Treading water

Yesterday Jarreg and I were talking in the car. Today’s post is borne out of that conversation, and I apologize if the the ideas feel a little rough. I haven’t fleshed them out as much as I want too. Nonetheless, we amble carelessly into some shaky territory to discuss this movement.

There is something I have been feeling lately about the atheism movement. Jarreg’s felt it too.


Truly the best word for how I feel because I thought we were better than this. I thought I could walk along in this movement with my head held high. When I encounter stories like this though:

The story so far: Thunderf00t/Phil Mason was invited to join our blog network last month. All he wrote during the short week he was here was incoherent, unprofessional rages against feminism and the whole network he was on; we could not understand why he even accepted the offer to join us if he hated us so much, and his inane rants certainly weren’t going to persuade us that we were wrong, so we kicked him off. And ever since he has been obsessed with howling about our perfidy.

The latest development is that it turns out that almost as soon as he’d been evicted, he snuck back onto our mailing list and has been reading all the confidential discussions we’ve been having. He has leaked these to third parties as well. When we shut down the security hole last week, he then tried to hack back in, to no avail. We have logs of all of this computer activity on his part.

I just feel shame. These are the fucking people I have chosen to associate with. Thunderf00t is petty in a way that I can’t imagine “rational,” “thinking,” adults could be. I said on Twitter, I might have read private emails myself. Not saying for sure that I would have, but given certain circumstances I might find it prudent to exploit a loophole just to make sure that nothing dangerous was going on.  I would not be so stupid to expose that I had done so, especially if the “dirt” I uncovered was no more substantial than water cooler gossip. That is shitty middle school behavior. Not only petty but stupid.

I am not getting into the whole story about Thunderf00t’s behavior as it’s clear I find him utterly contemptible. I do want to say that if and when he chooses to “doc drop” private communication, I won’t be able to forgive that behavior. On a core level I believe that if someone chooses to interact under a pseudonym, threatening or exposing their real name is a serious wrong not to be undertaken lightly.

Beyond seething at the possibility that Tunderf00t may choose to out someone’s real name for petty gain, I am mostly just disappointed in him and those like him.

And the really frustrating part is there are a lot of atheists like Thunderf00t. Elevatorgate might have opened the stupid, petty asshole floodgates, but ever since we have had a steady stream of disappointment in people I thought should be better than the other side.

I was wrong. We aren’t better.

And the truth is, atheism means so little to me. I could spend the rest of my life pretending like I believe if it put me in a community that treated people fairly.

Let that sink in.

I would rather be with believers who treat people well than with racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic atheists. Why? Because I am many things. Atheist is one small part. Nonbelief is insignificant because god isn’t real. People on the other hand, people are real. Feelings are real. Humanity is real, even if we haven’t yet fully defined it. Those tangible things I can hold onto, those fellow humans will always be more important to me than a silly little thing like whether god exists.

Atheism I can quit. I can’t give up on humanity.

We are treading water with history, my fellow atheists. We can choose to take the stand that social justice is important or we can fight against it tooth and nail. I made my choice. It’s time to make yours.

Abortion, two stories

I didn’t want to talk about this today. After all, I am supposed to be easing into this routine again. However, I read this piece called I Wish My Mother Had Aborted Me, and felt the need to get two stories out. Neither are terribly long, but hopefully they will give some background for the follow up thoughts on abortion.

When my mother was pregnant with her second child by a second father, she considered abortion. She was scared. She wasn’t married. The first father never even met his child. Mom was terrified and she sought counsel in her sister who had previously aborted a fetus. My aunt advised her against abortion, and months later I was born healthy and happy in the arms of a sick mother.

Maybe she wasn’t sick at first or maybe I was too young to know. Nonetheless her mental illness was brought wholly to the surface after trauma I won’t go into detail about here. Everyone tried to hide it from me with no success. I was seven when I watched her try to burn her face. Begging her to stop.  I remember her sitting with a bottle of aspirin talking one at a time till “god’s hand stopped her.” She had moments where it wasn’t so bad. She had moments where she was too drunk to care. She had moments where she was back to how I remember her in those first several years. She had moments that reminded me she loved us.The good memories kept me going.

