Sunday, June 30, 2013

Yes, White People, You Benefit From White Supremacy and Slavery

EDIT: I changed the title of this slightly because upon seeing it pop up as a "popular post of the week" link I realized the titling and wording assumed that all people who read this blog are white.  It was written as a tool for me to directly hand to other white people to avoid having to repeat myself over and over again.  The rest of the article is unchanged.

I'm really sick of people clogging my Facebook feed with stuff about how they shouldn't be punished for what their ancestors did 150 years ago.  Paula Deen apparently has that effect on people.   "Rah rah I'm white and I never owned slaves blah blah my ancestors bleh."  OK, listen.  I get that you don't think that slavery is your issue because you never owned slaves and didn't fight for the Confederacy in the United States Civil War.  Hell, maybe your family didn't even come here until after.  The majority of my own family--if not my entire family--arrived here after 1865.

It makes no difference that exactly zero of my blood relatives were engaged in chattel slavery.  I still benefit from white supremacy--and yes, slavery--every day, both as a white person and as a consumer in a first world country.

There are two overarching reasons for that which are different but in many ways connected.  And although it's obvious, I should probably state that I am specifically referring to my white friends who keep posting bullshit like what I detailed above:

1. The United States is still a fundamentally white supremacist nation, as are many nations like it.

Things didn't suddenly get all peachy keen after slavery was made illegal.  Ever since then white people have constantly attempted to find legal loopholes allowing us to disenfranchise people of color and fought any attempt to mitigate the disadvantages a legacy of slavery has subjected them to.  Debt slavery by prior owners, Jim Crow laws, denial of access to education and work, and inability to vote are all directly related to slavery and enduring racism; and lots of it still happens today.

Efforts to mitigate this legacy are consistently ranted about and fought by people comfortable with white supremacy and even praised by society as fighting for "fairness."  Look at Abigail Fisher, who didn't get into the University of Texas because she was an average student by UT standards who decided to create a national debate because she assumed "her" spot was "erroneously" taken by a minority student.  This is a woman who went on to go to a good school and get a good job who is whining because she has different "networking opportunities."  The fact that she can actually make this case and have hundreds of Americans pity her is not only her benefiting from white supremacy... it is an offshoot of the benefits we all get as white people.  It means that you and I can all fall back on claiming a minority got an educational opportunity or a job that we totally deserved and practically never get called out for it.  People will probably even listen to you and sympathize with you even though you just said something ridiculously and unquestionably racist.

The section of the voting rights act that was struck down by the Supreme Court mere days ago?  Directly related to white supremacy.  And as soon as this happened Texas legislators began the push to implement a voter district map that was struck down in 2011 because it slashes and undermines minority votes.  Saying "Oh, it's only Texas, we expect that from them!" is remarkably foolish: In 2006 I did a get-out-the-vote in Wisconsin and found that people in largely black communities didn't even know there was an election, while people in largely white communities screamed their heads off at me because they felt "harassed" by people telling them to vote.  We live in a country, in short, where white people feel harassed because people want them to exercise a constitutional right without even realizing that communities of color are being entirely ignored by people who don't give a fuck about their votes.  Your vote counts more.  You benefit from white supremacy.

Those few times in your life when you are not given an advantage--whether it's through affirmative action, safe spaces for people of color, or simply letting other peoples' issues shine for once--are not somehow you being punished for your ancestors.  That's just how it feels when you are ignorant of how much you benefit from racism only to have that benefit temporarily taken away or mitigated... and you know what?  You still benefit from it.  You are crying over nothing.  Stop it.

2. Slavery still exists, and you benefit from that, too.

If you are reading this, you have benefited from slavery; the electronics industry is so pervaded with slave labor that it's practically impossible to own a piece of electronic equipment that hasn't been touched by slaves.  Unless you are buying nothing or buying absolutely everything fair trade--and even then it's not a 100% guarantee that label means anything--you are regularly using goods that have been created by slavery.

That benefits you.  It means you get to buy things for significantly cheaper than the labor and materials are actually worth.  It means you can eat fresh vegetables out of season.  It means you can eat complicated-to-produce luxury goods for cheap.  It means you can get all sentimental over diamonds and rubies and gold.

In school my Ethics teacher and Economics teacher were the same person.  Picture a person who in Ethics class would talk about slavery as an unquestionably bad thing... who in Economics class would go on gushing rants about how awesome it is that we can get cheap goods from other countries.  Think about that disconnect, that ignorance, and then apply it to damned near everybody.

