Same Sex Marriage a Constitutional Right!


YAAAAAAAAAAAAAY!


Ingrid and Greta holding hands at Skepticon 6 Biblename Foto Josiah Mannion

It’s not just that the Federal government recognizes same-sex marriage. It’s not just that states have to recognize same-sex marriages from other states. The Supreme Court has ruled that the Constitution guarantees a right to same-sex marriage. Same-sex marriage is now legal in all 50 states.

Here’s the full majority opinion, written by Justice Kennedy. It’s worth reading. It got me tearing up in places.

I’m tickled pink about this, for all the obvious reasons. I’m actually finding myself uncharacteristically tongue-tied: this is so obvious, it has been so obvious for so long, I’m finding it hard to put into words exactly why this is important and wonderful. Marriage equality is, you know, equality. Millions of couples around the United States are no longer second-class: our marriages are seen as fully valid, with the same rights and responsibilities as any other. To put it in personal terms: Every year, Ingrid and I go to Skepticon in Missouri. This year, it’ll be the first time we won’t have the constant worry in the back of our minds, “What happens if one of us gets sick or hurt? What happens if some asshole at the hospital decides not to let us make medical decisions for each other, or even let us visit each other — because they think gay sex makes baby Jesus cry?”

Now, multiply that by millions. Millions of couples around the country can now visit each other in the hospital, make medical decisions for each other, adopt kids together, file state income taxes together, travel from state to state without their marriages disappearing and re-appearing and disappearing again.

I’m also, just personally for myself, enjoying an opportunity to have been proven wrong. When the recent cases on marriage equality were first brought to the Supreme Court, I was one of the people saying it was a bad idea. Many of us thought that the current court would deny the freedom to marry — and that this would set a precedent it would take decades to overturn. I’m deeply happy to have been proven wrong.

And finally: I’m delighted that we can now move on.

There’s been considerable debate within the LGBTQ community about the priority that’s been placed on same-sex marriage. Many in our community argued that other issues — employment rights, housing rights, homelessness among LGBT teens, school bullying, the epidemic of violence against trans people and especially against trans women of color — were more important for more of us. It was argued that other issues have a greater impact on queers who are poor, working class, disabled, immigrants, trans people, people of color, and others in our community with multiple marginalizations — and that the emphasis we placed on marriage was another example of more privileged LGBT people being put front and center.

Myself, I had mixed feelings about this. I certainly saw that point, and even agreed with it. At the same time, I also thought that we don’t always get to choose our battles: some issues catch the public heart and the public imagination, and same-sex marriage has clearly done that. And I thought winning same-sex marriage would make our other fights go easier. The legal precedent helps, of course: but maybe more importantly, the fight for same-sex marriage has changed people’s minds about us, in a way that few of other our fights have done. I think that when straight people saw us fighting for love, and fighting for the right to make commitments and take on responsibilities based on that love, it humanized us — and I think that will help us win our other fights. But yes, I definitely saw the point people were making, and even agreed with it. I think there are other issues for LGBTQ people that are more important than marriage.

I’m delighted that we can now move on.

We won marriage. Let’s take this weekend to celebrate. It’s Pride Weekend in San Francisco and in many other cities: let’s take this weekend to celebrate, to recognize the hard work we put into this and to to enjoy our victory. And on Monday morning, let’s roll up our sleeves, and get to work — on employment rights, on housing rights, on homelessness among LGBT teens, on school bullying, on the epidemic of violence against trans people and especially against trans women of color, on the hundreds of other ways that LGBT people are still treated as second-class citizens.

We won marriage. Let’s take that momentum, take those changed hearts and minds, and put it to work.

Comment policy for this post: If you want to be negative or douchy about marriage, do it another time, or don’t do it here. Today, I just want to celebrate and be happy.

Photo copyright Biblename Photo/Josiah Mannion.


Comforting Thoughts book cover oblong 100 JPGComing Out Atheist Bendingwhy are you atheists so angryGreta Christina is author of four books: Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do with God, Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why, Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless, and Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More.

