Sunday, December 9, 2012

Dear Dad*

*I just sent this letter to my dad over facebook after he commented on a picture of my new hair with the words "Too short!"
Hey, I didn't like this comment. I'd like for us to talk about this in person in the near future, but because this is the second time I've felt the need to delete your comments I wanted to let you know why.

I do not appreciate the majority of your comments about my appearance. Especially when your words encourage me to appear "prettier" or more "girly/womanly". I've decided to look the way I look because it feels right to me. I like my hair short. I like my armpits & legs hairy and my belly and thighs a little fatty!

I love these things about myself and would appreciate it if you would comment no further on the choices I make about my own physical appearance. In other words: 
Unless I ask you directly (even if I am asking all of my internet community) I am not soliciting your opinion of my appearance.

When you tell me that I should have longer hair or that I should lose weight I feel afraid that you want me to feel ashamed of or doubt the choices I make in about to my own body. This fear is out of sync with the person I know you to be. You are and have been an incredible father and parent to me. I feel mind-bogglingly lucky to have you in my life. Truly, I love you more than I can say.

I am asking this of you because I trust in the person that you are and I believe in the relationship we share as as adults and friends. As my father & friend, I know that you don't want to hurt my feelings or pressure me to do something that doesn't feel right to me, because I know that you love me (this is never in doubt) and that you want me to love myself (this is the part I am afraid about).

The ways I've chosen to appear and how I treat my own body are the best way I know to love and express myself. It saddens me to think that you dislike the ways I am finding to love myself and my body. But I can live with the dislike. (people who love each other often do things that the other dislikes!) What hurts the most is being asked, cajoled, & hinted to about how I should change or stop doing things that clearly make me happy because of that dislike. 
If you dislike my hair that much then don't look at it. Stop telling me to grow it out. I love you the way you are. It doesn't mean I have to like everything about you. I request the same courtesy from you.

I know that you and I have differing opinions about fashion & appearance. But these are differences of aesthetic opinion. And I would love to discuss these differences with you more in depth when I see you at Christmas. But for now, can we keep our conversations about fashion and appearance general/philosophical & not about me in particular?

Thank you so much for being my Dad! There is no thanks that could be enough for that! I love you so much and can't wait to see you over the holidays. Give my love to Mom!

Wendy R.M.

This was difficult to write. But important. So glad I did.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Nobody is entitled to your listening

Last month I had a friend look me dead in the face while talking about some pretty triggering shit, thank me, and then say "You know Wendy, you're the person who taught me to listen." My eyeballs blurred salty with  surprising joy. This was one of the best compliments I've ever received. And it's taken me a month to dig out why.

I haven't always been as good a listener as I am today. I work at it and on it. Daily. For four years I've been trying to find/create kind, consent-respecting, and genuine ways to demonstrate my appreciation and excitement in discussion with others. I have tried countless practices and approaches. I am pretty constantly aware of and seeking to make the ways I interact with others better for me and better for them. I always want my communication styles to be more sustainable, alive, and respectful. 

For a long time I didn't know what to call this work. This work is not something that has a name or is given much air time in a culture that privileges extroversion and aggression in our interactions (thanks to capitalism & other broken hierarchies). Because I had no name for it I didn't know how valuable this work was. It's taken several friends calling it out to me in various ways for me to see that the way I listen and interact with others is incredibly valuable, highly energetic, and deeply aware.

"My voice matters." This has been a mantra for the last five years. And, yes, of course it fucking does, but my listening matters too. And what's more it matters in the same way. It matters because it is a part of who I am. It's also a force/tool with which I can have an impact (hopefully positive) on my culture and surroundings.

Listening can be just as powerful a force as speaking and storytelling. I know this to be true because my experience in bearing witness to the struggles and trauma of others has taught me that in those instances listening is better than speaking. Always. To give up the space in your experience for the voice and speech of another person is mindbogglingly moving and important. Last weekend I was privileged to be part of an audience that was acknowledged for our role in "holding open the space for the truths of the performers."

In and out of the theater, when interacting with others how we choose to listen matters. This is extremely true in dating contexts. I can definitely say that I've decided to not to go on a second date with someone, not because of the way they talked but, because of the way they listened or didn't listen.

Listening is as powerful & valuable & often just as tiring as speech. 

I work in customer service. I recognize that part of my work there is to be ready to listen with customers. To be present with them and engage in their stories and words. For the most part I like this about my job. But, like many other folks in customer service, there are those moments when a customer talks to you in a way or with words that are unpleasant. Were you not working you would leave the space or confront this person's speech, but since you are at work, you do the listening.

There are limits and boundaries to this of course, but enduring such assaults on my boundaries for listening is what I recognize as part and parcel of a customer service job. Listening is the primary job of a customer service professional. I am paid to listen to customers, which can be tiring. Sometimes when I get home I don't want to interact with anybody at all for a full hour. If someone talks to me on the bus ride home I ignore them and point to my huge "I'm-clearly-not-listening-to-you" headphones

Thing is, unless I am being paid for it, (&man are there limits and problematic capitalist hierarchies to that!) I've realized that nobody is entitled to my listening. It is a gift. A tool I have crafted and honed and nobody has a right to participate in my attention it unless I say so.

This is the reason I find sidewalk fundraising to be infuriating and in some ways harassment (also that they tell me I have a kind smile, use words like "lady" and "ma'am" and say "hey gorgeous" to get me to talk to them).

I want to find better ways to protect my listening, because sometimes I am too tired to fight and too tired to say fuck off and just want to get away.

In a lot of ways this plays out in in the form of street harassment folks (women in depressing majority) deal with on an infuriatingly regular basis. It's not just that catcalls or comments about our bodies are offensive, sexist, and objectifying in ways we don't consent to, it's also that whoever is making a catcall thinks that they are entitled to the listening/attention of whoever they are harassing. Forcing, shaming, or bullying someone into giving you their attention is just as harmful and violent a transgression as silencing their voice or censoring their words.

It's important to recognize that this is not just an adult problem. Kids, teens, and young adults are the victims of "you have to listen to me" bullying at the hands of peers and most often from adults. This helps normalize forced listening and fosters the notion that there are some people (those who have more power than us) we should always listen to (regardless of our ability/will).

Internet trolls make endless use of this learned "obligation" to interact/listen. It's the cornerstone of what makes their harassment so effective. It's why we hesitate to delete their comments and why they're most proudest of their forced visibility. On some level trolls operate based on a value system where the attention & listening of others is a commodity to be stolen, bought with tactics & tricks and then gloated over like a pile of gold coins.

It's a devastatingly effective hack of our learned social etiquette which tells us censorship is a sin far graver than harassment. Trolls love to tout censorship in defense of their comments/actions which have already killed and possibility of consensual, collaborative interaction. I'd like to call bull shit on this. It relies on the fact that culturally we are willing to defend our voices but not our listening.

As primates, we humans are compelled to interact with one another, however, this common compulsion does not mean we are always consenting or open be interacted with or that we get to have/force an interaction whenever we want one. If this sounds familiar, that's because the same principle holds true about human sexuality.

