October 28, 2012
So I ran across an interesting article this morning. It’s called “When the Doctor Says This Won’t Hurt A Bit – And Incredibly, It’s True” http://commonhealth.wbur.org/2012/09/doctor-says-it-wont-hurt . It’s about a mother’s trip to the ER with her daughter, who had split open her scalp and needed several stitches. The doctor who stitched her up was particularly considerate of their anxiety and used some unorthodox techniques to get them both to relax, which made the whole process very simple, functionally painless.
It was the later section that intrigued me though. After describing her experience with the physician, Zimmerman gives us a brief description of Dr. Krauss’s work on pediatric emergency care. In her interview with him, Krauss explains how he came to develop his methods.
The son of a rabbi, Krauss has a Masters degree in Education and training as a clinical psychologist in addition to his medical practice. He began his divergent methodology by studying videos he took of himself interacting with children and their parents because he noticed that he got better results working with children than his colleagues did.
I want to stop here and talk about this. Not long ago, according to Krauss, the medical community held that infants were incapable of processing pain and that young children couldn’t feel pain to the same extent as adults and easily forgot what pain they did feel. So procedures (including major surgeries) were regularly performed on infants without anesthetic. I remember, as a child, splitting my chin open on a slide and getting stitches in the emergency room. I was no more than five or six, and I clearly remember being utterly terrified; my parents told me not to fight the doctor, but this was someone MUCH bigger than I was who was hurting me – like anybody, I panicked. I think it is very reasonable to trace my hatred of hospitals and my difficulty in trusting adults in some part to that experience.
The medical community has moved on from that viewpoint. But little effort is made to deal with small children as small children, taking into account their developmental status while still treating them like human beings who deserve their pain to be minimized as much as possible. If anything, I’d think it would be more important to minimize pain for children who don’t have the cognitive capacity to work through the pain and the reason for it – who experience the whole thing as a source of complete and utter terror with little or no appreciation for its necessity. That feeling of helplessness can stay with you for a long damn time.
But Krauss has worked hard to change that, at least for his patients. The thing that intrigues me the most, though, is that he clearly saw what he was doing as a matter of skill and therefore a thing that could be analyzed and taught to others.
This is the attitude of a scientist. It is the thought process that is available to people who are trained to think in terms of a comprehensible reality, one that can be studied and learned from, where much of our interactions with others depend on skills that anyone can learn. Some people use those skills intuitively while others need to be taught, but the benefit of thinking of them as skills is that it is possible to teach and learn them.
The mindset that comes from a history of thinking spiritually or supernaturally could just as easily describe those skills as innate qualities – a spiritual connection to children, a gift from God (or gods, or the Universe) in healing and helping, a psychic ability to soothe and support. Any of these attitudes would be completely useless for teaching others to do the same things. Those patterns of thought interfere with our ability to treat these interactions as observable phenomena whose particularities can be expanded out to other situations and uses.
In one universe, the one where religious and spiritual and supernatural thinking hold sway, Krauss would be commended but his skills would not be spread to others. In another universe, where a more scientific approach to the world is prevalent, Krauss’s methods can be deciphered and decoded to be taught to other professionals. In this latter world, the suffering of children and parents can be lessened on a scope not available to one man.
I would much rather be a part of that second universe, the one where the suffering of children matters, not as a benefit to their spiritual growth, but as a thing to be avoided for the health and well-being of child and parent alike.
October 7, 2012
On how reading books above one’s grade level entails more than just bigger words…it means confronting bigger ideas.
I read a lot as a child. From the first time I went to the library with my mother as a small child (five or six, I don’t recall which) and checked out my first Nancy Drew book, I have loved libraries and books and reading. I would walk out of the library with as many books as I could carry – and this is no exaggeration. The “too may books” limit happened when I started dropping them, and it was a tragic moment in which I had to choose which of my potential darlings I had to leave behind.
And from that moment when I checked out Nancy Drew in defiance of my mother’s certainty that it would be too hard for me and then I totally read the whole thing and understood it I have been reading well above my “grade level.” I’m not entirely sure what that means, except that I started reading “Young Adult” books when I was about nine or ten…which was about the time I encountered sex and sexuality and difficult moral questions. And that was long before my parents expected me to run into such things. By the time they handed me the “God Made You Special!” book I was already pretty conversant with the ideas behind sex and the emotions that were most frequently involved, how sex could go very very wrong, and how important it could be.
See, what they were thinking (and what many people think) when they heard the phrase “Reading Above Her Grade Level” was that I was learning harder words and maybe more complicated sentences. It never occurred to them that I would be encountering more mature concepts – like sexuality, justice in morally grey areas, identity, war…all sorts of things we don’t generally expect 3rd and 4th graders to understand.
That age – ten to fifteen – is key in moral development. It’s part of the process of learning about a lot of things that will be key in shaping your identity and ethics in the rest of your life. Before my parents broached any of these subjects with me, I was reading about them. Which is why I have Mercedes Lackey to thank for my moral development at least as much as my parents; at least, I can’t think of another reason why my personal morality would fit more closely with her writing than what my parents believed when I was growing up.
