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Defining my existence as inappropriate; why should that worry me?

“Sick of your heteronormative bullshit.”

“Sick of your heteronormative bullshit.”

Not long before my 16th birthday we moved to southwest Washington and began attending the church where my maternal grandparents were members. My new Sunday School teacher was a middle-school librarian in his day job. This particular church had all Sunday School classes segregated by gender (which was fairly typical for Southern Baptist Churches3) and by age, so it was a bunch of guys ranging in age from about 14-18 years old. One Sunday morning shortly after we joined the church, the teacher was telling an anecdote from his public school job, and he mentioned the novel Are You There, God? It’s me, Margaret?. “Some of you may have heard of it,” he said.

Without thinking, I nodded my head and said, “Yeah, it’s a pretty good book.”

The teacher turned on me as if I had just transformed into a rattlesnake and was switching my tail ready to strike4. He had the most appalled look on his face. Then the expression changed to very amused condescension, “Oh, Gene! You would never have read this book! It’s a book for girls, and is completely inappropriate for a boy!”

I shrugged and said, “If you say so…”

He shook his head, chuckling even more condescendingly, and then went back to his story.

But I had read the book, several years earlier. I had gone through a pretty intense Judy Blum phase6, see. It started with the novel, Then Again, Maybe I Won’t which was, among other things, about a boy dealing with puberty and significant changes in his family’s financial situation. I had loved the book so much, that I proceeded to read everything else of hers I could get at the public library (or through inter-library loan) in the small Colorado town we had been living in at the time. Sure, Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret is a book about (among other things) a girl going through puberty and all that entails. But it’s also a book about one’s relationship with the faith they were raised in, and learning to make adult decisions about what you yourself believe.

The idea of boy’s toys and girl’s toys and boy’s books and girl’s books is pretty messed up when talking about small children, but it seems to me it is much more messed up when talking about teen-agers8. Some people will immediately point out that the teacher may have been so appalled because he thinks of menstruation as a sexual topic9, and good Christian boys who are not yet married10 aren’t supposed to know anything about sex. As if that argument is any less BS than the idea that a boy could never possibly read and enjoy a book that some people think of as a girl’s book.

It’s all heteronormative BS. My church insisted on separating girls from boys in Sunday School classes in part to supposedly thwart sexual improprieties12. But heteronormative BS is not limited to members of fundamentalist evangelical churches.

YouTube's completely BS explanation for why they're restricting videos that just happen to be made my Queer people. (Click to embiggen)

YouTube’s completely BS explanation18 for why they’re restricting videos that just happen to be made my Queer people. (Click to embiggen)

YouTube is hiding some videos touching on various topics related to the LGBT community17. Not sexual videos. Among the videos that have been found to be hidden the Restricted Due to Mature Content label are: trans people showing how to apply make-up, a gay vlogger talking about 8 LGBT African-Americans who ought to be remembered during Black History Month, music videos without sexual content that happen to have been made by queer musicians, some coming out videos, and so forth.

Before anyone tries to lecture me of all people that this doesn’t constitute censorship (which I never said it did), let me explain. YouTube is privately owned, yes. But it offers a service to the public, and therefore must abide by the legal and ethical obligations that comes with offering a public accommodation. They incur those obligations whether or not they charge fees for the service. Among those obligations is one that is sometimes referred to as truth in advertising19: if you represent that your product or service does a thing when it does not, you can face penalties. YouTube claims that it is simply labeling content of a “mature or inappropriate nature” so that other users who choose to surf in restricted mode will not see offensive20 material. They also keep referring to it as a voluntary program.

“8 Black LGBT Americans Who Inspire Me” is not mature content. How to apply foundation, eyeliner, and lipstick is not mature content. “How I Came Out to my Family” is not mature content. Nor are any of those inappropriate.

It is also misleading in the press release to say the program is voluntary. Yes, whether or not a viewer choose to see content that has been labeled “Restricted” is voluntary. Whether a creator’s material is thus labeled is not. Neither are the creators informed that their material has thus been labeled. They have to log into YouTube as a different account and set that account not to view Restricted material and then try to view their own videos to see which ones have been labeled “Restricted.”

So I’m exercising my free speech right to call BS on YouTube. This isn’t a misunderstanding on our part. It is a discriminatory business practice21. It is more of the same old heteronormative BS where anything that admits that queer people exist is treated as if it is pornography, even when they are doing something as innocuous as sharing make-up tips22.


Footnotes:
1. By “we” I mean my mom, my oldest sister, and myself. Dad had remarried and was living in Utah by that time, with where my step-mom was had just given birth to the youngest of my half-siblings2.

2. It is worth pointing out that the precipitating event of my parents’ divorce was the discovery that Dad had been carrying on an affair with the woman who became my step-mom for years.

3. Many years later that particular church decided to allow a mixed gender Sunday School class, but only for the people over 65 years old. And members who happened to be that age but didn’t want to attend Sunday School in a mixed gender setting were allowed to attend the adult men’s or women’s class, instead. When my grandmother told me about it, she actually tittered and made a comment about how radical it was to let men and women discuss the Bible in the same room. My step-grandfather then commented that, “Well, I guess at our age they don’t expect anyone will misbehave.” From which you can correctly infer that one of the things at least some Evangelicals believe is that you can’t put people of the opposite gender in rooms with closed doors without the very real risk that sexual hijinks will ensue.

4. Which may seem like a really strangely specific metaphor, but because one of the churches we had briefly attended during my nomadic childhood had included some members who were into snake handling5, I actually had seen another man in a church have the exact expression as this teacher did when a rattlesnake in a jar that most of us didn’t realize one of the members had snuck into the church, suddenly got very tired of being trapped in said jar.

5. Snake-handling: A practice in certain Pentecostal and Evangelical churches inspired by a literalistic reading of Mark 16:17–18. Handling venomous snakes without being harmed is seen as a sign of one’s faith and possession of the Holy Spirit.

