Saturday, October 31, 2015

Accessibility Should Be The Default Setting

Picture of my own Teal Pumpkin.
I learned about the Teal Pumpkin Project on the radio last year.  Full disclosure: I hate radio.  I find well over half of radio DJs entirely reprehensible.  This was a pretty good if tame example of why... they'd dedicated an entire segment of their morning decrying the project as being about "oversensitivity" among other vile accusations.

Somebody called in to explain that as somebody who grew up with life-threatening food allergies, Halloween was never fun for her.  And, well, I can imagine.  The Teal Pumpkin Project is simple:  Put a teal-colored pumpkin with a sign out during Trick or Treat, and people with food allergies or parents of kids with food allergies know that there are non-food treats available.

The radio DJs wishiwashily recanted, because a radio DJ's job is basically to say something shitty and then fake apologize when somebody calls in, but since then I've actually been really excited about the possibility.  Accessibility is something extremely important to me, as somebody who has spent a lot of time not being accommodated.  And I don't have any life-threatening food allergies.  I can very easily decide that what symptoms I get are worth it for the time being.  A lot of kids can't do that.  So based on what allergy they have and how severe it is, a Halloween experience may range from a mild inconvenience as parents replace the candy with allergens in it with other ones to a literal life-threatening event if even contact or inhalation will cause that kind of reaction.  I lived in an area with no trick or treaters last year and was very pumped to participate this year.

That's why it's kind of enraging to see the amount of backlash against it.  I mean, this is an optional thing to do.  Nobody is saying you have to accommodate people with allergies.  Furthermore, you have the option to give candy, but have non-food treats as an extra option for kids who have food allergies.  And yet the comments on the articles about this are just astounding with the apparent offense people are taking to this project, including people who have (or claim to have) allergies or children with allergies.

Some of the more common criticisms?  "Oversensitivity" and "taking the fun out of a holiday" were the common ones among those who did not claim any food allergies.  "It's not that hard for me to sort out the candy afterward" and "it makes my kid stick out even more" topped the parents' comments.  Most of the ones from allergic adults echoed the parents.  One total asshole made an argument about natural selection.

Again, over something that is totally optional within a totally optional activity.  You don't need to participate in Halloween at all let alone participate in this project, but apparently it's offensive.

People have some irritatingly idyllic opinions about The Way Things Were, and accessibility tends to bear a lot of ire because of it.  The way people tell this story, there was once a time long long ago when Halloween was fun and people didn't complain about things like allergies and offensive costumes.  This is the reality:  In the past, when people had severe allergies, they were flat out not able to participate.  People didn't accommodate them anyway, so why bother?  It's the same story for all the other accessibility measures we take.  The conferences I've gone to often have no-scent/no-perfume policies, which people always treat as useless and annoying.  When people complain about these, what they're ignoring is that people who did have really bad allergies to scents would show up, have a really bad experience, and then never come again.  Since they stopped coming, there was nobody there to confirm that this was even an important issue, so when the scent policies were popping up people acted like they were frivolous and oversensitive.

Accommodation of kids with serious allergies for trick-or-treating is something that should have always been done, but since it wasn't, they merely didn't go out trick-or-treating, so you wouldn't have even known they existed.

Next, on parental supervision.  Yes, it's important that parents of kids with allergies look through their candy, this is like the most no-shit-Sherlock thing you could possibly say about the subject.  I don't get why this is actually an argument, though... accommodating allergies when you hand out treats means fewer treats the parents will have to remove or replace.  This argument tends to be used by people who have allergies or parents of kids who have allergies... but not all allergies are the same.  There are people out there who can't even be in the vicinity of a peanut without going into anaphylactic shock.  Just sorting out their candy is not an option.

There are kids who were unable to trick-or-treat due to allergies that severe whose parents plan Teal Pumpkin routes for them.  They weren't able to participate.  Now they can.  Doesn't that mean something?

Speaking of which, the next criticism:  It makes allergic kids stand out.  "My kid doesn't want special treatment!" one parent said.