So yes, even if you aren't a literal slave driver, even if your relatives weren't literal slave drivers, you benefit from slavery, both past and present. You are a part of that legacy.  And as such, you--and all of us--are responsible for it.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

When Political Pronouns Aren't Appropriate

This is in response to an inquiry from somebody.  Ze said that ze was contemplating using the same pronoun set for everybody, because it just felt "right" to zir.  I am actually really glad that ze had the decency to ask this question; I have seen some radical gender publications that make suggestions like switching everyone's pronouns for a day or using only one pronoun set, seemingly without critical thinking and without any hint of consent from the people being forcibly degendered.  Essentially when people do this they are using peoples' pronouns as a political statement against the concept of gender.

I'm going to put this out there right now:  No, you do not have permission to use any pronouns to describe me except typical male he/him/his.  The only exception is if you do not know my gender identity (a different issue entirely), which I just revealed to you anyway.

"It just feels right to me" is never an excuse to intentionally use non-preferred pronouns.  Seriously.  A lot of people think non-preferred pronouns "feel right" to them and they're always wrong.  For my parents, using female pronouns to describe me "just feels right" because they used them for me while I grew up.  But they're wrong.  TERFy radical feminists and conservative bigots alike think it "just feels right" to use the pronouns somebody was assigned at birth no matter what their identity or life situation is.  They're wrong, too... and so are you.  And this isn't something I'm just saying with no experience, here.  I've dealt with pronoun switches among friends before, and you know what?  It's uncomfortable.  The pronouns I originally learned "feel right to me" at first, too.

But they're not right.  It's not about me, my feelings, my politics, or my preferences.  It's about them.

Keep in mind that although I'm sure many people do this with the intent to make some statement to cisgender people, it will be an ineffective statement (misgendering doesn't affect cis people the way it affects trans people), not to mention you will inevitably be balling trans people--stealth or otherwise--and nonbinary gendered people into this experiment of yours, and many of us have had to deal with the pain of constant misgendering for a very long time.

Some More Search Cues To Amuse And Appall

This could be a "Here, Let Me Help You With That" but some of you don't need that kind of validation and others need things I can't give.  Things that have yanked people to my blog recently:

"i'm so sick of obese people on food stamps"

 Oh... fuck you right in the ear.

"pagan women getting fucked"

 Unfortunately the availability of good Pagan porn is ridiculously low.

"very restrictive diet and i feel great"

I don't know if you actually feel great and just wanted validation of that or are hoping other people feel great on very restrictive diets.  I feel great on them.  Many don't.

"can we reclaim the pink triangle"

Yes, but please understand what it is first

"i have woodpeckers drinking from my oriole feeder?" 

Do you?  Woodpeckers also enjoy nectar.  I was shocked, too.

"kefir isn't thickening"

It could be that you need new or more kefir grains, or that you have new ones that need to be reactivated for a while.  Often the first batch won't be particularly thick.

"relapse food addiction"

...yeah, me too.

"warlock meaning"

Warlock means "male Witch" with roots in the word "oathbreaker."  Although some people will claim this was a label Witches gave to people who broke coven oaths, that is absolutely preposterous; they were breaking implied Christian oaths.

Five Things I Wish I Stopped Hearing Bi Activists Say

I flip between "bisexual" and "nonmonosexual."  Most of these I do not regularly hear from pansexual-identified people (and other nonmonosexuals who do not identify with bisexuality) although some of them I do.  The bisexual and pansexual communities are like a Venn diagram with different cultures and habits but a lot of overlap.  So when I say "bisexual" it is because so many of these I don't really see in pansexuals (although we have our own problems as well).
  1. "You see, we're actually more oppressed than gays and lesbians because..."

    Alright, hold it right there.  I'm all for calling out gays and lesbians for hogging the spotlight, pushing that asinine "no choice *sniff* I'm forced into this awful lifestyle" narrative, and several other things.  But saying that bisexuals are more oppressed than gays and lesbians because gays and lesbians are oppressing bisexuals is getting really obnoxious.

    I'm not saying "don't call out gays and lesbians who say ridiculous bullshit about bisexuals."  Go right on ahead.  Concepts like "gold star lesbians" and the assumption that all bisexuals are just closeted gays or that we uniquely spread HIV to straight people are crap.  Go ahead and shout that from the rooftops.

    But to insist that bisexuals are more oppressed than gays and lesbians because of this is a ludicrous inflation that assumes gays and lesbians--by virtue of being gays and lesbians--have the power to oppress us.  Some people use the phrase "monosexual privilege" to talk about this, and it really frustrates me because it makes it seem like there's some overarching scheme by gays, lesbians, and straights to repress bisexuals.  There isn't.  We are oppressed alongside gays and lesbians.  It's the oppression of gays and lesbians and the way they have been forced to describe themselves by homophobic society that causes biphobic gays and lesbians to lash out.

