Confessions Of A Post-Modernist

It’s true. I’m a post-modernist. We walk amongst you! OOOoooOOOooo! *spooky fingers*

Okay, but seriously…

One of the things I’ve been thinking about a lot this week is the difficulty of having a set of values, beliefs or personal identifications that don’t always comfortably intersect, and that finding a safe space for one aspect of who you are or what you believe will often leave you vulnerable to having other aspects attacked or demonized. Like feminists who dislike trans women and skeptics, trans women who dislike feminists and atheists, and atheists who dislike trans women and feminists.

Well, it’s not exactly a big secret that the skeptic community really isn’t keen on post-modernism and post-modernists, and like to treat them as a bit of a universal punching bag, to the extent that simply describing something as “pomo” is enough to theoretically discredit it. Within this community I frequently see post-modernism straw-manned as some kind of airy-headed, woo-supporting, pseudo-intellectual nonsense that is so wholly committed to radical relativism that it is completely unable to bother taking a stand on anything at all.

That’s a pretty piss-poor, and not very educated or skeptical, understanding of what post-modernism is or is about. Post-modernism was where and how I learned to think, and to do so critically. It taught me to value questioning assumptions, to understand the difference between what I want to believe and what I ought to believe, to understand how perceptions can be distorted and how the process by which we come about our beliefs and conclusions is not always as neat and tidy as it appears, and to look for the unconscious or implicit motives and biases of whomever or whatever is making a claim. In other words, it taught me skepticism. [Read more…]

On Being A Feminist, A Trans/Queer-Rights Advocate And An Atheist/Skeptic At The Same Time, Or: How To Be Hated By All Your Friends & Allies

On Friday, Russell over at The Atheist Experience, aware of how nervous I was about the potential backlash my God Does Not Love Trans People post could receive (due to the hostile reaction I received on Twitter just for mentioning the possibility of writing it), put up a little post asking his readers to help support me in the event that I did get trolled or attacked by religious believers or apologists.

That’s not quite what happened. [Read more…]

Human Beauty

One thing I’ve been having a bit of trouble with lately is trying to negotiate some kind of balance between what I’ve come to understand about how perceptions of beauty are mediated by social and cultural convention against the fact that ultimately, I really rather do appreciate the beauty of the human form, of people. And that I find some people more exceptionally beautiful than others. Let’s say… Benedict Cumberbatch? Andrej Pejic? Gael Garcia Bernal? Kim Petras?

How do you allow yourself to appreciate given traits when you know they’re all so conditional and relative, and even help prop up perceptions you’d rather rid yourself of? Are we willing to just take the hit, decide “whatever beauty I perceive is a projection, not really there” and move on? [Read more…]

Catches Twenty-Two

We were chatting in our top secret and amazingly awesome backchannel, full of such incredible wit and delightful banter that you shall never ever know, about how some folks over at an intelligent design website called Uncommon Descent decided to do a bit of a breakdown of the whole Loftus thing, propping it up (in act of unconcealed schadenfreude) as indicative of some kind of big rift or infighting amongst atheists.

Which is a bit tedious and uninformed in that it hasn’t exactly been much of a conflict or controversy at all. No battle lines actually got drawn, nobody was attacking anybody (except in Loftus’ imagination), and there was no grand battle. In fact, pretty much everyone agreed that his remarks were over the line and his behaviour erratic and strange. All that really ultimately resulted from it was a nice, timely nudge in the direction of having an interesting and important discussion about the value of diversity in networks like FTB and in the atheist community as a whole, and a reminder of the problems lying behind accusations of tokenism.

Greta Christina made a really interesting point, though, that got my brain pieces to start doing brain stuff. She pointed out how whenever there’s a disagreement within our community, no matter how minor, people will exploit it to make up stories about “rifts” and “infighting” and “drama”, how we’re a bunch of angry little kids who endlessly squabble amongst ourselves. And then when we do agree with one another, suddenly we’re a “hive mind”, an “echo chamber”, “preaching to the choir”, a “circle jerk”, “silencing dissent”. We’re mocked and attacked for disagreeing with each other, and mocked and attacked for agreeing with one another. A catch-22, no-win, damned if you do and damned if you don’t situation.

What occurred to me, though, was how familiar these kinds of tactics are. While I’m relatively new to the atheist community, and new to seeing them play out here, I’m familiar with the same kind of “fit the circumstances to your opinion” thinking (rather than fitting your opinion to the circumstances), the same way of finding means of interpreting any action as terrible, even the acts that a moment ago you had criticized someone for not taking. I was familiar with them from feminism, from the trans community, from poverty activism and social justice work, from social attitudes towards addicts, and things like that.