In recent years there's been delightfully radical strides in conversations about consent when it comes to sex. I believe that these conversations can and need to be mapped onto all forms of human interaction. Let's practice & model consensual principles in our social lives. Consent is bigger than just sex. It can and should live in all things we do together.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

An exploration of "hipsters" & the classist appropriation of "irony"

There have been a LOT of articles circulating lately about the problems of hipster culture. Only one of which actually mentions the classist nature of hipster "irony" (which is not actually irony but more an obfuscation of discrimination & appropriation through the lens of "but I'm just joking!")

That is Lindy West piece for Jezebel: A Complete Guide to ‘Hipster Racism’ which in addition it's title focus on racism, specifically calls out the classism of hipster culture.
privileged people descend for a visit inside the strange, foreign spaces of othered groups. Like, I don't know, IHOP. Or that "scary" bar in the south end. Then they go home again. Catchphrase: "It's soooooo ghetto, but I actually totally like it!"
She does a fucking great job of showing how these oppressions are messily intertwined and often operate in nasty collaboration! Hipster racism & hipster sexism are alive and well and fortunately being talked about with delightful frequency in my internetscape, but I have been sorely craving a takedown of hipster classism, which I would argue is a huge source of hipster culture. Couldn't find it. So I wrote one myself.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

I am learning how to heal independently

And so I wrote myself a note for the next time I am upset and thinking "I need someone"

Dear Self:

I know you want to reconcile. You always want to reconcile. & that is one of most beautiful things about you, but the soaking remember you are soaking. You don't have to stop or hurry into reconciliation.

When you draw from your watershed to brine puffy sorrows you should also draw a boarder. Draw a circle of sorrow-- protect your process from easy solutions and the ready warmth of loved ones. Be greedy with you grief. No one will think less of you. They might miss you, but, discomfort isn't always an invitation to cultivate, & sometimes sadness is just your feelings asking to lie fallow for a while.

This time keep your crying inside the circle of you. Don't let the possibility of another knocking convince you that you are alone. You've got yourself. Stay there. Do the work. Wash away the myths lodged in your optic nerve & stuck echoing in the slurry of earbones. Don't let their nervous knocking for a second interrupt your journey toward the sound of “enough”. You are enough.

You aren't bad & you don't need anybody to fix or validate you. You don't need a sounding board or a rational answer, that is not where you are going right now. You'll get there if you choose. But right now you're working towards enough. Your memory and confidence will get there. You are already enough, just take this moment & let your feelings catch up.

Friday, October 26, 2012

On Performative Sexuality

Encouraged by mainstream porn narratives and in our culture overall, there is a demand for performative sexuality (or at least attraction), telling folks, and predominantly women, that their sexuality is only valuable as a display, that their sexuality is only valuable in as much as it relates to the wants of others/men.

I didn't watch/view porn until I was in my twenties And I was STILL deeply affected by the messages of performative sexuality. It's my suspicion that many American women never get to a point where they can untangle their sexuality from the now-subconscious mandates of performative sexuality.

As much good work as sex positive communities are often doing, it's not uncommon for unquestioned messages of performative sexuality to be expressed and encouraged as "radical" and "liberated". In BDSM communities women who exclusively have sex as a submissives are often endlessly congratulated & publicized regardless of the fact that the role they choose comes from a history of oppression. 

If powerplay is not practiced with an awareness of the historical and current oppressions it is invoking it is not radical. Period. It actually might come from a place of learned performative sexuality, it might come from a place of preference. But without a critical eye towards social context you can't know. I am NOT saying that folks without an education in hsitorical and systematic oppressions should be barred from BDSM. What I am saying is that the engagement, praise, and commentary of those who do understand the social & historical context for powerplay needs to be more nuanced & critical. In conversations about BDSM, bringing up historical & social contexts of oppression should be encouraged rather than just easily dismissed as "sex-negative" or "hating".

My basic beef about performative sexuality is not with those that practice it without knowing, my beef is with those who know about the context of oppression it comes from and aren't furthering the conversation. Sometimes even stopping that conversation because it's "not hot" or "uncool". Merely being an enlightened practitioner of performative/role-centered sex is not enough. It's self empowering (because you understand and are willing to dig deep into your preferences), but it doesn't educate or make space for the empowerment of others. Personal progress toward more enlightened sexuality is personalty liberating and empowering but it is not revolutionary. Learning about the complex nature of your orgasms/pleasure is good for you, but those orgasms/pleasure aren't revolutionary unless you choose to bring what you've learned about them to your community. 

By inviting & defending such criticisms I don't mean to Yuck anybody's sexual Yum. I don't disparage or look down on anybody who finds it pleasurable to be wanted or pursued. I find these things pleasurable sometimes. But if you see being wanted or pursued as your whole sexuality it makes the value of your sexuality wholly dependent on the validation others give/don't give to it. This is the risk of accepting your sexuality as merely performative (for others). 

Engaging in performative sexuality CAN be erotic and enjoyable, but we should never stop at just that! We and our sexualities are so much bigger than what others can perceive and validate. If I want a sexuality that relates with others' sexualities in sustainable & more safe ways, I first need to relate to my sexuality in sustainable, supportive, & lovingly critical ways. I try to do this and I think we all can!

For anyone (the book is geared toward women but is a great read for anyone!) who wants to join me in this I'd suggest reading Jaclyn Friedman's "What You Really Really Want." I think it's a great vehicle for women looking to define their sexuality as their own.

Also this:

"I'm not the one you want babe." because I am the person I choose to be not who you want me to be.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Branding & Activism

Part 2: The "Sex" in "Sex Positive"

Mini intro for those of you who missed P.1:
In activist communities there are movements towards re-defining certain terms, then using those terms loaded with new meaning to talk to a public that has not been educated, consulted or even invited to accept these new definitions. This practice of re-definition mimics the use of language in academic communities. In this sense it is (unintentionally) exclusive. It creates communities of activists privileged with newer enlightened definitions and excludes those that aren't "in the know". The use of community-specific language can be alienating or confusing to a person who is using more traditional definitions. Ineffective and inconsiderate branding harms both the movement itself and those who're invited into an activist community under the banner of poorly branded terms.

I feel pangs of annoyance and resistance to certain branding efforts; for products whose names do not receive recognition in my neural net, campaigns that try so hard to seem natural that they lose their authenticity.  When I see Bing, with their sad product placement and blatant failure to complete with Google, I feel a familiar annoyance and resistance. It's the same awful feeling I get I when see the words "sex positivity" used in a way that demands displays of "pride" (aka performative sexuality) or excludes people based on their appearance or their preferred intensity of sexual expression. I can't stand under the banner of a "sex positive" movement because of the way it has ineptly tried and failed to force a re-branding of "sex".

I believe the sex positive moment is doing some damn fine work. Most sex-positive folks I know will tell you right off the bat that "sex" had a broad definition (this is good!). But In the past when I've dropped "I'm sex positive" in conversation, I always tended to find myself talking about how sex positivity is actually more about consent than about sex (these days I'm using consent-positive). Despite my efforts to the contrary, the people I've spoken with outside of the sex-positive community hear the words "sex-positive" and by and large still think I mean "I like penis in vagina action" or "I like to have sex". 

