Tag Archive | society

I’ve already survived one plague where people said the victims weren’t worth saving… and now?

“I never encountered anyone who is willing to die for someone else’s 401k. This is a whole new level of craziness.” — former FBI special agent Ali H. Soufan

“I never encountered anyone who is willing to die for someone else’s 401k. This is a whole new level of craziness.” — former FBI special agent Ali H. Soufan

HIV is not a casually infectious illness, requiring intimate contact and an exchange of bodily fluids to transmit, however, there are a few similarities between the height of the AIDS crisis and our current situation in the COVID-19 pandemic. One of those similarities is the fact that people can be infectious without any obvious symptoms. You can’t tell looking at a person that they are sick. Another similarity—one I’m frankly a bit surprised at—is how quickly a number of people have started talking about the people who seem to be most at-risk to die from the illness as being expendable.

I linked to this story a couple of days ago: Wall Street Journal Types Wonder Aloud If Nation’s Health Is ‘Worth’ The Economic Hit. And then of course there was this guy: Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick: I and Many Other Grandparents Would Rather Die from COVID-19 Than See the Economy Ruined . And online I’ve seen a number of people grumbling because they think only older people are vulnerable to serious illness. One comment that was extremely chilling: “Why do we have to suffer to keep some people alive who don’t have that many years left, anyway?”

It may not be quite as bad as that time (when I was a very closeted guy in my early-twenties) while my head was bowed in church when the pastor leading the prayer thanked god for the scourge of AIDS which was “killing all the gays” but it came close. Nor is it quite as bad as the time a college classmate said to me, “I know Jesus said to take care of the sick, but they didn’t know what caused all illnesses back then. We know what causes AIDS…”

So, in both cases we are talking about a virus. As I have pointed out, outside of the U.S., the vast majority of people who have been sickened and died of AIDS are straight women and children, not gay men. HIV is a virus, a natural phenomenon which is passed from person-to-person through behaviors that are a natural part of being a human being.

And while you can cherry pick the data to show that older people are more likely to die of complications of COVID-19, they aren’t the only people who do. In fact, that data is looking more and more suspect as time goes on: The Coronavirus Is Sending Lots Of Younger People To The Hospital – It’s increasingly clear that early data out of China was an anomaly: the coronavirus is severely harming substantial numbers of people under 50, too.

We know that factors which increase the likelihood of developing severe symptoms include a lot of chronic health problems that are widespread in the population. About 60% of adults have at least one of those known chronic health disorders. We also know that people how smoke or who are ex-smokers are at higher risk for getting severely ill. We have less data about whether vaping is also a risk factor, but it isn’t unreasonable to think so.

But there’s another risk factor that people aren’t taking into consideration: lack of health care options. Sure, it appears that the death rate is about 3.4% in general… yet we have places such as Italy and Spain that are seeing something closer to 8%, and at least one reason why is that so many people got sick at the same time that there weren’t enough hospital beds for the severely sick, and there weren’t enough respirators for those severely sick people who needed them.

Which is why the shelter-in-place/stay-at-home orders are important. Slowing the spread makes it possible that we might not have too many people severely sick at the same time than we have facilities for.

Though it’s quite likely that several spots in the U.S. are going to overwhelm their medical facilities, soon.

I am worried about my own health, it’s true. I am far more worried about the health of people that I know and love. I am worried about the economic hardships many are already facing, and that a lot more of us may be facing, soon. But most of those economic hardships (and many worse) will happen if infection rates surge to the point that millions die. The notion that ordinary people aren’t going to face disruptions and financial problems if all the orders are lifted and everyone goes back to work is simply wrong.

Humans are social animals. One of our survival traits as a species is that we take care of each other. My community didn’t survive the plague of AIDS by taking an “everyone for themself” attitude. The world won’t survive if you fail to learn the lessons of our ordeal:

Love One Another or Die: Lessons for Coronavirus From the HIV/AIDS Crisis.

Survivors Of The AIDS Crisis Share How We Can Get Through The Coronavirus Pandemic.


Edited to Add: I’d already started the draft of this post before this tweet went across my timeline and I chose to re-tweet it. Decided I should add it here:

Sunday Update: Please stop hoarding!

I’ve been trying not to get all ranty and also not to turn this blog into all-pandemic all-the-time, but… Here’s the thing. I know that all of us are anxious, and it feels as if washing our hands and avoiding crowded places, and wiping down the handle of our shopping cart, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera isn’t really doing anything. But the panicked buying and the profiteering isn’t actually helping, either.

Besides being an old fart, and therefore automatically in a higher risk group for getting severely sick, I am also diabetic (and before certain people chime in, it’s been identified as one of the genetic types, so no, there is absolutely no amount of exercise nor weight loss that could prevent it—I have long joked the diabetes doesn’t run in my dad’s family, it stampedes and now I have medical proof that it isn’t a joke). Besides putting me in yet another high risk category, what that also means is that a couple times a day I have to swab some part of my skin with alcohol, poke it with a lancing device, and place a drop of blood on a test strip to check my blood sugar (while pressing the alcohol swab to the pinprick to help stop the bleeding in a sterile way), and at least once a day I also have to inject myself with the medication that controls my condition and guess what—that also requires swabbing some spot of my skin with alcohol before stabbing myself with the needle (and afterward wiping again, as per medical recommendations).

Now, I come for a long, long, long line of penny-pinchers, so I worked out the routine a long time ago of doing the swab-lance-test-press-swab-stab-inject-swab-again routine in a short enough time frame that it only takes one alcohol wipe to get the test and inject job done. But, that’s the morning injection. I’m also supposed to check my blood sugar twice more during the day, and under certain circumstances, inject myself with a second medication at bedtime.

So when all the panic-buying started, I double-checked my wipe supply and confirmed that I had an unopened box in the cabinet in addition to the box I was using. And I had two. (Because it’s cheaper to order the three-pack). Then I reached the end of the current box, and I told myself, “That’s fine, I have a couple more boxes.” But then I saw enough comments about people having things back-ordered and I thought, “Okay, though this should last me a couple of months, maybe it’s okay to order a single box, knowing that it isn’t going to ship for many weeks.”