Being homosexual was not an acceptable thing in my family. It just wasn’t – it was a thing that (rightly) brought violence down on you; being homosexual in, say The Last Herald-Mage trilogy or the Arrows trilogy, was a perfectly acceptable way to be, but it was important to be aware that there were people who might not be so accepting and who could make life difficult…not because there was anything wrong with being gay, but because people can be very judgmental and cruel.
So I began developing a complex and responsive moral code from the time that I was about ten. I thought about the nature of revenge – is revenge (as opposed to justice) ever justified? Is it right to kill someone for certain crimes? Is it better or worse to kill them in the heat of passion versus coldly, calculatedly? This is how I developed my opinion on the death penalty.
How do you deal with being raped? How do you grow to trust people again afterward? Questions I thought about at ten, eleven years old…with answers I needed by the time I was eighteen.
I was able to deal with the ideas in those books; I not only grew my vocabulary but learned more about the world. And possibly the most important thing I learned was that everyone thinks and feels differently. That what I understood about how the world works was not the same as what other people understood. And that’s not only okay, it’s the way it’s supposed to be.
And that’s something I’m very glad I learned as early as possible. It’s something I hope to teach young people someday, because I think it’s pretty damn important. Not everyone sees things the same way. Basic respect for diversity of all kinds. Respect for people as individuals. The willingness to call bullshit when you see it.
The problem is this – all those good lessons I was learning from the Heralds of Valdemar and the Free Bards were directly contradicted by Christian ideological brainwashing. But let’s save that for next time.
October 5, 2012
Allow me to set the scene.
So I was out (very) late the other night at a Denny’s, talking to a new friend. We’d stepped outside so he could take a smoke break and this (very) drunk man came outside and asked how long we’d been together.
“We’re not,” both of us told him. “We just met a few hours ago.” The conversation meandered along from there (touching on my friend being entirely too un-em-boobened for me to be into him anyway, which wasn’t entirely inaccurate) until this inebriated gentleman grew utterly flabbergasted when my friend informed him that he wasn’t a very good kisser. (This, it turns out, was a fiction mean to fuck with the guy’s head) This guy was completely floored.
“You’ll never have truly mindblowing sex until you can really kiss,” he declared.
The rest of the conversation, although amusing, isn’t really relevant. It’s just that one sentence that really stood out to me. Because it’s not entirely wrong. When I think back to the best sex I’ve had, kissing is always part of it. Leading in, trailing out, it’s a big part of the whole process. And I wondered why that is – what is unique about kissing that it impacts quality of sex in such a big way?
I think some of it may be cultural. I didn’t see porn (at least, not intentionally…but the kitty porn is a tale for another day) until I was away at college. What I did see was the occasional PG-13 movie in which steamy kisses were about as far as things went onscreen. Kissing was a sort of stand-in for the sexy times that I read about (and occasionally experienced) but didn’t actually watch other people doing.
Then there’s the fact that when you and your partner are both young, neither of you know what the hell you’re doing. No fucking clue. You’re both stumbling around and there’s so much to learn, particularly if you’re not of the same sex – you don’t even know how their equipment feels, how do you know how to make it feel good?!
But kissing. Kissing you can do without needing to hide away and close the door and hope no one sees or hears. Kissing you can practice without all those risks they tell you about in health class. You can just keep kissing until you start getting it right. And if you kiss several people, you won’t necessarily get a reputation as a slut. I mean really, who says, “She was kissing around!”?
And there’s a certain intimacy to kissing that you get when there’s a lack of urgency. You can kiss forever and not want to stop, if it’s going well; few people can say the same thing about any form of sex without getting sore. Plus, it’s actually really hard to forget who you’re kissing. Try it. It’s much easier to close your eyes and pretend you’re fucking someone else than it is to pretend you’re sucking face with another person.
Maybe I’m exaggerating. Or maybe I’m full of shit. But damn is good kissing sexy…and bad kissing is a pretty significant turnoff.
May 11, 2012
Warning, this post contains severely boring material interspersed with potentially out-of-place jokes.
I have this problem with judging debate events, see. It comes from a damaging yet ever-pervasive myth within the forensics community – the tabula rasa, or blank slate. For anyone who isn’t familiar with the concept, it is based on the idea that in a debate round, your debaters should make all the arguments themselves. As a judge, I should therefore accept everything the debaters say at face value. Holes in argumentation only count if the opposing side points them out and any facts I know about the topic at hand should be set aside. I should absorb anything they present to me as truth regardless of my own knowledge about the subject.
In a non-evidentiary format, this is sometimes problematic. For example, in a debate about child custody rights, if one side stands up and says “It is illegal in 35 states for a gay man or a lesbian to retain custody rights over a child if a heterosexual parent is available,” then unless someone from the other side of the bench stands up and says, “No, actually, that’s not true at all,” I must accept the previous statement as true. The fact that it does not inhabit the same universe as truth doesn’t enter into the equation.
