Refugees, and One of the Great Shames of U.S. History

Passengers board the SS St. Louis. —US Holocaust Memorial Museum, gift of Anne Marx

Passengers board the SS St. Louis. —US Holocaust Memorial Museum, gift of Anne Marx

In July 1938, when polled on their attitudes toward allowing German, Austrian & other political refugees to come into the US, two-thirds of Americans said we should try to keep them out. Another 18% said it would be okay to accept them, but only if it didn’t mean raising our immigration quotas. Less than five percent said we should encourage them to come.

In January 1939, when asked if the US government should permit 10,000 mostly Jewish refugee children to come in from Germany, over 60% of Americans polled said, “No.”

In February 1939, a Congressional bill that would have admitted 20,000 German Jewish children above the existing immigration quota died in committee.

In May 1939, the St. Louis, a transatlantic liner with 937 passengers — almost all Jews fleeing from the Third Reich — was turned away by the United States.

Fears were raised that the Jewish refugees were politically dangerous — Communists, anarchists, potential German agents. There were economic fears about an influx of refugees in the wake of the Depression. And, of course, the very anti-Semitism the refugees were fleeing was fueling the American hostility against them.

This is one of the greatest shames in U.S. history.

Let’s not repeat it.

There are already people rushing to explain why these situations are not the same. There are already people rushing to insist that the Syrian refugees are part of ISIS or Al-Qaeda (“the Jewish refugees are dangerous anarchists and communists!”); that the Syrian refugees won’t be able to assimilate because they have low IQs (seriously?); that the two situations can’t be compared because reasons, or no reason given at all. Of course the situations aren’t identical: no two situations are. But they are damn well similar enough that we should be paying attention.

The Syrian refugees are not ISIS. The Syrian refugees are fleeing from ISIS, and from conditions created by ISIS. Let’s not repeat one of the most shameful mistakes in our history. Let’s not have to explain to our grandchildren why, in one of the greatest humanitarian crises faced by our generation, we let fear and willful ignorance overcome compassion.

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.

#mencallmethings: “hideous,” “ugly,” “cunt”

Content note: misogyny

On Twitter:

Screen Shot 2015-11-15 at 5.51.01 PM

Screen Shot 2015-11-15 at 5.51.13 PM



#Mizzou event at #skepticon was just a PR event for white videographer. Totally inappropriate and fucked-up use of platform. [For those who weren’t following it, this was in reference to this incident, for which Skepticon has apologized.]

Asshole on Twitter:

Man, this is one stupid feminist-because-she’s-ugly cunt!

It’s almost magical how women named “Greta” are invariably hideous!

#mencallmethings, Intersectional Edition! It’s weird how speaking about racism got me hit with misogynist slurs and hate-trolled about being an ugly feminist. No, actually, it’s not weird. It’s entirely predictable.

Also, can I just say: hate-trolling about my name? That is deeply weird, so irrelevant as to be incoherent. It’s like saying, “It’s almost magical how women born in Chicago are invariably hideous,” or “It’s almost magical how women with mild asthma are invariably hideous.”

[Read more…]

It Isn’t Like That/Happy Tenth Anniversary, Ingrid

walking down the aisleIngrid and I were married ten years ago today, on November 12, 2005. Of course, we were also married in February of 2004, and in June of 2008… It’s one of the things about being a same-sex married couple in the early 21st century: because of the changing laws about same-sex marriage, a lot of us had a lot of weddings. But the one on November 12, 2005 is the one we tend to think of as our “real” wedding. It didn’t have any legal standing whatsoever — it was technically a “commitment ceremony,” our friend Rebecca officiated, and at the end, she said, “By the power vested in me by Ingrid and Greta…” But it was the one where we wrote our own vows; the one with the big party with our families and friends; the one with the dresses and the flowers and the dancing and the cake; the one with the invitations and programs and bouquets designed by our friends; the one with the music played by our friends; the one with the parents making toasts, the siblings and best friends making speeches and singing songs. It’s the one that wasn’t snatched in haste at City Hall, wondering if and when it was going to be taken away from us, squeezing ourselves into a window that we knew could be closing again any day. November 12, 2005 is the wedding we made for ourselves.