This is a fundamental yet unacknowledged semantic misunderstanding. Refusing to acknowledge it and make space for this misunderstanding is not only inconsiderate, it implies that whatever understanding a person does come to about "sex" is the one true "sex positive" principle. This is how you get men expressing sentiments like "I'm totally a sex-positive feminist! I love having sex with women!" Refusing to acknowledge the likelihood of misunderstanding stops those we're attempting to educate from taking accountability for their own understandings.

There are consequences to assuming the sex positive definitions of sex & consent are simple easily accepted or free from the effect of mainstreams assumptions about "sex". Folks who don't openly express their affinity for sex or certain types of sex often have their voices invalidated and excluded from visibility. Oppressive stereotypical roles can creep into sex positive spaces. The status quo is often disguised as radical. In the case of sex positive the branding has gotten away from it's original campaign and is being used to justify unquestioned objectification. Under the brand of "sex positive" those who express dislike, or refuse to comply are ridiculed and ostracized. Sexual availability and expressions of desire become compulsory.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

On Apologies & Boundaries

Dear Internet: 

I'm writing to tell you I got a job last month. It's part time, so I'll still be making time to blow things up with my words, but I am, at the moment, still trying to balance my life now that it has some paid work in it. I am happy to have to job and love going in to it every day (even if it means waking up @ 5:30 sometimes). It's been great, but the frequency of my writing has declined :(

While I figure all this adult life stuff out I'll leave y'all with an old hunk of writing to chew on. Hope it satisfies!

                                                    -Wendy R.M.

I vow that the space surrounding my body will no longer be an apology. I will no longer take responsibility for your discomfort. The way your face rumples when I say the word queer is not my fault.

By most of my friends and myself I am known as a "tough" girl. The kind of girl who bites back at assholes and jerks when they try to step on my agency. I wasn't born this way.
I was lucky. I learned it. I was well taught by my loving old fashioned father how to find a strength of stance and confidence rarely privileged to those who share my gender. He warned me about other men who would not care about my strength or my confidence. I readied and honed my “fuck you”s for just such men. I wrote myself so many templates for fighting against male aggression and oppression. 

But no one told me how to say no to women, and that it's not okay for anyone, not just men, to touch me when I don’t want it. When they banned hugs and hand holding in the hallways of my high school nobody stopped my best friend from touching my breasts. Especially not me. 

Anti-consent rape culture is alive in the actions of more than one gender. It is alive in the actions as innocuous as the "guess who" game. You know when you sneak up behind someone and cover over their eyes? We glorify, normalize and often erotocize the unasked for aggressions on the physical boundaries of others. We call it "romantic", "spontaneous" and so often for women it’s deemed "adorable" or even "confident". It's not confident it is creepy, it is disrespectful. I might even be assault. And I will not stand for it anymore. The space around my body will no longer be an apology.

When/if you ignore my boundaries or assume that my boundaries are the same as other women or other queers that you've met, you lose my respect & I will become less comfortable around you. I'm not sorry for this. I won't banish you forever. I know that our culture has taught you that surprises, spontaneity, & teasing are romantic, but what you are playing with is somebody's boundaries for feeling okay in the world. Next time, just ask.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

I don't go by "Lady" anymore

This is a new decision, one I find myself talking about with increasing frequency and length. It first popped in a previous post as an innocuous, itchy declaration that edged on subconscious. It's since been growing.

There is a lot of cultural expectation attached to the term "lady".

I am beginning to recognize it as a coded term for compulsory femininity and consumption. The easiest and most apparent way to recognize this is to think about traditional femininity. It's easy for most people who've grown up in highly gendered western culture to conjure up a vision of a lady as someone living in a different time; a role played by Elizabeth Taylor or Marilyn Monroe. We think of lace and poise. The word dainty comes to mind. There is a level of control, artifice, and illusion (corsets and make up) with which the traditional lady presents her body. While I see nothing inherently wrong with these things, I personally don't make it a habit to treat my body the way a traditional lady would.

The manifestation of "lady" in modern times is definitely built off of these old forms and habits of ladyhood in the form of casual slut shaming & agency discouraging aphorisms: a lady always crosses her legs; a lady always waits for the third date; a lady waits to be courted etc. But these days there are many more confusing and often contradictory standards about being a lady one must appear "ladylike" (aka expressing sexuality) at all times but neither be "too forward" (AKA sexually available on her OWN explicitly specified) terms). The habits surrounding ladyhood have expanded (from corsets to shapewear & eradicating pubic hair) and been branded as "liberating" choice, but women's compulsion to participate in lady culture has remained constant.

There is a set of consumer habits a "lady" is expected to engage in. This is particularly apparent in not just beauty magazines but in places where women gather online like the r/twoXchromosome on reddit or on pintrest. Where lots of cool discussion happens and also a ton of posts about hair, crafting, design, & menstrual cycles. I don't want to discourage women from posting things they like and are proud of, but one of the most common words included in the title and content of such of posts is the word "ladies". Much of the time in this context "lady" is meant to be a call to attention for all of those folks who engage in the consumer and social habits of being of stereotypically feminine and usually heterosexual.

The one thing both that traditional and modern sense of "lady" share is their commitment to deference & to being dependent on men's expectations. The traditional "lady" is extremely direct about this. Whereas the modern "lady" brands her deference and dependence as an empowering "choice" to present in ways that are in line with cultural beauty standards defined by the male gaze.

In a pamphlet put out recently at a GOP event attended by Paul Ryan women were explicitly instructed to be modest, responsive, and gentle in spirit:

All women, whether married or single, are to model femininity in their various relationships, by exhibiting a distinctive modesty, responsiveness, and gentleness of spirit.

The term lady is least often coded as meaning these things so strictly and explicitly, but it still happens all the freaking time in mandates as simple and unspoken as "girls can't ask boys out." 

For both the traditional and contemporary lady standards for the consumer and presentation habits are inexorably tied to both class and race. On some levels fitting into the role of lady means completely masking your  racial and/or socio-economic background. The humor commonplace around a working class dinner table would be deemed "too dirty" or "lowbrow"; The way you learned to eat (with your hands, talking while eating) may be deemed gross or unladylike.  The ladylike women in our fairy tales are valued for being "fair". 

In the past I too have longed to fit this mold, to have an effortless air of "elegance". One of my previous partners used to work in politics. When we'd go to formal dinners we would comment unknowingly about how some of the women at these fancy functions just seemed "better suited" to elegance how I wanted to be a lady like them. Neither of us knew then that the coded language of lady was at work there, telling me I was too "rough" too "unsophisticated".

For me being a lady often means suffering clothes my body does not know how to wear without wrinkling or itching. It means smudging goop on my face. It means apologizing for and suppressing my burps. I means pretending I don't poop or fart. Conforming to such habits usually means being uncomfortable and pretending to like it. 

