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We mistake our privilege for something earned, and think the worst of those without pedestals

Who knows what self-delusion lurks in the hearts of white men? The Shadow knows...

Who knows what self-delusion lurks in the hearts of white men? The Shadow knows… (click to embiggen)

My dad was the kind of racist that was almost too easy to spot. He threw around the n-word and other racial slurs not just casually, but with great frequency. It was impossible to talk to him without also hearing how all those people were the cause of anything and everything bad that he perceived was happening in the world. Friends and acquaintances didn’t always believe me when I would describe the phone conversations where I had to ask him, multiple times, to stop talking like that or I would hang up.It was simply toxic to talk to him, which is why I literally stopped speaking to him at all about seven years before he died. My dad was the kind of racist who made it easy for other people to congratulate themselves that they weren’t racist because they didn’t talk as crudely as he did. We look at guys like my him, or the people waving Nazi flags and throwing Nazi salutes in Charlottesville, Virginia this last weekend, and tell ourselves that we aren’t like that, so clearly we aren’t racist.

Who speaks truth about the evil that lurks in the hearts of men?

Who speaks truth about the evil that lurks in the hearts of men? (click to embiggen)

But we live in a racist society. We’ve been conditioned to believe all sorts of things about each other based on the color of their skin. Studies show that when we’re shown photographs of black teens of either sex we consistently over-estimate their age, for instance. We’ve been conditioned so that if we look at a young black man, we don’t see a kid, but a thug. We’re pre-disposed to believe that a young black man is not only capable, but likely to hurt someone. We see a video of a dark skinned person carrying a toy gun getting gunned down by police (even though he has dropped the toy and has his hands in the air), and say, “Well, he still looked dangrous.” Then we see video of hundreds of white guys showing up at a political rally carrying rifles and guns and say, “They’re just exercising their rights.”

It is impossible to grow up in a racist society and not absorb a lot of racism. It is also impossible to grow up in the U.S. as a white person and not benefit from all that racism. Part of it is the generational thing: we lived in nicer neighborhoods than we otherwise would because our parents, grandparents, and so on benefited from preferential hiring practices, redlining of mortgages, and unequal distribution of resources for public schools. And it’s easy for us to say, “Well, that was the bad old days. Things have changed, now, and besides, I can’t do anything about it.” But it isn’t just the bad old days. Racist assumptions are baked into all of our social conventions, institutions, and business practices. Studies have shown again and again that changing something as simple as making a name look less ethnic on a resume substantially improves the odds that a submitted resume will get result in a call for a job interview, for instance. We see it in statistics of which people cops decide to stop and question, let alone the ghastly statistics about police shootings.

So if you’re like me, looking at this news this weekend and being horrified that an angry white man who drove his car into a crowd killing a woman (and wounding at least 19 other people), while people ranging from ordinary citizens to news anchors and even the president are bending over backward to say that bigotry isn’t involved—it isn’t enough to say, “Aren’t they terrible people?” We have to be willing to admit that these terrible people were enabled by a society which explicitly benefits white people, whether we individual white people think of ourselves as racist or not.

Some other folks have explained it quite well: How “Nice White People” Benefit from Charlottesville and White Supremacy:

“For white people who don’t self-identify as disciples of Richard Spencer, David Duke, and/or the ancient demon Beelzebub, there is extreme anxiety around the accusation of racism. We see this fear of blame in Trump’s statement. “Not Donald Trump, not Barack Obama” seems to say, ‘Hey, there’s been a tense racial climate in this country forever. It’s not anyone’s fault!’ Except the opposite is true. American white supremacy has been a problem forever, and it is all of our fault, fellow white people.

“White people benefit from white supremacy. Period. Peggy McIntosh spelled this out for us in 1989, but apparently we’re still not quite getting it. Her famous piece, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” lays out undeniable ways that it is simply easier to be white in this country, like always having a boss who is a fellow white person, or, you know, being able to eat Skittles at night without getting shot. Most white people didn’t ask for this privilege. Actually, that’s the whole idea. White privilege is an inherent advantage that easily goes unnoticed and unacknowledged. Rather than stuffing down the sense of shame associated with this obvious unfairness, why not work to even the playing field?”
—Lauren Duca

The referenced article by Peggy McIntosh is also a very good read: White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.

“I was taught to see racism only in individual acts of meanness, not in invisible systems conferring dominance on my group.”
—Peggy McIntosh

We can’t just shake our heads and blame it all on those people. Society as a whole, including us, are to blame. The first step is recognizing that the problem isn’t something which was forced on our country. The problem isn’t something that just appeared recently. The problem has always been there. It has been growing and getting angrier for years. We are part of the problem, so we have to be part of the solution. We have to find ways to oppose this racist authoritarian movement with more than just words.

It’s not a food allergy & other misconceptions about diabetes

I run into this one all the time...

I run into this one all the time…

Since my diagnosis , whenever a planned visit to my mother’s approaches I start getting texts from Mom with various food questions. “I forget, can you eat pineapple?” “I know you can’t eat regular bread, but what about biscuits?” And so forth. And each time I have to explain, yet again, that I can eat anything.1 It isn’t about what kinds of food I can and can’t eat, it’s about how much carbohydrate is in each food, and how much I’ve already eaten.

Once when I vented about this misconception on line, someone replied that their mother kept thinking that his wife’s need to eat gluten free meant always having a vegetarian option.

My mom isn’t the only person who buys into this myth that diabetics can never ever eat this, that, or the other. I’ve met plenty of diabetics (and a doctor or two) who also buy into it. I’ve seen plenty of people who take it the other way: since they’ve been told they can “never” eat anything they think is good, they just say “screw it” and eat themselves to death.2

So, for instance, most mornings I have a cookie or nice piece of chocolate. We’re supposed to eat a small snack each time we take our insulin, and I have found my blood sugar is most stable if I eat something with less than 10 grams of carbs for that first snack of the day. And there are lots of snack foods which are NOT sugar-free where a single serving falls in that range.