Then she gave me up. Stuck to the man who both kept her alive and raped her daughter, she gave me to one of her sisters. I knew why she gave me up. I didn’t blame her for the weakness inside her. No, I loved her, called regularly and visited in the mental ward those times my stepfather wasn’t enough to keep her alive.

Those are some of the effects choosing not to abort had on my mother. There is no way to say whether choosing an abortion would have been better for her or not because truthfully I have also been a source of good for her much of the time.

There is no way to know if her choosing an abortion would have been better for me either. There is no well balanced scale of beauty versus bad in which to weight the moments of my life.

Time for the second story which will be significantly shorter.

I had an abortion. I didn’t want one. I was fighting like hell to have my first child. I miscarried my first pregnancy and my second moment of pleasant surprise was marred by the fact that the fetus was probably in my fallopian tube. Amidst excruciating pain and the new information that I was pregnant, I had to decide to take the shot that would help fully terminate my pregnancy. And truthfully, it wasn’t a super hard decision to make. Yes it sucked I was losing another pregnancy but there was no possible way I could carry one in my tube and to try would likely kill me.

So I did it and I went on with my life calling it a miscarriage because for the most part that is what the experience was. I call it an abortion now because there are some who will claim that I killed my baby by not letting nature take its course. I will take that all too often dirty word “abortion” and accept it without shame.

My mother and I have very different experiences with abortion. Really no experience with abortion is exactly the same. Some are easier. Some are harder. Some are thrust upon us with no good options.

Sometimes abortion is the selfish choice.

Sometimes abortion is the noble choice.

Sometimes abortion isn’t even a choice at all.

None of it makes the choice to end a clump of cells or a fetus with the potential for life good or bad, moral or immoral because none of it excuses for all the variables in the choice to abort. Morality is only so well defined for children.

I could make arguments all day about why abortion should be legal. I could make arguments about how bodily autonomy is as fundamental right, or how access to abortion helps income stratification. These are all argument about the relative morality of abortion as an implementable system of access. Today I have been talking about choices. I am talking about whether it is moral/immoral for a pregnant woman to have an abortion Which is an impossible question to answer. Morality is easier defined on the scales of systems.

On the scale of people though, on the individual choices we make with our own bodies morality is/can only be defined by ourselves. We are the only ones with enough knowledge to examine how good or bad our choice to abort is. It isn’t a simple choice for us to make but it is our choice to make it.

My take on this latest trope

WilloNyx covered most of this in the last post but I need to add some of my own thoughts.

So last night didn’t quite work out as I expected. I was trying to finish catching up on Twitter. I said a few thank you’s on Facebook. I was minutes away from the comfort of a warm bed. I saw a link from Thunderfoot. I saw the title “MISOGYNIST!” and I just knew it had to be good. I began to watch the video. A sharp, critical mind that had taken the time to read up on all the sexual harassment arguments could bring a new perspective. I watched some more. Ahhh, smart move I thought. Act like one of the asshats on the other side to help bring things into focus. Show them a refection of themselves and the ridiculousness of their position. I knew this was going to be good. The turn around was going to come any minute. Suddenly I realized his time was running out. Then it did. Did I miss something? Below the video was a link to a post at his FTB page. “There it was” I said to myself. Only it wasn’t.

The blog post was worse yet I still expected a gotcha moment. These were the same lame strawmen that people had been schooled over time and again in blog after blog, comment section after comment section. At this point there was no doubt that he was laying out these weak misrepresentations so he could plow them all down in one fell swoop at the end. (I never said I couldn’t be naïve.) My heart sank just a little when I got to the comment section. I was never what you would call a Thunderfoot superfan but I had watched many of his videos. This was a guy who obviously spent countless hours examining the arguments of creationists, watching their videos, understanding their positions before tearing them down. Yet he couldn’t be bothered to read any of the many discussions that had been taking place over the past year on a subject that he now took a hard stance on. And to top it off the stance he took was that of an dismissive, tone trolling douchenozzle. I couldn’t even bring myself to tell WilloNyx for a while. She hadn’t ever heard of Thunderfoot prior to him joining FTB. I advocated for the guy, told her that from what I had seen he was a badass, a skeptical heavy weight. I eventually had to tell her though because she asked why I was sitting in the kitchen saying “fuck” a bunch.

