eat a product is to add more sweet.  Even savory foods often have added sugar just to feed our collective sugar addiction and keep people buying more.  And sugar wreaks havoc on our health.

Aspartame (or stevia, or Splenda) instead of corn syrup or cane sugar would be a big improvement for a lot of children's diets, but it does nothing to stave off the underlying problem that kids--and the rest of us--keep drinking a bunch of sweet shit.  Drinking sweet shit--whether that sweet shit is chocolate milk, orange juice, Coke, Diet Coke, or even smoothies--screw with peoples' perception of other sweet things and encourage us to overeat.  When people have a panic attack over aspartame, the usual alternatives are corn syrup and cane sugar because they're more "natural."  Maybe so, but they're still not better for you.

Basically, whether or not the dairy industry is allowed to change their labels doesn't change the fact that whether we drink sugary milk or artificially sweetened milk, we still lose.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Some Great Recent Meals I Made

Yes, I'm one of those people who posts pictures of my food... although don't worry, I don't plan on posting a whole day's worth of food very often.

Anyway, I decided that I'm going to try a Whole 30.  I don't like all the Whole 30 rules, but I'm going to follow most of them anyway, basically everything except weighing myself.  The food-related rules are:
  1. No grain at all.
  2. No legumes, including peanuts (they make exceptions for green beans and snap peas, but I don't).  Including obscure soy ingredients like soy lecithin.
  3. No added sugar or sweetener (meaning my stevia, honey, etc. are stored away for now; they make exceptions for some fruit juice, but I generally don't).
  4. No dairy except ghee.  This is for me going to be the hard part.  I've put my kefir grains in storage for now, it'll be the first thing I try reintroducing when the whole thing is over.
But anyway, I'm actually posting some meals from today and yesterday because some of them were just... awesome.  Take, for instance:
This I made because I really liked those blueberry breakfast carnitas I made before, but in addition to being just way too sweet (which is pretty normal for PaleOMG, let's be honest), adding sweetener?  Not Whole30 compliant.  So that wonderful purplish dish is actually about half a pork steak, cubed, with cut up bacon and blueberries added, fried with some Chinese five spice (anise, ginger, cinnamon, fennel, black pepper).  I don't use Chinese five spice very often, but I must say that this was fucking delicious.  And topped with an over-easy egg.

Even better, I've been cutting my freezer portions in half, but I forgot about this when I made it, so I have enough for tomorrow too.  Huzzah!

Also almonds and an apple.

Lunches for me are almost always seafood-based.  Again, shrimp and crayfish (I bought like two packages of crayfish and one bag of raw shrimp, which were apparently wonderful deals as they've lasted me a long time), cooked in ghee, the Brussels sprouts were cooked in the leftover ghee.

This particular variety of steak is always labeled "Charcoal Steak" and it's a relatively inexpensive but low-quality cut of meat.  It's a crapshoot whether or not I'll get any sort of caramelization, which in this case I didn't, but it still tasted good as sad as it looks.  The vegetables are carrots, onions, and parsnips with about a whole roasted garlic head on top (which I'll probably regret tomorrow).
This was the cut of meat that made me think "you know, I should start halving my portions."  Because OK, if I'm actually hungry for that much pork, so be it, but am I really?  The answer is no.  However, I should mention that this was also delicious.  It's seasoned with a spice mix I got from Aldi a long time ago but never had any use for because it's a pizza-and-pasta seasoning.  It's basically just salt, garlic, onion, bell pepper, oregano, basil, and parsley.  It doesn't taste overwhelmingly like a pizza, though.
Alright, you guys, fish eaters, I'm talking to you... try this.  It's a ridiculously simple recipe for salmon. If you're on a Whole 30, find a whole corn mustard without any sugar, otherwise any whole corn mustard is good.  Smother the a salmon fillet with it.  Put it in the oven at about 400 degrees for twenty minutes.  People used to get mad at me when I ate this at work because it smells so delicious.  I mean, it does if you like mustard, which you should if you're a reasonable person.

Are We Responding to Fox All Wrong?

After the University of Missouri - Mizzou expanded a policy recognizing the holidays of diverse religious traditions, Fox News specifically railed on the addition of Pagan/Wiccan holidays, characterizing the whole thing as an excuse for students to be lazy more days of the year and basically calling Wicca a fake, childish religion.  There were some really nasty factual errors as well, such as claiming Wiccans were given "the most holidays" at 20... the policy actually only outlines 8 Wiccan holidays (Christians, not including Catholics, get 11).  Furthermore, the guide itself is primarily about suggested accommodations and understanding... some of the holidays (although none of the Wiccan sabbats) are marked with a work restriction and a suggestion to avoid scheduling major exams to accommodate students who will be participating in things like all-night vigils who may just be too tired to work effectively.

That's just a little summary... it's the response I'm writing about today.

Pagans who saw this spot decided to start some petitions and write some letters calling on Fox to apologize.  More interestingly, there were Pagans who backlashed against the petitions on the basis that Fox is a joke, that only stupid uninformed people watch it anyway, and so we should just cool down and direct our energy to more important things (what important things we're supposed to be directing our energy toward that would be markedly inconvenienced by signing a petition I have yet to figure out).  Most of the ire was directed toward the fact that people would actually be offended by anything Fox News says at this point.

Here's why that's an awful way of looking at it:
  • Fox News has a lot of viewers.
  • Although I would bet I disagree entirely with the beliefs of the average Fox News viewer, believing them to be objectively stupider than, say, an NPR listener is incorrect.
  • As a growing group of religions which are systematically disadvantaged, we really do need to be paying attention to the amount of incorrect information about us, especially through major channels.  For many people--people who control school boards and other small but important legislative bodies, people who vote for those small but important legislative bodies--this is the only information they're getting.
  • This particular piece made mistakes which are not only factually incorrect, but factually incorrect in specifically harmful ways.
Fox News has a LOT of Viewers

I don't think I need to go that much deeper into this.  Yes, it's crap, but it's crap a lot of people watch.

Fox News Viewers aren't that Stupid

Although I would agree that most Fox News viewers are less informed than they should be, blanket-characterizing them as "stupid" has some really nasty effects when combined with this "it's just Fox News" attitude.  First, it implies that these are objectively unintelligent people, which is simply not true.  Fox News viewers may be uninformed in several areas, but most other people are, too.  In the more left-wing communities I roll in, people are regularly uninformed about things like vaccines (which do not cause autism, for the last fucking time), pharmaceutical drugs (which may be overprescribed sometimes but which are generally speaking a damned good thing), raw milk (not that great for you), and diet (fruitarianism doesn't prevent cancer and vegans do not regularly live to be over a hundred).