I still do, sweetie. Happy anniversary.

I wrote this piece before the wedding, and we put it into our wedding program. I’m reprinting it here today.

It Isn’t Like That
by Greta Christina

“My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun…”
-William Shakespeare, Sonnet 130

She is not the sun and the moon and the stars, and she is definitely not my sole reason for living. I wake up in the morning and go to sleep at night for many reasons, of which her existence is only one. She is not all I can think about; I spend time thinking about work, and friends, and what to have for dinner, without too terribly much trouble. I don’t feel the earth move or the sky fall, although I do feel a bit like I’ve been conked on the head by a giant vaudeville rubber mallet. I can talk to other people when she’s around, and I can keep my hands off her if I have to. I don’t feel that every minute spent without her is wasted, and there is at least some sunshine when she’s gone. I do not believe we were destined to meet, or that my life would be empty, or hollow, or even incomplete, without her. And her eyes, while large and lovely and the color of the ocean on a dark day, are, in fact, nothing like the sun, except in that they are big and round and bright. It isn’t like that.

It’s just that I grin and giggle and blush when I think of her, and sulk when she’s far away. It’s just that I feel a cold terrified rage at the thought that anyone, myself included, might hurt her. It’s just that I feel brave when I’m with her; not brave enough to slay dragons, but brave enough to feel what I feel and say what’s on my mind, which for me is plenty brave. It’s just that she knows what I mean, and I know what she means; not always, not as if we were soul-sisters or psychically linked, but enough, and much more than enough. It’s just that so many of the things that are good about her are things that are good about myself, things I would be happy to have grow stronger from being in her presence. It’s just that there isn’t anyone else, not even gorgeous movie stars, that I’d rather have in my bed. It’s just that a part of me that is hard and cool and distant, a part I rely on but don’t much care for, turns into oatmeal when I think about her. It’s just that I feel that my life is not entirely in my own hands, and, rather uncharacteristically, am not feeling that this is a problem. It’s just that she’s smart and funny and thoughtful and cheerful and playful and good and sexy and beautiful, and it feels like a miracle — not a huge miracle, just a small one — that she seems to see me the same way.

I like it this way better. Much.

Living in Interesting Times, and Letting Go of Sixties Envy

Yesterday, journalist Shaun King posted this on Facebook:

Listen, I need you to understand what I’m about to say. This is what I taught the students at Morehouse last week.

2015 is not what we thought it was. The deadliest hate crime against Black folk in the past 75 years happened THIS YEAR in Charleston.

More unarmed Black folk have been killed by police THIS YEAR than were lynched in any year since 1923.

Never, in the history of modern America, have we seen Black students in elementary, middle, and high school handcuffed and assaulted by police IN SCHOOL like we have seen this year.

Black students, who pay tuition are leaving the University of Missouri campus right now because of active death threats against their lives.

If you EVER wondered who you would be or what you would do if you lived during the Civil Rights Movement, stop. You are living in that time, RIGHT NOW.

There’s a particular piece of this that jumped out at me: “If you EVER wondered who you would be or what you would do if you lived during the Civil Rights Movement, stop. You are living in that time, RIGHT NOW.”

This is something I’ve been thinking about, A LOT.

electric kool-aid acid test coverWhen I was younger, I used to have a lot of Sixties envy. I was born in 1961, so I was a little kid in the Sixties, a pre-teen and teenager in the Seventies. And I used to have a lot of Sixties envy. When I was younger, I saw the Sixties as colorful and adventurous and exciting; when I was somewhat older, I saw them as a time of great political change, a time when you could really make a difference. And I envied people who’d gotten to be part of it. For years, I passionately wished that I’d been an adult, or even a teenager, in the Sixties.

In recent years, I have been letting go of that.

I’ve been looking at the deep polarization in this country; the rabid, bigoted, willfully-ignorant hatred of the Tea Party; the “We don’t care, we don’t have to” government serving its rich cronies and treating its citizens like children or criminals; the filthy rich turning the planet into a wasteland and treating anyone who tries to stop them like children or criminals; the pointless and apparently endless wars overseas; the grotesque hostility to black people, poor people, LGBT people, immigrants, women, for saying they want to be treated with basic human decency; the rapidly-changing attitudes about gender, race, family, drugs, sex, religion; the people who are terrified of that change and are responding to that fear with hatred.

