"Dialogue"

Imagine an abusive family. Imagine a family that at every opportunity does what they can to tear you down. To scream at you and tell you how everything that happens is your fault. Imagine that it gets to the point where you cut off contact with them, block them out of your life. You do this, because every time you speak it ends up with them screaming at you.  It gets to the point where you are afraid to answer the phone on the off chance that it’s them. You watch every word you say or write because you worry it will somehow get back to them and trigger another fight, even if what you are saying had nothing to do with them. They look for excuses to be angry. You have to yell to be heard, but when you raise your voice, you are attacked for being too angry, for not listening, for being too aggressive. You are told to shut up and stop yelling, all the while being yelled at.

You cut them off, except cutting them off doesn’t give you any peace. They manage to get in touch with you through someone else. Someone they have convinced that they want to talk to resolve things. The person urges you to make up with them. After all family is family and it is not good to be divisive. You want to agree; you want to hope that this time finally you can have an honest discussion about everything that has gone wrong, on how their actions have made you feel. You want this to be over. You want your anxiety to end, and go back to talking about the things you both care about instead of being called names. But you also remember the last time they promised to work things out, when the dialogue ended up being nothing more than an excuse to yell at you some more. To tear you down just a little bit further. So you ask for a show of good faith; something small, but something to show that they are sincere. Or maybe something not that small, but something that has to be done for any resolution to take place. But they aren’t willing to make that sacrifice. Because it is not about resolution, it is about further abuse. It is about getting the chance to yell at you and abuse you further, but in a new location; a location, where if you don’t show up, you are accused of being the unreasonable one. It is nothing more than an attempt to get at you again; to circumvent your attempts to cut them out of your life for the sake of your health, or peace.

Abusers know how to make themselves look like the good guy. They convince everyone else that you are ungrateful, a liar. They trot out edited or incomplete versions of stories to explain how you are a troublemaker and really, they are the ones that are wounded and they are just trying to make peace for everyone’s sake. When you show other people the examples of the harmful things they’ve done to you, they insist it is out of context. They explain how it was all a misunderstanding and all you need to do is talk about it to make it all better. And there is nothing you can do, because it is physically impossible to bear your wounded heart. It is impossible to show everyone the scars that exist in unseen places; the anxiety, the depression, the despair. Even if they catch a glimpse of it, it is not the full story. Unless they have gone through the same thing, they cannot understand the pain and the hurt that comes with that kind of abuse and so they accuse you. They accuse you of being stubborn, divisive. For fairness sake, they grant that some of what might have happened to you is unfair, but they take “the middle ground”. All this, not understanding that there is no middle ground, because they compare an amputation, a fatal wound, to a paper cut and call you both equally injured.

Now instead of a family, imagine that this is a community. Imagine it is a group where you found acceptance for believing something different then everyone else. Imagine that this community talked about the persecution they faced for this common belief. They welcomed you and told you that they understood your pain. You felt so thrilled about the acceptance that you opened up. You talked about the problems you had because of your faith and they accepted you. You talked about the problems you faced because of people who denied reason and evidence and they accepted you. And then you talked about the problems that you have because of your gender identity, or your race, or your income level, and they shunned you. They shunned you and accused you of making it up. They yelled at you for being divisive when you point out how people in this very community sometimes treated you differently or badly because of things beyond your control. You think, they must have misunderstood, you don’t want to blame someone, you just wanted to offer suggestions on how to make this better.  But it didn’t matter. By bringing it up, you opened the doors. They no longer saw you as one of them and so they derided you. The screamed at your and harassed you. They sent others who thought like them to harass you. They screamed at you, they spread rumours about you and insulted you. While they did this they told everyone about how you had created a division in the group. They mentioned how you were spreading untrue stories about your oppression. They called you professional victim. They covered their tracks like abusers do. They smiled their way into people’s trust.  Then when you cut them off, when you finally said enough, they talked about how you were destroying the movement.  They convinced people that you were looking for attention. And then you insinuated that you would be willing to make up, to “have a dialogue’, for ‘the good of the movement’.

But this isn’t about dialogue. This isn’t about the good of the movement, or healing the rift. It is a chance to further harass you. To further show you that they can push you around and out of the movement, and still have everyone stay “in the middle”. If you try to defend yourself, you are blamed for being uncooperative, while their continued attempts are shutting you up are ignored or painted as childish pranks. What used to be your source of support is instead a source of anxiety. Your life’s work is mocked and ignored. But you are forced to put up with the harassment in the interest of discussion. Any show of faith you ask for is blown out of proportion.

When you point out that despite the beautiful promises of discourse, the harassment still continues, you are accused of being unfair. The other parties all want to be “neutral”. You are asked to ignore all the spiteful, hateful, in some cases illegal things people do to you in the name of “healing and dialogue”.  Maybe you were too harsh in telling people about your oppression. Maybe you didn’t have it that bad really. Maybe you did want the attention didn’t you, and maybe you exaggerated how bad things were just a little bit; for effect? They don’t realize that their neutrality is nothing more than silent consent, silent legitimization of the abuse you suffer. It is saying your black eye must have been the result of walking into a door at the same time that they ignore you being pushed down the stairs.

Albert Einstein said it best: “The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.”

Neutrality is not always the best choice. Not when neutrality means ignoring the suffering of others in favour of false unity. Not when neutrality is hurting those who have not found their voice yet and keeping them from speaking.

"Dialogue"
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I am an Atheist

This week is Good without God awareness week and I want to make some things very clear:

I am an Atheist. I don’t “not believe in anything” or “have faith in nothing”. I don’t have faith in a god(s) or believe in God(s). That is all.

I have faith in what matters: love, friendship, the power of people to do good and be good, human ingenuity and intelligence.

I am not “without wonder”. I find wonder in this incredible world we live in. I find inspiration that something so incredible, so beautiful, came about through natural processes. I find transcendence in my relative insignificance and confidence in my belief in my own ability to have an impact on the here and now.

I am given hope by my incredible luck that a series of circumstances, mutations, and otherwise unlikely events took place in such a way as to bring about my existence. I am a 1 in a billion chance; isn’t that just so very flattering!?

