Learning With Respect vs. “Just Asking Questions”

teacher at map with chalkboard
Teacher meme by PTICA10

On one side: “I’m just asking questions! Why are you being so harsh? If you want people to learn about sexism and racism and stuff, you should be more patient.” On the other side: “I don’t believe you’re asking in good faith. You’re JAQing off: ‘just asking questions’ as a way of poisoning the well, derailing the conversation, and wasting my time.”

In conversations about sexism, racism, and other social justice issues, this meta-conversation is one of the most consistently contentious. And it can be hard to explain exactly what’s wrong with “just asking questions,” or even to precisely define what it is. But my friend and colleague Heina Dadabhoy said something recently about this issue that crystallized it for me:

If we sincerely want to learn from people, we approach them the way we would a teacher. And that means approaching them with respect, even with a certain degree of humility.

If we really want to learn from people, we assume that they know more about the subject than we do. When we don’t understand them, or when what they say contradicts things we thought we knew, we don’t automatically assume they’re wrong. We think about what they’re saying; chew it over; maybe talk it over with other people in the class, or with other people who’ve taken the class before. And when we have questions, we ask respectfully. We assume that they have informed, knowledgable answers, and we listen to those answers.

This doesn’t mean we never disagree. People have been disagreeing with teachers for millennia, with wildly varying results. Sometimes it’s just arrogant bloviating; sometimes it’s an important part of how our understanding moves forward, as individuals and as a society. (And yes, in my time as a student, I’ve indulged in the former.) Respecting a teacher doesn’t mean unthinking obedience.

But when we’re learning from a teacher, we don’t start off by disagreeing. We don’t start with a hostile or contemptuous attitude, with the assumption that they must be wrong. We don’t argue with them every step of the way, and we don’t go out of our way to trip them up or shoot holes in everything they say.

And when we’re learning from a teacher, we don’t assume their time is ours to command. We don’t get hostile if they don’t have time to debate with us — or don’t have time at the exact moment we want it. If they direct us to other resources that can answer our questions in more detail, we follow up. At the very least, we don’t get pissy with them for saying, “Here’s a book/ essay/ documentary that can answer a lot of the questions you’re asking: if you still have questions after that, come back and we’ll talk some more.” We recognize that this is part of how teachers teach, that an important part of knowing a subject is knowing where to learn more.

In fact, when you assume that your friend or acquaintance or random person on the Internet is obliged to debate whenever you want, for as long as you want, in whatever space you want including theirs, it’s more unwarranted than treating a teacher that way. Teachers are, after all, teachers: it’s their job to answer questions, and to be patient with questions they’ve answered a hundred times before. It isn’t their job to answer every single question they’re asked, on demand, regardless of whether it’s relevant or whether they’re even on the job — but answering questions and being patient with ignorance is part of what they’re paid for. That’s not true of your friend or acquaintance or random person on the Internet. If you’re asking them to explain a thing about sexism or racism or what have you, they’re already giving you their time and emotional labor for free. They’re your teacher — and they’re volunteering their time.

The reality is that women are the experts in sexism; black and brown people are the experts in racism; disabled people are the experts in ableism; etc. To be very clear, that doesn’t mean you can defend your sexist opinions by citing your one female friend who says they agree with you. There are certainly chill girls and so on, marginalized people who ignore or deny the realities of their own oppression. And there are often disagreements and debates within a marginalized group (such as feminist debates over pornography).

But if you’re talking with a marginalized person who’s conscious of their oppression and well-informed about it, and you’re sincere about wanting to understand their oppression, you need to approach them with the respect and humility you’d give to teachers. When you don’t treat people as teachers, it’s reasonable for them to assume you’re not there to learn.

Learning With Respect vs. “Just Asking Questions”
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Godless Perverts Is Turning Five — Help Us Out!

Godless Perverts Story Hour fundraising image

April 15 is more than just Tax Day this year! Godless Perverts will be celebrating our fifth anniversary (that’s our “wood” anniversary, according to the people who decide these things) with another Godless Perverts Story Hour, the performance branch of our little empire, featuring Bridgett Crutchfield, founder of Black Nonbelievers of Detroit.