That was merely eight days ago. This morning I got the third update in that time advising me that the arrival date is being pushed back some more.

The problem is that some people will read this and think, “Oh, no! I need to buy more of blank just in case…” which is just going to make things worse.

Since we’re on the subject, let’s dive in:

Please Stop Treating Me Like I’m Disposable When You Talk About The Coronavirus . This one really hits several spots. I keep seeing people insisted that “only a few percent of people are at risk” and variants. First, a lot of people are at risk. High risk groups include older people, and if you are not old you may think that means it doesn’t matter to you—but what about your parents and other older relatives? Do you really not care about them?

But it’s more than just “old people” who are at risk, it is also people with pre-existing chronic health conditions (including high blood pressure [33% of adults in America], diabetes [9.4% of Americans], heart disease [6% of adults in America], and a wide variety of chronic illnesses and disabilities that compromise the immune system). The best guess is about 60% of the population has at least one such underlying health issue, and 40% have more than one.

So think of it this way: imagine yourself and your two best friends get infected. Out of just those three people, statistically, two of you are probably at higher risk to develop a severe case and require hospitalization and a ventilator/respirator to have any hope of surviving.

And no, I’m not making that up: What Will You Do If You Start Coughing? “Stay home” is not a sufficient plan. When health officials say most people will have mild symptoms, that word doesn’t mean what you think it means: “a “mild” case of COVID-19 is not equivalent to a mild cold. Expect it to be much worse: fever and coughing, sometimes pneumonia—anything short of requiring oxygen.”

But wait, there’s more: “Flattening the Curve” is a deadly delusion. “Once a person is on the ventilator, it often takes about 4 weeks for them to get out of intensive care again.”

And: This Coronavirus Is Unlike Anything in Our Lifetime — Here’s Why We Need to Stop Comparing It to the Flu.

And don’t get me started on all the lies and worse in the White House press briefings…

That’s enough of depressing news. Don’t forget to wash your hands (soap and water are fine). Also, moisturize! While the washing literally kills the virus (and other nanoparticals), it also damages the skin, which makes your hands more vulnerable. Your skin is your first defense, so use some lotion regularly, too!

Finally, Randy Rainbow has humorously summarized many related issues, while making a parody for a song from one of my favorite under-appreciated musicals (Guys and Dolls)—

The CORONAVIRUS Lament – A Randy Rainbow Song Parody:

(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)


Edited to add: Some comments indicated people don’t understand what kind of alcohol wipes I’m talking about in the opening two paragraphs. They are TINY little wipes intended for a single medical purpose. They aren’t big enough to effectively wipes door handles, cart handles, doorknobs, and other large objects in the real world that need to be disinfected.

Oppression Olympics, part 2: What’s so radical about being yourself?

“There's nothing wrong with you. There's a lot wrong with the world you are in.” —Chris Coffer

(Click to embiggen)

For longer than I’ve been alive one of the lines of dispute within what we would now call the LGBT+ Equal Rights movement can be characterized as the Gay Assimilationists vs the Radical Queers. Gay Assimilationists tend to define equality as the integration of non-heterosexual people within existing cultural norms and institutions, while Radical Queers tend to define equality as changing cultural norms and institutions so that all sexual orientations, genders, and presentations of such are welcomed and supported. The Radical Queers reject integration because they see it as embracing and approving of the toxic values that created sexual and gender-based oppression to begin with.

This divide, or course, exists on a spectrum. The beliefs of most people within the community fall somewhere between the extremes, but, enough are on one side or other of the middle that arguments happen. For instance, I’ve been accused of being an assimilationist because Michael and I got legally married once we were able to do so, and I watch football. I’ve also been called out in the other direction because I wear earrings, the color purple, rainbows, and call myself ‘queer.’

The tension between these two ideas plays out in many (and sometimes weird) ways—and not just within the community. There are still plenty of people (straight and not), who insist that LGBT+ rights advocates should be civil, and politely make their case about why we deserve equality. They wrongly insist that the radical approach never works. They completely ignore the actual history of the movements: decades of work by so-called homophile organizations in the U.S. and Europe politely advocating for decriminalization—always careful for the men to dress in suits and ties, and the women to were skirts and blouses—and never making any progress. It was the riots by drag queens, transgender people of color, and the like that finally made any change happen at all.

Yes, the other approach works well for raising money and countering backlash to each step forward. So both approaches have their place in the long running battle for equality.

Which isn’t to say that only the non-conforming people matter, or that there is some sort of meaning to the question of whether one person is gayer than another (despite some people trying to drag that distinction into some political races this year), it’s mostly a recognition of the old proverb that the “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.” Both kinds of LGBT/queer person are valid and just as “gay” as the other.

In the last few years as a small number of mostly-gender-conforming male professional athletes have decided to come out of the closet, you see various media people calling them trailblazers whose bravery will somehow make it easier for non-heterosexual kids to be themselves. Ignoring that fact that the actual trailblazers were blazing those trails for many years. It’s not the macho professional male athlete coming out in the twenty-teens who is leading the way, they are trailing far, far in the dust behind the femmy boys and glittery street queens and butch dykes and trans people of all types who led the way at Stonewall and in the years immediately following. And as has been demonstrated many times, no matter how unthreatening, conventional, and mainstream non-heterosexual people are, as soon as they dare to come out of the closet someone is ready with the slurs and attacks.

The two philosophies I mentioned at the beginning (Assimilationist/Radical) roughly map to two distinctive kinds of experiences many queer people lived through growing up:

  • Some of us never fit in. We were bullied by classmates (as well as adults) for the way we talked, or the way we walked, or the things we expressed interest in.
  • Others blended in so well that when they eventually did come out, people who knew them when they were younger express genuine and emphatic shock.

Make no mistake: neither kind of kid had it easy. The ones who did blend in realized, at some point, that they were different, and they lived in just as much fear as those of us who couldn’t figure out why we were constantly being called all those homophobic slurs. Both kinds internalized homophobia leading to feelings of self-loathing.

Those of us who couldn’t blend in are somewhat more likely to focus on trying to make society more accepting of all differences, while those who did blend in seem to be more likely to think our goal should be to convince straight people that we are no different from them.

