World Toilet Day

Today is World Toilet Day: A fact that seems to amuse a lot of people. Living in North American, it can be pretty easy to take toilets and running water for granted. Bathrooms have become such an integrated part of our daily lives and routines, it can be hard to imagine not having regular access to a toilet. Perhaps on a camping trip, or in a particularly deserted area of town one might be inconvenienced temporarily, but on the whole most of us have a reasonable expectation of having access. As such, it might come as a shock to learn that 1 in 3 people in the world, do not have safe and adequate access to toilets or running water.

Running water and the flushable toilet were not just breakthroughs in convenience and comfort. The development of the toilet meant serious progress in overall public health.

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World Toilet Day
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Blood and Roses: A Virtual Reality

For as long as people have been talking about social justice online, there have been people, trolls really, who make a point to argue, harass, and otherwise engage in actively hateful and bigoted behaviour. This has been the case in every online community I have been involved with: the feminist community, the atheist community, disability community. There is always someone prepared to defend the vilest behaviour you can think of. If you are a representative of these communities: a Person of Colour, a Trans Woman, a Disabled Person, if you are a member of some minority, the number of people who target you in particular escalates.

The sheer number of people committed to spreading hate has made places like the comment boards on Youtube a place to be avoided. Many magazines and blogsites have closed their comment sections. More than one writer, activist, organizer, and so forth has been forced off the internet as a result of death threats, threats of rape and violence, dealing with a constant barrage of slurs and hatred, and even having their private information released to the public.

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Blood and Roses: A Virtual Reality

What’s the Harm in “Female-Bodied”?

Guest post by America Yamaguchi

[CN: sexual assault]

 

“Female-bodied” is a term that is endlessly harmful.

It reduces cisgender women to their uterus. While childbearing is a massively important component of patriarchal harm, it goes far beyond that. It is also harmful to insist that childbearing or a uterus is what makes a woman a woman, both to trans people of all genders, and to cisgender women who are infertile for any reason. It compounds a major source of psychological distress to cis women who cannot have children. By the standards of “female-bodied” to mean the uterine body plan, a cisgender woman who is missing any aspect or has a dysfunction by any part, is bound to feel like less of a woman. Thus, this term directly attacks the womanhood of a variety of cis women as well as trans women.

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What’s the Harm in “Female-Bodied”?

Your Transantagonism is also Ableist

Recently Ophelia Benson added to the TERFY hole she’s been digging by tearing into an abortion provider who chose to use inclusive language when discussing issues surrounding pregnancy and access. It’s an issue that comes up surprisingly often. The discussion around genitalia is so needlessly gendered, that people often fall into the trap of equating body parts with identity.

The equation of women with “having a uterus” or the ability to have children is obviously exclusionary to both trans men and trans women. Not everyone who can get pregnant is a woman and not every woman has the ability to get pregnant. It is also exclusionary to many of us with disabilities.

The social equation of women with having a uterus is extremely damaging to women who, for one reason or another, have lost their ovaries, or uterus. Many of them struggle with feelings of inadequacy or identity loss for this reason. Harmful concepts, like those established by patriarchy and outdated feminist concepts that reduce women to their genitalia, only make the struggle more difficult.

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Your Transantagonism is also Ableist

Unpacking the Red Pill

I’m actually sort of upset that internet hate groups have managed to co-opt the matrix red pill analogy. It is actually a really good metaphor for social justice and the way that becoming aware of privilege and systemic injustice works.

It really is like suddenly opening your eyes and realizing that everything you thought you were seeing you were actually seeing incorrectly your whole life. It’s incredible. Where the analogy fails is by painting it as a single pill.

The truth is that becoming aware of social justice issues is really like swallowing a whole bunch of different red pills, each one exposing you to yet another level of interconnected systems of oppression. This is why we get some atheist activists, and other social justice activists, falling into this same trap over and over again of thinking that they couldn’t possibly be sexist, racist, transphobic, classist, etc. because they “already swallowed the red pill” so now they could see the whole truth.

There is also this idea that swallowing one red pill makes every additional one easier to see, but that’s not true. Sometimes you can swallow multiple red pills at ones at once. But the truth is that each one is painful to take. Each one produces its own side-effects, its own difficulties. Swallowing the red pill is never easy.

It’s not just one easily exposed system that once you see a part of, you essentially get an idea of the whole. It is more like a self-replicating computer virus that infects different system files. You can cut one out, but unless you get them all, it will just rebuild again.To really solve the problem, you have to root out every single individual corrupted system file. Otherwise, the program rebuilds itself, just using a different pathway, but ultimately yielding the same result.

