Being Visible

Agents of change make status quo folks rather squirmy. Folks who were previously absent or invisible either join up or speak up, and next thing you know, colored people want to drink out of lily-white fountains, and red people want their land back and treaties honored, and homosexuals want to get married, and women want to be treated as more than sex objects…. It’s hard. It’s very hard for those who’d been used to the Way Things Were. There the world was, ticking over nicely in their estimation, and suddenly a horde of uppity upstarts are there harshing their mellow.

Jackie Robinson, who did a hell of a lot more than play good baseball. He broke color barriers all over the place: in various sports, in television, and in business. Image courtesy Maurice Terrell, LOOK magazine, via Wikimedia Commons.

Jackie Robinson, who did a hell of a lot more than play good baseball. He broke color barriers all over the place: in various sports, in television, and in business. Image courtesy Maurice Terrell, LOOK magazine, via Wikimedia Commons.

And what they’d dearly love is for us to shut up and go away.

I do understand. I’ve been Status Quo, you see. I grew up in a conservative household, and the conservative sentiment is “America – love it or leave it!” and there were many times when I wished those noisy liberals would just shut up and move to Canada if they hated this country so much. Learning the liberals were right was a long, at times painful, process. And there were issues with white privilege, and cis privilege, and middle-class privilege, that had me howling “shut up and go away!” until the people who refused to shut up and go away got through the fingers I had stuffed deeply in my ears. Now I’m glad they didn’t do what I wanted.

And that’s not a patch on the discomfort caused by feminists, who had a job o’ work convincing me to reexamine certain of my assumptions and admit that yes, even in America, feminism is desperately needed.

Florence Bascom, the first woman to receive a PhD from Johns Hopkins University, where she had to sit behind a screen so as not to discomfit the delicate menfolks. She went on to become the first female geologist in the USGS and the first woman elected to the GSA. She mentored three other women who became part of the USGS. So it would seem, in some situations, that being visible behind a screen can get the change ball rolling. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Florence Bascom, the first woman to receive a PhD from Johns Hopkins University, where she had to sit behind a screen so as not to discomfit the delicate menfolks. She went on to become the first female geologist in the USGS and the first woman elected to the GSA. She mentored three other women who became part of the USGS. So it would seem, in some situations, that being visible behind a screen can get the change ball rolling. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Did you notice? None of those folks went quietly away.

They remained visible and vocal. Sometimes, they were out there very vocally explaining the injustices they’d suffered, demanding commitments be honored and rights be extended. Sometimes, they were giving me a glimpse into what it meant to live as a minority among the majority, or disadvantaged among the advantaged. Sometimes they were just there, being visible doing things “conventional wisdom” said they weren’t supposed to do, thus proving conventional wisdom full of shit.

So there it is, this thing you can do if you’re not a firebrand or an activist, if you’re not able to devote yourself to constant activity in campaigns for equality. Not all of us have to be leaders or marchers. Those activists need you, too, being visible. Being in a non-traditional career, or a non-traditional relationship, or a non-traditional body. Being an atheist, matter-of-factly. Adding some color to a sea of white. Because the more visible the formerly-invisible people become, the harder it is to ignore and dismiss and other them, and the more other formerly-invisible people are encouraged to become visible. And momentum is gained. You know how inertia and momentum work. You know it gets easier to keep the ball rolling in the direction you want it to once you’ve got it up to a good speed.

Mathieu Chantelois and Marcelo Gomez getting married in Toronto, July 2003. They were among the first to tie the knot when same-sex marriage became legal in Ontario. The rest of Canada followed suit within a couple of years. Someday, I will be trying to explain why couples like Chantelois and Gomez were pioneers simply for loving each other and insisting on getting married, and those kids won't understand, because the pioneers will have made it all perfectly normal, just as it should be. Image courtesy Mm.Toronto via Wikimedia Commons.

Mathieu Chantelois and Marcelo Gomez getting married in Toronto, July 2003. They were among the first to tie the knot when same-sex marriage became legal in Ontario. The rest of Canada followed suit within a couple of years. Someday, I will be trying to explain why couples like Chantelois and Gomez were pioneers simply for loving each other and insisting on getting married, and those kids won’t understand, because the pioneers will have made it all perfectly normal, just as it should be. Image courtesy Mm.Toronto via Wikimedia Commons.

How can you impart a little extra momentum, even if you’re not in a position to give it a good shove? Do the little things. Sign petitions. Phone, write or email politicians and organizations and companies to let them know what you’d like them to start, stop or keep doing. When you can, correct mistaken assumptions and let the people around you know when something they’re doing or saying is a problem. You don’t have to make a huge fuss, just let them know there’s an alternative to what they just did or said that won’t hurt you. Support the people around you who are doing that work. People sometimes won’t understand they’re doing or saying bothersome things until multiple people have advised them it’s a problem.

You can think of more, I’m sure. And it won’t seem like much. It won’t ever seem like enough. Friction will sometimes steal some of the momentum, and it’s discouraging and horrible when that happens. You’ll sometimes feel like giving up in despair, because how can you’re little bit change anything?

But the point is to keep being visible. As much as you can. Because it’s very, very hard to ignore the people in plain sight, even if all they’re doing is quietly going about living a life prejudice said shouldn’t be possible.

Do your thing, and you will help revolutionize the world.

Aya Kamikawa, the first transgender person in Japan to hold an elected office (and won re-election rather handily). The government told her she'd be considered male; she told them she'd work as a woman. Image courtesy Kenji-Baptiste OIKAWA via Wikimedia Commons.

Aya Kamikawa, the first transgender person in Japan to hold an elected office (and won re-election rather handily). The government told her she’d be considered a man; she told them she’d work as a woman. Image courtesy Kenji-Baptiste OIKAWA via Wikimedia Commons.

 

(None of this is new. We already know it. But it sometimes bears repeating.)

A Refresher for Allies

Recently, I watched a conversation among allies go sadly awry. This was a private venue and I won’t repeat the specifics. They’re not necessary, really: gather together a mixed collection of people whose goals are similar but backgrounds are not, and you can watch the same thing happen. The folks in the group that are members of whatever minority or underprivileged group will eventually end up in the unenviable position of explaining to members of the the majority or privileged group that the tactic they think is so clever is problematic. Rather than admitting this is so and dropping the subject, members of the privileged group tend to dig in. It looks something like this:

Privileged Person A: Making fun of racists by using racist stereotypes to show them how stupid those stereotypes are – brilliant!

Minority Member A: Um, no, because it risks reinforcing stereotypes. Also, splash damage.

PPA: I don’t see it that way because reasons.

MMA, with B, C and D chiming in: It’s a problem.

PPA: Okay, it’s a problem for you. I totally get that. But it’s brilliant! Because reasons.

MMA, B, C and D: Collective headdesk.

As a person who’s a member of some privileged groups, and also a member of some non-privileged groups, I’ve experienced both sides. When I’m wearing my Privileged Person hat, I’ve had to learn something important: when non-privileged people are speaking, it’s time for me to shut up, listen, and then go away for a good think before defending my position.

