Caitlyn Jenner, and a Brief Rant on Second Wave Feminists Policing Women’s Bodies

No. No, no, no, no, no, no, no.

I am so very sick of feminists insisting that every other woman do womaning the same way they do.

caitlyn jenner vanity fair coverTo Ellen Goodman at the Boston Globe, and to Elinor Burkett at the New York Times, and to all the second-wave feminists taking it on themselves to tel Caitlyn Jenner how to be a woman:

Do you really not understand that your experience, as a woman who’s been seen as a woman her entire life, is radically different from the experience of a woman who is finally, after decades of suppression, expressing her femaleness in way that she chooses?

Do you also not understand that trans women are in a nasty double bind? If they present in a traditionally feminine manner, they get told that they’re a caricature of femaleness, or that their gender presentation isn’t sufficiently feminist. If they don’t present in a traditionally feminine manner, their trans identity is called into question.

And to Goodman in particular: why on earth does it matter what “most women” are thinking about at age 65? isn’t the point here that every women gets to decide for herself what it means to be a woman, and how she wants to experience and express that? Caitlyn Jenner is not telling you how to be a 65 year old woman. Why are you telling her — and by extension, any other trans women who might be reading this — the right way to be a woman?

I did not become a feminist to listen to women policing other women’s bodies. Whatever happened to “Our bodies, our right to decide”?


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.

“What a good thing it is”: Guest Post by Marsha Botzer for SSA Week

SSA Week logo

This is a guest post by Marsha Botzer for SSA Week.

What a good thing it is to be involved with the Secular Student Alliance!

I’ve been an out and proud Atheist since I was a young adult and went through a lonely summer of doubt, confusion, and intellectual struggle, emerging as many of us do with a firm realization that all religions are created by people, and most often as systems of control rather than systems of comfort.

These days I spend most of my time working for social justice issues, with a focus on LGBTQ, especially Trans* and Gender Non-conforming concerns. So far it has been a great life, one that I did not expect and was not prepared for by my family, school or first work, but one I truly love. What changes we have made! We have gone – in some areas of the world at least – from the days of simple survival as a trans person to today when trans people are leading organizations and taking on strong roles in politics and social change.

When I first heard transitions were possible and that I wasn’t alone in my feelings about self and gender it was a time of surprise and hope. Like a lot of LGBTQ people early on I had the fear I might be the only one or one of a few having such different feelings and thoughts. Very much like coming out Atheist, actually.

That time for me was during the 1968 Workers and Students uprising in Paris. Among all the turmoil and struggle I met some great people who were leading actions, creating change and art, and we had many conversations. During one night of talk I heard someone say they knew of a person who made a gender change! Later, as I traveled I met another activist who also knew of someone else who’d transitioned. The knowledge I wasn’t alone made a difference, and I came back home with real hope of finding help.

There was no help – at least none I could access our use. I spent a lot of time trying to find people, but “they just did not know what to do” in the best cases, and “don’t contact me again” in many other cases. Again, I see this can be a lot like coming to understand our secular selves within systems that have other ideas: in one world they only allow ridged ways for gender to be expressed, and in another there is only a very limited option for how you should think about the universe. Neither of these ways worked for me.

What happened is that I finally realized what I knew all along: If it isn’t there we must make it ourselves. That is, we must bring together others who are asking such questions and learn from one another and make the changes we need to make. I began to put the word out for others, not for already existing systems, and that led to founding Ingersoll Gender Center. Ingersoll, named after Robert Green Ingersoll, has been serving the Trans* and Gender Non-Conforming Community, our families and friends, for over 35 years.

And here is Secular Students Alliance doing something similar! Creating a way and a place for people to pursue their true selves and their real understandings. As I speak about gender issues with other organizations these days I often mention secularism and freethought as valuable allies in creating safe and healthy spaces for people to discover all parts of themselves. And people respond! I see so many opportunities for our groups to work together, so many people who are excited about including both our areas into their work, and who want to help LGBTQ and Secular organizations.

I say: Why shouldn’t we – LGBTQ and Secular – be a primary core around which other groups can gather? Once Labor joined together different progressive groups in the United States, now Labor has been weakened. Where is a core for all to gather around today? Why not us?!