I'm pretty sure that's the parents' opinion more than the kid's, but as kids can be cruel there are certainly those out there who are embarrassed about medical and accessibility needs, whether that accessibility is due to an allergy or due to some other thing, because they don't want to be The Weird Kid.  Here's the problem:  We've turned "special treatment" into this dirty word seeping with the assumption of over-entitlement.  Over things that people should have a right to.  The fact that people shame kids for having needs doesn't erase the fact that they have those needs, and pretending they can get by with nobody ever accommodating their allergies is serious ignorance.  Do the same people get angry that labels identify that there are common allergens in foods, too?  I mean, they could just read the ingredients, memorizing even the more obscure names for them straight from the womb; how very entitled are they to expect accommodation!

But here's the thing that really gets to me.  I've made it clear that, like Halloween itself, the Teal Pumpkin project is voluntary.  Nobody is forcing you to do it, and in fact there aren't even that many cases of pressuring people to do it.

But why aren't we pressuring people?

I'm not saying you need to paint a pumpkin teal.  What I'm saying is that the Teal Pumpkin Project exists because people do not care enough about accessibility as it is.  Accessibility should be a default setting.  We know there are kids with allergies.  One of the critiques I read literally justified her hatred of the Teal Pumpkin Project by citing the fact that her neighbors knew about her allergies and kept a special treat for her.  If people regularly did things like this, we wouldn't need the project!  The fact is, people don't accommodate each other enough, and when they do they complain about it and act like it's a massive impingement on their freedoms.

No wonder kids--and adults--feel alienated by accessibility.  People have trained them to feel like having their needs met, having their differences acknowledged and accommodated, like that's something horrible and burdensome that nobody should be obligated to do.

Finally, just a fun one for closing, here's an article largely about a woman who is angry about the Teal Pumpkin Project........ because people called her out for trying to participate in it while not following the rules by handing out juice boxes instead of non-food treats.  Because "toys are too expensive."  Because juice boxes aren't?
Teal Pumpkin Project Not A Smash Hit For Everyone


Monday, October 19, 2015

Wisconsin Schools Are Clearly Failing Trans Youth

When I came out as queer, I admittedly was super na├»ve about my state.  It made sense as somebody whose experience was limited... I was trained off-the-bat to be proud of the fact that Wisconsin was the first to ban workplace discrimination back in the early 1980s, so when we started fighting against anti-queer bigots in the mid-2000s over same-sex marriage bans it was actually legitimately shocking for me when we lost.  I still reflexively associate legislative harassment of queer and trans people with other states, no matter how many times I am entirely wrong about it.

I worked for a time in Fond du Lac, where somebody tried introducing legislation to protect trans people in housing.  It had nothing to do with public accommodations, and yet cis people throughout the city pitched fucking fits about bathrooms and locker rooms (the day I learned about it I had incidentally used a men's locker room in Fond du Lac).  I contacted the people voting on this legislation, and without fail every single one of them cissplained to me that it was not about public accommodations, even though they had been pandering endlessly to cis fears about that very thing.  That was few weeks shy of two years ago.

Even as an adult, it's really rough for me to be living here right now as Wisconsin is a battleground with regard to trans accommodations, particularly accommodations in high schools.  Recently at Oshkosh West High School (in other words, very close to where I live) a trans male student came out saying that he was given a detention for using a men's restroom.  In addition, Representative Kremer (R, predictably) in Kewaskum (very near where I grew up) is trying to push legislation to standardize which restrooms trans students are allowed to use in Wisconsin schools, requiring them to use either the restroom of their assigned sex or a unisex or faculty restroom.

In both these cases--as in most cases where trans people are antagonized for having bodily functions--the whole story may very well not be being told on either side.  For instance, I didn't know until recently that Kremer's bill requires access to a unisex restroom if a trans student does not want to use the restroom of their assigned sex.  This really hasn't been brought up a lot by trans people I know, and is likely what he was talking about when he pissed and moaned on Twitter that people were judging his bill as "transphobic" without understanding the whole story.

Here's the thing, though: Pretty much every version of these stories leads to Wisconsin failing trans students.  There is no way I can look at either of them and think "Oh, these cis administrators and politicians are clearly trying to do the right thing by trans students, and I'm just reading this wrong."  And quite frankly even as an adult I feel really antagonized by it, and that's in addition to the empathetic disgust I feel for the way my community's youth are treated.