It’s hard. I admit that. It’s bloody hard to have non-privileged people tell me that something I love, or something I think is a brilliant tactic for confronting injustice, is problematic. I want to get defensive. I want to find reasons they’re wrong. I want to go on loving my problematic something, or using the brilliant but problematic technique. I want to wave away the problems. The non-privileged person just doesn’t understand, or can’t see it for what it is, or is wrong. Right?

Possibly. But I’ve learned they’re right the overwhelming majority of the time, and especially when the lines break cleanly between privileged and non-privileged, it’s up to me to shut the fuck up, listen carefully, reconsider my assumptions, and try to see things through their eyes. Even when they haven’t been nice about it. Even when emotions are running high. Even when I think it’s a fun argument to have. Even if I think I’m right.

After watching that conversation go horribly awry because the privileged weren’t listening to the non-privileged members of the group, I headed off to spelunk the intertoobz for a few refresher posts. In addition to important work by our own bloggers – Greta Christina, Stephanie Zvan, Ophelia Benson, Jason Thibeault, Jen McCreight, Crommunist, Natalie Reed, Zinnia Jones, Ashley F. Miller, Avicenna, Paul Fidalgo, Miri, and PZ Meyers – there’s quite a lot out there helping allies become better allies. This is but a tiny sampling.

Hershele Ostropoler’s foot-stepping analogy is always critical to remember. It covers allies and non-allies alike.

If you step on my foot, you need to get off my foot.

If you step on my foot without meaning to, you need to get off my foot.

If you step on my foot without realizing it, you need to get off my foot.

If everyone in your culture steps on feet, your culture is horrible, and you need to get off my foot.

If you have foot-stepping disease, and it makes you unaware you’re stepping on feet, you need to get off my foot. If an event has rules designed to keep people from stepping on feet, you need to follow them. If you think that even with the rules, you won’t be able to avoid stepping on people’s feet, absent yourself from the event until you work something out.

If you’re a serial foot-stepper, and you feel you’re entitled to step on people’s feet because you’re just that awesome and they’re not really people anyway, you’re a bad person and you don’t get to use any of those excuses, limited as they are. And moreover, you need to get off my foot.

Sometimes, a refresher on what privilege is and why it can lead to inadvertent foot-stomping is a necessary thing.

The fact that people are stupid isn’t news, however. And actually that’s kind of why the concept of privilege is important – because privilege isn’t about being stupid. It’s not a bad thing, or a good thing, or something with a moral or value judgement of any kind attached to it. Having privilege isn’t something you can usually change, but that’s okay, because it’s not something you should be ashamed of, or feel bad about. Being told you have privilege, or that you’re privileged, isn’t an insult. It’s a reminder! The key to privilege isn’t worrying about having it, or trying to deny it, or apologize for it, or get rid of it. It’s just paying attention to it, and knowing what it means for you and the people around you. Having privilege is like having big feet. No one hates you for having big feet! They just want you to remember to be careful where you walk.

This reminder of what allies are was written for allies of autistic people, but applies to allies of any people.

But here’s the thing: if you are trying to be an ally, you need to recognize that it’s not about you. If you are talking over Autistics or otherwise bringing the discussion back to center on ‘allies’, you are not a real ally. Real allies tell these people “don’t do that shit. This isn’t about you.”

If you are really an ally, you are not going to make it about your feelings. Declaring yourself an ally isn’t something you get to do. If you are really fighting with us and for us, it should be because it’s right, not because you want an “Ally!” sticker for your Good Person collection.

A conditional ally, by the way, is not an ally at all. Anyone who says they’d be for your cause if you weren’t so mean/if you personally educated them on every issue/if you were more appreciative is not an ally. Again, it’s not about the privileged group’s feelings here-it’s about equal rights and about our very existence. My exasperation with nearly everything does not reduce my personhood or the fact that I should have equal rights.

The following article address that distress we privileged folk feel when being called out, and why we really need to get the fuck over ourselves. This snippet begins with a quote from a person talking about the Chik-fil-A explosion, and ends with a reminder that while the Distress of the Privileged is real, it’s not as painful as the Distress of the Non-Privileged, and we need to face that fact.

“This isn’t about mutual tolerance because there’s nothing mutual about it. If we agree to disagree on this issue, you walk away a full member of this society and I don’t. There is no “live and let live” on this issue because Dan Cathy is spending millions to very specifically NOT let me live. I’m not trying to do that to him.”

[snip]

Confronting this distress is tricky, because neither acceptance nor rejection is quite right. The distress is usually very real, so rejecting it outright just marks you as closed-minded and unsympathetic. It never works to ask others for empathy without offering it back to them.

At the same time, my straight-white-male sunburn can’t be allowed to compete on equal terms with your heart attack. To me, it may seem fair to flip a coin for the first available ambulance, but it really isn’t. Don’t try to tell me my burn doesn’t hurt, but don’t consent to the coin-flip.

We also need to remember the very real difference between offense and harm.

Mocking the powerful and privileged for those characteristics society arbitrarily uses as a basis for according that power and privilege reverses, rather than participating in and reinforcing, the cultural narrative that justifies their privilege (and that in so doing necessarily justifies the marginalization and oppression of the powerless and unprivileged).  Mocking the powerless and unprivileged for those characteristics society arbitrarily uses as a basis for their marginalization does participate in and reinforce the narratives that justify that marginalization.

These things build up.  Over a lifetime, they build up a great deal: these usually-unspoken cultural narratives are precisely the stuff of implicit bias, and we’re soaking in them.  It’s a mistake to object to them as merely “offensive” — tacitly accepting that the inherently subjective idea of offense is of primary importance, which enables the privileged in claiming, confident it can’t be disproved or even argued against, that they’re “offended” by challenges to their privilege: or as Fred Clark has it, empowers the cult of offendedness — instead of pointing out that they do real harm.  They offend too, to be sure; and it’s unkind to offend on  purpose, or to fail to apologize for giving offense.  But the much greater harm lies in strengthening, even though it’s only a little bit at a time, the negative stories about marginalized groups that are woven into our society, both in the minds of the privileged, and of the marginalized people themselves.

This piece on privilege, politeness, and teaching was written about racism, but you can substitute sexism, ageism, ableism, or a variety of other -isms. Allies need to absorb this bit, because it will save butts from being hurt when tempers flare.

So if you say something racist I may write a detailed reply pointing it out and teaching a bit. I may also go off. Or I may just ignore it. It all depends. Depends on if I just spent the whole day dealing with racism, if I know you, if I think you can learn, if it’s something that’s been repeated over and over and I’m tired of dealing with it and think that you as an (assumed) intelligent person should know better. But you know what they say “If if was a fifth we’d all be drunk.” The point is I should not be expected to respond to racism with a happy-go-lucky smile and a will to teach. I’m not saying it’s okay to say ‘You stupid shit how dare you write this!’ There is a difference between being angry when addressing racism (or sarcastic or “rude”) and insulting people.

