Ingrid Nelson on Panel at GLBT History Museum, 9/29

My beloved wife, Ingrid, is going to be part of a panel at the GLBT History Museum in San Francisco, this Thursday, Sept. 29. The topic is a barn-burner: “All the Rage: Stories From the AB101 Veto Riot of 1991.” Here’s a little more info:

At the height of the AIDS crisis and in the midst of a wave of queer militancy in 1991, California’s governor vetoed AB101, a statewide gay and lesbian rights bill. San Francisco’s LGBT community responded with outrage: Thousands joined a massive protest that ended with the police in retreat and a state office building in flames — one of only three queer riots in the history of the city.

A special program to mark the 20th anniversary of the AB101 Veto Riot will be moderated by Laura Thomas and will feature a new documentary short about the riot, as well as a living-history panel with protest organizers and participants Lito Sandoval and Ingrid Nelson offering inside stories.

Also taking part will be composer Bob Ostertag, whose piece “All the Rage” for the Kronos Quartet includes sound recorded at the riot, and filmmaker Steve Elkins, director of the short about the riot and of a new feature-length documentary, “The Reach of Resonance,” which discusses Ostertag’s work.

The audience discussion following the panel is sure to provide additional memories from the AB101 Veto Riot. If you were there, bring your stories!

DATE: Thursday, September 29
TIME: 7:00 – 9:00 p.m.
LOCATION: GLBT History Museum, 4127 18th St. (between Castro & Collingwood streets), San Francisco
COST: $5.00 (California students with ID $3.00; members free)

In conjunction with the program, The GLBT History Museum will be showing “No Apologies, No Regrets: The AB101 Veto Riot,” a mini-exhibit of artifacts, photos and documents from the archives of the GLBT Historical Society. The mini-exhibit will be on display Sept. 16 through Oct. 15.

Yes, Ingrid was a badass. Ingrid is still a badass. I am so proud, I could burst. Come check it out!

I’m on Twitter! Follow me at @GretaChristina .

Depression, Rationality, and the Difficulty of Perspective

We talk a lot in the atheist/ rationalist/ skeptical community about how life can be made better by leaving religion and embracing rationality. And we talk a lot about wanting to get that message out into the world.

Today, I want to talk about a very specific, personal, pragmatic example of this.

A little over a week ago, I got some bad news. My dad had a second stroke: he’s stable right now, and he’s doing okay, but they don’t yet know whether he’s going to recover his pre- stroke level of health and mobility. (Which, ever since the first stroke a few years ago, was already pretty bad. And which, frankly, wasn’t that great even before the first stroke.)

I have a lot going on about this, obviously, some of which I’ll probably wind up writing about here over the coming days/ weeks/ months. But here’s what I want to talk about today:

I want to talk about depression, and the difficulty of perspective. And I want to talk about how rationality has helped me deal with it.

I’ve dealt with mild to moderate depression off and on for much of my adult life. It’s mostly situational: it rarely comes on for no external reason, but once it’s triggered, it can be hard to shake, even when the external trigger has passed. I’ve had it pretty well managed for a while now, but it’s something I always have to pay attention to, and many of the routines of my life — getting regular exercise, eating a healthy diet, making sure I get out of the house and outside on a regular basis, etc. — are deliberately designed to keep it at bay.

The news about my dad’s stroke triggered a pretty bad episode of it. I had a day when I couldn’t make myself leave the house, and could barely make myself get off the sofa, and was stress-eating in a way that I haven’t done in years. I had another couple of days where I was more functional — i.e., able to leave the house and go to work — but I felt like a zombie. I felt like I was sleepwalking. I felt like my head was wrapped in a wet sock. Sleep didn’t make me feel rested… but I didn’t want to do anything but sleep.

I’m doing better now. I’m often sad, and tired. I often feel restless, and have long stretches where, no matter what I’m doing, I want to be doing something else. I’m more easily irritated by small irritations than usual. My attention span isn’t great, and it’s sometimes hard to work and write. But I’m feeling alive, and awake, and present in the world, and able to experience pleasure a fair amount of the time. I have days of waking up and not feeling rested and feeling like I just want to go back to bed… but if I get enough sleep and not too much, I also have days of waking up refreshed and happy, and feeling like I want to get out of bed and start getting stuff done.

