My Letter to the Boy Scouts

The Boy Scouts of America are soliciting public opinion on their policy of discriminating against gay people. Ideally they shouldn’t have to do this — they should just be able to figure out that this is wrong — but the reality is that we do often calibrate our moral compasses, at least partly, based on what other people think. (Which isn’t an entirely bad thing: I’ve certainly had friends talk me down from moral ledges before.)

As it happen, the Boy Scouts discriminate against atheists as well as gay people. They’re not soliciting moral feedback on that topic… but I think it’s a good idea to give it to them anyway. If we start putting it on their radar now, maybe in a couple of decades they’ll get the clue, the way they’re just now beginning to maybe catch up with the rest of the world on gay rights.

You can chime in by emailing [email protected], or by calling 972-580-2330. I just sent them this email, and thought some of you might like to see it.

*****

I understand that the Boy Scouts are taking a poll to find out public opinion on the Boy Scouts current policy of discriminating against gay people. I am writing to express my fervent opposition to this policy — as well as to the Boy Scouts policy of discriminating against atheists. Discrimination does not make people trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, or brave. It is not a value the Boy Scouts should be teaching. Thank you.

-Greta Christina

Polyamory, Pop Culture, and Propaganda: “Yes, We’re Open”

So when people making movies/ TV shows etc. are depicting the lives of some misunderstood/ marginalized group that doesn’t get depicted in pop culture very much… what responsibilities do they have? If any?

Yes We're Open posterI saw this movie last night, “Yes, We’re Open”: an indie small-budget comedy (available on DVD and download) about a San Francisco couple beginning to consider non-monogamy when they meet an open-relationship couple who expresses an interest in them. (Mild spoilers ahead.) I really, really wanted to love this movie: there are so few films about non-monogamous/ polyamorous/ open relationships and people, and the few that are out there tend to be insulting, or exploitative, or demonizing, or dismissive, or just laughably wrong. (Or any combination of the above.) I liked this movie a fair amount… but I didn’t love it, and I so dearly wanted to love it. In some ways, the fact that I did like it, the fact that it did have interesting ideas and quirky human characters, the fact that the filmmakers are clearly familiar with and affectionate towards alt sex culture in general and San Francisco alt sex culture in particular… all of that, in a weird way, made it even more frustrating. My expectations were higher: it could have been so much more.

A lot of why it was frustrating can be summed up in the question I asked the filmmakers in their post-film Q&A: “Given that the template of San Francisco poly culture is that it’s hyper-ethical, hyper-processing, talking everything to death… why did you choose to make the poly couple in this movie so skanky, and not particularly ethical?”

They clearly understood the question, and the context for it. They agreed about poly people, if anything, tending to be hyper-ethical to the point of relentlessly over-processing everything, and hyper-honest to the point of being TMI and never shutting up. In fact, one of the filmmakers is himself non-monogamous. But they were making a comedy, they said, and unethical people are just funnier. For a long-format story, anyway.

I’m not sure I buy that. I think there’s tons of humor in the hyper-ethical, hyper-processing, talking everything to death aspect of polyamory. And I think you can do humor about ethical people: there’s plenty of humor/ conflict/ narrative tension in basically good people screwing up, or being self-deluded, or battling with their demons and better angels, or being out of the loop and trying to figure it out. It is harder, though, I’ll grant them that. So here’s the question I keep coming back to: When people making movies/ TV shows etc. are depicting the lives of some misunderstood/ marginalized group that doesn’t get depicted in pop culture very much… what responsibilities do they have? If any?

Celluloid Closet book coverHere’s what I mean. Back when I was a film critic for an LGBT newspaper in the early ’90s, I was very engaged in holding filmmakers’ feet to the fire. “We want better gay characters!” I demanded, along with a zillion other queer film critics. I didn’t want them all to be awesome perfect role models: I don’t, in fact, want my pop culture entertainment to be propaganda. Propaganda is, among other things, boring as fuck. I just wanted some goddamn gay characters who didn’t fall into the inexorable stereotypes of psychopath, pathetic loser, or mincing clown.