So far as I’ve been able to tell, this is a hold-over from earlier (inferior) styles of debate which were evidentiary – that is, when preparing a debate case, one collected “evidence cards” which would be presented to opponents (and potentially judges) over the course of a round. A case was judged at least partially on the quality of evidence which could be presented. Evidence was supposed to come from reputable sources – academic or scholarly articles, books, etc. The phrase “peer-reviewed” was on the top of your friends list.
I have never participated in that format of debate and though I have judged it at the high school level, I do not particularly enjoy it, nor do I know anyone that does. I have tried to judge rounds as a tabula rasa judge, but I can’t quite force myself to do it, and for what I consider to be good reason. It’s not actually possible to divorce one’s self from all of our knowledge and experience. We quite literally cannot do it. I cannot forget Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs or Kohlberg’s Theory of Moral Development. I can’t forget the Arab Spring or the 5 Pillars of Islam. And I know what actual scientific studies have to say on the medical and psychological ramifications of abortion. And I shouldn’t be pretending that I can forget them when students are attempting to debate as intelligent and rational beings.
The formats of debate with which I am familiar (NPDA and BP/Worlds) do not require evidence cards. Debaters do not debate the same topic every round at a tournament for an entire month or year. In both formats, a topic is released to all debaters at once, 15-20 minutes before the beginning of a round. Cases must be written in that time period; printed materials can be consulted, but research through technological means is prohibited.
BP/Worlds style debate has moved over to the “Reasonable Person” format of judging. Instead of pretending that you know nothing, you judge the round based on what a reasonable person would know. If I have the entirety of the Wisconsin Tax Code memorized, that is not knowledge available to any reasonable person and debaters should not be penalized for lacking that “specialized knowledge“. (It’s a little bit like jury duty, actually – you don’t want lawyer knowledge on a jury. Which is actually somewhat stupid but…another rant.)
The benefit of Reasonable Person judging is that if someone says something blatantly stupid, like “Hitler was actually desperately in love with Winston Churchill and there are reams of letters written between the two of them which indicate that World War II was actually an extended lover’s spat,” you can say to yourself (and possibly on your ballot), “That is so incredibly stupid and untrue that I now am disinclined to believe anything that comes out of your mouth. You have severely harmed your credibility.“
Of course, if the other team allows that Hitler/Churchill slash to go unchecked, their credibility probably suffers a little bit too. Unless the case behind Hitler/Churchill slash is so full of stupid that they ran out of time on their way through.
This whole tabula rasa issue is also very closely connected to what I like to term “the myth of author authority.” More on that later, though.
May 9, 2012
I keep running into this misconception that in a relationship, love is all you need.
“He/she’s bad for you. Seriously, this is unhealthy. Why are you still with this guy/gal?”
“That’s love. I can’t leave him/her. I love them.”
That’s right. That’s what I have to say to “That’s love.” Shall I repeat myself? Bullshit.
I’ve been in a number of relationships (more than five, less than twenty). I’ve loved nearly every significant other I’ve been with. Most of them I still love in one way or another. Yet I am currently single. Why?
Well, aside from the problems of me being crazy and a bitch, it’s because love isn’t everything. Love doesn’t fix everything. Love does not fill in all of the gaps. And assuming that it does is not only wrong, it’s dangerous. It pains me to see people I care for and respect in unhealthy relationships because they love someone…often a person who doesn’t love them in return or who is so unbalanced or unhealthy themselves that they are incapable of a relationship in the same universe as healthy.
When your partner never, ever has anything good to say about you (to your face or behind your back), that’s not a healthy relationship. When your partner consistently and constantly exhibits behaviors or attitudes that are harmful to your physical or psychological well-being, that’s not love. When you know that you deserve better treatment (and all of your friends agree…and all of your partner’s friends agree…) but you stay anyway…that’s not healthy.
Sure, everyone has a different definition of love. They have a different threshold of emotional intensity beyond which lies love. This is part of the problem, for the point where I begin to love you is not necessarily the point where you begin to love me, and therein lies a world of potential for hurt on both sides.
Love is not magic. Love is not God. Love is not always mutual. Love is not a panacea. Love will not make you sane, change your appearance, or modify your fundamental personality.
Love is both catalyst and goal. It is what drives you and what you hope to achieve. Love is both a means and an end. But love is not necessarily easy, and it never thrives under negligence.
In addition to love, a relationship requires respect, effort, and compromise. It requires open communication, honesty, and vulnerability. It requires a willingness to be wrong and a desire to be right. And it is never free.
I love my family. They love me. That love costs us both a great deal. We don’t agree on much of anything important; we don’t even agree on what is and isn’t important. I cannot choose to stop loving them, but sometimes our relationship is too expensive to maintain. Sometimes I go months upon months without seeing or really speaking to them, because the cost to mind and heart is too great. But love is not what keeps me returning to them. Guilt is.
