A quick note on privilege

•May 5, 2014 • Leave a Comment

I saw this TIME op-ed making the rounds on facebook, and it inspired me to write a quick post on privilege. Of course, most of this has been said before, but it bears repeating:

By definition, most characteristics that grant people unearned privilege in society — like race, sex, gender, sexual orientation, ability, class, national origin, etc. — are accidents of birth and out of one’s control. Belonging to certain groups grants people advantages (or doesn’t create certain disadvantages) compared to people outside of those groups. That’s privilege, plain and simple. It doesn’t mean that people with privilege don’t work hard or that life will be all sunshine and rainbows, there are just a few struggles we* most likely won’t ever have to experience or and can move move through life completely unaware of.

It’s nonsense to “apologize” for things beyond your control and, last time I checked, no one would ever ask anyone to. However, what people DO have control over is their level of obliviousness to the legacy and continued existence of systemic and institutionalized discrimination/oppression/bias based on certain characteristics. When someone says “check your privilege”, they don’t want an apology, they just want you to examine your perspective for any blind spots (one of the insidious effects of having privilege) and work on decreasing your levels of obliviousness. Apologies and guilt do nothing to dismantle any systems of oppression and won’t get any of us any closer to free. Taking a second to seek to understand others, to empathize, and to Google could help a little bit though.

 

 

*I have privilege too: I’m an American, middle-class, non-disabled person with English as hir first language. I’m there are probably other privileges I have that I’m not even aware of, since that’s one of the ways privilege operates.

21 varieties of traditional African homosexuality

•February 20, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Originally posted on 76 CRIMES:

King Mwanga II of Buganda, who reportedly had sexual relations with men.  (Photo courtesy of Sebaspace)

King Mwanga II of Buganda, the “gay king” who reportedly had sexual relations with men. (Photo courtesy of Sebaspace)

At least 21 cultural varieties of same-sex relationships have long been part of traditional African life, as demonstrated in anew report  that is designed to dispel the confusion and lies surrounding Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill.

The following discussion and the 21 examples are from that report, “Expanded Criminalisation of Homosexuality in Uganda: A Flawed Narrative / Empirical evidence and strategic alternatives from an African perspective,” which was prepared by Sexual Minorities Uganda:

In their work anthropologists Stephen Murray and Will Roscoe provide wide‐ranging evidence in support of the fact that throughout Africa”s history, homosexuality has been a ‘‘consistent and logical feature of African societies and belief systems.”

Thabo Msibi of the University of Kwazulu‐Natal documents many examples in Africa of same-sex desire being accommodated within pre-colonial rule.”

Boy Wives and Female Husbands cover The work…

View original 698 more words

Obscenity

•February 7, 2014 • Leave a Comment

I cry out in pain,

anger,

frustration.

I push back against the constant assault from those who seek to deny me freedom,

to strip me of my self-determination,

my humanity,

my life.

I fight and kick and scream

with passion, fury, obscenity.

Wounds and soul laid bare.

You sit comfortable in your privileged position – away from the fray – in observation,

choosing to take offense

with me.

You refuse to hear my cries,

my pain,

my truth

just because it isn’t packaged and pretty,

not respectable and dignified,

not contorted to make you comfortable.

You choose to shut out my shouts because they “offend” you – apparently more so than my suffering – and add to my frustration by questioning my intellect.

Fuck you and the pearls you choose to clutch in the face of my defiance and unwillingness to suffer in silence.

I refuse sanitize my speech to soothe your ears.

If you find my obscenities more obscene than the denial of my humanity:

You’re part of the FUCKING problem.

My not-so-tidy coming out story

•November 20, 2013 • Leave a Comment

I was asked today if I would be willing to share my “coming out story” tomorrow at a meeting where we’ll be discussing Ash Beckham’s awesome TED Talk. I’ve probably shared versions of my coming out story at least a hundred times to friends, family, coworkers, on various LGBTQ panels, and other forums, not thinking much of it. For some reason, today after I said “Sure! I’d love to!” I paused to really think about what I wanted to say.

For the most part, when sharing my story, it’s pretty much been same, formulaic, uneventful story everyone’s heard from people lucky enough to have an uneventful coming out experience: came out to myself; was scared shitless; came out to a few friends to test the waters; eventually came out to my family and lived queerly ever after. That’s the story I’ve tended to default to because it’s neat, linear, not too complicated, has language that everyone understands, and can be told in under 2 minutes. It’s also not entirely true, because my sexual orientation and gender identity don’t really fit that neatly into a binary, and telling the whole truth, and nothing but makes a short story, long. I’ve been pondering what to say all afternoon and decided to just capture what I know to be true, in this very moment, here. So if you care to hear it, here it goes:

Growing up I always identified as a tom-boy. I was never really into things that were stereotypically/explicitly coded as “girly” — from what I can remember and what I’ve been told — and I loved to play sports, climb trees, ride bikes, draw, paint, build things, and take things apart. I also loathed dresses: both because I felt uncomfortable in them and because they got in the way of the things I enjoyed doing.