Bridgett Crutchfield
Bridgett Crutchfield

Of course, we’re going to need some money to pay expenses for our celebration of five years. Please pitch in to our crowdfunder campaign! Even small donations helps, they really add up, and it also helps to share the crowdfunder on social media and spread the word. Donations to Godless Perverts are now tax-deductible! We are now a California non-profit and have 501(c)3 status under fiscal sponsorship by the Center for Sex and Culture. Expenses for this event include:

* $500 to rent the space at the Center for Sex and Culture for the evening;

* $400 to hire an ASL interpreter (an anonymous donor will match donations for this up to $200);

* $400 to pay our performers. As writers ourselves, Greta and Chris have long thought that our writers and performers deserve to get paid for their time and labor. We’re going to celebrate five years by finally doing it;

* $200 to cover GoFundMe costs and the costs of fiscal sponsorship from the Center for Sex and Culture.

Any donations over the costs of this event will go towards future Godless Perverts projects. Thank you so much to everyone who has helped us get this far, whether by donating money, attending our events, spreading the word about us, or giving us moral support when we needed you most. Thanks again for supporting the crowdfunder! We look forward to celebrating the five years with you and many more after that.

Help spread the word!

Godless Perverts Is Turning Five — Help Us Out!

Godless Perverts Story Hour, Saturday April 15 — Our Fifth Anniversary!

Godless Perverts Story Hour banner April 15

The Godless Perverts Story Hour is returning to the Center for Sex and Culture, 1349 Mission St. in San Francisco, 7pm on Saturday, April 15! The Story Hour is the performance/ entertainment/ literary reading branch of the Godless Perverts empire: we’ll be bringing you depictions, explorations, and celebrations of godless sexualities, as well as critical, mocking, and blasphemous views of sex and religion. The evening’s entertainment will have a range of voices — sexy and serious, passionate and funny, and all of the above — talking about how our sexualities can not only exist, but even thrive, without the supernatural. We will have ASL interpretation: details below.

April 2017 is our fifth anniversary! We had our very first Godless Perverts event in April 2012, and since then we’ve grown from a one-shot panel discussion to a non-profit organization hosting social meetups, discussion groups, educational events, holiday parties, fundraisers for other organizations, political protests, and performances. We’ll have some special celebratory pleasures at the event, including individual cheesecakes for sale from Reuschelle’s Cheesecakes. And we’re very excited to be bringing in an out-of-town performer for this performance — Bridgett Crutchfield, President of Black Nonbelievers of Detroit!

Bridgett Crutchfield
Bridgett Crutchfield


Born and raised in Los Angeles, Bridgett (known as ‘Bria’) was raised, baptized and disfellowshipped from Jehovah’s Witness faith. She segued to Pentecostal Christianity and assumed leadership roles as Prophetess, Intercessory Prayer Warrior and Evangelist. After thoughtful reflection and finally being honest with herself, Bria realized she was an Atheist. In 2011, she Founded Minority Atheists of MI, and founded Detroit affiliate of Black Nonbelievers in 2013. In 2016, she spearheaded a gofundme campaign which raised $7,000 for water and baby wipes for Flint, MI residents. Bridgett has a heart for newly identified atheists, those who’ve been hurt within the secular community, and assisting those who are interested in forming alliances with the African American community.

Victor Harris
Victor Harris
statue-of-liberty
Liberty N. Justice
Juba Kalamka
Juba Kalamka
Maggie Mayhem
Maggie Mayhem
SImon Sheppard
SImon Sheppard

Our other readers and performers for the evening include Victor Harris, Donna Jay, Liberty N. Justice, Juba Kalamka, Maggie Mayhem, and Simon Sheppard, hosted by co-founders and co-organizers Greta Christina and Chris Hall. So please join us at the Center for Sex and Culture for an evening about how to have good sex without having any gods, goddesses, spirits, or their earthly representatives hanging over your shoulder and telling you that you’re doing it wrong.