We also need to realize that Fox News--and other news outlets--are a huge part of this problem, and by basically rolling our eyes whenever they say something shitty we are allowing the Fox News viewers who aren't stupid remain misinformed.

To use an example, my grandma is a Fox-News-viewing conservative who I fully expected to pitch a fit when she discovered I was queer; she didn't, and has taken the whole thing rather well.  Again, she is misinformed on key issues, and she looks at things through a lens I fully disagree with, but she's not stupid.

Fox News Viewer often have Power Over Us

...as well as every other religion or lack-thereof out there that isn't in one of the socially-acceptable-to-conservatives category.

Keep in mind that this isn't just about grandma sitting at home in front of the TV all day.  We're talking about people who could just as easily be running school boards, or who are judges or in the legislative bodies of small towns.  There was a guy on the school board at my high school who fought fervently for people with HIV and AIDS to wear identifying garments (basically, T-shirts that say "I have AIDS") to school.  This guy held 1/7th of the power in that board, and although it's obviously a human rights violation, people living in villages the size of mine, who are surrounded by conservatives who think of queer people as a disease in and of ourselves, don't always have the ability to challenge that.  That school board had no difficulty banning pentacles; it wasn't enforced, but it was on the books.

These are things that are really easy to think about when you live in a big city, as many Pagans do, but remember that plenty of us don't, and so even one or two greatly misinformed people can wield a lot of power over us.  Furthermore, even living in a big city doesn't mean you won't be affected.

There are people who have lost their kids over practicing Wicca because of the bigotry and misinformation held by judges.  Again, this is not just your grandma smugly nodding to a television while having no real power.

And although it's true that there are people who will be bigots no matter what Fox News says, challenging misinformation can still help by increasing the number of people exposed to that information who can say "Uh... really?" when things like this come up.

The Mistakes Here Are Specifically Harmful

Wicca and other forms of Paganism are often portrayed as childish pseudo-religions monopolized by teenagers and socially awkward people.   Although there's nothing wrong with things like table-top gaming, mocking Wiccans as a bunch of table-top gamers is a way of saying Wiccans are childish.  Mocking Wiccans as rural midwives is a way of painting Wiccans as backward hicks, and of course, God-forbid you're divorced, that paints an image, too.  Using these in a diatribe proclaiming how silly Wicca is makes a mockery of the religion, and the effects of that are not insignificant.

These messages aren't just insulting to Pagans and Wiccans, but to basically every one of those groups because they can so easily be used to paint this picture of backward, childish, fickle people.  They are exactly the sorts of messages that cause us to be taken less seriously in very serious situations... custody battles, discrimination lawsuits, prison ministry, equal treatment for religious observances, equal treatment of marriages, equal treatment of places of worship for tax reasons, and so on.


It's really easy to laugh at Fox News because it's so easy to not take seriously, but keep in mind that many people do take it seriously and that can really cause problems. So yes, when things like this happen we need to actually do something about them by calling them out for it rather than just laughing it off.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

"Vegans Are Irrational"

I was hanging around a paleo forum I frequent, and there were of course the standard posts from people worried about cholesterol in their eggs or posting meat-heavy recipes, but one in particular was from a very recent ex-vegan who wound up leaving because she is skeptical of the paleo consensus that dietary cholesterol is not harmful.

Somebody left the response "Vegans are irrational."

I am an ex-vegan.  I wound up leaving after three years due to progressing health problems (weight gain, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, pre-diabetes, food addiction issues) that were being brushed off by my vegan friends and dismissed as exaggeration by non-friends.  I mention that because I am no friend of veganism.  I find the idea that I must go vegan, based on my personal health history, insulting.  When a friend asks me if I would personally suggest trying veganism, I say "no," especially if they are asking me if I feel it would be good for a specific end (usually weight loss).

But are vegans irrational?  Vegan culture is a lot of negative things, but so is paleo culture... and when we make statements about the supposed irrationality of certain groups, we are making the assumption that everybody is--or should be--interested in the same ends.

The primary reason people go vegan is for animal rights purposes.  These are people who believe that humans should not be exploiting animals for our own gain, they draw comparisons between animals and oppressed human groups. Although I disagree, this isn't an irrational belief.  And when you believe in this not-quite-irrational belief, going vegan itself isn't irrational.

I need to make a big distinction here... there's a difference between being irrational and being deceitful or rude.  I feel it's perfectly acceptable to call out individual vegan claims to health... and having been one of those people who wound up gaining fifty pounds on veganism and acquiring health problems I didn't have before, I do bring this up when people ask about veganism for health purposes.  Using sketchy health claims to justify moral beliefs is deceitful, and being a total jerk about non-vegans is, well, rude.  It's not just an ethical consideration, though; people are more likely to be long-term vegans for animal rights purposes than for health purposes.

That's not something unique to veganism, though.  I've left plenty of paleo communities because people were convinced that paleo diets are automatically healthy and easy for everybody, and there's a fair share of woo from people who discourage vaccines (which is risky), encourage consumption of raw meat, including pork and chicken (even more risky), believe that you can literally eat as much as you want and lose weight (not true), and tell people their doctors are wrong without knowing that person's medical history (because it's not like doctors go to medical school or something). So if we're going to call people irrational and cultlike, we must concede that this behavior is a part of the territory of being in any restrictive diet rather than a uniquely vegan trait.

Regardless of your opinion of veganism as a diet, a philosophy, or a lifestyle, calling it "irrational" is ignorant.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

A Couple Breakfasts

Breakfast is a bit of an issue for me.  Not that I have some sort of vendetta against breakfast as a thing--it has every right to exist--but it's really the most overrated meal of the day.  I can't tell you how many times people have given me the (unsolicited) advice that if I just eat breakfast it'll prevent me from overeating later in the day.  If that works for you, great, but all it means for me is that I'm eating when I'm not hungry yet, which is a terrible precedent for the day.

"Eat when you're hungry, don't eat when you're not hungry" is basically rule 1 for me.  So when I eat "breakfast," it's usually around 11:00AM to 1:00PM.  Today I had kind of an early start, but that was because for some bizarre reason I just naturally got up at 8:30.  Weird.

For a while, my breakfast was always a few eggs cooked over-easy, sometimes with bacon, nothing else (while my family looked at me in disgust because over-easy eggs are something they associate with toast).  Recently I tried two breakfast foods that are worth a mention, though:

Sausage Eggs
These are basically Scotch eggs without the breading.  I fry up some bacon bits, coat hard-boiled eggs with pork sausage, top them with the bacon, and bake them.  I make a dozen of them and keep them in the refrigerator, I rarely eat more than two at a time, three if I'm really that hungry.
I didn't eat all of them at once, no.