So here’s the weird thing, the thing I want to write about.

When I look at the two or three days when the depression was gripping me really badly… they look bizarre. I can understand the “feeling bad” part, of course — I still feel bad now — but the overwhelming sense of hopelessness and paralysis seems distant and weird. When I’m not in the grip of it, it’s hard to understand how I could ever feel that way. It doesn’t make sense.

And during the two or three days when the depression was seriously gripping me, non-depression also looked bizarre. There’s a vicious circle with depression: intellectually, there are things you know you can do to feel better, but finding the energy or motivation to do them feels impossible… and if you don’t do those things, the depression doesn’t pass… and if the depression doesn’t pass, you don’t have the energy or motivation to do the things that make it better… I felt like I was trapped in a tar pit. And even though I knew, intellectually, that I hadn’t always felt this way, that I wouldn’t feel this way forever, that there was a big world outside the wet sock wrapped around my head… I couldn’t see it. It didn’t make sense.

In both the state of depression and the state of non-depression, it’s hard to have perspective on the other.

And that’s where rationality comes in. [Read more...]

Dream diary, 9/24/11: The Nude Version of “Sideways”

I dreamed that I was watching a version of the movie “Sideways” that was exactly the same as the original, except that all the actors were in the nude. The main thing that was surprising about this, apart from the fact that it existed, was that both Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church had extensive tattoos over most of their bodies, and that Paul Giamatti had a full backpiece depicting the Three Stooges.

Bisexuality Visibility Day

Today is Bisexuality Visibility Day. So I thought I’d take a moment to say:

I’m bisexual.

Which should come as no surprise to anyone who regularly reads my writing. But it still sometimes does. I’ve had a good number of smart, thoughtful, queer- conscious people assume that, because I’m married to a woman, I’m a lesbian. The possibility that someone could be bisexual is often just not on people’s radar. When someone is in a long-term same-sex relationship, it’s commonly assumed that they’re gay or lesbian; when someone is in a long-term opposite-sex relationship, it’s commonly assumed that they’re straight.

Hell, I’ve done it myself. I’ve heard about weddings/ relationships (of acquaintances, celebrities, etc.) and thought, “Huh, who’d a thunk it. I always read them as gay/ straight. I guess I was wrong.” And then I’ve realized: “Wait a minute. I’m assuming that, because they’re in an opposite-sex relationship — or a same-sex relationship — therefore, they’re straight or gay. And I’m bisexual. D’oh!”

I’ve even done it in my personal life. Just the other day, I was semi-flirting with a guy on the plane, and, when he asked to borrow my copy of “Elle” magazine, I was like, “Oh, well. Never mind. Guess I’m barking up the wrong tree.” And then I realized: “Wait a minute. Yes, the guy likes fashion magazines and is flying to San Francisco. Yes, the odds are excellent that he’s queer. But just because he’s probably queer doesn’t mean he’s not into women. I wouldn’t bet much money on him being straight… but he could be bi. And I’m bisexual. Why do I keep forgetting that this is an option?” (Not that I was going to do anything about it… but I do prefer to think that the people I’m flirting with are, at least in theory, genuinely interested.)

So let’s remember: Bisexuals exist. Bisexuality exists.If someone is in an opposite-sex relationship — it doesn’t mean they’re straight. If someone is in a same-sex relationship — it doesn’t mean they’re lesbian or gay. Unless we know for sure that someone is gay/ lesbian/ straight, we shouldn’t assume that they are.

So happy Bisexuality Visibility Day! And if you’re bi, and you feel comfortable coming out about it — let us know!

Fashion Can Be Hard/ Fashion Can Be Fun

I get that this stuff is hard. I really do.

When I wrote my recent pieces on fashion and style, I seem to have stepped on some very raw nerves. When I wrote that fashion could be seen as a sort of language, and that what we wear expresses something about ourselves, and that we can make that expression conscious instead of unconscious… a lot of people pushed back, and pushed back hard. And a lot of people did this in a way that made it clear: This was a sore spot, a frustrating and irritating and even painful issue.