First we need to talk about the very concept of unisex restrooms.  Gender neutral restrooms have long been a part of the fight in the trans community.  When I was at UW-Oshkosh I remember engaging in an action where a friend and I went from building to building signing over restrooms to designate them gender neutral (with a note explaining that there was a policy in place they were supposed to be following but were not).  That action pretty much flopped, but the point is that having space for nonbinary trans people as well as binary trans folk who aren't quite comfortable in public restrooms yet has been an important part of the fight.  But it was never meant to be a replacement for man and woman identified trans folk to use instead of men's and women's restrooms, at least not where they still exist.

I remember like ten years ago having a discussion with Debra Davis, who is somewhat well-known for having come out as transgender while being a public school librarian.  When the subject of unisex restrooms came up, she said "good, a place for people to go if they're uncomfortable with me being in the women's room."   This was an important moment, because for me it solidified a very important fact:  Trans men and trans women are not just fighting for bodily functions, we are fighting for validation.  Yes, it's important to just have a place to piss and shit, and unisex restrooms technically fulfill that purpose, but being told that I am not male enough to use a men's room is invalidating and insulting.  That's what Oshkosh West is doing to its trans students.  That's what Kremer is trying to do to the trans students of Wisconsin.

We also need to understand what a typical men's-women's-unisex restroom layout designed by cis people looks like.  It'll have a men's room with multiple stalls and urinals, a women's restroom with multiple stalls, and a handicap-accessible unisex restroom that is set up with about the same amenities you'd find in a typical household half-bathroom.  This means that in a facility where trans people are banned from using the right bathroom, not only all trans people--nonbinary, binary, all of us--but also people whose accessibility needs require more space or a caregiver or something like that and shy cis people who avoid multi-stall amenities, are all competing over one single-stall restroom (in such a case that there are two single-stall restrooms, they are often bafflingly labeled "men" and "women" even in the presence of multi-stall gendered restrooms).  This creates problems like what happened at Oshkosh West, but I'll talk about that in a couple paragraphs.

That's only one of the options this bill mandates.  The alternative--because forcing trans students to use the restrooms of their assigned sex is entirely transphobic and absolutely off-the-table as far as appropriateness--is to use faculty restrooms.   This has been a solution used by schools for many years now, and you know what?  It fucking sucks.  It casts students as pariahs, that weirdo freak who uses the teacher restroom, and that's if it's even accessible to them.  I've heard stories of trans students who had walked twice as far as other students to get to a faculty restroom only to find it locked if not in use.  Another fun fact?  Teachers usually aren't forced to use faculty restrooms, either.  A female teacher can use a girl's restroom.  A male teacher can use a boy's restroom.  A cis student who uses unisex restrooms for accessibility is not banned from using single-sex restrooms; for instance, a cis female student who uses a wheelchair may require the space and facilities of an accessible unisex bathroom but is not banned from girl's or women's restrooms if she can make it work in a pinch.  Forcing trans students to use unisex and especially faculty restrooms makes zero sense and it is absolutely transphobic.

You know what one of the reasons I stopped using those unisex bathrooms unless absolutely necessary was?  Even before I was on hormones or "passed" all the time?  I suddenly understood that I was often occupying what for a disabled person may be the only restroom they can actually use.  And it's not ten years ago anymore, trans people are coming out younger, so cases like Oshkosh West where there are plural trans people attending are not uncommon.  Trans people in general are not uncommon.  And in fact, the reason the student at Oshkosh West left the unisex restroom and entered the men's was because a teacher with a special needs student needed the restroom.

Which brings me to my second point.  If Oshkosh West's story is accurate and Cody Zitek's is exaggerated, and he was only given a detention for hanging out in the unisex room, Oshkosh West is still failing trans youth.  The only major difference between Cody's version of the story and the school's is that in Cody's a staff member asked an insensitive genital question and he got a detention for being in the men's room, in the school's he got a detention for loitering in the unisex restroom.

My question for Oshkosh West is this:  Why were four trans male students eating in a restroom?!

