No, Virginia, There Is No Santa Claus

Recapping this for the holiday season. For those who aren’t familiar with the famous essay, “Yes, Virginia, There Is A Santa Claus” which this piece is satirizing/ commenting on/ replying to, here’s the original, published in 1897. Enjoy!

santa claus 1“Dear Editor: I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, ‘If you see it in The Sun it’s so.’ Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?”

-Virginia O’Hanlon

Virginia, your little friends are right. There is no Santa Claus. It’s a story made up by your parents.

Your friends have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except when they see. And good for them. Skepticism is healthy. It keeps us from being duped by liars and scam artists and people who want to control and manipulate us. More importantly: Skepticism helps us understand reality. And reality is amazing. Reality is far more important, and far more interesting, than anything we could make up about it.

Your friends understand that there is plenty about the world which is not comprehensible by their little minds. They understand that all minds, whether they be adults’ or children’s, are little. They see that in this great universe of ours, humanity is a mere insect, an ant, in our intellect, as compared with the boundless world about us. But your friends also see that the only way we can gain a better understanding of this great universe is to question, and investigate, and not believe in myths simply because they’re told to us by our parents and teachers and newspaper editorial writers.

Or maybe they don’t. Maybe they simply understand that Santa Claus does not freaking exist. [Read more…]

On Not Taking “No” For an Answer, and Why It Isn’t Jolly Good Fun

(Content note: I’m mostly not talking about sexual consent and the violation of it — but I do mention it. I also talk at greater length about alcohol abuse, food issues, social anxiety, and refusal of non-sexual consent.)

wine pour 200“Oh, come on. Have another drink. It’s a party!”

“Have another brownie. Life is short!”

“The game really isn’t that hard. I’m sure you’ll love it! I’ll pull you up a chair. Here’s how you play…”

“Come on — dance with us! Everyone’s dancing! No, really — you’ll have fun!”

There’s an idea that’s very prevalent in our culture. (Well, my culture, anyway.) It’s the idea that not taking “No” for an answer, that pressing people to do things they’ve said “No” to, is jolly good fun.

I’m not talking here about sexual consent, and pressing people to do sexual things they’ve said “No” to. I do think that can be part of this pattern: there’s a very similar idea when it comes to sex, that pressing people sexually is part of a fun cat-and-mouse game of coyness and seduction. (It can be in consensual, negotiated situations — but that’s not what I’m talking about here.) And I think that the general, non-sexual trope of pressuring people in the name of jolly fun does affect our shitty culture of sexual consent. But it isn’t what I’m talking about here.

I’m talking about general, non-sexual or not-particularly-sexual social situations. I’m talking about the idea that the key to a lively event is pressing people into having fun. I’m talking about the idea that when you invite someone to do something you think they’d enjoy, and they say “No,” the cheerful, jovial, sociable response is to brush off their objections, and persuade them to do it anyway.

And it’s an idea that needs to die in a fire.

We need to understand five things here. [Read more…]

Steven Universe Episode 5: Frybo

Steve Universe Episode 5 Frybo

Ingrid and I are watching the entire Steven Universe series for the third time, and since we’ve been spending so much talking about it the first two times, I thought I’d blog some of my observations about it. Please note: I’m not writing these Steven Universe posts as a series summary or recap. I’m just writing down some of my observations and reactions (not necessarily coherently), both to the show as a whole and to the individual episodes. These posts will probably make more sense to people who are already watching/ have already watched the show, but I hope they inspire the rest of you to check out the show, as it really is one of the richest and most emotionally intense things I’ve seen on TV. Note: This post may contain spoilers about Steven Universe: the show as a whole, and/or about Episode 5: Frybo.

This is one of the first episodes of Steven Universe that’s emotionally hard to watch.

Steven Universe often touches on how adults and children have a hard time communicating and understanding each other’s priorities. This episode gets into that theme in a more serious way: how adults can have overly high expectations of kids, can put too much pressure on kids, and can pile too much responsibility on kids too early. And it gets into how damaging it can be when fulfilling these high expectations is presented as a requirement for membership in the family.

We see this a bit in the opening scene with Steven and Pearl. When Pearl explains to Steven about the missing gem shard, she does it in a way that he can’t possibly understand or focus on. She gives him complicated explanations of the history of the missing shard, and totally buries the lead — the fact that a gem shard is missing, and that if he finds it, it should be kept away from clothing. (“Oh, geez, she’s really explaining something!”) And later, she gets angry at him for not listening — when it was her responsibility to explain it in a way he could hear.