I have faith, and I believe, that this isn’t all just some test thought up by a bored, sadistic, megalomaniac with an inferiority complex somehow superimposed with a superiority complex.

I don’t need the threat of an afterlife to keep me working towards the greater good. I don’t fear death, but acknowledge it as motivation to live my life to the absolute. I make my own decisions about what is right and what is wrong based on experience and observation, and not because some ancient and irrelevant text told me what to think.

I am Good without God, because I don’t look to a god to make me good. I am good just because it is a good idea, and being good makes the world the place I want it to be.

I am an Atheist, and I am Proud.

I am an Atheist

#UpForDebate

This post started life as a facebook status. I was told to put it up on here as well. Please enjoy this break from our usual style. 

So since so many in the rationalist skeptic community insist that the only reasonable thing is to have debates in which both sides of the issue with regards to human rights, I think I’ve decided to jump on the bandwagon. They’re right. We do need to start discussing these issues. So with that in mind:

Do you think we can trust men to make their own medical decisions? I think that so many of them have made irresponsible choices so I think it is time we started legislating who has access to viagra, condoms, and so forth.
Also, unless they have a life threatening condition, all men should be required to donate plasma, bone marrow, and organs to those who need them. After all, we are talking about saving a human life! Since we can’t trust them to make the right decision when it comes to maintaining life we have to make it for them. From now on, any man who doesn’t want to donate an organ has to have dinner with the organ recipient so that they can really understand the life they are taking away by making that sort of medical decision.
Since men cannot control their own desires, they really shouldn’t go out after dark, or to clubs. They shouldn’t drink. They shouldn’t spend time alone with any of their female friends and should be under constant supervision.
As for money, it is clear that white men are predisposed to crime and fraud. From now on we should restrict how many of them are allowed to work in financial sectors. They just don’t have the moral integrity to work in those areas. Also, clearly their decades and centuries of mismanagement shows white men are also unqualified to be the ruling class. So unless they can prive that they’ve overcome their racial tendency towards being cheats, they won’t really be accepted as candidates for public office. No hard feelings, it is just for their own good.
Also, since they cannot be trusted to take their responsibilities seriously, they are now required to pay any person they sleep with a monthly stipend just to be sure that any potential offspring they produced is well cared for. After all, they had sex, they should be responsible for the consequences.
Inheritance will no longer be allowed. Rich white kids have to prove that they deserve the money. Don’t worry, if they work hard I am sure they will be able to earn all that money back to have a comfortable life. After all hard work is how everyone gets their money right?
As for marriage, well clearly straight people can’t be trusted with the sanctity of marriage. They’ve made such a mess of things with divorce rates, cheating rates. I think that straight people shouldn’t be allowed to marry.
While we’re at it, I should tell you, I’m not really attracted to white cis men. It’s not that I’m racist or cisphobic, I just find their values to be different from mine. I mean, how would we raise the children? I mean, they are fine for occasional trysts but I would never really MARRY one.
Yes, clearly I am kidding. Hell, I had bile in my throat writing this entire post. But just so you know, this is exactly what you sound like to many of us when you talk about having rational discussions about issues of abortion, marriage, race, etc. rights.

Edited to Add:

I have a few more questions:

Do you think it is safe for abled people to make their own decisions about reproduction. After all, they don’t always make the best ones. Perhaps it would be helpful to forcefully sterilize all abled people?

Also while the murder of children is wrong of course, I think we can sort of forgive it in the case of abled children. I mean, with all that running around, screaming, tantrums, it is understandable that some parents just cannot handle it. It’s unfortunate, but until we have more services to help parents care for abled children, can we really judge those parents?

Since marriage is for procreation, we should ban contraceptives for married couples. Afterall, if they didn’t want to procreate, why did they get married?

#UpForDebate

RANT: A Defence of Divisiveness

 

As a movement, secularists and skeptics defend dissent. We don’t just support it; we encourage it in the name of truth. So what is the hypocrisy that suddenly when it comes to dissent in our own movement that we call it divisiveness?

Intersectionality Feminists are called divisive because speaking out about race issues, women’s issues, oppression, brings out the worst in some people. Those people then go out of their way to make people who dare to speak out feel unwelcome. They send threats, post cruel harassing comments, and in some cases release private information for the purpose of stalking and worsening the attacks.

When people defend themselves by calling out the abuse, the reaction is to accuse those self-same people of being divisive, of causing rifts within the movement.

I think we’ve too long let harassers frame the conversation by letting divisiveness be seen as a bad thing.

What is divisiveness but a move to extricate and separate oneself from those who would abuse, harm, or persecute? It is dissent and an unwillingness to accept the status quo. In other words, it is what we as secularists and skeptics do!

It ignores the fact that we as a movement are already divisive. When we identify as atheists we are being divisive. We are dividing ourselves from those who have faith with no evidence. When we identify as evidence-based skeptics we are being divisive. We are dividing ourselves and dissenting against those who would peddle woo and false miracles.  Divisiveness exists with every label. It is not something to be ashamed of and sometimes it is necessary.

Our movement is no longer so small that we have to tolerate abusive elements just to maintain some quota of membership. No longer to we have to grit our teeth to accept those whose morals and values we do not agree with in order to have the support of numbers on our side.

It is time for the atheist, skeptic, secularist movement to decide who we want representing us. What values and morals do we want to be our message to the world? Do we want to be represented by those who would be a force for equality, or do we want to be represented by people who see nothing wrong with threatening women with rape? Those who stand up for other’s whose voice might be silenced, or those who try to silence those self-same voices?

Boycotts are essentially voting with your money and your feet. Everyone has a right to do so, and if enough people do it encourages change.

The difference between someone saying they won’t go to x conference because someone like PZ or Watson are speaking and calling for boycott is honestly just branding. When known harassers raise money to go to conferences to continue their campaign of harassment, or when they are unable to go, call on people to avoid conferences with those self-same speakers, they are doing the same thing. We’ve allowed them to frame the debate however by making it seem as though they are standing up for free speech.