I don’t have to demand that anymore. Because, to a great extent, we won. There is an enormous variety of gay characters in movies and TV now: heroes, villains, morally complex people, ordinary people, sympathetic leads with complex inner lives, secondary and background characters who fold naturally into the landscape, in comedies and dramas and thrillers and sci-fi and every other genre you can think of. There are still problems with these depictions: among other things, gay characters tend to be either hyper-sexualized or entirely de-sexualized (the gay best friend dispensing romantic wisdom but with no sex life of his own has become the new cliché). But there isn’t that sense of a huge gaping hole in the pop culture landscape. (Not for lesbians and gays, anyway: there is still somewhat for bisexuals, and significantly more for trans people.) And so there aren’t those huge expectations laid on every gay movie that comes out, that urgent demand to have every single movie fill every one of these needs… or that sense of bitter disappointment when something misses the mark.

Yes We're Open stillBut that isn’t true for poly people. We don’t have our “Philadelphia,” our “Brokeback Mountain,” our “Ellen,” our “The Kids Are All Right,” our “Will and Grace,” our “Glee.” And so when a movie like “Yes, We’re Open” comes along — a funny, quirky, human, likeable movie, a movie that gets so much right about the awkward vulnerability of sexual exploration, and the envious voyeurism of some more sexually conventional people with their more adventurous friends, and the cringe-worthy absurdity of competitive hipster culture (OMLOG, the food scenes made me want to both bust a gut laughing and crawl under my seat with embarrassed self-recognition), and that horrible moment of clarity when you realize that you’re being a douchebag — it’s that much more disappointing when the poly people are so skanky, and not particularly ethical. When they pursue their non-monogamy with so little concern for others, so little sensitivity to the fact that this is new ground for the objects of their desire and maybe they should tread carefully. When they basically just use people and discard them. When they aren’t even really three-dimensional characters at all, but caricatures, trends in modern urban culture made flesh. When they don’t really seem to have inner lives of their own, but simply exist as a catalyst for the main characters to learn and change and grow.

I don’t want every poly character in every TV show or movie to be a perfect paragon of sensitivity and high-minded ethics. I’m okay with them being flawed and human. The need for role models isn’t a need for one perfect hero: it’s a need to see that you have options, other than the ones your culture is unfairly slotting you into. (Not to mention the need for the rest of the world to see that as well.) I don’t think every producer of pop culture has an obligation to single-handedly fill that entire gaping hole. And again, I don’t want propaganda. Propaganda is boring.

But given that there are so few poly characters in pop culture, and even fewer who don’t fall into the stereotype of unethical seducers and skanks with no self-control, I think producers of pop culture do have an obligation to not actively perpetuate that stereotype.

Yes, We’re Open. Cherry Sky Films/ Greenrocksolid. Starring Parry Shen, Lynn Chen, Sheetal Sheth, and Kerry McCrohan. Written by HP Mendoza. Produced by Theresa Navarro; produced and directed by Richard Wong. Available on DVD and download.

Godless Perverts Story Hours in San Francisco — and Kansas! Plus a GPSH Social Hour!

GodlessPervertsBannerThe last Godless Perverts Story Hour was a thumping success — so we’re doing more! Co-hosted by David Fitzgerald, Chris Hall, and me, we have a new performance event scheduled in San Francisco on April 13! Plus we have a munch/ social gathering on April 17, at Wicked Grounds, San Francisco’s famous kink-themed coffee house. And for the first time, we’re taking the show on the road, and are doing a Godless Perverts Story Hour event at the free ReasonFest conference in Kansas, on April 21. We’ll post more information soon. Mark your calendars now!