But it isn’t an exact correlation.

I’m saying all of this for context. Now, let’s move on to my point: any time in the last few months that I have criticized the policies and statements of presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg I get accused of saying he isn’t gay enough. As if that phrase even means anything. That’s not what’s happening. My beef with Buttigieg is very few of his statements about policies would sound amiss coming out of the mouth of 2016 Republican presidential candidate, Jeb Bush. Most wouldn’t sound amiss coming out of the mouth of 2012 Republican nominee, Mitt Romney.

Mayor Pete is not a progressive politician. He doesn’t advocate positions that I believe will move us forward. At best, his detailed policies look to undo most of the harm Trump has done, and otherwise only promise to not to let things get much worse.

We can do better than that.

Now, I have some theories about why he doesn’t see how harmful late stage capitalism is to most working class and middle class people of every gender, orientation, and race. And I have some theories on why many of his responses as mayor to issues related to marginalized communities were tone deaf or outright dismissive. The quickest summation is: he is unaware of how the privileges he has had (being a man in our society, being white, having university-educated parents, being from a family well-to-do enough to send him to private school, and then to Harvard, and yes, being the kind of gay who can pass for straight when he wants) has protected him from the problems those less fortunate have had to deal with.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t think he’s gay enough. That does means I don’t think he is either self-aware enough nor empathetic enough to be a good president.

Wanting a better world, or, confessions of a queer nerdy survivor

“Some people are angry if others don't suffer as they suffered... ...others do everything in their power to make sure no one else suffers as they have.”

(Click to embiggen)

It’s really hard to remain respectful in some arguments. For instance, I fully support the proposals of several progressive politicians that we make university education free. Every other industrialized country in the world does it, so why can’t we? Well, one argument that comes up again and again is, “But won’t that make all the people who had to pay off huge college debts angry?” My first response is, speaking as someone who spent many years trying to pay off his education loans, and only managed it because he was lucky enough to be an early employee of a tech start up that succeeded (so guess where 90% of my stock option earnings went?), “No, I would not be the slightest bit angry if no one else had to go through what I went through!”

My middle school wrestling coach (who was also my 8th grade math teacher) was old enough that he nearly died of polio as a child. He had to wear a leg brace the rest of his life, among other negative health issues left over from that ordeal. And while the anti-vax movement hadn’t reached its current level of penetration in society, back when I was in school the early stirrings of the movement existed. There was a story in the news about someone urging parents not to get their kids vaccinated for reasons that indicated they didn’t understand how vaccines or the immune system worked while I was his student, and so one day before we had our math lesson, we were treated to an impassioned talk from Coach about how 1) he wished the vaccine had existed when he was a child, and 2) how could any parent be so irresponsible as to not want to spare their child the pain and suffering or a preventable illness?

Almost every year during Pride Month I wind up writing at least one blog post where I say I am proud of myself and my fellow queer survivors because we survived the bullying, gaslighting, abuse, and oppression and have managed to create beautiful meaningful lives. But while I’m proud of having survived that, I don’t think any less of anyone who didn’t get bullied as much as me. What kind of psychopathic monster would wish that kind of pain on another person?

Part of the answer, I know, is that most of us have been taught from a very early age that misery builds character—that we become a better person by enduring these experiences. It’s reasonable to infer that I believe that from my comments such as that in the previous paragraph. But that isn’t quite what I mean. Misery doesn’t build anything.

It’s like exercise: you’re probably familiar with the notion that engaging in exercise which stresses the muscles will stimulate the body to increase muscle mass. That’s true enough, as far as it goes. But it isn’t the exercise which is building the muscles. It’s your body that is building extra muscle mass, and it can only do that if your diet includes enough protein, and if it has time to rest in between periods of exercise. Exercise is a specific type of stress placed on your muscles. It isn’t random. Beating a person will also stress the muscles, but that kind of stress doesn’t elicit the muscle-building activity at a bio-chemical level.

Similarly, it isn’t the bullying to built character, it’s several other things. One factor is how the person experiencing the suffering responds to it. Some survivors of abuse become abusers themselves later in life. That isn’t what people usually mean by “building character” even though it is a perfectly predictable response to being abused. Another factor is whether the person had other positive things in their life. Were they getting emotional support? Did that have someone in their life who loved them unconditionally? Were the places or times when they could escape the abuse?

I’m proud of people I know who survived bullying and worse not because of the bullying, but because they have embraced kindness and compassion despite the bad times. It’s what they did with it that matters.

Life will always have challenges. But some challenges are artificial. People forget that the very notion of money and private property are things humans just made up. They aren’t like laws of physics. We can change how the system works. And it isn’t that hard, because we do it all the time. Every time we change a tax (whether an increase or a decrease), we’re changing how the financial system works.

We live in a world where nearly 40% of the food we produce each year is just wasted. Yet there are people who can’t get enough food (or enough nutritious food) to survive. We’ve reached the point where large financial institutions are starting to panic a bit because of the sheer volume of wealth that is being hoarded in non-productive ways by the billionaire class. People are finally beginning to realize that the old truism (usually attributed to Henry Ford—hardly a progressive icon) that if workers are not paid enough to afford whatever products industries are producing, those industries will collapse.

I want the world to be a better place. I want people who are small children now to grow up and not have to struggle against problems that are entirely arbitrary and artificial—problems that we know how to fix—even though I had to fight those problems. I’m perfectly okay with them growing up in a better world than I did.

Don’t you agree?

All generalizations are dangerous* — especially about generations!

Click to embiggen. Sources: U.S. Census Bureau, Pew Research Center

On Monday night there were two train wrecks happening on blogs I like to read. One thing I like about both blogs is that generally speaking, the comment threads in each one are full of thought-provoking, thoughtful, and generally respectful discussions. Not only could I not stop reading, but in both threads I couldn’t stop myself from commenting a few times myself. Which probably didn’t help either train wreck. But I think I managed to stay mostly reasonable, so I hope we were at the least being entertaining.