Blueberry Breakfast Carnitas
I made this based on the recipe at PaleOMG, and it's just delicious.  The only issue I have with them is that they are RIDICULOUSLY sweet.  Even as the sugar addict I am, I was just like "damn."  Blueberries, apple juice, AND syrup?  I used water instead of apple juice (just to keep the pork roast from burning), and it was still really sweet, so I'd suggest at least halving the maple syrup.
It doesn't look great when I make it, but it's delicious.

Great Backyard Bird Count 2

Again, I was a little lazy so I didn't do day 3, either.  I did do day 4, though, by the lake, which resulted in:
  • ~200 Mallards
  • ~20 Canada Geese
  • 3 American Coots
  • 3 Ring-billed Gulls
  • 3 Lesser Scaups
  • 3 Northern Shovelers
  • 2 American White Pelicans
  • 1 Common Merganser
 The Northern Shovelers are an entirely new bird for me; look at the quackers on these things!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Great Backyard Bird Count

I didn't do the Great Backyard Bird Count on day one (because I was being lazy) but I did manage a half hour yesterday, sitting at my desk and looking out my window.  I tallied eleven species:
  • 1 Northern Cardinal
  • 3 Dark-eyed Juncos
  • 5 Black-capped Chickadees
  • 1 Red-bellied Woodpecker
  • 2 House Finches
  • 1 Downy Woodpecker
  • 1 House Sparrow
  • 2 White-breasted Nuthatches
  • 4 American Crows
  • 1 American Goldfinch
  • 1 Red-tailed Hawk
I took quite a few pictures that are spectacularly boring, but I was excited that out of all the 30 minute blocks of time available, this guy landed in my backyard during this particular 30 minutes:
Red-tailed Hawk

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Throwback: "Unpacking the Knapsack" from 2011

This was an article I found on my old Tumblr account that was hidden... but which I actually really quite like, so I'm re-posting it here:

Unpacking the Privilege Knapsack was Fun the First Time

You know those privilege unpacking briefcase exercises?  Where you give some person in a privileged category (straight, cis, white, male, etc.)  a list of say 25 privileges they have that somebody else doesn’t so they can visualize privilege better?

I hate them.  I really, really hate them.

I didn’t always hate them.  That’s because the original idea and the intent behind that idea is not a bad one.  And it’s still pretty good in the right context, which is as a learning tool for people who already acknowledge that they are privileged and already acknowledge that they are working to understand and work against that set of privileges.  There are still problems, but you’re not going to find an exercise that is universally non-problematic anyway.

Buy why does this classic toolbox bother me so much?  I’m writing, so of course I’m going to tell you.

The first problem is that there are privileges that really aren’t limited to just one category of people.  In the white privilege checklist, for example, number two states that if I need to move I can be pretty sure I can rent or purchase property wherever I want and have it be affordable.  This is a white privilege, but it’s also a class privilege, a cis privilege, and an able-bodied privilege among others.  Number three states that people will probably be neutral or pleasant to me, which again is a white privilege that can also apply to other categories.

Be aware, this isn’t a problem because it lacks exclusivity!  To continue that example, they are white privileges!  It’s a problem because people who aren’t already there to examine privilege and people who are defensive about their own privilege read those points and automatically come up with reasons why those privileges don’t apply to them.

At best, this leads people to not fully comprehend just how privileged they are.

At worst, it leads them to doubt that this particular form of privilege actually exists.

For example, the cis privilege checklist here.  I hate to admit it, but it’s actually a rather poorly written list in a way… so many of these points are not exclusive to cis people, and are not written in a way that specifies cis people, that people are more likely to talk about things other than cis privilege than they are to examine themselves.  That’s the reason that bolded disclaimer has to be there; people show up basically because they want to deny that being cissexual carries with it a set of privileges so they go through each point saying “That applies to people with disabilities, too!” or “That applies to people of color, too!” or “That applies to women, too!”  or “That applies to fat people, too!”  The message is lost in denial.

Or, alternatively, it leads people to crusade on something else entirely.  The reason there are so many dozens of these lists is because people read them and, rather than think critically about their own privilege, they think “That sounds like me!” and write their own list.  That’s not inherently bad, but it leads to comparisons which can be rather appropriative and insensitive, not to mention it narcissistically makes everything about them.

For example, a person with BIID (Body Integrity Identity Disorder, popularly characterized by the desire to have a limb amputated because the individual feels it should not be there, although that’s not the only manifestation) wrote a non-BIID privilege checklist that has since been removed which was basically a re-worded list of cissexual privileges and she got called out on that.  I had shown up there because I had only heard of BIID on Nip/Tuck and seeing how they continually portrayed trans people as fucked up deceivers I decided I wanted to read something without the pop culture filter attached.

I showed up wanting to be supportive and left offended, not because people had made a comparison between BIID and transsexualism, but because it had been done in a way which appropriated trans experiences without challenging cissexism.

The worst part is that I realized that this is exactly what most lists do!  The offender above had done it more explicitly, but was it really any worse than the list she copied from?  The fact is, so many cis privileges are also tied to race and gender and passing ability.  I am a white trans man with good medical access.  Most of the horror stories you hear about trans life have not applied to me and it is reasonable to expect that most of them never will.  And it’s rather easy for all of us to basically rip off an exploration of white privilege, re-write it for something else, and just forget how much of the result is based on race and other factors.

Some people have tried making up for this by making combo checklists… “Black Male Privilege,” for example, to point out intersections between race and gender, or “Trans Male Privilege,” or “White Female Privilege.”  But rather than acknowledge why these lists are necessary in a world that sees privilege checklists themselves as necessary, people complain that somebody dared using “privilege” in the same sentence with an oppressed category.  Especially “female.”  White feminists get really riled up about that.  They’re missing the point, which is  not to say that females have privilege, but pointing out that white women have privilege over women of color.  It doesn’t sink in, though, because relying on lists is itself problematic.

Another reason is that you can write a list of privileges for just about anybody if you think hard enough.  There are multiple “Female Privilege Checklists” out there written by sexist “men’s rights” activists talking about things like the fact that men pay more for auto insurance.  There are checklists trying to illegitimize the concept of white privilege by lamenting the use of the words "cracker" and "honky," ignoring hundreds of years of oppression .  There are feminists out there making lists as we speak trying to claim that trans women have privilege over cis women.  Cherrypicking makes things like this rather easy, and they’re big pats on the back to the people who make them.

Conversations about privilege have to happen, and I know it’s easy to want to turn it into lists and soundbites, but that’s just not going to happen.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Extending Consent

I'm a member of some really touchy-feely communities.  It started when I was a camp counselor for the Girl Scouts, it extended into the Pagan community when I finally started attending in-person events, to a degree I see it in the queer community, and it's definitely a part of the furry community.

I hate being touched.

