Who Could it Hurt

Please note that this post is a repost from our old blog. The Ottawa Cancer Foundation retracted the invitation to Jenny McCarthy in part due to a twitter campaign #dropjenny.

In 1998 Andrew Wakefield published a fraudulent paper linking autism to the MMR (Measles, Mumps, and Rubella) vaccine. What followed was a growing movement of scared parents who began avoiding getting their kids vaccinated for fear that they would become autistic. For years scientists could not repeat the results found by Wakefield. Finally in 2004, Wakefield was found to have a conflict of interest in favour of finding a link between the vaccine and autism. In May of 2010, Andrew Wakefield was found guilty by the General Medical Council and was struck of the medical register and banned from practicing medicine.

The rumour campaign against vaccines was picked up by Jenny McCarthy, an actress with no scientific or medical background. She became the mouthpiece for the supposed controversy, despite the fact that there was no scientific basis for any of the claims she made. Despite this, her fame allowed her greater publicity. She used her son’s supposed autism* to gain sympathy, and to tug at the heartstrings of worried parents everywhere.   Hordes of new parents opted against vaccines. Not just the MMR, but others as well. Parents began sending pox pops to one another, and holding chicken pox parties. Adults who had previously had their vaccines, opted against getting their regular boosters.

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Who Could it Hurt
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If You Really Loved Me

When I was younger, my mom was my best friend. When I came home crying because I had been bullied, it was her arms I would cry in. I worshipped my mother. She was beautiful, smart, she had gone through so much growing up and yet here she was a respected lawyer. She overcame so much hardship, moving to Canada when she was 26, and having to go through law school a second time only this time she also didn’t speak the language and had a child. There is a lot about my mother that is worthy of respect and admiration.

At some point however, things changed. Until then, whenever I came home crying about bullies, my mom would comfort me with all the usual tropes about them just being jealous. Then one day the message shifted slightly. Maybe if I didn’t put myself forward so much, if I just kept quiet in class. Maybe if I didn’t stand out so much.

I was 8 the first time my mom suggested that I was fat.

Continue reading “If You Really Loved Me”

If You Really Loved Me

A Conference for Activists!

An exciting thing is happening this year, or at least with your help it will be. As Women in Secularism takes a sabbatical this year, a group of enterprising people and organizations are putting on a conference for activists. It is being funded in part with kickstarter. If you can, you should donate. It promises to be an exciting event and hopefully you will see me there.

“We are proud to introduce the Secular Women Work conference, a conference by and for activists. Do you want to build strong non-religious communities? Do you want to change our laws and our culture to be more accepting and accommodating of non-believers? Join us in Minneapolis in August 2015.

We live in a society in which unpaid work disproportionately falls to women. Unfortunately, this means that volunteer work, including activist work, is too often undervalued. We’re here to change that.

The Secular Women Work conference is a celebration of the work of female activists who create and run projects and communities in the secular movement. And there is no better way to honor their work than by using their expertise to help us all become better activists.

At Secular Women Work, you will find workshops: both hands-on exercises to develop your skills and facilitated group discussions where you can share challenges and solutions with other activists. You will find panels on specialist topics, with panelists who can help you broaden the horizons of your activism. And when you’re ready for a rest, you’ll find speakers who will entertain and inspire you with stories and lessons from their own work. In between it all, you’ll find a conference full of other activists who want to make a difference in the world.

All workshop leaders, all panelists, and all speakers will be experienced female or genderqueer activists with demonstrated accomplishments and skills to share. We are excited to announce that Lauren Lane, co-founder of Skepticon; Mandisa Thomas, president and founder of Black Nonbelievers, Inc., and Desiree Schell, labor activist and host of Science for the People will be appearing at Secular Women Work. We are working now to add more speakers, so keep your eye on this space for announcements.

The conference will be held in the historic Humphrey Conference Center on the University of Minnesota’s West Bank. The center is ADA compliant and situated on light rail.

So, come join us this August 21st through the 23rd for the Secular Women Work conference, and help support the women who work to make these communities happen! Make your pledge now to secure your ticket to the conference, or pledge to build a better movement by helping us make more, and more effective, activists.

See you there!

The Secular Women Work conference is a joint project of Minnesota Atheists; Campus Atheists, Skeptics, and Humanists; and Secular Woman.”

A Conference for Activists!

From the Ashes

Four years ago today, my house burnt down. I still remember the call. I was home sick, staying with Alyssa at her place near campus, when my roommate called me. At first I thought it was all part of some elaborate joke, before she started telling me that the roof had caved in, and that firefighters were still there trying to put it out.