There are already good people at work on these ideas, the amazing Greta Christina for example. Let’s build on this work. What better way to spend your heartbeats than in building a better world, a freer world?

This week is Secular Students Week, when we are all celebrating the fantastic work the SSA is doing to empower students. Their goal is to get 500 donations this week, and if they do they will receive a $20,000 challenge grant! Help them keep up their amazing work by giving this week.

Thanks to everyone involved in Secular Students Alliance. I am proud to join you in your work. Like Robert Ingersoll said: “The Time to be Happy is Now”, and together we can make this so!

Marsha Botzer


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.

“It was through the Secular Student Alliance that I found a voice”: Guest Post by Rukia Brooks for SSA Week

SSA Week logo

This is a guest post by Rukia Brooks for SSA Week.

I did not have any intention of joining the Secular Student Alliance. I knew nothing about it, and I scoffed at the idea of secular activism. I didn’t really consider it to align with my progressive values, because I thought of secular activism as a means of looking down in a very condescending manner towards those who had the misfortune of being indoctrinated.

I came across the Secular Student Alliance while I was attending a meeting of progressive groups on campus while trying to be more involved with our Gay Student Alliance on campus. I didn’t have such a luxury at my High School, so it intrigued me as I was slowly coming out as a trans woman in my daily life. I felt it was a necessary resource to have, but sadly the Gay Student Alliance was not the most welcoming and seemed to ignore most of the needs of their trans student members. The hostess of the event was rather excited, and sported a t-shirt with the flying spaghetti monster on it. I shrugged, thinking nothing of it, but then she started talking to my roommate and me. Though she was a little loud, her excitement and joy were infectious. I really felt like she was probably the sweetest person ever, and soon introduced myself, albeit very nervously.

I started attending the Secular Student Alliance every Tuesday at seven PM, introducing myself as Zachary Bridges and feeling terrified of people. Everyone was really kind and a bit socially awkward. Kelley Freeman is an alumna of the University of South Carolina, and when I met her she was the president of the Secular Student Alliance. Kelley ran two major organizations at our school: Forward, the Progressive Student Alliance, and our Secular Student Alliance chapter. I came out to Kelley through Facebook because I felt at home with the Secular Student Alliance, even after such a short period of time. It wasn’t just a group of atheists talking about atheism, but a group of people who happened to be atheists talking about the world and how we can make it a better place. The SSA showed a love and understanding for humanity that truly inspired me to want to join the national organization and to start being more open about myself there.

It was through the Secular Student Alliance that I found a voice, had the chance to be myself, and found that a part of myself–my identity as an atheist, something I had kept secret due to fear of ridicule or bullying–could be used as a common ground to meet others who shared similar desires of a world free from ideology. It is through this organization that I have developed the majority of my friendships and found the courage to speak out as an atheist, a trans woman, a feminist, and other identities that I previously kept hidden about myself. I developed life-long friendships and learned how to discuss and engage in activism,, which I hadn’t realized I could do.

Being a part of the national organization has allowed me to engage in the national secular movement and in public speaking. The first opportunity I had to speak was through my own Secular Student Alliance chapter, where I spoke on trans identity and the Bible. I have since lead several talks on feminism,game development, secularism, and other topics. The Secular Student Alliance cares for students without trying to impose an ideology on them, but rather with a concern for their lives and values. I want to thank Lyz Liddell, Gordon Maples, Cara Zelaya, and Kelley Freeman for being absolutely amazing and wonderful.

I am telling you all of this because it is Secular Students Week, a time for us to highlight the amazing work students like me are able to do with the SSA’s help! In fact, if the SSA gets 500 donations now through June 17th, they will unlock a $20,000 challenge grant! A gift of $5, $10, or $20 will go a long way towards helping them reach this goal and empower secular students: give today!


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.

A Quick Note About Feminism and Transgender People

Transgender symbolGeneral principle: My feminism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit. (Not original with me: this phrase was coined by Flavia Dzodan.)

Specific application: My feminist gender theory will include the lived experience of transgender people’s lives, or it will be bullshit.

If my feminist gender theory doesn’t include the lived experience of transgender people’s lives, it will be bullshit for (at least) two reasons. It will be bullshit because it will be shitty thinking and shitty science. Theory is supposed to explain reality: the whole freaking point of gender theory is to explain the reality of gender as it plays out in people’s lives, and if I have to reject the reality of trans people’s lives to hang on to my theory, it’s a crap-ass theory that should die in a fire.