“There was rage, anger, pain, and determination”: Guest Post on AIDS Activism by Tim Kingston and Liz Highleyman

silence equals death posterThis is the second in a guest-post series about ACT UP and the history AIDS activism. There are some amazing events happening in San Francisco this weekend, commemorating important events in the early AIDS activist movement (specifically, the 25th anniversary of the 6th International AIDS Conference in San Francisco, and ACT UP’s week of protests). This is important and fascinating history, well worth knowing and remembering. If you’re interested in queer history or the history of street activism, and you’re in the San Francisco Bay Area this weekend, I urge you attend at least if you can.

There’s a great article in the Bay Area Reporter by Liz Highleyman about ACT UP, 6th International AIDS Conference protests, the history of AIDS activism, and the reasons behind this weekend’s commemorative events. (A full calendar of the weekend’s events is in the article.) She interviewed Tim Kingston, who in 1990 was a reporter for the LGBT community newspaper San Francisco Bay Times. But as is almost always the case with reporting, only a small portion of the interview was quoted. Liz and Tim have given permission to quote the interview here in full.

Liz Highleyman: Why were these events so important at the time?

Tim Kingston: I just found and re-read my article from the AIDS conference in San Francisco, and it was both sobering and informative. It’s hard to put myself back in those times, but a couple of things stand out. First was how universal the condemnation was of the Bush (senior) administration by everyone at the conference; second was the lack of treatment options. There was parallel track drug approval in place (i.e. a faster drug approval process than existed at the time) that AIDS activists had managed to get put in place, but there was only one drug in it. And that was ddI, remember ddI? Everything else was AZT AZT AZT.

The frustration and rage as a result both of those situations was palpable in the air, and floated off the pages of the Bay Times reading it 25 years later.

There were all these little images I was reminded of: when Louis Sullivan was shouted down, how Dr. Paul Volberding just stared at Sullivan, stone faced. He was not staring at the AIDS with anger, he was staring at Sullivan. Sullivan, by the way, missed the start of the conference because he was at a Jesse Helms fundraiser!

What comes across years later is the sense that for the first time, AIDS researchers and activists were on the same page. But it was not a pretty page. They may not have been exactly in agreement, but everyone there was pissed off with a US government whose response to the epidemic was to ban people with HIV from coming to the country instead of working on expediting research. Both inside and outside the conference there was rage, anger, pain, and determination. I remember that well. When you have activists and delegates all trashing the US government, you know something different was happening.

Unlike the Washington AIDS conference where no one had heard of ACT UP, or Montreal where activists were banging on the door to get in, one way or another AIDS activists were a critical part of the conference and a welcomed part. I could not find any delegates inside willing to defend the government. The problem was there were no drugs in the pipeline. Think about that. We had got ourselves inside the circus, finally inside their doors, but there was no show, no main attraction. As I said, it was all AZT.

Having said that, the groundwork had been laid for later success. The foundation for successful testing of drugs and some level of access was there. That was important, very important. And it was also a point where, instead of always being on the outside, AIDS activists were inside and recognized, by Anthony Fauci and other officials, as important allies to get funding and action. Not only did we understand the inside/outside strategies, but our allies on the inside did too.

Why is it important to remember them now 25 years later?

It important to remember and recognize the activists and the work they did and the fact that we did change the world. Just as with any great social movement and what was achieved, it is hard to remember what it was like before that change. It is hard to go back to that period without it hurting inside. But it is critical that we remember our history — that we have had a hand in creating many of the things about AIDS [currently] at work. We attacked and eliminated a large part of the stigma of AIDS; we changed the medical system forever; we changed the doctor/patient relationship from patronizing to equivalent in many other areas of treatment; we changed how drugs are researched, developed and approved. Without ACT UP we would have been at least ten, maybe twenty years behind where we are in treatment options. That is why it is important to remember the Micheal Wrights, the Jesse Dobsons, the Terry Suttons, and many many others — woman and men, black, brown, white, Asian, rich, poor, young and old, who died fighting.