The fire had started at our neighbours’, and then to our building. After hours of fighting a fire that ended up consuming three houses, they finally had to bulldoze the building to the ground. I lost everything.

In many ways I was lucky: I had a place to stay, I had a couple days’ worth of clothes as well as my laptop and charger from spending the weekdays at Alyssa’s. The university gave me a quick emergency grant and so I was able to buy some more clothing and replace the school books I had lost.

I had tenant insurance which helped me get a new apartment. In the meantime I had to make an inventory of everything that I had lost along with its approximate value.

Imagine that for a moment; losing everything. Imagine all the sentimental items you have, the photographs, your favourite book. There are things that can never be replaced that are gone forever. Just a few months earlier, my parents had taken the family to Poland to celebrate their 25 wedding anniversary. While there my aunt, who is an artist, gave me one of her paintings. I dragged it with us across Europe and back home. It hung on my wall for such a short time before it was lost forever. On the same trip my parents showed that they were becoming more accepting of my career as a writer by giving me a quill set. I had never even had the chance to use them.

I lost books that I had had autographed by favourite authors. Each of those had a story that went with it, like how I got to see Margaret Atwood talk about starting the Writer’s Union on someone’s front lawn. She said such nice things to me when we spoke and she signed my book. Or like Charles De Lint, who when my ex told him that I was a big fan brought a signed copy of his limited edition Yellow Dog. Those are keepsakes that cannot easily be replaced.

My yearbooks were all lost, as were the various awards I had won. Gone was the biology prize. Gone the various debating awards.

How do you put a price on all this?

In other ways however, I wasn’t lucky. Because of health related concerns and bureaucracy, I knew that in the next several months I would have to stop accepting aid for my parents. I had to save the majority of the check that eventually came in to pay for tuition for the next year. One doesn’t realize how much the various possession we accumulate over time add up until you suddenly have to replace them all at once. For years afterwards, even to this day, I have found myself missing some item, some tool, which I had had previously and been unable to replace.

A loss such as that, followed by years of poverty, can mean difficulty for a long time. Most of our furniture we found on dorm move out day, when people tossed the things they couldn’t bring with them. I don’t have a lot of clothing, and most of what I do have comes from Value Village.

The loss of my home sent me into a reawakening of my Crohn’s flares. Instead of getting better like I had been previously, I started getting worse again. I spiralled into depression which took me a long time to figure out. I absorbed the shock of the loss and became instantly numb, except that as time passed I couldn’t quite get feeling back. Numbness becomes oppressive after a while. You yearn desperately to feel again, but you almost can’t remember how. You laugh, but you don’t really feel joy. Tears fall from your eyes and you cannot stop them, but you don’t understand, because you don’t feel sad.

I wonder sometimes if I had been there, if I had seen with my own eyes, if it would have bestowed some form of closure, some acceptance of what happened. Even years later it sometimes feels like I just picked up and left everything. The fire ended up on Youtube, but it is still not the same. It is hard to believe that everything is just gone like that, and even four years later it doesn’t seem entirely real. I don’t know that I ever really grieved. There was never any time. There was always something more pressing. Maybe this is me grieving. And maybe someday I will be able to rise from the ashes, reborn.

From the Ashes

Why You Shouldn’t Recommend Sex Work to Someone Struggling with Money

NB: If you are related to me or to my partner, I would prefer that you not read this article. If you are a friend of my or Alyssa’s parents’ who somehow found their way to this site despite the precautions I took to move the site, then keep anything you read to yourself or if you are unable to do so, then do not read further. Do not share ANYTHING you read with either my parents or Alyssa’s.  Any violation of this boundary will be grounds for me cutting you completely out of my life.  You will be considered unsafe. I will consider you someone who does not respect boundaries and thus consider you abusive, and I will not keep this opinion to myself. You have been warned.

Continue reading “Why You Shouldn’t Recommend Sex Work to Someone Struggling with Money”

Why You Shouldn’t Recommend Sex Work to Someone Struggling with Money

Love That Does Not Accept Me

Let’s get one thing clear

When someone you know tells you something big, like say, “I’m trans,” these are some appropriate responses:

“Wow, congrats on figuring yourself out!”

“Should I start using new pronouns?”

“Wow, um, it’ll take me a bit to process this, but I’ll try.”

“Cool! I’ve never known a trans person before and I have loads of questions. Let me know if they’re getting too personal, okay? I know this is probably the single most intense conversation you’ve ever had. including that time you were threatened by a vagrant wielding a Bible and a pacemaker scar in the trash room of your building, so I don’t want to make this even scarier for you.”