And more to the point: It will be bullshit because trans lives matter, and trans people’s lives and experiences are more important than my goddamn theory.

I’m just sayin’, is all.


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 Is No Atheist Movement”: Why I’m Officially Done With Dictionary Atheism

“There is no atheist movement.” “Atheism isn’t a movement.” “Look at the definition — all ‘atheist’ means is ‘person who doesn’t believe in any gods’! We don’t have anything else in common! How can you build a movement around that?”

When I write about organized atheism, I get this response a fair amount. I saw it most recently on Twitter, where @davidgaliel wrote, “I think ‘atheist movement’ is about as meaningful as ‘non-chess-player movement’ — but I’m mentioning that particular instance just to give an example, not to single it out. I see this idea a lot. I used to argue with it. I am done arguing with it. Whenever I see it in the future, I’m just going to link to this piece.

Let’s make an analogy. Let’s talk about the gay rights movement.*

LGBT pride flagTechnically, the only thing gay men and lesbians and bisexuals all have in common is that we’re attracted to people of the same gender. And yet, we’ve built a movement. We’ve built organizations that push back against the discrimination and bigotry we all share. We’ve built organizations to amplify our voices, knowing that these are all too easily drowned out. We’ve built organizations to preserve our history, knowing that this is all too easily destroyed and lost. We’ve built organizations to educate straight people about who we are, and to counter the myths and fears and misinformation about us. We’ve built networks to educate each other: about job discrimination laws, about anti-gay violence, about coming-out techniques, about safer sex, about hundreds of other issues that affect us. We’ve built support structures and supportive communities to replace the ones that we’d lost. Etc., etc., etc. — I could go on for a whole lot longer.

No, not every one of these issue concerns every single one of us. But enough of them affect enough of us that we’ve been able to organize. No, we don’t all agree on the best way to reach our goals, or even what our goals should be. Having a movement doesn’t mean marching in lockstep. It doesn’t mean every single one of us agrees on every single thing, or indeed on anything at all (other than “people of the same gender sure are hot!”). It means enough of us agree about enough things, enough of us share enough of the same goals, enough of us share enough common experiences — so we’ve been able to organize.

Technically, the only thing gay men and lesbians and bisexuals all have in common is that we’re attracted to people of the same gender. And if we’d decided that we couldn’t build a movement around that, we’d be in the crapper. Forget about same-sex marriage and employment non-discrimination — we’d still be getting put in mental hospitals, getting our bars shut down by the police, getting arrested for just looking too gay. We haven’t just built a movement — we’ve built an extremely powerful movement, one that radically improved our lives and has had a significant impact on society at large.

Now. Translate, please, to atheists.

Is there any reason LGB people can organize, but atheists can’t? Is there some reason that “same-gender attraction” can be an effective locus for community and political organizing — but “not believing in gods” can’t be?

Foundation Beyond Belief logoYes, Virginia, there is an atheist movement. It’s a flatly ridiculous denial of reality to say that there isn’t one, or that there can’t be one. There’s the Foundation Beyond Belief. The Secular Student Alliance. The American Humanist Association. The Freedom From Religion Foundation. American Atheists. Atheist Alliance International. Black Non-Believers. Hispanic American Freethinkers. Secular Woman. The United Coalition of Reason. Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain. Ex-Muslims of North America. Grief Beyond Belief. Recovering From Religion. Filipino Freethinkers. Sunday Assembly. Atheist Foundation of Australia. Kasese United Humanist Association. Pakistani Atheists and Agnostics. The Secular Therapist Project. The Clergy Project. Godless Perverts. The Center for Inquiry. The many local chapters of Center for Inquiry. 1,075 (as of this writing) atheist groups on Meetup. Many many many many more. And none of that includes atheist organizing and community-building online: Atheist Nexus, ExChristian.net, Skepchick, the Patheos Atheist channel, Freethought Blogs, many many more.