This part of the story actually punches me in the gut.  I got really bad harassment when I was in high school.  I wasn't out as trans yet--if I was I can only imagine it would have been much, much worse--but I was very badly bullied by both students and in some cases even teachers.  It was not uncommon at all for me to take my lunch tray into a restroom stall and eat there to avoid having to deal with the wide-open, underorganized, harassment-prone atmosphere of the school lunch room.  And I didn't have friends at school to help me deal with the harassment.  This is an entire group of trans students trying to separate themselves from a lunch room, who are admitting it's because they are uncomfortable in the lunch room.  Why?  What is going on in that lunch room for eating in a bathroom to feel like a safer alternative?

Bathrooms are only a part of this story when that sort of thing is happening.

Kremer claims that his bill is intended to make trans students safer as well as cis students, but this goes against pretty much everything else he's said and is pretty much a bald-faced lie.  His explanation is and always has been "all these people are caring about trans students' safety, but nobody is talking about safety for [heterosexual] students" (he means cisgender but as he is a bigot  he is conflating gender identity and sexual orientation).  Even after correcting the language, it still makes no sense:  Forcing trans students into unisex restrooms doesn't protect them--if their harassment everywhere else is being ignored--and trans students are not and never have been a threat to cis students.  Ever.

Everything about this is about vague and petty cis comforts and not trans student safety.  Kremer and every school that utilizes similar policies to the ones he is trying to codify in state law are not protecting trans students, they are antagonizing them and making them out to be potential criminals for needing to use a restroom like everyone else.

Friday, October 2, 2015

ACTUALLY Pope Francis Totally DOES Endorse Kim Davis

Update October 3rd:  I've changed this essay a bit to add examples and citations as well as account for new information about Kim Davis's visit with Pope Francis.  The underlying theme is still the same.

Alright fellow queer people... I'm getting really tired of this.

I tried to avoid talking about Kim Davis.  The thing is, the reaction to her gives me a lot of very nasty mixed feelings, especially regarding the abysmal way the mainstream LGBT community has chosen to handle it.  The "still did their job" memes?  Deplorable.  The intense love people seemed to have for somebody going to jail?  Disgusting.  That in addition to the fact that marriage just isn't my movement.  Kim Davis isn't my favorite subject.  She has brought out some really disturbing behavior.  But this Pope Francis thing... well, you all know railing on the Pope is one of my favorite subjects.  And you all seem to be defending the shit out of him yet again.  So I'll talk.

The short story is this:
  • Kim Davis is in charge of handing out marriage registrations.  She refused to hand out marriage registrations because she's homophobic.  She gets put in jail.
  • Somebody asks the Pope how he feels about the subject and he waxes poetical about how important conscientious objection is.
  • She meets with the Pope and suddenly acts like they have matching half-heart necklaces.
  • People freak out and whine and cry that Pope Francis would do such a thing even though he has solidly confirmed he's a total bigot since way before his reign even started.
  • The Vatican goes all "wait wait this isn't what it looks like what did you think it was an endorsement?"
  • LGBT people breathe a sigh of relief and start broken-record chanting that the meeting wasn't an endorsement, I mean the Pope meets with a lot of people, he even met with a gay couple, didn't you know that?
I'm sitting here scratching my head yet again because we've been through this before.  It's like every time there's a lull in the Pope's obvious homophobia people just totally forget all the things he did before that.  And this time people are just totally swallowing this line the Vatican is feeding that the Pope's meeting doesn't mean he endorses Kim Davis, which somehow has turned into him overall not endorsing Kim Davis.

And people are really jumping through hoops to justify it, like in this article where a gay friend of Pope Francis talks about how he's "never condemned his sexuality" and he "believes the Pope was 'misled'" into meeting Kim Davis, or in this article--insultingly titled "Pope Francis Rejects Kim Davis’s Account Of Meeting And Refuses To Endorse Her Bigotry"--where people laugh and mock the fact that Kim Davis was merely a member of a group that met the Pope and that he didn't even know who she was.  Complete with a bunch of people apologizing for "throwing the Pope under the bus" because I mean how could we ever believe that the super 100%-never-wrong Pope Francis doesn't support The Gays?  I mean he hugged a trans person and has a gay friend who he also hugged.  Hugs are magic!!!  No oppressor has ever hugged a person they actively oppress before!