See this post has been brewing a long time which is maybe why I seem so “angry” or “rude”. I’ve noticed that when discussions of racism happen online the posts that go up in the aftermath, even some of the ones that address and acknowledge the issues of racism in the incident still say “They didn’t have to be rude about it. There was no call for it.” or “If they had just been more polite the person would have listened.” or some other variation (they of course referring to POC). What these people fail to understand is that if you’ve said something racist and fucked up you’ve already been rude to me. You’ve already offended me and ignorance is no excuse because you are a grown person, you can read, you can research, you can figure out how to treat people with respect and equality.

Here is a missive reminding us that molehills, while perhaps not as lofty or noticeable as the Alps, are still damned important in the aggregate:

And, in a very real way, ignoring “the little things” in favor of “the big stuff” makes the big stuff that much harder to eradicate, because it is the pervasive, ubiquitous, inescapable little things that create the foundation of a sexist culture on which the big stuff is dependent for its survival. It’s the little things, the constant drumbeat of inequality and objectification, that inure us to increasingly horrible acts and attitudes toward women.

In conclusion, I’d like to point up two recent posts by my own Freethought bloggers. Stephanie Zvan on argument:

It’s different when the argument you’re being asked to engage in “for fun” is essentially the same argument you have to have over and over in order to be allowed to fully participate in society. Or, say, to avoid being beaten to death, depending on where you are and what the argument is.

I shouldn’t have to say it, but there’s no way that can be fun. It’s just more work, with very high stakes, that you can neither afford to skip nor allow yourself to lose.

And Paul Fidalgo on shutting up and listening:

Take this opportunity to see if you can understand how you were wrong, how what you said could hurt. Instead of a war of words to prove your equality-cred in the moment, decide to take in the criticism as a tool for next time. Use what you’ve learned to get better at expressing your ideas. Use what you’ve learned to better understand where people who have lived very different lives are coming from.

You’ll have so many chances in your life to be right. You’re a skepto-atheist, after all. But in times like this, it’s okay to be wrong. It’s okay, as long as when you have been called out, you take the opportunity to improve yourself through acceptance of the criticism.

Use what you’ve learned to become wiser.

All of us will find ourselves in a position of privilege amongst the non-privileged at some point in our lives. We’re much less likely to trod on already-trodden-upon feet if we pause, inhale, and remember the above. And when we’re wearing our non-privileged hats in mixed company, hopefully more of our allies will have taken the time to do the same.

 

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Beauties, Beasts, and a Lesson Most of Us Don’t Want To Learn

This is a good read, an important read, and I’d like you to read it all. Gyzym is gentle but firm in explaining why movies like Beauty and the Beast can be jarring for those who didn’t realize that the fairy tale is actually a classic domestic violence scenario.

That’s important to face. And for those who would rather not face it:

We can argue for media that doesn’t push the horrible shit we need to unlearn as a society to get to a healthier place, or we can point out the flaws in our preexisting media, or we can do both. But “Just shut up,” isn’t an option. “Just shut up,” can’t be an option, because we can’t keep playing the “Nobody told me because nobody told them,” card. Nothing will ever get better that way. Nothing will ever improve if we keep not telling people this shit.

People not shutting up and speaking hard truths to hear may have caused me some discomfort and made a few favorite films, songs and books impossible to enjoy without acknowledging their deep flaws, but those folks who said “No, I won’t shut up” and continued to speak the hard truths made me a better human being. When I get back to fiction, they’ll have made me a better writer telling better stories. And they’ve made me unwilling to shut up my own self, which may not be the popular thing, but is a necessary thing, so fuck if I’ll stop. Even if I end up with kids (not necessarily my own, mind you). Even if they groan and grump and implore me to STFU during their show. Like George Wiman said when he posted this link, this is “Why it’s important to do MST3K with your kids when you watch movies.” Because while there’s such a thing as willing suspension of disbelief, we need to be trained that suspending disbelief should be a conscious act, and revocable upon return to the real world.

Fiction is useless except as a panacea if we can’t use it to compare and contrast with our real-world lives, if we can’t use it to throw our conditions and relationships and societies into starker contrast, if it can’t help us think. Escapism is lovely, and I love engaging in it. We all do. But we need to be conscious what we’re escaping from, and escaping in to, and watch out that we don’t allow our lovely bit of escapism to subtly normalize very problematic things*. Performing the occasional MST3K exercise on movies we enjoy is good practice for recognizing problem patterns in life. It’s necessary for separating fiction from fact.
And for those who want to cry, “But it’s art! You don’t need to take it so seriously!!” I have just one thing to say: art was never advanced by people passively enjoying the status quo. “Just shut up” isn’t an option for life, but it isn’t an option for art, either. If you truly love art, you will give it no quarter.**

We can do better.

The Beast with a rose. Image courtesy Nieve44/Luz on Flickr.

The Beast with a rose. Art with a problematic message can still be loved and appreciated as art. It can help us navigate the complexities of our world. But only if we’re willing to engage it. Image courtesy Nieve44/Luz on Flickr.

*Read this link. I mean it. Miriam hadn’t even written it when I wrote this piece, but it’s like she’d read my mind and knew I had this post sitting in drafts, and wrote it for the line I inserted it in to, and it says much of what I intended to say, and more.

**Nothing in the above should be construed as advocating for the position that art must always faithfully reflect reality. Fuck that noise. When artists hold mirrors up to life, I like the glass to be at least a bit wibbly.

A Child Armed Himself

So there’s this, and it broke my heart. Good job, America. You’ve convinced eleven year-olds that they need to be armed and dangerous. And what happens when we arm children? They don’t know how to use a gun responsibly, so they wave it at people, and we have one more data point in the set that says guns don’t make you safer. At least it was unloaded.

Elsewhere in that article, after the tragedy of a child thinking he needed a firearm to be safe because we can’t get our violence under control, and we have gun nuts telling us the solution is more guns (conveniently forgetting Fort Hood, and all of the highly-trained people armed with guns there), we have an Attorney General-elect declaring fortifying schools is one possibility.

Ah, smell that Second Amendment freedom! We are free to live as if we are living in a war zone, because we’re not responsible enough to take the high-capacity clips and assault weapons away while we begin the long work of addressing the myriad factors that go into making this a culture where people with guns kill lots and lots of people.

“Well Regulated.” Image courtesy Rick Cooper (RickC) on Flickr.

I am disgusted beyond words with my country right now.

The NRA released a rehash of the same statement they make every time some dude with an anger management problem and too many guns shoots up a public space: “Sorry and all that, but now’s not the time for policy and politics. Oh, and by the time we may pretend to concede that it is, there’ll be another mass shooting so we can repeat these words and kick the discussion down the road.” I paraphrase, of course, but I believe this to be an accurate representation of their words.

I am tired of people telling us we should postpone this conversation. I’m tired of people screaming “Freedom! Security! If I don’t have guns, tyranny!!eleventy!!1!”