The Godless Perverts Story Hour is an evening about how to have good sex without having any gods, goddesses, spirits, or their earthly representatives hanging over your shoulder and telling you that you’re doing it wrong. We’ll be bringing you depictions, explorations, and celebrations of godless sexualities, as well as critical, mocking, and blasphemous views of sex and religion. The evening’s entertainment will have a range of voices — sexy and serious, passionate and funny, and all of the above — talking about how our sexualities can not only exist, but even thrive, without the supernatural.

San Francisco:

Center for Sex and Culture iconOn Saturday, April 13, 7pm: Take a break from filing your taxes to join us again at the Center for Sex and Culture, 1349 Mission St, San Francisco, CA (near Civic Center BART) for another Godless Perverts Story Hour. The last one was a great success, and we’ve got some new names performing, as well as some favorites from our first event. As of this writing, our list of confirmed readers includes Greta Christina, David Fitzgerald, Chris Hall, Heina, Liberty N. Justice, Anthony O’Con, Victor Harris, Kate Sirls, and Maggie Mayhem.

Wicked Grounds iconOn Tuesday, April 16, 7pm: Okay, so the tax thing is over and you can start to relax a bit. Join us for coffee and conversation at the Godless Perverts Munch. For those not familiar with the term, a “munch” is a term developed by BDSM communities for an informal get-together of people at a restaurant or café. We’ll be gathering at Wicked Grounds, San Francisco’s famous kink-themed coffee house. Godless Perverts isn’t just about holding readings; a big part of it is building community so that people can talk openly about sexuality and atheism. This is the first time that we’ve held a munch, and if it goes off well, we hope to have lots more.

Reasonfest; Lawrence, KA:

ReasonFest iconAnd on Sunday, April 21, 6pm: For the first time, we’re going to be venturing out of the Bay Area. The folks at Reasonfest have agreed to let us do a Godless Perverts Story Hour at the conference, so if you’re attending, please join us. And if you’re not attending — now you have extra incentive! In addition to GPSH co-founders and co-hosts Greta Christina and David Fitzgerald, Amanda Brown, Bridget Gaudette, and Keith Lowell Jensen are going to share their insights on religion, godlessness, and fucking. There’s no admission price — Reasonfest is a completely free conference, happening April 20-21, and we’re winding up the event on Sunday evening — so if you’re in the area, or have any way of getting there, be sure to check it out.

More information coming soon, including performer bios and whatnot. In the meantime, mark your calendars now! You don’t want to miss this. And if you want to stay in the loop about these and other Godless Perverts events, follow us on Twitter at @GodlessPerverts, or sign up for our email newsletter. Hope to see you soon!

Intersectionality’s The Thing: Andrew Tripp’s Reply

Sparked by his piece on transmisogyny from a little while ago, Andrew Tripp and I have been having a conversation about atheist activism and what its priorities should be, amongst other things.

Andrew has posted his reply to my most recent response:

Intersectionality’s The Thing: Responding to Greta.

If you’re interested in this conversation and have been following it, please go read it.

And here’s a list of/ links to the previous posts in this conversation, including Andrew’s original post that sparked the conversation:

Andrew: Papercuts: Transmisogyny, Western Atheists, and the Meaning of Oppression
Me: Is Anti-Atheist Bigotry A Papercut? A Conversation with Andrew Tripp
Andrew: Responding to Greta: The Scale of the Thing
Me: “Whatever activism gets them excited”: A Reply to Andrew Tripp
Andrew: Intersectionality’s The Thing: Responding to Greta

Runway Recap: Team Players

To my great surprise, I’m willing to give this Project Runway “Teams” thing a chance.

Project Runway Season 4 DVDWhen I first started watching Project Runway a few years back, I evangelized about it to anyone who would listen. “No, really!” I’d say. “I know, it’s a reality competition show… but it’s one of the best things on television! Sure, it has its cheesy side… but at its heart, it’s a freakishly smart and thoughtful exploration of the creative process! No, I’m not high! Critics are raving about it! Really!”

