I Lost My Best Friend to Abortion – I Can Stand to Lose the Atheist Orgs

I haven’t spoken to my best friend of 21 years since November 2012, when I found out he’d voted for Romney.

We’d survived about everything together. We made it through the years of horrible clingy-ness and self-esteem issues brought on by a lifetime in a church that told him he was worthless. We survived his crush on me, and three thousand miles of separation, and enormous long distance bills. We survived my loss of faith, and his journey through various flavors of Christianity and paganism before he returned to the Church of Christ. We survived him voting for Bush Jr. (twice) and me voting for Obama. We survived my obsession with science while his interests diverged into the occult. We thought we’d be forever.

But our friendship died when I found out he’d voted for Romney.

Image shows a headshot of Mitt Romney with a quote: "Outlaw all abortion even in cases of rape and incest." -CNN Debate, 11/28/07. Caption reads, "Romney supports dangerous "personhood" amendments. 'Is committed to overturning Roe vs. Wade, and he supports such amendments that define a life as beginning at the moment of conception.'" -Debbie Wasserman Schultz

This was a time of increasing attacks on women’s reproductive rights. And my best friend, who has many women in his life that he adores, and two beautiful nieces he dotes upon, voted for the man who would force all of us with wombs to carry unwanted, even potentially dangerous, pregnancies to term.

That broke something inside me. I can forgive a lot in my friends. I can accept their religion, even though I think religion is harmful bullshit. I can accept a certain amount of conservatism. I can accept that a person may have thought it sensible to vote for Bush Jr. Twice. But after that fiasco, to vote for the man who would not only flush our economy back down the toilet, but ensure Roe vs. Wade was a footnote in the history books and that women would have to turn to back-alley abortionists and dangerous home remedies to terminate even the results of rape – that was too much. That was a personal, visceral attack.

We argued. I did some shouting, I won’t lie. I was livid. And it was even worse when he told me he respected my right to choose. Really? How could anyone say that, when they were voting for the people who would take that right away? That’s the thing my pro-choice-but-very-conservative former friends and acquaintances cannot understand: your words whisper, but your actions scream through an amplifier.

What my best friend told me by voting for Romney, knowing full well that this would lead to a Supreme Court packed with anti-choice judges, who would ensure that women’s rights were set back a century, was that he doesn’t give a shit about me or his nieces. He doesn’t care what happens to us. He’s willing to gamble our bodily autonomy, health, and economic futures on a shitheel who was recommended by the church he made fun of every Sunday. He didn’t even consider us when he cast that vote. And he couldn’t understand why that felt like being stabbed in the heart.

Then it came out that he was personally anti-choice, because he’s adopted, and he’s glad he wasn’t aborted. He couldn’t see how saying he supported my right to choose while working to ensure that right was taken away was basically telling me I’m nothing to him. How selfish it is to force other people to give birth because your birth mother chose to carry you to term. How awful it is to be treated as nothing more than a walking womb.

We managed all of two conversations after that. Both of them ended with me furious and him unable to understand why. It wasn’t worth it anymore. I couldn’t stand trying to love someone who was willing to cast women’s health and safety aside so easily. We decided it would be best not to talk again for a while. And after an initial mourning period, I came to the conclusion that this was a deal-breaker. My friends must, at the very least, walk their walk when it comes to human rights.

Image shows me at the end of a wooden bridge, distant and walking away. Image credit Cujo359.

Image credit Cujo359.

You can’t tell LGBTQ people you love them and support their right to marry, then work to elect the people who not only want to deny them that right, but want to make their love illegal.

You can’t tell women you personally support their right to choose, then vote for the people who would rip their choice away.

It’s just words. Just noise. You say something lovely – I support you – and then open the trap door that dumps us into misery. That’s not support. That’s contempt masquerading as love. And I don’t have to tolerate it.

I’ll tell you something about the atheist organizations working hard for the rights of the non-religious. I appreciate the effort. But I’m not going to support orgs whose leaders think my right to choose isn’t just as unquestionable as the right to die and the right to live without the government forcing religion upon me. I can’t stand with leadership that is willing to cede my rights, who are trying to recruit people who want to force birth on women and trans men who have the misfortune to get pregnant. I will not accept a big tent that includes people who treat me and mine as less than human.

We’ve got enough of a problem with sexism without recruiting more misogynists. We don’t need a herd of atheists who believe women should be forced to be incubators, whose concern for them stops the instant they develop a blastocyst. If those are the people you want to reach out to, then what you’re saying is that you want me to leave.

And don’t tell me you’re pro-choice, personally. I don’t give two shits. The talk isn’t important. It’s the walk. And when you walk in the direction of the people who see me as worth less than a fetus, you’re showing me that your pro-choice stance is utterly meaningless. I can’t trust you to have our backs without stabbing them. I can’t believe you when you say you care about us and our concerns.

What you are telling me is that women aren’t welcome in this movement (and you don’t even think about trans people). You’re telling me that thousands of women aren’t worth as much as a handful of anti-choice conservatives who just happen not to believe in god. You’re telling me that your organization is not for me and mine.