I used to feel shame about both my gender and my socioeconomic background because of the expectation that I be a lady or else be undesirable. I'm working to no longer feel this way. Crucial to this is no longer being called a lady when I am not asking to be called one. 

Dressing up and behaving like a lady feels like a costume to me on so many levels. It can be fun sometimes, I do like pretending and trying on ways of being and presenting that aren't necessarily comfortable or natural to me (it often opens my mind in awesome ways!) but I refuse to move through the world in a way that feels foreign to me and have others say that it is natural or the way I prefer to be. I can take on the role of "lady" and I can have fun with it and be proud while I am doing it but unless I have explicitly said otherwise I would prefer to no longer be called a lady.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Just a thought.

(xposted from my tumblr)

Talking about what constitues "real work" is as broken as talking about how "real women have curves" or how "real men don't buy girls".

It implies illegitimacy. And that the legitimacy of your definitions can only come from an outside source. You're a man if YOU say you are. You're a woman if YOU say you are. What you do is work if YOU say it is. Regardless of compensation, or whatever others may say to delegitimize your work.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Branding & Activism

Part 1: An Introduction
"I am done with the labels. I am resisting the labels of the communities I am choosing. I ask to be part of community action, but to name my own politics"

- excerpt from a freewrite earlier this month. 

I'm not a marketing, content strategy guru, nor do I consider myself a seasoned activist, but as a writer & editor committed to compassionate communication and a former “outsider” to activist causes I have noticed a thing or two about branding in the activist community that just don't work for me. I have in fact refused to hitch my direct support to causes that I've seen doing good work but have used branding language in a way that frustrates me greatly. This post signifies the start of a series. Each entry will include either a specific example of activist banding I see as ineffective and/or problematic or further revelations about activism and branding as a whole.

Before I start to do that I need to outline what I interpret and believe to be the goals of activist branding. And why those activist goals are important.

Activism for me at it's core is about opening people's minds to more human ways of  being in the world-- ways they'd never noticed or had not thought possible beforehand. Outside of any political philosophies and habits I have, I believe this truly and completely that: If we, as members of the human race, communicated better, we would hurt each other less.

Before I can "make change" as an activist my first job is to communicate. This is why I write, this is why I am passionate about consent dialogue and consensus. This is why I am constantly looking for ways to be a better writer and communicator. The most important activism work to me is seated in language and how we talk and package our messages.

In both ad campaigns and my politics I like simple questions that have complicated intuitive answers. The challenge here is to let go of the idea that your audience will think what you want them to think. They won't. What this means for activist groups: before we do outreach to general audiences activists must accept the reality that people's definitions are valid cultural context even though those definitions and ideals differ from our intended definitions. 

Its important to meet people where they are at. This is a philosophy I've tutored under and written under for a long time. Respecting your audience's current context and definitions extends the first line of compassion. It gives something to your audience, welcomes them in your message.

I'm not saying that all activists should be courteous about every topic at all times or that outcries of rage and disgust are ineffective or unnecessary, but that our first contact with an audience outside our group of activists should avoid this. It should come from a place of understanding and invitation. An invitation that comes with an angry yell and a proclamation about everything that is wrong and problematic may feel and be absolutely true to the speaker, but to the audience, to the listener, it can be scary. It can be confusing. Expressions of anger are valuable and useful in many ways and more specific contexts but when used as content and slogan of wide scale branding they often alienate.

If we want people the choose to stand with our cause then we have to make sure that they know we won't devalue them as humans for choosing otherwise What holds true for ethical sex/romance also holds true for content strategy: Your audience can't fully choose to join your cause unless they have the option to refuse without consequence.

Movements should not seem compulsory (that's the kyriarchy's job!). Outreach content should not accuse its audience of having the wrong definitions. We want people to choose to see words and concepts in ways that resemble how we see them. This is what learning is. Educating others is not a simple transfer of information (because then proclamatory re-defining approaches would work). Radical education makes space and invites others too chose and create ideas new to them

The bombastic, downright pushy ways (stay tuned for specific examples!) I've seen activists promote important information completely ignores their audience's learning role in the process of radical education. Quite frankly in some ways it reminds me of a mean, authoritatian teacher.

The thing that separates activist branding from branding at large, what makes it radical, is that the activist's goal in branding should be to incite critical thinking in their audience. Calling folks to participate in their community and culture critically. There's a recent and apt approach in marketing bourn out of web 2.0. It takes advantage of its audience's enjoyment of interactive internet features. This approach often includes showing users the effects of their interactions. It invites its audience to feel that their input is welcome and appreciated. If participants in a survey get a notification telling them how their answers assisted their organization they can see clearly how their critical input is valuable & welcome. As activists we too should invite the audience to pool their critical thinking with ours.

Rather than demand our audience correct their ways, activist branding should invite and make space for critical consciousness. It'll take patience for our audience and a lot of questioning. It does NOT require that we let go of the principles about which we feel righteous and real rage, but that we take some focus off the issue and focus on the reality of the humans we are trying to reach out to. If our audience can see we care about them as much we care for our message (which we as compassionate activists should already be doing) they are more likely to care about our messages. The best promotional tool we have available to boost our message is our ability to express care for and invite the critical thinking of those outside our movement.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

My Madison Ruby Story

Last month I attended a tech conference in Wisconsin called Madison Ruby. Now before I talk Madison Ruby it's vital to at least acknowledge the nature of my relationship with technology.

I consider myself to have low tech literacy (relative to my age group & global location). I've only been actively computing for 7 years & I've only recently escaped the notion that I am “one of those people” who just breaks tech devices when I come into contact with them. (I'm further alienated from tech than most of my peers, so why not make up a fantastical story about it). My partner is a former tech writer recently self-taught web developer. For the past year he has been constantly challenging the iterations of “I can't” that circle through my brain and stumble out my mouth when I talk about interacting with tech. Often I still think “I'm not smart/good enough to use x piece of technology”.

My partner and I had talked about whether it would be a good idea for me to accompany him on the 7hr drive to Madison and hang out while he was at the conference. But beyond a strong interest to meet some of his colleagues and internet friends (who sounded cool from the internet!) I thought the trip wouldn't be worth it. I'd have to find some place to be and mill about Madison while he attended the conference panels.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

In defense of Questioning: it's the journey that matters

This post was partly inspired by this piece and a very brave (possibly questioning) daughter.

I know, I know, you, dear reader might be thinking something like “Didn't people stop using that term 1998?”, “Isn't 'questioning' for teenagers?” or “Don't we use 'queer' now?”

Well for starters I'll let you know right off the bat I do identify as queer. But I also identify as questioning. We'll have to go back a few years to show how I got to this identity. So here we go.

I've always had an urge to seek out and admit that which I do not know. I registered for advanced classes high school without taking pre-reqs. I didn't mind being confused or getting a lower grade. I was gaining exposure, asking questions that excited me. In college, while studying education I articulated a long standing thought I'd had about schools. I realized they were training students to fear failure and unknowing. Taking risks, and admitting gaps in knowledge are usually punished and rarely rewarded in traditional American education. This punishment/reward system around certainty/uncertainty has been something I've consistently resisted in my life, in and out of schools; in and out of the bedroom. Sure it's more efficient to know for certain, but I'm not always looking for efficiency.