If you want to see a much longer but by no means comprehensive list, with links and everything, take a look at the Resource Guide from my book Coming Out Atheist: How to Do It, How to Help Each Other, and Why (I’ve posted it online). Plus there are national conferences, international conferences, regional conferences, backchannel discussion groups, informal networks of colleagues and friends — all so that the people in these organizations and networks and groups can talk together: to strategize, to share information and experience, to commiserate, to celebrate, to offer and give support, to just enjoy each others’ company.

What the heck is all that if not an atheist movement? [Read 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…]

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…]

What’s the Harm in Courting Conservatives? A Letter to American Atheists

American Atheists logoWhat’s the harm in courting conservative atheists? What’s the harm in American Atheists going to CPAC (the Conservative Political Action Conference) to promote their organization and recruit members, or otherwise work to recruit conservatives?

I want to talk about a few incidents that happened earlier this month, at the American Atheists convention in Memphis. I’ll explain why they’re relevant in a moment.

* I was sitting in the hotel bar, talking with a friend and colleague who’s African-American. A man, white, sat down with us, joined the conversation — and in about five minutes, he started telling us, entirely unsolicited and out of the blue, about a time he went to a Halloween party in blackface. He defended this at some length — in the face of my friend clearly being appalled and uncomfortable, in the face of my own obviously appalled expression, and in the face of me explaining that this was seriously not okay and why.* He said that that since black performers wear whiteface, white people should be able to wear blackface, it’s totally the same thing, and besides it’s not like he was dressed as someone from a minstrel show, he was dressed as a specific black person (Michael Vick), so it was okay.

I’ll say that again: Blackface. A white guy sat down with a black colleague and me, and out of nowhere, said that he’s done blackface, and explained why he thinks it was fine and why criticism of it is unfair.

It turned out, by the way, that more than one person had already talked with him about this — including my friend, who had explained to him in the past how and why many African-Americans find blackface dehumanizing and degrading. Despite that, he still thought blackface was okay — and he still thought it was okay to casually mention it at a convention social event, with someone he had never before met, and with an African-American person who had already told him it wasn’t okay. To be fair, he quasi-apologized when he left, saying he was sorry he had upset me, and acknowledging that it was “a touchy subject.” He still, apparently, remained oblivious to the notion that since this is a “touchy” subject, perhaps he ought instead to choose one of the 85,000,000,000 other possible Halloween costumes available to him, and perhaps he ought not to casually mention it at a public social event with one person who’s the subject of this “touchiness” and another person he’s just met. He also apparently remained oblivious to the fact that I wasn’t the one he should apologize to.

(BTW, if you don’t understand why white people wearing blackface is profoundly messed-up, or why black people doing whiteface is not the same as white people doing blackface, read this, and this, and this and
this and this, and this, and this, and this. If you still don’t understand, piss off.)

* Moving on to some other incidents: Heina Dadabhoy — blogger on this network, and writer/ speaker on (among other things) their experiences as a Muslim and an ex-Muslim — had more than one person come up to them at the conference and explain what being a Muslim means and what Islam is. (And yes — these folks did this knowing that Heina’s an ex-Muslim.) This included one man who told Heina that true Islam was all about conquest, and that if Heina had never believed this, they hadn’t been a true Muslim. He did this, ironically, after the workshop Heina co-hosted on intersectionality.

wedding-cake* The keynote speaker at the convention, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, said in her keynote speech that “If you are gay the worst the Christian community can do in America is not serve you cake.” Either she was appallingly ignorant of the reality of many gay Americans’ lives — a reality that includes bullying, violence, losing jobs and homes and children, parents kicking gay teenagers out of their homes, vitriolic hatred, and more — or she knew about it, and was still willing to lie about it to score rhetorical points.

* Rebecca Hensler, founder and co-moderator of Grief Beyond Belief, got into a Twitter argument with Pro-Life Humanists representative Kristine Kruszelnicki, who was tableing at the convention. (Yes, the Pro-Life Humanists had a table at the convention. It’s hard to imagine that American Atheists would give space in their exhibit hall to an organization called Humanists for Jim Crow, or Humanists Against Gay Rights. But an organization dedicated to the eradication of the bodily autonomy of anyone with a working uterus — they were given a table.) When Hensler questioned how Kruszelnicki could claim “common ground” with Vyckie Garrison — a mother of seven, formerly in the Quiverfull movement, now an atheist activist and winner of American Atheists’ 2014 Atheist of the Year award — and at the same time collaborate with the movement backing crisis pregnancy centers, Kruszelnicki replied that the crisis pregnancy centers are, quote, “far from perfect,” but that they “work w them to help improve them.”

crisis pregancy center callout via exposingfakeclinics tumblr(Crisis pregnancy centers, for those who don’t know, are fake clinics run by anti-choice organizations, supposedly offering free pregnancy tests but really targeting pregnant women with grotesque misinformation and abusively traumatic propaganda, not only about abortion but about birth control, safer sex, rape, and sex generally. Calling them “far from perfect” is like calling Pat Robertson “not entirely rational.”)