I have no desire to be part of a tent that big. Atheism isn’t enough to make me want to stay in it. And if this means a schism, I’ll be happy to see that rift open. I’m much more content in a smaller tent that contains people who can see me as a human being even if my uterus ends up occupied, and who will ensure that real choices are available if I need to serve an eviction notice to the parasite in residence. I’d rather be united with those who care for each other more than their guns and their low taxes and their supposedly-small government.

Our right to abortion is not a bargaining chip you can trade. I lost my best friend over this issue. Imagine how much easier it is to lose you.

Image shows a pro-choice rally. A huge pink banner says TRUST WOMEN. Other people are holding signs saying "I have a heartbeat, too!" "Stop the war on women," and "Stop the war on choice."

Image credit ProgressOhio (CC BY 2.0)

“When Its Sacraments Are Others’ Standing Jokes”

Alex had an excellent post a while back talking about “why atheism can never be inoffensive enough.” This bit made bells ring for me:

Few things but faith could yield such results: blasphemy, even apparently when most benign, threatens the norms on which religion rests. The earnestness of faith, and faith itself, can’t be taken comfortably for granted when its sacraments are others’ standing jokes, and what can’t be assumed must be explained.

Some folks have a robust faith that can stand being laughed at, and I’ll frequently find my religious friends in on the joke (when they aren’t cracking it themselves). But there’s a disturbingly large number of people who want you punished for poking a bit o’ fun at their religion. Some of them are probably feeling entitled, some of them are probably afraid their sky god will smite them if they don’t smite us, and some are just assholes, but I suspect a majority of them are outraged by blasphemy because it jams a finger on the ol’ doubt button and keeps it pressed.

And being an atheist who’s not afraid to say “Hey, I’m an atheist” is enough to unleash their outrage. That being the case, I’m not gonna bother with trying to be an inoffensive atheist. I’ll calls it like I sees it, and if faith can’t withstand it, it’s not worthy of respect. If the deity is as powerful as proclaimed, if the religion is the rock people assure me it is, then it had better be able to at/with/near us. If not, it’s a sad, pathetic little thing that people might as well not bother with. If a little light blasphemy is enough to destroy it, it was never worth having to begin with.

If you’re ready for poking some fun at faith, you could head over to Loltheist, where you will find many fine illustrations of the concept of blasphemy.

Image shows the pope making spyglasses out of his fingers. Caption says, "I seez blastfemmerz!"

What Secular Anti-Choicers Are Really Saying

Giliell,  professional cynic, -Ilk-, has decoded the language of those secular people who think women (or trans men) who had the temerity to have sex (or get raped) should carry the resulting pregnancy to term:

Secular arguments against abortion I’ve heard are usually:
-She had sex, so she should bear the consequences*
-Bäbeeeeez!
-She had sex, so she should bear the consequences**
-Adoption!
-She had sex, she should bear the consequences
-It’s a continuum and I’m going to dismiss the one actual clear-cut point that we have which is birth
-She had sex, she should bear the consequences
-There aren’t enough healthy white babies for us to adopt
-She had sex, she should bear the consequences
-The straw-abortion of a healthy, almost-term fetus because the woman has suddenly decided she’d like to go clubbing at the weekend
-She had sex, she should bear the consequences
-I don’t know anything about pregnancy, HELLP, Potter syndrome, childbirth, ectopic pregnancies, post-partum depression, but I held a baby once and handed them back to their loving mother when they cried/pooped.
*Fuck them for thinking of children as “consequences”
**Quite often combined with the idea that men shouldn’t have to pay child-support for the offspring of their one-night stand, because consequences are for women only

I think that explains matters clearly enough. I encourage you to read the rest of that comment, which is an education for anyone who thinks they can decide when a pregnant person can no longer choose to become not pregnant. If you have time, read that entire thread. And for those hot and heavy about the “it’s fine until 20 weeks” bullshit, read this right now.

Oh, and Dave? You can fuck right off. You don’t get to throw my reproductive rights under the bus to attract more assholes to the movement. American Atheists won’t have my support unless and until your organization makes a woman’s right to abortion non-negotiable. Think about what’s more important: trying to win the support of a tiny number of conservatives who are probably going to tell you to piss up a rope regardless, or keeping the support of the much larger number of atheist women who are already here – but won’t be for long if leaders in this movement keep throwing us away.

Man-and-Horse-that-Built-Civilization-71449154125

 

Taking Boys Out of the Box

I didn’t like being a girl. It was harder to duck behind a tree when nature called when we were out playing in the woods. I sometimes had to do cruel things to the boys to prove I was tough as them. One of my friends wouldn’t let me play with his army men because I was a girl, and girls don’t play soldiers (I quickly disabused him of that notion, much to his astonishment).

But a lot of the time, I didn’t notice I was a girl. I was wearing pants and jumping my bike and getting in the mud and building stuff and commanding the pack, just like one of the boys.Hell, I was even more hardcore than some of them. When I crashed my bike on a road chip-sealed with cinders and road-rashed myself from toe to waist, I told ‘em I’d be right back, and hobbled home for some quick patching up. Alas, my mom decided someone with that many bleeding wounds needed to stay inside, but my friends respected the fact I hadn’t shed a tear. One of our buddies would head sobbing for home the instant he stubbed a toe. None of us wanted to be like that.