But for the last couple of years, my enthusiasm has been fading. I was still watching it regularly, I still wasn’t missing an episode… but instead of telling friends, “OMLOG, you absolutely have to watch this!”, I was telling them, “Rent Season 4. That’s the best. If Season 4 makes you fall in love, rent Seasons 1 through 5. After that, don’t bother unless you feel a need to be completist.” Ever since the show jumped from Bravo to Lifetime, the focus has shifted dramatically: away from the creative process, and towards stupid interpersonal drama. And blatantly manufactured interpersonal drama at that. As recent seasons have churned on, this trend has become more and more pronounced… as less screen time is given to designers talking about their design process, and as the increasingly limited work time gives designers less chance to do genuinely interesting work, and as the camera gives crappier views of the actual clothes on the runway, and as casting decisions become less focused on talent and more focused on a capacity for kookiness or junior-high drama. (Also, as it become increasingly obvious that, when it comes to the final outcomes/ winners, the fix is in.)

Project Runway Season 11 TeamsSo I was expecting to loathe, loathe, loathe the new “Project Runway: Teams” season. I was prepared to have this be my “This is your last chance, if this sucks I’m giving up” season. In past seasons, team challenges have been notorious for producing crappy clothes and boring hissy-fits. (Season 4 being the exception.) I was expecting to despise it, to watch it play out as a shabby excuse for pointless, manufactured, scenery-chewing, “Real Housewives of Parsons New School” drama.

But it seems that maybe, just maybe, it’s the opposite.

Maybe, just maybe, the point of the “Teams” setup is to give the designers an incentive to help each other out — and a disincentive to indulge in petty backstabbing.

I don’t actually mind that the “Teams” concept is being interpreted in a more game theory/ Spanish Prisoner way (the week’s winner has to come from the winning team, and the week’s loser has to come from the losing team, so you can’t win if your team is the one with the least points), and not in a “design a cohesive collection” way. If every episode was “design a cohesive team collection,” we wouldn’t get to see enough of the individual designers’ visions. (Some of which are freaking hilarious.) And more to the point: The game theory/ Spanish Prisoner setup of this “Teams” season seems to be designed to minimize the bitch-fest, “I’m not here to make friends” factor (a myopically stupid strategy anyway — rant for another time), and to give designers a powerful, practical incentive to help each other out. The high helping each other out/ petty backstabbing ratio is one of the things I miss most from previous seasons of PR. If this “Teams” gimmick can crank it back up again — if we’re going to get genuine collaboration, or at least genuine camaraderie — I’m not going to argue.

We’ll see. As Tom and Lorenzo point out, PR first episodes are often pretty decent, and the crap factor doesn’t crank into high gear until later. But based just on this first episode, I am cautiously allowing my hopes to get up. Or at least, to not dwindle away just yet.

And now, to some actual designs! [Read more...]

Minor regrets

Question: If you could go back in time and change something from your past — but NOT anything major, something relatively minor — what would it be?

Go tableI was having a memory the other day that prompted this question. When I was in college, I started learning to play Go. I enjoyed it, but only played for a few months and didn’t stick with it. I knew I was playing on a totally rank amateur level: Go is a game you have to play for years to even get barely competent at, and years more to become even reasonably skilled, and I didn’t have the patience. But I look back now and think, “If I’d stuck with it, I now would have been playing for 30 years.” It’d kind of cool to have been playing Go for 30 years. Even if I never pursued it on a serious competition level… it’d still be kind of cool.

So yeah, If I could go back and change something fairly minor, I think it’d be that.

(I might also stick with practicing calligraphy. I was actually pretty good at it for a student, and I’m kind of sorry I let it slide.)

Not sure why I think this is an interesting question. But looking at past regrets is, for me anyway, not a bad guidepost for avoiding future regrets. If regrets from my past tend to follow a pattern, that clues me in that there might be things I should be doing differently.

So what would it be for you?

