Blood and Roses: A Virtual Reality

For as long as people have been talking about social justice online, there have been people, trolls really, who make a point to argue, harass, and otherwise engage in actively hateful and bigoted behaviour. This has been the case in every online community I have been involved with: the feminist community, the atheist community, disability community. There is always someone prepared to defend the vilest behaviour you can think of. If you are a representative of these communities: a Person of Colour, a Trans Woman, a Disabled Person, if you are a member of some minority, the number of people who target you in particular escalates.

The sheer number of people committed to spreading hate has made places like the comment boards on Youtube a place to be avoided. Many magazines and blogsites have closed their comment sections. More than one writer, activist, organizer, and so forth has been forced off the internet as a result of death threats, threats of rape and violence, dealing with a constant barrage of slurs and hatred, and even having their private information released to the public.

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Blood and Roses: A Virtual Reality
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Interview for Bi Any Means

I sat down with Trav Mamone of Bi Any Means to discuss my book, my new vlog, disability activism, atheism, and more. You should take a listen if you get the chance.

Listening through the podcast I realized that I accidentally used  an expression I’ve been trying to eliminate from my vocabulary because of it’s ableist implications. A good reminder that even people who care about these issues make mistakes and it is up to us to make amends when we do. To those who were hurt, I apologize and endeavor to do better in the future. Mea Culpa. I’m sorry.

Teal Haired Ania Cartoon blushing and looking apologetic
I’m sorry

As such please note: CN for use of Insane as a pejorative.

Listen to the Podcast Here

Interview for Bi Any Means

ABLEISM CHALLENGE

CN: For Ableist slurs.

I have a challenge for all of my blogger friends. I want you to try and go one month without using the list of words below. For one month, in your blog posts and public opinions, I want you to not use these words. I will explain why. I will give you a reason, and regardless of whether you agree with me or not, I want you to try. For me.

Why does this matter?

The truth is that the concerns of the disabled community are often pushed to the side or seen as less important. Just a year ago there was almost a network wide outrage over being called on the use of ableist sentiments and words.  It ended with one of the more dedicated and active disability and neurodiversity activists, who has actually created a lot of the accepted vocabulary of the neurodivergent movements, accused of being a troll. The concerns were ignored, a new network was launched, and little to no progress was made in improving the use of ableist language or sentiments in our community. The verdict was in. As one person famously put it: disability activism is not a real thing.

And then the whole thing was ignored. For most people it was just not enough of a big deal.

Every few months someone writes a post asking people to not use “crazy” as a pejorative, that gets summarily ignored.

And these things do matter. In the same way that racialized words perpetuate systemic racism, and the same way that racialized words can find themselves in the most seemingly benign words, ableism too is so prevalent as to be invisible.

The sad fact is that most ableist slurs are considered the soft swears, the use-instead-ofs. Want to insult someone in relatively polite company? Chances are you may reach for one of these as a stand-by. But words matter. Language shapes our perception and when we make disability an insult, when we make ability an insult, we are implying that there is something wrong with being that way. It adds to a system that treats people with disabilities as being less than human. In some cases people go so far as to imply that people with disabilities don’t have feelings or don’t feel pain. Moreover it creates a perceptions, a link between being disabled and being otherwise incompetent.

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ABLEISM CHALLENGE

The Problem With Gay Marriage

There is an argument that crops up from time to time when you argue on matters of social justice on the internet. No matter the subject, at one point or another someone will say that this problem has already been solved because some specific thing has happened.

We no longer need feminism because men gave women the right to have jobs or have the vote.

We no longer need civil rights because white people gave people of colour the vote, and interracial marriage is allowed. Or because slavery is over.

We no longer need to worry about disability rights because the abled have made laws about accessibility and not discriminating.

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The Problem With Gay Marriage

Easter Reflections

The Easter weekend always brings back a lot of memories for me, some of them pretty intense. The Catholic Church was a pretty big influence in my life growing up. It always played some role in my life growing up. My family was very religious.

Growing up, my parents liked to go for long drives to pray the rosary. I remember several nights, falling asleep in the backseat to the rhythmic droning of their prayers. Road trip songs were often Latin religious rounds, although we also sang a lot of Beatles and Simon and Garfunkel.

