Niki Massey, 1980 – 2016

Niki Massey on stage at Skepticon
Niki Massey on stage at Skepticon 8

Niki Massey, one of the founding members here at The Orbit, died yesterday, at the appallingly young age of thirty-five. (The cause of her death is still unknown: please don’t speculate on it.)

I’m struggling for words, so this may be brief. Niki was an extraordinary person and an extraordinary writer. She was a force of nature: she filled every space she was in with humor, rage, passion, intellect, honesty, and love. She was fierce: many people writing about her have described her brilliant and unparalleled snark. But she was also deeply kind. She was kind in that way that shows up as fierce anger towards those who cause needless pain.

She was brave. Brave doesn’t mean not having fear: it means being afraid, and moving ahead anyway. She was strong. Strong doesn’t mean not having weakness: it means having weakness, and moving ahead anyway. She had so many strikes against her — a culture that hated her race and held it in contempt, a body that betrayed her, a crappy social safety net that forces sick people to struggle and claw so they don’t fall through the gaping holes. And she kept fighting, for herself and for others. To give just one example among so many: I was gobsmacked by the fact that she struggled with serious physical disability and anxiety disorder — and still did clinic escorting at abortion clinics. To give one more example: At last year’s Skepticon, when a scheduled speaker no-showed, Niki stepped up and gave a full presentation to hundreds of people with zero advance notice — and hit it out of the park.

She was thoughtful and insightful. Her rants were hilarious — holy shit, were they hilarious — and they were full of rage. But they were also needle-sharp in their perception. She could smell bullshit a mile away, and pinpoint its true source with deadly accuracy.

Niki was my friend, and my colleague. But the word “colleague” doesn’t begin to describe the intimacy and value that a working relationship can have. When you work with people doing work you’re passionate about, work that is embattled and attacked every day, work that is working to change the world, you can become closer than blood family.

It was a delight and an honor to know her and to work with her. The world has become smaller without her. I love you, Niki.

If you want to do something to honor her memory, please consider donating to Whole Women’s Health of the Twin Cities (the place where she did clinic defense) or This Week in Blackness — or, if you can, volunteer to do clinic escorting at your local abortion clinic. Here is some other good writing about her. I’ll update this list as more writing about her comes in.

Who Niki Massey Was, by Stephanie Zvan, at Almost Diamonds
For Niki, by Olivia, at We Got So Far To Go
Rest in Power, by Ania Onion Bula at Alyssa and Ania ‘Splain You a Thing
Remembering Niki Massey, by Alex Gabriel, at Godlessness In Theory
The word for Niki was VIVID, by PZ Myers, at Pharyngula

Niki Massey, 1980 – 2016
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“The cost of unity”: Meme from The Way of the Heathen

"The cost of unity is the silence of people being screwed over."

“The cost of unity is the silence of people being screwed over.”
-Greta Christina, The Way of the Heathen: Practicing Atheism in Everyday Life
(from Chapter 45: “Policing Our Own”)

(Image description: above text, juxtaposed next to close-up image of black woman’s closed mouth)

I’m making a series of memes/ inspirational poster thingies with my favorite quotes from my new book, The Way of the Heathen: Practicing Atheism in Everyday Life. Please feel free to share this on social media, or print it and hang it on your wall if you like. (The image above is pretty big: you can click on it to get a bigger size if you like.)

Way of the Heathen cover
The Way of the Heathen is available in ebook on Amazon/Kindle and on Smashwords for $7.99. The audiobook is at Audible. The print edition is at Amazon and Powell’s Books, and can be ordered or carried by pretty much any bookstore: it’s being wholesaled by Ingram, Baker & Taylor, IPG, and bookstores can buy it directly from the publisher, Pitchstone Publishing. Check it out, and tell your friends!

“The cost of unity”: Meme from The Way of the Heathen

Femme, Adjective or Noun?

greta-selfie-at-atheist-film-festival-party
I’ve always been a bit confused by the word “femme.”