If fashion and style are like a language… then for a lot of people, they’re a second language. And it’s one they don’t understand, and don’t feel comfortable with. They feel like they woke up in a world where people are speaking French, and they don’t know how to speak it, and they’re constantly saying “My hovercraft is full of eels” when they’re just trying to say “Please direct me to the railway station.” They feel intimidated. They feel self-conscious. They feel like people are judging them, or laughing at them behind their back, or jumping to conclusions about them that they feel aren’t fair at all. (Which does sometimes happen. There are mean people in the world, and they do, in fact, suck.) Or else they just don’t care about this particular form of expression… and they get frustrated and irritated by the expectation that they should.

And when I wrote that what we wear expresses something about ourselves, and that we can make that expression conscious instead of unconscious… they felt like I was lecturing them, or scolding them, or being the bitchy mean fashion girl making them feel stupid and ugly.

So I’ll say right at the outset: That was not my intention. If that’s how it came across, I sincerely apologize.

And I want to try having an actual conversation about it. [Read more...]

Should Atheists Have Lots of Kids?

“Religious people are reproducing at a much higher rate than atheists. Religious extremists especially. And as we know, people tend to stay in whatever religion they’re brought up in. Should atheists be having more children, so we can counteract this trend?”

When I give talks and do Q&A afterwards, this question comes up surprisingly often. A modified version of it came up at my talk in St. Cloud earlier this week. I don’t think it’s a notion that’s shared or even seriously considered by most atheists… but it does get asked at these talks with some frequency. So I thought I’d answer it here in the blog.

No.

We should not have children just so we can keep up with the breeding rate of religious believers.

Strategically, it’s not necessary. And morally, it’s — what’s that word I’m looking for? — wrong.

Let’s take the moral question first.

There are probably worse reasons to have kids than breeding an atheist army. But offhand, I can’t think of many. (Medical experiments? Slave labor? Meat?) Children are not a weapon in your ideological battle. They are not a means to an end. They are an end in themselves. What with them being human beings and all.

As far as I can see, there is pretty much one good reason to have kids. And that’s that you want them. You love kids. You like kids. You think kids are interesting. You enjoy their company. You want to share your ideas and ideals with them, and to learn from them yourself. You want to bring them into the world, and participate in the difficult and rewarding process of helping them become autonomous adults. Every child a wanted child, and all that.

Of course parents want their kids to share their values and ideas. Lots of parents have kids because they want a part of themselves to live on, to be carried into the world beyond their own lifespan and capacities. But the healthy, not- fucked- up parents want that part to be independent. They want their kids to be themselves, to think for themselves, to eventually make their own decisions and take their own responsibility for them. They don’t want them to just be a cog in a Meme Perpetuating Machine. If we have lots of kids just so we can breed the next generation of atheists… then how are we any better than the Quiverful families, having lots of kids just so they can breed the next generation of fundamentalist Christians? If we don’t behave better than the religious extremists we’re fighting, then what on earth is the point?

Do I want a world without religion? Hell, yes. I’m working hard towards that end. But there are obvious moral limits. I don’t, for instance, want to force people out of religion, or restrict people’s right to practice their religion, by violence or threat or law. And this idea falls well outside my moral limits. Very, very far outside.

I want a world without religion because I think that would be a better world. And a world in which parents see their kids as pawns, an army for the next generation of their ideological battle? (And, not incidentally, a world in which the parents see themselves and their partners as breeding stock for that army?) That is not my idea of a better world. I would rather have a world with religion than live in that world.

So it’s morally wrong. That’s the most important thing.

But it’s also strategically unnecessary. [Read more...]

Coming Out Is Fun

There’s something I’d like to see atheists say more often:

Coming out is fun.

I was hanging out with some of the folks from the Minnesota Atheists after my talk there last Sunday. We were talking, as so many atheists so often do, about coming out as atheists – -how important it is, how central it is to the success of the movement, the obstacles in its way.

And one of the women at the table — I’m really sorry, I can’t remember her name — said something that struck me. She was talking about an assortment of closets she’d come out of in her life. And she pointed something out that I think we sometimes forget:

Coming out is fun.