 

RANT: A Defence of Divisiveness

Don't Confuse My Anger for Hate

“Feminists are just a bunch of man hating bitches. They just think every cis het white male is a terrorist. There go those social justice warriors calling everyone a bad person just for existing. Jeez if you hate humanity that much just go away. Urgh, they just want everyone to be victims just like them.”

If you run in social justice circles, heck, if you’ve ever seen a social justice themed post of any kind, you will probably see some variation of the comments above. The prevailing opinion is that social justice activists hate the world because we call people on ableism, on sexism, racism, transphobia and transmisogyny, on privilege. That we see everyone as a bad person and that’s why we don’t believe that intent matters, because we think everyone is guilty. That our anger is the same thing as hate.

But that’s not the reason for the anger. We’re not angry because we hate the world. Even when we joke about hating the world, it is not actually what we feel. We are angry because we think more highly of the world. We think that human beings, that we, have the capacity to be better. And like someone who really loves someone, we want humanity to be the best them they can be.

I fight so hard, I scream, and cry, and argue, and burn myself out over and over again not because of hate but because of love. I am like a mother fighting for her child. I see all these thing trying desperately to weight down my baby, and I am fighting because I know that they can fight off these weights and become great. I fight because I truly believe that one person can change the world, and that you, every one of you, has the ability to make a difference. That you can make the world a better place. That you have it in you to change everything.

My anger when you refuse to see the things holding you back. The things that even as they make you treat others as less than worthy, as not deserving of dignity, you let the world do the same thing to you. Because when you allow yourself to believe that there is ever a reason for a person to be treated as lass than a human being, you justify every single person doing the same to you. Every time you accept that premise, you add another chain to your wrists.

 

I don’t hate humanity. If I did, I wouldn’t try so hard. I wouldn’t believe that you could be better. I wouldn’t sacrifice my well-being for you.

When you see me stop trying. When you see me give up and accept things as they are. That is when you will know that I hate the world.

Don't Confuse My Anger for Hate

Hate is not a Dissenting Opinion

The other day, a woman protesting an MRA event being held at Queens University was violently beaten by a man who knew her name, but was otherwise a stranger. The fact that this attack came right after she received several threats related to her protest of this event has created speculation that the attacker was in some way connected to one of the many MRA groups attending the event.

The event featured a professor who was “revealing the double standards in feminism”.  This is the same professor who was quoted as saying “I don’t believe in equality” during her talk, and was apparently completely unable to see the irony of a woman who became a professor complaining about feminism. The event drew the attention of MRA organizations like CAFE and AVfM. For those unfamiliar with it, AVfM was added to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s list of known hate groups.

The MRA movement is one that is inherently violent. On the surface, it brings up legitimate concerns including the tendency of men to be less likely to be granted custody and the lack of support for male victims of sexual assault. In fact those two issues should be given more attention and are frequently discussed in feminist circles (including but not limited to my talk at Eschaton 2012).

A closer examination of the movement shows that they do not actually care at all about sexual assault victims, and the men who consider themselves deserving of custody are actually violent abusers. One of the founders of the movement, Tom Ball, for example (who later committed suicide by setting himself on fire in front of a courthouse) would talk about how “All he had done was smack his 4-year-old daughter and bloody her mouth after she licked his hand as he was putting her to bed”. To many proponents of the movement, beating a child or a woman is no reason not to get custody. Clearly any man who hits his children hard enough to draw blood is just being unfairly discriminated against by the court system.

Male victims of sexual assault fare no better. Many who have gone to the sites in the hopes of finding support and resources often find themselves being denigrated and their manhood insulted.

In fact what the movement’s main actions seem to be are frequent threats of violence and rape against any woman who dares bring up issues of inequality, perpetuation of rape culture through campaigns to shame victims of sexual assault while denying that rape culture and victim blaming exists, and misrepresenting statistics to make it seem as though discrimination against men is taking place.

The movements main goal seems to be to bring us back to the “good old days” when women didn’t have the vote, weren’t allowed to work, and where men made all the decisions (as opposed to just most of them like they do now). The movement uses different forms of violence to achieve their ends, from microagressions, to rape and death threats, to revealing private information that was at times illegally obtained to the public (ie. doxxing). All of these employ psychological violence to achieve their end, and the escalation to physical violence is but a small step.  What’s more, studies show that even relatively benign behaviour, like jokes, legitimizes and encourages violence. If your movement is built on violence you will attract violent people and encourage violent behaviour even if that is not your intention. When your movement includes avowed abusers and admitted rapists that becomes a guarantee.

The underlying error of the MRA movement is that life and society are a zero sum game, where the only way that women gain anything is by taking something away from men. This is only true if we consider privileges like treating a segment of the population as property and objects and not as person’s within their own rights a human right.  The fact that the movement is made up predominantly of middle class to well off libertarian white men who also support and espouse racist, ableist, and homophobic ideas, shows that this is not a movement that cares about defending a population’s human rights so much as a bunch of whiny privileged assholes who are complaining that they are no longer the presumptive betters in our society.

While it is possible, though in my opinion unlikely, that the person responsible for the Queen’s student’s assault is not affiliated with any of the MRA groups, these organizations still bear a large part of the responsibility. Any and all universities, including Queens and Ottawa U, should think twice about their association and thus their implicit support of any and all persons who promote their ideology. In giving them a platform, they too bear responsibility of their hate speech and violence ideation, and the results thereof.

The MRA movement is nothing short of a hate group and should be treated with the same lack of respect as the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis, or any other organizations whose purpose is to promote the hatred of vulnerable populations. This is NOT a valid response to feminism. This is NOT about celebrating men in the way that feminism celebrates women. This is NOT a reasonable other side of the debate. This is a terror organization that promotes fear to the extent that women attending a university event feel the need to use pseudonyms when asking questions, and feel the need to go to absurd lengths to protect their physical safety.  That we do not call them terrorists is in my opinion due to a societal bias that violence against women is somehow more acceptable than violence that includes male targets.