What did the protests accomplish?

It set the stage for a different world. Here, from the end of my original article:

“This year, however, science and politics meshed. Throughout the conference, PWAs [people with AIDS] and activists were an integral part of panels and plenaries, explaining how more attractive clinical trials will enhance recruitment and obtain real-world data, noting that unless health care and treatments are available to all, entire societies are in danger of collapse. Dr. Johnathan Mann, former president of the WHO’s AIDS program, says, ‘The deficiencies of our health care and social system have been so starkly and painfully revealed that the pre-AIDS paradigm of public health… has been found to be desperately inadequate and therefore fatally obsolete.’

“AIDS cannot be stopped by laws, and it cannot be stopped by science, but it can be prevented by behavior change, and to change that people must have the power to alter their lives. Mann says to fight against AIDS it has become necessary to fight for human rights and social justice. Without such rights, the disease goes underground and spreads. ‘The discovery of the inextricable linkage between human rights and AIDS, and more broadly, between human rights and health, will rank among the major discoveries and advances in the history of health and society,’ asserts Mann. ‘The historian of the future will see that we have had the privilege of participating in the creation of new worlds of thought and action — a revolution based on the right to health.'”

Do we still need AIDS activism today and if so why? What issues remain?

I honestly don’t know about AIDS activism at this point. Yes, activism is necessary, but AIDS is no longer a single issue, if it ever was.

Any anecdote or event you found particularly inspiring?

The most inspiring thing from that conferences was being part of the crew of delegates and researchers and activists who streamed out of Moscone Center into the Gay Pride parade. It was a moment of solidarity and joy in the midst of disaster that I will forever remember. Yes, we are united, and yes maybe — just maybe — we will survive this plague if we stick to it together.


Comforting Thoughts book cover oblong 100 JPGComing Out Atheist Bendingwhy are you atheists so angryGreta Christina is author of four books: Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do with God, Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why, Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless, and Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More.

“There was such a terrible sense of urgency”: Guest Post on AIDS Activism by Ingrid Nelson and Liz Highleyman

ACT UPThere are some amazing events happening in San Francisco this weekend, commemorating important events in the early AIDS activist movement (specifically, the 25th anniversary of the 6th International AIDS Conference in San Francisco, and ACT UP’s week of protests). This is important and fascinating history, well worth knowing and remembering. If you’re interested in queer history or the history of street activism, and you’re in the San Francisco Bay Area this weekend, I urge you attend at least some of these events if you can.

There’s a great article in the Bay Area Reporter by Liz Highleyman about ACT UP, 6th International AIDS Conference protests, the history of AIDS activism, and the reasons behind this weekend’s commemorative events. (A full calendar of the weekend’s events is in the article.) She interviewed my wife, Ingrid Nelson, a nurse practitioner specializing in HIV — but as is almost always the case with reporting, only a small portion of the interview was quoted. Liz and Ingrid have given permission to quote the interview here in full.

Liz Highleyman: Why were these events so important at the time?

Ingrid Nelson: Because people were desperate for scientific information. There was no Internet! These were the early days of patients learning to be their own advocates. They wanted to find out what drugs were being studied, what clinical trials they might qualify for. And they wanted input into where the research should be focused in the first place. There was such a terrible sense of urgency, and so little access to information. It was a terrifying time.

Why is it important to remember them now 25 years later?

It would be such a shame if all this history were lost. Our community was so traumatized, and I think it’s too painful for a lot of survivors to talk about now. People lost their lovers. Multiple times. They lost entire circles of friends. And many were estranged from their families of origin. It was like a war, except it was invisible to the rest of society. I think those of us who are still here, who are able to, feel a sense of obligation to speak up about it. We want people now to learn from what we accomplished, and also from our mistakes. And we are passionate about honoring and remembering our fallen comrades.

What did the protests accomplish?