I have been in abusive relationships. Love is not what kept me there. Fear was. Fear that I would be alone, fear of what they (or I) would do. Fear that this was all there was. Fear that I deserved what they were dishing out. Fear that even if I tried leaving, I wouldn’t be able to escape. Fear that no one would believe the truth about what was happening.
Fear and guilt. They sometimes live with love, but they are not love, and we should stop believing that they are.
April 18, 2012
Blogging about mental illness isn’t a brand-new thing, but some brave folks are really pushing for recognition of mental illness among the blogging community. The idea, which I wholeheartedly support, is that many people who struggle with mental illness feel that they are alone in doing so. That people, quite naturally, are convinced that no one else has it quite the same way or quite as badly as they do. That they must hide how they think and feel because they are abnormal.
So here we are, back in “I think too much about…” land. This time, I’ll be starting up talking about being bipolar, among other things. If I can scrape together the nerve to do so, this may turn into a regular thing. That would take a lot of nerve, though. It’s taking a lot of nerve to write this right now, and I’m still delaying the time until I actually start getting into the meat of the matter.
Without further ado.
I’m diagnosed bipolar, a diagnosis I had to fight for. I’ve been misdiagnosed with depression and generalized anxiety disorder in the past, and the medications for those disorders at best do nothing and most of the time are actively detrimental. In the last few years, I’ve also developed moderate-to-severe agoraphobia, and what anxiety and phobias I already had were heightened.
For instance. This morning I called to refill my prescriptions. Now that I’m finally on medication intended to treat bipolar disorder and not depression (or unmedicated), I’m actually doing much better. The difference is honestly pretty astounding and I very much do not want to go back to life sans drugs.
But for the last week I’ve been meaning to call. I couldn’t. I would reach out to pick up the phone to call, and my hand would start shaking. I would start sweating. My heart would start racing. My mind was screaming wordless panic. There’s no reason to it – there is absolutely no reason to be afraid of the phone, particularly when using it to help myself. But panic doesn’t need reason. Phones have people on the other side of them. People are bad. People in offices are worse. Fear, hot and heavy on your shoulders and biting at your head and neck.
I could pick up the phone to text friends, but I couldn’t pick it up with the intent to call. My muscles would go weak and I would have to bite back tears.
This morning, after not being able to sleep last night, after writing about 4000 words in the rough draft of the novel I’m half-heartedly working on, after finally remembering to eat something hours late, after staring at the phone and an empty pill bottle for about ten minutes, I finally just picked it up and started dialing. In less than 8 minutes, I had ordered refills on both of my main prescriptions and set up an order for the newer one, the one I recently finished the titration for. I set the phone down, and I started shaking uncontrollably. I’m back upstairs in my room now, typing out this entry with my heart still racing and my head full of the desire to die.
See, I know that it’s fucked up to fear phones and people like this. I should be going to get groceries right now, and I can’t bear the thought of opening that door. My legs go weak, my sight starts fogging, and my hands shake. My heart pounds and I get dizzy before I even touch the door or a set of car keys. There is no logic to it, no reason. The very lack of sense is what makes it so daunting - if I only knew what was wrong, if I could think differently and make something different happen…if only.
No, I’m up here explaining that a short phone call and a lack of celery in my fridge have left me thinking longingly of bottles of pills, a loaded handgun, and the knives in my kitchen. I think about suicide every day. Without fail, every day. Today I’m thinking of it more seriously, wanting it more intensely. It is wrong. I should not think this way, but I do.
In a week, I may be giddy and laughing, ready to take on the world and apply for all the jobs. Today I want to kill myself. Earlier, I wanted to run and shout and laugh and hide and stab myself in the stomach all at the same time. That is what it means to be bipolar. I never know until I wake up in the morning what I will be like, how I will feel. Sometimes I’m almost normal; those times are more frequent now than they have been in many years. Sometimes I am convinced I can do anything and I rise from sleep with a smile and more energy than my injured body can handle. Sometimes I wake up and feel completely and utterly worthless, one step away from actively seeking death and certainly not averse to it should it alight on me of its own accord. Sometimes I will start out feeling one way and something (or nothing) will cause it to change, flip-flopping with alarming rapidity. Sometimes I will feel all of these things and I will say nothing, but they will all twist up and chase each other inside me.
The thing is, I never know. And neither does anyone else. And no matter how I hide it, that deep and unspeakable terror is always waiting.
I don’t think I’ve done a good job of describing this. There’s so much more to it than just wanting to die. But it’s all I really feel right now. Perhaps later, in five minutes or three hours or two weeks when I’m feeling something different, I’ll write about that.
It’s been almost an hour. I can breathe normally again, but I still don’t think I can sleep. I really wish I could sleep; abnormal sleep schedules make everything just that little bit worse. Perhaps in another few hours I will be able to touch a door handle or open the fridge. I can hope.