Everything related to Polish culture that I experienced and absorbed was related in some way to the Church. Among all that, the most important time in the Catholic Church is Easter. It is the basis for the existence of the church altogether: Christ’s death and resurrection and thus conquering of death. But Easter is not Easter alone but also Lent.

It starts with Ash Wednesday, which for my family was a fast day. The light version of this fast was avoiding meat products for the day, while the more intense side saw one small meal followed by nothing else for the rest of the day. You were allowed to drink, but that’s it. We would still go to work and school during this time. The Catholic school I attended, participated by not serving meat in the Cafeteria. After my first communion, I was expected to start participating in at least the light version of the fast. After my confirmation, the more intense one, as I was now considered a full adult member of the church. I grew up knowing that the ashes used on Ash Wednesday come from burning the blessed palm fronds from the previous year.

I’ve always hated fasting. It’s not the hunger. Truth is that I often have to be reminded to eat, and will go most of the deal without food. It has to do with a sense of discomfort over the reasons for fasts. The stated purpose of fasting is to mortify the flesh.

‘The Rev. Michael Geisler, a priest of the Opus Dei Prelature in St. Louis, wrote two articles explaining the theological purpose behind corporal mortification. “Self-denial helps a person overcome both psychological and physical weakness, gives him energy, helps him grow in virtue and ultimately leads to salvation. It conquers the insidious demons of softness, pessimism and lukewarm faith that dominate the lives of so many today” (Crisis magazine July/August 2005).’ – Wikipedia

Basically, by reminding themselves of their mortality and weakness through pain, they were to give up fleshly or earthly pursuits in pursuit of freedom. As someone who struggles with daily reminders of weakness through ongoing pain, I find this idea to be profoundly insulting. There is this nearly fetishistic obsession with suffering as being a conduit to holiness: Christ suffered of the cross and in the hours prior; many saints are martyred in gruesome ways, the beatitudes canonize this by promising rewards for different types of suffering.

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Easter Reflections

Dermals are Only Skin Deep

For the past few months Alyssa has been talking about getting a belly button ring. The piercing was my birthday gift to her, but we still had to find a place to do it. By coincidence on one of our outings with Alyssa’s brother and sister, we passed by her sister’s piercer. We had a recommendation! Later that week I called to find out if it would be possible to get an appointment and to get a price estimate.

It was around this time, that I also let myself make a decision I’ve been wanting for a while. For some time, I have been envious of all the amazing tattoos and piercings that I saw around me. I always admired the style, but always stopped myself out of a need to conform. To conform to the expectations of my family, of Alyssa’s family, of what is considered “proper”. For all that I am an outspoken activist, I still feel the need to conform to social expectations.

I decided to give myself permission to be as punk as I want to be. To get the piercings that I admired and give myself permission to make it about my enjoyment of my appearance. I decided to get dermals in my cheeks.

Before our appointment, we had dinner with some friends. Excited, we shared our plans with our friends. They joined us in our excitement, showing their support by agreeing to go with us, however, they also expressed some concern. What about Alyssa’s parents? What would they say?

This visit home had been one of the best either of us had ever experienced. Difficult subjects that came up did not end in hurt feelings on both sides, nor with anger, but rather with understanding. We were heard and accepted, and in return we felt comfortable enough to hear them out as well. This was a big step for both of us, especially when considering that we needed to build good favour for future discussions.

Suddenly my decision provoked anxiety. Alyssa’s piercing could be easily hidden, but what about mine? Dermals on my face would be pretty obvious. That they came only days after our conversation about “living in the real world” and overhearing their disapproval of their daughter’s less usual ear piercing, would seem like deliberate antagonism. Although my decision had nothing to do with them, it had suddenly become political.

What followed was almost a parody of what people who are in the closet play out their lives. I got the piercings, but I wasn’t willing to create a scene or risk their opinion of me by letting them find out. And so we played the game of hide the piercings.

As we waited to be picked up from the restaurant, we thought about how to explain the Band-Aids on my face. Then it came to me! I had scratched off some pimples/mosquito bites. We hoped that with it being late, the parents wouldn’t notice until either later at the house or the next morning. They noticed immediately.

We used the excuse we had come up with and hoped that no one commented on how symmetrically I managed to do so. For the next few days it was a delicate balance. I had to wash the piercings twice a day which meant changing Band-Aids, which also meant explaining why I still needed them: I washed off the scabs, they were itchy and I wanted to keep myself from scratching. I had to stall for four days, but without making it seem bad enough that someone would want to “take a look at it.”