    What I mean is that the fabricated "I have literally no choice and none of us ever do, no siree" discourse you might hear from gays and lesbians is a product of internalized homophobia and the assumption that homosexuality is so undesirable nobody would ever choose it.  And this is something across-the-board when it comes to biphobic ridiculousness coming from gays and lesbians... it's rooted to internalized homophobia, it isn't gay oppression of bisexuals.
  2. "The fact that we can be with the opposite sex or get married isn't a privilege!"

    Um, yes it is.  No, seriously, it really is.  Quit saying it isn't.

    The thing that appalls me most is how many people who say this are actually in legal marriages.  The fact that a bisexual has the potential to get into an opposite-sex relationship is already a privilege, but getting married is a major one.  After all, while I may personally view marriage as an archaic institution that must be abolished, it and other institutions that cause a relationship to be culturally recognized are some of the root culprits for oppression based on sexual orientation.  Being married makes you legally advantaged over other couples.

    Being in an opposite-sex relationship doesn't erase all of the things nonmonosexuals experience--you can still be harassed, you can still be fired, you can still be assumed to be promiscuous or closeted--but it certainly mitigates it.  So I'm not saying you're an oppressor or super-privileged person by virtue of being bi, but believing that being in an opposite-sex relationship isn't conferring privilege upon you is serious denial.

    It ain't because I have some perception that bi people are automatically privileged over gays and lesbians, either.  People in same sex marriages and married trans people also have a privilege despite lack of privilege elsewhere.  The problem is insisting that it's not.  It absolutely is.
  3. "This trans issue is just so awful... it reminds me of being bi."

    Seriously, you need to just quit acting like turning every trans issue into a bi issue is acting in solidarity with trans people.  Bi activists have a really bad habit of assuming that inner community transphobia is concentrated in gay and lesbian communities, and furthermore it's the bi activists on my Facebook wall who are most likely to use a news item about trans people to make some point about bisexuality.  Making these connections is a great thing; it helps us be empathetic, for example.  But those connections should be used to facilitate your solidarity work, not as an underhanded attempt to get people to care more about your issues.  I have recently seen a well-respected bisexual activist post links on Facebook to things about transgender people only to put some plug about bisexual activism right after.

    Also, transphobia does exist in the bisexual community (and also... get this... the pansexual community.  True story!).  Bisexual activists have a tendency to assume that they are already doing well-enough on trans issues,.  While I personally have experienced bi communities to be more accepting and understanding about transgender issues, the idea that they are a universal haven of acceptance for us is simply not true.  "Better than your typical gay or lesbian" is a very low bar to reach.

    Just keep in mind that you likely have a lot of work to do, still.  All of us who are allies or solidarity workers do.
  4. Acting as though bisexuals are universally open to relationships with trans people and nonbinary-gendered people.

    One of the main critiques the pansexual community has about the bisexual community is the perception that bisexuals are binary-enforcers who are only interested in either men or women.  For the record, this is ludicrous.  Bisexuals are no more binary enforcers than male- and female-identified transgender people, gays, and lesbians but they seem to get a lot of ire. Bisexual identification does not inherently mean a person is not open to nonbinary-gendered people or trans people.  That's a mischaracterization that is unfortunately spread like a fucking virus by pansexual-identified people (speaking as a pansexual-identified person).

    But responding to these accusations by insisting that "bisexual" has always referred to people who are interested in both same- and other-sex relationships and not men and women is just not true.  While self-identification matters, so does common usage, and yes, common usage defines bisexuals as interested in men and women.  That doesn't mean all bisexual-identified people are, but there are straight and gay/lesbian identified people who are open to relationships with trans- and nonbinary people, too.
  5. "We can totes be monogamous!"

    This is one that I understand but it still grates on me.  It's done in response to peoples' dickish claims that bisexuals are promiscuous and desire threesomes and other stuff like that.

    Bisexuals can certainly be monogamous, for the same reason a straight or gay person who likes redheads and brunettes can still have the ability to stick with one person without getting frustrated and banging the next redhead he sees.  Should be a no-brainer but for quite a few biphobic bigots it isn't.

    The problem is that too many bisexuals make statements without recognizing that there are also bisexuals who are in consensual, wonderful romantic and sexual relationships with multiple partners and that that's OK.  I've seen "informational" videos and pamphlets that dismissively debunk the idea that "bisexuals sleep around with anything that moves" without adequately explaining exactly what's wrong with that.