Everyone’s body varies, but I’ve found that as long as my total carbs for the day stay under 150 grams and no single meal has more than about 40, (and I take my meds on time) my blood sugar readings stays in the desired range. That’s true whether those carbs come from things like lentil soup, tangerines, and icelandic yogurt or chocolate, Dry soda, and beef stroganoff with noodles.

Keeping track of the carbs takes work, I get that. People keep asking me if I have an app the tells me how many carbs are in things and I reply, “Safari!” Yes, the defalt web browser on my iphone. I can just type “how many carbs in french fries” and get a useful answer–a serving of this size contains this many carbohydrates, that much fibre, et cetera. I’ve been doing it long enough that I don’t have to look up a bunch foods, because the numbers and serving sizes have started to stick in my memory. I can eyeball a lot of servings and come up with a good guess.4

I’m just enough of a creature of habit with a bit of obsessive compulsive leanings that once the behavior was established, making a not of how many carbs I’m eating happens almost without thinking. But there is time and effort involved. And let’s be honest, eating healthy isn’t cheap. Our society has gotten really good at serving massive amount of calories cheaply in forms that are almost tailor-made to make you fat. Finding health alternatives, that are easily to keep with you, easy to store, won’t spoil before you can eat them all, and so forth is more expensive the just grabbing the reasonably priced pre-packaged foods, or a cheap (and delicious) meal from a food truck or whatever.

Another myth I hear a lot is, “You can eat all the fruit you want!” in various forms. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a conversation that includes the claim, “But fruit doesn’t have sugar!” and when it’s pointed out that fruit contains a lot of sugar, “Well, but it’s nature sugar, so it’s good for you!” I’ve had engineers who I know had to pass basic chemistry to get their degrees insist that the naturally occurring sugar in fruit doesn’t elevate your blood sugar reading, because it “isn’t the bad stuff.”

News flash: all sugar is natural. Really. That beautiful white crystalline power you buy at the store and put in sugar bowls is natural sugar. It’s simply squeezed out of plants, such as sugar cane, or beets. The science is very clear that nothing about the process of extracting it and purifying it makes it any more or less dangerous than the sugars you ingest if you take a bite of an apple or a banana. At all.5 This is really just the flip side of the myth I opened with: you can never have certain foods, others are always good for you, no matter what.

So, no, just because it’s “healthy” doesn’t mean I can eat as much as I want.

The biggest adult-onset diabetes myth I keep running into is the notion that being obese causes diabetes. For decades people (and doctors) said that because there was a strong correlation. But try as they might, no medical study could ever establish the causal link. Not only that, as options other than just injecting insulin became available, a lot of people started noticing that diabetic patients who had been struggling to lose weight (and failing), starting losing weight easily once they were on the correct medicine for them. Turned out there was a reason for both of those facts: for several types of diabetes, it isn’t the obesity that caused the diabetes, it’s the underlying genetic issue that will eventually turn into diabetes that is causing the obesity.

There is a relationship. Being obese makes many of the other symptoms of diabetes worse. But a huge number of studies have shown that the old way of treating the disease: basically fat-shaming the pre-diabetics and refusing to start them on medication until their blood sugar levels were so out of control that permanent damage had accrued in the liver, kidneys, and other internal organs–wasn’t helping anyone. Whereas starting patients on medication early, and focusing on diet, exercise, and the results of blood tests rather than worrying about weight, often leads to the patient losing weight, and sometimes bringing function back to the pancreas.

While we’re on that. There’s another related myth. For a long time when treating patients who were developing adult-onset diabetes, doctors put off starting the patient on insulin for as long as they could. The reasoning was a combination of the obesity-causation myth and the anecdotal experience of watching adult-onset diabetics’ health decline sharply after starting the insulin. The problem was the waiting, not the insulin.

There’s a number that is generated from the routine blood tests, your A1C. You don’t need to know what that means to understand what I’m about to explain. The average healthy person’s A1C will be about 4. If it’s over about 5.7 you’re considered pre-diabetic. If it’s over 6.5 you’re considered diabetic. In the old days, doctors would wait until an adult patients’ A1C was over 12 before starting them on insulin. The problem is that when the A1C is greater than 7, internal organ damage starts happening. So waiting until a patient is consistently at an A1C of 12 means the body is already so damaged that the patient was already dying. So it created this mass of anecdotal evidence that people were associating with the insulin.

That’s why the guidance now is to start medications early. Try the various meds that can be taken as pills when a patient is in the upper end of pre-diabetic stage, but don’t wait so long. Again, lots of studies are available on this.

Anyway, besides just trying to reduce the number of people who argue with us about what we’re eating, I hope that this will encourage you to think about how the body works and how many of medical and biological facts you’ve absorbed over your life are actually just widely believed myths. Everyone should have a basic understanding of how human bodies work, in my opinion.


Footnotes:
1. Well, except almonds, but that’s an actual allergy I’ve had forever.

2. One reason I asked my doctor for a nutritionist referral when I was diagnosed pre-diabetic 17 years ago was watching my Dad,3 some uncles, and cousins who didn’t take care of their illness lose their eyesight or toes or entire lower legs along with their swiftly declining health. Contrasted with a great-uncle who had watched his diet and took his meds faithfully since his diagnosis at age forty who lived to the age of 99, spry enough to play nine holes of golf with some younger buddies just a few days before he dropped dead.

3. I should mention that Dad wasn’t diagnosed until 13 years after the divorce, so my Mom has never lived with someone with this particular disorder.