* Heina Dadabhoy told someone at the convention that the more credible threats to their personal safety come from within their own community — feminist-hating atheists in the US — rather than from random Muslims overseas. He then said that he, himself, was an anti-feminist — but it was okay, he would personally protect Heina from other anti-feminists who wanted to physically harm them.

How is all this relevant to American Atheists, and the issue of courting conservative atheists?

Here’s why it’s relevant:

Courting conservative atheists is saying, “Incidents like this are fine with us.”

Actually, it’s worse than that. Courting conservative atheists is saying, “Incidents like this are fine with us — and it’s fine with us if they happen more often, in ways that are even uglier.” [Read more…]

Radical

(Content note: mentions of racism, rape denialism, domestic violence, homophobia. Also some use of mental illness language used as insult in quoted passage.)

I’ve been thinking about the word “radical.”

Lore Sjöberg recently posted this on Facebook (reprinted here with permission, not linked to by his request):

Here’s a thought experiment I’ve been mulling over. Say I was transported back in time to the 1950s. I’m surrounded by a culture that contains all the sexism and racism on display in Mad Men, and more on top of that.

I would be surrounded by repulsive things, ranging from cartoons about buck-toothed “Chinamen,” ads making jokes about smacking the little lady if she gets out of hand, rolled eyes at any implication that a woman could be raped by her husband, and the cultural certainty that gay people are, at best, just plain crazy.

How could I live with this? If I speak up about a tenth of the terrible things I saw, I’ll be seen as a bizarre radical if not an outright loon. Even if I become an activist, I’ll probably be the activist that everyone points at to say “Well, at least I’m not as extreme as HE is!”

(And all of this is not even addressing the question of what it would be like to actually BE a woman, or a person of color, or a gay man in that era.)

All of this is to say that sometimes I feel like I’m already in the Fifties. One of the complaints leveled against feminists, and feminist women in particular, is that they see sexism everywhere and they make a big deal out of things that everyone, even most women, think is just fine.

Well, yeah! There IS sexism everywhere, and a lot of the things that aren’t a big deal today are nonetheless sexist, just like naming a sports team “The Redskins” in 1932 was racist even if it seemed like good fun at the time. I certainly don’t agree with every statement by every progressive activist — that would be impossible anyway, progressives don’t agree on everything — but a lot of times I find myself reading about controversies and thinking “Yep, that’s radical, and it’s extremist, and it’s unreasonable. But it’s also absolutely correct and in another few decades it will be considered common sense.”

I’ve been thinking about this. And I’ve been realizing what an empty, lazy insult it is to call someone, or someone’s ideas, radical.

Rules_for_Radicals coverLore is absolutely right. Many ideas that were once seen as radical, and not that long ago either, have survived vigorous criticism and the test of time, and are now entirely mainstream. It was once considered radical to see black people as fully human, deserving of all the dignity and liberty and rights as any human. It was once considered radical to think that gay people weren’t morally corrupt or mentally ill, and to see same-sex love and sex and relationships as even remotely acceptable. (In fact, I remember seeing an archival TV interview with a gay activist in the late ’60s or early ’70s, who said that of course gay people weren’t advocating for marriage or adoption rights — that was ridiculous.) Until the 1970s, it was legal in the United States for husbands to rape their wives, and it took until 1993 for marital rape to be a crime in all 50 states. I could come up with a long list of many more examples, right off the top of my head. (Suggestions for others are invited in the comments.)

All these ideas were considered radical — until they weren’t.

In other words: An idea can be radical, and still be right.

In other other words: Insulting an idea (or a person) simply because they’re radical is an empty insult, devoid of any actual critical content. [Read more…]