April 10, 2012
Apparently there is a video floating around of a panel from this year’s PAX East, in which some developers from WotC discuss the upcoming 5th edition of Dungeons & Dragons. Themes include modularity, retooling skills (again), bringing back a lot of the variety lost in 4th, and accommodating minis without requiring them.
All of these sound like good things, which was probably the idea when WotC sent folks off to talk about their upcoming products. My burning question, however, does not appear to have been raised in the panel – How does Wizards propose to take the best parts of 3.5 and the few useful bits of 4.0 and make a dynamic, playable system…without making Pathfinder: The Hasbro Version?
Don’t get me wrong. I am pleased that the company producing what was the world’s best-selling tabletop RPG finally started listening to those of us who were extremely disappointed in 4th ed. I love D&D. I started playing when I was 15 and I mainly date other gamers; D&D is often a bonding experience with significant others and it certainly is with my friends. I started at the tail end of 3.0 and found plenty to love. 3.5 fixed some of its older sibling’s problems and introduced even more variety – and trust me, I rarely complain about variety. I love having a lot of different options, and I looked at every new base class introduced in the Complete series. I played an Archivist from Heroes of Horror, a Beguiler from the PHBII (a terrible mistake), and had plans for a Sword Sage from Book of 9 Swords.
But when Pathfinder came into the picture and I took a look at the Advanced Player’s Guide, I was gone. Hooked. Sold.
See, my problems with 4th ed D&D came down to three simple things. Skills. Multiclassing. Variety.
My favorite class in sword & sorcery style games is Rogue, hands down. I like playing high-Int high-Dex characters, and nothing rewards that quite like a Rogue does. I love the obscene number of skill points, the class abilities, the sneak attack. I also really enjoy Sorcerers and, to a lesser extent, Wizards and Monks. Since I hate picking between my favorite things, I often multiclass and, I’ll admit it, I cherrypick. Four levels of Rogue, three levels of Swashbuckler, one of Fighter, some Duelist, some Champion of Corellon Larethian…What? I need my Strength, Intelligence, and Dexterity to all add to my damage! Don’t look at me like that. It was point-buy. I needed all the help I could get.
So when I opened up my 4th edition PHB, there was exactly one thing in it that made me happy. Tieflings as a PHB playable race? I was so on board with that. I like nothing more than Tieflings, with the possible exception of Fey’ri, and they’re just cheating. (That cherrypicking example above? It was a fey-touched Fey’ri that ran around with a faerie dragon. It was a Spelljammer game.)
Paging through 4.0, I realized there was no room in it for the characters I loved to play.
The 4th edition skill rules felt like a slap in the face. What do you mean, my Int bonus doesn’t give me extra skill points? What do you mean, I only pick 5 skills and get a static bonus to them? What do you mean, I can’t take cross-class skills at all? What do you mean, I don’t get to assign skill ranks every level? That was my favorite part!
Multiclassing? Same thing. I only get to pick ONE other class and all I get is this stupid and almost entirely useless feat? Why do you hate me, WotC?
Variety? Every class is defined by combat and combat alone. Sure, I like beating things up, but I also like asking questions, defeating traps, solving puzzles, buffing myself and other party members, getting bonuses to weird shit like Decipher Script, and speaking a metric fuckton of languages. Where did all of my buff spells go?
And then I met Pathfinder. Pathfinder, who made class skills a bonus instead of having cross-class skills be a penalty. Pathfinder, who gave me class archetypes so that I could customize my favorite classes into something even better. Pathfinder, who gave me free and easy access to multiclassing again. Pathfinder, who condensed the skills that made sense as one skill but still left plenty to choose from. Pathfinder, who lets me swap out racial features to get something I want to play. Pathfinder, who made half-elves and Bards actually viable for the first time ever. Pathfinder, who introduced me to Alchemist, which was love at first sight. Pathfinder, who gave me the Linguistics skill, which was more like rabid obsession than love, to be honest.
And now I’m wondering…what does WotC have? What can they put together to top Pathfinder at its own game? How can they put out something that is the best of 3.5 and the best of 4.0 and have it be its own thing?
There is a fine line there between learning from their mistakes (and Pathfinder’s successes) and making a new product that isn’t really new at all. And I don’t necessarily trust Wizards to walk it. I think they’re trying to backpedal so hard that they’ll wind up bending over backward to please all the people who hated 4th and all the people who loved 4th and they will succeed in only making a few people slightly less disgruntled. At least they’ve learned enough to have open testing – probably their largest mistake with 4th was building it in a lab and not actually talking to those of us who buy their products.
I’m hopeful. But I’m not very hopeful.
April 6, 2012
Tonight I had the pleasure of watching a powerful and moving piece of performance art entitled “Say What You Really Want to Say” about homophobia and Proposition 8. The troupe who performed it is comprised of very talented folks from Cal State Long Beach and they did a commendable job of presenting different – sometimes violently opposed – viewpoints on homosexuality, homophobia, religion, and marriage.