Same-Sex Marriage Opponents Increasingly Desperate and Stupid

Wow. They’re really getting desperate.

Headline and subhead from the Los Angeles Times:

Gay marriage opponents take unusual tack with Supreme Court
Lawyers defending the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Prop. 8 argue that marriage should be limited to opposite-sex unions because they alone can ‘produce unplanned and unintended offspring.’

Quote:

“It is plainly reasonable for California to maintain a unique institution [referring to marriage] to address the unique challenges posed by the unique procreative potential of sexual relationships between men and women,” argued Washington attorney Charles J. Cooper, representing the defenders of Proposition 8. Same-sex couples need not be included in the definition of marriage, he said, because they “don’t present a threat of irresponsible procreation.”

Wow. Just… wow.

This argument is so stupid, so desperate, I almost wondered for a moment if these lawyers were deliberately tanking their own case.

I mean… set aside, for the moment, the notion that the primary purpose of marriage is the shotgun wedding. Set aside, for the moment, the notion the primary purpose of marriage is to encourage people to stick together who otherwise wouldn’t want to, because they “irresponsibly” (their word, not mine) got pregnant. (A notion that’s grossly insulting to just about every married person — including the straight ones. Okay, I’m not doing a very good job of setting it aside, am I?)

According to this logic, these folks should be proposing a ban on marriage for infertile straight people. After all, if the primary purpose of marriage is to encourage couples to stay together if they unintentionally get pregnant, there’s no reason for infertile straight people to be married. If you’ve had a hysterectomy, if you’ve had a double orchiectomy, if you’re post-menopausal, if you have untreatable erectile dysfunction, if for any other reason you can’t conceive children without “substantial advance planning” (again, their words)… no marriage for you. You’re not who marriage was made for.

Oh, it doesn’t make sense to have a separate legal category for infertile straight couples? It’s okay to let infertile straight couples slip in through the cracks, even though they’re not who marriage was made for, because it doesn’t make sense to have a separate legal category for them? Then why on Earth does it make sense to have a separate legal category for same-sex couples?

In a weird way, this argument makes me hopeful. Because you know what? They are desperate. They are grasping at straws. They got nothin’. They are proving to everyone with a shred of sense that the opposition to same-sex marriage is bankrupt. It’s morally bankrupt, and it’s logically bankrupt. Once they let go of the religious arguments — once they let go of “Gay marriage makes Baby Jesus cry,” since that really isn’t going to fly in front of the Supreme Court — their arguments become increasingly contorted, increasingly stupid, increasingly laughable, increasingly desperate.

They got nothin’.

Let’s just hope that the Supreme Court sees that.

What To Do When Half The Atheosphere Dogpiles On You And Tells You That You Screwed Up

Some of you may remember that Charlie Jane Anders, one of the writers/ editors on io9, wrote a really dumb piece a couple of months ago about how smug atheists need to read more science fiction. If you do, you may also remember that she got reamed up one side and down the other about it, all over the atheosphere. She’s actually a colleague and friend of mine… and even I was going, “WTF? Charlie Jane said that?”

You might be interested to know that she’s now apologized for it, handsomely. Her apology is included in a piece she’s written on what she’s learned from five years of arguing on the internet. The relevant graf:

At the same time, I’ve definitely written things I regretted afterwards. Like that piece about atheism and science fiction a while back — that was a case where I hadn’t fully thought through what I was trying to say, and I wrote something kind of half-assed, that hurt people who already felt marginalized and under assault from mainstream culture. (And in retrospect, a lot of what I had been reading as “smugness” from a few of my fellow non-believers was probably more like anger at that marginalization.) I’m sorry about that.

This is how it’s done, people. She didn’t double down. She didn’t insist that she hadn’t done anything wrong; she didn’t equate “lots of people disagreeing with you” with tribalism, bullying, McCarthyism, or witch hunts. She kept it short and sweet, without a “making it worse” morass of defensive rationalizations/ making it all about her hurt feelings about people being mean to her. She heard the criticism, accepted that she screwed up, and apologized. This is how it’s done.