In one of those conversations a person made a comment about how some Baby Boomers don’t understand technology, and while it turned out to be a bit tongue-in-cheek (the person followed up by speculating that the person being clueless was actually a ghost from the 18th Century misunderstanding modern copyright law). Anyway, it reminded my that I keep meaning to follow up on the post I wrote three years ago about the cavalier way some people use terms such as “Baby Boomer” and “Millenial.”

Some folks want to list anyone who is over the age of, say, 35, as a Baby Boomer. I’m seen just as many older folks insist that everyone under 30 is a Millenial. Which makes any commentary about the social and economic issues faced by people who grew up in different time periods meaningless.

The term Baby Boom originally referred to the significant uptick in the birth rate when World War II came to an end and when the world economy recovered from the Great Depression. Contrary to over-simplified understandings of history, those two events weren’t the same—the U.S. domestic economy was noticeably improving before the U.S. even entered the war, and the birthrate started picking up during the war itself (though not as dramatically as it did a few years later). So some sociologist and economists tagged the beggining of the Baby Boom in 1945, while others in 1942 or ’43.

Similarly, the birthrate’s rate of increase started slowing down in the U.S. (though not dropping) in the mid-fifties. Later, when social scientists started talking about the Baby Boom generation, many of them placed much importance upon the attitudes and expectations of that cohort based on their formative years being in the 1950s, where, in the U.S. at least, there was an exuberant economic boom and no war. I was in my late teens when I first started reading articles about the Baby Boom generation, and those articles defined is as people born between about 1942 and 1955. Which meant that my mother and father were both Baby Boomers.

Which is one of the reasons I sometimes have a negative visceral reaction to the more current definition, which is people born between 1946 and 1965. Because that makes me a Baby Boomer… and because I spent years thinking of my parents as Baby Boomers and that just seems wrong. Also, I was born after the 50s ended, and by the time my formative years were going, the U.S. was at war in Viet Nam and the Civil Rights movement was causing many to feel that the world was changing for the worse. So I think my assumptions about life are a bit different than those who grew up in the 50s.

The chart that I reproduce above shows only one of the many possible definitions of generational groups. I believe for broad discussions about economics, sociology, politics, and the like that it is useful to make some generalizations about the broad societal conditions that people of different ages grew up under. A lot of people of my mother’s generation (The Silent Generation, people born between 1925 and 1945) supposedly don’t understand computers and modern technology. My mom has very strong feelings about several parts of Quantum Mechanics (word to the wise: if you don’t want to find yourself cowering in a corner, saying you are sorry and will never stray again, do not mention Erwin Schrödinger or his thought experiment about a cat and an atomic trigger within earshot of my mom, okay?). Once, when her computer had been misbehav ing for several months she told me that the reason she hadn’t called me was because none of the errors had risen to the level fo “kernal panic” and she had been able to get everything working again on her own.

Let me repeat that: my 76-year-old mother knows what a kernel panic is and is able to solve a lot of her computer and related problems on her own. So, just because they are a member of the generation before the Baby Boomers doesn’t mean they don’t understand technology.

Punch-card to enter Fortran commants into a computer, circa 1976, when I (a computer professional with more than 3 decades experience) took the only computer science class I ever had...

Punch-card to enter Fortran commants into a computer, circa 1976, when I (a computer professional with more than 3 decades experience) took the only computer science class I ever had…

By most definitions, I am a Baby Boomer. I was programming computers (with punch-card version of Fortran) in 1976 at the age of 15 when most people thought that computers would always be either the size of a large room or a small building. The first personal computer I owned I soldered together myself in 1982 (and I didn’t actually own it, because at that time I couldn’t afford the $99 for the basic kit nor the $49.95 for the 16 kilobyte memory expansion kit that made it useful; the father of a friend bought the kits and I did the soldering and assembly and got to use the machine for two months out of the deal). My current day job official title includes the word “principal” and I am expected to be able to understand all functions from the Physical Layer through the Application Layer with the ability to write specifications for sub-layers such as the Data Access, Business Logic, and Presentation.

And no one should be surprised that most of Generation X (whose original name was Gen X Atari Wave) understands technology, but I’ve noticed that a lot of member of both Gen Y (the original Millenials) and Gen Z don’t really understand how the technology works. They both understand many of the implications of the internet, but to varying degrees, they don’t understand how those things actually work, because it’s no longer necessary to understand things happening below the Presentation layer to use the technology. This isn’t a bad thing, per se. Just as you don’t need to know how to machine a piston in order to operate a car, you don’t need to understand all of that other stuff in order to be active on social media.

Unfortunately, that means that you have situations such as the one that started one of the comment threads I mentioned above: folks who don’t understand what a hyperlink on a web page actually is, will get upset and file a DCMA take down notice on someone who is linking to someone else’s publicly accessible page. But a hyperlink isn’t content, it’s a pointer.

For much of my life, the cliche was that older people didn’t know how to work new technological devices, and that the answer was to find a child who could fix things for you. Some of those “children”—the leading edge of Gen X—are 50 years old now. And some are now shaking their heads looking at the younger people who are much better at knowing how to make things go viral, for instance, but may not even know what HTML is.


* “All generalizations are dangerous, even this one.” ― Alexandre Dumas-fils

Serious topic: and one I still can’t write about

“18 years ago, a group who believed diversity is evil and that violence redeems hurt us as badly as they could, in hopes we’d embrace their extremist beliefs, and hurt ourselves a thousand times worse than they ever could.  If we wish to honor the dead, we should stop obliging.”

“18 years ago, a group who believed diversity is evil and that violence redeems hurt us as badly as they could, in hopes we’d embrace their extremist beliefs, and hurt ourselves a thousand times worse than they ever could.
If we wish to honor the dead, we should stop obliging.”

“Trump was the first man in history to be in three places at once. On 9/11, Donald was downtown being a first responder WHILE he was in NJ watching Muslims celebrate WHILE he was in Trump Tower calling TV stations to brag about his building now being the tallest! ”

“Trump was the first man in history to be in three places at once. On 9/11, Donald was downtown being a first responder WHILE he was in NJ watching Muslims celebrate WHILE he was in Trump Tower calling TV stations to brag about his building now being the tallest! ”

“In remembrance of Mark Bingham, a heroic gay man who sacrificed his life on United Flight 93.”