So yeah, I was usually one of the guys, which was fortunate, because there were a grand total of five girls in the entire neighborhood, none of them my age. No one had any problem with a tomboy, of course. And, outside of a few incidents like the Army Men War, no one bothered to tell me I couldn’t do something because female. Even when I went home and played with dolls, even when I prettied up my playhouse, no one thought it was odd for a girl to be a girl in boy’s clothes, mostly doing boy’s things.

The guys didn’t do girl stuff as much, but there were times when they’d come over to play dress-up, or do a nice afternoon tea with us, and my yellow Easybake Oven was one of the boys’ favorite things ever. I remember once when my one close girl friend and I were getting our nails painted by her mom, her brother wanted in on it, too. So his mom gave him a few red nails, until he got bored with manicures and wandered off.

But that was a line rarely crossed, that dividing line between girls and boys. We girls could wear anything, any time, but the boys never put on a dress outside of playing dress-up in the house. And as we all got older, they stopped doing even that. They had to hate girls, and run from our cooties, and be all tough and in to boy things like trucks. Girls were sort-of encouraged to be pretty and feminine, but we could run around in ripped jeans and ratty sneakers one day, and a dress the next. We could cross the boy-girl divide at will.

I didn’t think that was very fair, when I thought about it. Why shouldn’t the boys do the pretty clothes and makeup if they wanted? Why couldn’t they play the girlie games without getting tormented by peers and parents alike? Why couldn’t they be openly interested in girl stuff? I might have hated being a girl at times (especially after Aunty Flow made her first appearance), but I was grateful for the chameleon opportunities it gave me. People back then were great with girls doing boyish things, so I could do absolutely anything I wanted, while my boy friends were stuck on the boy side of the divide.

I think of that often, now, as the world gets ever more pinkified. I mean, for fuck’s sake, they’ve even gendered the dogs.

 

Gendered doggie toys and clothes at one of the local mega-petstores. This whole pink-and-blue obsession has gone way the fuck too far.

Gendered doggie toys and clothes at one of the local mega-petstores. This whole pink-and-blue obsession has gone way the fuck too far.

And while we’re fighting to get girls out of that box they’re being energetically stuffed in to lately, the one that says they love pink and princesses and ponies but heaven forfend they like boy colors and boys toys, we need to remember that boys are in a box, too. Libby Anne has both a son and a daughter, and she sees people trying to stuff them both in their respective boxes all the time.

“Look at him!” [Uncle Dale] said. “He’s obsessed with that train. He’s such a boy!” I frowned. I hate it when this happens. I took a deep breath.

“Actually,” I said, “When Sally was Bobby’s age, she was completely obsessed with large construction vehicles.”

Uncle Dale laughed. “How odd,” he said. His voice was dismissive.

“I don’t think it’s odd at all,” I replied. “I find that if you let kids just be kids rather than pushing them into gendered boxes their interests are generally eclectic.”

[snip]

Neither Sally nor Bobby fit in conventional gender boxes, but someone who spotted Sally playing at princesses might very well respond with “She’s such a girl!” in the same way that Uncle Dale noticed Bobby fascinated by trains and responded with “He’s such a boy.”

What’s going on here exactly? Confirmation bias.

And that hurts girls, but boys have it bad, too. They’re not encouraged to play with dolls, put on makeup, stomp in high heels (unless their mom is as awesome as Libby Anne). If a girl crosses the divide, she often gets forced back into the girl box, but there are plenty of people cheering her on, encouraging her to break out again. Boys who try to cross, though – society loves to belittle them, be horrified by them, call them gay, tell them to man up. We need to fight to get them out of the box, too. We need to have a response ready when society tells them they’d better toe the masculine line.

We need so much more of that. Kids don’t need this gendered crap. Neither do adults. Let people be people. Erase the lines. Let the girls put on the firefighter’s outfit. Let the boys wear ballgowns. Let’s strive for a world where no one’s trapped in a gendered box.

And the next time you see a child crossing the divide, tell them they’re wonderful.

An Offensive Strategy for Dealing With Creationist Attacks on Science

I’ve been doing quite a lot of reading about the failures of creationist geology. Many people have come before me, tearing this nonsense down bit-by-bit. It’s an extraordinary amount of work, and leaves Flood geology scrambling for ever more bizarre ways to overcome the laws of science.