“You know, I/someone I know is getting rid of some old clothes and cheap jewelry. I can let them know you’re interested and see if they’ll let you pick through them first.”

 

Depending on your relationship to that person, this might also be an appropriate response:

“Sick! Sick and ungodly! You’ll burn for not fulfilling your righteous godly destiny you abomination unto the Lord!”

Provided you’re someone whose connection to the person talking to you is mostly self-contained (unlike, say, family), this can be an appropriate response because it lets them know you’re an unenlightened, trans-antagonistic piece of shit and they will lose nothing of value by cutting all ties with you.

 

The following are not appropriate responses.

Continue reading “Love That Does Not Accept Me”

Love That Does Not Accept Me

Quick Thoughts on the Attacks in France

I want to say something about the whole situation in France.

1.No one deserves to be killed or be the victims of violence. This is true no matter who they are, or what they say.

2. What happened in France in terms of the killing was a tragedy. Many people died needlessly.

3. This does not mean that the Charlie Hebdo magazine wasn’t racist. It is important to discuss the differences between satire and just plain bigotry, between necessary criticism of bad ideas and using it as an opportunity to perpetuated stereotypical ideas based on biases.

4. I support the push for more open satire, parody, and criticism or religion, among other things, but with the caveat that if you do so in a way that punches down, your work creates harm rather than good. You can be critical of religion without being racist. You can draw Mohammad without being racist. You can create satire that is not harmful to oppressed peoples. If you can’t think of how, then you shouldn’t be doing it. A lack of creativity is no excuse for bigotry.

5. It is important to think critically about the attacks that generate this level of public attention and how they always focus on acts of aggression by stigmatized groups against privileged groups. The attacks of the majority groups on minority groups are largely ignored. Where is the outrage over the Muslim women in France having their hijabs forcefully pulled off, and being attacked. She was pregnant and lost her baby as a result of the attack. A Synagogue in France was attacked and also graffiti with Nazi symbols and anti-semitic messages. Neither of these attacks have been publicized nearly as much. There are no hashtags standing with these victims. What about the firebombing attack on the NAACP. This is not a Dear Muslima post. These attacks should be publicized and a public discussion of harmful ideologies generated, but not at the expense of always ignoring acts of violence, terrorism, and systemic racism, against minority populations. The critic that doesn’t take time to look in the mirror objectively is at best a hypocrite.

6. It is important to discuss how attacks like these don’t exist in a vaccuum. Yes they were wrong and there is no justification. That said, the result will most likely be a greater danger to the lives and safety of anyone who is, or more specifically, looks Muslim. Just like in the US the horrible 911 attacks were used to justify incredibly racist and unconstitutional laws: including detention without access to a lawyer or notification of charges, legalized and even encouraged racial profiling at airports and borders, etc.

7. When People of Colour and other oppressed minorities are telling you that something is racist. When they are telling you that racism exists, is rampant, and is perpetuated by certain things, it is important to listen. White people don’t get to decide what is racist and what isn’t, just like abled people don’t get to decide what is ableist, men don’t get to decide what is sexist, and cis folk don’t get to decide what is transantagonistic.

Last but NOT least. In fact I think this is the most important point.

8. The only successful way to combat attacks like this is not by increasing our culture of racism and prejudice but by fighting against it. By making this world, our world, one of acceptance and aid. By eliminating the excuses that are used to justify brutal acts of violence. By empowering the people within these minority groups so that the voices of the reasonable are not silenced, but can drown out the voices of the fundamentalist. Give a greater audience to brilliant writers like Heina, who have lived experience of what it means to be Muslim, an apostate, and a woman of colour in our Western Culture. Stop letting white men be the voices of what’s wrong with Islam, of what is an isn’t racism, or sexism, or transantagonism, cis-sexism, or ableism. Stop telling people in these communities how they should act and instead listen to what they have to say. Listen, and learn! and Do Better.

So no, Je ne suis pas Charlie, but my thoughts and condolences to the families of all those lost in the senseless violence.

Quick Thoughts on the Attacks in France

Dermals are Only Skin Deep

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dermals are Only Skin Deep

Let’s Have a Shut Up and Sit Down

I am a scientist, and I am a leftist.  To many, these ideas are starkly opposed, and a cursory read of each area’s maxims would seem to corroborate that opposition.  But both modes of thinking are enthusiastically embraced by commanding fractions of the atheist community, often the same people, and there is a good reason for that, too.  This is how this particular leftist scientist reconciles those ideas. Continue reading “Let’s Have a Shut Up and Sit Down”

Let’s Have a Shut Up and Sit Down