“In remembrance of Mark Bingham, a heroic gay man who sacrificed his life on United Flight 93.”

Open letter: Dear Mark Bingham.

Joe at Joe.My.God reposts his personal story: That Day: My September 11th Short Story.

I finished a post about a very silly topic which I intended to publish on this Wednesday, and it was only when I was scheduling it that I remembered what the date would be. So I decided to do something else. Way back on the first anniversary of 9/11 I wrote a post on another blog that I eventually reposted here on one of the later anniversaries: “Living for 9/12.” It’s hard for me to muster the scant amount of optimism I caught in that post this many years on, because the terrorists won. We’ve embraced the hate. For 18 years we have whittled away at our own liberty, and have not made ourselves one bit safer.

We have, in fact, made ourselves less safe. The hatred we have embraced has given us a plethora of home-brewed domestic terrorists who continue to carry out the agenda of those 19 shitheads who hijacked those jets and killed 3000 people.

So… what are we going to do about it?

You only gave us rights because we gave you riots: thoughts on Pride

“You only gave us rights because we gave you riots. Queer Power”

“You only gave us rights because we gave you riots. Queer Power” (Click to embiggen)

I’ve had three partially-written blog posts about Pride sitting here in the queue for a few weeks, but kept changing my mind about which direction I wanted to go with it. Then over the last few days I’ve seen several more iterations of a question that drives me crazy, and some related stuff appeared on a couple of my usual news sits, which made the three ideas I had coalesce into one. First: never forget that the first Pride was a riot. And it wasn’t just one riot—the rioting continued for several nights. The quick summary: because (among other things) it was illegal for a bar to knowingly serve more the one openly gay person at a time, most of the places where gay, lesbian, trans, and other queer people were able to congregate were illegal bars, usually operated by the mafia. The cops occasionally raided those bars, just to remind the people operating them that they needed to keep bribing cops and other officials. Because it was also illegal for a man to wear clothing traditionally thought as a woman’s, and it was equally illegal for a woman to wear men’s clothes (stop and think about that a moment: it was a crime for a woman to wear slacks of a pantsuit in many states in 1969), in addition to shutting down the bar and confiscating the alcohol, the cops would always arrest everyone who was gender-non-conforming.

So, forget the lies that certain so-called religious people have started spouting lately: the cops were not rescuing underaged people who were being sex trafficked. The purpose of the raid was to insure that the mob paid it’s bribes on time, and to give the cops a chance to rough up some trans people, masculine-looking women, and effeminate men. That was it.

And for some unkown reason, part of the crowd started fighting back on that night. The cops were so overwhelmed that they had to barricade themselves inside the now-emptied Stonewall Inn and wait for reinforcements. Over the next six days, news spread and people gathered, rioting on at least two more nights. The people who led the fights were the outcasts: the street queens, the people of color, the homeless queer teens—the people least likely to blend in at some white middle-class event.

The New York Daily News, a bit over a week after the first riot.

The New York Daily News, a bit over a week after the first riot.

To the extent that the press covered the event, most of it was very condescending. Joe Jervis has been posting the full text of the New York Daily News’ story every June for a few years. If you want to see just how the so-called liberal press felt about gay people, go give it a read. To the extent that the media covered it at all, most of the coverage was either as disdainful and mocking as the New York Daily News, or they focused on the police version of the story.

The Village Voice put the phrase “Gay Power” in the front page!

Technically, the riots didn’t start the gay rights movement. There had been several organizations staging the occasional picket lines (with the men in suits and ties and the women in skirts), or other orderly protests for a couple of decades. In fact, some of the organizations that had been lobbying for gay rights for years issued condemnations of the riots. Second: But the riots did have a several important effects. while the mainstream press either ignored them or made fun of queer people, some of the alternative papers tried to show both sides. And these papers were read outside of the neighborhoods they served, especially papers like the Village Voice which was read by many professional journalists and academics far outside New York. Third, the news of the riots spread through social grapevines, and within weeks younger, less affluent queer people who had never ever heard of organizations like the Mattachine Society were gathering and forming groups like the Gay Liberation Front, the Gay Activists Alliance, or the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries.

Fourth, by the fall of 1969 chapters of the Gay Liberation Front were being formed on college campuses all over the U.S. I know, because I happened to know a man who was a freshman at the University of Washington that year, who was not only a founder of the UW chapter of the Gay Liberation Front, he served as an officer for the next few years.

Fifth: Commemoration led to recognition. The next year, June 1970, on the anniversary of the first riot, a small group met to march in what was then called Christopher Street Liberation Day, but by the time the group reached Central Park, the march had swelled to thousands. And, interestingly enough, the same papers that had been so condescending a year ago were at least less disdainful: “There was little open animosity, and some bystanders applauded when a tall, pretty girl carrying a sign “I am a Lesbian” walked by.”

I mentioned the organizations that had been fighting for gay rights for years. There were enough of them that they had been holding regular conferences for some years before the riots. Several months after the riots the Eastern Regional Conference of Homophile Organizations passed a resolution supporting the Christopher Street Liberation Day, though several groups abstained. And the only reason the resolution was under consideration was because a group called Homophile Youth Movement in Neighborhoods had started working with the Gay Liberation Front, and brought some GLF members to the convention as guests. The New York Mattachine Society (the people who had been doing that staid picketing for years with no significant changes in the law or attitudes) was one of the organizations that opposed commemorating the riots. But that parade, and others held in other cities all over the country, happened anyway, and they have been growing ever since.

The Mattachine Society had been lobbying for gay rights since 1950 to virtually no avail. The more radical queers who organized after Stonewall made more of a splash: by the 1972 presidential election campaign, there were national Democratic candidates advocating for anti-discrimination laws to include queer people.

Since that first march in 1970, there have been people within the community who call for the parades to be less outrageous. Specifically, they ask people not to wear kink gear, or sexually provocative clothing. Every year I hear someone saying that such-and-such or so-and-so doesn’t belong at Pride. They argue that only if we show the world that we aren’t freaks will we get rights.

Bull.