6. To be fair, many years later, when I mentioned something about Judy Blum during a conversation at work, at least one of my co-workers gave me a rather startled look and asked, “You read Judy Blum when you were a teen-ager?” When I said that I had and mentioned a couple of my favorites7, her response was a very emphatic, “Wow!”

7. Deenie, It’s Not the End of the World, and of course Then Again, Maybe I Won’t.

8. Although, attitudes like this teacher’s make it easy to believe the story that gets shared around from time to time of the adult male legislator with a wife and teen-age children who didn’t know that menstrual blood flow was an involuntary biological function.

9. It’s a biological function that occurs in members of one sex, yes. And it is related to the reproductive cycle, yes. But it’s biology. And sometimes a health issue. Fully functioning adult members of a society ought to have at least a passing knowledge about the health issues of their species, regardless of whether they experience it themselves.

10. I should mention that two of the guys sitting in that Sunday School room with me that morning would, in less than two years time, each have a rushed marriage to their respective girlfriends who would each give birth to their first child only a few months afterward9.

11. A situation which studies have shown again and again and again would happen much less frequently if kids are given accurate information about sex, sexuality, reproduction, et cetera.

12. Because sex (and flirting and dancing14) can only happen between people of opposite sexes, right16?

13. There is no thirteenth footnote.

14. An old joke which was much beloved by my college debate coach (though I’ve heard it from others before and since): “Why do Baptists condemn sex other than missionary position15? Because they’re afraid it might lead to dancing!”

15. It’s true, even married people are not supposed to do anything other than very vanilla sex. Which is the inspiration of a similar joke: “Why do Baptists say it’s sinful for a woman to smoke cigarettes? Because they’re afraid it might lead to oral sex!”

16. Which is ridiculous. I know for a fact I wasn’t the only queer boy sitting in that Sunday School classroom that morning. Not that I had any romantic or sexual relationship with the other guys, just that I and two others each came out of the closet years later. One of them I’ve run into a few times since, as he lives in Seattle, now, too. Last I heard, the other was living in San Diego.

17. YouTube faces social media storm over LGBT-blocking ‘restricted mode’

18. You can read a bit more of YouTube’s side here: YouTube apologizes for blocking LGBT videos. Note that the headline is completely false. YouTube’s statement is not an apology for blocking the content. It says the word “apologize” but it’s for our supposed confusion at not realizing that they’re restricting LGBT content for reasons and not because of other reasons. Except we aren’t confused, we understand perfectly.

19. The principle is not limited to advertising. Any communication about the use of the product can be subject to this scrutiny.

20. Oddly enough, a lot of videos spouting off white supremacist, racist, and anti-queer bigotry (often making the kinds of hate speech which YouTube’s user guidelines says are not allowed) are freely available on the service without the Restricted label. So it is reasonable to conclude that the service is applying a definition of “offensive” that tilts cartoonishly far in one particular political direction.

21. Restricting or denying service due to the sexual orientation or gender identity of the people producing it, which is clearly the case in the vast majority of the identified videos.

22. And if you think that it’s universally offensive for people of some genders or some gender identities to wear make-up, then please explain why we keep having to see the horrific spray-on tan of our deplorable president.

Orlando Pulse Shooting must be remembered for the anti-queer hate crime that it was

Photo by Monivette Cordeiro, Orlando Weekly.

Photo by Monivette Cordeiro, Orlando Weekly.

Nine months ago today an angry man walked into Pulse, a queer nightclub in Orlando, and murdered 49 people. According to the FBI and his own family, during the weeks and months leading up to the attack, he had become more noticeably outraged every time he saw gay men in public together. He plotted the crime carefully. He set up fake profiles on gay hook-up apps and used conversations there to find out which night clubs would have the biggest crowd. It was a carefully crafted anti-queer hate crime.

A crime that is still being prosecuted: Orlando Nightclub Shooter’s Widow Is Denied Release On Bail.

I’ve written before about why this particular crime hit so hard for queer people in general, and me in particular. I’ve also written about why it is unacceptable to argue there is nothing that we can do about this kind of crime: They used to insist that drunk driving couldn’t be reduced, either. I’ve also written about why we shouldn’t ignore the anti-LGBT hate crime aspect of this act of terror, and why the people who do so are perpetuating and enabling the hate that caused it.

And I’m not the only one: Call the Orlando shooting what it was: a homophobic hate crime, not ‘an attack on us all’.

I didn’t let myself write about the shooting on the 7th- or 8th-month’s mind1 date of the shooting because the lingering depression from election night made it too easy for me to leap into slathering rages over things. I had a very difficult time writing a post at the 6-month mark because of it. But there are reasons we shouldn’t forget: Gov. Rick Scott Honored Pulse But Never Mentioned LGBT People – Florida’s governor described the shooting as terrorism and never noted it targeted queer people.

I’ve gotten into the spiral of argument with some people that all hate crimes are crimes intended to cause terror, so it is technically correct to call it a terrorist act. And while that is true, it sidesteps the issue of just who was the crime intended to terrorize? We know that the gunman was targeting queer men. We know that because of all the angry outraged rants his family and colleagues have revealed during questioning. We know because he told his wife that he wanted to kill fags (she knew what he was planning, which is why she’s under arrest). We know because of the conversations he had on hookup apps where he would engage in conversation with gay men and ask which clubs were the hottest—where can he go to find the biggest crowds, the most popular places for gay men to have a good time?

He did not commit this crime to terrorize straight Americans. He was out to kill as many queer men as he could, and to put the fear of death into all queer people not to be out. That’s the point of this crime: to make queer people hide, go back into the closet, stop being out and open and unashamed of who we love. And if you don’t refer to this crime as an anti-queer or anti-gay or anti-LGBT crime, then you are doing exactly what the gunman wanted: you are erasing us from public life and discourse.