Fast-forwarding to puberty (that terrible time that spares no one), I had crushes on girls and boys, but I was (and still am) an overweight, socially-awkward nerd and too busy trying to shake off bullying on those fronts to put too much energy into romantic interaction for quite a while. I did know that the “crushes on girls” part was a bit of a problem from what I heard about “homosexuals” in the media, at church, and the almost-uniformly-negative reactions to rumors that one of the girls in my grade was bisexual. Eventually, I mustered up the courage to come out as bisexual to a few close friends — to mild shock — and we came up with a convoluted nickname in the process (bisexual -> bi -> bifocals -> spectacles -> “specs”). On the gender identity front, I was still a tom-boy, priding myself on being able to sing baritone in the choir. My mom pleaded with me to just wear a skirt once a week and I eventually managed to find a long, grey sweat-shirt-like skirt with cargo pockets — the best compromise I could find. One big moment for me was when I got to dress in drag for a U.S. History assignment reenacting the Dred Scott Decision. I remember applying mascara to look like a mustache and beard, wearing an over-sized blazer, and getting double-takes in the hallway when heading back to class. I remember really liking what I saw in the mirror and enjoying being “sir-ed”. I didn’t feel like a boy — and I didn’t have any language for anything but boy or girl — but I did like how I felt.

Middle school was no cakewalk by any means — I probably have the depressed, suicidal journals around somewhere to show it — but being able to come out fairly uneventfully and being able to try on a new gender helped a lot. That is, until I went to church camp and high school and proceeded to re-closet myself. Attempting to “pray the gay away” made me miserable, and so did lying every time someone asked, directly or indirectly, if I was gay. After struggling with self-mutilation, writing shitty poetry, wearing all black, and generally wanting to die, I just decided to stop lying… at least about the gay part. I started going into lesbian chat rooms and trying to get a feel for what this whole “gay” thing meant. I did my best to squeeze myself into the lesbian box since that seemed the most accommodating. Since I identified with masculinity that made me a “dom” or “stud” and completely precluded any inklings of bisexuality, so I shelved that part of my orientation. I wasn’t great at the hypermasculinity that seemed required to be a “real” stud, but I learned that I could throw a “soft” in front of it and leave well enough alone. Soft Stud was the best box I had at the time, and I held on to it tight because it was the closest thing to authenticity I could wrap my arms around. By senior year, I came out as a lesbian to my parents to no surprise — I get the feeling that just about everyone I came out to knew I was queer before I did.

Comfortable in my identity, I headed to college where I finally got the language that made the boxes disappear. After getting involved with my campus LGBTQ organization I learned a bunch of new words, and queer and genderqueer stuck out in particular. I finally had something that seemed to fit just right. The only problem is that when trying to communicate this new-found, well-fitting identity, no one outside of LGBT Studies programs would reliably know what the hell I was talking about.

That brings us to today. I’m a queer, genderqueer, feminist, whovian, skeptic, engineer, who is really good at being snarky, following recipes, and getting into impassioned discussions on the internet. I don’t pass well when I try to. No amount of binding will completely obscure my large breasts, nor will any amount of teeth grinding harden my baby face. I’m comfortable enough in my masculinity to want to play femininity against it, but I get anxious that my body would betray me and make my desired gender transgression read as cisgender femininity. I’ve begun to cringe more and more at every “she” and “young lady”, especially from people who I’ve told my pronoun preferences before (they/them/their btw), but I don’t want to screw up the numbers for “women in engineering” (a ludicrous thing to feel guilty about). I have no desire to swing from one end of a binary to another — in sexual orientation or gender identity — but that seems to be the prevailing expectation to have a legitimate claim to identity. The coming out process never ends. It’s continuous self-discovery and revelation, but at least I’m getting better at the former.

Untitled.925

•September 25, 2013 • Leave a Comment

I’m still here
because the me that wanted to drive tangent to the curve
and into the woods
desperate to stop the seemingly endless march of time
left the control of these limbs with another me
one that still has plans,
at least for tomorrow.
For the moment, they’ve compromised on this bottle of red wine.
Baby steps.