I have a few more verbose responses:

First: if we all showed up with the men wearing suits and ties and the women in skirts, and walked calmly down the street the same bigots who claim we are sick and going to hell would still be screaming those lies. Because they did it for the two decades that groups like the Mattachine Society were playing the assimilationship card.

Stop ignoring the blatant sexuality of every day straight culture.

Second: have you ever been to a straight parade or festival? Because let me tell you, the first time I ever attended Seattle’s Torchlight Family Seafair Parade I was shocked at how just how many skimpy bikinis were being worn by women on the floats and how many sexual innuendoes other floats were designed to embody. The only reason why LGBT Pride Parades appear to be outrageous and not-family-friendly to people is because none of the sexuality on display is aimed at white straight men. There is no less sexuality being flaunted at most non-gay festivals, parades, sporting events, et cetera, than there is at Queer Pride Parades. None.

“No one in America should ever be afraid to walk down the street holding the hand of the person they love.” —Barack Obama.

(click to embiggen)

Third: the whole point of liberation and equality is that everyone should be free to be themselves. No one should have to hide who they are to be treated equally before the law. If you’re trying to keep the kinksters, the dykes on bikes, the drag queens, the scantily-clad go-go boys out of the Parade, you’re on the same side of this battle as the anti-gay bigots. You’re helping our enemies, not us. And I’m not the only person who feels this way. Take it away Amanda Kerri, writing for The Advocate:

“I’m frankly too worn out from this stuff at this point to be nice about it anymore. Saying that kink has no place at Pride is a bad opinion and you should feel bad. First of all, kink was at Pride long before upper middle-class queers decided to take their kids to Pride…. As for those of you arguing about how a bunch of queers running around in collars, harnesses, and body tape over their nipples makes us look bad in front of the straights and supports their arguments that we’re all perverts, well you might want to sit down for this: the ones who think we’re perverts don’t care how we’re dressed.”

Fourth: Pride isn’t a celebration of being gay, it’s an assertion of our right to exist without persecution. What is being celebrated is the fact that we have survived and even thrived despite the oppression. What is being celebrated is the rights of each and every one of us to be who we are without shame.

Fifth: Have you been to a Pride Parade lately? Because most of the groups marching in Pride Parades of late are corporate employee groups. They are queer people usually dressed in matching t-shirts approved by some corporate flunky, along with shorts and sensible shoes. Yes, I think there is a lot we need to think about with the corporations who pretend to be gay friendly for marketing purposes while actively supporting our oppressors. And I would frankly have more respect for the people trying to exclude the kinksters if they also talked about the corporate coopting, but they don’t usually seem to be the same people. Regardless, my point here is that just as straight public events aren’t really any more family-friendly than most Pride events, the Pride events aren’t nearly as outrageous as some of you seem to think.

Bottom Line: Everyone who is there to celebrate Pride is welcome, including straight allies. I’m not saying that you have to show up in a g-string with rainbow glitter on your nibbles to participate. I’m going to be wearing a t-shirt and shorts and sensible shoes, carrying my bright rainbow parasol and looking every bit the short, old, queer, nerdy bear that I am. But not only are the street queens, the freaks, the kinksters, the butch dykes, and all of the other “outrageous” or non-conforming people welcome, they were our founders—and they sure as hell belong.

What doesn’t belong at Pride are oppressive attitudes.

Reminder: colors don’t have gender

A couple weeks ago I’d had a busy day at work, and then had walked around downtown until my work out app said I’d done more than a mile, which is when I headed to the bus stop. The sun had been bright when I first left the office, so I was wearing my broad-brimmed hat and sunglasses. I was checking the bus app on my phone to see how soon my bus would arrive, then checked messages.

I man walked past—then stopped a few feet away and turned in my direction. Since my head was down and I had the hat on, all I could see was his legs and feet. It’s a busy sidewalk and busier bus stop, so nothing seemed odd. I was standing close enough to the kiosk that lists the routes that stop there that if I gave any thought to him at that point, I thought he was looking at the sign.

He walked back the other way, passing only a few feet past me before stopping and turned to me again. I looked up just as he started walking his original direction. But he wasn’t randomly pacing. He was staring at me as walked by. And he stopped again a short distance to my right and turned his whole body toward me.

And stare isn’t the right word: it was a glare. Such an intense glare that you would think we had been mortal enemies for years—but I didn’t recognize him at all.

I smiled.

His glare became a sneer, and he looked me up and down before he said, “Nice hat,” in a very contemptuous tone.

I nodded and said, as neutrally as I could, “Thanks.”

He snorted, did the look up and down thing again, then said, “No, I mean a really nice fucking hat.”

The hat isn’t just broad-brimmed, it is very broad-brimmed. It casts a shadow that completely covers my face. And it is purple (two different shades!) and grey. This guy was hardly the first strange man to make less than friendly comments on the hat. Not wanting to escalate anything, I nodded again and said quietly, “Okay.”

He snorted again. He looked me up and down again. He muttered something with a very disparaging expression, then turned away and walked about a dozen feet further down the sidewalk (presumably) to wait for his bus in another part of the crowd.

I had my headphones on listening to an audiobook, so I literally didn’t hear what his last contemptuous muttering was, but it was clearly two words, two syllables each, both starting with F.

It wasn’t until I had gotten on my bus and settled into a seat that I noticed that I also happened to be wearing a purple polo shirt. Which isn’t a surprise, because last time I counted, exactly half the shirts that I think are suitable for the office are one shade of purple or other. At least two-thirds of the t-shirts I own are purple. I own several more purple hats. During sunny weather I often wear a Hawaiian shirt (often unbuttoned over a t-shirt), and most of them have purple as a prominent color.

If you hadn’t guessed, purple is my favorite color. And if the article from which I swiped the graphic above is correct, fully 12% of all men name it as their favorite color. Even so, this guy is hardly the first person to react this way to me wearing purple. Heck, about a year ago a very progressive co-worker, while we were discussing a book about racism in America, and while making a point about how different marginalized groups experience prejudice, he made the off-hand comment that if I just took off my hat and hid it, I could pass for straight.

And the hat that was hanging on the hook that he pointed to was not my big broad-brimmed two-shades of purple one. It was a much more subdued flat cap with a short bill. It just happened to be purple.

