I am working a summer fellowship 800 miles from home this summer. I moved almost 6 weeks ago to a small town where I knew no one. This town does not have a gay bar. Surprisingly, my trans community found me. Continue reading “I Have Siblings Everywhere”
My flag was purchased by Spouse more than 2 years ago, along with a rainbow flag and a nonbinary one. It’s a full size lightweight nylon trans pride flag, with 2 brass rivets. It’s starting to fade, but my affection for it only grows.
This flag has been my cape through Pride celebrations, the J20 protests and the Women’s March on Washington, plus about a dozen street protests in Chicago. It waved proudly on a pole when Spouse took it to a beautiful trans rights protest. It hung on the end of my bunk when I was a counselor for trans kids at summer camp last summer, and adorned my co-counselor for a camp event.
It’s been washed once. It needed to be, especially after that long weekend in DC last year. Gently washing it didn’t remove the original fold lines, they’re still there along with a thousand new wrinkles – kind of like me.
This flag currently hangs in the east facing window in my summer apartment. I am working 800 miles from home this summer, in a tiny town where I know nobody. When I got to my little apartment it was crystal clear where the flag would go – proudly covering the place where the sun will come up each day. After what I’ve gone through hanging a pride flag in the window is a joy. It’s barely visible from the street, but I don’t care. I know it’s there, and when I wake up in the morning my flag glows with sunshine.
This weekend I am going to Pride in New York City, and the weekend after that I will protest in Washington DC. My fading but proud flag will ride my shoulders again, through that and all summer. As it, and I, become increasingly worn we will keep flying with pride.
Spoilers for Star Trek:Discovery S1E14 (release date 02/04/2018). Content notice for trans antagonism.
One of the most common euphemisms used for surgical procedures related to gender transition is “sexual reassignment surgery” or “SRS.” It is probably the most commonly known phrase for these surgical procedures after the even more obnoxious “sex change surgery.” Although I don’t personally find SRS to be a particularly useful term (I prefer to call each medical and surgical procedure by its technical name), I recognize that it is a commonly known one and many people, including many trans people and medical professionals who work with us, use it.
During the most recent episode of Star Trek: Discovery, “The War Without, The War Within,” we learn more about what has happened to Ash Tyler, a Starfleet Lieutenant, and Voq, a Klingon loyal to the martyred T’Kuvma. It seems that Tyler’s appearance, memories, and personality have been surgically implanted upon Voq, in an apparently incredibly painful procedure.
This story is sponsored by Chas Swedberg. I am grateful for his generous support of The Orbit through our Kickstarter campaign.
Until my 30’s I didn’t know I was autistic. Like many autistic adults I was not diagnosed as a kid because the criteria for diagnosis, and the cultural expectations around autism, meant that no one could put the correct name to who I am. I was perceived as an intelligent and highly verbal little girl – not at all what teachers, therapists, and my parents thought of when they heard the word “autism.”
Without correct language to describe me a lot of other labels were put onto me instead. I struggled enormously socially, and since I was awkward and weird the blame for the bullying I received was put on me. As I entered middle school I was seriously socially delayed and tried everything I could think of to make or keep friends.
Assuming people didn’t like me because I wasn’t interesting enough, I lied dramatically in an attempt to seem interesting. Unsurprisingly, the stories I created didn’t actually work to attract friends, but they did manage to harm my family, and eventually caused my social situation in school to become so bad that my parents switched my school to another.
These lies were a big deal, and broke down trust between myself and my parents completely. I was already struggling with emotional development, academic achievement, and pretty much every other facet of my life. The destruction of any trust in my family lead to many years of fighting, struggle, and broken relationships. In my own mind, and in the ways in which my parents and every institution around me responded, I was a Bad Kid.
Being a Bad Kid is incredibly hard to recover from. Everyone around you sees you through that lens. Once a kid is seen as “troubled” or “delinquent” or anything similar it is almost impossible to get back to being normal, or having anyone see you as a success. This view of me, by myself and others, eventually lead to me being institutionalized, and then eventually kicked out of that institution as I approached my 18th birthday.
Only in my early 30’s did what happened during those years become clear to me. As soon as the word “autism” was applied to me I began to see the whole experience in a new light.
I was not a bad kid. I was an autistic kid in a system that could not recognize me as such, and did not support me in any of the ways I needed to be supported. In place of accommodations and understanding I was given blame.
It wasn’t my fault.