But we mostly see this theme — and we see it at its most unsettling and heartbreaking — with Peedee.

sad Peedee in Frybo costumeIt breaks my heart when Peedee’s dad calls him Frybo (the name of the anthropomorphic French fry costume Peedee wears to advertise his dad’s fry shop) — instead of calling him Peedee. It breaks my heart when Peedee’s dad looks at his son, with his costume off, and says, “Where’s your face, Frybo?” It breaks my heart when Peedee’s dad tells him, “Being part of the Fryman family means you got to sell fries. And… be my son. Which you are. So — you’re already halfway there. Keep at it, Frybo!”

Because boy freaking howdy, do I get it.

I felt like that growing up. I felt tremendous pressure to excel in school, to be a bookish brainiac genius, and to eventually go into some academic or academic-type field. It wasn’t just that I was worried about disappointing my family. I was worried about not being considered part of the family. Academic book-smarts were very much part of the family identity, and I felt that if I wasn’t an academic bookish brainiac genius, I wouldn’t get to share that identity.

It’s the main reason I changed my name when I was in my twenties. No, Christina is not the last name I was born with. When I started writing professionally, I didn’t want to worry about how my work reflected on the family reputation (especially since I was mostly writing for a lesbian sex magazine). I wanted my writing to just be my own, and to reflect just on me. So I decided to use a pen name. Then I realized that this wasn’t just true for my writing. It was true for my life. I wanted my life to be mine. So instead of taking a pen name, I changed my name. I dropped the family name, and took my middle name as my last name. It was the right choice: I love the name Greta Christina, and feel deeply connected with it. But it was sad that that’s what I had to do to pursue a career, and a life, without worrying about how it reflected on the clan. And I still feel that pressure to this day, when I hear the voice in my head saying that any time not spent working at achieving brilliance is time wasted, or when my disabling perfectionism is getting in the way of doing things I love.

sad peedee on seahorseSo it breaks my heart when Peedee escapes the Frybo costume and excitedly says to Steven, “Let’s go be kids!” It breaks my heart when they go do fun kid things — but Peedee can’t enjoy it, because he’s still stressing about his too-old-for-him responsibilities, and about his father’s disappointment in him. It breaks my heart when Peedee is in the Frybo costume being pecked at by hungry birds, and he screams at them, “I’m not fries!” He’s screaming it at the birds — but I feel like he’s screaming it at the world.

Ingrid commentary: Ingrid also finds this episode very disturbing.

She finds PeeDee’s speech on the mechanical seahorse very compelling, and very disturbing. “You pick up a job to buy a house, or raise kids, or to — impress your dad. You work away your life, and what does it get you?… You get cash — cash that can’t buy back what the job takes. Not if you rode every seahorse in the world.” She says that he is much too jaded, much too perceptive of adult realities, at much too young an age.

Also, she finds the animated living Frybo very disturbing.

On the brighter side: She loves the bit where Steven and Pearl are talking, and Steven’s pants trot across the screen in the background. She has a soft spot for the visual joke where somebody or something is casually running in the background — especially when it’s the thing the foreground characters are talking about or looking for. (Greta again: This bit totally reminds me of the pale green pants with nobody inside ’em.)


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.

Christmas Rhapsody: My Favorite Holiday Song Parody Evar

I’m reposting some of my previous holiday posts, as part of my holiday tradition thing. Enjoy!

queen bohemian rhapsodyIs this the Yuletide?
It’s such a mystery
Will I be denied
Or will there be gifts for me?

Come down the stairs
Look under the tree and see…

And it’s time, once again, for my annual plug for my candidate for the Best Christmas Song Parody Evar: Christmas Rhapsody, Pledge Drive’s Christmas-themed parody of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” written by my friend Tim Walters and his friend Steve Rosenthal.

Alas, there’s no good video. Which is a shame, since I think this thing has potential to go seriously viral some year if there were a good video to go with it. Interested videographers should contact Tim through his Website. In the meantime — enjoy the song!

And if you like that, Tim has even more holiday music on his site. My fave: Down in the Forest, described as “A dark and slightly confused Yuletide nightmare. It has something to do with the Fisher King. Maybe.” Have fun!


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 Fun Time, Saturday Dec. 12 – A Benefit for St. James Infirmary!