I agree with Willo. Things like sasquatch and crop circles and homeopathy are easy for skeptics. Those of us who advocate for skepticism are constantly asking others to suspend their sincere, sometimes zealous beliefs and opinions long enough to consider how they might be deluding themselves. Sure, most of us have done this ourselves at some point. Most of us have believed in some version of god. Many of us have believed very strongly in obviously ridiculous things. Telling others to overcome the ridiculous notions they cling to is easy. Overcoming belief in something that is obviously factually absurd is only slightly more difficult. Unfortunately it seems that we skeptics very rarely do that which we ask of others. We don’t turn that deep, critical light inward, to the parts of ourselves that are vulnerable. The parts that maybe define things about us. We pride ourselves on what we have overcome and maybe some of that was difficult. Yet here was an icon of modern skepticism that couldn’t be bothered to fucking understand the subject he was attacking at even the most basic level. It was as if he had scoured the comment sections of all the relevant blog posts since elevatorgate, collected only the misrepresentations and misunderstandings, intentional or otherwise, and distilled it all into a potent tincture.

This is the rift as I see it. Some of us continue to question our beliefs and opinions and some of us reach comfortable plateaus. When I see someone accusing those advocating harassment policies of not listening or not understanding the other side it reminds me of all those times I have been accused of not really understanding the Christianity I have argued against for so long. No amount of explaining would make my opponents realize that I understood it because I lived it for years. I dug myself out of it step by step. I understood it from the inside but, unlike them, I also understood it from the outside too and it was that deeper understanding, having both perspectives that allowed me to be objective and sympathetic at the same time. That’s what these so-called skeptics fail to grasp. We have all lived inside the culture that promotes misogyny and harassment. Most of us came of age amidst the attitudes and opinions we now argue against. Some of us even held the same opinions that those we argue against now hold. We have seen from the inside. We took the steps to question ourselves and we found those positions and opinions lacking in merit. Some still struggle with with moments of conflicting thoughts but we are honest enough skeptics to expose those thoughts to criticism, however uncomfortable. It isn’t unfair to ask people who would claim the label of skeptic to go that far. That is the bare fucking minimum one can do to claim that label with any amount of pride. Anything short of that and you’re just part of a club where everyone is congratulating each other for not believing in the fucking Loch Ness monster.



Skepticism, social justice, and me

I am going to my first skeptic convention in October, CSICon in Nashville, TN. I am totes excited at the opportunity given to me by the kindness of an (almost) stranger. My excitement at going seems a bit strange for me because I don’t automatically identify as a skeptic. I try to think skeptically, yes but I typically won’t ever use the term “skeptic” to describe myself. I describe myself as an atheist. I describe myself as a rational person (who sometimes flirts with irrationality). I describe myself as an activist. I don’t describe myself as a skeptic.


Well part of it is that the term “skeptic” as a label is a new concept to me. I live in a small town where almost everyone is a believer in some sort of nonsense. If they aren’t, they are too scared to talk about their lack of belief. I still find it amusing how many atheists live in my town that think they are the lone atheist in this godforsaken town. No one talks about their lack of belief here. I don’t do closets though.  Not being good at keeping quiet about the reality of me has subsequently opened the door for all those closet atheists to come out in my company. So I might know most of the non-believers here but it didn’t really occur to me that somewhere out in the big world there was  a collection of non-believers organizing to help teach the world how to think critically.

When I found my fellow non-believers, I also found new people called skeptics. I knew what it meant to be skeptical. I didn’t know what it meant to be a skeptic. I learned that most people who identify as skeptic were like me. They used empirical methods for evaluating truth claims in the world. I tried to do that. They made arguments against ESP, cryptozoology, homeopathy, anti-vaxers, tinfoil conspiracy theorists, and a shitton of stuff I already had arguments against or wanted good arguments against. So yeah, I could be a skeptic. It didn’t matter if many skeptics hadn’t made the leap to being similarly skeptical about their god. I mean we all have our blind spots. I just needed to try and be more cognizant of my own.

I was ready to call myself a skeptic. I was ready to go to skeptic cons and hear all these speakers talk about the bits of skepticism they found most motivating. I still was most motivated by atheism. I still found problems with the separation with church and state to be far more taxing than the neighbors who consult the tarot card reader for marriage counseling.