But maybe we don’t do quite enough. We defend science, we present the reality, we knock down bits of their structure, but there may be an easier way to deal with the creationists and Intelligent Design proponents attempting to force their nonsense into science class, and hanging round the fringes of our professional meetings hoping some credibility will rub off on them. I quite like Donald Wise’s proposals:

If such activities are to be opposed effectively, a first step is to learn the ideas, history, and underlying assumptions of their proponents. A second step is to devise an effective counter strategy. To date, the scientific community has been woefully inadequate in the Creationist battle on both counts. This paper is an attempt to focus our opposition, (1) by providing some readily accessible information on the Creationists, (2) by making a proposal for an offensive rather than defensive strategy, and (3) by giving some background facts to implement the strategy. In public forums, the Creationists should be challenged to defend their total model of earth history, difficulties and all, and to give their supporting “evidence” on an item-by-item basis. Again and again, we should force the point that extraordinary claims require extraordinary levels of proof. Such public confrontations with Creationists may have only the scientific depth of disputes between three-year olds, but at least the proposed strategy will force those fights to occur with their toys in their sandbox rather than ours. [emphasis added]

Yep.

And this strategy is gorgeous for two reasons:

1. It shows up creation science for the incoherent farce that it is,
2. If by some miracle the buggers turn out to be right, it forces them to do the hard work of good science and provide the kind of overwhelming proof it would take to revolutionize science.

So keep after them, when you get chances to confront them in public, or even just casually. Demand the mountains of rock-solid data. Demand the models that explain and predict more elegantly than our current ones. Demand they confront and solve the major problems with their models. Demand the peer-reviewed papers that specifically back up their claims, and if they haven’t got them, demand they write up and submit their work to the reputable professional journals. Settle for nothing less than valid science of such quality that it can win majority support amongst the professionals. If they can’t provide that, too bad for them. They’ll have to come back when they can.

Image is a cat with narrowed eyes. Caption says, "Skeptic Cat demands proof."

This doesn’t mean we don’t stop crushing their arguments. It’s fun and valuable work, and like we saw in the Kitzmiller trial, not to mention the Nye-Ham debate, shooting this stuff down can be a fantastic opportunity to teach real science to the public. But we need to make sure we’re putting the creationists on the defensive at the same time.

They want their version of science accepted? They’ll have to do the hard work, and provide the kind of undeniable evidence it takes to change well-supported scientific paradigms. Until then, they have no place in our scientific spaces.

Crowdsourcing Books By and/or About Women and People of Color in the Geosciences

You know those moments where you suddenly notice the ism in the background? Had one recently meself. I spent a few weeks going through every single geology book available for Kindle on Amazon. I downloaded a ton of samples. And then I started sifting through them.

I noticed a few disturbing trends.

First, the samples are overwhelmingly by men. Not that this surprises me, but I’d hoped for a larger ratio of women. There were practically none. Hullo, background sexism!

A white peacock's gaudy display overshadows a peahen. Image courtesy Darkros via Wikimedia Commons.

A white peacock’s gaudy display overshadows a peahen. Image courtesy Darkros via Wikimedia Commons.

Second, the samples are overwhelmingly white. Again: disappointed but not surprised. Hullo, background racism!

A black swan lost in a crowd of white swans. Image courtesy Colin Smith via Geograph. Click photo for details.

A black swan lost in a crowd of white swans. Image courtesy Colin Smith via Geograph. Click photo for details.

Third, most of the books by women are either for children, or they’re fiction. That one really got to me. And it got me to thinking of cultural assumptions.

I have to wonder how many books on the earth sciences by women are overlooked by editors unless they’re in the traditionally female-dominated realms of education, or a good lady-like pursuit such as literature?

So I’m sure, although I know of no study that specifically proves, there’s an unconscious bias that editors have that goes some way toward explaining why the kids books and geology-themed fiction are much more likely to be by female authors, and why there are even fewer earth science books by women than I’d expect even with a lower ratio of women in STEM careers.

Even worse, I have to wonder if my unconscious bias has skewed that ratio even more in my samples. I’ll have to go back and look. One of the things I’ve learned palling around with social justice people is that we have to be aware of what our culture has wrought – and mine has so effectively taught me to overlook women that I do it without thinking, even though I am a woman.

Time that stopped. Takes effort, and a conscious commitment to noticing what culture wants us to ignore, aside from a few tokens so it can feel great about itself.

So here’s your mission, should you choose to accept it: if you know of earth science books by women and/or people of color, tell me all about them. Let’s get a list going.

And let’s see about making editors aware of their blind spot. It’s not that they’re being deliberate arseholes (in some cases), I’m sure, but our culture has spent generations telling us that it’s white dudes, usually older white ones, who do the science, so the women and people of color become practically invisible.

We need to be aware of that blind spot, and compensate by actively forcing ourselves to see. Otherwise, things won’t ever change. And people who cold have expanded our vista beyond our imaginings will remain overlooked.

We can do better. We have to do better.

FtBCon2’s Religion and Homeschooling Panel Shows Why Secular Folk Need to Pay Attention

We all know neglecting to feed your kids is wrong, right? Neglecting to give them shelter, or medical attention (unless you’re religious in some states – a blind spot in the law we need to fix), or any other basic necessity of life is illegal. You might even get popped for emotional neglect. But in some states, you’re legally allowed to steal a child’s future. Extremist homeschool parents and their allies call it a right. They decide what their children get to learn, or if they get to learn at all. Educational neglect, to them, is their right. A child’s right to the future an education can give them is beneath their consideration.