4. Usually. Sometimes I realize partway through eating something that it is sweeter than I expected, and I can stop at half a portion. Other times I didn’t realize there were hidden extra carbs in something until later, when I start feeling that high sugar buzz, then check my blood sugar and confirm that it’s shot up a lot higher than it should have if what I’d eaten a bit ago had been what I thought.

5. And all sorts of natural substances are poison, while lots of manufactured substances are life-saving medicines. Stop assuming that natural somehow means magically healing or whatever.

You never know where you’re goin’ ’til you get there! (or, Revising my goals)

“People with goals succeed because they know where they're going.”

“People with goals succeed because they know where they’re going.”

When I set my goals for this year, I pledged to do monthly updates, since the years I’ve done that has resulted in better results than years I haven’t. This year has been complicated by the move, my husband’s surgery, and more craziness in my work schedule than usual. So there was a month that I didn’t post an update because we were swamped in the actual move. Then I declared June a reset month as we still had a lot of unpacking to do and were still trying to settle into new routines. By the end of June I’d realized that I really needed to reassess and reframe some of the goals, which is why in July’s update I only talked in really general terms.

The big goals now are mostly the same, but I’ve tweaked them a bit and decided to rearrange their priority:

Take care of us: reduce and prioritize. The move has changed a lot of things, and left us with a bunch of new tasks. People kept warning me before the move that it always takes longer to unpack than you think, for instance. And so far they’ve been right. It’s important to remember to take rests, not to let ourselves stress about things, and so on. However, not having the house quite as organized as we would like and so forth contributes to our stress level. So I’m going to count everything we do to further the unpacking and organizing of the house in this category, too. Which means this is no longer a separate main goal.

Don’t get mad, stay busy. My tasks are: write about things I love; listen to music and audiobooks more and podcasts less; spend at least half of my lunch break writing; set specific monthly writing/editing goals in each check-in.

Write, submit, and publish. More than half the year is gone and I’ve only submitted to two places. I have consolidated all of my notes for the revisions to the first novel. I spent much of July trying to get the editing/revision pass finished. While I need to work on finding other places to submit shorter work, I also need to get the big stuff done.

My specific tasks for June and July were:

  • Get back into the rhythm of editing the novel. Only so-so. I got work done, but I haven’t got new habits. Considering eight weeks of unplanned overtime as a mitigating factor, I’m going to consider this a mixed success.
  • Write at least two blog posts each month about things I like, rather than rants or commentaries. Done. Two one month and three the other!
  • Get the iris bulbs, monitors, and other things that we want to give away handed off to people who said they wanted them. We got a lot of stuff handed off, but there are still several people who wanted iris bulbs that I haven’t hooked up with since digging up the irises. So, half done.
  • Go through the rest of the Christmas decoration bins and finish that purge. Done! Finished! Completed! They are out of here, and the small number of boxes we had room for in the walk-in closet contain all the Christmas ornaments we kept.
  • Write something that isn’t in one of the novels. Sort of. I’ve written several things that I’m calling “prose skits.” They are stand alone vignettes that don’t have a traditional plot an resolution. But all of them are at least related to my fantasy novel series thus far.
  • Make significant progress on revising the first novel. Another sort of. I got through several more chapters, but a lot less than I hoped for.

It’s a mixed bag, but there was at least some progress on every task.

So, for August my tasks are:

  • Revise, revise, revise the novel.
  • Write at least two blog posts about things I like, rather than rants or commentaries.
  • Write at least two blog posts about the writing process.
  • Complete my action items from the last Corporate Board meeting.
  • Get more stuff handed off and finish cleaning out the veranda.
  • Get gaming sessions scheduled.
  • Review calls for submissions and figure out something to write for one of them.

Wish me luck!

Settling in to the new place

Fair Warning: This post falls into the “what I had for breakfast” category for some people. If you don’t want to read me rambling about things I like about our new home, things I’m getting used to about our new home town, how the move motivated us to take care of overdue tasks, and related topics, you’ll want to skip this. I’ll get back to the craft of writing, my love of all things sf/f, and various culture war issues soon.

So, in case you haven’t been following: we had to move from the place in Ballard that I had lived in since 1996 (and that Michael had shared with me since 1998) this year. On the one hand, it wasn’t our decision to move; on the other, the process by which the new owners of our old building went about it, we had many months notice to prepare and plan. On the gripping hand, we had to also fit in my husband’s surgery and recovery time, plus my work was even crazier with long hours than usual.

And now, after 32 years, I am no longer a resident of Seattle… Read More…

Being reactionary – bad rules and good expectations

“Sorry but your password must contain an uppercase letter, a number, a haiku, a gang sign, a hieroglyph, and the blood of a virgin.”

“Sorry but your password must contain an uppercase letter, a number, a haiku, a gang sign, a hieroglyph, and the blood of a virgin.” (Click to embiggen)

I was reminded this week of the Dumbest Password Policy Ever™. I was working at a company that was a subsidiary of a large company that had a bunch of divisions and subsidiaries all over North America and was in turn a subsidiary of a multi-billion dollar international company. And one day we got an email in the form of a memo from the President of all the North American divisions informing us of the new updated employee manual and drawing our attention to the new password policy included in the handbook which everyone was expected to read and conform to immediately. So I downloaded the handbook and found that policy and read with both horror and amusement: every employee is required to write down their passwords for all company owned systems, and are to keep this hardcopy of their passwords hidden somewhere in their work area, and are to show their supervisors where that password list is, and the password list must be updated whenever a password is changed.

Which anyone who knows anything about security knows is the most insecure way to treat passwords.

My boss called everyone in our department together and said, “Do not write down your passwords! If we get audited, I will tell them that of course we comply with the policy and of course each of you showed me where your passwords are hidden, but darn, I seem to have forgotten.” Which is what every other manager in our division told their direct reports (And I suspect a whole lot of managers in all of the divisions).