And I’ve been realizing: Oh. This must have been what the Sixties were like.

1968 Democratic National ConventionI grew up in Chicago, and in the summer of 1968, my family went on a long camping trip. All I knew at the time was, “Camping trip! Rocky Mountains! Grizzly bears! Dinosaur National Park!” It wasn’t until years later that my parents told me the reason for that camping trip: my folks were beatnik hippie lefties, and Chicago in the summer of 1968 was a really fucking scary place to be, and they wanted to take the kids and get the hell out of Dodge.

I get that now.

I do not, in fact, want to get the hell out of Dodge. (Except temporarily, for an occasional breather.) I get that the saying “May you live in interesting times” is, in fact, both a curse and a blessing.* I do feel weirdly privileged to be living in interesting times. I feel weirdly privileged to be part of all this, to be part of social change movements that will be shaping the world for decades to come.

But yes. Shaun King is right. I have sometimes wondered who I would be or what I would do if I lived during the Civil Rights Movement; the Women’s Liberation movement; the early gay rights movement; the early ecology movement; the peace movement. And we are living in that time, RIGHT NOW.

I hope I’m doing okay. It’s really fucking hard.

*(It’s not an ancient Chinese saying, by the way.)

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 I Would Have Thought Would Be an Obvious Observation About Social Media

women on computer by #WOCinTech Chat 200Not everyone uses social media the same way.

I would have thought this was obvious. But it seems not to be. So here comes the measured rant.

There’s this pattern I’ve been seeing for a while. I keep seeing people pay intense, microscopically-close attention to other people’s behavior on social media. I don’t mean “things people say on social media”: I mean their behavior. Who are they friends with? Who are they not friends with? Who did they un-friend or un-follow or block? What posts did they like or share or re-Tweet? What posts did they not like or share or re-Tweet? A lot of people pay intense, microscopically-close attention to this social media behavior — and then tie it in with a micro-analysis of the thoughts and feelings and intentions that supposedly lie behind it. People make assumptions about shifting alliances, secretly-held opinions, behind-the-scenes machinations — based entirely on this friending and unfriending, this blocking and un-blocking, these likes and dislikes. I’ve started calling it “reading the Facebook tea leaves.”

So I’m going to say this again:

Not everyone uses social media the same way.

guy-with-laptopSome people use social media more for their personal lives, to stay connected with friends and family. Some people use it more professionally, to promote their work or do research or maintain professional connections. Some people have a couple hundred friends, or fewer, mostly or entirely their actual friends. Some people have hundreds or thousands of “friends”: their actual friends, plus colleagues, neighbors, friends of friends of friends, people they met at a party or a conference that one time, people they friended because they made a funny comment on someone else’s page, pretty much anyone who sends a friend request.

Some people “like” pretty much everything they see on their feed. Some people “like” only things they feel strong agreement or affinity with. Some people “like” posts to express agreement or support. Some people “like” posts to keep track of the thread, so they’ll get notifications when new comments appear. Some people share or re-Tweet only when they agree with something. Some people share or re-Tweet to increase the visibility of ugly opinions they think people are ignoring or denying.

Some people unfriend or block because the blockee expresses opinions they find deeply objectionable or upsetting. Some people unfriend or block because the blockee keeps posting things they find upsetting, regardless of whether they agree (e.g., “Yes, I agree about animal cruelty, but I don’t need to keep seeing gruesome graphic pictures of it in my feed”). Some people unfriend or block because the blockee posts extensively about things they’re just not interested in: politics, religion, atheism, folk dancing, kids, gossip and news about people the blocker doesn’t know, pictures of food. Some people unfriend because they’re trying to keep their Facebook feed manageable, and are culling it down to people they know well. Some people unfriend because they’re stepping away from a profession or hobby or political movement. Some people continue to follow or be “friends” with people they have serious problems with, because they want to keep an eye on what they’re saying, or because they want to tag them when they criticize them. Some people friend or unfriend, follow or un-follow, block or un-block, like or don’t like, because they hit the wrong damn key and didn’t notice.