Yes, we will have ASL interpretation for this event! We’re setting aside some seats near the front for people who need ASL interpretation: please arrive early if you can, and if you can, please contact us ahead of time to let us know you’ll be there, so we know how many seats to save. Many thanks to our anonymous donor who’s given us a matching grant to help cover the cost: if you want to help cover the rest of the costs, your donation will be doubled up to $400. Donations to Godless Perverts are now tax-deductible: any donations over the cost of the interpretation will go to fund other Godless Perverts events and expenses. Many thanks to Bay Area Communication Access (BACA) for providing ASL interpretation.

The Godless Perverts Story Hour is happening at the Center for Sex and Culture, 1349 Mission St in San Francisco (near Civic Center BART), at 7:00 pm. Suggested donation is $10-20, with no-one turned away for lack of funds. We hope to see you there!

Godless Perverts Story Hour, Saturday April 15 — Our Fifth Anniversary!

Godless Perverts Story Hour, Saturday April 15 — Our Fifth Anniversary!

Godless Perverts Story Hour banner April 15

The Godless Perverts Story Hour is returning to the Center for Sex and Culture, 1349 Mission St. in San Francisco, 7pm on Saturday, April 15! The Story Hour is the performance/ entertainment/ literary reading branch of the Godless Perverts empire: we’ll be bringing you depictions, explorations, and celebrations of godless sexualities, as well as critical, mocking, and blasphemous views of sex and religion. The evening’s entertainment will have a range of voices — sexy and serious, passionate and funny, and all of the above — talking about how our sexualities can not only exist, but even thrive, without the supernatural. We will have ASL interpretation: details below.

April 2017 is our fifth anniversary! We had our very first Godless Perverts event in April 2012, and since then we’ve grown from a one-shot panel discussion to a non-profit organization hosting social meetups, discussion groups, educational events, holiday parties, fundraisers for other organizations, political protests, and performances. We’ll have some special celebratory pleasures at the event, including individual cheesecakes for sale from Reuschelle’s Cheesecakes. And we’re very excited to be bringing in an out-of-town performer for this performance — Bridgett Crutchfield, President of Black Nonbelievers of Detroit!

Bridgett Crutchfield
Bridgett Crutchfield


Born and raised in Los Angeles, Bridgett (known as ‘Bria’) was raised, baptized and disfellowshipped from Jehovah’s Witness faith. She segued to Pentecostal Christianity and assumed leadership roles as Prophetess, Intercessory Prayer Warrior and Evangelist. After thoughtful reflection and finally being honest with herself, Bria realized she was an Atheist. In 2011, she Founded Minority Atheists of MI, and founded Detroit affiliate of Black Nonbelievers in 2013. In 2016, she spearheaded a gofundme campaign which raised $7,000 for water and baby wipes for Flint, MI residents. Bridgett has a heart for newly identified atheists, those who’ve been hurt within the secular community, and assisting those who are interested in forming alliances with the African American community.

Victor Harris
Victor Harris
statue-of-liberty
Liberty N. Justice
Juba Kalamka
Juba Kalamka
Maggie Mayhem
Maggie Mayhem
SImon Sheppard
SImon Sheppard

Our other readers and performers for the evening include Victor Harris, Donna Jay, Liberty N. Justice, Juba Kalamka, Maggie Mayhem, and Simon Sheppard, hosted by co-founders and co-organizers Greta Christina and Chris Hall. So please join us at the Center for Sex and Culture for an evening about how to have good sex without having any gods, goddesses, spirits, or their earthly representatives hanging over your shoulder and telling you that you’re doing it wrong.

Yes, we will have ASL interpretation for this event! We’re setting aside some seats near the front for people who need ASL interpretation: please arrive early if you can, and if you can, please contact us ahead of time to let us know you’ll be there, so we know how many seats to save. Many thanks to our anonymous donor who’s given us a matching grant to help cover the cost: if you want to help cover the rest of the costs, your donation will be doubled up to $400. Donations to Godless Perverts are now tax-deductible: any donations over the cost of the interpretation will go to fund other Godless Perverts events and expenses. Many thanks to Bay Area Communication Access (BACA) for providing ASL interpretation.