I understand how a policy like that comes into being. Someone who was the only person with admin privileges on some important system in one of the other division was out sick or on vacation or maybe even had died and there was a great deal of trouble that wound up costing a lot of money (either just from all the time spent by a lot of people trying to fix the problem and/or other people not being able to do certain tasks for a while). The solution to that is not to make every single bit of proprietary information available to anyone who can sneak into an office and snoop for a while. The solution is to make sure every system always has multiple people with admin rights. As long as you have someone with admin rights who can reset other account passwords or give other people rights to access files or whatever that are only accessible ordinarily to the one employee who is unavailable, you can solve any of the other problems.

Right?

Trying to avoid repeating a mistake is a natural (and not unreasonable) reaction when something goes wrong. Unfortunately, in some circumstances involving certain sorts of people a very simple “solution” that is worse than the original problem is adopted.

I’ve been worrying about this a little bit because as part of the move we’ve been trying to make some changes in our behavior to avoid problems we kept having at the old place. Some are fairly east: don’t let dishes pile up in the sink; it’s all right to run the dishwasher when it isn’t completely full. Others are a little more difficult to stick to: take out the trash or recycle as soon as we notice it’s full.

Those are examples of things we kept meaning to change before. There were issues with the outside garbage and recycle bins at the old place that provided an excuse to put off dealing with the trash at certain parts of the week, but the real issue was procrastination and habit. Habits are reinforced by all sorts of things, for example, getting used to seeing dishes piled in that sink. So maybe the change in visual cues will help us develop a new habit.

Some of the new ways of doing things are because of issues we didn’t realize were happening until we packed up. We discovered all sorts of unexpected things lurking in the back of closets, or the back parts of shelves we couldn’t see easily, or behind furniture that was seldom moved.

But I also recognize that slavishly adhering to rules without regard to unintended consequences can create worse problems. So I’ve been trying to think of this as merely establishing new norms: not strict rules, just expectations.

And maybe that’s the secret: don’t be inflexible!

Confessions of a gift-guilty packrat

“Guilt: the gift that keeps giving.” —Erma Bombeck

“Guilt: the gift that keeps giving.” —Erma Bombeck

I’ve written more than once about being a packrat, especially recently, as the process of packing, purging, moving, unpacking, purging some more has really driven home just how much stuff we had squirreled and stashed away all over the place. One aspect of the packrat I’ve only touched on briefly is the guilt over gifts. Anxiety comes in many forms for packrats. We worry that if something we need breaks, or is stolen, or stops working or whatever that we won’t be able to afford to replace it. We feel guilt at the thought of spending money to replace something that we could have avoiding spending if we had simply kept a backup. We worry that someone we care about will be left in the lurch if something they need breaks and they can’t afford to replace it. We grow up being taught that people who waste money, or who don’t plan for an equipment or other failure, or who aren’t in a position to help a loved when when something breaks down are bad people. And so on.

It’s a really complex web of guilt trips that we’re programmed with. And while most of those guilt trips are about necessities, not all of them are. We also have been taught to feel guilt over a lot of useless stuff. Specifically: anything that has ever been a gift. Don’t get me wrong: I love gifts. I love finding gifts for people I love. I love giving them. I love when someone gives something to me. Most people do. But we’ve all gotten those gifts that leave us scratching our heads. Why did this person think I would love this strange, ugly thing whose only purpose is to hang on a wall or sit on a shelf and isn’t like anything else I own at all?

The truth is, we know that we’ve made similar mistakes in gifting to other people. We found something we thought was cool, or that they would like, but it’s really not. So when we get gifts like that ourselves, we smile and say “thank you.” And we are grateful that they thought of us and went to the trouble and expense of getting this thing for us, even if we have no clue what we’re going to do with it.

But no matter how useless or inappropriate the gift is, we packrats have a very hard time getting rid of it. Years later it will still be on a shelf or in a closet somewhere, next to a bunch of other things I never use. Even if I’ve decided that it’s time for a purge and I’m specifically going through a part of the house looking for things to take to the thrift store, I’ll pick up the thing I never use that was a gift and immediately hear my grandma’s voice in the back of my head: “You can’t get rid of that! So-and-so gave it to you, and what sort of ungrateful person would get rid of a heartfelt gift?” Getting rid of the gift would be the same thing as saying I don’t love that person as much as I think I do. Getting rid of the gift would mean I don’t appreciate how lucky I am that people think of me fondly enough to get a gift. Getting rid of the gift means that I’m a very bad person.

All of that runs through my head at the thought of getting rid of any gift. Even a silly old knick knack that I don’t merely don’t like, but actually think is repulsive. Even gifts given by people who are no longer a part of my life.

When my parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and various aunts and uncles were inducing all this guilt, they weren’t meaning to turn me into a borderline hoarder—they were trying to teach me not to be ungrateful. Thye wanted me to treasure friends and value friendship and be thankful for the love that came into my life. Just as they had been taugt. The fact that they were all packrats because of it didn’t eve cross their minds.

Every single weird little kickknack and odd odject d’art that was crammed into the homes of each of my great-grandparents had a story. If I pointed at something and asked about it they would tell a story about the dear friend or long-deceased relative or whoever that had given them the thing. The story they told didn’t always involve the gift itself. But it was about the person and how wonderful or funny or dear they had been. Each dusty item was a memorial to someone they cared about.

And it isn’t just gifts that do that. My late husband, Ray, was even more into plushies than I am. Some of the plush tigers and bunnies and such he owned for a very long time before we met. Many of them had spent years in storage while he was living in a series of rented rooms in other people’s houses. But some went with him to each of those rooms. Some were later kept near his favorite chair in the apartments he and I shared.