There are few things that grate on me more than any unsolicited gesture that involves touching me.  And people keep on doing it, whether it's grabbing my shoulder while I'm at an ATM to introduce me to someone, "affectionately" scratching me on the head or neck while I'm watching TV, drunk people attempting to kiss me, hugging me from behind, one time while I was eating somebody began giving me an unsolicited shoulder massage.

Again, did I mention, I hate being touched?  Because a lot of people don't understand... it takes one of a few very specific relationships with me before I don't really hate being touched.  If we're dating, if we're planning to/having/have had sex, or if we're a very specific sort of really good friend, and OK, I'll make a concession if you're really depressed and need a hug, but being touched by anyone else makes me very uncomfortable.  I even dread hugging my grandmother.

Really, though, I'm talking about consent.

Consent is an issue that most reasonable people are into superficially, but will come up with a bunch of exceptions for.  People will say that of course sexual assault is an awful thing, of course all intimate acts should be based on consent, but the idea of consent in many contexts is severely degraded.  In the Pagan community, for example, there is a very real problem of sexual assault... there's a very real problem of sexual assault pretty much everywhere, of course, but in the Pagan community the relaxed sexual atmosphere and the reluctance to bring the "outside world" into anything makes things tricky.

This is also one of those communities where, when I go to a major gathering, it's a given that somebody is going to attempt to hug me without asking.  It's something I've basically learned to grit my teeth and bear.

The problem?  I shouldn't have to grit my teeth and bear something that feels like a violation of my personal space, especially when people don't even have the common courtesy to ask me first.

Some gatherings have gotten around this by having things like "no touch buttons," which is a pin with a design that signifies the wearer is not comfortable with physical contact.  Sometimes it's just a red button, and people at the event are expected to know that, other times it has a picture of a hand with a cross mark through it.  As somebody who thinks the concept of consent really needs to be expanded beyond sexual intercourse, I find this unsatisfactory.  Why?  Well, first off, people don't always acknowledge the "code."  But more importantly:

This makes the default condition consent.

And I refuse to concede that somehow the fact that a community is "huggy," unless you're referring to a small group of close friends that already has that agreement, makes unsolicited body contact appropriate.  The fact that we're Pagans--or queers, or furries, or camp people, or whatever--does not mean that we are all OK with this, or that we should all be OK with this.

I don't feel that it's too much to ask for people to start taking measures to facilitate better consent in these communities by asking--preferably in a frank, verbal manner--if such physical contact is OK with the person it is being offered to.  For many of us, this isn't a small matter.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Post-#MBLGTACC Re-Thinking and Tolerance

Emi Koyama is my new activist crush.
I'm actually going to write something positive about MBLGTACC!  I figured I really need to, because despite some rather negative stuff going on, MBLGTACC was still downright awesome.  This has been my fourth one, and every one has been meaningful.

My highlight this year was going to a plenary speech as well as a workshop by Emi Koyama*.  I was going to do a recap of her speech, but I don't think I'd do her justice, so I'm going to recommend a few essays from her website and then expand on one of my current projects, which is to re-wire myself to be more tolerant.

I'm not direct-linking these because she has had problems in the past with people irresponsibly distributing her work, so I'll just title them and let you click them on her own site.  The two articles that I found most important (to this subject anyway) are Toward a Harm Reduction Approach in Survivor Advocacy and A New Fat-Positive Feminism**.

So I'm somebody who really has difficulty with devaluation of experience, something that's happened to me on many occasions.  My personal need to lose weight keeps me from fully involving myself in the fat positive movement, because this puts me in a position where my actions are constantly belittled by people who believe dieting and weight loss are inherently oppressive.  Experiencing "binary" male gender often makes it difficult for me to work with people who experience non-binary gender, due to the minimization of binary transgender experiences (for example, I actually sting really bad over a blog post somebody wrote about me criticizing me for being unhappy with an FTM top surgeon referring to his patients with female pronouns).  The way pansexuals describe bisexuality was central to the reason I did not refer to myself as pansexual regularly until very recently.  And my perception that others are appropriating language used to refer to transgender people makes me uncomfortable advocating for people with BIID and therians.

I'm not saying "Ugh, it's totally these peoples' faults that I don't help them out!"  Rather, I'm simply stating that I have built a lot of prejudices over the years, which I regrettably must own if I'm going to work through them.

That doesn't mean I can't be critical of certain aspects of a movement--after all, the way people have behaved toward me has in fact occasionally been quite shitty--but I need to learn to avoid taking the comments of a few people, or even many people, as a personal attack from a whole community or a reason to reject the basic principles of a movement, and when things do upset me I need to be critical of why they upset me rather than just assume I'm right and they're wrong.

Some manifestations of this re-wiring, so to speak... I'm bothered less about terms like "trans-abled" by people with BIID and "trans-species" by therians.  Although I still think people should consider the possibility that this is inappropriate appropriation, I remind myself that saying "therians who identify with trans-species are harming the transgender movement!" is at least in some way similar to statements like "transgender people are harming the gay rights movement!" or "polyamorists need to shut up about their rights until same-sex marriage is a thing!"

I also force myself to be less concerned with things like the ways people choose to modify their bodies.  Although it is certainly important that natural consequences of actions are known (something I specifically got from Emi Koyama's workshop on Saturday), it affects me very little if somebody is or strives to be very fat, very thin, to have a limb taken off, to look more like a non-human animal, to present or identify as a non-binary gender, and so on.  In the past, it has been my instinct to speak or write about how people who do these things are "going about it wrong," but I need to finally concede that it's none of my Gods-damned business.

Of course, there are plenty of things that are my business, but this should be confined to the ways people use their privilege or interact with others, and not what they choose to do or not to do with their bodies and lives.



* - Just another note, I feel I need to make it clear that what I'm writing here is my own interpretation of issues based on things inspired by Emi Koyama and my own personal experiences, so it should be taken as my opinion rather than hers; there's certainly no guarantee that she would even support what I'm writing here.  So just make sure you represent people accurately, aight?

** - Some other essays on her website I think are really useful are Whose Feminism is it, Anyway?, Disloyal to Feminism, and... well, everything there is pretty good.  Not that I am suggesting you agree with everything there, but she's a good source of inspiration.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

#MBLGTACC Devaluation of Identity

My least favorite workshop of MBLGTACC was one on non-monosexual identities.  I should mention right away that this has pretty much nothing to do with the people who wrote the workshop, nor even really with the people who spoke during the workshop.  Instead, it was an experience that angered me based on the devaluation of experience that has been going on in the non-monosexual community, and the fact that the exact same shit happened here.