My relationship with my parents is quite good now. In part this is because we worked hard to repair things between us in my 20’s, but a large part of it is also that we now have the language to talk about how things were when I was a kid. Finding the language to describe my difficulties was nearly as healing for my mother as it was for me. As I learned that my failures were not my fault, she also learned that they were mostly not hers either.
I try to remember this when dealing with other people. I know now that bad information at a critical stage can lead to a cascade of impacts that seriously harm someone’s life. It’s not always easy to avoid assuming the worst about someone who does something harmful, like telling elaborate lies that hurt those around them, but I try.
Awhile back Buzzfeed video made this video about trying to make no trash for a month. The young woman who made the video tried to eliminate her garbage creation for a whole month. She apparently did this mainly by choosing foods that don’t include packaging (bulk foods, produce, etc) and by composting food waste. She also talks to experts on waste about the quantities people create.
I’m torn about this kind of stunt. Decreasing trash is in a general sense a good idea because a lot of packaging materials are excessive and therefore require excessive resources to create, and moving trash around uses resources. But landfills are less of a problem than people think, and trying to solve environmental problems on an individual (rather than systemic) level can result in making decisions that may actually increase environmental impact. In particular, when we respond to environmental issues on an individual level by applying some simple heuristic, such as “create no trash,” we may instead create other problems.
CN: Sexual harassment, sexual assault, abuse.
Like many of my friends I am glad that many serial abusers and harassers, in a range of powerful positions, are being named and actually facing real consequences these days. I want those who perpetrate these crimes to suffer consequences for their action, and I am grateful to have seen an increase in support for their accusers.
However, this atmosphere of constant discussion of abuse in media, social conversations, and online comes at a cost for many of us. Especially for survivors of exactly the kinds of crimes that are being talked about on a daily basis the incessant stream of accusations, discussions, and media attention can be draining and deeply painful.
I am a multiple experience sexual assault survivor. On a day to day basis an occasional news story about sexual assault, or a discussion about harassment on a friend’s Facebook wall is a fairly manageable experience for me. Mostly I want to be supportive of other survivors and can often wait to read such things until I am in a good frame of mind (Content/trigger warnings really help this). I have occasionally been pretty seriously triggered by media but that’s not a common experience for me.
But that is my experience in the old world, the one in which weeks or months would go by between reports that various powerful men were being accused. I got a chance to heal a little between major news (or personal) stories about harassment and assault. Once I got more involved in social justice and feminist movements I definitely became a bit more raw – I heard more about people’s experiences, so I struggled a bit more with them. Until recently this was manageable.
Frankly, lately it isn’t.
I’ve been struggling with depression and fear that is deepened daily by report after report of harassment and assault. Every time I pull up my Facebook page, my Twitter feed, my podcasts, any radio, or glimpse the TV in the lobby at school I am faced with experiences that remind me of my own. There were no trigger warnings on the conversation around the table at Thanksgiving dinner, nor any way to catch up on other news without also getting a flood of these stories.
Throughout all of this I have still had to go to work and go to school, fulfill my household obligations, and otherwise act as if everything is fine. It’s not fine, I’m not fine, and things are slipping. I am certain I am not the only one struggling like this. This moment is painful for many survivors.
So my question is this: How do we support survivors of harassment, assault, and rape in moments like this where the world is a sea of discussion about the topic? Obviously not talking about it isn’t helpful, because a lack of attention is part of what got us here in the first place. When we are, as a culture, having this necessary conversation, what should we also do to ensure that we are not unnecessarily re-traumatizing those we wish to support and protect?
Some of us have our own experiences very much at the forefront of our minds right now, but few places to discuss those thoughts that actually feel safe. If you are emotionally able to be a place to just listen to the thoughts of the survivors in your life, say so. Be prepared to listen without judgement, or an attempt to fix things. Frankly, being a survivor right now can feel oddly isolating and lonely, and if you can just listen right now it would be great if you would.
On the other hand, many of us also need some space away from the topic entirely. If you can create social spaces to talk about ANYTHING ELSE, that may really help the survivors in your life. Be explicit about the fact that you’re creating a “no talking about the news” kind of zone, and focus conversations on other topics for awhile. Doing so in a way that actively seeks to include survivors helps.
If you are able or willing to do these things, remember that you may not know who the survivors in your life are. If you are able to reach out in a way that is somewhat public, and let folks know you want to create these kinds of spaces, that’d be really helpful too.