And if you get insistent and defensive about failing to mention that it was a anti-queer crime? That tells us, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that on some level, you agree with the gunman.

That’s not me calling you a bigot. That’s you being a bigot.

If you don’t like to think of yourself as a bigot, then you need to do something about that. A really good first step is to admit that being uncomfortable denouncing a crime as an anti-queer/anti-gay/anti-lesbian/anti-LGBT/anti-trans crime is a symptom of some level of prejudice. Which you need to let go of. Start calling this shooting what it was: a hate crime aimed at the LGBT community.

Victims killed in Pulse in Orlando this last weekend.

Victims killed in Pulse in Orlando June 6, 2016. (Click to embiggen) (Facebook/AP/Reuters/Rex)

Yes, 49 people were killed in Orlando that night. 49 queer Americans were gunned down. 49 queer people who just wanted to be out and happy and not have to hide who they were instead were murdered. 49 queer people were murdered by a man who was outraged at the idea of two men kissing in public. Remember them. Don’t erase their identities. Don’t erase their killer’s anti-gay hatred. Don’t ignore the toxic homophobia the pervades American society and fed the gunman’s hatred. Don’t help the killer erase us. Don’t.


Footnotes:

1. “Month’s mind” a practice in some traditions where family and friends gather about a month after someone’s death to celebrate that person’s life2.

2. Yes, I’m pedantic enough that I don’t like using the word “anniversary” to refer to periods of time of less than a year. I know people have been doing it verbally since at least the 1960s, and in writing since the 1980s, and I’m not normally a staunch prescriptionist regarding dictionary definitions, but this one still bugs me a little. Most of the terms that have been proposed to substitute (mensiversary, lunaversay, and uncianniversary) for this monthly commemorations strike me as silly. But knowing that there is an older, if obscure liturgical term, that I can pronounce it easily, I’m going to give it a try.

Confessions of a public restroom avoider

“If you don't like trans people using the bathroom, just look away like you do with corruption, war, poverty, environmental destruction, and homelessness.”

“If you don’t like trans people using the bathroom, just look away like you do with corruption, war, poverty, environmental destruction, and homelessness.”

Midway through my second grade year my family moved from Colorado to Nebraska. My dad’s job in the petroleum industry meant that we moved a lot (ten elementary schools in four states). I had a number of unpleasant experiences the first week at the new school. I misunderstood several things. The teachers and other school officials simply didn’t tell me about several rules. And the other kids weren’t exactly welcoming to the new kid. when I say unwelcoming, that’s putting it mildly. The second or third day there, I was cornered in the bathroom by several boys only some of whom I recognized from my classroom. They wanted to know if I was the idiot who got in the wrong line at the lunch room. I don’t remember everything that was said to me, but they communicated as only grade school bullies can that I was a stupid sissy—a freak who didn’t belong with the real boys.

The school was far more regimented than either of the previous grade schools I had attended. There were rules and assigned times for everything. We were sent to the restroom at three specific times each day, for instance. And my new bullies singled me out for taunting and humiliation every single restroom break.

I didn’t want to explain what was happening. Previous incidents of being bullied by other kids had always resulted in my dad yelling at and beating me for being a pushover. When I attempted to stand up for myself as he’d said, I got in trouble at school, which resulted in more yelling and beating. So I couldn’t let my parents know what was happening in the bathroom. And I knew I couldn’t let the teachers know, because eventually they would inform my parents.

So I stopped going to the bathroom.

I convinced my mom to let me walk home for lunch instead of eating at the school cafeteria. I don’t remember how I convinced my parents, but I did. I used the restroom at home in the middle of the day. At school, when we were marched off at our appointed times midmorning and midafternoon, I would loiter outside the restroom until we were collected and taken out to recess. Since I was eating at home, I skipped the midday restroom trip. I changed my drinking habits. I stopped using the drinking fountain at school, because if I didn’t drink water I wouldn’t need to pee as often. And so on.

I managed to avoid going into the restroom at that school almost entirely for the rest of the time we lived in that town. I still got bullied on the playground, in the classroom, and so forth. But because teachers were always nearby, the kind of bullying that happened was slightly less horrible that what could happen when a bunch of the mean boys had you trapped in a room that the adults seemed to never enter.

When we moved to a tiny town in Wyoming next, I wasn’t able to avoid the restrooms. The town we moved to didn’t have a school, so we rode a bus to a town almost an hour’s drive away. I can still remember how scared I was at what would happen the first time I went into that school’s bathroom. That school was less regimented, so I as usually able to get by with only one trip per day, and I could time it so I wasn’t using the restroom when a lot of the other boys were. Similarly with the town back in Colorado but near the Kansas border that we moved to for the last part of my third grade. And the next town, and the next.

Even when I was in high school, I learned to avoid certain bathrooms and certain times of the day. Because yes, even in my teen years, there were guys ready and eager to demonstrate to the class faggots just how despised we were, and the boy’s restroom was a place that they could do so with impunity.

I’m not trans. I don’t pretend to speak on behalf of the trans community. But I am very familiar with that cold fear that strikes like a fist in the gut when walking into a public restroom and someone looks at you in a less than friendly way. I’m a grown ass man in my mid-fifties, and there are still moments of anxiety any time I am in a public restroom and there are other people in there with me. There are little checklists that part of my brain runs through. Am I behaving the way I’m supposed to? Is this person going to interpret something I do in the wrong way?

Heck, part of me still freaks out if a straight co-worker strikes up a conversation in the restroom at the office! Making eye contact or saying anything to the wrong guys was the surest way to get bullied when I was a kid, and it doesn’t matter how many years ago that was, the conditioned reflexes are still there—the surge of stress hormones and keying up of fight or flight response happens every time.