    As polyamory becomes more accepted in the queer community I see this less and less, but I thought I'd mention it anyway because it still comes up on a regular basis.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Sacred Drunkenness and Pan's Ball

I am a child of Set, one of whose epithets means, in a nutshell, "Drunk."  Beer is sacred to him--as well as many Egyptian Gods--and in ancient Egypt among other civilizations drunkenness from alcohol can be used as an altered state for ecstatic ritual.

In fact I've used beer--and to a lesser extent wine--specifically to get into a spiritual altered state.  It's interesting because nowadays it seems alcohol has been seriously downgraded as far as its use to induce an altered state of sacred drunkenness.  Many a warning has been given to Pagans that alcohol in ritual is not meant to get you drunk; while this is usually true, using drunkenness in ritual is not inherently a bad thing, especially when you understand how alcohol affects you and have some sort of ritual structure and safeguard.

Personally?  The majority of times I have drank alcohol in more than moderate quantities, I have used the altered state for spiritual purposes.  The last time was at Pan's Ball at PSG, where I drank one of their awful wapatui drinks before realizing no good could come from it and I switched to Spotted Cow (the best beer in the world).  I spent a big part of that experience, once I had entered a state of very lucid drunkenness where I was heavily aware of my surroundings, wandering the camp and contemplating the mostly-full moon among other things.

Pan's Ball turned out to basically be a regular wap party.  This isn't inherently bad either, but it had literally all of the same problems as a wap party.  People groping each other without permission, getting so drunk they were physically incapacitated, there was at least one person who kept egging me on (it was jokingly but a bad joke) when I did not consent to a sexualized activity with him or his partner, and I am not confident there weren't people doing things they would loathe to do sober (to use a terrible euphemism).  There was very little structure.  There were practically no safeguards to prevent people from wandering off into the woods and getting lost except for people incidentally being in the way (I know this because I prevented a seriously drunk person from walking off into the woods and had nobody been there he could easily have gotten lost).  So in these regards there are things that really need improvement, especially if you are going to call it a religious experience.  There was very little about this event that felt sacred to me, simply because it was so similar to mundane drunkenness.  I am running on the assumption that that's what most of the attendees really wanted... but that there were people acting as though this was an appropriate ritual use of drunkenness bothers me.

To draw a parallel, tobacco is a sacred herb.  It's a healing herb... but only when it's used exclusively in a ritual context.  People who have appropriated tobacco for purely mundane purposes or who use it irresponsibly in ritual are not healed from it... and often die.  In the same way, alcohol is a sacred consciousness-altering substance that is perfectly acceptable to use in ritual, including to induce drunkenness, but can be made dangerous when used irresponsibly.  If you are using alcohol to the point where people are prone to sexual assault, alcohol poisoning, or so much inebriation they cannot actually use the altered state, you are no longer partaking in a sacred activity and you are putting people at undue risk.

Maybe at one point I'll write a guide to how I use sacred drunkenness to help reduce the potential harm that can come from it.  For now, though, just realize that there is a difference between getting drunk for fun and getting sacred drunk, although these things may overlap.

Touch-Starvation, Emotions, and Empaths

I was a weekender at #PaganSpiritGathering this year--my first year--and it was fantastic.  There's a lot to say and write about the time I had there, even though I was only there for two nights.  I don't know how much I actually will write about.  But I'm going to start with the thing that touched me the most because that's fresh on my mind.

I only went to two workshops because it rained all Friday and there weren't any on Sunday.  The one that touched me the most was an empath workshop.  An empath is somebody who has a psychic gift enabling them to experience the emotions of other people as if they are their own.  Most people have at least some empathy.  It's a huge part of the survival of the human species, regardless of whether you believe in psychic energies or not.  When somebody refers to themselves or another as an "empath" it usually refers to somebody with an extreme level of empathy, sometimes interfering with a person's life.

My own story starts... well, forever ago, figuratively speaking.  I have always been empathetic.  It's ironic because people tend to characterize me as being cold and distant.  This is in many ways a survival response because being an empath actually really sucks sometimes.  I wind up bogged down and drained, I have a hard time looking people in the eyes, I cry over things that I don't understand (or sometimes even care about), and it's difficult to touch people.  After a while it's hard to experience emotion for yourself and it can even be difficult to distinguish between your own feelings and other peoples'.  I've also been in several relationships with people who were very adept at draining my energy because I'd be there trying to help them with emotions I was also feeling only to have them entirely ignore me if I needed the same or if they couldn't get anything else out of me.