Do you have other suggestions about how to support survivors right now? I’d love to hear them.
CN: Specific examples of erasure of asexual, aromantic, fat, disabled, and elderly people. Discussion of erasure generally. Brief mention of kink.
I often experience pride month, pride events, and pride media not as a fantastic celebration of a community that includes me, but as a reminder that I’m not the right kind of queer. The erasure of a whole variety of queer people is deeply alienating for many, and that erasure can feel especially stark during June.
Yesterday this video from the fitness company Equinox came up on my Facebook feed. It is purported to be the alphabet of the LGBTQA community. The video is well designed and has some good things about it, but the entire thing was ruined for me by the very first line:
“I consider myself and advocate and an ally.”
This video BEGINS with one of the deepest and most common erasures in the queer world. The inclusion of cisgender heterosexual allies and the erasure and alienation of asexual, aromatic, and related identities is consistent and deeply harmful. The fact that cishet people literally come first in this video is deeply flawed, especially because there are much better options for the “A” in the queer alphabet.
This could have been mitigated if there was, at any point, an inclusion of ace spectrum people in the video – but none appeared. As far as this company and the community center they partnered with are concerned allies are part of the community, and ace folks are not.
Three other groups of queer folks who are frequently erased from the community, ignored, and forgotten are also absent from this video. These are groups people whose bodies are generally seen as unattractive, undesirable, unsexy. Fat people, visibly disabled people, and older people are utterly absent from this video, just as we (I’m fat btw) are so often absent from visual media. Queer communities are simply no better about this than the general culture, and this video makes no attempt to include anyone who isn’t commercially attractive.
As a fitness company it is clear that Equinox is trying to promote itself as a specific kind of environment. They want to say that this is a place where you won’t have to share a locker room with anyone you may not find attractive. The use of only commercially attractive people in a video like this has several effects – it sends the message that “real” LGBTQ people are thin/muscular, young, and able bodied, and it sends the message that fitness spaces like Equinox are also only for those who are the same.
There are things I like about this particular video (it’s highly racially inclusive, pretty, and definitely not femmephobic). I liked the inclusion of SM without making it all cishet (because cishet kinksters aren’t queer, but queer kinksters totally are). I liked the inclusion of nonbinary people, since they are often also left out. However, the things it celebrates are largely those that are already celebrated in every other pride event and media thing I see. Those that are absent are the ones that seem to be absent so often.
Ace spectrum people are a part of the LGBTQA community. Hell, they are right there in the name. Queer fat people, disabled people, and older people are part of the LGBTQA community. They deserve to be seen and included. My fat ass is just as queer as the gay model who gets into a viral video. My over-60 and over-70 friends are just as queer as a young androgynous blue-haired waif. My friends who use mobility devices deserve as much recognition in their queerness as a professional dancer does.
It’s time for the erasure to stop.
When people discuss raising the minimum wage some argue that people should not be paid more for “just flipping burgers.” Often their image of a low wage job is something they consider easy, and they don’t really think about all of the awful parts of those jobs. They imagine “flipping burgers” to be like cooking a meal in their own kitchen, not an 8 hour shift on their feet in a hot kitchen. They don’t imagine hauling out big bags of greasy dripping trash to a dumpster several times a day. They don’t know that you have to smack that dumpster a few times before opening it, or you’ll end up with a rat jumping out at you. They don’t think of the manager who keeps cutting their hours, and thus their pay, every time things slow down.
Those who disparage low wage workers don’t know about the aspects of those jobs that never appear on the job descriptions. They don’t know about the hotel housekeepers who are constantly sexually harassed by guests. They don’t know that the night auditor at that same hotel has to try to get the passed out drunk guest up off the hallway floor almost every night. They never realize that the cashier at the grocery store has to listen to that guy with no boundaries tell his entire life story every week, and she has to smile while he does it and look like she cares the whole time because her boss is watching.
They don’t have to hear “I guess it’s free then!” every single time an item doesn’t scan. Every time. All day. All week. All year. They don’t have to try desperately not to scream in the face of the next person who says it, and laugh like the joke is clever.
The person who says “minimum wage is supposed to be for high school students and low-skill workers” doesn’t understand the skill it takes to carefully de-escalate the customer who throws a full-blast tantrum because he has just been told “no.” They do not recognize the problem solving skills required to calculate the fastest way to get from your second work shift of the day to the daycare center to pick up your kid on time.