We did get passes into the conference for people with HIV and AIDS. Many conference attendees — medical providers and scientists — stood up and publicly joined their voices with the activists, during Peter Staley’s speech. Research protocols became more open, and parallel tracking speeded things along. We got tons of news coverage that was very much on message. We brought issues of race, immigration, poverty, and sexism into the discussion. And huge numbers of queers from the community showed up and got arrested for their first time, and became lifelong activists starting with that week.

Do we still need AIDS activism today and if so why? What issues remain?

silence equals death posterWe didn’t have the word “intersectionality” back then, but that’s what the ACT UP/SF philosophy was all about. It wasn’t enough to just demand “drugs into bodies,” like the treatment activists used to say. You had to ask “whose bodies?” One of our fears was that AIDS might become a two-tiered epidemic, and that’s exactly what is happening now. We have effective treatments, but we don’t have equal access. If you have HIV but you are poor, or a person of color, or trans, or a woman, or a youth, or in prison, or mentally ill, or a drug user, or an immigrant, or homeless, or a sex worker, or live in an isolated rural area or a resource-limited country, you are more likely to get sick and die. There is still tremendous stigma and shame and invisibility. People have this idea that HIV is a problem that has been fixed. We need to shatter that myth. We need to educate the public about the “cascade of care,” and realize that the biggest gap is in retention of patients in primary HIV care.

Any anecdote or event you found particularly inspiring?

There are so many. The INS protest was amazing. The PISD caucus going over the barricades was such powerful symbolism. Seeing so many men getting arrested at the women’s demo was extremely important and meant a lot to me personally as a member of the ACT UP Women’s Caucus. I also loved the red paper chains that the women wrapped around themselves — that was a wonderful visual. Peter Staley’s speech from the podium was huge, and possibly the first time a person with HIV had spoken from the main stage. I remember Peter asking the con attendees to stand up and chant with us, and a lot of them did. I remember him saying (not exact words, but close) “someday, people will talk about how there used to be a terrible disease. But there were some very brave people who fought back.” I will never forget shouting down Louis Sullivan. Our feelings about that were complicated — we believed in free speech, and we didn’t like the idea of a group of mostly white people shouting down a black man. But we talked through all that, and we ultimately decided that the federal government’s inaction was so grotesque, and so criminal in the face of so much suffering and death, that in this case it was justified. That symbolizes so much about how we all felt then — that we were literally fighting for our lives, and that therefore all bets were off and the old rules didn’t necessarily apply. Drastic action, as long as it was nonviolent, was absolutely called for and was entirely appropriate.

I also remember when the con was over, and we all marched to Market Street and essentially crashed the Pride parade. We always refused to get any type of permits for our protests — it was against our principles, and we made no exception for Pride. We didn’t know exactly what the crowd’s reaction would be — there were some people in the LGBT community who disagreed with our tactics. But that march felt like our own ticker tape parade. We got nothing but cheers and thumbs up the whole way. I remember turning and saying to someone marching next to me, “it’s such a lie that this community hates us.” We did our usual routine of “dying in” at regular intervals, and drawing chalk outlines around each other’s bodies. It’s one of my most vivid and proud memories of those times.


Comforting Thoughts book cover oblong 100 JPGComing Out Atheist Bendingwhy are you atheists so angryGreta Christina is author of four books: Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do with God, Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why, Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless, and Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More.

7 Things People Who Say They’re ‘Fiscally Conservative But Socially Liberal’ Don’t Understand

money closeup

Social and economic issues are deeply intertwined.

“Well, I’m conservative, but I’m not one of those racist, homophobic, dripping-with-hate Tea Party bigots! I’m pro-choice! I’m pro-same-sex-marriage! I’m not a racist! I just want lower taxes, and smaller government, and less government regulation of business. I’m fiscally conservative, and socially liberal.”

How many liberals and progressives have heard this? It’s ridiculously common. Hell, even David Koch of the Koch brothers has said, “I’m a conservative on economic matters and I’m a social liberal.”