What Mythbri said is better than my immediate response of “fuck you, dumbshit” and gets the same point across: “What is the minimum amount of children required to die in a single shooting before everyone can agree to at least talk about gun control? Because I have already surpassed my limit.”

I will ask the same thing of the Obama administration, and I will not limit myself to just a bunch of American kids. If we’re going to cry over our own children, we need to stop killing other countries’ children. The government can’t go on killing kids in distant places and claiming a moral high ground here. We can’t ask our own citizens to be more human and humane and justify murdering wedding parties by calling it “mowing the lawn.” When we dehumanize others, when we use that language of other human beings, when we are that dispassionate about killing, what are we telling the young folk we’re supposedly so concerned about? We’re telling them it’s okay to kill if you come up with a reason why your opponent is not human. I do not deny that this is a world in which human beings sometimes need to be killed in order to protect other human beings. But we must remember, as we are killing them, that we are killing human beings. Not blades of grass. Not bugs. People.

When I was studying forensic psychology for the book I was writing many years ago, something stood out to me: victims of serial killers who survived did so because they’d persuaded their potential murderers to see them as human beings. Even serial killers have a hard time killing people they’ve come to recognize as human beings. Think about that.

We have a lot of work to do. Part of that work begins with ourselves. We need to stop dehumanizing people we don’t like or are uncomfortable with the idea of killing. This includes the people we attack in other countries. This includes the people we kill because we thought they might be suspicious but turned out to be wrong. This includes the people inside our borders who kill other people. And this includes the people we don’t like. We need to be careful, while calling a douchebag a douchebag, to recognize that there is a human being behind that label, and their life also has a value.

This is why I changed my mind on the death penalty. It may act as a specific deterrent, as John Douglas said, but it doesn’t act as a general deterrent, and it puts vengeance ahead of justice. This is in addition to its many other problematic aspects. We may have a complex and nuanced discussion about this later, but for now, I just want to point out that societies that are more humane and more lock their murderers up instead of engaging in a morbid quid-pro-quo. And I think that tells a country’s citizens to pause and consider the value of a life, even an abhorrent life, one we’re not tempted to see as human. We may not want to see murderers as human, but they are. We need to face that. And we can do so without excusing what they have done in the least.

In the meantime, since it will take a long time to bend that arc toward justice, since it will take a long and sustained effort with few immediate payoffs to fix the things that need fixing to ensure that fewer people kill other people, let’s cut back on the easy access to the means of destruction.

Does gun control work? Ask Australia, for one. Yes, it does. It is one means a society can use to protect its citizens. It is one means a society can use to make it less likely that eleven year-olds will feel it necessary to arm themselves.

And I love this idea from Amanda Marcotte: go after the ads. I’d had the same thought the other day, looking at the ads Mother Jones collected. We don’t let cigarette manufacturers advertise. Why not the same restriction on gun ads? There’s a thought. Again, not the solution, but a piece of it. It’s something to add to our list.

Many of you started a good conversation here. Let’s keep that discussion going. Ideas, people. Let’s have them.

Let’s ensure Sandy Hook is the watershed moment.

Let’s ensure children don’t have to go armed into fortified compounds for their education.

A Few Important Items

Before we get back to our a semblance of our normal routine, I want to share a few things with you.

First, for those who want to help the Sandy Hook families with funeral expenses and paying for counseling, Atheists Giving Aid has set up a fund. You can donate here.

Roses at Avery Park, Corvallis, OR

Roses at Avery Park, Corvallis, OR: A reminder there are still beautiful things in the world.

I will have some more substantial things to say at a later time. I do know one thing: things here will change. We’ll still have our fun and our geology and so forth, but you’ll see more of a focus on social justice issues than before. This latest mass shooting crystallized the entirety of A+ for me. The reason why we need movements like A+ is because we have so damned much to fix. As I’ve said repeatedly over the past few days, there’s no single way to prevent these shootings. Getting an assault weapons ban passed is just taking the keys out of the drunk person’s hand – it will probably reduce the incidence, but it won’t eradicate the causes. We will never completely solve these problems. That’s no reason not to begin somewhere.

And on that subject, I literally cannot speak to people who refuse to hear word one about a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity clips. One of my friends, whom I love and know to be a good, caring person, argued with me on the way to work that even if we restrict those sorts of things to the gun range, people wanting to shoot up a school full of kids will just go fetch their guns. And I was so angry I was spluttering. It’s like hearing someone say, “Well, rapists are just going to break in anyway, so don’t even bother locking your doors.” “Well, people are just going to die in car crashes anyway, so you might as well give keys to anyone who wants them.” “Well, children are just going to find a way to get into the cabinet anyway, so we might as well not put drugs and cleaning products on the high shelf behind a lock, and to hell with child-safety caps.”

Add your analogy of choice here.

You know something, people who don’t think it’s even worth trying? I can’t even buy fucking pseudoephedrine. It’s locked up behind the counter, and I have to present ID and all kinds of bullshit, and by the time I need a cold medicine, it’s usually at a time when the pharmacists have gone home for the night, and I’m too fucking sick to chase down a 24-hour pharmacy. If I do manage to drag my sick arse to the pharmacy when the pharmacist is on duty, I have to present ID and put my name on a register where it will stay for two years saying, “ZOMG she bought a packet of Sudafed, she’s probably cooking meth!!!” I can’t buy as much as I want. I can’t stockpile the shit because I can’t buy enough of it in a month to even begin. I can hoard freeze-dried food and assault weapons and ammunition that is designed to kill humans (not shoot at targets or hunt deer, let’s don’t get stupid and pretend it’s anything but murder-inna-casing), but I can’t stock up on fucking cold medicine for the coming apocalypse.

And that’s not right, but only because guns and ammo aren’t subject to stringent restrictions. We’re willing to make it extremely difficult for sick people to get some decongestant because criminals use it to cook meth. They still cook meth, have been ever since the restrictions were put in place, but are we shrugging and saying, “Meh, they’re doing it anyway, might as well make it easier for them to get their hands on pseudoephedrine so I don’t have to suffer an extra five minutes’ worth of sniffles”?

No.

And so when you say to me, “But killers will just find a way to get guns anyway,” what you are saying is that you don’t care about making it harder for them to get their hands on serious fucking weaponry. You don’t want to give them that extra bit of time to think things through as they drive to the gun range and get their guns out of their locker. You don’t want to give other people a chance to notice something’s up as Johnny Mass Killer goes bopping out the door of a busy range with enough weaponry to supply both sides in a small civil war. You don’t want to consider things like, oh, I don’t know, making it illegal to remove your very dangerous shoots-umpteen-rounds-a-second-people-killer-and-its-zillion-round-drum from the gun range and also putting tags on it that will set off an alarm if you try to waltz off with it? So that maybe, just maybe, one of those NRA nuts who thinks we should live like it’s the 1870s, only with less gun control, can have his chance to play hero as the cops are called? This is too much to ask to prevent horrific violence on our streets, in our schools, our malls, our theatres, our restaurants?

To my friends who say they’ll just find a way to get guns anyway: fuck you. On this issue, I think you are an appalling excuse for a human being.