Recently I've come to the conclusion that I'm actually uncomfortable with certainty. I avoid it. Certainty, as counterintuitive as this sounds, makes me nervous. I find unknowing, confusion, and the ritual of questioning incredibly comforting. My intuition tells me it's okay to be confused.

I often talk about being a “late bloomer” sexually. Lately I've been feeling critical of this language, not because I think it is particularly inaccurate, only that it is incomplete. As a bookish teen, I grew up in a loving, crowded family where my only real privacy was inside my skull or between pages. I remember staying up til 2 am just staring at the ceiling, reading, thinking, and imagining. I thought about things a lot, got in good cahoots with my brain. Less so with my body, I was nervously curious, but I had no space or privacy to explore this budding curiosity. There were always footsteps upstairs and you heard every movement though the thin wall between my brother's and my basement “rooms”. In the world of my family there was no such thing as a knock on the door. But more than my nervousness and lack of privacy, I, as a female teenager was taught that my sexuality was only allowed to exist in relation to men. I didn't even know women could masturbate until I was 17. What went through my head during my sparse teenage sexual experiences was something along the lines of “I guess I'll try that.”“Is this what I want?” I knew I wanted sensations but I had no idea what exactly. I was inarticulately curious.

These days things are a bit less murky. I have learned that being explicit matters not just when I share my sexuality with others but that I can have a sexuality independent of a partner and even without having a physical actualization. While things are less murky, there is so much I still don't know. In a lot of ways I am still in a place of questioning an interrogating my sexuality. And honestly, I hope to never stop that ritual of questioning.

One thing I AM beginning to feel certain about is owning my uncertainty. Regardless of the consequences. I AM still questioning. And I really mean this in the good old fashioned teenage questioning. I'd be willing to bet more people than just me identify at least their adolescent sexuality as including more questioning than they felt allowed to say at the time. But questioning is not recognized as a valid sexual state to be in. It's looked at as being inbetween, less than.

The idea of being “sexually confused” holds such a strongly negative connotation in our culture that it's often used to invalidate the actual certainty of folks expressing not-straight attractions. I find this disgusting on two levels. First of course that it seeks to define and disparage another person's experience, but secondly that “sexual confusion” is seen as a temporary or transitional state. My sexuality confuses me all the fucking time and I welcome it. I don't want that to stop. Opening to it's uncertainty is what feels natural to me.

Now, just because I am happily confused, doesn't mean I don't believe other people are exactly what they say they are. I do. I deeply respect the expressed sexual certainty of others. Hell I occasionally envy it. It takes time and energy to figure myself out all the freaking time, but it works for me. I often end up feeling like I'm behind that I have to catch up with folks more certain than myself. It's not easy to know when to chase after certainty, but like any protagonist knows, it's not the destination (certainty) that really matters, it's the journey. My journeys into that which I do not know (sexually or otherwise) make me feel like me. I am questioning.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Continuing the Project

The text on these stickers read: 
Be advised: this is a anti-choice organization. 
They will not present you will all your legal & medical options.
Call Planned Parenthood instead: 1-800-230-7526

I started this project in Seattle back in June with 50 stickers I'd bought with my own money. I passed them out to my pro-choice bus-commuting buds (who gave a few bucks if they could) and we got down to business.

These ads (and the stickers) have now been replaced by new ads for a Crisis Pregnancy Center in Snohomish. I currently have no spare money to buy new stickers. I'm feeling out what starting a kickstarter of this might look like and if it is acceptable within kickstarter guidelines and if it is even worthwhile for such a small amount.

I'm also considering hosting a dinner fundraiser. If you've hosted such fundraisers could you tell me about it and leave tips and pointers in the comments?

If you're interested in purchasing and using these stickers yourself (this is considered graffiti/defacing so use your own discretion) you can use this template (remember to look up and replace the # with your local Planned Parenthood’s #).

This poem was my inspiration for the project.

Unfortunately the only listing of CPCs in WA I could find was put out by an anti-choice org, but it is a comprehensive list. I know that had a great list but their site appears to be down. If anyone has a better resource for this please let me know.

Monday, September 3, 2012

My Big Bad Gender

This X-posted from modernpoly as part of a series of personal stories about Poly and Gender. Thanks go out to all the modernpoly folks for inspiring me to write this all down!

I became a gender non-conformist after discovering polyamory, and delighting in its demand for explicit communication about feelings and relationships. I soon adopted that level of communication in my relationship with myself; in many ways, polyamory inspired and fueled the more conscious exploration of my identity which followed. That journey eventually led to regularly choosing and redefining my gender. In this sense, I've tossed off the traditional role of “woman” that my culture has assigned me, and have been creating new ways of being a woman that I can call entirely my own.

I approach romantic relationships with the goal of staying open to possibilities of deep, flexible, and varied connections. This is also how I approach my relationship with my gender. I have a lot of traditionally “butch” qualities, but that doesn't mean I need to find “femme” in my partners or in any place outside myself. I feel lucky to have a wide range of potential partners and roles to explore, and a relationship model that demands I voice my choices explicitly. These factors create repeated opportunities to challenge false absolutes of gender: I don't just get to choose my partners explicitly and enthusiastically, I also get to choose how I present myself! I get to choose what I'll call this combination of qualities I exhibit, regardless of how it compares to others' placement on the “gender spectrum”.

Being the woman I am pushes at the boundaries of who people have leaned to call a “woman” a bit. I let my body take up all the space it wants without apology. The wide shoulders I flaunt rather than conceal make me no less girly. I don't like being called a “chick” or “bitch”. I can't stand being “baby,” and I am decidedly not a “lady”. But I am not a tomboy; Being into machines and beer and sweat does not make me one of the guys.

My clothing and behavior choices have never comfortably fit within the traditional definitions of the feminine. For now, as a feminist vagina-haver comfortable being called a “woman”, I've taken it on as my personal project to be a woman in ways that are unexpected & unapologetic. I want to make the social construct of what a woman is bigger. Not just for me (although I do like taking up space); if I can get folks to see and respect that I am a (hairy, loud, greasy) woman, maybe it'll be easier for other unconventional women to be seen and respected. To that end, I always expect that people I interact with recognize that I am what I say I am when I say it.

I am extraordinarily lucky; this usually goes over pretty well. I've never had anyone say, “Oh really?” or question my womanhood outright. This privilege has made my life as a woman much easier. But I have had men balk, disgusted at my “manly” pit hair or other 'less womanly' attributes. I've witnessed incredulity on people's faces when I've expressed an attraction to men or put on a pretty dress. It's as if being recognized as a tough woman requires me to look and behave like a butch lesbian at all times. In some ways, I totally look like the “butch lesbian” they assume I am. I love looking and acting this way, but I am more complex than what people think I look or act like. Everyone is.