And it’s wrong. W-R-O-N-G Wrong.

You can’t separate fiscal issues from social issues. They’re deeply intertwined. They affect each other. Economic issues often are social issues. And conservative fiscal policies do enormous social harm. That’s true even for the mildest, most generous version of “fiscal conservatism” — low taxes, small government, reduced regulation, a free market. These policies perpetuate human rights abuses. They make life harder for people who already have hard lives. Even if the people supporting these policies don’t intend this, the policies are racist, sexist, classist (obviously), ableist, homophobic, transphobic, and otherwise socially retrograde. In many ways, they do more harm than so-called “social policies” that are supposedly separate from economic ones. Here are seven reasons that “fiscally conservative, socially liberal” is nonsense.

*****

Thus begins my latest piece for AlterNet, 7 Things People Who Say They’re ‘Fiscally Conservative But Socially Liberal’ Don’t Understand. To read more, read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!


Comforting Thoughts book cover oblong 100 JPGComing Out Atheist Bendingwhy are you atheists so angryGreta Christina is author of four books: Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do with God, Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why, Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless, and Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More.

To Block Or Not To Block: A Social Justice Question

Please note: This post has a different comment policy from the usual one. That policy is at the end of the post.

hand on keyboardI have a question for all you other Social Justice Warriors out there. When people say racist, sexist, classist, ableist, homophobic, transphobic, etc. crap in our online spaces — should we block them? Or should we engage with them, and try to educate them?

Let me narrow that down somewhat. I’m not talking about when people say crap that’s aimed at us, at a marginalized group we’re part of. I’m talking about when people say crap about another marginalized group. I’m talking about what white people should do when people say racist crap; what men should do when people say sexist crap; what cis people should do when people say transphobic crap; etc. I’m talking about how to ally.

I’ve seen very good cases made on both sides of this question. I’ve read very good pieces by African Americans saying, “Please block the assholes saying racist shit in your Facebook page already, why on Earth are you tolerating that?” (Alas, I can’t find the pieces I read saying this — I really need to learn to bookmark this stuff. Links in comments would be appreciated.) And I’ve read very good pieces by African Americans saying, “Don’t just block these folks. That’s the easy way out. We don’t have access to these people, you do, we can’t educate them — so as painful and difficult as it is, it’s up to you to do that.” (Here’s one example of this, the one that keeps getting cited when this topic comes up.)

It’s one thing when people demand, “Educate me!” — and then ignore, derail, move the goalposts, argue without listening, repeatedly ask questions they could get answered with ten seconds of Googling, and generally show bad faith and a complete lack of interest in being educated. I’m not talking about when willfully ignorant fools demand, “Educate me!” I’m talking about when people I’m working to ally with point to those fools and say, “Educate them!”

Please note: I’m not asking whether I have the right to block people. I know I do. I’m not talking about what I have the right to do. I’m talking about what’s the right thing to do. I’m finding myself somewhat stymied, and I want to hear from people I respect.

Here’s the conundrum I’m experiencing. [Read more…]

A Few Quick Notes About Blocking, Muting, Unfriending, and Banning

I’ve said things like this many times in different venues, but I’ve never put it together here in a single place I can link to — so I’m doing that now.

Ahem.

If you don’t respect my basic right to moderate my own online spaces — don’t bother to comment in any of them.

If you think I’m obligated to listen to anyone say whatever they want, for as long as they want to talk to me — don’t bother to comment.

If you think free speech means people have the right to force me to listen to whatever they want to say, whenever they want, for as long as they want, in whatever space they want, in as ugly a manner as they want, and that I’m obligated to listen, forever — don’t bother to comment.

If you think blocking, muting, unfriending, or banning people in my online spaces means I hate free speech, am not interested in constructive dialog, and am only interested in listening to an echo chamber — don’t bother to comment.