Not everyone uses social media the same way.

woman on computer by #WOCinTech ChatSo it’s a really, REALLY bad idea to make assumptions about people’s thoughts and feelings and intentions, their shifting alliances and secretly-held opinions and behind-the-scenes machinations, based solely on what they like or don’t like on social media, who they are and aren’t “friends” with, who they do and don’t “follow.”

Plus, there’s often an inconsistency to this micro-analysis. I’ve seen people passionately defend the right to block or unfriend or unfollow anyone you want, for any reason — and then turn around and get outraged because someone has blocked them, or has blocked other people they think shouldn’t have been blocked. It’s like that joke about “I am confident, you are cocky, they are arrogant”: “I am curating my Internet experience; you are creating an echo chamber; they are fascist censors who are stifling free speech.”

Again, I’m not talking about the things people actually say on social media. The words that come out of people’s mouths and fingers are, I think, a pretty reasonable guide to at least some of their thoughts and feelings and intentions. But when it comes to the other ways people use social media — liking and friending and following and blocking and the rest of it — can we please quit using it to decipher hidden meanings? Can we please quit trying to read the tea leaves? They’re a crappy news source, about as reliable as the National Enquirer. And trying to read them just adds more misinformation, more paranoia, more general noise, to an Internet that seriously doesn’t need any more.

(Images 1 and 3 by #WOCinTech Chat‘s page of free stock photos of women of color in tech.)

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.

More Atheist Leaders Who Aren’t Dawkins or Harris: Jeffrey L. Falick

In June, I wrote a piece for AlterNet, titled 8 Awesome Atheist Leaders Who Aren’t Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris. The gist: When a media outlet decides that atheism is important, they all too often turn to Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris. Then, when Dawkins or Harris puts their foot in their mouth about race or gender — again — the reporter cries out, “Atheism needs better leadership! Why doesn’t atheism have better leaders?” Atheism does have better leaders — so I profiled eight of them, to bring just a small fragment of the range and variety of atheist leadership to more people’s attention.

At the end of that piece, I wrote, “And these eight are the tip of the iceberg… I could write a new profile of a different atheist leader every week, and still be at it ten years from now.”

So I decided: Why not do that?

I don’t know if I’ll do it for ten years. But for at least a while, once a week I’ll be profiling and interviewing a different leader in organized atheism.

This week’s profile: Jeffrey L. Falick.

GC: Tell me briefly what your organization does and what you do for them. (If you’re in a leadership position with more than one atheist organization, feel free to tell me about more than one.)

Jeffrey Falick 200JF: My professional leadership position is to serve as the Secular Humanistic rabbi of the Birmingham Temple Congregation for Humanistic Judaism in Michigan. (The name “Birmingham Temple” is an historic holdover from the days when it was a more conventional liberal Jewish synagogue.)

Humanistic Judaism — which began in my community — combines an adherence to the philosophy of Secular Humanism with a celebration of Jewish culture. We are basically secular Jews who choose to adapt the forms and functions of Jewish customs in ways that serve our needs as non-theists. This is no “theist-lite” brand of Judaism. I am an outspoken atheist. Rather, it is a way to enjoy our cultural heritage in a manner that conforms to our commitment to Secular Humanistic principles. Whatever cannot conform or adapt does not survive!

My day-to-day functions are pretty similar to many members of the “clergy” (a word I don’t use) but without the dogma, doctrines, authoritarianism or loyalty to tradition that characterize everything that they do. So while the functions are similar, the mindset is completely different. The best comparison might be to the (sadly diminishing) UU Humanistic clergy. I visit the sick, I provide Humanistic resources for people in crisis, I lead Humanistic life cycle ceremonies, I teach (about Humanism and the historical and contemporary Jewish experience), and I coordinate speakers and cultural programs. I also serve as a kind of liaison to the greater Humanistic community.

In addition to my professional position, I’m also on the executive committee of our North American body, the Society for Humanistic Judaism, and active in the American Humanist Association. I am president and co-founder of the local AHA chapter, Humanists of Southeast Michigan.