First, I'm going to explain a bit about my identity as it relates to non-monosexual identity labels.  I already said in a Parade of Identities essay that I identify as both bisexual and pansexual.  This is a long-term reality... the short term reality is that which one I identify with flows and changes as time goes by.  Currently I identify more with "pansexual," mostly because I have been trying harder to work in solidarity with non-binary-identified people, and that encourages me to want to make that specification direct.  However, I spent most of my adult life identifying as bisexual and a member of the bisexual community.

Here's the main issue:  The word "bisexual" is being defined in a way that does not take into account the experiences of a large number of bisexual-identified people.  In the workshop, the definition was very clear that a bisexual is romantically or sexually interested in two sexes.  Absolutely no leeway here.  "Bi" means "two," can't you read?!

Anyway, that's the way pansexuals often frame it.  I pointed out, as somebody who identifies mostly as pansexual but again has spent most of his adult life in the bisexual-identified community, that this is not a definition that many--if not most--bisexual-identified people would personally use, and in fact it doesn't represent the attraction many bisexuals have.

So in other words, people are identifying pansexuality and bisexuality in competition with each other, as if:
  • Pansexuals are open to love with any gender, bisexuals only two.
  • Pansexuals are open to love with trans people, bisexuals aren't.
  • Bisexuals reinforce the gender binary, pansexuals do not.
Although there are certainly bisexuals who are only open to two genders or two sexes, the idea that these things inherently define bisexuality are largely put in place by people who do not identify as bisexuals, especially pansexuals.  There are many bisexuals who are open to trans people, against the enforced gender binary, and open to non-binary people.

When this definition was the one being used to describe bisexuality, I noticed my bisexual-identified friend/professor was shaking her head in disagreement.  This does not describe her experience, but it's what people on the outside are using to identify her.  So I spoke up to make the point that many bisexuals have been severely opposed to this definition, which was met with somebody else reiterating, for the hundredth time I've heard it, the so-called difference between "bisexual" and "pansexual" as "but 'bi' means two!  'bi' means two!"  Well, "pan" means "all" and has been used in the past to refer to a sexual paraphilia, so I suppose that pansexuals want to fuck absolutely everything including literally the kitchen sink.

Although I regret some of the things I said, I don't regret my feelings... I have a right to be unhappy when peoples' identities are being misinterpreted and devalued.

I'm going to make a very firm statement right now:  The only people who have the right to define what bisexuality is are people who identify as bisexual.  If they were to come to a major consensus to say "Yes, bisexuality refers to loving two genders or two sexes, and only that" then it would be one thing.  It's also different from bisexuals who say "I am bisexual because I am interested in both men and women."  Instead, a definition is being pushed onto bisexuals by people who do not identify with the label rather than by people who identify with it.

As pansexuals, this is something that needs to stop.  We are perfectly capable of defining ourselves without automatically framing it as an alternative to bisexuality.  And we are perfectly capable of responding to the inevitable "...so, you're bi then?" responses with "no, I do not identify with that" rather than "but bisexuals are binarists/transphobic/only open to two genders!"  Until we do that, we are perpetuating the same devaluation of identity that causes some bisexuals to make ignorant statements that pansexuals are just hipster bisexuals who want to be special snowflakes.  If you oppose pansexuality being defined as an attention-seeking form of bisexuality for hipsters, don't make the same mistake by giving self-congratulatory definitions of bisexuality.

I Accept Feedback Alternatively

I'm writing this because people have occasionally either tracked me down or asked me various questions (one time the HRC found my email address so they could pester me about an essay I wrote trashing a poll they used to cut trans people out of their agenda, that was an entertaining one).  I have had a couple marginally popular blogs, and after certain experiences happened I stopped allowing comments.

I decided to write this essay to explain why, because there's a perception on the Internet that literally everything is more a conversation than a display.  Which is one of the great things about the Internet, don't get me wrong, but after a while it wasn't worth it to have comments right on the blog.

Take, for example, a big newspaper outlet like the Huffington Post.  There are a lot of excellent articles on there, but when I post something that deals with, say, transgender issues, I'm often warned "don't read the comments."  This is because so many of them are ridiculously offensive and sometimes triggering.

In the same way, when I was running my most popular blog (which has since been dismantled due to changes of opinion big enough to justify not having it public anymore), comments tended to fall into a few distinct categories:
  • Offensive statements about the people I was writing about, including myself, by trolls and bigots.
  • Spam.
  • Bizarre theoretical rambles.
  • Well-meaning comments from mainstream LGBT people and allies that are from an entirely different lens than the predominant one at the site.
  • Complaints that I wasn't using their very obscure linguistic preferences.
  • Self-congratulatory messages by people who already agreed with what I had to say.
  • Later, when comments were moderated, whining about how I'm only going to post things I agree with.
After I let the comments fly for a while, I decided to start moderating them, just to get rid of the spam and the offensive statements, but every time I got a comment alert I simply dreaded clicking on it because there were times I'd get sent something so angering I'd be shaking, and so much of the criticism was either based on an oppressive lens or not constructive.  Even some compliments are something I really don't like... although I stand by what I write, being gushed about is something that really gets under my skin.  Even worse, most of the comments were advertisements.

So I decided to just get rid of the comments altogether.  And it's been that way for most of my blogs ever since.

However, this does not mean I don't get feedback or don't accept criticism.  It means that the ways I get feedback are different.  For example, I advertise my blog on my Facebook and Twitter, and replies to those posts have in the past given me valuable criticism and things to think about.  Monitoring where my site traffic comes from has also in the past led me to blog posts criticizing what I've had to say.

But to get back to the original point, the fact that I don't allow comments, there's a tendency to  present this as "quashing free speech" or somehow "going against the first amendment."  This is a bizarre way of putting it to me, because this blog is my space; if somebody sticks a note to my car criticizing a bumper sticker (which believe it or not I've had happen), I have every right to pull it off.  Talking about free speech and the first amendment is implying that there's some legal restriction against me not allowing comments, which is simply ridiculous.

Monday, February 11, 2013

No, I'm Not Comfortable With Open Identity Caucuses

Another #MBLGTACC essay.  I was writing a rather standard essay on open identity caucuses, but instead I'm going to tell a quick story about the one I went to.  It won't apply to everybody, and it doesn't go into the problematic elements that can arise in closed space*, but I hope that this story gives you a perspective on ally entitlement and why closed space exists.

I went to a transgender identity caucus.  It was my first one, and I was really excited about it.  I found out at a state caucus that they were going to be open this year... and I immediately was really upset about that.  I figured it wasn't something that really applied to me, as I'm well-known to be pretty open about discussing personal trans matters with interested cisgender allies, but I still would have rather been only around trans people for the experience and was aware that many people sharing the identities within these caucuses are actually very uncomfortable with an open event like this (the person who I first heard about this from, who intended to go to the queer people of color caucus, explained that they "aren't animals in a zoo," which I feel is a very powerful statement).  And I immediately decided I'd bring it up at the caucus, because it's an important issue.