I love arguing. I’ve been arguing online for years, and I’ve been following other people’s online arguments for years. And I know when arguments are going nowhere — and I know the arguments that signal, “I’m not actually listening to you or thinking about what you’re saying.” My time on Earth is limited, and you do not have a right to that time. I will decide for myself who I do and don’t want to engage with. I will decide for myself which conversations are worth my time, and which ones are not.

And this trope of “You are a terrible person if you block or ban or mute people” is one of the most common forms of Internet harassment — especially for women. It’s extra insidious because, to people who aren’t clued in to the reality of being a feminist woman on the Internet, it can sound very reasonable. The mere fact of having boundaries, the mere fact of making decisions about who we are and aren’t willing to engage with, gets us framed as close-minded, non-skeptical, censorious, fascist bitches. When it’s aimed at women, this “How dare you block or ban or mute!” trope basically means, “You have no right to have boundaries. It is your job to listen, patiently and politely, for as long as people want to talk. Men have the floor, and women are the audience. You are a woman, and that means you’re a public commodity, and you have to give access to yourself to anyone who wants it. Quit whining, and engage with every asshole who wants to engage with you.”

Don’t do that. If you want to engage with me, understand that I have the right to leave that engagement at any time. If you want to engage with me in my space, understand that I am not obligated to give that space to you. You have that right, too. You can opt out of conversations with me at any time. You can stop following me on Twitter or Facebook; you can stop reading my blog; you can block me or mute me or unfriend me or unfollow me. And of course, you have the right to say what you want in your own spaces. But if you can’t accept that I have a right to walk away from conversations, don’t start a conversation with me. Thanks.


Comforting Thoughts book cover oblong 100 JPGComing Out Atheist Bendingwhy are you atheists so angryGreta Christina is author of four books: Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do with God, Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why, Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless, and Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More.

The Pros and Cons of Caring Deeply About Other People’s Suffering

This piece was originally published in The Humanist.

The Pros and Cons of Caring Deeply About Other People’s Suffering

Minuses:

Symbol_thumbs_down.svgYou get to suffer. When you care deeply about other people’s suffering, you suffer too. Not as much as they do, generally, but you still suffer. You feel a small piece of what it feels like to be homeless, to be a suicidal gay teenager, to be sexually assaulted, to be beaten for being transgender, to have your teenage son shot for the crime of existing while black.

You don’t get to go for the big bucks. Unsurprisingly, there’s not a lot of money in caring about other people’s suffering. Unless you’re very, very lucky (like if you write a song about other people’s suffering that goes to Number One), the best you’ll probably do financially is to be reasonably comfortable. And even if you do get lucky, you’ll probably turn around and plow a good chunk of your good fortune into alleviating the suffering you care about.

You get to waste a lot of time. You get to spend a lot of time trying to persuade other people that the suffering right in front of their faces is real; that the people who are suffering shouldn’t be blamed for it; that working to alleviate suffering isn’t futile. (When I was writing about misogyny recently, and was asking people to say something about it, I saw people seriously argue that speaking out against misogyny was a waste of time, and that nobody’s mind would ever be changed by it.) This isn’t a waste of time, in the sense that it often is effective, and it does amplify the work you’re doing and get other hands on deck. But it’s a waste of time in the sense that it’s valuable time spent arguing for what should be obvious. It’s valuable time that all of you could have spent just doing the damn work.

And when you’re persuading people that suffering is real and that they should give a damn, you get to feel just a little bit guilty about it. As you’re desperately trying to pry open other people’s eyes, you get to feel just a little bit bad about the life of suffering you’re exposing them to.

You get to feel guilty. You get to worry about whether you’re doing it right, whether you should be working on something different, whether you could do better. You get to feel vividly conscious of the ways that you, yourself, contribute to other people’s suffering: buying products made by exploited labor, banking with banks that exploit the poor, driving cars that spew greenhouse gas. Every time you don’t take action, every time you don’t help, every time you don’t donate money or don’t volunteer time or don’t hit “Share” or “Retweet” on the fundraising letter, you get to feel bad about it. And every time you do donate or volunteer or spread the word, you get to worry about whether you could have done it better, or whether you could have done more.