This might surprise people who know me. I’m a dyke who wears dresses and skirts 98% of the time, who almost never leaves the house without makeup, who has her shoe collection in a display case and her boot collection hanging from racks on her walls. But “femme” as an identity has always puzzled me. I don’t object to it, I totally support people who use it — it just doesn’t resonate with me. I’ve often said that I’m “femmey, but not a femme.” For me, femme is a description, not an identity; an adjective, not a noun. And part of the reason is that I don’t really grasp, intellectually or instinctively, what that identity means. People who identify as femmes have a strong, clear sense of what this means to them, and how it shapes not only what they wear but how they think of themselves. I don’t have that.

But even people who do identify as femme, as a deeply personal identity-noun, sometimes struggle to define the term. Years ago I attended a femme conference: one of the panels was asked, “What does femme mean?” — and almost all the panelists fumbled and stumbled. That’s not to slam them: it’s a hard concept to define. But the clearest definition, the one that’s stuck with me over the years, was given by Susan Stryker:

Femme is adopting the trappings of femininity in a way that subverts them.

That stuck with me. And I think it explains why I’m happy to take on “femme” as an adjective but not a noun; as a description but not an identity.

*****

Thus begins Femme, Adjective or Noun? It’s my first contribution to Femme Feminism, the new magazine dedicated to joyous expression of femininity within the context and exploration of feminist values. To read more, read the rest of the piece. And check out the rest of the magazine! Other articles so far include On Respectability, Afrocentrism & Accepting Fashion as Self-Care, not Self-Indulgence by Tajh Sutton, Redefining Fem(me)ininity by Lauren Munro, and Femme: a Case Study by Rebecca Aylesworth. Have fun!

Femme, Adjective or Noun?

7 of the Less-Noted But Still Very Sexist Attacks on Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton

It’s entirely reasonable to criticize Hillary Clinton. She’s running for President of the United States, after all. If she’s elected, she’s going to be representing all U.S. citizens: we should tell her what we want from her, and speak out when she lets us down.

But a significant amount of anti-Clinton criticism is loaded with sexism. It’s not just the obvious examples, like critiquing her clothing and her voice, microanalyzing her gestures and mannerisms, sexualizing her or targeting her with sexist and misogynist slurs. Much of the sexism against Hillary Clinton flies under the radar. On the surface, it looks like legitimate political commentary: the sexism underlying it is largely unconscious. But when you understand some of the ways sexism commonly plays out, it’s glaringly obvious.

Here are seven examples.

*****

Thus begins my latest piece for AlterNet, 7 of the Less-Noted But Still Very Sexist Attacks on Hillary Clinton. Enjoy!

7 of the Less-Noted But Still Very Sexist Attacks on Hillary Clinton

Joani Blank, 1937 – 2016: A Sex Positive Pioneer is Gone

Joani Blank

You may not have heard of her, but the chances are excellent that she changed your life.

Joani Blank was, among many other things, the founder of Good Vibrations, the feminist sex toy store. You might be thinking, “Which feminist sex toy store? There are so many!” There are now. There weren’t in 1977. Good Vibrations was only the second one in the United States (the first was Eve’s Garden in New York). The roaring success of Good Vibrations made it clear that women cared about sex and wanted to improve their sex lives — and that sex shops didn’t have to be sleazy, shameful holes in the wall with shoddy goods. If you’ve ever bought sex toys, sex information, erotica, lube, or other goodies in a pleasant, shame-free environment (brick-and-mortar or online), one that welcomed men but focused on women, your life was changed by Joani Blank. She died of pancreatic cancer on August 6, 2016.

Like tens of thousands of women, I bought my first vibrator at Good Vibrations. I screwed up my courage and walked into the store, excited but nervous and embarrassed — and found a clean, well-lighted place where sexual products were sold openly and without shame, with clear information about which product did what, and a well-informed staff that would help you make your decision as if sex was healthy and entirely ordinary. The store Joani founded did more than just sell sex products. It changed the way people see sex. She shaped tens of thousands of lives. Probably hundreds of thousands. Continue reading “Joani Blank, 1937 – 2016: A Sex Positive Pioneer is Gone”

Joani Blank, 1937 – 2016: A Sex Positive Pioneer is Gone

Why Is It So Hard To Read For Comprehension About Consent?

Facepalm-Meme-Picard

Me, in piece about consent on AlterNet: “If you know someone well and have kissed them a lot, you can probably read their body language pretty well…” “They’d been dating for a while at that point, and she’d made her interest in him clear, so it’s not unreasonable to think he was able to read her body language.”