The problem is that Ray was a heavy smoker—like his mom and sister and brothers who liked to visit a lot. And many of those plushies became badly nicotine stained. I’ve spent years periodically taking the stained ones out and trying various cleaning solutions on them. Some cleaned up easily, but other have just resisted.

But every time I thought it was time to throw in the towel and admit they couldn’t be cleaned, I would immediate think, “But Ray adored it! What kind of heartleass widower would throw away something your husband loved!?” So they would go back into the closet or the back of a shelf until the next time I tried to clean them.

The process happened again during the move. For the first time in a long while I had all of the stained ones in a single place and I went through trying to clean all of them yet again. As before, they resist the commercial soap and various homemade concoctions I’ve put together from recipes on the web and so forth. They just won’t come clean. And since they are so badly stained, they shouldn’t be donated to a thrift store. When I mentioned this to Michael, he very delicately suggested it was time to “retire” them. I probably should have made a Bladerunner joke, but instead I just said, “I know. I just may have to hold a funeral for them.”

When Grandma died, we found literally hundreds and hundreds of teddy bears, easter bunnies, and assorted other plushies, each packed in plastic bags and crammed impossibly densely into a couple of closets. A lot of them had little notes attached in Grandma’s handwritting with some person’s name and a date. The vast majority of the names were people none of the family recognized. Grandma did lots of volunteer work at church, and over the years she helped and came to know a dizzying array of people who were there for a while and moved on with their life when they got through whatever calamity had brought them to the charity program. And Grandma seemed to remember them all.

For a few years after her death, everytime I saw either my mother or my aunt, they would try to foist some of those plushies off on me. “It belonged to your grandmother!” they would protest if I suggested donating it to a thrift store. It didn’t matter that many of them looked like they had come from a thrift store before Grandma got them. It didn’t matter that they had been hidden away somewhere in some cases for many decades. It didn’t matter that none of us had any knowledge of their existence before Grandma’s death; not one of us had a fond memory of Grandma telling the story of how this one was given to her. To my mom and my aunt, suggestions that we didn’t want them amounted to saying we didn’t want to remember Grandma, or something.

I don’t want to be that person. I recognize that hanging onto these things that I don’t and can’t enjoy simply because they were his is as irrational as my Mom being upset when I suggested a hunk of junk that had clearly once been a dime store window display that one of Grandma’s charity cases had picked up as salvage somewhere and given to her wasn’t a family heirloom.

There’s a difference between hanging on to something that you love or reminds you of someone you love (and that you have room for and you can enjoy and/or it serves a purpose), and hanging on because you feel guilt toward someone who is not going to be harmed in any way if you don’t keep it.

But I’m still probably going to hold a little funeral for the plushies…

Finding a new equilibrium: writing, life, and more

Cat with a manual typewriter.We’re still in the process of unpacking. My husband told me that when he mentioned our unpacking activities to some friends, someone commented that if you get all the boxes opened within 5 years you’ve done a good job. When I told people we were moving, I had had a couple different co-workers and other acquaintances tell me things of how many years it’s been since they moved to their current place and how many boxes still haven’t been unboxed.

I found none of these comments either inspiring nor comforting.

The number of boxes we have left to unpack is pretty small, and there are little stacks of artwork and framed photos all around the house waiting to be hung up. My goal at the moment is to have the living room, library, dining room, and kitchen free of any unpacked boxes or other moving detritus by the 15th of this month–when we are hosting the monthly writers’ meeting at our place.

One thing that has been worrying me about the move is my exercise level and related health issues. For most of the previous 20 years I bused in to work each day and walked home (the walk taking a bit over an hour). That long walk was an important source of exercise. I learned a long time ago that exercise of its own sake (such as going to a gym) is just not something I can motivate myself to do. But walk somewhere instead of taking the bus or driving? That I’ll do.

The new place is much further from downtown, so walking isn’t practical. The nearest bus stop is only three-tenths of a mile from the office. The next closest is only five-tenths of a mile… and then because the bus is an express, the next is a mile further out but up on a highway overpass and not really a pleasant place to walk to. On the other hand, the first couple blocks of any walk to those bus stops is up a very steep hill (extremely steep, even), so I get my heart up to a respectable rate no matter what.

I’ve been experimenting since we started staying at the new place, and I now walk up that steep hill, and then keep walking up the less steep next four blocks, going past the nearest bus stop until I reach the place where normal streets merged with highway, then I turn and do a semi-random serpentine for several blocks winding my way back to the bus stop I walked by earlier. I say semi-random because I decide which way to go at several intersections based on the cross-walk signs. I can fairly easily get in a mile of walking this way (using the fitness app on my watch to keep track) before I get to the bus stop.

According to the fitness app (which uses a combination of how much you seem to be moving and your heart rate to determine how much exercise you’re getting) the entire 20-ish minutes this takes (no matter what I do there is time spent waiting to cross several streets) counts as good exercise. Which is funny, because my old route home, which was mostly flat (or at least such a shallow hill that it might as well have been flat) even though it took a bit over an hour to walk, the app usually only counted about 20 minutes of it as exercise. Clearly the early steep hill climb getting my heart rate up is a better start.

Anyway, while I hoped this was a good replacement for the longer walk, I wasn’t entirely certain I believed the watch app. I got some reassurance this weekend. I had a two-day visit with my mom and other relatives, and thus took a limited amount of clothes with me. I kept trying to tighten the belt I was wearing Saturday. It took me a few times before I realized that the reason I couldn’t get it snug was because I’d run out of notches on that belt.