In the meantime, every time we went out, I pulled them off my face to let the piercings breathe, and to show them off to the world. I reveled in the freedom of being able to be who I was.

Ania's new dermal piercings
Aren’t they cute!?

Whenever someone new, a grandparents, a family friend, saw the bandages on my face I had to explain them again. Mima was the only one to comment about the even spacing, but I laughed it off as a funny coincidence. A part of me suspects that the parents weren’t really fooled, but they didn’t mention anything and so everyone pretended to go along with the charade.

Because it was something of relatively little personal importance, the situation managed to be funny. I remember exasperating more than once that “I am 27 years old!” The idea that at my age I still had to hide something like piercings from my and someone else’s parents seemed silly.

But in a scary sense the relatively insignificant piercing closet was a parable for more significant and significantly more important closets: gender orientation, sexual orientation, religious belief or non-belief, the people we love, are all just some of the many examples. Ultimately what closets are are tiny prisons that remind us that the people who should love us unconditionally may not accept who we are. What makes it scarier that sometimes we wear there prisons as armour to protect us from those who we shouldn’t need to be protected from.

The world saw the results of those kinds of prison with the story of Leelah Alcorn. She is not the only one by far.  Social Media, the internet, have made it possible for these victims to burst out of their closets for glorious instances of freedom, but sometimes that is not enough. In that time, the internet becomes the place where their real eulogies can be seen rather than the dishonest tripe of those who forced closed the prison doors when they should have been the ones helping them to open.

I have heard it said that “we all come out of the closet twice…at least twice” is a running joke among trans women. I imagine it is one said with strength but also a fair amount of sadness.

People ask what the harm of jokes that make fun of people of a certain group, of using pejoratives and slurs, of having “personal” opinions that dehumanize people, and the truth is that each of these things along with a lack of representation in media, biased presentations, mocking presentations, each of these and more make up the bricks in the walls of these closets, our prisons. To make the world that Leelah dreamed of, to make a world that is safe for many of us who have to hide who we are, to do this we have to give up the idea that intentions are enough. We have to speak out. We have to DO BETTER.

No you are no longer entitled to your own opinion, because your opinion harms, and your discomfort is not worth the lives of our siblings, of our children, of our lovers, of our friends.

Dermals are only skin deep, but identities are who we are.

Dermals are Only Skin Deep

Wibbly-Wobbly Gendery Bendery

CN: Possible TMI and includes very private thoughts. Read at own risk. Comments will be heavily moderated.

It is funny how one little thing can make memories come crashing back. When Alyssa and I first got together, we spent some time sharing our deep dark secrets. Throughout the course of this sharing I told Alyssa that as a child I used to imagine that I had a penis. That one revelation began a process of bringing up memories over the next few years.

Suddenly I remembered that I didn’t just imagine this. I would lie awake imagining it. In fact I couldn’t fall asleep until I did.

From a fairly early age I was obsessed with sex and gender roles. A majority of the stories I made up as a child was of girls escaping the expectations of society by dressing up as a man. I would play at this. I desperately didn’t want to identify with what I saw of being “femme”. I hated pink, I bragged about my love for science. I took femmephobia to the extreme and was quite literally a chill girl that saw myself as a feminist. I wanted to reject all that was female about me.

As is my habit, I worked through a lot of this stuff through my writing. Even though my characters often dressed up as men, they often explored their sexuality as women. The ability to switch back and forth intrigued me, although always in a presenting way. My mind never explored the possibilities open in magic of being able to completely switch. It wasn’t until I met Alyssa that I was able to even consider that possibility.

In my own pretend games, I would often lead the games into situations where our dolls or characters had romantic partners. I would find some excuse to get to play “my character’s” romantic partner. On more than one occasion I employed stuffed animals, socks, and other methods to stuff my pants to indicate that in that moment I was male.

Eventually my characters, like myself, began exploring the possibility that one could be female and confound gender roles. I explored strong womanhood, and pride in womanhood. Looking at myself through the eyes of one of my main characters, Katsyandra, allowed me to embrace a part of myself that I had felt distant from: my womanhood.

Telling Alyssa about my old thoughts, brought them roaring back. I found myself masturbating to the idea of having a penis. After some time the thoughts stopped being a nightly thing, but they would crop up from time to time. I also began noticing that there were times where I identified myself male in some of my fantasies.