*If universities used to have 100% male attendance suddenly allowed women to attend university and increased their class sizes, then the fact that the male university attendance is 50% doesn’t mean that spots were taken away from men. That is not how percentages work. If University had 100 attendees all of whom where men, and now has 200 attendees of whom 100 are men, and 100 are women, you have 50% men but that 50% still amounts to the same number of men. This is just one example of the way in which MRAs misrepresent statistics.

Hate is not a Dissenting Opinion

Worth Less

In my fights for women’s rights, I have been startled to see how often the issue had an important element of disability activism. Take abortion rights and access to birth control.  I am under consideration for being included in drug trials. My participation includes the need not to become pregnant.  In order to ensure this, it is important that I have access to birth control. This means that doctors or pharmacists who choose not to make birth control readily available don’t just take away my rights as a person to make my own medical decisions; they are actively putting my health at risk. In the event that I do get pregnant, having safe and easy access to abortion services is necessary. As long as I am not in remission, being pregnant is a serious risk to my survival.

Similarly, my atheism and skepticism is brought into sharp focus by my struggles with medical conditions. Responding to religious and anti-science pundits is a daily act for those of us who are disabled. We face woo on a personal level, with it directed directly at us from friends, family members, and authority figures. Even non-atheists are harmed by the lack of secular services available to help those in need within our community.

Disability activism highlights the importance of intersectionality since it can be the result as well as the cause of discrimination and marginalization. Many people who fall within the category of being trans, queer, women, people of colour, and so forth live with the very real risk of physical harm and abuse, and as a result are at risk for anxiety, ptsd, depression, and physical impairment resulting from violence.

If we define disability as a physical or mental barrier from successfully and/or comfortable navigating our society, then race, gender, sexual and gender orientation, can all be seen as being disabilities. Perhaps disability activism should be then seen as changing the world in such a way as to make the whole world more accessible to people of all genders, orientations, races, religions or lack thereof, and physical and mental ability. Where potentially other social justice concerns differ from disability is that in the case of the former, the barriers are almost universally external, whereas in the case of the latter there do exist internal barriers as well, which may be further strengthened by the external.

Our society has such a negative attitude towards disability however, that even people that fall into the socially accepted definition of that category struggle against being labeled as such. “I’m sick, but I’m not… you know… disabled.” It is hard to make the argument that disability is in any way a positive. Disability is painful, whether mental or physical. It makes your life harder. It can make it difficult to live a life that is socially deemed as worthwhile or productive.  The personal aspects of disability won’t change, but what can change are the external barriers that exist in our societies. By changing our concept of normalcy from “white cis straight able bodied male who is financially secure” we can begin to change how our society handles differences.

Take mobility impairment for example. Most of our architecture and infrastructure is predicated on the assumption that people can walk. As a result, most buildings, sidewalks, and so forth are difficult to navigate for those of us for whom mobility is an issue. Where mobility disability is taken into account, it is usually in such a way as to be out of the way. Elevators are the most common solution, but of course elevators break down, are not consistently implemented, and in the event of an emergency such as fire, they are inaccessible.  Imagine if we had a paradigm shift and instead based our architecture on the idea that a percentage of the population is not mobile? What if we replaced all stairwells with ramps? True, ramps take up more space then stairwells as they have to have lower incline then staircases do, but such a change would not negatively impact anyone. In fact, it would be beneficial to more than just the wheelchair bound. Parents with strollers, for example, would have a much easier time navigating, as would anyone who relies on wheel-based carriers. There would be a lower incidence of injury as falling down a ramp is less physically intense then falling down stairs.

Our culture’s obsession with ranking relative value and worthiness is at the heart of many instances of oppression; white is more valuable than not-white, male is more valuable than female, cis is more valuable than trans, so forth and so forth. We do this with every aspect of our culture: someone who becomes a janitor or a blue collar worker is seen as less valuable then someone who majors in business. In fact blue collar or no collar work is seen as the domain of “stupid***” people, and anyone who is “stupid” is inherently less valuable.

People with disabilities struggle with the concept of worthiness, or more specifically worthlessness, in particular. Our culture values productivity above many other things and the definitions of productivity can be limiting. When you exist in a body that forces you to spend entire days in bed for no other reason than because the pain you feel makes it too exhausting to get up, it can be difficult to feel like you have worth. When you see your friends and family members have to rearrange their lives around you, you get caught thinking over and over again, is it worth it? You feel like a burden. You feel worthless since by conventional standards you are not a productive member of society.

By the standards of our current society, we are worthless, and we are introduced to this idea every day.  We hear about how people who rely on disability support payments are lazy. Every time someone talks about how they were “useless” because they spent the day in bed or at home, it is like a hot needle of shame shoved in our hearts. It is a reminder that as far as the majority of society is concerned, we are worthless.

Casual ableism is so prevalent in our society that in many ways what many would consider the most benign of insults, are actually terms most often used to marginalize people with disabilities. That’s so lame, dumb, stupid, idiotic, retarded*,  he’s so blind, slow, crazy, such a spaz, all these phrases and more have lost in the social memory the association with disability. And yet, that association exists. Imagine being a non-verbal child who knows that the designation for their impairment is used as a synonym for lacking in intelligence? Why is the opposite of cool or awesome a word that means having mobility impairment?

This casual ableism is prevalent in many social justice communities as well.  Often, little to no thought is given on how a given subject, action, and what not affects the disabled. Marches are organized without thought on how this limits participation by those who have difficulty with walking. Having sign language interpreters is the exception and not the rule. The activist behaviours most accessible to people with disabilities, the creation of online petitions, writing, Facebook posts, is given the dubious label of slacktivism. This term is given without consideration of how for some, these may be the only outlets for social change available to them.  Many in the community see nothing wrong with comparing religious belief to mental illness.

Within the feminist community, when calling out the gas-lighting behaviour that associates the word crazy with women, little to no thought is given to the inherent trouble with using crazy as a pejorative. What about women with bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, ptsd? Is it ok to call them crazy since in some ways they are? Is it ok in that case to disregard what they have to say as unimportant, lacking in reason or merit?

When these concerns are brought up the thoughts are often dismissed as unimportant or at best thought exercises. When prominent atheist activists like Miri of Brute Reason have brought up the negative impact on atheists with mental disabilities to compare religion to one, the matter sparked some debate but no pressure existed to enforce a change of behaviour. The culprits had no fear of continuing their actions, even where they had previously done so to accommodate other social justice concerns.