Godless Perverts Holiday Fun Time 2015

Godless Perverts is throwing our annual Holiday Fun Time party! Who says that the holidays are only for the believers? Just as families don’t stop giving presents after the kids realize that Santa is a fake, the godless can have a great time during the holidays even without any gods, deities, angels, or spirits watching over them. And Godless Perverts Holiday Fun Time is just the place to do it! It’s at Borderlands Cafe this year, 870 Valencia St. near the 24th and Mission BART station — and this year, we’re making it a fundraiser for St. James Infirmary, the health clinic for sex workers in San Francisco!

We’ll have:

Festive food and drink! It’s a potluck: we’ll provide food, but we’d love to add your holiday treats to the buffet.
Adorably ridiculous icebreaker games!
Atheist holiday songs, celebrating the improper, twisted, and just plain silly!
Door prizes, including books and DVDs that are godless, pervy, or both!

And this year, Greta will be doing fraudulent Tarot readings! Well, okay, all Tarot readings are fraudulent — but she’s telling you that up front. (She used to take this seriously back in her woo days, and she’s actually really good at it.)

Blasphemous costumes, sexy costumes, awesome combinations of the above, and other festive garb are encouraged, but by no means required.

This year’s party is a benefit 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. We wholeheartedly support the organization, and we want to help them out. So all donations collected at the party will go directly to St. James Infirmary. Greta’s going to charge $2 a minute for the fraudulent Tarot readings, and all proceeds from that will also go to St. James Infirmary.

We’re asking for donations of $10-$20 at the door — but please just donate what you can, whether that’s less than $10, or more than $20. (We’re also collecting funds now to cover the costs of throwing the party — please help make it happen if you can!)

Godless Perverts Holiday Fun Time is at Borderlands Cafe this year, 870 Valencia St. in San Francisco (at 20th Street, near the 24th and Mission BART station). Saturday, December 12, 8:00 to 11:00 pm. We hope to see you there!

Seven Reasons for Atheists to Celebrate the Holidays

This piece was originally published on AlterNet. I’m reposting as part of my holiday tradition thing.

grinchIt’s often assumed that the atheist position on what is politely termed “the holiday season” is one of disregard at best, contempt and annoyance at worst. After all, the reasons for most of the standard winter holidays are supposedly religious — the birth of the Savior, eight days of miraculous light, yada yada yada. Why would atheists want anything to do with that?

But atheists’ reactions to the holidays are wildly varied. Yes, some atheists despise them: the enforced jollity, the shameless twisting of genuine human emotion to sell useless consumer crap, the tyrannical forcing of mawkish piety down everyone’s throats. (Some believers loathe the holidays for the exact same reasons.) But some of us love the holidays. We love the parties, the decorations, the smell of pine trees in people’s houses, the excuse to eat ourselves sick, the reminder that we do in fact love our family and friends. We’re cognizant of the shameless twisting and mawkish piety and whatnot — but we can deal with it. It’s worth it for an excuse to drink eggnog with our loved ones and bellow out “Angels We Have Heard On High” in half-assed four-part harmony. (In fact, when it comes to the holidays, atheists are in something of a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” position. If we scorn them, we get called Scroogy killjoys… but if we embrace them, we get called hypocrites. Oh, well. Whaddya gonna do.)

So today, I want to talk about some of the reasons that some atheists love the holidays: in hopes that believers might better understand who we are and where we’re coming from… and in hopes that a few Scroogy killjoys, atheist and otherwise, might be tempted to join the party. (If not — no big. I recognize and validate your entirely reasonable annoyance at the holidays. And besides, Scroogy killjoys are an important holiday tradition.) [Read more…]

Should Atheists Celebrate Christmas? The Social Justice Angle

Reprinting this from last year. I think it may become a holiday tradition.

why-believe-in-a-god-santa-bus-adI’ve been thinking about the question of atheists and Christmas, or other religious holidays that get secularized and folded into cultures and subcultures. And I’ve been realizing that there’s a social justice angle.

Context: Tom Flynn, executive director of the Council for Secular Humanism and editor of its flagship magazine Free Inquiry, wrote an essay and a book a few years back, arguing that no atheist should celebrate Christmas ever ever ever — yes, he uses the words “should” and “shouldn’t,” repeatedly. He’s opined about this topic many times, including comments (on Facebook and elsewhere) that atheists who do celebrate Christmas aren’t “real atheists,” are “hypocrites,” and are giving “aid and comfort to the enemy.” He doesn’t even approve of secular Solstice celebrations. He’s not alone: lots of atheists are very vocal, not only about the fact that they personally don’t celebrate Christmas, but about their disapproval of any other atheist who does. Every year around this time of year, Beth Presswood, of the Godless Bitches podcast and the Atheist Community of Austin, rips these folks a new one about it on Facebook.