What “-ist” and isn’t: Atheist, Agnostic, and Other Labels

•August 30, 2012 • Leave a Comment

I am a Neil deGrasse Tyson fan. The man is amazingly smart and quite personable, a combination that can be tricky to find in the world of scientists (I’m an engineer and I work with a lot of them). I also identify as agnostic and am involved in a various skeptic and atheist circles, so, naturally, I was excited to see this big think video with his views on atheism vs. agnosticism:

So that was… interesting. I don’t always disagree with what people smarter than me say, but when I do, I blog about it.

He does start off on a good foot, acknowledging that people placing labels on others, and asserting that they know everything about one’s stances because of said label, isn’t a good way to start conversations. Respecting people’s right to self-identify, even if you disagree, is just basic respect. People editing his wiki to say that he’s an atheist when he identifies as an agnostic are wrong and being disrespectful.

It starts going down hill for me when he starts attempting to differentiate between atheists and agnostics. He posits that the difference between the two is that atheism is a political stance involving active participation while agnosticism is just not knowing whether or not there is a god and being open to the possibility if there is ever evidence there is one. I disagree wholeheartedly with this assertion as a politically active agnostic. I dislike how “non-believers,” a group that includes both atheists and agnostics, are viewed/treated in society and I want to do something to change that. I am vocal about these things because I believe the personal is political. This informs my feminism, my queerness, my blackness, and, yes, my agnosticism.

Conversely, there are many atheists who sit quietly with their belief that there is no god and don’t bother getting political about it. That’s fine too. Arguing that the difference between atheism and agnosticism is how vocal people are about their stance on the existence of supernatural beings just makes no sense. Adding “ist” to the end of a philosophy in order to turn it into a label or descriptor doesn’t automatically assign some level of activism to the labeled person. That’s just not how it works.

It is also bad practice to come to that conclusion as if “the atheists I know are in-your-face and engaged in policy change” translates to all atheists and what atheism is. That’s making the same mistake of attaching the “baggage” that comes with a label to a group and presuming to know all about said group that he, rightly, railed against at the beginning of the video.

Both atheists and agnostics are open to changing their views based on solid evidence proving the existence of gods. The main difference, in my estimation, is that atheists take the lack of evidence for the existence of god(s) to mean there is no god, while agnostics only go so far as to say they can’t prove or disprove the existence of god(s). That’s it. Not level of in-your-face-ness, political engagement, or social activity, just what conclusion you draw (or don’t draw) from a lack of evidence for the existence of god(s). He’s correct that there is significant overlap in the stances of atheists and agnostics, but the difference he posed isn’t a real one.

I think agnostics get called atheists because one can’t claim to believe in god if they aren’t certain god exists. In this way, agnostics are just atheists (people without belief in god) who aren’t committed to the idea that there is no god, and are withholding a conclusion until more evidence for, or against, the existence of god(s) is available.

My main issue with the video was his golf analogy questioning why the term atheist even exists. His argument was that having a term for non-participation in religion was odd since we don’t have have terms for non-participation in other activities. This analogy separated the behavior of many active atheists so far from the relevant social and political contexts that it’s effectively useless. Maybe there’s a blind-spot here – since he’s in the scientific community where being an atheist isn’t seen as taboo or even uncommon – but putting atheism or religion on the same plane as a hobby where there are few adverse social effects for participation or non-participation, is a mistake. In the rest of society, being openly atheist causes people question your morality, trustworthiness, fitness for political office, and worth as a person.

Those social penalties are why people ask if he’s an atheist in an accusatory manner. Those social penalties and the misinformation that often accompanies the anti-atheist (and often anti-science) bias that ends up in policy, are what get people vocal and political about their non-participation in religion. Atheism and agnosticism are more than just non-participation in theist religion, but identities in opposition to the privileged status of being religious. In this way, they’re more analogous to being socially and politically active around other oppositional identities such as being a person of color (being non-white) or being queer (non-heterosexual/non-cisgender). Since being a non-golfer isn’t an “othered” status, there’s no need for the term or for meetings of non-golfers. Each non-golfer can choose a label based on what they are instead of what they aren’t with no repercussions. That’s just not where society is around belief or non-belief.

In wrapping things up, I want to go back to the statements about labels made in the beginning of the video. Treating labels as end-points and short-cuts, as opposed to the starting-points and facilitators of increased understanding they should be, is definitely no way to start a conversation. The problem isn’t labels themselves though, but rather the shut down of intellectual curiosity many people experience when they encounter a label. Labels – when coupled with respect for self-identification – are useful and I don’t think they should be discarded just because people stop thinking once they stumble upon one. Instead, knowing that labels are attached to individuals and each individual differs from another, we should learn to be curious as to how our labels fit ourselves and each other. A label doesn’t make a group a monolith or strip the labeled person of their individuality and other identities. I’m in no way arguing that everyone should be compelled to label themselves, sometimes there just aren’t labels that fit well and declining to label yourself is necessary. In those cases though, we have an opportunity to create and adopt other, better, more accurate labels for ourselves, and that’s pretty awesome too.