I didn't start using the word "empath" until the first public, largish Pagan gathering I went to, and even then not so much because I've always been worried another empath will try to dispute that fact and I will get embarrassed.  It was an Ostara ritual in either 2004 or 2005 that was being put on as an educational experience at my college.  An older woman approached me, smiling widely, and exclaimed, "You have the gift!"

Which was really fucking weird.  I had no idea what she was talking about.  I was a mediocre Tarot reader, I didn't cast that many spells, and I was not particularly adept at much of anything as my primary practice was worshipful and not practical.  So my first thought was "wow listen to this ridiculous new age hippie."

She pulled closer and said, "When you feel like crying, just wiggle your toes and count back from three and that'll make you feel better."  Now, you might be thinking "That's also really fucking weird."  And it is.  But just a couple days earlier I had been having heebie-jeebie feelings because I was on my way to the cafeteria and had the serious urge to start crying.  As I was holding back the confusing tears, the guy in front of me hung up his cell phone and told his friend that he just learned a loved one of his died.  I wound up having to go to a bathroom stall and get it out of my system.

Most of this went away with  hormones and giving up vegetarianism.  The first year of T in particular I was relatively narcissistic and in turn very good at blocking other peoples' feelings.  The dampering of that empathy was nice.  I missed it in some cases, but mostly it was nice.  Over the past several months, though, it's been creeping back at me and is now very close to peak force.  I went to the workshop because I'm having a slightly different time dealing with it, and being at PSG was surging me with a great deal of emotions, not all of which were mine.

So there I was with this group of people, mostly self-described empaths but some who were curious or had other (good) motives for being there.  The touching part was that when people told their stories they were so similar to mine... it was explained that most empaths dislike being touched, which is something I had never heard but which was confirmed by most of the people in attendance.  Many had also been told by strange people at Pagan gatherings the same things I had been.  And I could tell from looking around that many had the same difficulty holding back tears that I was having (a few didn't hold them back at all).

Anyway, the workshop ended with a guided meditation to cut cords between ourselves and people we should not need to be connected to as well as creating a shield.  My shield doesn't work yet.  I'm going to have to find a physical shield because I have a hard time making things I create in the meditative world transfer to the mundane world.

We also shared tips for releasing that emotion and there were some traits and interesting facts shared by the person running the workshop as well.
  • There was an interesting bit about touch-starvation.  Empaths who don't like touch avoid it because we get too much information or uncomfortable information from it.  But people who rarely let other people touch them are prone to health problems from it; one person insisted that we can die if we get too little touch.  I honestly think the assertion that if you don't touch other people it will lead to a fatal condition is rather hyperbolic (there are people who practically never touch who are just fine), but I can see that there is truth here.  Personally, when I go for very long periods without touch I get backaches and joint and muscle pain that almost immediately goes away with a short hug.  That's one of the reasons--among many--that I am likely to give a hug if somebody is either a close friend or actually asks first.  I just need that preparation first so that I can shield a bit.
  • One of the ways I deal with the back pain is by having my dog lay against my back.  I have long considered dogs to be master energy workers because of this phenomenon.  This may just be because I have an affinity with dogs, though.
  • The main advice given was to ground and shield, which is pretty standard.  We were advised to make a non-reflective shield because otherwise rather than just blocking peoples' emotions we reflect them back and people get mad at us.  I've never had that problem.  But it's an interesting thing to think about.
  • Visualizations with cold water, earth, and fire were suggested.  Physical use of water was also encouraged, which I did do later by swimming in the pond.
  • One person suggested blowing bubbles, which is a creative and interesting release.
  • The statement we were given to cut cords between ourselves and others is "I release all emotions that are not mine."
  • A lot of people have been told by strange people at Pagan gatherings that they were empaths.  So, well, we have that one in common too.

Friday, June 14, 2013

"Gay Fests" Are No Excuse To Ignore Consent

So in this blog we've already established that I do not like nonconsensual personal contact and want it added to the culture of consent.  I want people to be made aware that while there's nothing wrong with hugging and any other display of affection, there are people who are made extremely uncomfortable by them; because of this, people should be--by default--asking for permission to hug or otherwise touch a person (or at least giving them enough warning to accept or reject it, but keep in mind that there are also people who don't desire such contact but who are embarrassed to shoot you down).

I had a few experiences at Pridefest that just... jarred me in ways they haven't in the past.  There are two things that were very different.  The first is that I now pass well enough that practically every cis person there who didn't already know me (and many trans people as well) do not register me as a trans person.  The second is that I was wearing these:
I've never worn any sort of furry garb in public before (not counting once during Halloween) and so I was really excited about this.  I was wearing ears the whole time and a tail most of the time.  I really enjoyed it.  There aren't all that many places it's socially acceptable to do so, even as it becomes more and more common for people to get into it.