The Godless Perverts Story Hour is happening at the Center for Sex and Culture, 1349 Mission St in San Francisco (near Civic Center BART), at 7:00 pm. Suggested donation is $10-20, with no-one turned away for lack of funds. We hope to see you there!

Godless Perverts Story Hour, Saturday April 15 — Our Fifth Anniversary!

Godless Perverts Is Now a Non-Profit Organization!

California-State-Seal

Godless Perverts, the organization that promotes a positive, progressive view of sex without religion, is delighted to announce that we have officially incorporated as a non-profit. In February 2017, we were granted status as a California non-profit under the name GP Events and Media: shortly after, we received Federal 501(c)3 status through fiscal sponsorship by the Center for Sex and Culture. Donations to Godless Perverts are now tax-deductible!

“Being a non-profit gives us the ability to expand in ways that would have been impossible,” says president and co-founder Greta Christina. “I’m proud of our years as a scrappy little group doing meetups and occasional performance events, but we are clearly outgrowing that structure. We can do real fundraising now that donations are tax-deductible, and being officially incorporated will make it easier to take on bigger projects and do coalition work with other organizations.” And vice-president and co-founder Chris Hall says, “The last five years have brought a lot of unexpected changes. Not the least of which is the current political climate. Having a formal structure and nonprofit status makes us much more well-equipped to organize for whatever’s coming, and to stand up for our communities.”

All four presenters at ACT UP workshop hosted by Godless Perverts on Jan 9, 2017. Left to right: Ingrid Nelson, Rebecca Hensler, Crystal Mason, and Laura Thomas.
All four presenters at ACT UP workshop hosted by Godless Perverts on Jan 9, 2017. Left to right: Ingrid Nelson, Rebecca Hensler, Crystal Mason, and Laura Thomas.

Godless Perverts has been in operation for just under five years. We had our first Godless Perverts event in April 2012, a panel discussion about being atheists in the queer, kinky, and alt-sex communities. Since then, we’ve grown from that one-shot panel discussion to a thriving community hosting social meetups, performances, discussion groups, educational events, book clubs, political protests, and an annual holiday party to raise funds for St. James Infirmary, the health clinic for sex workers.

Our board of directors includes Bridgett Crutchfield, Heina Dadabhoy, Victor Harris, Juba Kalamka, Miri Mogilevsky, and Donna Shrout (not pictured), with Greta Christina serving as President and Chris Hall serving as Vice-President and Treasurer. “I like being on the Godless Perverts board,” says Juba Kalamka, “because its mission intersects with my other activist contexts. I appreciate being able to bring all of myself to the conversation and being able to encourage that for others.”

Bridgett-Crutchfield
Bridgett Crutchfield
Heina Dadabhoy
Heina Dadabhoy
Victor Harris
Victor Harris


Juba Kalamka
Juba Kalamka
Miri Mogilevsky
Miri Mogilevsky


Greta Christina
Greta Christina
Chris Hall
Chris Hall

Our plans and hopes for the future include more involvement in political activism and political education; editing a Godless Perverts anthology; getting a logo and creating swag; movie nights; coalition work with other social change organizations; tabling and other appearances at conferences; reviving our East Bay meetups; creating a Godless Perverts podcast; hosting a fraudulent psychic fair (one of Greta’s dreams since we began); and just doing more of the great things we’re already doing.

Donations to Godless Perverts (more accurately, GP Events and Media), now tax-deductible, will go to fund current and future projects, as well as general overhead such as web hosting. You can make a one-time donation in any amount, or set up an automatic donation of five dollars a month. Checks can be mailed to PO Box 1220, Berkeley, CA 94701. (Checks must be written to GP Events and Media, with “and” spelled out.)

Many thanks everyone who has helped us get this far, whether by donating money, attending our events, spreading the word about us, or giving us moral support when we needed you most. We couldn’t have done the last five years without you — and we’re excited to work on the next five years with all of you!

Godless Perverts Is Now a Non-Profit Organization!

Greta Speaking in Grand Rapids and Detroit (Farmington Hills), Feb. 22 and 24!