Then Elevatorgate happened. It didn’t deter me from wanting to join the movement but it did deter me from wanting to associate with some parts of it. Hell, it even motivated me a bit to be more vocal about my side. I mean there were problems here I could help address. This was something I could think skeptically about. I had nothing major vested in anyone. Then it continued for a year. I must have read enough about sexism in the atheism and skepticism movements to fill a bookshelf. Comment threads a mile long. I was ready for this fight.

Then people started arguing that skepticism isn’t about battling sexism, isn’t about combating racism, isn’t about tackling transphobia, isn’t about fighting homophobia. That the skeptics trying to address social justice problems in the movement were being divisive. That opinions on social justice were tearing skepticism apart. That those interested in dealing with these things are all well and good but should get off skepticism’s lawn to do so. That the intersection crowd are just trying to impose intersectional dogma upon the True Skeptics™. That we are going to ruin skepticism for all…Deep rifts…etc.

And all of it left me hanging. Do I want to join a movement that seems so Hell-bent on ignoring the things I consider important? If I join will skepticism end up fracturing along the fault line of social justice? Will I help it do so?

UFOs and Bigfoot are the easy shit.* I (we) can lol at it while pulling out the mountain of evidence in opposition. Our opinions though, our opinions are the meat, the heart, the struggle of skepticism. We are racist. We are transphobic. We are sexist. We are the sum of culture’s influence upon us. No person escapes the bigotry and bias of culture entirely.

Looking at those parts of us that are erroneously biased by culture is hard. It requires accepting that aspects of reality are sometimes measured in anecdotes. People are a collection of anecdotes. People cannot be measured in the same sense that liquids are measured. There is no rule book to humanity. Skepticism as it applies to social justice therefore is pretty messy. It is a dance full of nuance, indignation, apathy, and pleas for truces on all sides. Things like bigotry and harassment and trying to define them tends to leave a bad taste in skeptic’s mouths because much of the time the definition is shaped by the victims. The definition is measured by the effect it has on people. I mean that there is nothing wrong with insults except when there is something wrong with insults. There is nothing wrong with sex except when there is something wrong with sex. The definition is defined by experience because the definition is about experience and it is always messier in the middle.

So I get why some skeptics don’t want us to be involved with social justice. I get that social justice movements are sometimes at odds with each other and that examining them skeptically is fraught with difficulties. I understand if it is too complicated for those skeptics to differentiate between wrong and right so they throw their hands over their ears and say “I can’t hear you.” I get it. Change is painful.

What I want to say to those skeptics though is I am still joining this movement and I am not going to stop caring about skepticism as it applies to social justice.

If and when skepticism fractures along the line of crop circles and social justice, I won’t lament the loss of those who decided that admitting their facts were wrong was easier than admitting their opinions were wrong. I won’t look back in regret at the loss of those conservative skeptics. I will be on the progressive side of this movement feeling a little more comfortable in my self-applied “progressive skeptic” label than ever before. I will be over here watching the conservative side die off as it becomes progressively less relevant to the rest of the world.

*I don’t know whether to say thank you or fuck you to ThunderfOOt for the inspiration to finish the article when I got stuck right at this moment.

Not a safe space

Back from a much needed vacation and ready to write a short post. Yesterday I read the transcript of the Great Penis Debate translated by the wonderful Kate Donovan. I didn’t have time to watch and I am always grateful for transcripts because I have hearing loss in one of my ears.

One thing that irked me a great deal reading the transcript is the idea that when Rebecca Watson said skepticism wasn’t a safe space for women, she meant that skepticism was an “unsafe space” for women. That sentiment, that interpretation of Watson’s words was made throughout the debate but was concisely uttered by Travis:

But it’s being billed as an unsafe space.

Is it being billed as a “unsafe space” Travis? Is TAM or any other con being billed as “unsafe?” I don’t mean by commenters on blogs. I mean by bloggers themselves. Please direct me to bloggers that said TAM and/or other skeptic/atheist cons are unsafe for women. I don’t read all the blogs so I must have missed it somewhere.

Now that that is out of the way I want to talk about what is meant by “not a safe space” since I obviously don’t think Watson meant “TAM is unsafe” or “skepticism is unsafe” at least not any more unsafe than the general population.

hmmm. general population. that may be the key to the difference.