When I have told one of my other stories about a incidents similar to the bus stop encounter, sometimes someone feels the need to advise me to either, a) just ignore the glares and comments, or b) stop wearing purple.

To the first suggestion I have a few responses:

  • Humans are social animals, and most of us are hardwired to pay attention to other people around us, particularly their facial expressions and tone of voice. Difficult to ignore.
  • As a person who has been both verbally and physically assaulted by homophobes, I can’t help being vigilant. There is a part of my brain that is constantly looking for warning signs.
  • Given that queer people still get attacked and murdered by homophobes in this country, it would be very unwise to suppress that urge to keep an eye on my surroundings.

As to deciding not to wear purple. Really? So it is my responsibility to try to guess what might set off a random bigot? Your solution is to take away something that I love, something that makes me feel good, something that doesn’t hurt anyone else, just so a bigot feels comfortable pretending that gay people don’t exist? If you think that suggestion is a reasonable one, I have to ask: why would you want to make a bigot feel comfortable? Seriously, go look in a mirror and ask that question out loud: why would you rather a bigot feel comfortable than someone like me be happy? Think really hard about why that was your first response.

Colors don’t have gender.

And I find it particularly amusing in Seattle when some of these guys react to my purple garments. Seattle is the home of the University of Washington (among other colleges) home of the very popular Huskies football team. And the team colors are purple and gold. So you see people wearing purple sweatshirts, purple hats, or purple shorts adorned with one or more of the team logos on them all the time. They are so ubiquitous in clothing stores around here that I can’t count the times that I saw a purple garment out of the corner of my eye, only to see that it’s Huskies merchandise when I turn toward it.

And no, I’m not going to replace all of my purple clothes with Huskies merch. For one, I attended a different university altogether.

“Keep calm and love purple”

(click to embiggen)

I just think it’s crazy that some people see a guy wearing purple, and their fragile masculinity gets riled up unless they also see a sports logo. It’s still the same color. And it still doesn’t have a gender.

Confessions of a packrat-haunted packrat

“We produce enough food for 10 billion humans to live comfortably, but capitalism throws almost half of it away for not being pretty enough, profitable enough, or because it simply rotted on a shelf. Scarcity, suffering are manufactured in order to maintain profitability.”

“We produce enough food for 10 billion humans to live comfortably, but capitalism throws almost half of it away for not being pretty enough, profitable enough, or because it simply rotted on a shelf. Scarcity, suffering are manufactured in order to maintain profitability.”

I’ve written more than once about being a packrat–specifically, a packrat son of packrats, grandson of packrats, great-grandson of packrats, great-great-grandson of packrats… and I’m sure it goes back further than that, but those are the ones I know. Growing up like that, many habits of thinking and perceiving and worrying become deeply ingrained in one’s brain, so that it is a constant struggle to keep from turning into a full-on hoarder. Any time I put something that we no longer use into the pile to take to Value Village or what-have-you, I hear a chorus of voices in my head admonishing, “You might need that some day!” With some side comments about how much money it originally cost, so that would be a waste and so on. This manifests in many other ways. If we don’t finish all the food we cooked for a particular meal and I even think about tossing the tiny portion of something that just isn’t really worth putting in a container to stick in the fridge, the chorus will talk about wasting food and people who can’t afford to eat (as if I could someone forward this tablespoon of vegetables that were already part of leftovers from a meal a few days earlier, to a starving child somewhere, right?). It really does feel, at times, as if I am haunted by a slew of judgmental ghosts.

One reason those ghosts are so strong is because they are really a manifestation of anxiety. Spend any part of your childhood or young adult life where food and shelter were in jeopardy because of money issues, and those anxieties get a lot of power. And because we survived some of those situations thanks to some packrat in the family who kept that old appliance when they bought a new one which we can now use after ours broke until we can afford to replace it, well, those anxieties can rightly remind us that “You might need that someday!” is true.

To get out of the abstract for a bit: one of the tasks that has been on my list for a while was to go through the closet and my chest of drawers to purge clothes that I don’t wear anymore. We last did that seriously two years ago while preparing to move… and we did it again when we unpacked, because after all that packing and moving we were both feeling that we had not been ruthless enough in the purge leading up to the move.

But we’re both also busy with work and chores and so on, so it is easy to put it off. I have also learned that those ghosts will enlist the aid of my inner procrastinator in interesting ways. Usually I distract myself with another chore or project that is important, but manages to grow into something bigger. The trick, I have learned, is to actually say out loud, either to myself or my husband, “I really want to go through the closet and drawers this weekend to get rid of the clothes that don’t fit me any more.” And even though whether they fit isn’t the only reason I plan to get rid of some clothes, if that’s the only part I admit out loud, it’s harder for my to procrastinate.

Yes, I just admitted that I have to trick myself. The funny part is that it works.

Weekend before last I started at the closet. One reason it had become urgent is that the closet is so full of clothes that it is difficult to put clean clothes away after I do the laundry. It’s a struggle to squeeze things in. The side effects of that are that it is difficult to find a particular garment when we want and that a lot of shirts especially get weird creases because everything’s jammed in.

Because I had been doing other housework that day, I didn’t get started on the closet until nearly 2:30 in the afternoon. As I pulled things out of the closet, giving them a look over and trying them on, it was easy to toss things that don’t fit (or don’t fit comfortably), or if they have another physical issue (there was one really nice dress shirt that I really like that got a coffee stain on it that resisted all my attempts to remove, and it wound up being put back in the closet because the packrat ghosts in my head convinced me that I could think of something to remove the stain later.

It was more difficult to put things in the “get rid of” pile that had no physical problems, but that I just know I’ll never wear again. There are a few reasons that I know I won’t wear something ever again. Sometimes it’s something that I bought because I thought it would go really well with something else and I either no longer own that other garment or once the outfit was assembled it didn’t look good or it had a major impracticality or whatever. Other times it’s just that while it looked good in the store, later I didn’t like how it looked on me. And other times it’s just, I’m over that–whatever look it was.