The caucus came up and the facilitator mentioned that the caucus was open now and he hoped everyone was OK with that.  I wanted, so terribly badly, to raise my hand and say "No, actually, I am not comfortable with that."  And immediately I was stuck with a sense of self-consciousness I have never felt at MBLGTACC before.  I saw people who I knew identified as allies and I choked on my words... words I'd been bringing up to trans people all day, as well as to allies who did not support the open caucus idea, but as soon as I was faced with the same people who had been making well meaning yet ignorant comments about trans people all day I could not spit it out.

My training as a gender minority has been to acquiesce to the whims of oppressive majorities, and that continued in a space that should be specifically designed to prevent that.  It's OK to tell allies "no" when what they're asking for goes against the interests of the people they are allying with... any serious ally should be able to respect closed space without taking it personally.


* -- Identity caucuses, which are often scheduled at exactly the same time, have the tendency to force somebody to "choose" which identity a person will favor.  In my case, I was having a very hard time choosing between the trans caucus, the poly caucus, and the multi-sexual identities caucus, and others have had to deal with things like, say, racism in a sexual identity caucus (I am aware that some people organized a trans people of color caucus, which was a fantastic way to deal with it).  There were also some major accessibility issues, and in fact there were accessibility issues affecting the whole conference.  I'm just mentioning this because the above story is referring to one specific issue among many, but this is the one I'm reading about in my email right now.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

An Anti-Marriage Queer Perspective


This is the first of possibly many MBLGTACC-inspired essays.

I am an anti-marriage queer.  I think I said this at some point before.  I don't know, but I am.  This was the subject of the best workshop I went to today, called "Holey Matrimony," which had a pretty good mix of anti-marriage queers, pro-marriage queers, and people who are pro-marriage but against focusing on marriage.  Most of the discussion was... well, standard.  Mostly polite (at least I thought it was).  There was one comment that stuck out, though, which I don't remember in its entirety but I can paraphrase it a bit:

We should be pro-marriage because same-sex couples should have the same rights as everyone else, and when you say we should not get married you are being no better than anti-queer bigots.

At this point I'm thinking "Whoah, whoah... you don't understand what being an anti-marriage queer is about, for serious!"  Which shouldn't shock me, although it does... and when you're living, as many of us do, in the framework the mainstream LGB movement has constructed for us, it's a perfectly reasonable thing to think.

And even receptive people are framing the issue in an inaccurate manner.  One of the first questions we were asked at this workshop labeled us as "pro-marriage equality" and "anti-marriage equality."  This is a side effect of the push to re-frame and re-label the debate from "gay marriage" and "same-sex marriage" into something more friendly, it's just a normal part of the language escalator.

There is a huge problem with this, though.  When you are labeled as "against marriage equality," it leads people to the assumption that you believe same-sex couples shouldn't get married, but that opposite-sex couples should.  I can't speak for anti-marriage queers as a whole, as there are undoubtedly some who feel this way (for anti-assimilation purposes, for example), but my perspective on this is absolutely nothing like that.

Wisconsin is one of those states that has an amendment in our constitution banning same-sex marriage as well as anything that is "substantially similar" to marriage.  Although we didn't win, I fought to the point of exhaustion against that amendment.  I faced property damage, harassment, and threats of personal violence.  I can tell you stories from this period in my life that make me shake with rage.  And I'd do it all again in a heartbeat.  I am not somehow angry and heartbroken when a state enacts marriage equality, and I oppose legislation such as DOMA, the repeal of which would grant very important rights to currently married same-sex couples.  My point is that I am not opposing what you think I am opposing.

No, when I say I am an anti-marriage queer, from a personal perspective, I am saying that I believe there should be a serious difference between a social and religious marriage and a legal contract that lays out how people will negotiate their needs with each other.  In short, the government should not be legislating peoples' love lives.  And that applies to all relationships, not just same-sex or opposite-sex ones.

The so-called "rights" that legal marriage grants are for the most part things that have no business being confined to a romantic or sexual relationship.  For example:
  • The "right" for a person's spouse to share their health insurance implies that people shouldn't otherwise have a right to healthcare.
  • The "right" for a person to visit a person in the hospital should not be limited to spouses, if the hospitalized person agrees with such a thing.
  • The "right" for a spouse to immigrate suggests that people should need to get married to immigrate.
  • The "rights" associated with children, such as co-adoption, suggest that people only have--or should have--children if they are in a romantic relationship.
  • The "rights" associated with cohabitation, such as the "right" to occupy housing restricted to families, perpetuates the idea that housing should be a restricted commodity.
  • The "rights" associated with retribution if your partner should have an affair assume that it is your "right" to own another person. 
  • The "right" to a social event that showcases your love or fulfills a deep spiritual need in your life... is something you already have.

In other words, the "rights" and responsibilities that are limited to marriage, or made significantly easier by marriage, are often things that don't inherently require a sexual and romantic relationship with one person, including several things that should be universal human rights.  We chastise people who "marry for the benefits" without realizing that people who marry without love, without sex, or without romance are merely engaging in a legal contract that grants them rights they should already have.

Yet rather than  point out these things, we reinforce a limited and exclusive institution by focusing our efforts on gaining access to it.  We are completely clueless as to what alternatives to legal marriage we, as not only queer people but diverse straight people, could bring to the community as a whole.

For example, there are plenty of things that--for whatever reason--are more effective when tied to a legal contract.  Distribution of wealth gained during a relationship when the relationship ends, wishes to be carried out after death (such as funeral arrangements and inheritance distribution), hospital visitation rights, who gets to make health decisions if one is incapacitated, etc.  But why must these things be connected to marriage?  Why can't they be fulfilled by other contracts, or by a contract similar to marriage but without relying on the idea that two people must be in love to engage in them?

Many of the ramifications of this give people what I call the "ooeys," so I'd like to address that.  We are very firmly ingrained in our social norms, so the idea of expanding these "rights" to relationships we don't associate with marriage is scary and weird to most people.  Especially when it comes to kids, there's an assumption that a child must be reared with two people who love each other.  This isn't an accurate representation of how all kids are raised even now, though.  There are kids raised in kinship networks, by a grandparent and a parent, by single parents, by parents who don't love each other anymore, by polyamorous networks.  And we ignore how much of the so-called "failure" of these child rearing styles is due to a lack of social support for the carers and the social stigma attached to the kids... and perpetuate it by driving the whole "think of the children" argument for same-sex marriage.  Reality is not made less real by other peoples' discomfort.