Also, read this. Seriously, anyone who is against gun control, or who thinks they’re for it but then starts coming up with excuses as to why we shouldn’t do anything more than cosmetic bs, read this. Do it now. These are the things I would say to you if you hadn’t just reduced me to sputtering, incoherent rage.

Then read this. Read it all the way through to the ends, where it says, “I didn’t think, ‘Damn, I wish I had a gun, too.’ I thought ‘Damn, I wish he didn’t have a gun.’”

You know what? That’s exactly what I think every time I hear of some fuckwad shooting people. I thought it with Zimmerman, and Dunn, and all of the endless stories of some assclown getting quick with the trigger and taking some kid’s life because they were too loud, or too black, or both. I thought it when a mother came into my bookstore looking for books on how to grieve because a man had shot her teenage son for cutting across one small corner of his yard. I thought it when foreign exchange student Yoshihiro Hattori stopped by the wrong house on his way to a Halloween party, and ended up shot by a man who’d rather have his wife fetch a gun so he could shoot down a kid in a silly costume rather than go inside and lock the door if he was so frightened of the young Japanese dude. I’ve thought it every time I’ve heard of someone getting shot because they were careless, or foolish, or doing all the right things but still getting shot because guns are dangerous. I’ve thought it every time I’ve heard of a child getting killed because the parents couldn’t be bothered to properly secure their deadly weaponry. And I’ve thought it after every mass shooting.

There was a time when I thought a gun would make me safer. Right after I was raped at knifepoint in my home, I thought a gun might be a pretty good idea. Then I thought of the kids in the neighborhood, and my friends who sometimes like to pull pranks, and family members barging in unexpectedly, and pets making strange noises, and non-dangerous strangers making me nervous without realizing, and the fact that a gun would not have helped anyone but my rapist that morning, and I said, “Naw.” Not worth it. There were so many times I might have ended up taking someone’s life by mistake, and no time when a gun would have done me any good.

Now I just think, “I’m glad my rapist didn’t have a gun. I wish other assailants, I wish incautious people, I wish kids, hadn’t had one, either.”

And one last thing. Listen up, because a lot of people I otherwise love and respect have been making a bloody stupid mistake and I want it to stop:

Stop blaming mental illness for what Lanza did.

Seriously. Stop it.

We don’t know much about him yet and may never, but at this stage it’s not sounding like he was so terribly different from many of us. If these early reports are to be trusted (you know how that goes), he didn’t even play first-person shoot-’em-up games. There goes another famous scapegoat. Oops.

There are no broad, bright and shining lines between us and them. Stop trying to paint one, because all you’re doing is tarring the vast majority of the mentally ill for being something they’re not. It doesn’t help us prevent these killings, it doesn’t help folks with mental illnesses, and it certainly doesn’t help your humanity.

That is all for today. Go do something good.

Sunday Sorrow: What We Can Do

No songs today. Something broke this time.

These mass killings have gone on since before I was born, and somehow I accepted them. Outrageous, horrible, tragic: can’t do anything about them in our gun-obsessed, health care-deprived, bullying, class-ridden society. Moving on, then.

Not this time.

These mass killings have gone on since before I was born. I want them to stop before I die.

And I will need your help. We are going to have to start pushing hard together for a great many things.

We will need evidence-based solutions. Good studies of mass killers will need to be done; those studies will have to be conceived of, and funded, and read, and digested, and disseminated, and acted upon.

We know, already, that these mass killers have a tendency to use the kind of weapons you don’t keep around the house for shooting deer. We may not yet know how to keep them from hatching fantasies of killing, but we do know one way to mitigate their damage: get the guns out of their hands. We do indeed have the right to bear arms in this country. That right does not need to include assault rifles, semi-automatic handguns, and extra-large clips with armor piercing and/or hollowpoint ammunition. You want to shoot that shit off, you can do it at a gun club where your weapons are kept under lock and key and not allowed to leave the premises.

These fantasies about more guns being the answer need to stop. Watch this video:

You are a howling idiot if you believe you could do any better. The answer is not more guns. Period, full stop.

But controlling guns alone won’t fix the problem.

We need to combat bullying in schools. Kids need to learn to accept differences, learn it early, and have it reinforced often. So many people who have gone on to kill were outcast, bullied, denigrated, driven to despair – and even if it turns out that stopping bullying doesn’t stop the kind of social dislocation that causes people to murder one another, it will sure as fuck prevent a few suicides, and that is reason enough to do it.

We must push for better health care. If health care of all sorts were as cheap and easy to obtain as bullets, and had just as little stigma attached, more people would be able to get the help and support they need, physically, mentally and emotionally. They might walk in to the doctor’s office for help with that pit they’re edging up to, before they’ve gone down in it and think they can only shoot their way out of.

And as I say this, we need to absolutely ensure that we are not falling into the trap of blaming what these people do on being mentally ill, developmentally disabled, learning disabled, or any other bullshit reason people reach for in order to draw a nice thick line between regular ol’ us and homicidal, horrible them. Yes, absolutely, they are disturbed. You do not shoot up crowds of people if you are not disturbed. But the vast majority of us have one or more of those illnesses or disabilities that people try to pin the blame on. If any one of us found ourselves angry and suicidal enough to follow the blaze-of-glory script, people could whip a quirk out of our quirk bag and wave it around shrieking, “That’s it!” They were depressed, or schizo, or bipolar, or ADD, or autistic, or dyslexic, or had a small lesion, or hit their head as a kid, or… the list goes on, it is endless, and it means bugger-all. Stop fucking stigmatizing every mentally ill person in the country by saying only people with a mental illness can kill. This is not true and it doesn’t help anyone.

Here’s a helpful reminder:

“Predicting the Risk of Future Dangerousness”

Phillipps, Robert T.M. Virtual Mentor. June 2012, Volume 14, Number 6: 472-476.

Abstract: “A consequence if not a driving force of the pendulum swing away from benevolence and toward the protection of others has been increased attention to an individual’s dangerousness, with the operative presumption that dangerousness is often the result of a mental illness. But dangerousness is not always the result of mental illness. Individuals who commit violent or aggressive acts often do so for reasons unrelated to mental illness…. Research, in fact, confirms the error in associating dangerousness with mental illness, showing that “the vast majority of people who are violent do not suffer from mental illnesses [8]. The absolute risk of violence among the mentally ill as a group is still very small and…only a small proportion of the violence in our society can be attributed to persons who are mentally ill” [4]. Violence is not a diagnosis nor is it a disease [9]. Potential to do harm is not a symptom or a sign of mental illness, rather it must be the central consideration when assessing future dangerousness.” [emphasis added]

Does mental illness need to be destigmatized, diagnosed, and treated? Absolutely. Are some killers mentally ill? Sure. But just like we know a few assault weapons bans won’t resolve the problem, we know – or should know – that we can’t blame mental illness for every asshole who walks into a crowded place and opens fire.