In other cases where concerns over ableism or inaccessibility were brought up, they were met with hostility and immediate dismissal.

When members of the community are dismissed or forced out from their positions due to their illness, we do not see the same level of public outcry as if someone were let go for reporting harassment, or forced out due to their race, beliefs, or gender expression. The marginalization or discrimination against people with disabilities doesn’t cause scandals. It is as most a blip on the radar evoking the half-hearted response of “that sucks”.

Disability concerns are an after-thought at most, if that. When it comes to activism, disability doesn’t have the sex appeal of issues such as sexual orientation, gender, and race**.  When you are someone who struggles with disability and particularly with raising awareness of the issues as they exist within our communities, this dismissal creates a feeling of resentment. This is particularly the case when an inability to raise awareness on such issues means a continuation of the devastating impacts of living with these disabilities.

When a known member of the community struggled with potential homelessness as a result of their disability and inability to get the support they needed, the response was half-hearted at best despite the money being asked for being less than outrageous. Raising it took a long time, putting pressure on the person in question as homelessness loomed. This occurred around the same time that the response to an unknown preacher losing his job due to a publicity stunt involving atheism raised in the tens of thousands in a matter of days.

We as a community need to respond to the call to arms to support our own members. Members whose everyday struggles are a lived manifestation of the need for atheist and feminist activism; our members whose struggles are intimately intertwined with the professed concerns of this social movement. It is time to examine our own ableism. It is time to let wounded voices have a chance to speak. It is time to show the morality we claim of ourselves. A response to arms means more than just bringing awareness to a necessary social issue; it can quite literally save lives. I call on all those who call themselves humanists, intersecitionalists, to shut up and listen.

 

*I include the word “retard” here as a strengthening example, with full knowledge that it is becoming less socially considered to be benign.
**It is worth mentioning that when it comes to social justice, race concerns are dismissed more frequently than many of the others and is lacking in representation among our community concerns.
*** My use of the term stupid in this case is to illustrate how the term is used as a pejorative against people who have different types of intelligence. It was included with an assumption that I would continue on to explain how the term affects people with cognitive disabilities, but in the end chose not to include those paragraphs.

Worth Less

Our Concerns Won't Be Flushed Away

Content Warning: If you have a problem with discussions and descriptions of bodily functions, this post is not for you. you have been warned.

I’ve recently joined reddit, and have spent some time on the r/crohnsdisease. Among one of the articles was this one about a bathroom bill that didn’t pass.
The bill would have made it required that businesses allow Crohn’s and other IBD patients access to washrooms, even those that are for employees only. The bill didn’t pass and this author takes this opportunity to mock the idea of its existence and follow it up with an anecdote about how a woman tricked a business into using the restroom in order to steal something.
In the author’s mind, this anecdote is proof enough that the bill was useless and would not benefit anyone. The author “sympathizes” with people with intestinal and digestive disorders, and recommends compassion on the part of the businesses, but doesn’t see the need for such a bill.
For people without these disorders, crohn’s (which I shall now unfairly use to represent all IBDs) doesn’t seem like such a big deal. I’ve even had people quip that everyone gets stomach aches and that loose bowels really aren’t a big deal. When these people imagine what it must be like, most have nothing to compare it to other than that slight feeling of urgency you get when you’ve held it for too long.

I am about to share something very personal. The feeling of urgency when you have a flare up isn’t like that feeling of “Ooo I really have to go” but is more like “I need a bathroom right  stat fucking now!!!” With Crohn’s you don’t always get a lot of warning before the need to go to the bathroom is completely overwhelming. You have maybe 5 minutes to find a washroom. If you don’t get one in time, too bad. You have no control. Your body is your enemy as you do what you can to try and save yourself from embarrassment.

When I was first diagnosed, the actual bathroom aspects of the disease were not the worst. The constant nausea that never went away was. I began vomiting in public so often, that I started telling people I have morning sickness to avoid the ackwardness that was explaining to someone what was going on.
I remember one situation in particular where I started crossing a street and had to run back so that I could safely fall on my knees and bring up my breakfast. It was a choice between keeping going and end up tying up traffic or getting hit by a car, or running back to safety. As I knelt there trying to discretely throw up behind a stone, a woman began panicking asking me if I needed an ambulance. The last thing I wanted was a scene, but this woman was among the first people to ever show concern and I couldn’t scoff at that. But how to explain to someone who is freaking out that this is a normal part of your life? That you have a disease that sometimes makes you throw up in public without any control? How do you then convince that woman that no, you don’t need a hospital? “I have morning sickness” I answered.
I also now have had the pleasure of vomiting udon noodles all over the department of National defense.  No it wasn’t a political statement, I just couldn’t help myself.
As I did research into this condition that I now knew I had, I found frequent recommendations suggesting you travel everywhere with an extra pair of underwear.
Eventually I figured out why. As my nausea came under control, I noticed the bathroom symptoms. I was lucky and managed to avoid an incident for quite some time. I was in school, and there are always plenty of washrooms on campus. This made my first “accident” that much more traumatic. You see, it happened during a midterm of a class I couldn’t stand. I was already feeling sick, when suddenly the urge hit. I asked for permission to go to the washroom, and ran to where the nearest one was. Unfortunately it was out of order. I ran from one to the next, but the university had decided to renovate all the washrooms in the building at the same time. I finally had to run to the building next door to find one. I didn’t make it. Just stop and think about that for a second. Think about being an adult and not being able to control your bowels. Imagine the embarrassment as you try and clean yourself up in the bathroom. Of praying no one notices as you try and wash your underwear in the sink so that you can put it in your bag. Of having to trudge back to class feeling unclean, wondering if everyone can smell it on you. Of having to go up to your teacher and explain that you are unable to finish writing the midterm. That fear of hoping he understands and doesn’t just fail you on the spot. The horror of having to take the bus back to your apartment so that you can shower. Or the choice of going to your boyfriend’s place, who lives within walking distance to the school to ask if you can use his shower and his laundry machine. Wondering if he will ever be able to look at you and think your sexy ever again, or if every future encounter will be tainted with the subtle odor of “unclean”.
I was lucky, my boyfriend is a wonderful man. He hugged me, wrapped me up in his robe so that I could go shower, and washed my clothes for me. When I got out, he spent the next couple hours cuddling me, and loaded up a funny movie to make me feel better. Not a lot of guys would have reacted that way. For many, the fear of dealing with someone with that kind of disability can be too much.
While that was the first time it wasn’t the last. One night, my apartment building has a 2am fire alarm. In the hustle of trying to pack up our dog and the roommate’s cat, I didn’t stop to use the washroom. When we reached downstairs, the urge hit. I went to the little mall that had the only businesses in the nearby area. The only place left open was a Tim Hortons. I begged the drive through to let me use the washroom. I pleaded, explaining that I had this condition and that it was an emergency. The answer was no. I had to stand around in my mess for over an hour, while I waited for the firemen to clear the building. By the time I managed to shower, my leg had developed a painful rash. It would have been a 5 minute inconvenience for the restaurant. I would even have bought something to make up for it. But they didn’t, and I suffered.