In situations like these and many others, marriage creates an excluding factor that denies rights to relationships that do not fit the model ascribed to it.  Currently, in most states, same-sex marriages do not fit that model, and although it is certainly so for bigoted reasons, realize that adding same-sex marriage to the mix does little to prevent the marginalization of polyamorous relationships, cohabitation of various types, non-traditional parenting styles, super-traditional parenting styles that include wide family networks, people who choose for whatever reason not to engage in romantic relationships, and anybody who does not want to be obligated to try "sticking it out" with a person forever.  And that's not even touching on some highly problematic elements of marriage that spring from its use to control people, especially women, and its connection to Christian privilege.

Which brings me to the last point I'm going to make before I go to sleep... one of the arguments I hear over and over and over again goes something like "everybody should have the right to dream about their wedding."  In other words, in a social context the LGB movement has been equating marriage with weddings, and by extension legal marriage with religious marriage.

I don't have a problem with weddings or religious marriage, but there's a problem with equating these with civil marriage:  They both perfectly legal while civil marriage often isn't.  There's nothing stopping you, provided you can find a willing minister in the tradition you prefer... hell, you don't even need a minister, I had a conversation with a bigoted ass at a protest who revealed he's not legally married to his wife because in their tradition marriage is between two people and God (he told me with  no hesitation "God hates it, but gays can get married just like straight people.").  And although there are some fuckwads who will attempt to deny services, it's also perfectly legal for you to have a gigantic-ass same-sex wedding, and there's nothing illegal about that.

But again, my main issue here is that despite my desire to radically reorient the marriage debate, I am not "against marriage equality."  I simply have a different definition of what that is.

Friday, February 8, 2013

MBLGTACC Day 1 Recap

I've decided not to write any major opinion essays when I'm here because... well, because I'm kind of tired.  That's just how it goes.  And I need to get up early tomorrow so I can eat and hopefully hit the shuttle, as it was totally messed up today.  I already met some new people, which I hadn't expected to do until I at least got to the workshops tomorrow.

We wound up with some rental car trouble and the aforementioned bus shuttle problems, so we wound up at the conference a little after the opening statements started.  We did, however, get to see all of Emi Koyama, which was excellent!  I didn't really know what she was going to be talking about, but she made me think about a lot of things I hadn't really thought about before, revisit some things I have thought about before (the "It Gets Better" project, for example), and although I didn't agree with everything Koyama said, all in all she had a lot of very big, very important ideas I think the LGBT and Queer communities need to look into.  I took quite a few notes, so this is something I'll have to write about later.

I didn't go to any of the entertainment, for a few reasons... one of them was medical and not my issue, so I won't go into detail.  The other was because I wanted to go swimming and I haven't done that in a few years (I'm a lifeguard, I belong in the water!).  So me and a friend went back to our hotel, went swimming, and went out to eat (had the best sushi I've ever had, although to be fair I usually eat "tray sushi" from the supermarket so the bar is somewhat low) before coming back to the hotel.

Which is where I am now... in the dark, in the hotel room, my mini-laptop fired up and writing this update.  I'll write more about the actual content of MBLGTACC this year in the next couple days.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

A Belated Bird Post

I forgot about some pictures I took at Lakeside Park recently, so here they are:
Female Common Merganser hanging out on the ice.

Pair of American Pelicans, having just woken up.

Northern Cardinals Galore!

This morning I woke up to a snowstorm and dozens of Northern Cardinals on my deck.  Some pics from the event:

Two females.

Male eating a black oil sunflower seed.

Male waits as female eats from safflower seed feeder.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

My Personal Hygiene Regimen Right Now

I'm "detoxing from mass-produced body care products," so to speak, in an effort to distance myself as much as possible from animal testing, sketchy ingredients, and consumerism while not shelling out money for specialty products advertised to the eco-chic... so for today's blog entry I'll give you some rough recipes for things I use.  I'm not a very precise measurer... so don't worry if it's not exactly the same.

Shampoo Or Lack Thereof

I've decided to go "No 'Poo" again.   I'm not seriously that afraid of shampoo (you'd think it was worse than cocaine the way some people talk about it), but I do know from past experience that my hair just loves being without shampoo, and that using shampoo--even the "natural" stuff--forces me to wash my hair with more shampoo every single day.

I use a baking soda and vinegar method.  I filled a jar with baking soda and then wet the baking soda until it was kind of a "cream."  I also filled an old water bottle with a couple tablespoons of apple cider vinegar and the rest with tap water.

First I take the baking soda cream and move it throughout my wet hair.  Let it sit for a minute, then rinse.  Pour some of the vinegar mixture through it and also let that sit a while.  Rinse that.  Done.

Some people go through a period where their hair doesn't look as clean as they wish it did... personally, as a guy with short hair, it looks fine right away.

Eventually you will need to do this less and less, as your scalp will "learn" to regulate how much oil it pumps out.

Toothpaste

Whether or not your toothpaste has fluoride is less important than whether or not your diet is full of excess sugar and how regularly you brush your teeth.  I'm not an anti-fluoride conspiracy theorist... I can see why they put it in toothpaste (although I oppose having it in my water).  But I've found that it works just as well for me to use homemade toothpaste.

Mix coconut oil and baking soda until you get a good consistency.  Add to this a few drops of mint oil (I used spearmint) or cinnamon oil... or some other foodsafe oil you like.  Finish with a few drops of stevia extract, which will keep it from tasting bitter as well as add some good tooth-friendly properties to the toothpaste.

It'll feel really awkward to use this stuff at first because it doesn't foam.  Use a soft-bristle (yes, soft!) toothbrush and scrub your teeth with the toothpaste... it'll melt, but keep scrubbing, it's still there.

Oil Pulling, Flossing, and Tongue Scraping

Oil pulling, to be honest, doesn't do what many of its proponents say it does.  It absolutely does not yank toxins from your body through your mouth.  However, it does do some good for your oral health, so squishing a tablespoon of coconut or sesame oil between your teeth daily is not a bad idea.

In addition, you should floss.  Flossing is very important.  Tongue scrapers are also great... if you struggle with bad breath, getting rid of the scum layer on the back of your tongue will help.

Deodorant

I've seen people use a lot of alternatives to storebought anti-perspirant, from just putting some scented oil under the arms to just making sure to wash regularly.  I make deodorant, though.  So far it's worked relatively well.

My mix is about one part each baking soda, coconut oil, and arrowroot powder (I use this as my go-to substitute for cornstarch, so if you have no arrowroot cornstarch is just fine).  To that I mix some of my favorite scented oils, in my case rosewood, cedarwood, and sage oils.  Since the coconut already has a scent, tropical-smelling scents like lime go well with it.

Let it cool in a jar and you can apply with your fingers.  You can also put this in an empty deodorant tube, although depending on your climate it may be necessary to refrigerate it.