If you get a chance, and you care about educating children, you should spare an hour for this video. It will horrify you.

Kim Rippere and Elsa Roberts from Secular Woman, Vyckie Garrison from No Longer Quivering, and M.A. (Marian) Melby from Sinmantyx discussed the reality and effects of religious homeschooling. Note that the problem isn’t with homeschooling per se – Marian talks about the fact that most of the homeschool kids she sees in her university classes are well-educated and do well. But she points out that the subset of homeschoolers being discussed are not ones likely to end up at a state university.

Vyckie, having been the homeschool mom at one point, provides insight into homeschooling for fundamentalist religious reasons. She pointed out that the enormous emphasis on gender roles meant that girls often weren’t educated at the same rate or quality as boys. They were being prepared to become homemakers, mothers, helpmeets – why prepare girls for a career? Even if parents are well-intentioned at first, the size of the families in the sects that emphasize a “quiver full” of children means older girls end up becoming stand-in moms to the younger kids. The chores involved with feeding, cleaning, and clothing so many kids means that education is often sacrificed. Elsa experienced this firsthand: raised in a relatively small family of four kids, she was in charge of all the meals by the age of 11. For a while, her family lived in a house with no electricity. The kids had to haul water up from the creek, do laundry by hand – those tasks took a long time, with little left for education. So girls’ educations could slide. They would learn what they needed as they went along; they could learn fractions when they cooked.

Parents rationalize the educational neglect of their children by telling themselves it’s far more important to inculcate character and Biblical/Godly principles than reading, writing and arithmetic.

There’s also the fact that children are being taught by parents who aren’t qualified to teach. Elsa’s parents were creationists who taught her creationism instead of science, and that only for a scattershot few months. Because she loved science, she ended up teaching herself all she could from a thrift store biology textbook and a few popular science magazines. Her father told her she couldn’t become a doctor – it would place her in authority over men, and that wasn’t allowed. By the time she reached college, she had wide gaps in her education. She didn’t know what a beaker was. She couldn’t follow lab procedure. It was hard to overcome the deficiencies in her knowledge, and some gaps she will never be able to fill. You can tell she’s angry about it: it rings out loud and harshly clear in her voice. And she’s not alone in that. Many kids who have suffered educational neglect are angry, and using the activism their parents taught them to press for reform to educational laws and regulations, much to the horror of the parents who thought they were turning them in to soldiers for God.

And the isolation these kids experience leads to abuse. They think what they’re experiencing is normal. Marian, who grew up in a family that was liberal for the area they lived in, and went to a public school that wasn’t shy about blurring the lines between church and state, was so under-exposed to other types of families that she found the idea of atheist families strange. We all have those sorts of blind spots.

Now imagine being raised in a subculture like Elsa’s. She was surrounded by the fundamentalist idea that women must have a submissive spirit, which left them ripe for abuse. You could end up believing abuse was love. When her parents beat her, that was what she thought. She and Vyckie went over the rituals of punishment in those cultures thoroughly. It begins with disrespect – and disrespect can be something like not having a cheerful enough expression. Before disciplining you, your parents would make you pray, asking them and God for forgiveness. You were then spanked (Elsa used the word beaten) until your will was broken, after which you were expected to engage in reconciliation with the people who had just beaten you. If you didn’t reconcile to their satisfaction, you would be beaten again.

And this is considered Godly.

There’s far more. All of it will be familiar to people who follow Love, Joy, Feminism and No Longer Quivering. Most of it is horrifying. You can find plenty of information and links at Secular Woman’s Religion and Homeschooling page. I encourage you to arm yourself with some knowledge, and when bills come up in your state requiring better education standards and regulations, support them. There are kids who are being robbed of a future, because freedom of religion means freedom from education for some parents.

We need to do better for those kids.

Sad child by Axel via Flickr. Image is of a small, dark-haired child sitting on grass with his head in his arms, looking very forlorn.

Sad child by Axel via Flickr.

 

 

 

No. I Won’t Give Churchgoers Cookies For Doing the Minimally Decent Thing.

A friend pointed me toward this story by telling me a Methodist church got a new pastor, who promptly ran the gay choir director out, and guess how many in the congregation left the church over it? I knew what she was fishing for. She wanted me to feel the warm fuzzies that a bunch of religious folk had protested the treatment of one of their own.

No.

“Eighty percent!” she said, as if the number would change my mind.

Nope. Not impressed.

The conversation stalled shortly after as I refused to debate further whether or not one should encourage such basic human decency by praising it, lest the people involved give up trying to be good due to lack of kudos. I don’t like to have these conversations over chat to begin with, and when it’s chat at my job and I’m trying to work, I like it even less. It takes more time than I have to hammer the point home that I’m not going to give them cookies for doing the minimally decent thing.

Image is an irritated dark gray cat, with the caption "No cookie for you."

Kitty courtesy Isabel Bloedwater via Flickr.