I choose my womanhood to be big: big enough to be both vulnerable and tough. This isn't something categorically female at all; It's just most comfortable for me to call myself a woman while navigating the bigness of my identity. I claim all my chosen actions as female; when someone insinuates that I or my actions are anything but, it disrupts my comfort.

This bigness isn't always easy to carry, either. The challenges I face in balancing and expressing my womanhood are usually small, but are damn insidious and pervasive. I live in constant denial and critique of the roles being thrust on women by society. They come from a lot of places, but especially from ad culture. I regularly question my clothing & presentation choices. I spend a significant amount of energy trying to make sure what I put on and into my body are things I really want, and not just echoes of the ad industry or my gendered upbringing.

Unfortunately, messages about my womanhood being too big are also buried deeply in my relationships. I can't deny that I get a self-righteous rise out of living in a way that combats ideas that I'm personally & politically opposed to, but I'd be telling a half-truth if I didn't confess that it wears me down. My mother wrinkles her nose and tells me that the pubic hair taking up sparse residence outside the reach of my swimsuit is “embarrassing.” My father touches my stomach and suggests I “get rid of” the bulging belly I've come to love. I love my parents, and we have a great relationship. This is just how close it gets.

The way my gender identity stacks up in my romantic relationships is much more rewarding. I live with one of my male partners, and we usually take about the same amount of time to get ready before going out. He spends more time on his hair than me; he uses product. I don't. I love the outdoors, while he prefers the outdoors “stay out there.” He's wonderfully fussy and detail oriented (which makes him a fabulous editor). I sometimes refer to him as “princess.” This isn't an insult at all, between us; he is beautiful, high maintenance, and far more likely to wear glitter. And I like getting to be prince charming, whether it's for him or someone else.

To be clear, this sort of gender playfulness is just that–play. My partner and I both like playing with gender. Neither of us like that the divisions of binary gender have been made so mandatory in our culture. In my ideal future, the social construct of gender would disintegrate into nothing more than a massive roleplaying game (AKA gender anarchy). But I figure,before that can happen, a strategic vagina-having human like me should start setting their sites on making the boundaries between genders bulge and swell. I want to distend perceptions of gender. I want to show people that the stories they've been taught about “real” men and “real” women are completely made up.

I'd like to think I bring a healthy, important uncertainty to the choices I make about my gender identity and presentation. But sometimes the divisive doubts of the outside world do press into my skin. In the secret holds of my subconscious, the doubts mix into the uncertainty I use to daily choose my feminine self. I sometimes begin to believe I am ugly, fat, or unworthy; that I am not “doing enough” to deserve to be who I say I am; that all I'm doing is forcing my selfish fuss onto others. This often ends in a bawling heap of an anxiety attack.

This isn't every day (or even most days). I'm getting better at recovering back into my own cycles of choosing. More importantly, I'm learning how to tell off folks (men mostly) who try to shove me into their box of compliant, smooth, nurturing, and pretty woman. It's not that any of those words are ones I don't like to be from time to time (I am a world class nurturer, for one), but they are not the qualities I want defining me indefinitely.

I'm much bigger than that. I'm a woman.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

This is a response to Roxanne Gay's

AMAZING piece about trigger warnings. Please read it before you read my response. I agree with the point that trigger warnings can provide false utopian senses of security which need to be challenged. But I still think they have incredible value.

Trigger warnings are vitally useful in the age of the internet where there is no actual physical space to catalogue information. The inverse of "everything is a trigger for someone" is that no one is able/available to engage in (potentially triggering) information on disparate topics at all times. Context matters. Especially physical context (which the internet can't account for). I'd like to know if an article might make me cry or rage before I read it in the bathroom at a family reunion. (true story)

On the internet pics of kittens can be tabbed right next to a post about rape/rape culture. Sometimes even in reverse as an effort offer relief. The transition between these two hunks of information is sometimes helped immensely by a few words (a trigger warning). In other words a trigger warning is courteous to your audience because it considers their possible context/history. It acknowledges that, based on cultural trends, certain topics will probably be more triggering to certain populations others. This is not coddling, this is using assumptions based on cultural trends to allow others to make space for how they are likely to receive certain info. It's internet polite, if you will. 

The information on the internet is very different from the information in a book/magazine/pamphlet. A book has a jacket/cover, a blurb, some imagery, a table of contents, and sometimes even an introduction or preface; a protestor or a promoter probably handed you a pamphlet at a specific location/event; magazines have tons of images and thoughtful layout. When it comes to analogue reading/viewing we're often much more primed for how to receive that content. Internet/digital content is usually sorely lacking in this sort of contextualizing information.

A trigger warning attempts to provide some of the same context-centering information. Maybe one day we won't need them, but while we're still transitioning from a print culture to a digital information one, they serve to make transitions between contexts smoother.

Trigger warnings provide a form of notation. They let folks know what sort of information they're about to access. If I think of the internet like a huge library of information I know there are sections of information/books I don't want to access at certain times (I would not go to the horror section in the middle of the night, or to the erotica section after being assaulted, or the sexual assault memoirs section at while trying to research marine biology).

I am a fan of trigger warnings as both a reader and a writer. They give me & my readers information that helps us decide when and where to read a text. As a writer I am always considering how an audience will receive a message. Trigger warnings help in this regard. They may be inelegant but they serve their function.

I don't think that trigger warnings make the internet (or any other space) "safer" but I do think they provide more information we can use to navigate tough information (like a map or table of contents). They're a tool for helping us switch contexts more smoothly.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

I know I'm not the first person to say this...

But the incredulity and shock with which liberal, democratic, and radical folks have been talking about this whole Akin/Paul Ryan "legitimate rape" and "rape as a form of conception" is too much. And actually HELPS those within the republican party who are looking to distance themselves from such bad press.

It IS important and I am glad that this is getting coverage. These views are totally illogical and oppressive but they are not abnormal. 

I am kind of annoyed that folks keeping saying that these sorts of views are "extreme" (Rachel Maddow's words). A lot of conservative republicans, and probably a couple of people you know do hold these dehumanizing medically incorrect views. They are widely disseminated by Crisis Pregnancy Centers.

The problem is that most visible politicians who hold these and similar beliefs use coded language (like Newt Gingrich did last December with the "poor urban youths" whose parents can't teach them the "dignity of work" and need to obviously work as janitors). This excess of coded language is conservatives' tactical response to 90's PC awareness. They are so good at this semantic derailing tactic that they can believably eschew Akin-esque honesty when it comes out. 

This deception is not new (campaigning on jobs/the economy and then pushing abortion restrictions). Reactions to Akin or Ryan's rhetoric surrounding rape can and has been easily characterized as overreaction to a single or few words. This minimizes the critique and doesn't allow for a larger examination of misogyny and rape culture as overarching tools oppression used by politicians.