Take the evolution of feminism throughout the years. Each wave of feminism exposed layers of patriarchal oppression, however, by failing to consider the interconnections of various issues and the level to which the system was self-replicating, rather than fixing the problem is shifted the scope of it. Such as when the response of women trying to prove that they were every bit as capable in “masculine” fields and tasks ended up reinforcing the gender binary. The focus was on showing that women can also do “masculine things” rather than on showing that the division of actions into an either or option was not based on an accurate social model of gender. The resulting surge in femmephobia reinforced a lot of harmful patriarchal concepts that are now that much more difficult to dismantle. It’s not that second-wave feminists went too far, it is that they didn’t go far enough. It failed to take into account how the system is also supported by race, by cis-centrism, by ableism. It failed to look at the matrix as a whole.

Imagine if the matrix actually existed as a series of levels. With every successive pill you see a little more of the matrix. But if you don’t realize there are more pills to take, you might be tempted to think you see the whole matrix. Agent Smith is counting on that, because as long as you believe you are outside the matrix, they can use the parts of the matrix you are still connected to to shift your perception of the world around you.  As long as you are still within levels of the matrix however, you continue to power the system.

If we take the premise of the matrix movie that human beings are being turned into a potato battery, becoming aware of different spheres of oppression is like discovering that your potato battery is charging other batteries and working to shut off those batteries so that your battery doesn’t die. Those are the first red pills you usually take.

The hard pills to take are those that reveal that even while you are struggling to unplug the connections that are causing other batteries to drain your charge, you are recharging your own battery from other people as well. These are the pills that make us choke, that stick in our throats. These are the ones that make us want to fight and reject what we are seeing, because more than anything the matrix relies on our denial that we could be harming people even if we have no intention to.

You didn’t know. The plugs were in your back and you couldn’t see them because you were in the matrix level whatever. But intentionally or not, you have been draining other people’s batteries. Whether you knew or not, you may have been the connection that added just that extra little drain needed to completely empty someone’s battery.

So now you have to make a decision, which do you pull out first?  The ones draining others or the ones draining you? Or do you try to pull them out at the same time? Do you leave others to try and pull out the ones draining them out themselves? Do you go back to pretending you never saw the ones in your back or deny that they’re there? Do you address some but not others? What makes you decide?

The choice you make is ultimately yours, but the one you make says something about you as a person.

My choice is striking a balance between pulling out both sides. I need to pull out my own because I can’t take out the system if my battery is completely dead. But I also need to work on pulling the ones that are charging me. Sometimes, when my battery is draining too fast, I need to take a break. I might need to focus on pulling out my own for a few moments, though I never forget about the ones in my back. Sometimes, I am being drained slow enough that I can forget about pulling out my own for some time in order to focus more on pulling out the ones that I benefit from. In fact, often when I am puling out my own, it is so that I have the surplus energy to spend more time pulling out the ones that charge me.

Everyone is interconnected into the system, but not everyone carries the same number of output and input energy. Some people only have maybe one or two output cabled, while being charged by several sources. Even when this happens, you might not be retaining a high charge, but that doesn’t change the fact that you are still draining others. The opposite extreme also exists with some people being almost completely output cables and none or almost no input cables.

The system is like a web and everyone is plugged into it.

It is essential that we all disconnect and break the system. When you have any system that depends on batteries basically sharing charge in a single continuous system, that leads to combustion. Just ask anyone who has had keys and batteries in their pocket, and ended up with burning pants because the two connecting created a single circuit.

The system is a path to destruction as long as it exists because either your battery gets completely drained or you combust. That’s ultimately why systems of oppression like patriarchy end up hurting even those they privilege.

Unpacking the Red Pill

ABLEISM CHALLENGE

CN: For Ableist slurs.

I have a challenge for all of my blogger friends. I want you to try and go one month without using the list of words below. For one month, in your blog posts and public opinions, I want you to not use these words. I will explain why. I will give you a reason, and regardless of whether you agree with me or not, I want you to try. For me.

Why does this matter?

The truth is that the concerns of the disabled community are often pushed to the side or seen as less important. Just a year ago there was almost a network wide outrage over being called on the use of ableist sentiments and words.  It ended with one of the more dedicated and active disability and neurodiversity activists, who has actually created a lot of the accepted vocabulary of the neurodivergent movements, accused of being a troll. The concerns were ignored, a new network was launched, and little to no progress was made in improving the use of ableist language or sentiments in our community. The verdict was in. As one person famously put it: disability activism is not a real thing.

And then the whole thing was ignored. For most people it was just not enough of a big deal.

Every few months someone writes a post asking people to not use “crazy” as a pejorative, that gets summarily ignored.

And these things do matter. In the same way that racialized words perpetuate systemic racism, and the same way that racialized words can find themselves in the most seemingly benign words, ableism too is so prevalent as to be invisible.