I’ve been slowly losing weight for the last two years. I’d been exercising and trying to follow the prescribed diet for years without success on the weight front. Then once I was on new meds for my diabetes, suddenly weight starting melting away on its own. I’ve been being conservative. When I noticed pants were getting baggy the first time, I didn’t run out and buy all new stuff. I bought a couple of new, smaller pairs, and tossed the two older pairs that looked most worn. Then then I lost some more, I bought a couple more pairs and replaced a few more of the larger. I started buying smaller shirts as well. Then downsized another bit on the pants and so forth. The upshot is that I have several sets of clothes in the current size and one size larger at any time.

Anyway, I had another belt at the house that was shorter than the one I’d taken on the trip, and I can get is snug. But at this rate, in a couple months it will be too big, too. Clearly time to get a few more items of clothing the next size down and to get rid of some of the larger ones. So the weird walk to the bus seems to be providing an adequate amount of exercise.

During the intense parts of the move, I was often really low on energy during those few times I had time to sit and work on either writing or editing. I still got some done, but my productivity was way down. And it still is. There’s something about the new bus route that makes it harder for me to open up an editor on my phone and get some writing in during the ride. That writing time seldom produced huge amounts of work, in part because the old bus ride wasn’t really long. I had thought the new longer route would make writing easier. It hasn’t. I don’t know why. As soon as I open the app and start at the phone, I find myself looking away and not able to focus on any word-making.

To be fair, it’s only been about a month since the really exhausting part of moving and cleaning the old place and such ended. And then we immediately hit rush mode on our main project at work and I started working a lot more long hours than usual. So it’s possible that I just need a week or two of more normal job workload and more manageable home workload before I can get back into the swing of things.

We’ll see. Wish me luck!

It’s the task that matters: catching up and assessing

“No one who ever bought a drill wanted a drill. They wanted a hole. It's the taks that matters.”

“No one who ever bought a drill wanted a drill. They wanted a hole. It’s the taks that matters.”

There was no Friday Links post last week, no Weekend Update, and I didn’t even post any Happy Independence Day posts. Last week every workday was way longer than usual. I was therefore completely beat at the end of each day. While I collected links that I meant to make into a Friday Links post, it was a smaller group than usual and I was just too wiped on Thursday to finish it. Then I spent Saturday and Sunday down at my Mom’s delivering and configuring her new computer, fixing some network issues, helping her with other things, meeting my grand-nephew who was only born three weeks ago, and seeing other family members and friends. Michael stayed home while I was on my mini road trip. He got a ton of work done on the house (set up the last closet organizer, unpacked a bunch of boxes in the computer room, and got out and sorted most of our artwork and hung a lot of it up) while I was gone. Then on Monday we ran to Ikea to pick up a couple of things we still needed. Michael did most of the work assembling furniture and installing the earthquake straps on both the new and existing tall bookcases. I cleaned and did more unpacking… and we declared a moratorium no working on the house for the holiday.

I have only gotten a bit of work done on my writing/editing project for the month. I started to work on a post to report on my goals for the year when I realized that I’ve changed a couple of them significantly, or maybe a better way to put it is to say I’ve made completely new resolutions during the course of our unpacking that have taken precedence? Anyway, I feel a need to process a bit more about my goals, our joint goals, and so forth. As they saying goes, I don’t really know what I think about something until I write it out, so that’s what the rest of this post will be. Click to read the rest: Read More…

Portrait of the nerdy queer loudmouth as a child

I'm so old my school pictures are in black and white...

I’m so old my school pictures are in black and white…

I wrote about the Stonewall Riots several times last week, and at one point felt that I needed to clarify that I wasn’t personally involved. So I’ve uploaded my school picture from the year. As you can see, I was a bit too young to be hanging out in bars—even ones where the owners didn’t care much about checking IDs. Of course, it is demonstrated hundreds of times a year that being that young doesn’t shield one for homophobic bullying.

I was routinely called a “sissy” and “pussy” at school, on the playground, and even at home. Of course, those weren’t the worst insults. If my dad were really angry he’d call me “cocksucker.” This word was usually deployed while he was physically beating me, whereas the others usually never arrived with anything worse that a slap. Now, to be fair, he also yelled that word at tools that didn’t work the way he wanted, engines that were failing to perform correctly as he was repairing them, and so forth. It’s not that the word literally applied to me back then.

I was a sissy. I liked to sing along and dance in front of the TV when mom watched old musicals on the afternoon movie, for instance. I liked helping my mom, my grandmothers, and great-grandmothers in the kitchen. More of my friendships with kids my own age were with girls than with boys. I was horrible at any sports-related activity. I would much rather read (my mom taught me to read well enough to read picture books to my younger cousins before I entered school) than run around playing cops and robbers with the neighbors.

I also loved helping my grandpa do carpentry work (when I was really young that involved me following him around and trying to hand him the right tool). I loved working in the garden with my grandpa and great-grandpa. It wasn’t that I didn’t have any male role models — I had some very positive male role models in addition to the awful example of my father — I was just equally interested in things that stereotypically girls were expected to be interested in as those that boys are expected to like.

I wasn’t completely gender-non-conforming. I liked watching boxing with my paternal grandfather and football with my maternal grandfather (once I was living close enough to see him all the time). I loved playing with my Tonka trunks. I would create elaborate war and spy story scenarios to act out with my Captain Action action figure. I was really into the space program and built a model of the Gemini space capsule and later the Saturn V rocket and Apollo capsule and lunar module.

I have been a science fiction fan since before I can remember. My mom was into Robert Heinlein and Ray Bradbury, and infected me with the sci fi bug very early. I was quite fluent in Heinlein’s brand of manly-men conquer alien worlds style of sci fi at a very early age.

But for every Tonka truck I longed for, there was an Easy-Bake Oven, or Barbie, or various kitchenware-based toys that I also wanted. And I could never quite understand why I got yelled at by Dad for wanting to play with those. I mean, one of my grandpas (Dad’s father) baked the best cornbread in the world (hand’s down!). If Grandpa could enjoy backing, why couldn’t I?