We must identify factors that can trigger violence, and put in place safety nets to keep people from falling too far. There are things we can do for those who have lost jobs, loved ones, suffered other triggering events that, combined with other factors, could help put them in a situation where violence seems like the best and only answer for them.

But we must also stop glorifying killers. We must stop treating them like rock stars. No matter the horror we express about what they’ve done, we allow them fame because they killed, and we must find a way to educate ourselves about them and their actions without giving them that fame.

We will have to work to change a culture where little boys are taught to glorify violence and turn their aggression outward while holding their pain in until they burst, while little girls are taught to harm themselves first of all. We need better definitions of action and heroism. We need to change certain aspects of our culture that are doing more harm than good.

We must address poverty, and economic disparity, and work to reduce the differences between the haves and have-nots. We need to make this country that much more just.

Those who still believe must realize that bringing prayer into schools will solve nothing. What use is a God who will let 20 kindergartners and first graders die because people didn’t praise it enough? God will always have an excuse to do nothing: wrong kind of prayer, not enough worship, whatever excuse believers can come up with to excuse its absence.

And we all must be relentless. Call and write your Congresspeople. Contact your governor; rattle the cages of your state representatives.

Sign petitions. You may think they’re useless, but they are voices, and enough voices raised to a shout might get heard.

Here is one on Whitehouse.gov: Immediately address the issue of gun control through the introduction of legislation in Congress. And, for good measure: Today IS the day: Sponsor strict gun control laws in the wake of the CT school massacre. Also, since you’re already there and because so much violence starts in the home: Change Domestic Violence Awareness month form October to May so that it can rise from the shadows of Breast Cancer.

Avaaz would like us to Tell the NRA: ENOUGH! I couldn’t agree more.

SignOn has this excellent petition: Newtown, today we tell our leaders “No more!”

Done signing petitions and writing to politicians? Want to do more than howl? Donate to Newtown Youth and Family Services. They have set up a fund for the Sandy Hook victims, and are providing desperately needed mental health services in the wake of this travesty.

Donate to the Red Cross, which responds in disasters like these, too.

And remember.

Roses.

And use your anger and pain for building a better world.

Ode to a Caboose, the Reprise: The Story of the Iron Goat Trail Caboose

My intrepid companion (otherwise known as Cujo359) wrote a wonderful post on the Iron Goat Trail caboose. If you want to know its history, and see a lot of detailed pictures showing how various bits of a caboose work, head on over there. Hell, go even if you aren’t that interested – you might be surprised how quickly you get sucked in.

Iron Goat Trail Caboose. Image courtesy Cujo359.

Iron Goat Trail Caboose. Image courtesy Cujo359.

The comments system here hates Cujo, so he sent me a reply directly to nedchamplain’s question on the original post: “those are real metal tracks.” Indeed. And you can see photos of them putting the caboose in here. Which is awesome. There’s an excellent shot of the tracks, for them as is interested.

Cujo just got a fantastic new camera, by the way. I’m going to be dragging him all over the northwest and possibly other places next summer, and between us, I think we’ll manage some shots that’ll blow you away. If you wish to suggest places you’d like to see us visit, you may do so in comments, and we will take them into consideration. Also, for those who are interested, I’ll plan a few trips where cantina patrons can join. Feel free to leave suggestions for places you’d like to go with us!

A Tale of Three Communities

I live a pretty sheltered life. The geoblogosphere has been welcoming for women, at least that I’ve seen: I never worry about my competence being questioned because I’ve got lady bits, I don’t see women pushed to the margins, I don’t have to worry about running up against unexpected sexism. Even when talk strays from rocks to other things, I haven’t seen bad behavior. It probably exists somewhere – any diverse gathering of people collected around a common theme is bound to include a few not-so-desirables. But the part of the geoblogosphere I hang out in has been a very safe space, a fantastic community, and people have been just as outstanding in meatspace as they are online.

Then I moved to FreethoughtBlogs, and I was a bit worried: I knew most of the bloggers, and knew they were good people, but I thought we might attract some mega-assholes. And we do. The thing is, between the vast majority of the bloggers and the regulars, we stamp that shit out pretty quickly. Not in our backyard. You want to treat women and other minorities like utter shit, you’d best go elsewhere. Stick around here, and you will be a hurting unit. I’ve watched the goings-on at Almost Diamonds, Butterflies & Wheels, Greta Christina’s Blog, Lousy Canuck, and Pharyngula, in particular. I’ve seen what happens to people who try to use certain slurs. Gendered slurs, abelist language, digs at someone’s sexual orientation, racism – not tolerated.

Those are the spaces I spend my time in. They’re safe spaces. They’re spaces where being a woman and a rape survivor is no problem, where I don’t have to wonder what sort of jackasses I’m associating with, because jackasses are told to conform their behavior to civilized standards or get the fuck out. I like that in a place.

Then there are other places, where admins think it’s clever to post rape threats thinly disguised as jokes, and where the commentariat gleefully jumps in, trying to top each other in the rape “humor” category, where those protesting get screamed down.

So let me sum up that story, for those who don’t want to wade through 1,300+ comments: a dudebro named “Pappa” wanted to know if it was moral to rape Skepchicks for being annoying. PZ called him out. Pharyngulites explained in great detail, with a number of survivor’s stories (this, in particular, is one you should read, and its encore), why “joking” about the morality of corrective rape is inexcusable. One of Pappa’s valiant defenders jumped in to assure us what a wonderful nice guy Pappa was, even though he’d squigged out his own wife. A few folks did some tallies, and found the comments at Rationalia overwhelmingly in favor of contributing to rape culture with such “jokes.” And Pappa doubled down, then added a little anal rape for spice. Then he dropped by to mansplain that he totes isn’t a misogynist because, look, he posted a “stop rape” thingy on Facebook! (Mind you, he’d already told us internet activism don’t count.) But his rape threat was just free speech, and also a joke, and if we can’t joke about rape, we can’t joke about any other critical joke material like dead babies. He has apparently never learned a) the basics of humor and b) that misogyny is as misogyny does. It wasn’t until several of the women at Rationalia, Gallstones in particular, got viciously attacked for daring to disagree that rape is teh funneh, that Pappa sorta-kinda apologized, although it took him a lot longer to come up with something approaching a genuine apology. The survivor’s stories (and, perhaps, realizing he was a teenager’s very first rape threat) had finally gotten through.

It’s one of the better apologies to arise from such debacles, and I do commend Pappa for making it. It’s hard to dig out of an entrenched position. It’s hard to admit, in the heat of battle, that you were a complete fuckhead and in the wrong. He managed it. That gives me some hope for his humanity.

But he’s got a long way to go.

He hasn’t, to my knowledge, begun to do anything to change the tenor of the community he’s an admin for. Mind you, they hid that thread the instant they realized just what a public spectacle they were making of themselves (rape jokes are ever so much more fun when decent people can’t see you beating up on rape survivors, eh?). I can’t see current goings on. But as of the last report, it seems that community is still full of people engaging in gleeful glorification of rape culture.