The sad fact is that most ableist slurs are considered the soft swears, the use-instead-ofs. Want to insult someone in relatively polite company? Chances are you may reach for one of these as a stand-by. But words matter. Language shapes our perception and when we make disability an insult, when we make ability an insult, we are implying that there is something wrong with being that way. It adds to a system that treats people with disabilities as being less than human. In some cases people go so far as to imply that people with disabilities don’t have feelings or don’t feel pain. Moreover it creates a perceptions, a link between being disabled and being otherwise incompetent.

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ABLEISM CHALLENGE

The Problem With Gay Marriage

There is an argument that crops up from time to time when you argue on matters of social justice on the internet. No matter the subject, at one point or another someone will say that this problem has already been solved because some specific thing has happened.

We no longer need feminism because men gave women the right to have jobs or have the vote.

We no longer need civil rights because white people gave people of colour the vote, and interracial marriage is allowed. Or because slavery is over.

We no longer need to worry about disability rights because the abled have made laws about accessibility and not discriminating.

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The Problem With Gay Marriage

Bathroom BS: How Bathroom Bills Affect the Disabled

It happened again.

I was at the drive thru at Starbucks getting myself a small treat as I ran errands, in the hopes of waking myself up, when I felt a strong pain in my abdomen. I hoped it would just be pain but as I paid for my drink I felt the painful stirrings that warned me I needed to get to a bathroom fast. I told the cashier that I would pick up my drink inside, pulled my car into a space, and ran inside just in time to see someone step into the free washroom. I danced anxiously, hoping that one of the two rooms would be free soon.

I didn’t make it.

I avoided sobbing audibly when my control was lost and I felt the shameful feeling of losing control of my bowels. I stood there, ashamed. Waiting for a door to open so I could go clean up and finish going to the bathroom.

In some ways I was lucky. My clothing, my body shape, is such that as long as the accident is relatively small, it won’t drip to the floor the way I have seen it happen to others. The mess would be contained to my underwear, which I could remove and clean up in the sink.

Living with a bowel related disability, I am more aware than most of the importance of access to public restrooms. I’ve written before about what it means when that access is restricted for someone like me. Someone with a disability.

It is part of what makes the bathroom bills targeting transgender people so insidious.

The bathroom bill, for those who don’t know, is a name given to pieces of legislation restricting access to public restrooms for transgender people. The laws are usually presented under the guise of protecting people from predators who might try to take advantage of someone by pretending to be one gender to gain access to a restroom. Realistically the laws are a bigoted response to a problem that does not exist.

A Trans woman, using a woman’s restroom, is a woman using a woman’s restroom. She has as much right to be there as anyone else. To deny her that right, is to claim that she is not really a woman. It is an act of discrimination.

When it comes to predatory behaviour and violence, it is not Trans people who are its instigators, but rather, its victim. Using either the restroom of the gender they identify with is incredibly risky for trans women, as is using the restroom of their assigned gender. Either choice can lead to being the victims of violence from verbal assault to outright murder. It’s not cis people who need protecting in bathrooms but Trans people.

The only reason for these laws, is to satisfy the bigotry of transphobic, and particularly transmisogynistic, members of the population. It is because the people making those laws, don’t want to risk the possibility of being in a room with a trans person and want to make the world more and more dangerous for them so that they stay hidden. It is because they assume that all trans people are actually faking it or that trans people are inherently criminal or dangerous or unstable.

That there are laws being made restricting the access to restrooms just goes to show how dehumanizing our society is towards trans people. In these privileged parts of the world, we take access to washrooms for granted. So much so, that when manners make people visiting with others ask to use the facilities, the possibility of refusal is mocked. When we mock people who bring up having friends belonging to a group they are accused of being prejudiced towards, it often includes references to the restroom. “I have black friends, I even let them use my bathroom.” The idea of sharing one’s washroom with someone else is seen as such a matter of course, that the idea that you wouldn’t even if you were prejudiced, is seen as ridiculous. And yet this is exactly what is happening to trans people right now across North America.

Right now in Ottawa, the bill to include gender identity and trans people as protected under the charter, has been attached with an amendment that would make public restroom use by trans people illegal.

These laws are disgusting examples of the bigotry faces regularly on trans people, but they also highlight how often in the rush to discriminate against one group people will trample over the rights of others without so much as a second glance.

Bathroom bills are not just harmful to trans people but they can also be said to actively restrict the accessibility of public spaces to people with disabilities.

When faced with a situation like the one about, I don’t have the time to be concerned about whether the washroom I am using matches my assigned gender or not. If the choice is having a painful, uncomfortable, and embarrassing accident in public or using the men’s room, my choice in clear. Laws such as these would make it illegal for me to use to the available restroom. It would limit my access to restrooms when the women’s room is out of order.