Tell me about a specific project or projects your organization is working on.

Because this is a thriving congregation of Secular Humanists, there are always a dozen or more things happening here. One of my biggest projects has been to open our doors to the larger non-theistic community. We are fortunate to have a building and there are simply not very many Humanistic spaces like ours in the world. We now host the local Sunday Assembly, frequent programs of the Center for Inquiry and the Humanists of Southeast Michigan, just to name a few.

The Humanists of Southeast Michigan is a very new group that has really taken off. We have thirty members and we have just decided that our biggest project going forward is to support women’s reproductive rights. We have a huge problem in our state with Catholic hospitals taking over formerly secular ones and imposing their religious restrictions, mainly on women. And, of course, we want to do everything we can to support Planned Parenthood during their current crisis.

Where would you like to see organized atheism go in the next 10 to 20 years?
What do you think are the main challenges facing organized atheism now?

I’m not really sure how I feel about “movement atheism.” On one hand, I think it’s fantastic to see all of us getting together at a Reason Rally and in other venues. But then I read or listen to some public atheists and I’m appalled at the ways that they think. Something that really surprised me when I “came out” as an atheist is the misogyny and backward thinking about race. On the other hand, I do believe that the vast majority of us agree on probably 95% of the really important issues even if we have different “styles.” In that sense I support the notion of “movement atheism.”

Jeffrey Falick at rallyI think one of our greatest challenges is to provide enough variety so that we have something to offer non-theists with different needs. Those who love the good things that religion had to offer – community, celebration, ties to heritage – can have their Sunday Assemblies, UU Humanistic fellowships, Ethical Culture groups and Secular Humanistic synagogues. Those seeking other forms of organized community – political activism, recovery from religion, atheist advocacy – need to be able to find something for themselves, too. And we all need to cooperate. In the largest sense we are one community even if we have many subdivisions.

I am convinced that atheism will one day become the default position in our society. I know that this will not happen in ten to twenty years, but we are moving slowly in that direction. The atheist organizers of today are pioneers. The more outlets that we create for living outside of a theistic framework, the better we will be prepared to welcome the atheists of the future!

Do you consider yourself a “new atheist”? Why or why not?

I’m just a regular atheist with a commitment to a life of reason and compassion. My preferred “label” is Secular Humanist (I capitalize these words to draw attention to their legitimacy parallel to the ways that religions capitalize their titles).

I tend to think of the “new atheists” as a group of writers more than anything else. I agree with some of what they write and I disagree with some of it too. It depends on the writer and the topic! I think the most gratifying part of the “new atheist” movement (if it is one) is the visibility that it provided. It’s terribly important for a put-upon group to have people brave enough to point the way to others seeking to leave their closets. When I was a conventional rabbi I lived in an “atheist” closet. For professional and personal reasons I was frightened to admit to myself that I was, indeed, an atheist. Some of their books helped to nudge me out.

Any questions you wish I’d asked, or anything else you’d like to add?

One of the things that I love about being out as an atheist and conducting my life as a Secular Humanistic is that my beliefs are entirely consistent with my behavior. This plays out in really interesting ways in my professional life, too.

Just this past week I met with a member of my community who is coming out as a bisexual. He and his wife are trying to negotiate how to have an ethical open relationship.

After we talked, I reflected on how it would have gone if I were still a conventional rabbi, committed to traditional values. I could not possibly have helped him to think through the ethical dimensions of this change in his relationship because I would have been antagonistic to the very idea.

But today, as a Secular Humanist, tradition has no claim on my values. This is liberating. It enabled me to openly embrace this couple’s journey, to lend a willing ear and to refer him to some resources to explore the ethical way to take that journey. Even the most progressive of conventional theistic rabbis can’t do this. They remain loyal to a tradition that idealizes monogamy.

This is an incredible gift of Secular Humanism and one that I would never have experienced had I not embraced my atheism.

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.

Godless Perverts Holiday Benefit Party for St. James Infirmary – Please Support!

Godless Perverts Holiday Fun Time 2015

Godless Perverts is hosting a fundraiser party for St. James Infirmary, the health clinic for sex workers in San Francisco — and we need your help to make it happen!