CFI and Birmingham Temple logos

Hi, all! I’m speaking in Michigan in February — in Grand Rapids on Feb. 22, and in Farmington Hills (a suburb of Detroit) on Feb. 24. If you’re in the area, I hope to see you soon!

DATE: Wednesday, February 22, 2017
TIME: 7:00 pm – 8:30 pm
LOCATION: Women’s City Club, 254 E. Fulton St., Grand Rapids, MI
TOPIC: Practicing Atheism in Everyday Life
SUMMARY: So you don’t believe in God. Now what? The way we deal with life can change dramatically when we stop believing in gods, souls, and afterlives. When we leave religion — or if we never had it in the first place — where do we go? How do we deal with love and sex, pleasure and death, reality and making stuff up? How do we decide on our values, and how do we live them?
COST: Free (suggested donation $5)
HOSTS: CFI Michigan
EVENT URL: http://www.cfimichigan.org/events/event/w-lecture-022217/
FACEBOOK : https://www.facebook.com/events/1301724013184454/
MEETUP: https://www.meetup.com/cfi-mi/events/237368909/

DATE: Friday, February 24
TIME: 7:30 pm – 9:00 pm
LOCATION: Birmingham Temple/Congregation for Humanistic Judaism, 28611 W 12 Mile Rd, Farmington Hills, MI
TOPIC: Practicing Atheism in Everyday Life
SUMMARY: See above
COST: Free (donations appreciated)
HOSTS: Birmingham Temple/Congregation for Humanistic Judaism, and CFI Michigan
EVENT URL: http://www.cfimichigan.org/events/event/se-lecture-022417/
FACEBOOK: https://www.facebook.com/events/170895550064620/
MEETUP: https://www.meetup.com/cfi-mi/events/237196590/

Greta Speaking in Grand Rapids and Detroit (Farmington Hills), Feb. 22 and 24!

Resistance, and Being a “Sore Loser”

resistance-image-black-ohm-on-pink-background
Ohm — a unit of resistance.

I keep seeing arguments against the massive uprising in protest of the DT regime, on the grounds that DT won the election and we should accept it gracefully and not be sore losers. Weirdly, I don’t just see this from Republicans: I see it from some Democrats as well. So here’s what I want to ask:

Are you arguing the the citizens of a democratic country should not press our elected officials to do what we want? That we should not, as the First Amendment says, peaceably assemble and petition the government for a redress of grievances?

Are you arguing that once a president is elected, citizens should let him do whatever he wants with no opposition, regardless of whether it’s grossly immoral and indeed illegal?

Are you saying that we should sit back and do nothing while incompetence, raging bigotry, xenophobia, kleptocracy, and contempt for the constitution all become entrenched in law and policy?

Are you arguing that we should ignore the gross irregularities in this election — the widespread and systemic voter disenfranchisement, the interference from a hostile foreign government, the absurd electoral system that allows someone to become president when they lost by three million votes — and accept the results of this election as if they were normal and legitimate?

Are you arguing that the problem with contemporary US politics is that citizens are too engaged, and that our political engagement should involve voting and nothing else?

And are you arguing that people who recognize the warning signs of fascism — who are listening to the historians who study fascism when they say that yes, this is what the rise of fascism looks like — should sit back and let fascism rise, for fear of looking like poor losers?

We are not the ones dividing the country. The people who want to kick out immigrants even if they’re here legally, who want to let poor people die for lack of health care, who want to decimate public education, who want to permit open discrimination against LGBT people, who are tolerating and even encouraging the massive increase in bigoted hate crimes — they are the ones dividing this country. Are you arguing that we should be in unity with bigoted, hateful, kleptocratic fascists?

What’s happening now is exactly how democracy should be functioning. What you’re advocating is a four-year dictatorship.

Resistance, and Being a “Sore Loser”

8 Great Reasons to Take Some Pleasure in Activism

Silhouette of protesters under banner

There’s a nasty strain of dourness in leftist politics. All too often, we run into the idea that activism is only valuable if it’s solemn, focused entirely on the harsh realities of the present or the grim possibilities of the future. This attitude was encapsulated perfectly in a Washington Post column by Petula Dvorak, opposing the pink pussyhats in the Women’s March after inauguration day. “This is serious stuff,” Dvorak said. She argued that the Women’s March was about serious issues of suffering and danger, so the imagery shouldn’t be playful or fun. “The Women’s March needs grit,” she said, “not gimmicks.” (Note: Many trans women and women of color found the pussyhats exclusionary, and there are good arguments against them. Dvorak’s column isn’t one of them.)