It was a difficult experience for me. This is a topic that is near to my heart, that hits me where I live and breathe, and it was full of phrases I have heard many times.
“I’m not homophobic…but two guys holding hands or displaying affection just squicks me out.”
“You can’t argue with Scripture. Leviticus says ‘you shall not lie with a man as with a woman, it is an abomination.’ That’s the Bible.”
“I love you. Let’s pray together. God will help you.”
“I’m okay with gay people, but if I had a kid, I wouldn’t want them to be gay.”
Things I heard from people I went to high school with. Things I heard from people I went to church with. Things I heard from my parents. My pastor. My brother. My aunt.
And those words hurt. They hurt a lot. Even when you mean them to be inclusive, what they really are is condescending. I know what’s best for you, and what’s best for you is to be straight. You’re just going through a phase. You’re just looking for attention. Did something happen to you…something sexual…when you were a kid? Yeah, it’s great that you’re gay and all…but we can’t be friends. I can’t be friends with a gay guy.
Seeing those attitudes presented and well-acted…seeing the reactions of others to those painful and condescending positions…seeing those positions gradually change and attitudes become actually more open and accepting…that was powerful. It gave me hope – hope that there are people in the world who do care, who are willing to put a lot of time and energy and effort into their emotions and thoughts and attitudes, and into showing other people why it matters to search yourself and your beliefs and how those thoughts and beliefs, how those thoughtless phrases, affect and hurt people. There are people who are willing to stand up and put a face on the group that has had their right to marriage stripped from them.
There was an interactive part at the end – a character comes out to his roommate and a mutual friend. His roommate is angry and offended; the friend uses the condescending Bible and prayer arguments…and the gay character just shuts down. The performers repeated the scene and audience members were asked to call out “Freeze!” when something happened that they didn’t like, found offensive, or thought was wrong. Then whoever called “Freeze!” had to fill in for the gay character, trying to find something to say or do that would make the scene go differently.
We couldn’t replace the antagonists, the bigoted characters. We could only take on the part of the person being attacked and try, in some small way, to make that terrible experience a little different. I think it finally hit home for a lot of people in that room, possibly for the first time – there are people who believe that violently. Gay, lesbian, bi, trans…all of us who are different in sexuality or gender or gender expression…we deal with this kind of thing every day. People get hurt. People get killed. Rights get stripped.
And this could happen to you. You need to see what that’s like, you need to understand that while you can’t magically change the minds of those hateful, bigoted, or misguided folks, you can be at least a small part of that change that needs to happen. And I think some people saw, for the first time, and felt, for the first time, what it’s like to have people telling you that you’re wrong or that you’re broken or that you’re obscene…an abomination.
You never, ever forget the first time you encounter prejudice about something you are. I certainly never have.
I got up at the very end of the interactive piece, because nobody had said anything to combat one of (what I think is) the most insulting and condescending responses to someone coming out.
“I don’t agree with your choice. I don’t agree with the gay lifestyle.”
Because seriously, what the fuck is the gay lifestyle? Do we all have a fucking T-shirt or some bullshit? A fancy handshake that I never got taught? What makes people assume that this one particular facet of my life determines all the rest of my life?
And what fucking choice? Of all the choices I can make in my life (and there are many) do you really think I would choose to sit here with my friends or other people who care about me and have them suddenly, with one small piece of information, about-face and despise and revile me?
Who the fuck wants to be hated? Who wants to be called an abomination by people whose opinions matter to you?
Nobody. Nobody would choose that.
We don’t choose to be gay…or bi…or trans…or anything else. We just are. We are who and what we are, and sometimes that’s not what you expected. But you know what? I’m not living your life. You should not try to live mine for me. Because I guarantee you, this “choice” would result in a life that would fucking terrify you.
You could not handle my life. So stop pretending that you can. Stop pretending that you know what’s best for me. Stop pretending that you know what I “really” feel. Stop pretending that you know anything at all.
April 4, 2012
So I’m sure the entire Internet is aware of the female contraceptive debate.
I’ve been coming back to this post over and over again, trying to think of how best to say what I want to say about it. A lot of more prominent bloggers have made scathing and insightful comments about the nature of the debate and what it means for women’s rights – and human rights in general – and also what it means for skepticism and the atheist movement.
In a nutshell, nothing good.
Rather than restating what these brilliant folks have already eloquently declared and explained, I want to focus on something else, something very specific.
What this debate is doing is promoting inequality by inherently valuing the sex lives of men over the sex lives of women.
Disagree with me? This point has already been brought up in legislation, in response to the ridiculous ultrasound bills being touted around the country.
Women are decrying men who take Viagra and attempt to restrict women’s access to health care in the form of contraception and abortions, calling them out as hypocrites, and they are right to do so. But what I haven’t seen is a clear articulation of why this is hypocritical. So here goes.