Coming out is exciting. Coming out is an adventure. Coming out is a rush. Telling someone something true about yourself, something they don’t know, something you don’t know how they’re going to respond to — it’s exhilarating.

And living an out life is fun. Being out makes you feel liberated. Being out makes you comfortable in your own skin. Being out makes it easier to find other people who share your values and experiences, other people you connect and resonate with. An honest life, a life where you’re not constantly keeping track of who knows which secrets about you and how they might hurt you if they tell… it feels good. It’s easier to relax, and to be yourself, and to have fun.

Coming out is fun… and being out is fun.

Yes, coming out can also be hard. It can be scary. It can be painful. It can even be dangerous. You might upset people you care about; you might have some difficult conversations. You might even lose people you care about — people you care about a lot. In extreme situations, you might lose your job, your home, custody of your kids. Coming out can be hard, and if you’re in a situation where it might seriously injure you, you should think carefully about whether you want to do it, and when, and how. I’m not going to pretend that any of that isn’t true. It is.

But I think that atheists tend to emphasize the second part more than we do the first. We tend to talk about coming out as a noble duty, a rite of passage, a difficult but necessary step to a better life for ourselves and the world.

And there can be some truth to that.

But there’s also truth to this:

Coming out is fun.

If coming out was fun for you — please tell how! If it wasn’t, of course I want to hear that too. I don’t want to bias the data pool or anything. But I would love to hear some more atheist coming-out stories that focus on the fun. If you have one — please share!

Can Critics of “New Atheists” Please Read Some First?

The title: “Beyond ‘New Atheism.’”

So I knew we were in trouble right from the start.

In a recent piece in The Stone forum in the New York Times online “Opinionator” section, philosophy professor Gary Gutting takes on the so-called “New Atheism.” He argues that the so-called “new atheism” — encapsulated in his mind by Richard Dawkins’ “The God Delusion” — relies too heavily on scientific and rational arguments against religion, and spends too much time making the case that religion isn’t, you know, true. He thinks that the so-called “new atheists” ignore how religion gives people meaning and transcendence, hope and morality, emotional comfort and social support. He thinks that we aren’t talking enough about secular alternatives for this meaning and transcendence, hope and morality, emotional comfort and social support. And he promotes the ideas of philosophy professor Philip Kitcher as a fresh alternative to this supposed tunnel vision.

Sigh.

This makes me want to facepalm so hard, it’d drive my nose into my brain.

Okay. Deep breath. I am going to my safe, peaceful place. Calm blue ocean, calm blue ocean….

Alright. I can talk sensibly now. So. Memo to Professor Gutting.

The so-called “new atheists” are already talking about this.

We’re talking about it a lot. [Read more...]

I have my archives!

I have my archives from my old blog! They’re here! With comments and everything! They’re even in the right categories!

Images and videos didn’t make it over, and there are a handful of posts that didn’t make it and that I’ll have to put in by hand. (For some reason, it didn’t like my posts about alternative medicine, speaking at Stanford, making atheism a safe place to land, atheists having morality, and my recipe for chocolate pie. Make of that what you will.) But I can live with that. The archives are here. Years of my old work — all finally in one place. This has been driving me up a tree, and I can now finally relax about it. (A little.)

If you want to see them, scroll down in the sidebar to where it says “Recent Posts/ Comments/ Archives.” Click Archives. There they are! You can also search for posts in the archives with the handy Search box at the top right of the blog. Which works waaaay better than the search box at my old blog.

When I’m back from my Minnesota trip, I’m going to start working on (a) getting the old blog to redirect to the new one, and (b) getting the best and hottest posts listed in my sidebar, so newcomers to the blog can browse them more easily. And I’ll probably start linking to the cool stuff from the archives, so newcomers to this blog can become familiar with it. For now, I’m just going to sit back and cry tears of happiness and relief. I can haz archives! Yay!

I have to express my intense gratitude to fellow Freethought Blogger Jason Thibeault, at Lousy Canuck, for making this happen. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that atheists have no sense of community or compassion. I owe him big time. Go visit his blog, and tell him Thank You.