And, Pappa? It’s time for you to step up. Take this opportunity to examine your privilege. You now know why (most) rape jokes aren’t funny, and are actually veiled threats. You understand the limits of free speech, and have learned (I hope it’s a lasting lesson) that free speech comes with responsibility. You’ve learned that there are real people behind those faceless “skepchicks” you’ve threatened to rape, and real people looking on, and that those people can take real damage from words. You’ve been introduced to the reality of rape culture, and given resources to understand why your “jokes” help enable it.

You need to clean up your community now. You need to make it a safe space for those survivors who got attacked for explaining that rape threats thinly disguised as jokes should not be things decent human beings engage in. You need to stop allowing that merry band of fuckheads free rein to carry on rape culture. You have a responsibility for stopping it.

Each and every one of us who claims to be against sexual assault, who believes they are against discrimination, needs to engage in that cleanup operation. Even those of us who inhabit the safe spaces need to step up. Society, my friends, is not a safe space. Pretty fucking far from it. And we are, at times, part of the problem.

It’s sometimes going to mean confronting dark things about ourselves. It might mean sacrificing a few jokes in our repertoires. It might mean having to consciously consider our actions, and practice doing things differently until it becomes second nature. It means having to swallow our pride, really listen to the people affected by our bad behavior, and apologize sincerely, sometimes.

It means educating ourselves.

It means educating our friends.

It means nothing less than changing society. There’s a fuck of a lot of change needs to happen. It starts with us.

Two of the communities I’ve talked about have already done that hard work. It’s an ongoing project, and one of them takes immense amounts of shit for doing the work at all, but I can tell you as a rape survivor and a woman that it’s damned necessary to do it despite the outraged cries of the privileged. Rape culture isn’t funny. Neither is a society in which women, LGBTQ folk, people of color, and other disadvantaged are constantly dismissed, threatened, disrespected, and treated to threats thinly disguised as jokes.

About damned time we stopped fucking tolerating it.

 

(Standard reminder for posts on sensitive subjects: First-time comments go automatically to moderation. Due to the vagaries of work and sleep, they may not be released immediately. Swearing and disagreement are fine, but keep it within bounds. Gendered epithets, misogyny, abuse of other commenters, and other misbehavior won’t be tolerated. You might wish to review the cantina’s comment policy before you comment. There are also ground rules for this discussion here.)

On Tides, Visibility, and Quiet Revolutionary Acts

There was a time, back when I first began seriously aiming at a life as an author, that I thought I’d have to select a pseudonym. Well, I knew I’d have to – writing under my birth name would lead to far too much potential violence, and it is never good PR for a writer to thump readers over the head with their latest bestseller during signings. Any of you who have last names that inspire tired old jokes repeated as if they were a comedy revolution will know exactly what I mean.

But that wasn’t the main reason why I planned to change my name. Nor was it the fact one of my characters had filched my first name and refused to give it back.

I’m a woman. This is why I felt I had to use a pseudonym.

And it wasn’t a mere matter of safety. Yes, I considered the problem of stalkers. I thought about identity theft. Both of those could happen even if I didn’t achieve fame and fortune. But the main consideration for quite some time was the fact that women don’t get taken as seriously as men. An author with an obviously female name had a harder path to publication, and if published, had a fight getting her work recognized, because, y’know, girl. I don’t remember where I picked up that knowledge. But outside of the romance section, the vast majority of authors were men. The vast majority of awards went to men. A dismissive attitude toward female authors prevailed in most circles I traveled in. And gawds forbid a woman should ever write SF about women’s issues. Strong female characters, great! Strong female authors, not so much, although a few were waved around as if to ward off charges of sexism.

And lest you think these are ridiculous concerns, I invite you to peruse these pie charts. You’ll note that for the majority of book reviews, the pie is overwhelmingly male. In 2011.

So, I thought, it would be best to write under initials. I went through a lot of two-initials-plus-cool-last-name combos. I’d be all secretive, I thought, like George Elliot. I’d not have author photos. My book would rise or stand on its own merits, and by the time people figured out I was a girl (eww!), I’d have already won ‘em over with my deathless prose, so it would be all right.

Over time, though, this began to seem like an idiotic thing to do. I ended up reading some books by obvious women and liked them. My friends liked them. Hell, Connie Willis won Hugos and Nebulas left and right, and she made no effort to hide the fact she was female. By then, I’d chosen my pen name (the name which you know me by, dear readers), but I’d still been determined to keep some things on the QT. No author photos, no trumpeting the fact I’m female. After encountering astonishingly good women writing SF, like Connie Willis and Octavia E. Butler and Patricia A. McKillip, I started feeling a little feisty about it. Gods damn it, why shouldn’t I be proud to be a woman? How the fuck were women going to get any respect as authors if they kept hiding behind ambiguous (or downright masculine) ‘nyms and avoiding anything that so much as hinted at their gender? Fuck ambiguity. I’d plaster my picture all over the back cover and come out roaring, “I am woman! See me kick SF arse!”

Now, plastering my picture all over the back covers of my books will have to wait for, y’know, actually finishing and publishing some, but you may have noticed that I don’t hide my gender round here. I am a woman, damn it. I may not always enjoy it (once per month, on average). But I’m no longer worried about it. I’m no longer eager to hide it. I am even proud to be a woman.

Actually, let me walk that back: I feel silly being proud of an accident of birth. It’s like being proud I’ve got toes.

I’m proud to be the kind of woman who has decided it’s no longer worth hiding behind plausible deniability, who has instead decided to give the old boys’ club either the finger or the two-fingered salute, depending on how Anglophile I’m feeling at the moment. I’m proud to be among the women who are writing as women, who are taking the broader culture by the collar, giving it a gentle but insistent shake, and saying, “Pay attention. No, my eyes are up here. And if you dismiss this excellent tome for the mere fact it was written by a female, I will be sorely tempted to thump you over the head with it.”

(Fortunately for them, my moral code doesn’t allow me to do that any other way than metaphorically, but from the way some people howl when you mention that it would be awfully nice if people treated women more like people, you’d think I’d literally just dropped J.K. Rowling’s final Harry Potter novel on their noggins. In hardcover.)

The point of this rant, which is rather longer than I intended it, is to say this: that women doing nothing more than being visibly female whilst also being awesome shook me out of a culturally-induced distaste for my own gender. That’s it. That’s all it took. Before I was ready to listen to the feminists, before I’d learned the first fucking thing about activism and social justice, these visible women made me realize being a woman was actually okay, and that challenging an inherently unfair system was a damned good idea. They made me realize I didn’t have to go to any great lengths to do it, either: being out and awesome is part of the battle. Being unapologetic about who and what you are can be a revolutionary act.

I bring this up because one of my favorite people in the universe, Ryan Brown, wrote a post called On Being a Gay Scientist and Finding a Sense of Community, in which he discusses being at an event for a GLBT organization and having one of those moments where you realize that you’re maybe not as involved in the cause as you feel you should be.