Friday, February 1, 2013

MBLGTACC and Advice for New Community Members

Subject somebody brought up in all my excitement about the upcoming MBLGTACC Conference, which I'll be attending next Friday - Saturday: What advice would I give to somebody who is totally a n00b?

Some of this is pretty MBLGTACC-specific... or conference-specific... but some of it is relevant to anybody who is new to the queer community who wants to get out more and meet more people.  Anyway, here it goes:
  1. Take a notebook with you pretty much everywhere you go.
    I know that nowadays this is a function mostly usurped by smartphones, but I still take a notebook with me places like this.  One might expect that it's to take notes during workshops--and that's a part of it--but there's a bigger reason: To remember peoples' names!  One of my favorite things about MBLGTACC is meeting a lot of people who share interests I don't always find in my rural Wisconsin village.  I still keep in contact with friends from MBLGTACC 2007... before I figured this out... and was writing names on whatever paper I had available.
  2. Go to a variety of different workshops.
    It's easy to go really gung-ho about a certain subject and stick with just that subject.  I encourage you to expand your horizons.  My first MBLGTACC I went almost exclusively to gender-related events.  This makes sense on the surface because I was newly out as transgender on campus, but there's no telling what else I could have explored if I'd gone beyond that.
  3. Don't go to workshops with your friends.
    OK, that's not entirely accurate.  By all means, go to workshops with your friends... but don't go to workshops just because your friends are going to be there.  I made this mistake in 2008.  We didn't even leave the building we started in, and although I definitely met some great people and learned a lot, I also went to some workshops that really didn't interest me and it would have been better for me to go to workshops based on my own preference rather than my friends'.
  4. Engage with people different from yourself.
    One of the things I see happen in large groups of LGBT and queer people is that we clique off.  This isn't entirely bad, it usually means we're associating with people we have a lot in common with, but don't assume someone wouldn't make a good friend or ally just because they look, dress, express, or believe different than you.
  5. Educate yourself before, during, and after.
    Look up things like "LGBT Dictionary" in Google and skim through the entries so that words that may be common outside your community don't go over your head.  You don't need to be an expert, but have a good working vocabulary.  During the event, pay attention and write things down (hence, have a notebook), especially any web addresses or terms you would like to know more about.  Later, whether you're in your hotel on a laptop or have already gone home, do research on things that interested or confused you.  Especially...
  6. Pay special attention to concepts and people that make you uncomfortable.
    People are creatures of habit, and when people don't act, dress, or express the way we assume they should, it makes us uncomfortable.  Although there are some things that should make you uncomfortable (I was handsed-up by a guy on a bus during MBLGTACC 2007, for example), many discomforts are signs of our own prejudice and a sign that we should educate ourselves more.
  7. Refrain from making nasty, uncalled-for comments about peoples' appearance or mannerisms.
    2009 I wound up around some people who were very mainstream type people.  This isn't a problem, but it was just obnoxious how they would judge every person that walked past.  That trans person doesn't pass well enough, that person is too fat, that person is wearing cat ears and a tail what's up with that... if you're not going to go educate yourself, at least keep it to yourself.  Environments like this should be safe spaces for expression.
  8. Don't make assumptions.
    Another moment in 2009 as my party and I were walking along, a male-female couple kissed.  This was scandalous to the members of my group, who were wondering first why there were "straight" people there and second why they would have the gall to kiss at a "gay" conference.  The male was actually a trans man and the female was bisexual.  Don't assume that everyone there is supposed to be gay!  There's more to the community than that, there are identities beyond gay and there are straight allies who have every right to be there, too.  Don't assume people are cisgender (not transgender), even if you think they look like they are.
  9. Have a fucking blast!For many of us, being in a space filled with LGBT, queer, and ally people where we can be ourselves, express ourselves, meet new people, and worry little about bigotry is an amazing experience.  So have fun, and I hope to see you there!
Anyway, now that the advice is over, I'll mention that I plan on--if I have Internet in my hotel room, and my hotel isn't a cave so I don't see why not--I will be trying to blog on my MBLGTACC experiences here.  Well, if I'm not too tired from the hoopla, anyway.

Imbolc as I Celebrate It

As an Eclectic Witch, I generally have the opportunity to celebrate pretty much whatever holidays I want to.  I choose to celebrate the the eight Sabbats Wiccans do... at least I have since I started being active in the Pagan community, anyway.  Celebrating Sabbats is much like using the word "Pagan" to me... I'm not obligated to do it, but it helps me mesh better with a community and that keeps me spiritually "together."

Today is February 1st, which is when I celebrate Imbolc.  This is a Gaelic-based holiday that marks the beginning of spring, the beginning of milking season, and the Goddess Brighid.  Like many Pagans, I do a lot of little things for this holiday, like making associated crafts (Brighid's beds, Brighid's crosses), blessing candles, and so forth.  But these are more asides... as a queer Pagan, many of the fertility-based stuff that is brought up is irrelevant to my practice, but some of it isn't... largely related to "things I eat."  I celebrate Imbolc as an animal festival, when dairy livestock begin to lactate and give birth.  Sheep are central to the celebration, and usually my central feast is lamb of some kind and some high-quality dairy product and some sort of fruit.  In the past I have knit things with wool, made butter, made cheese, and made candles.

My menu this year is as follows:
  • Veal Brisket (I may share the recipe as a magickal cooking entry... but I haven't written the recipe yet.  Yeah, I'm on top of things.)
  • Cottage Cheese
  • Kefir
  • Roasted Brussels Sprouts
  • Fruit
 My ritual activity is one I'd love to be able to share in extreme detail, but there's a problem... since I got the book "The Path of the Green Man: Gay Men, Wicca, and Living a Magical Life" by Michael Thomas Ford, almost all of my solitary Sabbat rituals have been entirely based on the stories found in there.  And I don't really want to be "that guy" who copies huge swaths of information from a book, so I'll just say I highly recommend this book to queer male Pagans (and any other Pagan who is open to reading from queer perspectives) and give you the bare-bones.

Each of this book's chapters contains a Sabbat story with a central queer character as he makes his way through the wheel of the year.  In the Imbolc story we, of course, meet Brighid, who instructs the central character to re-build a fire his doubts have extinguished by offering those things to the fire.  In return, Brighid gives him the opportunity to pull a positive word from the fire.  So for my ritual I will be building a small fire using sticks that have words representing doubts I have about myself.  Next to the fire there will be a cauldron filled with words of hope... these will be used for a personal divination as the fire is going.

So that's, in a nutshell, Imbolc as I practice it.  It's not a holiday that gets a lot of media attention (like Samhain and Yule), but it's still a nice little observance.