So these bills and court fights about where or whether trans people can use restrooms at school and other public accommodations strike close to home. I get really upset that people think keep portraying the queer people as the dangerous ones in public restrooms.

Everyone needs to eat, drink, breathe, and yes, people also need to pee from time to time. We have public restrooms for that. A number of places in our country have had laws and policies that explicitly allow people to use the restroom of the gender they identify with for many years, and there has never, not once, been an incident of a trans or otherwise queer person using those policies to assault anyone in a restroom. The only incidents of people going into a restroom to harass women have been straight anti-gay people doing it to try to make headlines in order to justify these bathroom bills or to yell at a woman who doesn’t want to sign their anti-trans petition.

Seriously.

This isn’t about privacy. It isn’t about protecting women or girls. It is about making it impossible for trans people to exist in public spaces at all. It is about punishing trans and gender non-conforming people. It is about giving bigots an excuse to harass queer people or anyone who seems maybe a little queer.

Voting is our best weapon, but they’re trying to take that away, too

Voter ID laws don't effect everyone equally (click to embiggen)

Voter ID laws don’t effect everyone equally (click to embiggen)

Voter Suppression Laws Are Working. The real purpose of so-called Voter ID laws is not to prevent voter fraud. That’s how they sell it, but the real aim is to keep poor people, the elderly, and other marginalized people from voting. Voter fraud is a for all intents and purposes a myth: There have been just four documented cases of voter fraud in the 2016 election – three of them voted for Trump. The number of fraudulent votes cast are always such a tiny fraction of the total that they don’t effect the outcome of races. And we’ve known this for a while.

Seriously, during part of the George W. Bush administration, U.S. Attorneys were ordered to make finding voter fraud a higher priority than any other case they were investigating. And after a lot of time and effort was expended, they came back and told the administration what state officials who run elections have been saying for decades: voter fraud is virtually non-existent. The most common forms of voter fraud, which add up to far less than one percent of the votes cast, are relatives of recently deceased people casting an absentee ballot for the dearly departed. The next most common is a relative who has been appointed a legal guardian of an elderly relative believing (incorrectly) that the power of attorney they have been given over the relative with a diminished capacity gives them the legal right to fill out the relative’s ballot. And the third most common are people who are wealthy enough to own homes in multiple states registering in all of them and voting there under the mistaken notion that because they pay taxes in more than one place, they can vote.

The Republican party of my state several years ago famously spent more than a million dollars tracking down four voters who had voted illegally in the very tight governor’s race that year: all four of the convicted felons who hadn’t had their voting rights restored had voted for the Republican (because the Democratic governor had been the state’s Attorney General before, and the four felons held grudges against her).

A lot of people ask, “What’s so hard about showing your ID?” Which seems like a reasonable question to a person who enjoys a certain amount of privilege. The funny part is, that the people asking this know how hard it can be and you can prove it to them. All you have to do, is ask them whether they look forward to going to the DMV to renew their driver’s license. They will either brag about how wonderful it is now that their state allows people to renew on line, or they will tell you a horror story about being trapped at said office for a long period of time. While it is an inconvenience to someone who is able-bodied, has access to their own transportation, and has a work schedule that allows them to take the time to go stand in line, to anyone who isn’t in that situation, it becomes an insurmountable obstacle.

Most poor people in the U.S. work multiple jobs. They aren’t hanging around on street corners waiting for a welfare check (that’s an even bigger myth). The typical low income family has trouble finding the time to sleep and cook meals for their kids, let alone try to find enough time during one of the days a licensing office is open to go stand in line for hours. That’s if they can even get to the office. The states that have passed strict Voter ID laws also happen to be states that have fewer offices where people can get an ID. And coincidentally, they tend to only have those offices in locations convenient to affluent neighborhoods.

So you have to add many miles of travel (and the time and expense involved) to the difficulties to overcome to get an ID. That’s if the person has their own transportation. And it just so happens that the same states the have strict Voter ID laws also spend the least amount of money on public transit. Yet more barriers.

I think about the hassle my mom went through a few years ago after a move when she was trying to get her license renewed and updated with her new address. I don’t remember how many times she had to go back, but it was several. One time it was because whoever she talked to before she went in didn’t tell her the right documents she would need to prove what her new address was. I don’t remember what the problem was the next time, but then after she finally got it after her third or fourth visit, they mailed it to her and several pieces of information on it were incorrect. So she had to go back to get it corrected, and that took more than one trip.

My mom is retired, so she theoretically had the time, and she can drive herself, and the office wasn’t very far from her apartment, but she’s got a lot of health issues, and some days she just doesn’t have the stamina to sit in a non-ergonomic waiting room chair for who knows how long, right?

And then there’s the matter of the fee to get the ID. The constitution forbids poll taxes but the requirement of having state provided ID for which you are required to pay a fee is essentially a poll tax. And even if you argue that the ID serves other purposes, the fee is yet another barrier for low income and fixed-income people.

So, Voter ID laws effectively take the vote away from low income people, people with disabilities or mobility issues, and people living in certain communities. And the lawmakers who pass the laws are well aware that those populations tend to vote in favor of one party more often than the other. They want to take that vote away.

Fortunately, there is something you can do about it: Donate to and/or Volunteer with Spread The Vote (spreadthevote.org). Spread The Vote helps people get their required ID. They provide volunteers to help people collect the required documents, transportation to the apply for their ID, assistance with fees, and so forth.

If you want to help with the fight at a legislative and legal level, consider donating to Project Vote (projectvote.org). Project Vote is working to improve voter registration processes and remove the barriers to make it difficult for people to get registered and to vote.

Why is it always my job to justify my existence?