Commenters: “What’s wrong with reading body language?” “Making verbal communication the only acceptable or exclusive way of consent is BS.” “+1 for notorized consent forms.” “My wife says it spoils the mood if I ask for things.”

Why, oh why, do I read the comments?

Why Is It So Hard To Read For Comprehension About Consent?

5 Amazing Scenes Where Pop Culture Got Consent Right

brad-pitt-shirtless-in-cowboy-hat-holding-hair-dryer-thelma-louise

Pop culture often promotes some lousy ideas about consent. Persistence and not taking no for an answer are portrayed as romantic; rape and sexual assault are excused because the victim “wanted it“; lying and manipulating people into bed, and having sex with people too drunk to consent, are offered as light, prime-time humor; rape victims stay friends and lovers with their rapists, with rape being trivialized and even denied.

But pop culture does have its moments. Whether it’s because the creators were thinking consciously about consent or simply had good values, here are five times pop culture got consent right. (Spoilers for Steven Universe, Thelma and Louise, Frozen, The Philadelphia Story, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.)

*****

Thus begins my latest piece for AlterNet, 5 Amazing Scenes Where Pop Culture Got Consent Right. To read more, read the rest of the piece. Enjoy! (Please note: AlterNet changed the title, and the title they gave it is somewhat misleading: not all the scenes are sex scenes, and not all of them are exactly right.)

5 Amazing Scenes Where Pop Culture Got Consent Right

A Reason to Vote for Clinton: Reproductive Rights

Hillary Clinton

I’d been working on a piece about reasons to vote for Clinton, but it was becoming huge and unmanageable. So I’m breaking it down into bite-sized morsels.

Here’s a reason to vote for Clinton: reproductive rights. Clinton isn’t just more pro-choice than Trump. She’s more pro-choice than any major-party Presidential nominee in decades. She’s pushing to stop Republicans from defunding Planned Parenthood. She’s said she wants Planned Parenthood to get more funding. She understands the role that income and poverty play in this issue, saying that “low-income women deserve health care” and “a right without the opportunity to exercise it isn’t a right.” Very importantly, she’s pushing for repeal of the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal funding for abortions — something she did without being prompted, and something no other major-party Presidential nominee has done since the amendment was enacted.

And she hasn’t been shy about any of this. Her record on reproductive rights has been well-established for years, it’s full-throated, and it’s front and center in her campaign. Planned Parenthood Action Fund President Cecile Richards even spoke at the Democratic National Convention. (Here’s a run-down of Clinton’s positions and record on reproductive rights.) Continue reading “A Reason to Vote for Clinton: Reproductive Rights”

A Reason to Vote for Clinton: Reproductive Rights

Hillary Clinton Nominated

Hillary Clinton

This has been a difficult primary, with inspiring things and shitty things on both sides. But I’m going to take a moment and be weepy and proud at the historic nomination of Hillary Clinton, the first woman to be nominated as a major party Presidential candidate.

(Hillary haters: please, don’t post it here. There’s plenty of other places, and there will be lots of other times. Thanks.)

Hillary Clinton Nominated

10 Pop Culture Characters Who Stayed Friends or Lovers With Their Rapists

Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O Hara in Gone with the Wind

“Well, sure, he raped her. But it’s not a big deal. Rape, shmape. All friendships and relationships have their ups and downs. They can still be friends, or get married. Heck, maybe the rape could be the start of a beautiful love story.”

Does this sound like an absurdist attempt at ghoulish humor? It’s not. This trope is all over pop culture, and has been for decades. In some stories, rapes happen while characters are friends, lovers, or married, and the relationship goes on as if little or nothing happened. In others, rapes are the beginning of a happy relationship.

Here are 10 characters in pop culture who voluntarily stayed friends, lovers, colleagues, or spouses with the people who raped or tried to rape them.

*****

Thus begins my latest piece for AlterNet, 10 Pop Culture Characters Who Stayed Friends or Lovers With Their Rapists. To read more, read the rest of the piece.

10 Pop Culture Characters Who Stayed Friends or Lovers With Their Rapists