I am not unique in having had these experiences. Despite the high level of embarrassment and inconvenience, this isn’t even the worst part of this illness. The lack of control over your body is bad, but the pain, the nausea can be infinitely worse.

During the worst of my flares, I remember laying on the bathroom floor shivering because my body didn’t have enough energy to keep itself warm, and I didn’t have enough to stand up. I lay there because I knew that in just a few minutes I would be throwing up bile once more. I remember avoiding brushing my teeth for some time, because the motion had me leaning over the sink coughing up bile. I remember the pain of using mouthwash because my mouth was filled with canker sores. I remember spending hours at the hospital emergency room, waiting to get yet another IV with fluids, just to be sent home without an answer as to what was going on. This happened about once every two weeks. I remember the months of barely leaving the house, of napping constantly, because my energy just wasn’t there. I remember bending over in pain, as once again I was seized with excruciating pain. I remember forcing myself to eat, wondering if this time, I would manage to keep it down. Of lying perfectly still, trying hard to force my body to absorb the nutrients I had eaten. Those moments of stillness, I remember wondering if I would survive this. I remember wondering if the rest of my life would be spent not being able to eat or digest. Wondering how much weight I would have to lose before I was admitted permanently. All of this wasn’t constant. It was interspersed between brief moments of normalcy that made it seem at the same moment so much worse but also better than it was. It took a long time before I realized just how bad things were. In hindsight, I look at what was going on and wonder why I didn’t just give up?

Not everyone with Crohn’s feels comfortable talking about it. It can be difficult. What we go through is so personal, the details about what it is like can be so embarrassing, that it is not surprising that most of us would rather not talk about it. I need to talk about it. I need to because it is less painful than this author’s assumptions about what having Crohn’s is like. Because maybe if I talk about it, next time that Tim Hortons will open its doors and let me in. Because maybe someone reading this will take pity on someone else and give them access to the bathroom.
I am not alone out there. My experiences are not unique and they are not even rare or the worst of what people have gone through.
This author, rather than recommending compassion to others, should stop and find it in themselves first.
Our Concerns Won't Be Flushed Away

No Man Will Love You If You Are Fat 2

Disclaimer: TW for fat shaming. Also, the title of the post is not what I believe but a reference to a previous body image post where I mention that this is something I had been told frequently by people. 

Whenever people talk about eating disorders, they are usually thinking of the extreme ones like Anorexia and Bulimia.  Those are serious conditions that last a long time, and I encourage people to read up on them: especially the posts written by people who have suffered with them.

But limiting the discussion of eating disorders to just those two conditions is damaging in many ways to people who struggle with eating disorders that don’t fall into those categories.

I am thinking in this case of my own situation. I’ve talked about before about my struggles with weight and body image issues. What I never really explored is how my relationship to food is an eating disorder of its own. I don’t think it is one I could talk to a doctor about. Not because they wouldn’t believe me, but rather because it would be classified as not serious enough to worry about, or more likely as a lack of self-control.

I anxiety eat. This is especially the case whenever my anxiety is triggered by weight related issues. This can occur when someone, including myself, fat shames me, makes a negative comment about my body, etc.

It started back in high school with an obsession with forbidden food. My household was diet obsessed. Everyone in my family was concerned with weight gain and so food was watched, discussed, and analyzed obsessively. Discussions of what someone was eating, how much they were eating, when they were eating, were common and often negative. Added to that were self-depreciating comments, discussions of other people’s weight (like actors and performers), and fad diet books aplenty. My family was the very definition of fat shaming culture.

Food became something seductive, tempting, and evil; it became taboo. Especially unhealthy food. McDonalds, Coca-Cola, chocolate, chips, candy, and ice cream, all of it became a method of rebellion against the diet obsession of my everyday life. It’s not that the food was ever particularly good, the food we ate at home and eventually the food I started making for myself, was infinitely better tasting and better for you. There were two aspects of joy in the eating of the unhealthy food: The inherent anger and rebellion of “fine, you think I’m a pig, then fine I’m a pig” and the other was the affirmation of my own humanity even if I did indulge in food that was unhealthy for me or would result in weight gain.

Of course the down side was that the food really was unhealthy and so I would gain weight. The weight gain would in turn make me feel like a failure, as though I was unattractive, as though I was worthless. I would become depressed, and in searching for relief from that depression I would look for the release of unhealthy food.

It was a vicious circle. Eventually the response of seeking relief in the dubious pleasure of junk food became the ingrained response to anxiety of any kind, not just that triggered by body stress.  Pulling an all-nighter, being stressed about exams, money, work, any of those could trigger a need for indulging myself with food. Same with depression, which often manifests itself in me as anxiety; it too would trigger this uncontrollable need for food that I knew to be unhealthy.