My overall angle on this question is that every atheist has to find their own ways of coping with religion’s intrusion into everyday life. This is true for every other marginalized group, who has to find ways of dealing with the dominant culture, and it’s true for us. Some of us push back on it with everything we’ve got. Some of us are fine with secularized versions of religious traditions — sincere or mocking or both. Some of us are fine going along with religious traditions. And many of us mix and match: pushing back against some religious incursions, accepting or creating secularized versions of others, going along with still others. I have zero problem with this. I’m finding my own way of handling Christmas, a balance of festivity, mockery, tradition, and resistance that works for me, and it does not trouble me in the slightest that other people are more traditional about it, while others are more oppositional, or are simply not interested. (Side note: If you’re in the San Francisco Bay Area, and you think you’d enjoy a festively blasphemous atheist holiday party, come to the Godless Perverts Holiday Fun Time at Borderlands Cafe on Dec. 12!)

So I was thinking about all this, and it occurred to me:

Oh. There’s a social justice angle.

Yes, different atheists have different ways of handling religion and its intrusions into everyday life. There are lots of reasons for that. But one of the big ones is: How much do they rely on a social support system that’s structured around religion? Are they in a culture or subculture or family that’s very religious? Would refusing to participate in traditions like Christmas — traditions that are religious, or semi-religious, or quasi-religious, or secularized religious — mean alienating people they can’t afford to alienate, for practical reasons or emotional ones? Would refusing to participate mean isolating themselves from the continuity that people get from traditions, the sense of connection to something larger?

And certain forms of marginalization can play into this.

African-Americans are more likely to have deeply religious families and communities, who they can’t afford to alienate or simply don’t want to. Poor people are more likely to have deeply religious families and communities, who they can’t afford to alienate or simply don’t want to. For women, the social costs of disconnecting from family traditions are often greater than they are for men, since the job of perpetuating these traditions is commonly seen as women’s work. Many LGBT people, who have been cut off from their families, find much-needed practical and emotional support in LGBT-friendly churches or other religions, and a much-needed sense of continuity and connection.

So insisting that no true atheist would celebrate Christmas is pretty damn insensitive to the different realities of different atheists — black atheists, poor atheists, women atheists, LGBT atheists, any atheists in other marginalized groups — who are more dependent on religious structures, or whose lives are just more intertwined with religious people.

Atheists with other forms of marginalization are often treated as traitors to their race, their gender, their culture. Why on earth would we want to pile onto that from the other side? Many black atheists already get a bellyful of, “You’re not really black.” It’s seriously messed-up to pile onto that with, “You’re not really an atheist.”


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.

Why Godless Perverts is Supporting St. James Infirmary for the Holidays

outlaw-poverty-not-prostitutes-st-james-infirmary

This post was written by Chris Hall for Godless Perverts, and originally appeared on the Godless Perverts website.

We may be Godless, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t know how to party. For the last two years, we’ve helped the non-believer community celebrate the winter holidays in a secular fashion by holding the Godless Perverts Holiday Fun Time, a social event complete with icebreaker games, weird songs, and decadent desserts. We’re having it at Borderlands Café this year, a magnificent community space, and we’ve got a lot of great uses planned out for it.

We’ll have our usual silly icebreaker games, goofy but fun holiday songs (Walt Kelly’s “Deck Us All With Boston Charlie” is a perennial favorite), delicious potluck holiday treats (bring your favorite to share – we will!), and the pleasure of connecting with our fellow secularists. And this year, Greta’s going to be giving openly fraudulent Tarot card readings! She’s almost completely guaranteed not to tell your future (except by accident), but it’s just as sure to be a great deal of fun. It’ll be on Saturday, December 12, 8-11 pm, at Borderlands Café, 870 Valencia St. in San Francisco, near the 24th St. & Mission BART station.

This year, as you may know, we’re doing it a little bit differently. The Godless Perverts Holiday Fun Time is not only going to be fun, but it’s going to be a fundraiser for an organization that we’ve admired for a long time: The St. James Infirmary.