The first touch incident was a guy who gleefully told me that if I'd been wearing a tail he would have tugged on it... before "tweaking" my ribcage.  Alright, people, I know you think this is a harmless flirty move, but it's really inappropriate.  You don't fucking know me.  But he backed off and apologized when I asked him to stop and was from then on only marginally creepy from a distance (which, honestly, some people just can't help).

The second actually legit pissed me off from start to finish, and is the basis for this particular rant about consent.  I was on my way to the bathroom when a guy holding a drink--I'm pretty sure he was drunk--approached me and demanded to touch my ears.  I politely told him "no."  Honestly, I think had he asked me politely I might have allowed it--I mean, they're fabric--but I was seriously off-put by him demanding it so.  It doesn't matter, though, I have every right to reject anybody's contact to any body part of mine, including fake ones.

He didn't back off.  He reached out and touched my arm, trying to get at the ears, "reassuring" me in a frustrated, snippy manner that he wasn't going to steal them, he just wanted to touch them.  His friends were telling him to "back off, man" and I was backing away crossing my arms at him telling him to please stop.  He kept trying to convince me he wasn't going to steal them as if this was the issue.  Finally I explained that I just don't like being touched.

After his response he's seriously lucky I didn't chew him out.  He certainly would have deserved it.  He said:  "But you're at a gay fest!"

Alright, let me tell you something about Pridefest.  Pridefest is imperfect.  It's a land of corporate sponsorship, its programming is basically targeted toward gay men and lesbians, its history exhibit is woefully pinkwashed to the point where it legitimately offends me, it's supremely guilty of trans erasure, and they seem to believe drag shows are a sign of being transgender-friendly.  But it's also diverse.  There are infants being brought in by their parents, and there are elderly people, and everyone in-between.  There are gay men, but there are also lesbians, bisexuals, pansexuals, asexuals, heterosexuals, and others.  There are people from all around the trans umbrella, including drag performers, transsexuals, genderqueers, gender neutrois people, and many more.  There are many faiths represented, many subcultures, and many lifestyles.  Even with its flaws, it's probably the most diverse place I've ever regularly attended.  So the idea that everybody there is guaranteed to be willing to let you touch them is already a huge stretch of the imagination.

"But you're at a gay fest!" is a fucking ignorant comment to make over somebody's personal preferences at an event like this (or really anywhere).  Maybe--maybe--you could get away with saying this if somebody were commenting negatively about two men or two women kissing, or making a snark comment about a trans person, or getting all negative about the leather wear show (although "gay fest" is certainly a shallow way of saying it).  But when you try pulling this over the simple fact that I don't know you and don't want you to touch me what it tells me is that you are a part of the problem.

What problem?

The one where people assume that my being a member of a queer/LGBT/SAGD community means that I am unconditionally available to your pawing at me for whatever reason you choose.  The one where what people wear or how they wear it--yes, even a set of fabric ears--is taken to imply consent to physical contact.  The one where we make "exceptions" to common courtesy because people in a group are "supposed" to like that sort of thing.

So if you're thinking this is a gray area or that the way you do it doesn't count or some other ignorant thing, keep the following points in mind:
  • There is no way of dressing that means somebody automatically consents to your touch... except maybe a T-shirt that literally says "I consent," a phenomenon I have never actually seen.  Someone dressing in a bikini top and miniskirt is not asking for your physical contact.  A person wearing wolf ears and a tail is not asking for your physical contact.  A naturist who is wearing nothing is not asking for your physical contact.
  • Just because a subculture is generally regarded as being open to such things doesn't mean it is less rude to not ask or--even worse--to persist when you've been told to stop.  Yes, yes, I am fully aware that furry fandom, gay communities, and Pagan communities often engage in more touch than more mainstream communities.  My question would be why you think this means I don't personally have the right to turn it down.
  • Just because some subcultures tend to be touchy-feely doesn't mean they shouldn't be incorporating consent into it.  Just because I'm a furry doesn't mean I want to be glomped.  Yuck.
  • I am like this due to mostly to introversion and general discomfort.  I haven't had any severely traumatizing events that led to it.  Plenty of people have, though.  Where somebody like me might get irritated and pissy (and write a nasty blog entry about what you've done), there are people who legitimately will relive trauma if you do this sort of shit.
  • Touch entitlement walks along lines of oppression.  The most common and obvious is men's entitlement toward women's bodies, regardless of any other factor, but there are many more as well.  Gay men too often think they can get away with touching women without their consent because they "aren't enjoying it anyway."  It's still patriarchal misogyny when a gay man does it.  Recently on Twitter there was a hashtag called #youcanttouchmyhair which is in reference to white entitlement toward black women's bodies.  White people who feel it is their right to touch black women's natural hair are a common and serious problem.  Adults who don't allow children to give or withhold consent when relatives want to hug them.  And so on.
  • Unless you are literally saving my life or somebody else's or preventing me from committing a terrible crime, I am never obligated to let you touch me in any way.  Asking permission is not just a symbol.  If I say no, it means no.  Really.
 This concept is foolishly simple, and that's what boggles my mind about the fact that it hasn't usefully picked up:  If you want to touch somebody, hug somebody, fuck somebody, kiss somebody, or whatever else and they are of sound mind... ask them instead of assuming.  It's really that simple. 