Throughout my elementary and high school years, we were swarmed with public service messages about the dangers of anorexia and bulimia. That I did not progress to full blown bulimia is not in thanks to those PSAs but rather credited to my lack of a gag reflex. I cannot count the times when I would sit in the bathroom, lost in a miasma of body loathing, where I would surreptitiously try to shove a finger down my throat; luckily to no result. I could have probably found other ways to trigger vomiting in myself, but something always prevented me. The irony of my later Crohn’s flare did not escape me.

I soon noticed the pattern that immediately before visiting my family I would go on a binge,  and would continue it throughout the visit home. I would sneak food, either when out with friends, or at home. I would pilfer the freezer for vile old frozen chocolate, just because the desire for it would be so strong as to verge on addiction.

Then when I was away from the stress, the overwhelming cravings would disappear. Not to say that I would never indulge in a chocolate or fast food from time to time, but that uncontrollable desire to eat would be gone. Most of the time I would need to remind myself to eat. My cravings at that time were more frequently for healthy home cooked meals. I would snack on vegetable. A late night snack would be a lightly salted tomato, sometimes with some cheese.

When I left for university, I entered an atmosphere where junk and fast food were the norm. No one would look at me askance for having a burger or chocolate from time to time. In fact, occasional late night trips to McDonald’s became looked forward to outings. Miraculously, despite the atmosphere of binge eating, I began to lose weight. I didn’t crave the food in the same way, and instead became more interested in cooking for myself and exploring my culinary abilities. In fact, I was often times the source of healthier food options to many a dorm student.

When I started working for a woman who could trigger my anxieties like no one else since my mother, it started me down a long spiral towards a lack of control when it comes to food. The fact that I was suffering, unbeknownst to me, through a period of depression as well, only made the situation more dire. Add to that being put on prednisone from time to time, and the result was a drastic increase in weight gain. With it came the self-loathing.  With the self-loathing came the sensitivity to comments as I had never experienced before.

Although I know without a doubt that my partner finds me attractive, I would take innocent comments from him badly. Although I would ask him to help me control my intake of unhealthy food, any attempt to do so would trigger a memory of the same type of comments coming from weight obsessed family.

I am getting treatment for my depression now, and soon, I will be starting to see a counselor/psychologist regularly to help deal with the emotional scars of the past. I hope that when that time comes, I will be able to lay to rest the anxieties that have been propelling me into this state. At the very least, I hope I will be able to control them and start back down to the pathway to healthier food habits. In the meantime, I work on controlling my anxieties and channeling my craving for unhealthiness in less destructive directions.

No Man Will Love You If You Are Fat 2

No Man Will Ever Love You If You're Fat

Weight has always been a big concern for me. I can remember being as young as 8 and being told that I was getting too chubby and that if I ate that cookie I would be fat. Throughout middle school and high school I went through various processes trying to lose weight. I would spend significant time at the gym, and while my body would tone, I could never lose that persistent belly.

I tried the Dr. Bernstein Diet to great success. I slimed down remarkably fast: and ended up with iron deficiency and a few months after going off the diet, ended up in the hospital with idiopathic pancreatitis. (Other members of my family also suffered negative health effects during and for the period shortly after this diet.) I lost weight so fast, that one teacher grew concerned when that fact was taken in conjunction with the needle marks (blood tests) on my arm. I managed to convince him that I was not a heroin user, but thanked him for looking out for me nonetheless. Despite the massive weight-loss however, that little belly paunch still did not disappear. However, after going off the diet, I ballooned almost immediately back to the weight prior to the diet. This, no matter how hard I tried to eat healthy and exercise.

The early symptoms of my arthritis, which appeared in high school, were dismissed as being caused by my weight. No xrays or further investigation was done.

Food became an obsession. Not for me the rebellion of drugs, alcohol, and sex. For me, the biggest act of rebellion was to indulge in a big mac at McDonalds, or to sneak the occasional cookie. Every moment of my life was about food and weight and the never achievable goal of weight-loss and the success of that perfect body. All my anxiety focused on it. If I eat this will I be accused of being fat again? Eating was equal parts pleasure and guilt. In many ways it was like sex and religion; that endless cycle of pleasure seeking followed by remorse and guilt.

I never delved into the classic displays of bulimia or anorexia. I never ventured so far as to purge or became obsessed with exercise. I have no doubt in my mind though, that if I spent time with a therapist, I would easily be diagnosed with body dysmorphic disorder and anxiety. That it never reached the level of being life threatening seems almost a miracle. That obsession with weight is not something I struggled with at all. Many of those close to me were similarly obsessed, and their watchful eyes and barbed comments only made the situation worse.

That I never dated in high school, only reinforced the idea that I was fat and thus unworthy of love. I believed truly that unless I was a size four, no man would ever find me attractive and I would be doomed to spinsterhood. Despite that feeling though, I actually still considered myself attractive. I had a cute face, nice eyes, great curves, tits to die for, and an exotic enough appearance with pale skin and dark features. It was as if I simultaneously existed in two different spheres: the attractive but chubby Ania and the fat and disgusting Ania. In my own mind, I could not wed those two ideas into a closer approximation of the truth.

When I left home and moved to Ottawa for university, something strange happened. Leaving the environment of weight obsession let me forget about it for some time. It no longer hounded my thoughts at every moment. Instead of thinking about whether my parents would find out about that chocolate I ate, or that occasional hamburger I indulged in, I was able to forget about it entirely. Those of you familiar with residence eating are probably not surprised to hear that my diet was worse than ever. At that time, the healthy options at the uni cafeteria were near non-existent and the cooking facilities were little better. Despite this however, I started losing weight naturally. Rather than gaining the freshman 15, I lost close to 20 pounds; this, without any conscious effort on my part.  The only time when those effects started to disappear however, was right before visits home. The return to those same people who were obsessed with my weight put me right back into that same headspace and once again food would become this unholy rebellion. I would sneak candy at an alarming rate, going through insane acrobatics to try and not get caught, often, with little to no success.

The lever of obsession with weight that still existed in my mind however was such, that when I was assaulted by a doctor at the clinic, it took me two years to even realize I had been assaulted. I was more upset and preoccupied at the inappropriate comments she had made about my weight.