While some parts of my childhood were bad, I do have to admit that things could have been worse. I was bullied for not be manly enough by dad, other boys at school, certain male teachers, and more than a few church leaders. Mom and a bunch of the church ladies held secret prayer meetings to try to pray my (suspected) gayness away when I was a teen-ager. But, I wasn’t actually kicked out of the house (like thousands of kids around the country each year, and like two of my high school classmates) for being a queer.

And though I did go through more than one period of having suicidal thoughts, I never actually tried it. Unlike hundreds of kids each year who try and succeed because they’ve either been bullied for seeming queer and/or are terrified that their family will find out.

Most of that is down to luck. My love of sci fi/fantasy gave me access to a lot of literature that gave me hope for a better tomorrow. The vast majority wasn’t about a better tomorrow for queers, of course, but just a better, more enlightened tomorrow seemed less likely to be so hostile to boys like me. I also had some wonderful teachers and other adults in my life who affirmed my interests, and just affirmed me.

I also just don’t seem to be temperamentally able to give in completely to despair. There’s a stubborn core to my personality that believes I can beat or solve anything, if I just have enough time to figure it out. How much of it is inherited (I do come from a long line of very stubborn contrarians), and how much is learned (some of the stubborn relatives were in-laws or adoptive relatives), but I suspect more than a little of it is hardwired into my neurological system.

More than one of those relatives who were important role models were also outspoken advocates for doing what’s right, standing up for yourself and others, and never being ashamed to be yourself. That some of them contradicted those lessons a bit later in life when I came out didn’t shake the foundation they had helped lay in my heart, though.

So, I’ve been a nerdy queer loudmouth for as long as I can remember. That’s more than 50 years. I don’t know why anyone would expect that to change now.

Queer Plus, or Intersectionality Isn’t Just a Noun — more adventures in dictionaries

“#MoreColorsMorePride” Supporters of Philadelphia’s revamped version of the Pride flag say it’s meant to be more inclusive to nonwhite LGBTQ persons.

“#MoreColorsMorePride” Supporters of Philadelphia’s revamped version of the Pride flag say it’s meant to be more inclusive to nonwhite LGBTQ persons.

When I first saw a link to an article about the More Colors More Pride campaign and their new flag, I admit I was a bit confused. My specific thought was, “But the black stripe goes at the bottom…” because I’m already very familiar with the Victory Over AIDS version of the Pride flag. In that flag, the black stripe represents our being in mourning for the loss of hundreds of thousands of members of the queer community due to AIDS, and it is the bottom stripe on that flag because the idea is that we are determined to be victorious over AIDS, right?

Anyway, my confusion lasted only milliseconds, because I hadn’t even finished reading the headline before I understood that for this flag, the new stripes represented Queer People of Color. Which made perfect sense. But, as an article that I included in the most recent Friday Links noted, the new flag wasn’t greeted enthusiastically by everyone: The Surprising Controversy Surrounding A More Inclusive Pride Flag.

I’ve seen some of the negative reactions on my own social media, and one thing I couldn’t help noticing was that every person I saw objecting, if you checked out their profile, they were white and male (Full Disclosure: I’m white and male, myself). And their objections are, to a one, ludicrous. I especially liked the guy who said something along the lines of “if you don’t see yourself included in the universal symbol of the rainbow, you need to do some soul searching.” Because first of all, it isn’t a universal symbol, is it? As just one example, we have all the whacko Christian fundamentalists who get all angry and in our face claiming that we’ve stolen the rainbow from god. When the flag was first created (and hand sewn) under the direction of artist Gilbert Baker in 1978, some people in the queer community didn’t like it for a variety of reasons.

Gilber Baker's original flag design had 8 colors: hot pink, red, orange, yellow, green, turquoise, indigo, and violet.

Gilber Baker’s original flag design had 8 colors: hot pink, red, orange, yellow, green, turquoise, indigo, and violet.

And it isn’t as if the flag has remained completely unchanged since its original creation. In the fall over 1978, after the assassination of Harvey Milk, there was a sudden demand in the San Francisco area for more of the rainbow flags. To meet the sudden demand, Baker and a flag company decided to use existing stock rainbow fabric (red, orange, yellow, green, turquoise, blue, and violet), so they lost the hot pink and changed the indigo to a lighter blue. And a year later the official banners for the San Francisco Pride events switched to a six-color version ( red, orange, yellow, green, royal blue, and violet). There are two different explanations given for that change: some say it was because when the seven-color versions were hung vertically from street lamp poles the middle stripe wasn’t always visible, others say that there was difficulty getting both the turquoise and indigo fabric. The point is, the rainbow flag changed several times, with the original artist’s blessing, in the first few years of its existence.

Many groups within the community have felt that the rainbow didn't explicitly include them, and have opted for other flags to use either instead of the rainbow or along side it.

Many groups within the community have felt that the rainbow didn’t explicitly include them, and have opted for other flags to use either instead of the rainbow or along side it. (Click to embiggen)

I mentioned above that not everyone was happy with it. Some weren’t happy because they thought the rainbow was two generic. Others because there were already symbols being used by lots of queer people (for example: a pink triangle or a labrys on a black triangle), and they thought we should stick to those symbols for various reasons. Other folks have made other variations. And a lot of people in the community didn’t think that the rainbow (or the Pride marches themselves) should include anyone other than exclusively gay men and lesbian women. I remember public arguments about whether the words bisexual or transgender should be added to the official name of the Pride Parade in Seattle during the 90s, for instance. There many other arguments still raging about who should be included.

Many, many more variants and alternatives to the rainbow flag.

Many, many more variants and alternatives to the rainbow flag.