So let me unsling my Smack-o-Matic™ now:

I’m not going to give them unstinting praise for doing what tens of thousands of other Christians have done when they had a quibble with their church, and splitting, thus leading to the wide variety of Christian denominations who plague our world today. I’ve seen 80% of a church schism over whether or not they should go doorknocking after church on Sunday afternoons. I’m supposed to be impressed when 80% walk over basic human rights? Puh-leeze.

Plenty of other people will be happy to give them bakeries full of cookies. It’s my job as a nasty Gnu Atheist™ to point out that this is sheer and utter bullshit. Not say, “Oh, congratulations! You’re finally beginning to realize your religion is full of horrid shit that treats good people like pariahs for no defensible reason. I’m so proud of you, pookie!” Fuck that noise.

No, here’s my response to them:

You lot did the minimally decent thing. You stood by a man who was wronged, and that is good. But what I want to know is this: why did you leave your church in the hands of the bigot who forced him out? Eighty percent of you could have ensured that asshole didn’t have a job. You could have found a more enlightened minister, and then rehired your choir director, and taught the bigots a lasting lesson. That would have been praiseworthy. Think of that the next time you encounter this situation – which you will, because nothing’s changed.

Please note this tidbit from the above referenced article:

United Methodist Church law allows LGBT people to attend church services but says “self-avowed, practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve.”

And what did you do? You didn’t protest that law. You didn’t demand it be changed. No, you quibbled over the spirit and letter of it. Of course it’s fine to discriminate against gays when it comes to the ministry – God forbid we should have one of those homosexuals behind the pulpit – but we can totes have one as choir director! you said by your actions. I’m supposed to be happy you rage-quit over your choir director being forced out for being gay, and one of the people trying to defend him (by getting all legalistic about the language forbidding homosexuals from serving) being relieved of duty, but I’m supposed to overlook the fact you left discrimination perfectly intact in church law?

No.

You don’t get a bloody cookie. I will give you a pat on the head and send you back to work figuring out what it means to be a just, decent, moral human being who cares about equality and works to ensure equality happens. I’m very sorry your religion makes it so difficult to see why discrimination is wrong, period, full stop. I’m sorry your church is stuck in the past and hasn’t gotten hip to the fact we shouldn’t fuck people over for fucking people with similar genitals. I’m glad you’ve achieved the awareness necessary to understand that a gay choir director is a-okay in the church. But you can do better.

And I don’t think you’re a bunch of tiny toddlers who need plenty of positive reinforcement lest they give up. You’re all adults who are supposedly mature enough to understand that even if you don’t get a cookie, you should still strive to treat your fellow human beings better. And children understand why they’re not getting an A+ for C- work. They know they’re not going to get an A for Effort when they’ve put forth the minimum effort necessary. I think you’re mature enough to get it. And I think you’re decent enough to keep trying to do the decent thing even without people handing you cookies for every tiny increment of progress towards equality you make.

I think I actually think more of you than my pantheist friend. I certainly expect more, and expect, based on your behavior to date, that you’re eminently capable of meeting my expectations.

So get to it. Take the church back from that 20% of bigoted assholes. Run the pastor out on a rail and install one who not only appreciates gay choir directors, but who wouldn’t mind seeing someone who’s LGBTQ (not to mention W) step up to the pulpit when he retires. Get your church’s laws changed. Make a real and lasting difference.

Then I’ll give you a cookie.

And I’ll have an even tastier one waiting for the day you realize all this god stuff’s a bunch of b.s.

As Expected

My rather ridiculous medical crisis punted The Talk with my supervisor, but it we finally had it on Sunday. It went as expected.

Image shows a kitten with its paw up, with the caption "High 5!!!"

Actually, we only had half The Talk, because he’d spent (part of) the weekend thinking of how the projector time could be made fair, and came up with a plan that allows everyone to take a turn, whilst allowing the top performers on our team extra turns based on stats. Everybody wins: he’s got an extra way to incentivize us, and we’ve now got a system where everybody gets a chance to subject the team to their entertainment tastes. We’re better off than we were before, when it was random and led to conflict and didn’t give our supervisor new ways to ensure we stay in the lead. That’s something I wish more people would understand when these issues come up: when you face them head-on, when you think them through, you can so often find ways to not only make things fair, but improve them for everyone. Everybody wins.

And this, my friends, is why my supervisor has been in the #1 slot in call center stats for nearly a year straight. He’s not afraid to look at a situation that needs to be fixed, fix it, but also add some additional bells and whistles.

So The Talk began with me thanking him for doing that. Then we had the Transphobia Talk, which went something like this:

Me: I know you weren’t intending it to, but your funny story came across somewhat transphobic. Don’t want you to run into problems. We’ve got folks who’re either transsexual or know someone who is, and transsexual people, especially male-to-female, suffer a lot of violence.

Him: Oops. Didn’t mean it to come across that way. I’ll be more careful in the future. Have I ever told you about the time I lived on Capitol Hill*?

The Talk abruptly segued into how to focus the story on the funny elements, then the weirdness that is Capitol Hill, and then points beyond. Somewhere, we came up with a faboo reality teevee show idea starring Charles Manson being faced with the fact that the race war he preached ain’t never gonna happen**, and then we discussed what we were going to do for the Morale Captain cape I’m making for the team, and that was that. He understands me, I understand him, we have improved things that need improving, and if we can sell our teevee idea to TLC or similar, we can abandon the call center life forever.