Dvorak’s attitude is common. And it needs to be loaded into a cannon and shot into the sun. Pleasure, fun and joy are enormously valuable in activism. Pleasure isn’t a requirement for everyone, of course: different people pursue activism in different ways, and that’s a good thing. But of the many tools in our collective toolbox, pleasure is one of the most powerful. Here are eight reasons why.

*****

Thus begins my latest piece for AlterNet, 8 Great Reasons to Take Some Pleasure in Activism. To read more, read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!

8 Great Reasons to Take Some Pleasure in Activism

Milo Yiannopoulos, and What Free Speech Does and Does Not Mean

white male hand grabbing microphone

I don’t believe we have to discuss this again. But apparently we do.

The right to free speech does not give someone the right to other people’s platforms and microphones. You can respect someone’s right to free speech, and not give them your own space and audience.

You don’t have to invite someone to speak on your campus. You don’t have to interview them in your newspaper or magazine, on your TV show or podcast. You don’t have to let them comment in your blog or Facebook page or YouTube channel. You don’t have to give them a book deal. People are not entitled to these things, and in fact most people don’t get most of them. I haven’t been invited to speak at the University of California, and this doesn’t obstruct my free speech. I can speak in other places.

When you give your platform and your microphone to hateful, bigoted, dangerous fascists known for ugly harassment, it gives them legitimacy. It makes their ideas seem mainstream. It doesn’t necessarily say that you agree with them, but it says you think their ideas are worth considering and are a subject for reasonable debate.

Milo Yiannopoulos is part of a highly dangerous movement, a movement that has been empowered and emboldened by the 2016 presidential election. If successful, this movement will result in a rise in bigoted and xenophobic hatred, a massive upsurge in violent hate crimes, a loss of basic civil rights, severe restrictions on science and education — and yes, the suppression of free speech, for individuals as well as media organizations. Some of these things are already happening; others are already beginning to happen. Do you really want to give this movement your platform, your microphone, and your audience?

History has its eyes on us. In twenty years, fifty years, a hundred years, we will be judged by how we responded to this crisis. Do you want to be one of the people who helped the Nazis reach more people?

In the past, when people have argued that they’re entitled to other people’s platforms (such as commenting on blogs or Facebook pages), I’ve often illustrated the absurdity of this by asking, “Would you let people spew openly hateful racism on your platform? Would you let people advocate genocide on your platform? Would you let Nazis use your platform?” It is highly distressing to learn that for many people, including people I’ve considered colleagues and allies and even friends, the answer is Yes.

Milo Yiannopoulos, and What Free Speech Does and Does Not Mean

Calling Your Elected Officials: Breaking it Down and Making it Easier

Shirtless_pierced_man_holding_up_a_smartphone
Photo by miggslives, via Wikimedia Commons

I know that for some people, calling their representatives can be a daunting task. So here are a few tips for breaking it down and making it easier.

1) Today, if you haven’t done so already, look up your representatives’ phone numbers, and put them in your phone. Once they’re in your phone, calling is much easier. Start with your Senators and Congressperson. If you have the energy, then do your governor, state senators and representative, mayor, and city councilor or whatever they call that in your city. (If that’s overwhelming for one day, do your national reps today, your state reps tomorrow, and your local reps the next day.)

That’s it for today. You don’t have to make any phone calls today if you don’t have the energy. Just look up the numbers and put them in your phone.

2) Remember that when you call, you don’t have to give a speech on the issue, and you won’t be grilled on it. All you have to say is your name, zip code, and what you want them to do. If you like, you can give a short explanation of why you want them to do the thing, but you don’t have to. Continue reading “Calling Your Elected Officials: Breaking it Down and Making it Easier”

Calling Your Elected Officials: Breaking it Down and Making it Easier