Rape culture (and racism coincidentally) affects everyone & is especially alive and well in the minds and (mostly) coded language of republican politicians. Calling Akin & Ryan's words "extreme" makes other conservative politicians who do believe and push policy about on the same stuff but know not to say it seem normal and acceptable. Screw that. It's not a fringe belief, it is the status quo. It's just learned to hide in more confusing language and repeated politispeak.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The importance of radical non-presence in maintaining intersectional integrity

Note: This is an idea I am still very much mulling over and would LOVE to hear any feedback folks have about privilege, oppression, & intersectionality as it relates to presence/non-presence.

As a teenager, before I explored myself sexually, before I maturbated, before I began writing about my fantasies, & before I began to interrogate my own desires, I accepted the romantic paths society laid out for me. More simply put: I identified as straight until I was 23. Fortunately during my sexual oblivion I gravitated toward the queer youth space in my hometown. I attended weekly meetings and identified myself as a straight ally. My very best friend had come out to me in middle school and I wanted to be the best ally I could.

These meetings provided vital challenges to the way I conceptualized my world. I encountered and began to process the reality of trans and genderqueer folk for the first time. One of our regular leaders spoke with raw vulnerability about living with and contracting HIV. I was blown away. I value what I learned there more than I can say.

A year into my attendance of these meetings a decision was made that the meeting space would available to LGBTQ -identified individuals only. I considered saying I was queer or questioning, but back then straight still felt most comfortable. Conflict & anger burbled in my belly and often escaped my mouth in the shape of resentment as I spoke about the group’s decision. “It’s mean and discriminatory and I feel like I’m being unfairly excluded”.

After listening to my complaints, calmly and at length, my best friend opened his mouth haltingly but without apology. "Sometimes, it's just better to be around people who've had the same experiences you do."

Those simple words clicked instantly. I understood the reason my experience of straightness was excluded from a queer youth space. I didn’t have words for it then but it didn’t matter. I understood. I understood that spaces can be more deeply healing and illuminating when the people in that space have a shared experience & history with specific tools of oppression (in this case trans- & homophobia). At 17 I’d never had someone hate or question me for being queer. More importantly, I hadn't had it happen to me on a repeated, systematic basis. My friend was telling me that the most valuable support I could give him was my non-presence as a person full of a lived history of straightness.

The exclusion of my straight 17 year old self from my hometown's queer youth space facilitated deeper, unquestioned explorations of internalized and subconscious trans- & homophobia. The lessons I’d have learned by continuing to share that space would have no doubt been valuable. But my experiences of straightness took up space in that room. I required time and information to connect deeply to others’ experiences of homophobia and transphobia. I wanted to be included in explorations of those tools of oppression. But it wasn’t the job of those suffering from trans- & homophobia to educate me about that experience. It is never the obligation of the oppressed to educate others about the deep level of systematic oppression they experience. This is especially true if they are present to explore that oppression for themselves.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Further down the rabbit hole: Gender & Success- Comment Edition

I received a comment on my most recent post this morning and I began witing a response. Before I noticed I'd ended up with 700wds and 2 hours had passed. Clearly this was of some importance.

Comment from previous article says

Personally, I find it frustrating that you assume the choice is between compromise your feminist values / live off benefits.

Financial independence is a feminist goal because if you do not have your own money, you are dependent on whether or not someone else will be 'nice' to you; which usually (and in the case of my own parents) means placating a man to support you, regardless of his behaviour. 

I am a manager in an internet company. I wear smart-casual clothing and makeup if I want, or not if I don't. I am attaining, rather than compromising, my feminist values, because if my partner left me tomorrow, I could survive easily. This makes our relationship more equal and makes me feel safer. 

I have found, that women who do not work, or are able to work part time, are *far* more likely to shame women who want / have to work full time. I think this is a class issue. 

My response:

Two of my previous articles detail my feelings about dependence & specifically gendered dependence shaming:

The work I've chosen to devote my life to (writing & activism) rarely pays the bills. It sometimes pays for coffee. I work side jobs when/if I can get them. I am all-but-entirely financially dependent on my partner. This might make you think I am a lazy freeloader (I hope not). But does this make me less feminist? or less likely to leave my partner? I don't think so. I don't placate my partner to gain his support, he pays for us because we are a family. It is TOUGH not to feel pressured or guilty about this. I try very hard to keep my sense of independence from being defined by my economic status. 

Sounds like you do tie your feelings of independence to your economic status. I don't agree with this but I don't think it's a bad thing. I am glad that you are able to find & maintain empowerment in this way (WOOT). But for women who are straight up denied access financial independence (like say teen/very young mothers, disabled women) other nontraditional/non-capitalist avenues to empowerment & independence are needed. It belittles their efforts to tell such women that they will never be truly powerful unless they attain financial independence. (which I don't think you're saying, but is often the implication if women are told to sacrifice their identities to "get ahead" as I see Lady Coders doing)

I don't assume that the choice that you identify as so frustrating is the choice all women must make, but I think it IS the reality for many women (& other oppressed folks). My experience is not everybody's, but I chose to accept the financial benefits my partner offers & do work I find most important, instead of working 40hrs in a shit pay job that fails to nourish my passions. It heartens me so much to hear that you didn't have to make that choice. I am, to be fully honest, actually a bit jealous of that because it was a choice I wish I didn't have to make, but based on my chosen profession, one that was necessary. Also semantics: The choice I meant to draw out & identify as false was the choice between professional success & feminism. Which I think you & I are on the same page about already. (apologies if I was unclear or insinuating otherwise)

I totally agree that many women (& others, namely male partners & churches) DO disparage women who choose to work long days outside of the home. They're shamed for being terrible mothers or not being invested enough in their families or femininity. This IS a class issue because the overarching goal of this shame is to keep women less economically powerful.

In that vein I am thrilled to hear that you (a woman & feminist!) have gained financial success (despite all the horrific shit described above). But you, one woman, earning the privilege of financial success personally does nothing to ensure that other women will find it any easier/doable than you did. Your personal success is not inherently feminist; personal success is not revolution. 

Now I bet, as a feminist, you want more women & women's ideas in your field. I bet you encourage other women in your profession. These are feminist actions/ideas; They are helping other women gain more power. Without goals framed towards furthering women as a whole, women who do find success are often easily tokenized & even disdain the kind of work & success other women attain or fail to attain. Without feminist action/ideas successes of individual women play right into misogyny's hands. (ugh, didn't mean for that so sound so spooky-scary)

This is a messy complex issue. Thanks for voicing your frustration. It inspired me to to slog through & solidify a bunch of things I was previously unclear about.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Is financial independence the ultimate scapegoat for compromising on feminism?

So I recently read the book Female Chauvinist Pigs. It had some gratingly problematic uses of transphobic, gender-essentialist, & objectifying rhetoric but oh, did it ever get my ears pricked for instances of women spouting gendered oppression.

I wanted to share a depressing instance of what female chauvinism looks like to me. This progressively intentioned project wants to "help" get women into the tech industry and specifically into professional coding field. The problem of course is that much of the advice given and projects proposed enforce gendered stereotypes that do nothing for women as a whole. This approach would only serve to (maybe!) garner success for the individual woman who make those compromises.