Part of me feels a sense of responsibility to speak up and make it clear that there are GLBT within the ranks of science and academia. After all, it was someone else’s speaking up that made my life as a gay male easier. Do I not have a responsibility to pay the same debt forward for the future generation? And how do I approach that without labeling myself in terms of my sexuality?

That’s the same dilemma many of us who are members of disadvantaged groups face. We don’t want to be labeled as a woman/atheist/LGBTQ/black/[insert other minority here] scientist or writer or what have you. But hiding, denying what we are, does no one any good. Do we have to become enormously outspoken? Become activists? When we don’t necessarily feel drawn to a cause, but know that cause has helped us, what do we do to further it?

Ryan’s hit on one way: don’t hide. Be visible. You don’t have to shout, “HEY EVERYBODY, I’M A [insert minority here] SCIENTIST [or other profession]!!!” but simply be visible. I’m a writer and a woman. Ryan’s a scientist and gay. We’re here, we exist, we’re part of a group of people who are doing outstanding work and are [insert minority here]. We may engage in some activism here and there. We will sometimes talk about what it’s like to be this and that. But our work is not solely defined by our respective genders and sexualities. And as more people become visible, being gay and a scientist, or a woman and a writer, will be no longer seem so exotic.

By not hiding, by unequivocally being what we are and what we do, we’re creating a climate in which other people can imagine themselves achieving their dreams, without having to hide a fundamental aspect of themselves.

Anderson Cooper has realized that. As he said in advising the world at large that he is, in fact, gay,

It’s become clear to me that by remaining silent on certain aspects of my personal life for so long, I have given some the mistaken impression that I am trying to hide something – something that makes me uncomfortable, ashamed or even afraid. This is distressing because it is simply not true.

I’ve also been reminded recently that while as a society we are moving toward greater inclusion and equality for all people, the tide of history only advances when people make themselves fully visible. There continue to be far too many incidences of bullying of young people, as well as discrimination and violence against people of all ages, based on their sexual orientation, and I believe there is value in making clear where I stand.

The fact is, I’m gay, always have been, always will be, and I couldn’t be any more happy, comfortable with myself, and proud.

I love that. And he’s right.

As more of us stand up apologetically and say that the fact is, we are x, and we are proud of it, we change society. We provide role models for those folks who are x and afraid that means they will never be able to follow their dreams while remaining true to themselves. We get society used to the fact that x exists, and can be all sorts of things, and be successful, respected, and happy doing them. Eventually, x may even become as unexceptional as saying, “I am a scientist, and I also run 10k races.”

But we will never get there by staying silent. Some of us will engage in a fair amount of shouting, because society can be a little hard of hearing. But those people who stand up and say in perfectly ordinary voices, “I’m x, by the way,” before wandering off to follow their passions are also helping make our voices heard.

You want to pay it forward and help the tide advance? There are many ways*. One is to be who you are, visible and proud.

Moi and Ryan in downtown Seattle, with Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains behind us. Revolutionaries! Note the bow tie. Bow ties are cool. Image courtesy Robert.

 

*I don’t mean this post to condemn those who have good reasons for keeping to the shadows. If you have to keep your head down for reasons of safety or family or what have you, there are still ways you can support those who are fighting for you. Vote. Donate. Find other means of being a quiet revolutionary until you can emerge. Small actions add up.

A Brief History of Speaking Out on ETEV

I’ve spent the past few days immersed in the latest furor over sexism in the atheist and skeptical communities. I haven’t yet read the transcripts for “The Great Penis Debate,” but I’ve read quite a bit else, including many comment threads, and I’m still amazed by the sheer volume of the screeching resulting from something so simple as saying, “Hey, this community can do better than background levels of harassment at conventions – why not encourage conventions to have harassment policies?”

The resulting backlash has sounded much like what happens when you take a toy away from a toddler – only the tantrum is combined with rape “jokes” and other unsavory vitriol. It’s amazing for its sheer volume. It appears the idea that people should be able to enjoy conferences without worrying about harassment, and that policies should be in place for dealing with harassment when and if it happens, will always be controversial to a certain subset of people. Whether those people are spectacularly clueless, despicable, hopelessly contrarian, or combinations of the three is left as an exercise to the reader.

I’ll be addressing some of this from my own perspective in the coming weeks. And I hope that those readers who come here for the geology and the birds and the flowers will stay for this conversation, because it’s important. Even if you never intend to attend a convention, it’s important. Even if you think your neck of the woods hasn’t got a problem, it’s important. Even if you think those of us speaking out are just shrill, strident harpies, it’s important – perhaps especially important if you’re trapped in that way of thinking. If you’re one of those women who thinks other women should just toughen the fuck up, this conversation is important.*

If you haven’t been a regular reader for some time, you’ve likely not come across many of my posts on related topics. I’m not one of the bloggers who’s made feminist issues a cornerstone of my blogging, but that doesn’t mean this isn’t important to me. I am a woman who has experienced both sexual violence and unwanted sexual advances, sometimes verging on harassment. I haven’t been through the sheer amount of crap other women have. I haven’t suffered the appalling abuse trans women suffer. But I’ve experienced some of what it means to be female in our society. And I believe we not only can do better, but must.

I am a woman who would like to make this world a better place for women. I believe it will also be a better place for men, and people who don’t quite fit either category, or eschew categories all together. The only humans that will be at all inconvenienced in this better world are the ones who don’t like having to behave in a manner that takes people’s value as human beings rather than conquests into account. I’m not sorry for that subset of people.

I want my friends’ grandkids to look at me like I’m absolutely mad when I tell them there was once a time when not harassing people was ever considered controversial. I’m blogging on a network full of people who are working for that world. I’ve got my little bit to contribute in support of their efforts. I know many of you are, in big ways and small, doing the same.

We can make it happen. Together.

A Brief History:

Subsidizing the Rape Culture

 

*Here are the ground rules for the conversation as it pertains to this blog. There are other places out there where people have been allowed to get away with bad behavior. This is not that place.

If you need to brush up on Feminism 101, this is not the place to get educated. We’re beyond that point. Do your homework, because this isn’t a remedial class. Asking about the basics again and again and again, then sniveling when people don’t spend their time educating the ineducable, has become a favorite derailing tactic of trolls. If you can’t make the effort to get up to speed, you are presumed to be derailing the conversation, and you’re out.

Victim blaming is not acceptable at any time. Don’t even try to engage in it.

Gendered slurs and insults, rape “jokes,” threats, or other such misbehavior will get you banned.

Keep the conversation respectful. You’ll get a warning if you look to be starting a flame war. One warning. Then you’re done.

Read the comment policy for this blog carefully before you comment.

I haven’t had a problem with the comments so far. Everything except for obvious spam (because a billion links to shoe stores is so relevant, right?) and one comment intended for another thread has made it through. The folks who have commented here so far have been fantastic, and I’m proud that this cantina has remained such a civil place through uncivil times. But seeing as how we’re about to get into much more contentious territory, I just want to be clear about expectations to newcomers up front. Anyone thinking those rules are too draconian should anticipate not wasting their time here.

Are we clear? Excellent.