I started wondering if these catch-22 set-ups are actually sort of the hallmark of discrimination, sort of the most direct and immediately recognizable way of knowing that a given group has been predetermined to be in the wrong regardless of what they do, or just generally aren’t being given a fair chance in terms of how they’re treated or understood. [Read more…]

Video From Tuesday Night

Okay… so… as it turns out the recording by my friend Julia Rose (thank you!!!)  did turn out okay. It’s definitely not very professional or fancy, as it was recorded on a phone, and this is my first ever public speaking engagement on skepticism stuff so I was rather nervous, and I’m probably going to regret letting you all see/hear the real life me (hidden behind low quality video as I am), but… to be honest, I procrastinated again, and don’t have anything better to put up this afternoon anyway. :P

Enjoy! [Read more…]

Coming Out (Part One Of Four): When Coming Out Is Shutting Yourself In

This piece was originally posted at Queereka. I am re-posting it here because it had originally been intended as part of a series, which I will now complete this week. Please visit Queereka for all kinds of awesome LGBTQ stuff, from a secular, skeptical angle!

For me, being a skeptic, and the personal importance skepticism has for me, almost entirely boils down to one thing: knowing that I’m an irrational, crazy idiot capable of incredible cognitive distortions and amazing feats of self-deception. Skepticism is a safety precaution and coping mechanism. My intellectual emergency brakes.

The initial crazy that led me into discovering and understanding the enormous importance of doubt and hesitation was managing to convince myself during my first year of college that the world was secretly being run by a cabal of occult-oriented secret societies. I was approximately 2.5 grams of psilocybin mushrooms away from buying into the shape-shifting reptile people. Snapping out of that snapped me into skepticism.

But the conspiracy theories, in terms of personal significance, is dwarfed in irrationality, cognitive distortion and self-deception by how I convinced myself for twelve years following the initial revelation of my transsexuality that that wasn’t what was really going on, that I must have made a mistake (over and over and over), that I couldn’t possibly be the T-word and…

…ultimately convincing myself that I was really just gay. So I came out as such.

[Read more…]

A Matter Of Survival

The other day I was archive-binging at the fantastic (and alternately hilarious and deeply depressing) tumblr Yo, Is This Racist? and came across this interesting exchange:

Anonymous asked: Is it racist that my science teacher sucks balls?

Yo, science education in the US is a fucking political mess of a tragedy, but it’s worth sticking around and at least trying to learn how to apply evidence and logic, because bastardizations of science are basically the favorite tool of the modern racist.

I loved it.

But… for some reason my mind immediately snapped back to the awful Be Scofield scuffle of a couple weeks ago. And the years I’ve spent hearing repeated accusations that science, maths, reason, education or any kind of intellectual pursuit (take your pick) is somehow inherently an imperialist or patriarchal or racist or heteronormative force of oppression. I’ve heard it so many times, it’s hard for me even to be all that angry about it anymore. But every once in awhile I encounter something inspiring like the beautifully concise response above, or the sheer audacity of Scofield’s accusations of the “purest form of evil”. In short, I want to address this. [Read more…]

The Duality Of Skepticism

For a long while now I’ve been increasingly fascinated by a sort of underlying tension I’ve noticed within skepticism… the community and the movement, in so far as the two can reliably be said to exist, and even the philosophy and set of values. I’ve felt more and more, as I’ve immersed myself deeper into skepticism, that there seem to be two similar but distinct skepticisms, operating in parallel. And I’ve been trying to suss out exactly how to articulate this, what it means, and why we have this tension. Is it as simple as two distinct philosophies that accidentally shared the same word? Is it branching out into different interpretations of a common value? Is it based upon people arriving at a similar set of concepts by differing means and motivations? Am I just imagining it?

And if I’m not imagining it, what can we learn from it, about who we are and where we’re heading? [Read more…]

“Reiki For Trans People”

So I was fucking around on Twitter the other day, as I am often wont to do (@nataliereed84, hint hint hint), and happened to catch a re-tweet from some place called trans-health.com. This site has existed since 2001, but sort of fell under the radar for awhile before recently being purchased by transguys.com and re-launched this past December with some very spiffy, slick, professional-looking, doctor-y science-y medicalish graphics. [Read more…]