They think that because a job doesn’t require a college degree it doesn’t require skills, because they don’t recognize the things these employees do as skills. They believe the work is easy because if they see these jobs at all they only see a few moments of a long shift in a long week.
All work should be paid a living wage, because after fighting off rats in the alley the burger flipper should get to have a good meal too.
I am coming close to finishing my degree in Environmental Science and was asked by a professor to write about my environmental worldview. What follows is my response to that assignment.
The world is an old and natural place, built and maintained by physical forces, and occupied by chemical living things that evolve and change over time. I do not believe that life has intrinsic purpose, or that this planet we live on exists for us, any more than it exists for any other species, extant or extinct. I believe that the forces that control Earth and all life on it are natural, understandable, and even predictable with the right knowledge. Since humans have rational brains that are able to learn about our world, we also have a moral obligation to make choices that will keep the world a livable place for our fellow humans and other species.
My sense of justice requires that I try not to make the world harder for others that I share this world with. This means that I want to work for environmental justice, especially focusing on people who have had environmental harms pushed on them by a racist, classist, and ableist culture. This means that I want fight policies that lead to the destruction of the land of indigenous people, or that lead to climate change that disproportionately impacts developing nations. The same groups of people who have been economically and socially marginalized in the United States and around our globalized world also experience environmental injustice and I believe my efforts to improve the world must be focused on these people.
I also believe that humans are not the only species worthy of my efforts, and that humans should not destroy other species for our own ends. I am outraged by the rate of species loss created by environmental harm caused by human activity. I believe that we have a responsibility to preserve the planet not just as a place that humans can live, but as a place where we can coexist with the other life.
I also believe that the best way to make decisions is to ensure that those decisions are informed by accurate facts. I do not want to make my environmental decisions based on what feels good, but on what the best scientific knowledge shows. I believe that while scientific methods do not always come up with the correct answers, they are still the best methods we have to understand the world and predict outcomes. When I work based on scientific consensus, rather than fallacy or propaganda, I believe my work will be most likely to have the outcomes I desire.
I understand that working from a scientific basis means making hard choices. I do not believe that science will bring us a panacea through technology, but that technology may be one part of larger tactics to make the world a better place. Sometimes the facts show us that any decision we make will have consequences that we do not desire. It can frustrating for individuals and for cultures to decide between environmental causes and economic ones, for example. But I believe that in the long run protecting the environment from further harm is usually the best choice for everyone, because we need to think not only of ourselves, but of other people, species, and the future.
CN: This post includes examples of ableist and homophobic language used to illustrate my points.
In modern English speaking cultures (and I suspect many other languages too) we often use ableist words as shorthand for other ideas. When we encounter an idea that we don’t agree with we may say “that’s stupid.” In having this response we haven’t given much actual information about what the problems are with the idea expressed, but we have made our disdain for that idea clear. We will often also make our disdain for the person expressing it clear with “You’re an idiot.”
This is a similar (but more persistent practice) as expressing our dislike of an idea with “That’s so gay” or our disagreement with a person with “You’re so gay.” During the last few decades this practice grew, became deeply ingrained in many people’s daily language, and then has largely died out as homophobia has become far less socially acceptable. While some still use it, it is generally seen as outdated and clearly coming from a place of prejudice. I haven’t heard it in public for awhile.
In both cases people are expressing distaste by comparing something or someone to a group of people we see as lesser in some way. In both ways they are degrading both the specific idea or person we dislike, and the group of people they’re comparing them to. What they are saying is “This idea is so bad it must have come from someone who is cognitively disabled” or “You’re so disgusting to me you must be similar to a gay person.” These statements assume disabled people and queer people are the bad thing people don’t want to be compared to.
Unfortunately, as we effectively encouraged people to stop calling things “gay” when they didn’t like them, we often encouraged them to use cognitive slurs instead. “Don’t call things gay when you really mean stupid!” is basically what I said all through the 90’s and early 00’s. I didn’t see that I was asking my peers to replace one group of people as the target of ridicule with another.
I did this because I believed that I was trying to get people to correctly identify what the problem was with the thing they objected to. I thought that the real problem with a bad idea WAS that it was stupid. I have a much better understanding now, and wish that instead we could actually properly identify what is wrong with a thing or idea. Instead of either “That idea is gay” or “that idea is dumb” it’s more accurate and less harmful to say “that idea is wrong” or “that idea is hurtful” or “that idea is mean.”