Easy and open access to Viagra sends a very clear message – sex is a valid and important part of a man’s health life. If his ability to have sex is compromised, so is his happiness and therefore his health. Happier, more content people have fewer health problems as they manage to avoid the aggravating factors of high stress. Sex can be a vital part of that de-stressing and of happiness in general…for men. It can be a way to live more fully in your body, to connect or reconnect with a special someone, to exercise, to flood your brain with chemicals that increase relaxation and happiness. Infamous hypochondriac-enabling site WebMD actually has an entire article explaining the health benefits of sex. [http://www.webmd.com/sex-relationships/features/10-surprising-health-benefits-of-sex] AskMen, an online publication for men providing advice on dating, love, sex, and information about all your favorite celebrities, has a slightly less scientific article offering similar information. [http://www.askmen.com/dating/dzimmer/18_love_answers.html] MSNBC chimes in with this patronizing and sexist article as well. [http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/5263250#.T3uqg6VSTUw]
All of these sources agree – a high sex drive and sexual activity correlate to trends in increased health. There is some question still about a direct causative relationship, (whether good health increases sex drive or a better sex life increases health) but the two at least seem to show up together. Which sounds like an excellent, sex-positive message, one that I really should be cheering.
All three of these articles exhibit a disturbing trend. They focus significantly on the health benefits to men (decreased risk of prostate cancer, decreased risk of heart problems, pain reduction, etc.) and emphasize these as important health concerns. The benefits for women? Increased intimacy. Semen apparently makes you feel better about yourself and reduces your headache pain. And the real problem? The condescending tone when addressing sex as it pertains to women.
“All those times that you were told, “Not tonight honey, I have a headache,” all you had to do was inform your woman that one of the health benefits of sex is its ability to act as a pain reliever.” (Clearly. Of course, that doesn’t actually help *during* intercourse, when all that bouncing around and such seriously aggravates a headache. Not to mention “Not tonight, honey, I have a headache” is the time-honored way of letting someone know that you aren’t in the mood for sex without making them feel inadequate. But clearly, all you ever had to do was tell me that having sex would fix whatever is wrong for me to suddenly be all over you.)
“No, I’m not making this up. “The present study shows that oral sex and swallowing sperm is correlated with a diminished occurrence of preeclampsia,” said the Dutch authors. See? We told you it was good for you.” (Oooh. Could we get more condescending than this ‘I told you so, you ungrateful bitch’ bullshit?)
“In women, sex increases the levels of estrogen, which protects against heart disease. Ever wonder why women love the touchy, feely stuff so much? It’s because of their rise in estrogen levels.” (Oh, yes. Women and their ‘touchy, feely stuff.’)
“Yet other research found a link between partner hugs and lower blood pressure in women.” (But what about guys? Do they not benefit from hugs? Not manly enough?)
See? Sex is good for everyone when it is done in a safe, sane, consensual environment. But even in articles proclaiming its benefits, women get sort of pushed off to the side. We’re there, but so many of the supposed benefits are based specifically on men. Sex for women is still based very heavily on men.
And when Viagra and similar medications are made widely and cheaply available, we are again saying that sex is good for men. Hell, it’s great for men! But when birth control and abortions, ways to support and keep healthy a woman’s sex life, are attacked and those who support their availability vilified, we are then saying that sex is NOT a good thing for women. It is NOT a healthy lifestyle choice to be responsible about having sex.
It is not a good idea for me to take advantage of modern medicine to ensure that I will not wind up pregnant with a child I currently do not want and could not care for.
It is not a good idea for me to have recourse to abortion when, in extremity, I find myself with no other option.
It is not a good idea for sex to be safe and healthy for me, without exposing myself to the risks pregnancy entails even with the advent of modern medicine and pre- and post-natal care.
It is not a good idea for me to speak up about my rights to equal access to the health care that allows and encourages men’s sex lives…but not mine.
It is not a good idea for me to speak up at all, because I will be labeled and branded. Some old fool will fling scarlet letter As at me and pray to his fool of a god that one of them sticks and my logical, moral, and well-reasoned viewpoint will be invalidated by ancient texts and modern idiocy.
Label me. Brand me. Hurl invectives at me. But don’t stand between me or anyone else and the health care that we are paying for. Do not dare.
April 1, 2012
So I just got home from a funeral for my great-uncle. I hadn’t seen him in many years, so it doesn’t hurt nearly as much as when I was at my grandfather’s or great-grandfather’s funerals. I remember visiting him and his wife, playing with his grandkids on camping trips, him smiling and laughing. But these are all memories from when I was a child, and a young child at that. I don’t think I have a lot of memories involving him since I turned…oh, ten or so. So this post isn’t really about him, although he was a wonderful, cheerful, and loving man who is loved and missed.
No, this is actually about the funeral itself, and why I think I should no longer attend funerals held in churches. The two I’ve been to in the last year or so were exceptionally creepy now that I have shucked off the greater portion of my Christian brainwashing. The previous one was held at an Elks lodge, and hearing my great-grandmother referred to constantly as “Coworker” was weird enough without also hearing the phrase “Coworker Jesus,” which is downright fucking creepy.