See, the general population is not what I call a “safe space for women.” What do I mean by that? At work, if I am sexually harassed by a coworker, I don’t feel confident that it will be dealt with when I report it. I have watched sexual harassment being reported. It wasn’t taken seriously.  Another example: If I am raped, If I am sexually assaulted, I am fairly confident that reporting it will result in slut shaming and victim blaming. I am fairly confident that my entire past sexual history will be cause for my rapist or assaulter to go unpunished, that it will be assumed I was asking for it.

To me for the general population to become “safe for women” it needs to take extra precautions to make sure that the current attitudes of a culture (you know that patriarchy) don’t prohibit women from seeking legal or even emotional recourse for those if’s that may come up. Creating a safe space for women in the general population may be having something like specially trained police to deal with victims of sexual abuse. It may be that a workplace has sexual harassment training periodically. It may even be a domestic violence shelter that has gone so far in making a safe space for women that it creates a “not safe space” or “unsafe space” for men genderfluid or transgender people.

Making the general population “safe for women” overall won’t happen until the culture changes. No matter how many rules we create, we also need to trust those rules will be enforced. So instead we carve out lots of little niches and claim some places as “safe for women” some places as “not safe for women” and some places as “unsafe for women.”

Like it or not, it is we women who get to decide for ourselves where a particular place exists on that “safeness spectrum.”  Watson’s words were describing her initial thoughts that skepticism existed on the safer than the general population end of the spectrum. She learned in the shitstorm following Elevatorgate that actually is wasn’t any safer than the general population. She learned that being a  skeptic didn’t automatically make you immune to misogyny. Being a skeptic didn’t automatically make you care about creating a safe space for women. She learned that skepticism is “not a safe space” where she can rest easy that everyone sharing the space with her cared about women enough to take us seriously on those pesky little issues of the he said/she said variety.

Yeah we all pretty much know that the general population is not a safe space for women. We know that women are damned if we do and damned if we don’t in most scenarios. What we seem to have a problem understanding is that the groups we are a part of aren’t necessarily any better than those we oppose on this issue. We seem to have a problem accepting that we skeptics and atheists are not better than everyone else like we thought we were. We seem to have a problem accepting that we are sometimes, maybe even often, wrong.

One way we are often wrong is when we insist that skeptics and atheist conventions don’t need extra precautions in place to protect attendee’s. When we insist that the extra steps to make women (not just women btw) feel safe are frivolous, when we ignore that it is those extra precautions that make a space safer than the general population, we become part of the problem. When many women say “we don’t feel taken seriously in this movement” and the movement responds by not taking us seriously or even blaming us for the drop in rates of women, that is a problem.

So yeah, skepticism isn’t a “safe space for women.” I want to help make it safer.

A day of Pride

After hearing a distant relative joke about meeting me down at the Upper Cumberland’s inaugural Pride Festival for “target practice,” I braced for the worst.

After reading the local trolls come out in full force threatening to picket/destroy our one day of celebration, I braced for the worst.

I was in for a surprise.

This is what we saw at Pride on May 5, 2012 in Cookeville, Tennessee:


















































And hope for the future


Some days I wonder where the world is heading. I hear/see the bigotry, and I brace for the worst. It is nice to be surprised.

Thank you to Tennessee Equality Project for help making this day of celebration a reality. Thank you to upwards of 700-800 LGBT and allies for joining us in celebration of identity. Thank you to bigots for staying home.


A few words

Tomorrow I hope to report on a wonderful day of fun and celebration at the UC Pride festival in Cookeville TN. I hope I can walk my children into the park and not have to explain to them why there are hateful people with signs, yelling and calling people names, threatening eternal torture with Hell fire. If I have to explain it I will. I don’t hide the world from them. They will learn that the intellectual ancestors of those same people held their bibles high as they hurled their hatred at slaves who dared to defy that bible and be free, that they were the same people whose religion justified segregation and who fought hard against women’s suffrage, who called interracial marriage an abomination to their god. My children need to know the world they have inherited. More than that, though, tomorrow I want them to see some of the good we have brought into the world. We have fought hard to be able to stand in the open and celebrate freedom and acceptance in a world where once people could only hide. They should be proud of that and so should you.