I didn’t know what this meant. I wondered for some time if I was really a trans man. I considered the possibility and tried on male pronouns in my head, but that didn’t quite sit right with me. I had no interest in giving up being a woman. Yes, I sometimes identified as male, but I also identified strongly as being female.

When non binary gender identities began to become more discussed in the communities I belonged to, something resonated. I knew I wasn’t agender: I identified too strongly with genders to think that I was genderless. I felt more like I had a surfeit of gender instead. When I heard the term bi-gender that felt a little closer to the mark. I felt like I identified with both genders. What seemed different however was that it wasn’t a constant thing. I didn’t and don’t really feel a connection with the pronouns They/Theirs, at least not all the time. I didn’t want to be called He/His, at least not all the time. I didn’t mind being called She/Her. But being called Cis didn’t feel right either. I spend too much time desperately wanting a body I do not have, feeling the need to connect with a part of me that I feel isn’t perceived.

So what am I?

I still don’t know. The best I can come up with is that most of the time I am a woman who feels she should have a penis, who is sometimes male, sometimes both male and female at once, and very occasionally neither gender at all. Functionally this doesn’t change much. I am still very much me, and with me barely able to understand my own gender, I am not about to ask anyone to call me pronouns I am unsure I even want yet.

I have been scared to share a lot of this information with people. I am terrified of being accused of being appropriative. Of having people tell me that I am just trying to be part of the cool club. Of calling me a wannabe professional victim. I am terrified that all this is me just trying to be special and that everyone goes through this type of worry and questioning. I am scared that I am lying to myself in some way to avoid facing a hard truth.

My identity right now is genderqueer and fluid, but a more accurate term might be that I am Wibbly-Wobbly Gendery-Bendery.

Wibbly-Wobbly Gendery Bendery

Sticks and Stones

I hate that old saying “Sticks and stones will break your bones but words will never hurt me”. It is bullshit. Bones heal, but words cut you inside. Words stay with you forever. They become that little voice inside your head that undermines every single thing you do. They become that seed of doubt that makes you scared of being a failure, that makes you see everything you do through a dirty lens.  The wrong words are like parasites, burrowing their way into your brain and leaching your life of confidence, joy, esteem, laughter, sense of self.

The idea that insults, slurs, and more are not painful or not worth noticing has to do with our society’s idea that emotions are worthless. That emotions exist on a binary scale with rationality and that one who experiences one cannot participate in the other. Emotions are not irrational. They exist for a reason. They let you know what your boundaries are. My boundaries might not be yours but that doesn’t make them any less valid. If I say that doing this thing is something I am willing to unfriend for, you DO NOT FUCKING ARGUE WITH THAT. If you care to be my friend you listen to it, and if not then leave me the fuck alone. Or better yet, do us both a favour and unfriend me.

Emotions are a “sixth sense”. Not in the colloquial sense having to do with some sort of predictive power, but rather like touch, smell, feel, they are a way that we navigate and experience the world. Without emotion we lose a way we relate to the world and it is as much a disability as losing one’s sense of hearing or sight.

Words do not have just the power that I give to them. Words have power all on their own. They do not exist in a vacuum. If someone calls me fat, yes in that one instance I can choose to decide not to be upset, but that isn’t going to change the fact that I live in the world where people can treat me differently and badly because of that word. It doesn’t stop becoming a word that can be applied to me just because I choose not to be upset. If you grew up being told that gay people are evil, sinful, going to hell. If you live in a society that feels like they can refuse you your rights because you are gay, that gives the word “F*ggot” power regardless whether or not you choose to be offended by that word.

Words have a history that is not irrelevant. Being called a “r*tard” carries with it every single punch, every single instance of being discriminated against for having a mental illness. It carries with it a memory of every single person that has been called a retard. Every child that was killed for being autistic or being sick in some way. It may be just one time thing or it may something you are called every single day. It doesn’t matter. Those words will hurt, and they will stay with you.

The power of words is not just negative however. Words can also do great good. Those familiar with the anti-communist movement Solidarnoscknow that words played an important role. One of the main things they did was read all the literature that was banned by the Soviet government. And that’s the point. If ever you doubt the power of words, all one needs to do is look at the fact that all of the most authoritative and corrupt powers are so afraid of words, that they spend countless hours and resources on censorship. Words matter.