“...even if [the trump voter] isn't a racist, ableist, xenophobic, misogynist sexual predator, he was fine voting for one.... [my life] would be better off without someone who places trumps showmanship over common human decency...” (click to embiggen)

“…even if [the trump voter] isn’t a racist, ableist, xenophobic, misogynist sexual predator, he was fine voting for one…. [my life] would be better off without someone who places trump’s showmanship over common human decency…” (click to embiggen)

Someone’s at it again. Telling us that the people who gladly voted for the man who swore to take away health care from millions, swore to give religious people the right to discriminate against queers, and swore to kick millions of brown people out of the country—could be persuaded not to vote that way again if only we would talk to them and listen to their side of things.

It seems so reasonable. Simple. Just talk. Listen to their side. We always argue for tolerance, right? Listen to their side of things. Maybe we’ll learn something. And once they see we’re willing to listen, they can be persuaded to see things from our perspective.

Bull.

Seriously, I’m a queer man in my late 50s. I grew up in tiny rural communities attending Southern Baptist Churches. You think I haven’t heard at least a billion times the perspective of the people who think religious freedom means a right to discriminate against me? You think I haven’t heard millions of times why queers don’t deserve civil rights protections? You think I haven’t heard millions of times how they perceive black people, brown people, people with accents, people who don’t attend the same churches as they do?

I have had no choice but to listen for decades!

You cannot talk someone who doesn’t think you’re their equal into accepting your right to autonomy. They may claim that they respect you. They may call you their friend. They may think of you as an exception to the truth they hold deep in their hearts about the inherent inequalities of different types of people. But the only thing that’s going to do is that you will be the person they trot out as proof that they aren’t prejudiced when someone else calls them on it. I know because it’s happened many times to me, personally.

Sure, when I’ve argued that queer people need to live their lives out and proud (if they can safely do so), I have cited the studies that show that actually knowing queer people makes other people more likely to support our rights. But it makes them more likely. It isn’t a magic formula that is guaranteed to change any specific person’s mind.

My evangelical upbringing is especially relevant to this particular argument. Despite making fun of a disabled person, talking about pussy-grabbing, and openly calling for violence against people who disagree, Donald got 80% of the evangelical vote. That’s better than George W. Bush every managed!

And those folks are absolutely convinced that they don’t hate anyone. They will angrily tell you just how much they love you in the same breath that they say that if your rights are protected, that will offend god so much that he will destroy America. They don’t see the contradiction between those statements. When it comes to things like women’s rights and racial issues, they just as emphatically insist that they aren’t bigots. They just know, because they think it’s in the Bible, that women are meant to be subservient to men, and that brown people are meant to be subservient to white people. If they aren’t quite willing to say that last part out loud, what they will fall back on is the separate but equal dodge on race, because god intended the races to be separate, they say.

It’s a weird theological argument: god wouldn’t have made you a woman, or a African-American, or Latino, or whatever, if you weren’t meant to fulfill certain roles in life. Maybe he sees inherent moral weaknesses in your soul. It isn’t at all logical, and most of them can’t articulate it beyond the notion that they believe it’s in the Bible. But that’s what you’re up against: god said it, god did it, god intends it. And no amount of talking or listening or being friends with people whose life experience belies that is going to shake their resolve. They may feel doubts. They may even confess to you that they realize you are a good person despite being in a category they have been taught is inherently not. But they will then shrug, say it’s god’s doing, and they’ll cheerfully vote for any candidate who affirms their ideas.

Even if that candidate also says a lot of things that completely contradict the teachings of their church. Because once they decide that a candidate is god’s choice, they can hand-wave everything away with the old “he works in mysterious ways.”

It’s an exhausting battle.

So, yes, be kind and civil. If you have the time and energy to attempt to be friends with someone, you can. But don’t kid yourself that doing so is more effective than calling your congressperson, or going to a protest, or joining a boycott, or going to town hall meetings, or donating to organizations that protect our rights. And please, don’t let the people in your life who think it’s okay to take away your rights think that you endorse those ideas.

Because you’re just empowering them to hurt others.

Card-carrying member of the ACLU, and proud of it!

screen-shot-2017-01-29-at-3-25-17-pmIt’s George H.W. Bush’s fault. During the 1988 Presidential Debates, then-Vice President Bush sneered at his opponent, Gov. Mike Dukakis, for being a card-carrying member of the American Civil Liberties Union. Mr. Bush claimed that the ACLU was out to make child pornography legal as well as make it legal for children to see X-rated movies. Both of those claims were, at best, distortions of actual ACLU goals (the ACLU has long opposed a rating system used in the U.S. because the system is secretive, favors large studios over independent ones, and sometimes serves as a form of de facto censorship, for example), but it almost certainly shored up support from Republican-leaning voters. But the other thing that happened was that, in the days after the debate, tens of thousands of people called the ACLU and asked what it took to become a card-carrying member.

And then they donated and joined.

I wish I could say I was one of them. I didn’t become a member for a few more months. I was in the process of transitioning from college to working full time, and my wife was still a full-time university student (yes, I used to be married to a member of the opposite sex; it’s a long story). And in 1988 you couldn’t just google the ACLU and in a few clicks sign up. It was after the election, and after I got a better job, so it was sometime in the spring of 1989 that we signed up as members.

I’ve been a proud member ever since.

When school districts try to discriminate against queer students, it’s the ACLU that sends lawyers to sue the school and get kids their rights. When peaceful protesters are arrested, it’s the ACLU that sends in lawyers to get the protestors out of jail, to defend against the bogus charges, and sue the appropriate government officials to try to prevent future violations. When high school students are unconstitutionally strip searched by school officials, it’s the ACLU that sues the school district. When states enact unconstitutional voter suppression laws, it’s the ACLU that sues and often gets the measures overturned. When federal authorities tried to hide documents about torture progams, it was the ACLU that sued to get the documents brought to light so that citizens and legislators could demand changes. When states fail to provide required medical and mental health treatments to people in state custody, it’s the ACLI that sues to get people the basic care they are guaranteed under the law. And as everyone saw this weekend, when a narcissistic megalomaniac issues an unconstitutional executive order resulting in people being illegally detained or deported, it’s the ACLU that goes to court for stays to try to halt the illegal actions, and send lawyers to try to meet with detainees to help them.