Every year, Godless Perverts hosts a Holiday Fun Time party, with festive food and drink, door prizes, atheist holiday songs, ridiculously adorable icebreaker games, and more. (This year’s party will be on Saturday, December 12, at Borderlands Cafe.)

This year, we’re turning the party into a fundraiser for St. James Infirmary. St. James is a unique healthcare resource, even in San Francisco. Founded by and for sex workers, they provide free, compassionate and nonjudgmental healthcare and social services for current and former sex workers of all genders and sexual orientations. Like so many San Francisco non-profits, they are being forced to move after losing their lease. They need to find a new site by the end of the year.

Godless Perverts wholeheartedly supports St. James Infirmary — and we want to put our money where our mouth is. So this year’s Holiday Fun Time is a fundraiser. All donations collected at the party will go directly to St. James Infirmary. We’re aiming to make it a barn-burner that raises a heap o’ cash!

But we need your help. We need to cover the expenses of throwing the party: renting the space, printing songbooks, acquiring door prizes, providing food and beverage (the party’s a potluck, but we need to offer something to our early arrivals!). So we’re doing a crowdfunding campaign on GoFundMe.

We’ve estimated that our total costs will be $700. If we raise more than that, or if the party expenses are less than that, any extra funds will go to St. James Infirmary. (If the party expenses are more than that, we will suck it up and pay out of our pockets — we will not spend more than $700 of your donations on party expenses.)

Please help make this happen! Even small amounts help — if you can only donate $5 or $10 or $20, it really does add up. Your donations will help us throw an awesome party that brings in a bucket of cash for St. James Infirmary. Let’s do this! Please support the event, and spread the word!

(You can also donate directly to St. James Infirmary.)

Sexual Ethics in “Steven Universe”

Spoiler alert: This post contains mild Steven Universe spoilers. I’m mostly avoiding more specific spoilers, although I’m fine with spoilers in the comments.

garnet amethyst fusion

So Ingrid and I have been binge-watching/ obsessing over the animated TV show “Steven Universe.” And I noticed something the other day that I wanted to share.

I was thinking about “fusion” (a process by which the Gems, magical superheroes, fuse together into a larger, more powerful being). Let’s assume that fusion is some kind of metaphor for sex. It’s not much of a leap (although I don’t think sex is the only thing fusion is supposed to be referencing).

So in the “Steven Universe” universe, what are the ethics about fusion?

Fusing with more than one person is fine. Fusing with more than one person at a time is fine. Sometimes people get jealous — or envious, I guess might be more accurate — if other people are fusing and they wanted to be in on it. But there’s never any suggestion that there’s anything wrong with having more than one person that you fuse with.

It isn’t, however, right to be dishonest about fusion: to fuse under false pretenses, or in any way to deceive someone into fusing.

It isn’t right to fuse with no concern for the consequences.

And it’s seriously, profoundly not right to force fusion on anyone.


Godless Perverts Social Club — Game Night! Tuesday November 3


This month, we’re trying something different: Godless Perverts is having a game night! As regular attendees of the Godless Perverts Social Club may have noticed, Wicked Grounds (San Francisco’s legendary kink cafe) has a huge stash of games including chess and checkers, Cards Against Humanity, Scrabble, Fluxx, Gloom, Slash, and much, much more. Feel free to bring your own games if you’re not sure that Wicked Grounds has a copy of your favorite.

(Note: If you decide to play Cards Against Humanity, please be cautious; it can be a really hard game between people who don’t know each other and aren’t familiar with each others’ limits and triggers.)

We meet at Wicked Grounds, 289 8th Street in San Francisco (at Folsom, near Civic Center BART), 7-9pm. It’s free, although we ask that you buy food and/or drink at the cafe if you can. All orientations, genders, and kinks (or lack thereof) are welcome. Community is one of the reasons we started Godless Perverts. There are few enough places to land when you decide that you’re an atheist; far fewer if you’re also LGBT, queer, kinky, poly, trans, or are just interested in sexuality. And the sex-positive/ alt-sex/ whatever- you- want- to- call- it community isn’t always the most welcoming place for non-believers. So please join us! We meet in San Francisco at Wicked Grounds on the first Tuesday of every month: we also meet on the third Thursday of every month in Oakland, at Telegraph Beer Garden.