Small example : "it’s our job (for now) to be easily integrated into an all-male team, nonthreatening, and hyperskilled"

This might just be lazy or "hip" rhetoric employed by their copy writers which bores me. I really hope they don't mean it. Because this is not feminism or if it is, it's a twisted sort of feminism. And it's a great example of why I have issues with "financial independence" being a feminist goal (identified as such in bell hooks' Feminism is for Everybody). It is not surprising to me that when the goals of feminism try to mix with the goals of capitalism it invariably ends up looking like female chauvinism. But this point seems to fall through the cracks (even in Female Chauvinist Pigs) when it comes to other self-professed (successful) feminists.

Am I nuts, or is bowing to capitalism in order to gain financial independence becoming the ultimate scapegoat for compromising on feminist goals? Case and point:
many of the responses to the kerfuffle this project has caused decry that the compromises the Lady Coders project is promoting are necessary and that those dissenting are merely being ideological purists. So I guess personal success is more important than standing for your own boundaries & beliefs about sexism?

To be clear, I acknowledge that compromising on one's boundaries & beliefs in order to survive is often a valid and unfortunate necessity. I would not fault anyone for doing something like identifying with a previous and inaccurate gender/name in order to receive unemployment/social services. Their subsistence depends on that compromise. This is fucked up because folks in such situations are at the actual mercy of the social services system. And is completely different from compromising on your boundaries & beliefs to accrue a higher financial and professional status. If you have a skill/attribute that is valued and sought by an industry that you choose you have power. You are not at the mercy of that industry/system in the way that others are.

And, oh yeah, for all those folks defending the project as looking to be "effective" in their compromise and that this will (slowly) make the environment more diverse:

This whole Lady Coders mess comes to me via my partner who is a (cis-male) web dev. He is furious because this means that even though this project will get more women in the room, the level of diversity of ideas and experiences will be discouraged and disparaged by its approach. And coding (by his account) is a creative, knowledge based work. In such work you NEED a diversity of ideas in order to approach the incredibly diverse of problems with appropriate solutions.

It would actually behoove the tech (and other knowledge-based) industries to welcome diversity with open arms. It is risky, but in the long run it stands to make them more successful, competitive, and flexible. The idea that (potential) workers must compromise their identity in order to work in certain places is the oppression of capitalism at work. It alienates workers from their labor & progress which depletes recourses of experience and ideas that business will have to call upon.

This mandated compromise also creates a system of shaming in which women who have compromised and gained success/status express disdain for women who did not. Often saying that if women don't trade on things like their appearance or novelty that they are just "not trying hard enough". 
The Lady Coders project offers no challenge to this status quo & appears to be a great project for getting big tech companies those token female techies who'll help them look progressive while publicly excoriating those who refuse to compromise their feminist values. 

Not radical ladies, really, just not...

Saturday, August 11, 2012

In other news: Airport security is a terrible thing

Today while passing through TSA on my way from Seattle to Denver I refused to enter the potentially unsafe backscatter X-ray.

I was instead patted down.
I wrote a quick poem about this experience.
It sucked.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

A few rageful thoughts about why 50 Shades of Grey is NOT and should not be everybody's BDSM

There was a protest last week in NYC against a 50 Shades of Grey inspired training workshop called "The Hands Tied for Two". I have no clue what the workshop actually entailed and actually want to talk more specificity about the connection the protestors are making between the book/workshop and violence against women. What caught my attention and (incomplete) solidarity this was this particular bit of messaging: "50 Shades of Grey: BAD FOR WOMEN! BAD FOR SEX!"

Perhaps because this group of protestors sees all/most BDSM as (contributing to) abuse/rape, or maybe because they wanted to keep their message simple, they missed a very important third group of folks that this book is especially bad for. Yes. 50 Shades of Grey totally is bad propaganda about women & sex/pleasure, but it is also bad for BSDM'ers and BDSM communities. BDSM communities and relationships are already inundated with the tired tropes, images, and stories about women submitting and it being the job of a women and specifically a submissive (woman) to have their limits pushed. It is expected that they will always submit to those pushes regardless of whether or not they think they'll enjoy or be able to endure the pain of having those limits pushed.

Not having read the book I don't know what the play/sex scenes actually entail, but from what I have gleaned, the protagonist receives rewards (in terms of material goods, financial security, and affirmation) for her participation in the role of sub. For this type of play to be the most preventive of abuse or danger, it needs an acknowledgment of the incredible power inequality it is playing with, more importantly it needs an escape route for both parties, but especially for the one with the least power (who risks the most damage). Part of this means (for me) exploring where the power dynamic you're playing with comes from culturally, what it has been used for in the past and how it might affect the people about to play with it.

What's more, this type of power play is only a single facet of BDSM play and NOT the one that should be anyone's (certainly not everyone's) entry point. High risk play is dangerous and better approached AFTER a rigorous setting down of ground rules and communication tools for power/pain play. I have sometimes called type of play represented in 50 Shades "transactional" because it involves one person receiving goods/social capital for their engagement in the play. It is a valid form of play, but I can't stand that through 50 Shades it has become the face of BDSM right now. It's over-prevalence now and historically diminishes the idea that anyone would engage in (non-transactional) pain play without being coerced or compensated.

Pain play and power play are not inherent bedfellows. This book will and has confused people into thinking that you can't have one without the other and that all BDSM is transactional; that all BDSM play requires someone always be there just to endure until they are rewarded by their partner. Bull. Fucking. Shit. This book also makes it seem like you can't engage in BDSM unless you or your partner have lots of extra money, time, and toys (this is whole other topic).

As I, and others, have said previously a lot of this same shitty oppressive tired broken crap really DOES happens in BDSM communities. And it does need to be called the fuck out. The narratives of 50 Shades seem like they'll just add to the crap-pile with more tired broken notions and more people who blindly believe and act them out. Which adds to the work that already needs to be done around BDSM. So yes 50 Shades of Grey IS bad for women and bad for sex, but it's also really bad for anyone who wants to build better BDSM communities!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Quick Response to "Newsroom" honesty clip.

I, to be clear, am thrilled that this topic is being outed on TV for folks to have fits and conversations about. I do have a quibble however...

I was loving it until the music got all soft & Jeff Daniel's character got all reminiscent about the "good ol' days" by talking about how america "used to be"? You know, back when oppressed folks (nonwhite/disabled/female) had no visibility at all? Folks who say shit like this forget about them (and appropriately so as they are rarely represented in the history or progress). I refuse to think that the past America was "better" just because the way we counted progress then compared better to other nations during that time. That is not a good enough metric for me. 

I agree that there has been generally less progress in the US (as compared to other nations) but we are (still!) transitioning into a more inclusive definition of progress. In many ways folks already privileged are resisting this (see here the often rage-inspiring, dehumanizing "illegal alien" shitstorm) because it does slow and complicate our traditional definition of progress. But embracing diversity of peoples and ideas really IS how other nations are getting so far "ahead" of us. America is still getting over it's collective narrow & xenophobic definition of progress. Our xenophobia is a costly vestigial block to fully engaging as a nation of the world. Talking about the good ol' days does nothing to move us forward.