Limited access to restrooms, means limited access to public spaces. I can’t physically go anywhere without guaranteed access to facilities, and these laws would make them less available.

In the case of trans people with bathroom related disabilities, this access would be hindered even further since most of these laws effectively bar trans people from all but gender neutral public restrooms.

Discrimination against one groups invariably affects other groups as well. Discrimination against one of us hurts us all.

Trans people have a right to safe and unrestricted access to the washroom of their choice, and I won’t let myself be a complacent back you step on to get to kick them when they’re down.

Edit: I forgot another important way in which these bills affect disabled people. Some people require assistance from a partner or hired personal attendant to use the facilities. In cases where the attendant is a different gender than the person requiring assistance, the attendant would be breaking the law if they did what they needed to do to assist.

Bathroom BS: How Bathroom Bills Affect the Disabled

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

Wibbly-Wobbly Gendery Bendery

CN: Possible TMI and includes very private thoughts. Read at own risk. Comments will be heavily moderated.

It is funny how one little thing can make memories come crashing back. When Alyssa and I first got together, we spent some time sharing our deep dark secrets. Throughout the course of this sharing I told Alyssa that as a child I used to imagine that I had a penis. That one revelation began a process of bringing up memories over the next few years.

Suddenly I remembered that I didn’t just imagine this. I would lie awake imagining it. In fact I couldn’t fall asleep until I did.

From a fairly early age I was obsessed with sex and gender roles. A majority of the stories I made up as a child was of girls escaping the expectations of society by dressing up as a man. I would play at this. I desperately didn’t want to identify with what I saw of being “femme”. I hated pink, I bragged about my love for science. I took femmephobia to the extreme and was quite literally a chill girl that saw myself as a feminist. I wanted to reject all that was female about me.

As is my habit, I worked through a lot of this stuff through my writing. Even though my characters often dressed up as men, they often explored their sexuality as women. The ability to switch back and forth intrigued me, although always in a presenting way. My mind never explored the possibilities open in magic of being able to completely switch. It wasn’t until I met Alyssa that I was able to even consider that possibility.

In my own pretend games, I would often lead the games into situations where our dolls or characters had romantic partners. I would find some excuse to get to play “my character’s” romantic partner. On more than one occasion I employed stuffed animals, socks, and other methods to stuff my pants to indicate that in that moment I was male.

Eventually my characters, like myself, began exploring the possibility that one could be female and confound gender roles. I explored strong womanhood, and pride in womanhood. Looking at myself through the eyes of one of my main characters, Katsyandra, allowed me to embrace a part of myself that I had felt distant from: my womanhood.

Telling Alyssa about my old thoughts, brought them roaring back. I found myself masturbating to the idea of having a penis. After some time the thoughts stopped being a nightly thing, but they would crop up from time to time. I also began noticing that there were times where I identified myself male in some of my fantasies.

I didn’t know what this meant. I wondered for some time if I was really a trans man. I considered the possibility and tried on male pronouns in my head, but that didn’t quite sit right with me. I had no interest in giving up being a woman. Yes, I sometimes identified as male, but I also identified strongly as being female.

When non binary gender identities began to become more discussed in the communities I belonged to, something resonated. I knew I wasn’t agender: I identified too strongly with genders to think that I was genderless. I felt more like I had a surfeit of gender instead. When I heard the term bi-gender that felt a little closer to the mark. I felt like I identified with both genders. What seemed different however was that it wasn’t a constant thing. I didn’t and don’t really feel a connection with the pronouns They/Theirs, at least not all the time. I didn’t want to be called He/His, at least not all the time. I didn’t mind being called She/Her. But being called Cis didn’t feel right either. I spend too much time desperately wanting a body I do not have, feeling the need to connect with a part of me that I feel isn’t perceived.

So what am I?

I still don’t know. The best I can come up with is that most of the time I am a woman who feels she should have a penis, who is sometimes male, sometimes both male and female at once, and very occasionally neither gender at all. Functionally this doesn’t change much. I am still very much me, and with me barely able to understand my own gender, I am not about to ask anyone to call me pronouns I am unsure I even want yet.

I have been scared to share a lot of this information with people. I am terrified of being accused of being appropriative. Of having people tell me that I am just trying to be part of the cool club. Of calling me a wannabe professional victim. I am terrified that all this is me just trying to be special and that everyone goes through this type of worry and questioning. I am scared that I am lying to myself in some way to avoid facing a hard truth.

My identity right now is genderqueer and fluid, but a more accurate term might be that I am Wibbly-Wobbly Gendery-Bendery.

Wibbly-Wobbly Gendery Bendery