Godless Perverts presents and promotes a positive view of sexuality without religion, by and for sex-positive atheists, agnostics, humanists, and other non-believers, through performance events, panel discussions, social gatherings, media productions, and other appropriate outlets. Our events and media productions present depictions, explorations, and celebrations of godless sexualities — including positive, traumatic, and complex experiences — focusing on the intersections of sexuality with atheism, materialism, skepticism, and science, as well as critical, questioning, mocking, or blasphemous views of sex and religion.

Godless Perverts is committed to feminism, diversity, inclusivity, and social justice. We seek to create safe and welcoming environments for all non-believers and believing allies who are respectful of the mission, and are committed to taking positive action to achieve this. Hope to see you there!

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 Brown Crayon: A Lesson In Racism, Literally Taught By a Teacher at School

eight crayons 200So I was in first grade. How old is that? Six? Seven? Our classroom activity for the hour was coloring in coloring books: I have no idea what the purpose was, if any sort of teaching was intended or if we were just being kept busy. But we’d been given coloring books with pictures of children doing wholesome activities of everyday life, brushing their teeth and riding bikes and whatnot. And we’d been given standard sets of first-grade crayons, fat crayons in eight colors. Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, brown, and black.

So I looked at these crayons, thought about which color to use for the faces and bodies, and settled on brown. Of the eight, that was the color that most looked to me like an actual human skin color. I briefly considered yellow — it was closest to my own skin color, and I’d also heard “yellow” used to describe people of Asian descent, usually when People Of All Races in late-Sixties folk songs were being referred to as white, black, red, yellow, and brown. But I looked at the yellow crayon, with its bright canary color — and nobody I knew, of Asian descent or any other, had skin anything like that. So brown it was.

I didn’t really think about it that carefully. My thought process as I’m describing it here makes it seem a lot more thought-out than it was. It was a quick, almost reflexive decision — more like, “Hm. People. Eight colors. Yellow? (Quick scan of abovementioned reasons.) No. Brown? Sure.” It was a quick decision — and to me, it was an obvious one. To be honest, if we’d had a bigger crayon selection with the color troublingly labelled “flesh,” I probably would have picked that, or another color that looked like me. But we didn’t. We had the eight colors — and of those, brown was the one that looked like people. The school I went to was pretty racially mixed, the neighborhood I lived in and had lived my whole life in was pretty racially mixed, and I really didn’t give it much thought. I wasn’t working to advance the cause of black visibility or anything; I wasn’t an early Social Justice Warrior. I was just a literal-minded six or seven year old, in 1967 or 1968, coloring pictures of people to look like my friends and neighbors.

So we handed in our coloring books, or the teacher collected them, I don’t remember. A little while later, the teacher came over to me, with this concerned look on her face. And she asked, “Greta — why did you make all the people in your coloring book black?”

And when I say concerned, I mean CONCERNED. This was not a casual question. This wasn’t the teacher talking to lots of different students about their coloring books; this wasn’t asked in the casual context of a general discussion of the coloring books, like, “So let’s talk about how you decided how to color your books. Why did you make the flowers purple? Why did you make the house yellow? Why did you make the people brown?” No. This was not that. The teacher very deliberately came over to me, personally — only to me, as far as I could tell — and asked why I’d made all the people in my coloring book black. And she was worried. Kids can tell. I could tell. She wasn’t angry or scolding or anything like that. She was just seriously worried. This was a red flag to her, a sign that Something Was Wrong.

I want to emphasize again: This was a racially-mixed school, in a racially-mixed neighborhood. And it was a fairly liberal school and neighborhood. So this was weird to me. Looking at it now, I’m sure I’d gotten thousands of unconscious racist messages from my family — but consciously, they were good 60’s and 70’s liberals, politically active about lots of things including racism, and with lots of friends of lots of different races. I’m sure I got thousands of unconscious racist messages from my family. But this was the first time I can remember seeing white anxiety about black people so explicitly spelled out.

And it freaked me the fuck out.