All things even, I still think “scientist” is a damn good label.

Adherents of the Repeated (Heterosexist) Meme

•August 25, 2012 • Leave a Comment

I have some issues with the toxic sexism and internalized heterosexism I’ve witnessed in the lesbian/queer women/FTM community (particularly around masculinity), so I figured I’d lay them out here.

We know we live in a heterosexist society. It has been this way since any of us got here. The meme1 of proper heterosexuality has been drilled into us since we were old enough to hear stories of knights in shining armor rescuing princesses. TV shows, movies, books, music, advertisements, religions, traditions and laws constantly portray (and enforce) particular codes of masculinity and femininity while exalting heterosexuality as the standard. For the most part, these images are the only relationship models we get to see. The only problem is that we aren’t in the majority of those images. When we are shown, the picture usually isn’t pretty and relies heavily on caricatures and stereotypes. Where do you even start when you’re consistently made invisible or a punchline? As flawed as many of these models of gender relations are, that’s all most of us had to work with. If that’s all you know, it’s easy to fall into a pattern of mimicking the only models you have.

That’s where the problem starts: a lot of those models are nothing short of pure, unadulterated bullshit. Now, what I’mnot saying is that heterosexual relationships are universally terrible, awful, no good things and there is nothing good that could come from any sort of emulation. There are plenty of wonderful straight folks out there who have healthy relationships that we could all learn from, regardless of our sexuality. What I am saying is that there is a lot of sexist nonsense involved in how this heterosexist society defines masculinity, femininity, and the roles people are allowed to play in a relationship in general. Many views of correctly performing masculinity are based on objectifying or devaluing all things feminine. The fact that this brand of sexist masculinity is so prevalent in the lesbian community honestly boggles my fucking mind, but bois will be boys, right? What other examples do we have? We unthinkingly carry over the slut shaming, double standards about sex and fidelity, objectification etc. without any sense of irony. Not to be left out, many feminine lesbians exacerbate this problem by echoing this sexist nonsense themselves and seeing it as acceptable.

Just as sad, if not sadder, is the homophobia tied up with the sexism in this masculinity. Two studs being unable to give each other a hug without saying “pause”/“no homo” afterward is fucking lunacy. That form of masculinity dictates that two femmes together is hot and two studs together is “gay.” We all know how terrible it is to be gay though. I mean, why would you damage the cause of masculinity by finding another masculine person sexy? Masculine people are consumers, not the consumed! We’re all dominant and aggressive and stuff, we can’t submit to each other or be vulnerable! That’s completely unacceptable! We’re supposed to be reinforcing the patriarchy over here! (Note: the last six sentences contained sarcasm.)

For the record, I don’t think masculinity is bad (I am a masculine person after all) but perpetuating sexism and homophobia to perform masculinity is doing it wrong. Clearly that irks me to no end, and you may say “Well K, what are we supposed to do about this? Maybe this is just how things are.” To which I respectfully say: Fuck That. How things are is never how things have to stay. I just have one general suggestion that applies to just about everything: “Wake the fuck up.” Be conscious of your thoughts and actions and don’t be afraid to question how things work. Don’t just go through the motions of what’s expected of you based on roles you didn’t have a part in defining. Question if you’re in a dynamic of dominance and submission because you enjoy it and it works for you and your partner or if you just accept it because it’s what’s expected. Question if who makes dinner is based on who enjoys/is better at cooking or if you’re just defaulting to whoever owns a skirt. Question why you think one person’s sexual history makes them deserve to be branded as a “ho” while there is no impact on how you value someone else with a similar history as a person. We are all individuals with different wants, needs, skills, hopes, and personality traits and we shouldn’t have to mangle who we really are just to fit into the confines of a gender role. We shouldn’t sacrifice who we are just to be what’s expected. We are too creative, beautiful, and amazing for that shit. Rigid roles that weren’t negotiated by the people playing them do everyone involved a disservice. Demand better. Do better.

Oh, and one more thing: as much as I’m against relying too heavily on someone else’s model, good models can make for a good foundation. We need better images out there for queer people to work with. Support the people in our community who are giving us visibility, telling our stories, and echoing our voices. Use yourself as a model of anti-sexist behavior. Don’t be afraid to call people out on their sexism. Give the ones coming after you something to work with so that they don’t fall into the same old sexist patterns offered up by our heterosexist society. Help others do better too.


1Meme: an element of a culture or behavior that may be passed from one individual to another by nongenetic means, esp. imitation.

BTW: I <3 Doctor Who and an episode inspired the title.

 
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