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Pridefest in a Nutshell

I went to Pridefest and had a reasonably good time.  I say "reasonably good" because there were improvements on other years, but there were also some things that either haven't changed or have gotten worse.  There were a couple events that are going to warrant their own really nasty essay later, but I am having a hard time writing it because I'm flustered.

This event gets a more diverse following every year, with all ages from infants to elders, people of varying abilities, body types, religious beliefs, subcultures, political beliefs, genders, and sexual orientations.  Honestly, Pridefest is probably the most diverse event I regularly attend.  That might sound strange if you're used to thinking about Pride as a big pile of corporate sleaze (which it admittedly is), but for some context the second most diverse event I've regularly attended is MBLGTACC, which has very little age diversity.  Whatever the case, I enjoy this aspect of Pride.  The fact that I can see families with small children, people in nun drag, college students, high school students, leathermen, bears, flamboyantly dressed gays, butch lesbians, furries, trans people, Log Cabin Republicans, elderly people, people with varying abilities, people from different ethnic and racial backgrounds, and so on in one place is really awesome to me.

Yet again the programming at Pride was not actually inclusive of how diverse their attendees are.  There were significantly more diverse vendors, by which I mean there was actual transgender-related merchandise including books and videos (on a somewhat related note there were more bi- and pansexual pieces, too).  The transgender programming was the same as last year, with a few drag shows, a tutorial put on by the Miltown Kings that was attended by drag kings as well as trans men, something or another about gender variant youth, and at the organization fair (I don't know what it's actually called) there were multiple transgender-related groups in attendance.  They have a history project every year from the Wisconsin LGBT History Project that is ridiculously gaywashed.  The funny thing is they were totally corrected on this point last year, but they didn't change it for this year.  They actually took down the only transgender bio in the exhibit.  I mean, really?

On the bright side, there were lots of people I knew there this year, and met some new people.  Part of this was because I had budgeted on some interesting pieces to wear for Pagan Spirit Gathering, and as I'm a furry I decided to get ears and a tail that I subsequently wore.  This was really cool because let's be honest, there aren't that many places wearing something like this is socially acceptable:

Which is actually the subject of another essay I plan on writing soon but which I haven't been able to muster up the motivation to write yet.  Meh.  In the future.

    Sunday, June 2, 2013

    Why I Don't Use An Asterisk After Trans

    This essay is consistently one of the most common first things people read when they come to my blog, linked to from Tumblr a number of times that is actually kind of staggering to me, considering I'm not so much a fan of Tumblr (but Gods help me do I try).  Because of that, it's really the first impression most of you will get.  It's for that reason that I decided--since it was written way back in 2013--that it needed a rewrite.  My opinions on the subject are largely the same, but I'm not so much a fan of the writing style I was using at the time.  If you want to read the original essay, I have ensured that the Wayback Machine has it archived.

    So anyway, the trans asterisk, the thing that brought you here, probably from Tumblr (but with a good chunk just from organic search results and, I don't know, direct links).  For those who don't know, rendering trans with an asterisk--"trans*"--was for a short time a quite common way of talking about the trans community.  It was used as a way of being inclusive of many different forms of trans identity, including not only binary trans women and trans men, but the many variations of non-binary people, gender fluid people, crossdressers (and since some of your Tumblr blogs feel the need to insist you don't agree with me that crossdressers deserve a place in our community, I wrote this to explain), and so forth.  The asterisk is a wildcard, so basically it means trans[insert anything here].

    By now if you've been in the community for a while you probably have heard some shady story about how the asterisk was somehow intentionally added to exclude trans women, or to exclude non-binary people, or some other agenda.  This is in fact extremely unlikely and I wish people would stop trying to argue that.  Has it been used to exclude?  Yes, and it's something I'll talk about in this essay... but it's important to recognize that people using the asterisk are not inherently attempting to exclude, and are most likely writing in good faith.