To do that, we’re trying to raise $700 to pay for space rental, refreshments, and assorted expenses of this year’s party. We’re almost just over halfway there, thanks to the generosity of some of you. As we get closer to our goal, we thought that it would be a good time to talk about the organization that we’re supporting this year, and why we think that they’re so awesome.

St James Infirmary Ad: Someone You Know is a Sex WorkerWhat is St. James Infirmary?

In a nutshell, the St. James Infirmary is an occupational health clinic run by and for sex workers. Founded in 1999 by members of COYOTE (Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics) and the Exotic Dancers Alliance, they remain the first and only of their kind. They provide sex workers of all genders with health care and counseling of all kinds, including primary care service, gynecological and urological medical care, STI testing and counselling, needle exchanges, and support groups. Trust us when we say that all of this work does much more for sex work communities than any of the various “rescue” operations (i.e. arresting sex workers for their own good), or john-shaming programs that are popular in mainstream politics.

Why Sex Workers Need Their Own Health Care Resources

Sometimes when people hear about St James, the first response is to ask why sex workers need health care resources especially for them. The simple answer is that even the most legal sex work – such as stripping or adult modelling – is heavily stigmatized. For that matter, sexual pleasure is heavily stigmatized. Most doctors aren’t trained in how to address human sexuality beyond matters of basic physiology, and certainly not in the day-to-day realities of sex work. Have you ever tried to talk to your doctor or a nurse about discomfort “down there” or problems with how your body feels during sex? For most people it’s an incredibly uncomfortable experience. Imagine the difficulty of doing that if you also add in the problem that your work is, by its nature, either illegal or socially condemned. [Read more…]

Why I Support Foundation Beyond Belief

foundation beyond belief banner

You know about Foundation Beyond Belief, right? It’s the humanist philanthropic organization that channels money and volunteering from humanists, atheists, and other non-believers, into projects that improve this world and this life. As you may know, I’m on their board of directors. So when I ask you to support the organization (and tell you about the fun fundraising competition we’re having, and the fun auction that Be Secular is running for us!), I’m obviously biased. But I’m on their board for a reason.

You know how a bunch of us in the atheist movement keep saying that it isn’t enough to just not believe in gods? You know how we keep saying that organized atheism needs to provide some of what religion provides — including outlets for organized charitable, philanthropic, and social justice work? You know how we keep saying that organized atheism needs be address the interests and channel the energy of a wider variety of people than have traditionally been involved in it? You know how we keep saying that non-belief has implications — and one of those implications is that since there’s no gods and no afterlife, this life is the only one we have, and it’s up to us to make it better for everyone?

Foundation Beyond Belief is actually doing this.

Here are some of the organizations and projects FBB has supported:

transgender law center logoTransgender Law Center, running one-on-one legal clinics for transgender and gender nonconforming people.

Center for Reproductive Rights, using the law to advance reproductive freedom as a fundamental human right that all governments are legally obligated to protect, respect, and fulfill.

Community Change, Inc., approaching racism, racial relations, and racial responsibility from the perspective that racial inequalities are a white problem.

Global Village Project, an innovative special purpose school for refugee girls and young women with interrupted schooling.

Prison University Project, providing higher education programs to people incarcerated at San Quentin State Prison.

Pure Earth, bringing a scientific approach to pollution reduction meant to benefit extremely poor communities abroad.

DC Central Kitchen, tackling food distribution availability in Washington, DC.

Men Can Stop Rape, mobilizing men to create cultures free from violence, especially men’s violence against women.

Akili Dada, a full-service developmental program aimed at helping Kenyan girls and women build leadership skills.

Modest Needs Foundation, working to meet the needs of the hardworking, low income members of society, who are often left without a safety net when unexpected expenses occur.

innocence project of texas logoInnocence Project of Texas, securing the release of those wrongfully convicted of crimes in Texas, and educating the public about the causes and effects of wrongful convictions.

You see what I’m getting at?

A lot of us are saying, and have been saying for some time, that organized atheism needs to do this sort of work. Foundation Beyond Belief is doing it. And we need your support.

We’re doing a big year-end fundraising drive. Your donations will be matched up to $20,000, thanks to a generous matching donation from the Bella and Stella Foundation. And we’re doing a fun fundraising competition, for both individuals and community groups! Prizes for individuals range from T-shirts, autographed books & other secular swag to trips to conferences or shows by celebrity atheists. For groups, FBB will provide speaker(s) to the group that gets the most mentions and/or raises the most funds using the #HumanistsCare hashtag. Detail are at the link. If your atheist/ humanist/ freethought group is looking for a fun activity that will get your group more involved in community service, this is a great one.