The next few years were like a yoyo: there was the relatively though occasionally still messed up time I was in Ottawa, and the food obsessed binge eating person I became prior to and immediately after visiting home. The fact that my weight always came up at a visit, despite even requests not to bring it up only made it worse. There were times when I would spend visits home with a continuous monologue in my head wondering when the next attack would come. When would the next snide comment about something weight related occur once again? I practiced growing a thicker skin and ignoring any mention of, but invariable some button would be pushed, some nerve irritate, and I would blow up, the dam would break, and my self-esteem would collapse. The rate of collapse increased when it was my sister, 13 years younger, repeating some overheard “worry” or comment.

Then around the end of 2007, beginning of 2008, I began developing symptoms that would become a long and incredibly painful Crohn’s flare that was responsible for my diagnosis. It began with occasional twinges of pain in my stomach; relatively easy to ignore, although I did spend one evening in the hospital on suspicion of pancreatitis. More interestingly however, I was losing weight rapidly. On a visit from my parents, I discovered that for the first time in my life, I fit a size four. I had not even noticed the weight loss at the time. Over the following months however, the flare took a significantly darker turn. Food was passing through me without being digested at all, and I spent countless hours vomiting without control. I kept down maybe one meal in three, if that. I was constantly cold despite it being summer. I would alternate between having a mild fever, and having normal temperature. It became a regular occurrence for me to be admitted to the hospital with dehydration. The timing was such, however, that there was always some excuse for what was going on: liver infection, food poisoning due to broken fridge, flu. It was not until I realized that I had lost more than 30 pounds in the span of one month, that I realized I was in deep trouble. I went back to St. Catharines, and began the process of finding an explanation.

One aspect of this part of the story  that still gets to me was the mixed messages I was receiving. It became a common occurrence for people around me to say: “I know you’re sick, but you look fantastic” Here I was, quite literally flushing my life down the drain, and the people around me though this was the time to comment on my appearance. An appearance moreover, that was a direct result of whatever was likely going to kill me if no answer was forthcoming.

Eventually I was diagnosed and then came the introduction to a medication that will forever be associated with hell in my mind: Prednisone. For those of you unfamiliar with it, Prednisone is a steroid that is used to treat autoimmune disorders. It works, I will give it that, but it has some major effects that make it not useful as a long term treatment. For one, it destroys the hip. I already have extensive damage to my right hip due to the arthritis, and prolonged exposure to this medication would move up the age at which I will need to have it replaced.

Another symptom is that it makes you gain weight. Imagine that, after months of having a body that was desperately starved for nutrients, I was put on a medication that would make me gain weight. For those of you familiar with starvation in any way, you might know, that when the body is denied food for a long period of time, one of its first reactions is to store as much fat as it can. Add to that a steroid whose purpose in part is to promote weight gain, and you end up with a deadly spiral into obesity.  Prednisone when I take it makes me feel vile. Not only does it fill me with a strange type of energy that makes me want to lay down for fear of fainting dead away with the shakes and keeps me from sleeping, it leaves me with the sensation of being always full and somehow always starving. I compare it to the feeling of having a balloon (for some reason it is always red in my mind’s eye) blown to large proportions in my stomach. It presses against the sides and expands it, but is essentially hollow and begging to be filled. I try very hard when on prednisone to avoid as much unhealthy food as I can, lest the weight gain be compounded, but to no avail. No matter how careful I am, I always gain weight with prednisone.

That my Crohn’s is still not fully under control means that I am in a whirlwind of binging and purging quite beyond my control or desire. The weight gain forced by the prednisone has put me at a higher weight than I have ever been in my life and I despair. All the feelings of anxiety, of shame and guilt have returned, and with it, that deadly spiral of food obsession. Those who know me personally know that I am somewhat of a cook. I love to make lean, healthy, homemade gourmet meals at home. My diet, when discussed with nutritionists, dieticians, is praised, What isn’t seen though is the battle, the struggle, with forbidden items. I do my best to exercise how I can. The leg damage limits what is available to me being not allowed to run, bike ride, or otherwise put any pressure or stress on my hips. I swim as often as I can, and in happier times, I would dance salsa with Alyssa.

But the despair forced on me by the endless weight gain creates this cycle of shame, indulgence, and guilt. I indulge in chocolate, or cookies, or pop, or fast food. It isn’t often, but each indulgence fills me with such shame and guilt that I immediately rush out for more. I seek to repair the shame of indulging in that one cookie, by masking the pain with more sugar. I beg friends and my SO to help me keep from that cycle, but it backfires on me. Knowing that someone is looking over my shoulder at my eating habits only puts me back to that headspace I was in in high school and on visits home; that desperate need to use food as rebellion. To hide that box of chocolates I ate by putting the empty container inside the cereal box in the recycling. To beg Alyssa who puts the chocolate on a high shelf beyond my reach for just one more piece.

The horrible irony of all this is that fact that this struggle, this desperation is completely invisible. One of my best friends was honestly shocked to find out the depth of my body image issues, having always thought I was one of the most confident people she knew. What she didn’t realize is those pictures of me that I post on Facebook are just ones among hundreds. I chose the ones where I meet my exacting standards of personal appearance in a desperate attempt to remind myself that I am attractive, that these is something appealing about me and worth loving. Something to think of when my significant other tries, at times unsuccessfully to convince me of my own sexiness and beauty. Those pictures are desperate attempts at convincing myself of my attractiveness, so that I can boost my esteem enough to begin that process of healing and acceptance that will bring me out of this pit. But every word from “well-meaning” acquaintances about the benefits of fitness to people with my “conditions”, every sideways look from people on the street, every comment from doctors, and every picture of myself that I see that is not under my control, brings those attempts and that esteem crashing back down again.  Those smiles in the pictures, while sincere, mark an inner struggle and pain over once again having visible proof of what I perceive as my failure as a human being.

I will pull myself out of this. It will take time, support, understanding, and a lack of judgement. It will mean isolating myself from those who raise my anxiety and stress levels to the point of critical mass that pushes me into a spiral of guilt. And I will do so while catering to my dietary needs for Crohn’s and my restrictions for my arthritis.

No Man Will Ever Love You If You're Fat