I always try to prepare for the worst-case scenario when it comes to this sort of thing, but it’s usually not that bad. At least here in Seattle, the majority of people are more than willing to hear you out and make necessary changes. And if it comes to a fight, I’ve got plenty of people in my corner, cheering me on (not to mention you lot – you’re one of the best cheering sections in the Known Universe). It’s a city full of people who’ve spent time on the wrong side of at least one privilege, and who haven’t forgotten what empathy is. I can always count on enough progressives with the willingness to endure a bit of temporary pain in pursuit of improvement that I’m rarely alone, albeit usually the most vocal, when it comes to these sorts of challenges.

That’s why I bloody love this city. It could be so very, very much worse.

As for B and I… well, we exchange pleasantries at work. I don’t know that we’ll ever get beyond that. That hurts to a ridiculous degree, that we should lose each other over something like this, but his reaction to my plan of action was that pointy bit of ice above the waterline. More to it than the visible bit. More damage than expected from what was on the surface. So it goes. That’s something that happens, in these situations, where a minor event is a catalyst. It’s not the thing and the whole of the thing, could’ve been shrugged off if the bit floating on top was all there was to it, but it wasn’t, and so you end up with a suddenly-sunken ship and a lot of people wondering what-the-fuck. It’s a risk you take, and honestly, if an event like this sends a friendship to the bottom of the sea, it was headed there long before the final collision.

Was it worth the risk? Of course. I prefer honesty to superficially comfortable fiction. Fuck, if I wanted to live a happy lie, I’d still believe in gods, now, wouldn’t I?

Thank you all for the cyberhugs and encouragement and enthusiastic cheering. Thank you for inspiring me, and being there, and being the bit of solid ground a person needs to stand on when applying a lever to a world that’s so often a pain in the arse to move.

Thank you for being you.

And thank you for being courageous enough to put a hand to the lever and push with me. We can do this. Together.

 

 

*Put it like this: if you’ve got any sort of phobia when it comes to sex and gender, you’re probably not going to survive living in the Capitol Hill neighborhood for more than fifteen minutes or so.

**Copyright 2013 me and my supervisor. All rights reserved.

 

When a Projector is a Projection of Our Fucked-Up Culture

So the thing about having your consciousness raised is that you can’t really lower it again. When your attention’s repeatedly drawn to something important, when people chip through your resistance and decades of cultural conditioning and open your eyes to things you should have seen long ago, you can’t close them again without seeing after images.

Image show a gray kitty with yellow eyes peering over a table with an expression of concern and horror. Caption says, "What has been seen cannot be unseen."Take the fucking projector that has caused a good part of angst in my personal life just lately. Years ago, I’d not have noticed the endless parade of dude stuff. Dude stuff was just fine with me. Who wanted that icky chick stuff, anyway? Who cared if the ladiez didn’t get a look-in – they’d probably choose some awful chick flick thing. Eww.

And then I started spending my time around people who, like fish investigating the invisible medium they swam through, had discovered such things as everyday sexism and microagressions and the billion and one ways we tell women and other minorities they’re second class. I’ve learned about chilly climate and niceness as a tool of oppression. I’ve learned I had a bad case of internalized sexism, and that it’s more common than the common cold, which means any woman I meet could be suffering it, too. I’ve learned that intent is no excuse for problematic behavior. I’ve learned that this same patriarchy hurting me and mine is hurting every gender, including men. And I’ve learned that the incidental shit we surround ourselves with – the jokes, the entertainment, the places we go and the people we choose to see – can have an outsize impact. For instance, that harmless sexist joke told by the non-sexist among us? It could be encouraging the closet sexist in our midst to feel good about himself and fuck women over with a clear conscience, free of social consequences.

Along the way, I’ve had to learn uncomfortable truths about my own sexism and racism and privilege. I’ve had to learn that a person can be the furthest thing from a sexist or racist or other ist, and yet do ist things. I’ve watched people completely fail to understand that, and snivel when they should be solving. Sometimes, I’ve been the sniveler. But I’m trying. Now that my eyes are open, I’m trying to do better.

So the projector, it rankles. It wouldn’t have done before. I’d have been with B: it’s no big deal. Don’t make a fuss. But I cannot in good conscience do that any longer. And every time this shit comes up, when I know I’m going to have to gear up for Yet Another Battle With a Good Person™, I get grouchy and sad and tired. I think of just letting this one slide. And then I think of Jean Valjean:

If I speak, I am condemned.

If I stay silent, I am damned.

So I bloody well speak.

Damn the consequences.

Because this shit matters.