Be Secular is also running an auction to support Foundation Beyond Belief, starting at 11:00 AM Eastern time on December 1, 2015, and running for 36 hours (through 11:00 PM Eastern time on December 2, 2015). Items range from small to high-end, including art, jewelry, vacations, signed celebrity photos, and more.

And if you don’t want to do the auction thing or the fundraising competition thing, you can also just… well, donate. You can make a one-time donation, which will be used to fund FBB operations; or you can make a monthly donation in any amount (as low as $5 a month), which will go to fund the causes you care about. (And yes, you can tell us which areas you’d like your money to go to!)

Foundation Beyond Belief is walking the walk. Please join us, and help pave the way. 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.

Dear Conference Organizers: A No-Fooling-Around Note About Diversity

chairs at conferenceDear conference organizers:

Thank you so much for inviting me to speak at your conference. I would love to make this happen if it’s possible! I like speaking at conferences: I like meeting new people and re-connecting with old friends, and I especially enjoy meeting with organizers of local community groups. And, of course, I like selling books. :-) I’m happy to speak at local conferences, regional conferences, national and international conferences. My honorarium is low, and my travel requirements are pretty minimal. If I can fit this event into my schedule, I’d love to do it.

However.

If your speaker lineup is overwhelmingly white, I am not willing to speak at your conference.

And when I say this, I mean it. I am not fooling around. Specifically, I mean this:

If you send me a confirmation with a list of scheduled speakers, and that list is overwhelmingly white, I will withdraw from your conference.

I’m sorry to come across like a hardass. But experience has taught me that I have to be. Experience has taught me that if I don’t say something ahead of time, I will often wind up on an overwhelmingly white speaker lineup. Not always — a lot of conference organizers already get this, and are on it — but often. Experience has taught me that, even if I do say something ahead of time, I will still sometimes wind up on an overwhelmingly white speaker lineup. We will then have to have an awkward conversation, where I explain that I’m withdrawing from the conference and why.

Here is a list of prominent atheists of color, and organizations of atheists of color. Many of them are excellent speakers, as are many of the organization leaders. Many of them, like me, have low honoraria and minimal travel requirements. If you book me for your conference, and you then put together an overwhelmingly white speaker lineup, you will have an open slot in your schedule. Please consider filling it with one of these people. Better yet: Please look at this list before you start putting together your speaker lineup, so you have a diverse lineup to begin with.

I understand that event organizing is very difficult, and conference organizing is especially difficult. I understand that it’s hard to co-ordinate schedules, balance content, and arrange for travel and honoraria that will fit your budget. So here’s a tip: When you’re putting together a speaker lineup, START with diversity. START by inviting African-Americans, Latinos, women, disabled people, transgender people, people of Asian descent, people of Middle Eastern descent, other people of color, lesbian and gay and bisexual people, people who have left religions other than Christianity. Don’t just invite the usual suspects, fill up three-quarters of your lineup — and then go, “Crap! Diversity!” and scramble to fill in the last two or three open slots with people who aren’t white, middle-class, college-educated, cisgender, straight, able-bodied, ex-Christian or lifelong-atheist men.

Again, I’m sorry to be a hardass. Generally speaking, I’m an easy speaker to work with: again, my honorarium is low, my travel requirements are pretty minimal, and I try to be as flexible as possible. But this is an extremely high priority for me. In my opinion, this issue — making our communities more welcoming and more supportive of a wider variety of people than are currently participating — is the most important issue currently facing organized atheism in the United States. Diverse speaker lineups at conferences isn’t the only thing we need to do to address this issue, of course, or even the most important thing. Very, very far from it. But it’s one of the things I can do something about. So I’m doing it. Thanks for understanding. Hope we can make this work!

Sincerely,
Greta Christina

P.S. This also applies to harassment policies/ codes of conduct. I won’t speak at a conference that doesn’t have one. That’s been less of an issue lately, though — almost all atheist and skeptic conferences have them now — so I didn’t feel a need to write a whole thing about it.

Note: Yes, this is in reference to a specific event — and no, I’m not going to tell you which one. It was a private conversation, and I’m going to respect that.


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.