Sticks and Stones

Guest Post: Anxiety and Social Justice

The following is a guest post from Caleb Harper

                Nobody would make the claim that talking about social justice issues is easy.  It takes a lot out of you, it is stressful, and it can even cause rifts between friends.  But when you already have problems with anxiety it can be even more challenging.  Conversations about social issues can easily trigger anxiety, and then you’re caught between needing to take a step back and not wanting to.  It can be hard to accept that you need to walk away.  But there are steps you can take to care for your mental health while continuing to learn and talk about social issues.  I won’t pretend to know the best strategies for each individual, but as someone who experiences anxiety when discussing these issues I have developed some personal habits that might be useful to others.

Witnessing people get angry in itself can be a cause of anxiety for me, especially if I feel like I’m at fault.  Needless to say, marginalized people are often (rightfully) angry about their oppression.  While it’s important to remember that this reaction is never at fault, it’s also important to remember that you aren’t a bad person for getting anxiety from it.  It’s been helpful for me to look at it from a different angle.  I don’t think about those posts as someone being angry at me. I see it as someone telling me not to do whatever it is they are angry about.  It’s advice.  Even if they are in fact angry at me, it’s easy enough to walk away from it anxiety-free while still learning about how to improve myself.  It might seem counter-intuitive to detach yourself from the situation like this, but if it makes anxiety problems more manageable and keeps you listening I believe it is worth it.

I’ve tried a lot harder to stay out of conversations that I’m not impacted by.  It’s a good idea not to do this for multiple reasons; oppressed people have one less privileged person barging into their conversations, and I’m less likely get anxiety from being called out for it.  The fact is I don’t know what it is like to live as a trans woman, or a person of color, or as a physically disabled person.  There are a host of marginalized experiences of which I have little to no understanding of.  My time is best spent listening to people instead of pretending to know that their lives are like.  This has worked out pretty well for me.  Not only have I learned a lot, but I have been called out a lot less for screwing up.  It’s not a matter of disengaging from these conversations; it’s about stepping back and letting others talk for themselves.

I take breaks.  This is something that has been hard for me because for some reason my brain likes to hyper-focus on stressful things, but it truly does help.  If I can sense something is going down, or someone has gotten angry with me because I fucked up, I often reach out to talk to my friends, or do something else that calms me down or makes me happy. I still take the time to address what is going on, even if it’s just reading and thinking about what happened, but I pace myself and make sure I’m doing self-care at the same time.  I try to remember that it’s ok to fuck up, what matters more is how I respond to being called out.  Responding in a respectful and productive manner is much easier when I’m in an ok mental state, so taking breaks never hurts.  And sometimes it might be better to just walk away from a situation entirely, or at least until it blows over.  I still learn from my mistake and try to grow from it, but not all situations warrant a verbal response. 

Speaking of walking away, it’s ok to step away from specific people who induce your anxiety, even if they’re talking about their oppression.   This is another counter-intuitive piece of advice, because privileged people shouldn’t ignore oppressed people.  But your mental health is important.  When it comes to social media, there are other people you can listen to who won’t trigger your anxiety, or at least not as frequently.  People express their viewpoints and anger in various ways and in different intensities. That’s completely ok, but it can be draining to witness every day. I’m saying this as someone who has been on both sides of this situation.  I’ve had people unfollow me on Tumblr because what I post causes them anxiety, and in a lot of those cases I completely understood where the person was coming from.  I’ve also had to unfollow people for similar reasons.  It can be a fine line between trying to ignore your privilege and doing something you need to do for your mental health. But that’s honestly your decision to make, as long as it’s a genuine and honest concern.  It’s ok to step away from something to take care of yourself.

Of course most of this advice isn’t particularly applicable for people who are talking about their own oppression.  In that case walking away isn’t always an option,  and questions of managing anxiety when it comes to expressing anger and sadness poses a whole new set of complications.  Healthy ways of coping with anxiety differ based on each person’s experiences and set of privileges and oppressions.  These are only a few suggestions based on my own experience, but they can be useful for people in developing their own methods of dealing with their anxiety.  Establishing a few rules of self-care to live by can make talking about social justice issues a much more healthy and constructive experience. 
Guest Post: Anxiety and Social Justice