([cough] Michael Shermer [cough])

“Whatever activism gets them excited”: A Reply to Andrew Tripp

Andrew Tripp and I were having an email conversation about a piece he recently wrote about priorities in the atheist movement, titled Papercuts: Transmisogyny, Western Atheists, and the Meaning of Oppression. We both thought the conversation might be of interest to other people, so we’ve taken it public. Today’s piece is in response to Andrew’s most recent reply, Responding to Greta: The Scale of the Thing. A complete chronology of the conversation, with links, is at the end of this post.

As I said at the beginning of this conversation: There are some things Andrew says that I don’t agree with, and some of it I disagree with fairly strongly. But I have tremendous respect for him, and in particular for his hard work, integrity, and commitment to his ideals, and am basing this conversation on that foundation.

Okay. So you’re not saying, “Atheists aren’t oppressed.” You’re saying, “Atheists don’t face systemic violent oppression.” Thanks for the clarification. On that, I totally agree — in the United States, anyway.

So a smaller point, and then to the larger one — namely, where the priorities and energies of the atheist community and the atheist movement should be going.

The smaller point is about this: “We atheists have the privilege of being able to conceal our beliefs.” I really hope I misunderstand you here. I assume you wouldn’t tell a gay person, “You can live in the closet, therefore your oppression isn’t really all that bad.” If you wouldn’t say it to gay people, please don’t say it to other atheists. Living in a closet is oppression.

Now to the bigger question: the priorities and energies of the atheist movement.

If your only point were about some atheists playing the victim card while ignoring (and in some cases denigrating) issues outside their worlds… yes, I’m totally with you on that. (I’m pretty sure you know that! :-) ) I’ve argued the same thing many times: that both individual atheists and atheist organizations need to broaden our horizons, focus energies on intersections between atheism/ religion and other forms of oppression, look at ways that we ourselves may be perpetuating these oppressions, do alliance work and service projects with/for other social change movements and oppressed groups, look at who we’re not reaching and work on reaching them, etc. (You know: the usual “social justice” line that’s totally ruining atheism.) Like you, I don’t like it when some atheists dismiss and even deride other marginalizations and oppressions, while demanding attention for anti-atheist oppression. And I’ll add that if you, personally, care more passionately about anti-trans violence than you do about anti-atheist oppression, and are more moved and outraged by your trans friends who have died because of transphobia, that is way more than reasonable. That is admirable. I would never try to argue you out of that.

But you’re also arguing (if I understand you correctly) that things like the Times Square billboard and nativity scene lawsuits are a waste of atheists’ money and energy: that these things are trivial compared to things like the systemic violence and oppression of trans people… and therefore atheists shouldn’t be doing them. At all. And there’s where I have a problem. [Read more...]

Help Replace Avicenna’s Laptop!

You may know Avicenna at A Million Gods. If not, you should. He joined Freethought Blogs not that long ago, and has quickly become one of our most badass bloggers. (Of course, we’re all pretty badass around here…) He’s been doing amazing writing on rape culture in India, among many many many other things.

Anyway. Avicenna’s laptop just bit the dust, and he needs a new one. He won’t be able to blog hardly at all without a working laptop. So he’s doing a fundraiser for it. Although he’s spouting some line about how he could probably manage without one if he does all his email at an Internet cafe or something, and how he feels odd about asking for help for something as silly as a laptop.

Please go tell him, “Stop talking nonsense, if you’re a blogger a laptop isn’t a luxury.” Please go tell him, “We love your blogging, we value your blogging, we are willing and indeed happy to help pay for a new laptop so you can blog all you want.” Please go tell him, “The publishing business being the way it is these days, tip jars are a standard and necessary part of a blogger’s income, and you shouldn’t feel any odder about asking for support than public radio does.” And then please throw him some coin so he can get a new laptop.