    Now that I've talked about why the asterisk is used by some, I'll talk about why I don't use it and would prefer other people don't, either.

    The first and most important reason in my opinion is this:  People often don't know what it means.  Just looking at the search terms people use to get here it's clear a lot of people don't understand the intent I was talking about above.  This might seem trivial, but it's not; it means there are multitudes of people out there using the trans asterisk for no reason other than they see other people using it and think that's just the way you're supposed to do it.  It had gotten to the point where people were using really weird phrases like "I'm a binary trans* man!," a statement that makes absolutely no fucking sense, because if you're talking about only one person there's no reason to ensure your language is explicitly inclusive anyway.  The meaning winds up being entirely lost, trans* turns into a way to get cookie points rather than a genuinely inclusive term, and you wind up with people using it while also excluding people.

    That said, people who talk about how the asterisk has been used to silence and exclude sectors of the trans community may or may not have an inaccurate perception of how it was originally meant to be used, but the fact remains that it's easy to use as a tool of exclusion rather than inclusion, although I would argue it's more likely to be used to cover up exclusion rather than outright facilitate it.  The most common complaint is its use to exclude trans women, although it's probably more accurate to state that it's used to decenter trans women and universalize issues that aren't actually universal among trans people (for instance, talking about "the trans* murder rate" sucks acknowledgement away from the fact that it's really trans women and male-assigned feminine people of color who tip that scale).

    "Trans*" is linguistically unnecessary.  There's a perception that we need it because otherwise how will people know we mean transgender and transsexual and nonbinary folk?  That's a silly concern, though, because "transgender" already in its current incarnation includes transsexuals and nonbinary folk anyway.  That is, of course, an addition to the earlier problem where people don't know what it means, so you have a situation where people don't understand that "transgender" and its shorter form "trans" are already inclusive, they add the asterisk to try being inclusive, and people reading it just assume trans* means whatever subgroup of trans the person was writing about, usually binary trans folk.

    Speaking of nonbinary people, the asterisk has been used to imply that nonbinary people are a recent addition to the trans community that needs some sort of special nod or they're clearly not welcome.  There have been nonbinary folk referring to themselves as "trans" and being active members in the community long before that, though, I mean look at Kate Bornstein and Leslie Feinberg.  And you know, I guess it would be one thing if it actually helped people be mindful of how inclusive they're being with their language, but again--because it's such an important reason--since people get confused by it, it winds up being used at inappropriate times by people who assume it's just a fancy decoration or something.  It's tiring how many people use trans* when only talking about binary trans folks, or only talking about transmasculine folks, or so on.

    On a fun related note, the vegetarian and animal rights communities have a similar problem, because somebody thought it was a bright idea to create the word "veg*n" or "veg*an," meant to mean "vegetarian and vegan" but very often used to mean "VEGAN (but people who eat eggs or milk can tag along because strength and numbers)."  Like trans*, veg*n is both absolutely useless--vegans are just a specialized type of vegetarian, so just saying "vegetarian" would work--and really confusing.  It's really annoying how many people use "veg*n" when they just mean vegans, or say things like "veg*ns don't eat honey!" when the term inherently includes lots and lots of people who eat honey.  That said, veg*n--like trans*--is quite easy to use in a manner that is absolutely not inclusive, but which looks inclusive if you squint hard enough; a handy way of hiding shoddy, undernuanced discourse under a carpet of Internet niceties.  It's like politicians who have repeatedly voted against LGBT rights but who still enshrouded their Facebook and Twitter photos with rainbows after same sex marriage was legalized.  They may not have done shit, but they look like they did if you don't read too far into it.

    Which brings me, finally, to my last point:  Internet activism is an incredible force that is changing the world very rapidly and opening this discourse to people who would never have been able to find it without it, and I would never argue that Internet activism is unnecessary, or useless, or lazy.  But when a convention is solely based on the written word, when it's something you can't really pronounce or express when having an oral conversation with somebody, it in its own small way implies that being trans is a product of the Internet that can only be appropriately discussed through text.  And while the Internet trans community is valuable--especially to people who have no way to find other trans people in person--there's so much more to our community than that.  There's more than Twitter and Tumblr, more than anything textual at all, plenty of in-person activism to be done, and unless you're going to say "asterisk" there's no way of translating that discourse properly.

    But let's conclude here... again, to reiterate, I don't believe that individual uses of the trans asterisk are inherently exclusive of any specific group of trans people, but there is no reason to use it that isn't contraindicated by the amount of confusion it causes and the shady way it's used.  That's why I don't use it and suggest that other people don't, either.