It doesn’t matter to the dudes who live comfortably on top, who refuse to have their masculinity threatened by The Notebook (heaven forfend they should like it). They’ve given the ladies a shot at it! They graciously let us watch So I Married an Axe Murderer that one day didn’t they? Of course the dudes complained and grumbled because ew, ick, wedding dress, but they let us get away with it. And they’re fine with us picking stuff out – as long as it’s kung fu movies, or police procedurals, or shoot-‘em-ups, or Duck Dynasty. See – when you ladies are one of the guys, it’s no problem! Fairness and equality for all. As long as you don’t mind seeing your gender represented as nothing but a sex object every time you look up, if there are women on the screen at all. As long as you don’t mind a constant barrage of testosterone. And as long as you understand that your viewing choices can and will be superseded by what anyone with a penis decides he wants to watch at any point during your flick. Move along, no sexism to see here.

They don’t even realize that’s what they’re doing, because no one’s ever shown them. They’ve spent their lives this way, with the women most often letting them have their way, going along to get along. Because lord knows, if you piss off the dude with the projector, he may take his projector and go home, and then everybody suffers. Don’t be that girl.

And it doesn’t matter anyway. Nobody really watches this stuff. We’re busy taking calls! It’s not a democracy! But everybody’s gotten to choose something! You can’t get everybody to agree on everything. You’re making a big deal out of nothing. These are all excuses I’ve had thrown in my face since suggesting that maybe, just possibly, it’s not cool to shut out the women on the team, and I for one will not be putting up with it.

I’ve very likely lost an important friendship with something this bloody stupid as a catalyst. One thing’s for sure: even for women who, like me, don’t usually get a lot of crap for being a social justice warrior, there are sometimes severe consequences to giving the boat even a slight, careful nudge. And you can never tell when the explosion will happen or who will set it off.

My life would be easier and happier if I could close my eyes and soothe my consciousness to sleep again, if I could tell my conscience to shut the fuck up. But that’s what’s brought us here: too many good people unwilling to do the right thing because other good people get nasty, and it makes everyone unhappy for a while, and the consequences are too much for many of us to bear. So, I have a Jean Valjean moment:

If I speak, I am condemned.

If I stay silent, I am damned.

And I decide that being condemned by the people around me, however uncomfortable, is not a patch upon the damnation that will be visited upon me by my outraged moral compass, and that changing this world just a little bit for the better is worth any amount of personal pain and professional discomfort. I do not, to my everlasting shame, always decide to do this. Despite what people who think I’m a loudmouthed crusader think, I don’t always speak. But I should.

And I will. As often as I can, as loudly as I can manage.

And as long as the person I am speaking to, who has the power to fix this, is the personI think he is, the conversation won’t go too badly. He’ll see that these microaggressions are bad things, and that soaking in endless masculinity isn’t much good for the dudes, either. He’ll still say this isn’t a democracy, but it won’t hurt to introduce a few democratic principles into the totalitarian government of our team. He’s already agreed not to stop shows partway through. We will work out further equitable solutions, and considering all three women on this team do actually love kung fu more than princesses, the masculine suffering should be minimal. We’ll have some stuff on with kick-ass female characters, and gays, and lesbians, and transsexuals, and POCs, and even some heart-string tugging things that will get the super-macho among us sniffling about dust in their eyes, and everyone will come out of this a bit better and broader than they came in.

Everyone.

Because this isn’t just about giving the women equal time. It’s also about setting men free from strangling gender roles. It’s about creating a better environment, wherein people don’t have to keep themselves closeted over the things they love for fear of social censure. And it’s about giving people a chance to discover that there are things out there they’ve never suspected they could like, but do, and don’t have to be ashamed about admitting it.

These constant battles are fucking exhausting, and they cost. Oh, they cost. But the price, ultimately, is worth it.*

I do not want to live in a world where, forty years from now, we wonder why we’re still held back by the same old shit.

I do not want to have to look back and say, “Well, because it was because I didn’t do anything to change it.”

Instead, I want to be painting my friend’s grandson’s toenails pink while debating the virtues of the latest Porche vs. Ferrari with an honorary grandniece while she orders something fashionable for her transsexual friend. I want to take them outside to play in a park afterward where kids aren’t busy shaming other kids over their fashion and bodies and lifestyle choices, and sure as shit aren’t concerned about their color or religion. I want a world where people can be people in all their endless variety without being shit upon. I want a world where everyone gets a chance to visit the buffet groaning under the eternal variety of things that make us human, and can pick whatever they want, without shame or fear. Except, you know, for those sexist, racist, and other ist dishes. I hope we’ll have consigned those to the garbage forever by then.

We may never have that world. But it’s a world worth trying for. And even a less-than-perfect version will be wonderful.

 Image of hands of many colors clasped in star-pattern, with a quote by Maya Angelou superimposed:

For a crash-course in social justice, clear your calendar, lay in a supply of coffee and alcohol, and visit these link roundups:

Pharyngula Wiki: Social justice link roundup and Sexism Education 101 Link Dump

Brute Reason:  Social Justice Resources

A+: Education on Social Justice Issues

Geek Feminism Wiki: Feminism 101 

*For me. At this time, in this place, with my privilege, I can bear this cost. Others may not be able to, and it is no shame if they can’t fight the fight openly. Everyone has to do their own math, and decide what they can take, and when for their own good they’ve got to disengage.