I could go on and on.

If you believe in liberty; if you believe the Constitution guarantees that everyone is equal before the law; if you believe that everyone deserves legal representation and the full protection of the law; then the ACLU deserves your support.

gotyourbackOh, and if you’d like one of those spiffy blue pocket Constitutions to keep on your person in case you need to assert your rights (or just correct a douche bro who doesn’t understand what the Constitution actually says), the ACLU sells them in very affordable 10-packs. Because you want to pass out extras to your friends and loved ones. And if, like me, you have a lot of freedom-loving friends who are also bibliophiles, you might want to pick up some Bill of Rights bookmarks. Not to mention stickers and other things.

If you can, support the ACLU!

Myths about bigotry: respectful disagreement

“Over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed in the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negor's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to 'order' than to justice: who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.” — Martin Luther King Jr, Letter From Birmingham City Jail (1963)

Quote from Martin Luther King Jr, Letter From Birmingham City Jail, 1963 (click to embiggen)

I always feel a little nervous posting anything on Martin Luther King Jr Day, as I don’t want to co-opt another marginalized community’s hero, day, or message. Especially after seeing several people of color on my various social media feeds caution against talking rather than listening. But during his life, King said more than once that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” and I believe we have entered a very dark time in our nation’s history where all of us who believe in equality for everyone need to stand together. So while I may be a white guy, as a queer person I have some experience with oppression and believe that I have a responsibility to use whatever gifts, privilege, and platform I have to promote justice.

A lot of people, not just the moderates that Dr. King talked about in that quote from Letter From Birmingham City Jail, rationalize and deny the existence of bigotry by making appeals to certain fallacies. Academically, we often state those myths as five fallacies:

  • Individualistic Fallacy: racism/homophobia/antisemiticism/etc is perceived as being only interpersonal, ignoring the systemic structural realities (such as underfunded schools)
  • Legalistic Fallacy: the belief that abolishing racist/homophobic/religious laws automatically ends the bigotry.
  • Tokenistic Fallacy: the inference that the presence of members of the marginalized class in influential positions in society proves that all bigotry has ended.
  • Ahistoric Fallacy: the belief that the denial of basic rights in the past has no lasting effect on subsequent generations (“but slavery is over!”).
  • Fixed Fallacy: assumes there is one and only one kind of discrimination, not recognizing new forms that emerge in context of societal and legal changes.

There’s an academic paper that explains all of this: WHAT IS RACIAL DOMINATION?, by Matthew Desmond & Mustafa Emirbayer of the University of Wisconsin—Madison, if you want to get into it. It’s rather long and involved, but if you open the PDF at the link and search for Five Fallacies you can jump right to their discussion of the fallacies. The paper is focused on racism, but the fallacies apply to all kinds of bigotry.

All of those fallacies contribute to that preference for an absence of tension rather than a passion for justice that Dr. King talked about. It’s the classic “Can’t You Get Past it/Live and Let Live Fallacy.” Or maybe another name could be the “Respectful Disagreement Fallacy.” It’s the belief that as long as a person isn’t physically attacking you right this moment, and is framing their critiques in polite-sounding language, than it can’t possibly be racist/homophobic/antisemitic/misogynist/etc.

So the bigot talks in dog whistles (coded language that doesn’t sound overtly like bigotry to people who don’t know the code), claims to respect or even feel love for the community targeted by their language, and if we point out that they are being racist or misogynist or antisemetic or homophobic, we’re the ones causing a problem. And people who think of themselves as moderate or enlightened turn on us. They don’t just look the other way from the bigotry and bigoted policies that the community is enduring, they actually enable it.

Which means they’re part of the problem. They’re not being neutral. They’re not seeing things from both sides. They’re not being nuanced. They’re oppressing other people.

I wish there was a simple solution. I wish I had some words of wisdom. Instead, I’m just stuck with this regrettable conclusion, having to try to educate people who don’t think they’re being an enemy.

“Over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed in the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice: who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.”
— Martin Luther King Jr, Letter From Birmingham City Jail (1963)

Six months out, Pulse shooting still hurts

“Every time you let a homophobic or transphobic joke or slur pass, you tell the speaker that you condone their speech, and you help perpetuate a culture in which hatred of LGBTQIA people is acceptable and in which violence against LGBTQIA people is inevitable.” — MakeMeASammich.Org

“Every time you let a homophobic or transphobic joke or slur pass, you tell the speaker that you condone their speech, and you help perpetuate a culture in which hatred of LGBTQIA people is acceptable and in which violence against LGBTQIA people is inevitable. ” — MakeMeASammich.Org

Six months ago today an angry man walked into Pulse, a queer nightclub in Orlando, and murdered 49 people. According to the FBI and his own family, during the weeks and months leading up to the attack, he had become more noticeably outraged every time he saw gay men in public together. He plotted the crime carefully. He set up fake profiles on gay hook-up apps and used conversations there to find out which night clubs would have the biggest crowd. It was a carefully crafted anti-queer hate crime.

49 Pulse victims remembered in Orlando 6 months after massacre.

A moment of silence at 2:02 a.m., the exact time the gunman started shooting inside the gay nightclub.

I’ve written before about why this particular crime hits so hard for queer people in general, and me in particular. I’ve also written about why we shouldn’t ignore the hate crime aspect of this act of terror, and why the people who do so are perpetuating and enabling the hate that caused it. I’ve also written about why it is unacceptable to argue there is nothing that we can do about this kind of crime: They used to insist that drunk driving couldn’t be reduced, either.