I answered my teacher honestly. I explained about the eight colors, and how brown was the one that looked most like people. She accepted the answer — or at least, she dropped the issue. But I could tell she wasn’t satisfied. I could tell she was still concerned.

inside out fear disgust sadness angerUnderstand, I was a very good kid — “good” in this case meaning “smart, good at school, trusting of teachers and parents and other authority figures, and anxious about pleasing them.” Very, very anxious about pleasing them. So this worried me. Had I done something wrong? Was there something wrong with me? At the same time, I knew something was wrong — not with me, but with her, with this conversation. So this stuck with me. I chewed it over, and chewed it over, and chewed it over. If I’d been Riley in “Inside Out,” this would have been a memory bubble dropping straight into the Core Memory file, a memory swirling with a mix of colors: purple for fear, green for disgust, red for anger, and blue for sadness. But I didn’t have the language to explain it at the time.

I have that language now. Let me spell it out.

I was being taught that there was something weird and scary about not making “white” the default race.

This was not a subtle, unconscious thing; this was not a glance, a gesture, a decision to cross the street or clutch the purse tighter. I was being overtly taught — by a teacher, in my school, during class time, in the context of a class assignment — that there was something weird and scary about not making “white” the default.

I was being taught, by a teacher, in school, that there was something weird and scary about seeing pictures of people brushing their teeth, riding bikes, engaging in wholesome activities of everyday life, and not automatically seeing them as white, and doing whatever I could do with my limited eight-color crayon box to make them white. I was being taught, by a teacher, in school, that there was something weird and scary about seeing pictures of people, engaging in wholesome activities of everyday life, and seeing them as black.

I was being taught, by a teacher, in school, that there was something weird and scary about seeing my black and brown classmates, teachers, neighbors, friends, as people.

I’m sure other people have much uglier stories of being taught much nastier forms of racism in school, much more blatantly, by much more bigoted teachers. (Exhibit A: the black teenager who was recently assaulted and arrested by a cop in her classroom for breaking school rules.) Actually, that’s a big part of the point.

Given everything I know about my grade school, I doubt highly that my teacher thought of herself as racist. To this day, I don’t know what she was worried about — or rather, what she told herself she was worried about. I don’t know if there’s some troubling thing teachers are taught to look for if kids draw pictures of kids who don’t look like them, or if in her mind it was just garden-variety conformity policing, This Is Weird And Different So I’d Better Check It Out. I doubt highly that she thought of herself as racist. But I know what I heard in her voice, what I saw in her face. What I heard in her voice, what I saw in her face, was, “This white child filled her coloring book with pictures of black people. When this white child thinks of people, she thinks of black people. Crap. Something must be wrong.”

I know this lesson hasn’t gone away. I know that the thousands of lessons like it haven’t gone away; I know that all the work I’ve put into unlearning these lessons are only a partial success, that this will be an ongoing adult education project for the rest of my life. I know that it took years of education, years of seeing it pointed out again and again, to notice when movies and TV shows have all-white casts, to notice when the only black characters are servants, criminals, athletes, and entertainers. I know that it took years of education to understand that black people being harassed and beaten and killed by police are not isolated incidents; that for black people in the U.S., brutally racist police forces are an ordinary experience of everyday life. I know that I still have the reflex, learned at a very young age, to clutch my purse when I pass a youngish black person on the street; I know that I have to consciously make myself not do this. When I think about that teacher’s lesson, and the thousands of lessons like it, I still have the swirly ball of emotion — but with less fear than I had at six or seven, and with more disgust, more sadness, more anger.

brown crayonI’m also grateful for the other lessons. I’m grateful that I had the degree of consciousness that I did have, even at age six or seven, to notice in this conversation that something was wrong. I’m grateful to everyone in my young life, to everyone in my school and my neighborhood and my family, even to my fucked-up parents, who all taught me, by word and deed, not even that black lives matter, but that black people exist, and are people. I’m grateful to everyone in my young life who taught me to look at a box of eight crayons, and see that the brown crayon looked like people.

But I still have the swirly ball of emotion, the fear and disgust, the anger and sadness, at the fact that still, to this day, this is a lesson that needs to be taught.

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.