You get to feel helpless. A lot. Once you open yourself up to other people’s suffering, you quickly become aware of just how much of it there is, and how little you personally can do about it. You get to feel overwhelmed. You get to be vividly aware of the fact that no matter what you do, no matter how much you work and sacrifice, at the end of your life there will still be a massive amount of suffering in the world. I sometimes think the helplessness is worse than the guilt, that the guilt is a defense mechanism against the helplessness. Feeling like you could have prevented suffering gives you a sense of control, makes you feel like you can prevent it in the future. As crappy as it is to feel like you could have done something and didn’t, I think it’s sometimes harder to feel like there’s nothing you could have done.

And you never, ever, ever get a break. You never really get a vacation; you never get to retire. When you do go on vacation, you think about the lives of the people who clean your hotel rooms and wait on your tables. You leave generous tips, and feel how inadequate that is. It’s like the red pill in The Matrix: once you’ve swallowed it, you can’t un-swallow it. Once you know, really know, about other people’s suffering, you can’t un-know it. You have to care about it, and feel it, and feel guilty about not doing enough about it, and feel helpless over how little you can do about it — for the rest of your life.


Symbol_thumbs_up.svgPlusses:

You get to have a life that matters. [Read more…]

“A riot is the language of the unheard”: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

“it is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the negro poor has worsened over the last twelve or fifteen years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.”

-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., March 14, 1968

Right now, I don’t have anything else to add to that.

(Oh, except this: My fuse on this one on is extremely short. I will not be tolerating bullshit that shows more concern about tranquility and the status quo than it does about justice and humanity.)

Dealing with Death in an Unjust World

This piece was originally published in The Humanist.

(Content note: racist, transphobic, and misogynist violence.)

In the face of unjust death — what can humanists say and do?

Comforting Thoughts book cover oblong 200 JPGI have a new book out: Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do with God, a short collection of essays offering secular ways to handle your own mortality and the death of those you love. (It’s out in ebook and audiobook: a print edition is coming later.) In it, I talk about some humanist ways of coping with death, philosophies that might provide some consolation and meaning — including the idea that death is a natural part of the physical universe, that mortality makes us treasure our lives, that we were all astronomically lucky to have been born at all, that religious views of death are only comforting if you don’t think about them carefully, and more.

But when Michael Brown was killed, and when his body was left in the street for over four hours, and when a grand jury decided that the questions about his death didn’t even warrant a jury trial and declined to indict his killer on even the most minor charges — I found myself with very little to say.

Of course I had plenty to say about racist policing, about prosecutors deliberately tanking cases, about how over 99 percent of grand juries indict but less than five percent will do it to a cop. (Although mostly what I’ve had to say about that has been, “Go read these pieces by black writers, they know a lot more about this than I do.”) But when it came to any consolations humanism might have for people grieving this death and the injustice surrounding it, I’ve been coming up largely empty.

So in the face of unjust death — what can humanists say and do?

If the person you’re grieving was one of the black people killed by police in the United States — one every four days? If they were one of the transgender people murdered around the world — one every two days? If they were one of the women killed by their husbands or boyfriends in the United States — more than four every day? I’m not going to respond with, “Well, death is a natural part of cause and effect in the physical universe, and mortality makes our lives more precious, and religious views of death aren’t all that comforting anyway.” I can’t imagine being that callous. Yes, death is a natural and necessary part of life — but being murdered sure as hell isn’t.

So in the face of death caused by human brutality, callousness, and injustice — what can humanists say?

I don’t think there’s any one answer. But in the face of unjust death, one of the few useful things anyone can say is, “What can I do to help?”