All of those things are still true. And with hate crimes on the rise since November 8, even more heart wrenching.

Please take to heart the words in the graphic I included at the top of this post: “Every time you let a homophobic or transphobic joke or slur pass, you tell the speaker that you condone their speech, and you help perpetuate a culture in which hatred of LGBTQIA people is acceptable and in which violence against LGBTQIA people is inevitable.” That’s not an exaggeration. If our very existence is nothing more than a joke, that implies our lives and deaths don’t matter. Those attacks and dismissals perpetuate the lie that we deserve pain and suffering. They perpetuate the lie that we shouldn’t exist. They perpetuate the lie that our love isn’t real.

And all of those lies add up to one message that some angry people are all too ready to take to heart: that beating us, shooting us, and killing us isn’t really a crime.

False dichotomies: talking weather, mostly

I love autumn. (source: travelization.net)

I love autumn. (source: travelization.net)

I love autumn. I love the leaves changing colors, the final blooms on lots of flowers, fruit forming on trees, cool drizzly mornings… not to mention decorating for Halloween, planning for Thanksgiving and Christmas, and other fun things.

I don’t like hot weather. Most anyone who knows me knows that. And I also really dislike snow: specifically having to slog through snow, deal with the way many drivers behave in snow (and how some seem to think that snow and ice give them permission to ignore pedestrians altogether), ice-slippery walkways, and so forth. And twice every year, when one of the other of those disliked kinds of weather are happening, and I say something about it, someone (whether it be a reader of my blog, some random twitter commenter, or even a long time friend), will exclaim in utter disbelief. “How can you not love winter? I thought you hated hot weather!?” Or, “How can you complain about this warm weather when you were bitching about snow six months ago?”

It’s like they think it is a binary: you are allowed to hate either heat or cold, and if you dislike one you must love the other. That’s nonsense. What I hear when they decry my supposed inconsistency is, “Why are you objecting to being stabbed in the heart? I thought you despised poison!”

I grew up in the central Rocky Mountains, which is ski country, and where snow season runs from mid-October to mid-May. Every memory I have of going trick-or-treating on Halloween as a child involved wearing snow boots or galoshes, a heavy coat and gloves. Sometimes we skipped whole blocks of houses because the snowplow had been through to clear the street, and the sidewalk was completely blocked by an eight-foot-tall pile of snow, ice, and slush embedded with copious amounts of gravel and asphalt.

Those big plow-drifts were a favorite source of snowball-material for the kinds of bullies that I was always the target of. So while it would be an exaggeration to say that snowball fights are triggering for me, the imagery evoked by alluding to snowball fights is never pleasant for me.

My point is, I have experienced snow. I have literally, as a child, walked to school in minus-fifteen degree weather. If I never have to be in snow again I’ll be perfectly happy.

Yet, I love Christmas and specifically decorating for Christmas. You will see snow-speckled ornaments on many of my trees. I can sing more harmony parts to “Let It Snow” “Sleighride” and “Winter Wonderland” than you can shake a stick at. I’m able to separate my dislike of trudging through snow from actual fun activities one can have in such weather.

Similarly, with hot weather one problem I have is that I come from a long line of pale-pink-bluish freckled people. My skin does not know how to tan. It knows three hues: the pale pink with blue highlights, searing bright red covered with blisters, then when that peels off, pale pink-bluish with orange freckles. Also, I come from a long line of people who develop sun-induced skin cancers (and have even had a small one myself!), so I’m under doctor’s orders to stay out of the sun. Plus, my body just doesn’t deal with high temperatures. I just want to sleep through the hot parts of the day, but day jobs aren’t conducive to that, so I’m cranky, listless, and miserable when it gets hot.

Knowing about how much I hate heat waves and snow, it really should be no surprise how much I love autumn weather. That doesn’t mean that I don’t find some things about the transitions of autumn occasionally inconvenient, annoying, or just startling. Most years, for instance, I don’t switch from my medium-weight jacket to my coat when I ought. I’ll wear the medium jacket for a few weeks and everything is fine. Then one day during the walk home from work, it will be way colder than it had been in the morning, and I’ll wish I’d switched to my heavy coat.

A bit over a week ago I was walking home from work and turned a corner, and was startled at how dark the sidewalk was. When I’d left the office, it had seemed to still be full daylight. The sun was actually at the horizon, but since the first bit of my walk is between tall buildings, I didn’t actually see the sun setting. Yeah, I knew how late it was, and I know that sunset gets a minute or two earlier every day during the fall, but I was thinking about other things (listening to an audiobook, as I recall). Over the course of the walk the sun sank slowly, the light very gradually getting dimmer. By the time I was nearly home, it wasn’t really dark out, yet, but the sky was definitely closer to indigo than azure. And the particular section of street I was turning onto, just a few blocks from home, has a lot of trees on it plus to the west were a pair of taller condominium complexes, casting long shadows over the whole street. It still wasn’t dark, but it was a significant change walking into those shadows, particularly when my mind was in another time and place because of the audiobook.

I literally stopped for a moment, startled at the sudden dimness. It only took a millisecond to realize that I just hadn’t been paying attention to the deepening twilight and the shadows. But it was the starkest reminder I’d had that sunset was getting a lot earlier than it has been. Sometimes it only takes a well-timed turn to throw a gradual change into stark contrast.

When I mentioned to a friend how early sunset was getting, they responded with a bit of a shrug. They weren’t blowing me off, but it felt that way. To be fair, I didn’t give them all the context of how I hit that mark.