This one was held at an Assembly of God church. Their retired pastor, who had known my great-uncle, spoke briefly about him and about the need to celebrate his life and be glad that he was a part of our lives. That he was honored to be standing in front of us and speaking of a man he had been proud to know.
And then the current pastor, much younger, got up and gave a painful sermon from his iPad. The only way I made it through the damn thing without standing up and shouting “Lies! Lies and Villainy!” was by taking notes on one of their Conversion Cards. Some of them are about the veracity of his statements, some of them are about problems with his writing or presentation, and some of them are just gut reactions to the disgusting and disrespectful practice of using a funeral as a platform for your sales pitch.
First off, many sermons (I might go so far as to say most, at least in my experience) use as part of their premise a quotation from scripture. This is reasonable and in fact expected. What is not expected and in fact is a poor public speaking choice, is to actually quote an entire, long Psalm. Nope. When your “quote” takes you more than a minute (particularly once you get to the perilous two minute mark) to read, it’s too long. Hell, if it’s too long for you to memorize easily, it’s too long. Your audience will only get parts of it – if you couldn’t memorize it quickly, they sure as hell aren’t going to remember the whole thing after one shoddily-presented reading of it.
Second, one of the wonderful things about iPads and other tablet devices is that the text on them is almost universally resizable. If you can’t read your speech because the letters are too tiny, you can (and should!) make it bigger. Unless the actual problem is with your reading comprehension (which wouldn’t surprise me) that should help you stop saying the same sentence or phrase over and over again. As a sidenote, repetition can be a valuable tool in public speaking, as it can be in writing. But it is very, very rare that a phrase or sentence or even a word will be awesome enough to be worth saying three or more times. One repetition will almost always suffice. I suggest you get a thesaurus and familiarize yourself with its contents. Perhaps also a dictionary so that you can try learning why some words are more appropriate in certain contexts than others. Subtlety. You lack it.
Thirdly, a eulogy is not the same as a sermon. It’s not. A sermon is (theoretically) delivered to instruct or persuade an audience of a lesson or belief. In practice, a sermon is often an opportunity to hammer a captive audience with some bit of drivel or vicious attempt to alienate a portion of the population. A eulogy should be delivered to honor, commemorate, and memorialize a human being who has died. Spending ninety seconds telling us that you met the man once and you “sensed he had a warm and loving heart” is not a eulogy. Trying, poorly, to explain why we should trust God for twenty minutes is not a eulogy. A sermon can be performed by anyone with pretensions to grandeur in the spiritual world. A eulogy should be performed by someone who knew and liked the deceased. It is deeply unfortunate that so many people cannot tell the difference between these things.
Fourth, on that whole trusting God thing? Get a better verse. Seriously. When you quote from an entire chapter and revisit the line about God making the Earth tremble and visiting desolation upon it…that sounds like a deity entirely unworthy of trust. (Ps. 46:6-8 – Nations are in an uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts. The Lord Almighty is with us; the god of Jacob is our fortress. (Selah) Come and see the works of the Lord, the desolations he has brought on the earth.) I do not trust the god of desolations. I do not trust a god that tells me that when mountains are falling into the sea, I should not fear. Fuck you. That is exactly the time to be afraid.
Fifth, limit your personal anecdotes. I don’t want to hear about your car, your wife, and your daughter all in one extended and overwrought example of what trust means. I fucking know what trust means. Trust is that thing I will never give someone who is as full of shit as you.
Sixth, please avoid whitewashing your hyperbole. Don’t tell me that the world is in great chaos and upheaval when you drive your goddamn SUV to your fucking church, drop your kid off at school, and go on about your merry, meaningless life without interruption. You want to talk about chaos and upheaval? Talk about Syria. Talk about Iraq and Afghanistan rebuilding their entire governments and infrastructure. Talk about homophobia, transphobia, the assault on women’s rights. Don’t pretend that as a man of the dominant race, above-average socioeconomic status, oppressively dominant religion, who doesn’t have to deal with any meaningful form of discrimination, you know what chaos and upheaval are like. I call bullshit.
And some final notes – issuing a conversion call in what is supposed to be a eulogy is deeply insulting and disrespectful. Job security is nice, but this isn’t about you. It’s not about your god. It’s not about your beliefs or your pathetic need to press them on others. It’s about a human being who died. It’s about their family and loved ones who give a shit about the fact that they died. It’s not about your self-aggrandizement. I wish there was a Hell for you to burn in, at least briefly. Some way for you to comprehend that what you’re doing is offensive and potentially cruel – it is immoral and disgusting to prey upon the weakened and the grieving so that you can oppress their hearts and minds, teaching them to value stagnation and hate themselves. You are a filthy, lying vulture taking advantage of sad and wounded human beings.
If I had a soul (which I’m pretty sure I don’t) all would be well with it…precisely because I reject assholes like you and your trite, vicious, predatory fairy tales.