If I keep it, it will just hang in the closet. It will be looked at from time to time while I’m looking for something else, but I will never pull it out and actually wear it. I know that. No matter how much I know that, I feel a tide of guilt rising inside as I contemplate tossing it into the “give away” pile.

The trick I have used in that situation is to ask myself, “If my friend Kristin were here, what would she ask me?” And what I imagine Kristin (who I sometimes call “the Ruthless One” in these circumstances) would ask me is, “Are you really ever going to wear that, or is it just going to take up space that you could put to better use with things you actually do use?”

And once I have imagined Kristin saying that (or similar), the guilt recedes and I can put the shirt or whatever into the pile.

A bit over two hours later, I had pulled every shirt, sweater, pair of pants, jacket, and so on out of the closet, tried it on, put it into a pile, and then had re-hung all the clothes that I was keeping. I had an embarassingly enormous pile of clothes to go, and an impressive mass of empty hangers. And I was tired and sweaty and felt grungy and grumpy.

I checked in with Michael about how many of the hangers to keep, I bagged up the clothes and the hangers, and I hopped in the shower to wash the grunge and (mostly repressed) guilt away.

I looked at the chest of drawers–three of the six drawers so overfull that they couldn’t be fully slid in, looked at the time, and decided that it was not procrastinating to put that off until next week if I loaded up the car and actually took all the stuff we had in the get-rid of piles away. And it wasn’t just an excuse, between that and the other housework I’d been on my feet and moving for many hours. Value Village was only open until 8pm, and we were now past 5.

So we loaded up the car (which took longer than I thought), drove up to the donation center, dropped the things off, did a quick run through the store on my usual quests (I am trying to replace one decorative plate that got broken while we were hanging the set on the wall at the new place, I keep hoping to find a matching sixth cut crystal wine glass for one of my sets, and I have slowly been acquiring semi-matching bone china saucers to go with a small set of teacups that belonged to my late first-husband’s grandmother — and which, yes, I actually use!). And then we stopped at a nearby sushi place for dinner.

Then, this last weekend, I went through the drawers. Since taking things off hangers wasn’t involved, it went a bit faster. The pile of things to get rid of wasn’t nearly as impressive as the one I’d had the weekend before. But now I am able to easily open and close all six drawers on my side, and there is actually room in the drawers for some new things when they come along (because they will).

Michael, on the other, spent something like five minutes going through his drawers, and all he did was move heavy winter things to the drawers drawers in the bed pedestal (we decided after the move that they only we we’d remember to use them at all was keep seasonal stuff in them), because as the hot weather had come on, he’d started pulling summer clothes out of the drawer, but hadn’t transferred. But all the drawers on his side now easily slide closed, so, win!

Of course, while he was a lot of packrat tendencies, his are focused differently than mine. And he doesn’t have the same habits I have of, for instance, if I have to toss out a couple of socks because they wear out, I will replace the two thrown out pairs with six… and then a month later not remember that I have already more than replaced those “bunch of socks I had to throw out” and buy another six-pack.

One last trick for dealing with all of those ghosts. Whenever I win a little battle with them, I make an extra donation to either Northwest Harvest or True Colors United–gotta use that guilt for something useful, right?

Doesn’t anything last anymore—or, insights from a penny-pinching packrat

The pill minder I’ve used for more than ten years broke…

Lots of people are uncomfortable with change. For instance, I have medical conditions and have to take medicine every day. Some of the medications need to be taken every morning, some every night, and keeping track isn’t impossible, but it’s easiest if I have a system to collect them and keep track of which have been taken. Thus, the pill minder pictured here.

It isn’t the first one I’ve owned. Back in the ’90s I had one medication that had to be taken five times a day. That was no fun, let me tell you. So I had a pill minder back then that actually consisted of seven little four-compartment pill-minders. On a Tuesday morning I could pop up Tuesday’s four-compartment piece, take the morning pills, and then put the Tuesday minder in my backpack, go to work, and throughout the day take my other doses.

That served me fine for years. Even though as it got older most of the words printed on the little lids had rubbed off, and a couple of the little lids wouldn’t stay latched as the little plastic catches wore down. But the penny-pincher inside me kept saying that I could keep making do with it. Despite a few times when I had to dig around in the bottom of the pack to find the pills that had fallen out.

But my meds changed. The one that had previously needed to be taken as five little pills every four hours or so was replaced by one larger pill just once a day. Other medications that had come in small pills were replaced with new ones in very large pills and I had to admit that the old rickety minder with it’s tiny compartments wasn’t right any more. I just needed one with larger compartments divided into only a morning and evening for each day. So I bought a new one (the one pictured above). Which worked fine for years, until one lid broke off week before last.

I figured, oh, it’s just one day, and beside, I don’t carry this thing around with me any more, it stays home, right? Except just about every time I picked it up to open a compartment and take out the pills for that morning or evening, I’d spill some or all of the pills out of the broken compartment. I had to admit it was time to buy a new one and throw this one away.

The new one is pretty and new and shiny… and has a different kind of locking mechanism that means when I unluck, say, Wednesday morning’s compartment, all of the morning compartments are unlocked. So I have to be careful to relock each of the others each time.

Which gives a bit more insight into the sorts of behaviors that could turn one into a full-on hoarder: sometimes we hang on to things because they are familiar. And when we are forced to swtich to a new thing, we find things that are different from the old thing annoying. Because of the years of familiarity, very tiny inconveniences become very outsized annoyances.

The last couple of days while I’ve been using the new minder, I’ve been thinking about how my out of proportion annoyance is not unlike the irrational way that people often react to changes in society in general. Those of us who have spent our whole lives struggling for equal rights often find ourselves having to ask others (sometimes our own relatives) why it bothers them so much? How can decriminalizing my love life possibly hurt them? How does legal recognition of my marriage possibly hurt them? It isn’t logical.

And that’s precisely right. It isn’t a rational response. It is an out-of-proportion reacting to change. Men kissing men in public was unheard of when they were younger, why can’t it stay that way, they ask? And so on.

This doesn’t mean that they are right. Just as me clinging to the broken pill-minder did me no good, them clinging to the past does nothing good. There are notions that belong in the dustbin of history. Hoarding prejudice isn’t the answer to anything.

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