I wasn’t around the community for the arguments about the rainbow flag when it was first introduced, but in the late 80s and early 90s, when I was just coming out, the arguments about why the rainbow wasn’t a good symbol for LGBTQ+ people were still raging. I knew more than one person who was adamant that the Pink Triangle was a better symbol because it represented a time gay men were targeted for extermination in Nazi Germany, and we had taken the symbol back. Of course, there were plenty of people who didn’t like the Pink Triangle, either (some because it was considered to represent only men; others because of its origin as a symbol of our oppression). Or only liked it if it were used along with other symbols commonly associated with lesbians.

So claiming the current six-color rainbow flag is universally recognized as including everyone even within the community simply isn’t true.

There’s another big hint that something like the More Colors Flag is needed: white queers wouldn’t be offended (and the folks objecting are definitely offended) at the flag if the problems it addresses weren’t real. Not only that, all of the arguments I’ve seen used to explain why the More Colors Flag is unnecessary sound exactly like the homophobic arguments given for why queers don’t need representation in movies, books, TV and such or why laws against queer discrimination aren’t needed. And they also are exact parallels to racist arguments used to argue we don’t need laws about racial discrimination (among other things). As they say, if it looks like a racist argument and sounds like a racist objection…

None of this will sound unfamiliar to anyone familiar with discussions about intersectionality. In case you don’t know what intersectionality is, let’s start with the definition (I warned you in the title we would get to dictionary topics in this post!):

intersectionality noun the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, gender, and sexual orientation as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage.

So another reason that you can’t claim that the rainbow is a universal symbol that applies to all queer people is because the experience of being queer isn’t the same for all categories of queer people. It’s kind of like the people who make that argument that you shouldn’t let a black actor portray James Bond or a woman portray Doctor Who because that would make the shows political. Insisting that the hero must be a white male is just as much a political statement as asking why the hero can’t be something else. Similarly, suggesting we should do something to make people of color feel more welcome is not racializing the Pride flag any more than resisting that inclusion is.

I’m a cisgender white man. I also happen to be queer. I have faced discrimination (and worse) because I’m a gay man. But I also know that I have been shielded from certain types of discrimination because I’m a guy and because I’m white. I don’t know all of the times that this happened, but I understand how systemically racism and sexism are baked into our culture, and therefore there are times when I experience no obstacles, where a person of color or a woman would find things less welcoming. The types of discrimination I experience and the ways I encounter discrimination as a gay man are often very different from the types and ways experienced by queers of color. The same kind of discrimination that I might be able to somewhat sidestep because of a bit of white male privilege I don’t even notice at the time can be a much more devastating experience to someone who does not have those two advantages.

“If your profile says: No Latinos, Blacks, Asians, Fats or Fems then you SHOULDN'T BE HERE.” PHOTO BY BOOMER BANKS (Click to embiggen)

“If your profile says: No Latinos, Blacks, Asians, Fats or Fems then you SHOULDN’T BE HERE.”
PHOTO BY BOOMER BANKS (Click to embiggen)

Recognizing this isn’t about trying to decide who is more oppressed. This isn’t the Oppression Olympics. The truth is, that a lot of white queer people are unaware of their own racism. Most insist that they aren’t at all, which is literally impossible. You can’t grow up in a racist society without being conditioned to the assumptions of racism. Asserting that the rainbow already includes everyone ignores the fact that there is a lot of racism within the queer community, some of it really subtle because it is just a manifestation of the systemic racism of the whole society, and others of it quite blatant. It’s blatant while also being rationalized away. The photo here of the sign that was seen at the Equality March earlier this month talks about one of those examples. Please note that this sign was at an Equality March, not a Pride March. But it underscores a real truth: a lot of queers, particularly certain white gay men, have these racist attitudes. And yes, it absolutely is racist to say in your dating profile “no blacks” or “no asians” or “no latinos.” The usual counter argument is that they’re just talking about a preference.

No.

I have a preference for redheads. Yet I have never refused to date a non-redhead. And a good thing, too, since neither my late partner, Ray, nor my husband Michael are redheads. I lusted after and occasionally dated redheads, but I wound up falling in love with two different men for reasons other than their hair color. That’s because while I have an attraction toward redheads, I recognize that’s all it is, and that there are other reasons to like or dislike a person than their hair color. The same holds true for race. If you completely exclude someone from consideration because of their race, there is no word other than racism to describe it. And while we’re on the subject: fat-shaming and fem-rejection aren’t any better, and if you’re doing that you’re just being a different kind of bigot, but no less of a bigot than the racist, so don’t do it.

This is another variant rainbow flag that's been around longer than the More Colors Flag.

This is another variant rainbow flag that’s been around longer than the More Colors Flag.

Nobody’s free until everyone is. And one of the steps to setting everyone free is recognizing that not everyone is as free as everyone else. We have to find a way to actually be inclusive, not to simply say that being inclusive is a good thing. And being inclusive requires us to recognize intersectionality. To understand that there are different degrees of discrimination. Society imposes different types of disadvantage on people based on categories of race, gender, sexuality, economic class, and other things. Those differences are real. The pain and suffering they cause is real. And the benefits that other categories of people receive at the expense of that pain and suffering is also real. Fighting for equality means not just giving lip service to inclusivity and intersectionality, it means taking steps to do something about those problems. You have to look for the people who are having trouble getting into the freedom tent and work to help them inside and to feel welcome. That requires first listening, really listening to try to understand–not pretending to listen while we’re really just waiting for our turn to talk.

If my queer kindred of color tell me that they don’t feel welcome in many queer spaces, then I have to take that seriously and ask what I can do to help. And then I have to actually help. Which is why I say that intersectionality isn’t just a noun. Because those of us who have some privilege, however little it may be, have to stick our necks out and use that privilege to help those who don’t.

Pride should be for all of us.

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