How Do We Support Survivors in a Sea of Triggers?

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.

How Do We Support Survivors in a Sea of Triggers?

Erasure During Pride Month

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.

Erasure During Pride Month

Not Just Flipping Burgers

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.

Not Just Flipping Burgers

Environmental Worldview

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.

Environmental Worldview

“Stupid” Is The New “Gay”

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.”

“Stupid” Is The New “Gay”

Metapost: Where The Heck is Benny?

So… it’s been awhile since I posted. While I’m tempted to apologize for that, I’m trying not to because honestly I needed this time. But I do want to take a moment to explain what’s up, and what will be up with this blog in the near future.

First of all, I’m swiftly approaching my graduation from University. In anticipation of that graduation this past few months has been incredibly busy – I quit my job in March, submitted my research thesis, applied to several graduate schools, have been applying for jobs for after graduation, all while doing my last quarter of classes. I’ve also been working several part time jobs, and calling my representatives regularly, going to protests when possible, and catching season 2 of Sense 8. I frankly haven’t had time to write.
Continue reading “Metapost: Where The Heck is Benny?”

Metapost: Where The Heck is Benny?

Wide Ranging Impacts of Misguided Georgia Pharmacy Bill

CN: Addiction, mentions of overdose.

Bill SB 81 in Georgia has been proposed with the intention of making opioid pain medications less available in an attempt to fight opioid addiction in Georgia. It requires, among other things, that prescriptions for any Schedule II, III, IV, and V drugs have prescriptions limited to a five day supply at a time. People who use Schedule II medications to treat ADHD and related conditions quickly noticed that as written the law would require them to get a new prescription every five days for medications like Ritalin and Adderal. After reading the bill, it appears to me that this would also require people who use testosterone medications to get a new prescription every five days as well, since testosterone containing medications are Schedule III drugs.

These medications often already require the patient (or parent or caretaker) to carry a physical paper prescription into the pharmacy. The new regulations would require medical providers, patients, and pharmacies to do staggeringly more work and paperwork. Some of these medications are usually used for years or a lifetime, and certainly many patients would really struggle with getting to their doctor’s office and the pharmacy every week. Continue reading “Wide Ranging Impacts of Misguided Georgia Pharmacy Bill”

Wide Ranging Impacts of Misguided Georgia Pharmacy Bill

How Not To Write a Code of Conduct

CN: Discussion of harassment and hate speech, transphobia, racism.

In previous years, the more feminist factions of the atheist and skeptic movements pushed events to deal with problems of discrimination, sexual harassment, and sexual assault in various ways. One of those ways, and perhaps the most successful one, was encouraging events and groups to have an anti-harassment policy or code of conduct that would spell out what types of behavior were acceptable and how unacceptable behavior would be handled. At the same time, science fiction and fantasy conventions, tech conferences, and other events dealt with the same issues and also responded with a push towards robust codes of conduct. As more and more writers, speakers, and leaders refused to speak at events without good codes of conduct, these policies became common, with almost every relevant event having one displayed on their website.

However, having a harassment policy, code of conduct, or other similar document for your event is not enough. It actually has to be a good one, with clear definitions of acceptable and unacceptable behavior, and consequences for those who do not follow it. Those who experience an incident of discrimination, hate speech, sexual harassment, or similar problems need to know how to report these things and how they will be handled. “Don’t be a dick” isn’t sufficient as a definition of what behavior is and is not welcome at your event.

Just one example of a terrible code of conduct came to my attention recently. The event Gateway to Reason will take place in St Louis in late July and does have a code of conduct on their website. While Gateway to Reason is not alone in having a poorly considered conduct policy, theirs is particularly problematic and I’d like to discuss some of the ways it could be improved.
Continue reading “How Not To Write a Code of Conduct”

How Not To Write a Code of Conduct

Phone Calls After My Uncle’s Death

CN: Suicide, grief, family stuff

My uncle died by suicide, last Monday. Mom called to tell me that night. It wasn’t totally unexpected, though I know Mom and others tried very hard for a long time to help. I was never close with him, haven’t seen him in around 20 years, and we weren’t close while I was growing up. For ME, this isn’t a personal loss.

But for Mom it is clearly a profound loss. She sounded vulnerable and heartbroken on the phone on Monday in a way I don’t think I’ve really heard from her before. It was, I think, the first time she ever really reached out to me for emotional support. She called me before my brother. She didn’t call to pass on information. She called because she needed to hear that I’m safe, that I love her, and that I’m here for her.

I told her I’m so sorry. I told her I love her, and that Spouse and I are safe and well. I told her I’d come to the funeral with her if she wanted (she doesn’t want me to, for complicated but good reasons). I told her to let me know if there is anything else I can do. I told her that I unfortunately know something about going through this kind of loss, and I know it’s particularly hard.

I never want to hear that pain in Mom’s voice again. I wish I could protect her from all of the loss that is likely to come in her life as she ages. But I am also so grateful to have the kind of relationship with her now that she will call me when she needs comfort. I want to be here for her. Mom and I struggled and worked hard to build a good relationship. My childhood was hard and we were adversaries much more often than allies. As time passes we continue to learn and grow, now as more than just allies, but as companions.

I ache for Mom’s loss, and for the pain my uncle must have been in. I am also incredibly grateful that she and I are in a place now where I can be there for her. Families are complicated, but I am glad I have mine.

Phone Calls After My Uncle’s Death

Just Do Something

I know not everyone is able to participate in every kind of resistance that we are told to do. Our diversity of strengths and abilities is a big part of what makes movements to resist fascism great.

Those of us who can lobby our lawmakers in person should do that. In person lobbying is absolutely the most effective form of telling your representatives what you want.

Those of us who can call should. Write scripts, or use scripts written by others, to help. I believe the people who tell me it’s effective.

Those of us who can’t call should write. I’m told paper letters are better than email. Handwritten apparently better than typed? But fuck no I’m not handwriting a letter because my handwriting sucks. Writing letters, or even emails, is better than no action at all. Just because you can’t do the most effective thing doesn’t mean you don’t do the somewhat effective thing.

Those of us who can protest should. Those of us who can punch Nazis should, if we have a good opportunity. Those of us who can occupy airports today should. Those of us who can sit outside our lawmaker’s offices should. Those of us who can donate money should. Those of us who can write should. Those of us who can create protest art, and songs, and t-shirts, and signs should. Those of us who can feed protesters should. Those of us who can elevate the voices, in real life and online, of those who are most marginalized should. Those of us who can talk to family, friends, and co-workers about resistance should. Those of us who can dig into arguing with conservatives should. Those of us who can troll the comments sections of Brietbart should.

Feed someone’s pets while they’re out of town protesting or occupying. Knit. Paint. Sit and have quiet frank conversations with uncertain family members. Raise socially conscious children. Recycle. Make one phone call to a lawmaker or a thousand. Drive someone to the polls on the next election day. Design an incredible protest sign even if you can’t be the one to carry it. Glitter bomb a fascist. Scream in the face of a racist. Buy a drink for an exhausted lobbyist. Hug an immigration lawyer.

Just do something.

Just Do Something