But it reminds me that we aren’t all paying attention to the same things. I’ve been watching the slow but very steady embrace of racist, xenophobic, sectarian bigotry by leaders of the Republican Party for the last 36 years. I have called out and warned about the consequences of encouraging voters to blame people with different accents, skin color, religious beliefs, et cetera for the real economic pain that people feel. I have been decrying the stagnation and then contraction of wages, while giving bigger and bigger tax cuts to the wealth. I’ve been pointing out the dangers of dismantling labor unions, giving corporations more and more legal rights. I’ve been watching the slow slide. I’ve been trying to tell friends and acquaintances that the Republican politicians are the very people picking their pockets while placing the blame on immigrants, brown people, queers asking for equal rights, and so forth.

So I am well aware that voting for Romney was voting for all the same bigotry and economic inequality that Trump embodies. Just as voting for McCain was, and voting for Bush, and so on. I have been watching the gradual shift, well aware that the exact same bigotry underlay the policies the Reagan espoused, just more subtle and coded before. So when lifelong Republicans are reacting with horror to Trump, yeah, I’ve been pretty dismissive, telling people they had to be blind or delusional not to have seen this coming; not to have seen that they have brought it on themselves (and the rest of us).

When in fact, they just weren’t paying attention to the same things I was.

It doesn’t change the fact that, yeah, they made this bed. But I shouldn’t be quite so mean that it has taken them longer to notice at least some of the hate and ignorance.

We’ve taken a turn into shadows and muck that that have been gathering and deepening for decades. Now that a few of you have seen it, would you mind grabbing a shovel, and helping those of use trying to clear a path back to the light?

I don’t need to watch the debate, I know which candidate thinks I have a right to exist, and which doesn’t

“Gay people are born into, and belong to, every society in the world. They are all ages, all races, all faiths. They are doctors and teachers, farmers and bankers, soldiers and athletes. And whether we know it or whether we acknowledge it, they are our family, our friends, and our neighbors. Being gay is not a Western invention. It is a human reality.” —Hillary Clinton

“Gay people are born into, and belong to, every society in the world. They are all ages, all races, all faiths. They are doctors and teachers, farmers and bankers, soldiers and athletes. And whether we know it or whether we acknowledge it, they are our family, our friends, and our neighbors. Being gay is not a Western invention. It is a human reality.” —Hillary Clinton

I’ve had a few people ping me to ask if I’m going to watch the first official debate between Hillary Clinton and Trump. Short answer: no. Trump has vowed to appoint to the federal bench only judges approved by the Heritage Foundation. The Heritage Foundation doesn’t just oppose gay marriage, they oppose gay rights of all levels, and still regularly call for overturned the Supreme Court decision that blocked anti-sodomy laws. They don’t just want to end my marriage, they want it to be literally illegal for someone to be queer. And if you happen to be straight or otherwise don’t consider yourself queer: they also think it should be illegal for straight unmarried people to have sex. They aren’t just anti-abortion, they think that it should be illegal for straight people, married or not, to buy birth control.

Whether you believe that a seat is going to open up on the Supreme Court in the next four years (and statistically it is extremely likely it will), there are hundreds of open appointments at lower levels of the federal judiciary that haven’t been filled because the Republicans in the Senate resist confirming anyone Obama nominates for just about anything. If Trump is elected, judges who think that being gay should be illegal (and a whole lot worse) will be appointed. The damage that alone will do to everyone’s civil rights is frightening to contemplate.

I wrote before that Hillary wasn’t my first choice this time. But you know what, she was my second choice, both this time and in 2008. Because (among other things) I remember back in the 1990s when she and her husband made Republican heads explode simply by saying that gay people deserve any legal rights at all. I hear a lot of people still giving her grief for not coming around on marriage equality until 2013, completely unaware of how far ahead of the rest of the Democratic party both she and her husband had been on the matter of gay rights for more than two decades before that. And really, if we insist on punishing politicians who were slow to come around on some of our issues, what incentive do any of them have to change their minds when we advocate for our needs?

And don’t start spouting stuff off about the third party candidates. Johnson, the Libertarian, doesn’t believe in anti-discrimination laws. Like most libertarians, he says discrimination is wrong, but he supports policies that let it happen. Johnson also wants to repeal the minimum wage. He wants to not just rollback the Affordable Health Care Act, but also eliminate Medicare. I could go on, but particularly if you were a Bernie Sanders supporter, it is criminally stupid for you to support Johnson, since literally every single one of his specific policy proposals are the exact opposite of Bernie’s. Every one.

I’ve written before about the many reasons not to support Stein. The quick answer is, she doesn’t have consistent policies, half of her policies are anti-science, and she doesn’t have the experience or political resources to put any of her polices in place if she did get elected. The truth is she’s not a serious candidate, she’s a troll.

Mathematically, voting for Johnson or Stein is exactly the same as voting for Trump. It isn’t a protest, it’s putting a bullet in the head of a lot of your fellow citizen. Also, voting for third parties in our system betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of coalitions and the electoral system.

But you don’t just have to take my word for it:

i will not be watching the debate tonight:

Virtually every election I’ve ever witnessed has been some kind of referendum on whether I’m a legal person – ever done ground work, going door to door, arguing with people why they shouldn’t vote to make you illegal? I have, and it sucks – and in that way, this election is no different.

The hate is just a lot more broadly aimed this time.

So I’m not watching the debate tonight. It’s bad enough being reminded every two to four years that about half the country is just fine voting to lock me up. This whole thing is yet another referendum on my existence, so why the fuck would I subject myself to that?

Bernie Sanders: ‘This is not the time for a protest vote’

This is time to elect Hillary Clinton and then work after the election to mobilize millions of people to make sure she can be the most progressive president she can be.

Hillary Clinton Was Liberal. Hillary Clinton Is Liberal.

According to an analysis of roll call votes by Voteview, Clinton’s record was more liberal than 70 percent of Democrats in her final term in the Senate. She was more liberal than 85 percent of all members. Her 2008 rival in the Democratic presidential primary, Barack Obama, was nearby with a record more liberal than 82 percent of all members — he was not more liberal than Clinton.

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