That’s true even in the face of natural death, death that isn’t caused by people revealing the ugliest faces of humanity. People who are grieving — humanists and others — often say that the last thing they want is unsolicited philosophizing apparently aimed at making their grief instantly disappear. If grieving people ask us for philosophies and perspectives and insights, by all means we should share them. If they don’t, what they most often want to hear is some version of “I’m so sorry,” “This sucks,” and, “How can I help?”

black lives matterBut in the face of unjust death, those phrases have very different meanings. “Cancer sucks” means something very different than “Police brutality sucks.” (If you don’t believe me, try making both statements on Facebook.) “I’m sorry your friend was killed in a car accident” means something very different than “I’m sorry your friend was beaten to death for being transgender.” As for offering help: When your friend’s father has died of a stroke, you might help by bringing food, cleaning the house, listening to them talk for as long as they need to. When someone’s child has been murdered, and their murder was aided and abetted by a grossly unjust social and political system that’s now ignoring the murder at best and blaming the victim at worst — you might help by speaking out against the racism, or misogyny, or transphobia, or whatever form of hatred it was that contributed to the death, and by working to combat it.

In the face of unjust death, the personal becomes political. And that includes the very personal statements we make in the face of grief, the statements of “I’m so sorry,” “This sucks,” and, “How can I help?” Expressing compassion for an unjust death, speaking out against it, and working to stop the injustice — these shouldn’t be acts of social defiance, but all too often they are.

I do think there are a handful of humanist philosophies that might speak, at least a little bit, to unjust death. The idea that being dead is no different than not having been born yet, so being dead doesn’t involve any pain or suffering — this is an idea that many grieving non-believers find comforting, regardless of how their loved ones died. What’s more, many former believers found their beliefs deeply upsetting when they were coping with ugly or unjust deaths: they contorted themselves into angry, guilty knots trying to figure out why God let this death happen or made it happen, and they were profoundly relieved to let go of the notion that “everything happens for a reason.’ And I think almost anyone, humanist or otherwise, might be consoled by the thought that people who have died are still alive in our memories, and in the ways they changed us and the world.

But in the face of unjust death, sometimes the most comforting thing we can do is to not try to give comfort. Sometimes, the most comforting thing we can say is, “This absolutely should not have happened. There is nothing anybody can say or do that will make it okay. It is not okay, and it should not be okay. What can I do to help keep it from ever happening again?”


Comforting Thoughts book cover oblong 100 JPGComing Out Atheist Bendingwhy are you atheists so angryGreta Christina is author of four books: Comforting Thoughts About Death That Have Nothing to Do with God, Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why, Why Are You Atheists So Angry? 99 Things That Piss Off the Godless, and Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More.

Two Atheist Movements — And the One I Want to Be Part Of

There’s this thing I’ve been noticing.

lane split road sign.svgIt seems that increasingly, we have two atheist movements. I’m seeing national atheist organizations, local atheist communities, individual atheist organizers and activists and voices and participants, increasingly sorting ourselves into two different movements.

There are the ones who care about social justice; the ones who want to make organized atheism more welcoming to a wider variety of people; the ones who want their atheist communities to do a better job replacing the very real services that many marginalized people get from their religions; the ones who want their atheist communities to work in alliance and solidarity with other social change movements. (Or, to be more accurate — the ones who care enough to take real action.)

And there are the ones who don’t care, who aren’t interested in connecting their atheism to social justice — or don’t care enough to take significant action. They’re the ones who would be perfectly happy to have more women or black people or other marginalized folks at their events, but don’t care about it enough to examine why their events aren’t diverse, to listen to criticism about it, to accept some responsibility for it, or to change what they do. In some cases, they’re the ones who don’t want to connect their atheist activism with social justice — and don’t want anyone else to do it, either, to the point where they’re actively working to poison any efforts in that direction.*

Yes, this is an oversimplification, as almost any analysis saying “you can sort all X’s into two categories” will be. There’s non-trivial slippage between the two movements, and there are people and organizations (such as the atheist support organizations) who, for legitimate reasons, are trying to keep a hand in both. It might be more accurate to say that there are at least two atheist movements. But there are definitely these two: the ones who care about social justice, and the ones who don’t, or who don’t care all that much.

And I want to put my time and energy into building the first one. [Read more…]