Well, you know what?  Pope Francis totally does endorse Kim Davis and her bigotry.

It also has pretty much nothing to do with the meeting between them, nor even his "conscientious objector" comments--not entirely, anyway.  People are focusing on whether or not these two actions constitute an endorsement of Kim Davis, and the answer to that isn't that cut and dry.  The Pope hangs out with a lot of people, including queer people, and he certainly doesn't "endorse" us.  The Vatican has basically said he didn't know who she was, and her story about their meeting is mostly a lie.  And if we're talking a generic discussion on conscientious objection, well, what the Pope said is absolutely right (even if the example given was a "totally hypothetical" person refusing to give out marriage licenses).  I don't agree with the way people are spinning these events, but they're not the worst arguments I've ever seen made by LGBT people, although to be fair the mainstream LGBT movement has crafted a more-than-fair share of asinine arguments.

So why does Pope Francis endorse Kim Davis?  Because he endorses the exact same beliefs she does.  And very publicly so.

There's a really bizarre, really kind of insulting double standard going on when we talk about Pope Francis compared to other bigots.  Both Kim Davis and Pope Francis are staunchly against same-sex marriage.  But there's a huge power differential that people are entirely ignoring when they talk about this subject, all wrapped in a big blanket of misogyny and tone arguments.

Kim Davis is a county clerk, and while she may have rallied some already-present supporters, her influence is otherwise limited to her office.  While this certainly may be a big deal for those people whose licenses she denied, overall she is a small-time bigot without a whole lot of actual power, and where she did exercise her authority improperly she has been punished for it, even going to jail for a few days over it.  She's largely a laughingstock, subject to insensitive memes somehow coming to the conclusion that you should always do your job no matter what it is as if no employer has ever insisted somebody do something immoral ever.  To make matters worse, the reaction to her has really brought out some of the absolute worst among LGBT people, who have been churning out misogynistic humor about her appearance and a nice chunk of prison rape and sexual harassment jokes to go along with it.

Pope Francis is a career bigot.  He has spoken out against pretty much every important LGBT issue, aggressively lobbying against adoption (like, he literally said gay couples don't love their children as much as straight ones), same-sex marriage (going way back to when he was still a Cardinal, calling it an attempt to destroy God's plan), and gender transition (basically any difference in gender expression is somehow comparable to nuclear weapons).  His beliefs are the same as Kim Davis's if not worse.  But while Kim Davis's power and appeal are both limited to people who already would have listened to her, Pope Francis leads the largest Christian denomination in the world.  Even where he doesn't have explicit legal power he still retains a lot of social power.  People listen to this guy.  There are people out there who literally worship him.  When he dies there will be people who literally have shrines to him, if they don't already.  He has his own country!  He's an extremely powerful person whose opinions can make or break somebody's liberties depending on where they live and who their family is.  But rather than vilify him, he has been put on a pedestal by the mainstream LGBT movement.  The Advocate actually gave this guy a fricking award despite having been very consistent in his opinion that LGBT people do not deserve equal rights.  People constantly talk about that "who am I to judge?" comment, even though it explicitly referred to Catholic priests, a group of people expected to be celibate their whole lives.  They squee with glee whenever he is in the near vicinity of a gay person, and basically act like he's the best thing that happened to queer people since the strap-on harness.

That's honestly really disturbing.  I'm getting sick of this double-standard and I'm getting sick of the amnesia that apparently befalls the entire LGBT community right after every one of his many transgressions against us.  And I'm getting sick of people gasping with shock when I say I do not support or believe in the lovey-dovey hippie crap version of Pope Francis people keep promoting.  If you can't even handle that maybe not every queer person is enthusiastic about what crumbs the Pope throws us, you have absolutely no business trashing Kim Davis.  She's hardly a threat on her own let alone in comparison to the behemoth of bigotry Pope Francis I.  He may be kinder about his bigotry, but he's ultimately far more powerful and therefore more dangerous than she ever will be.