I’ve been sitting at home watching Cosmos and so I would like to lead into this weekend with some words from Carl Sagan:

In our tenure of this planet, we have accumulated dangerous, evolutionary baggage — propensities for aggression and ritual, submission to leaders, hostility to outsiders, all of which puts our survival in some doubt. We have also acquired compassion for others, love for our children, a desire to learn from history and experience, and a great, soaring passionate intelligence — the clear tools for our continued survival and prosperity.
Which aspects of our nature will prevail is uncertain, particularly when our visions and prospects are bound to one small part of the small planet earth. But, up and in the cosmos an inescapable perspective awaits. National boundaries are not evidenced when we view the earth from space. Fanatic ethnic or religious or national identifications are a little difficult to support when we see our planet as a fragile, blue crescent fading to become an inconspicuous point of light against the bastion and citadel of the stars.

And with that I bid you good night.

You can’t please these people, even by shutting up

The Day of Silence is this Friday, GASP!, and the religious fundies are up in arms about it. Americans United has a short piece about it here.

The premise behind the event is simple: Students attend classes but do not speak for the entire day. The Day of Silence isn’t sponsored by the schools. It’s run by students, often through a Gay-Straight Alliance Club that many schools now have. (Ironically, these clubs exist thanks to a federal law backed by Religious Right groups, which were eager to get Christian clubs into public schools.)…

Meanwhile, Religious Right groups like Focus on the Family and the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) are advocating a different tack: They are calling for a “Day of Dialogue” on April 19.

The Day of Dialogue website reads, “As a high school or college student, do you wish your classmates could hear more of the story – like the truth about God’s deep love for us and what the Bible really says about His redemptive design for marriage and sexuality? Wouldn’t it be nice if a deeper and freer conversation could happen when controversial sexual topics are brought up in your school?”

Dialogue is fine. I question the value of the “dialogue” when it’s simply fundamentalist students lecturing LGBT young people that they will burn in hell or that they can “pray the gay away.” If such activity rises to the level of bullying and harassment it’s definitely not acceptable. Groups like Focus and the ADF insist that they oppose bullying of LGBT students. In light of some recent bills we’ve seen in states that purport to address bullying and harassment in public schools but give an exemption if it’s based on “sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction” I’m not so sure about that.

Here’s one thing I am sure about: The public school students all over the nation who take part in the Day of Silence are doing it to make a statement (albeit silently) about an issue that concerns them. They are aware of the risk and are willing to deal with it. Their silence is no threat to any other student.

Only a true zealot would tremble in fear or sputter in rage in the face of silence.

I say don’t worry about how they respond. They don’t want people that are different than they are to exist and they won’t be satisfied until they can convince themselves that we don’t. Don’t give them the satisfaction.

A spoonful of sugar

TW for the quote below which contains a fictional account of the rape of a child.

“She made them all close their eyes and listen to her. She told them to pretend that little girl had blond hair and blue eyes, that the two rapists were black,  that they tied her right foot to a tree and her left foot to a fence post, that they raped her repeatedly and cussed because she was white. She told them to picture that girl layin’ there beggin’ for her daddy while they kicked her in the mouth and knocked out her teeth, broke both jaws, broke he nose. She said to imagine two drunk blacks pouring beer on her and pissing in her face, and laughing like idiots. She then she told them to imagine that little girl belonged to them– their daughter. She told them to be honest with themselves and write on a piece of paper if whether or not they would kill those black bastards if they got the chance. And they voted by secret ballot. All twelve said they would do the killing. The foreman counted the votes. Twelve to zero.”-A Time to Kill by John Grisham

There is this thing we tend to do as social creatures fighting for causes. We find examples and hold them up in the light so everyone can see the moral wrongness being imposed on various groups in societies.  We see those examples as role models. If the wrongs are severe enough they become our martyrs. They become the rallying point around which we affect change in the world.

Our opponents will scrutinize them. They will find every flaw possible and try to tear our martyr to shreds. And we will try to shine the most “positive” light possible upon them. Consider the Sandra Fluke incident. I spoke once how she laid bare her own versions of martyrs for women’s rights to access birth control. I spoke how she sacrifices the sluts for the immediate win. Then she herself gets deemed a “slut” and much of the world does the same thing Fluke did. They grab their martyr and say “look how normal innocent she is.”

This is not uncommon. Happens in just about every movement. It is dangerous, however.

I will say my thesis loud this time: When we normalize martyrs and role models we end up with a bunch of short-term victories that only delay real change.

I can’t imagine our tendency to normalize will go away anytime soon. It is something we do because we are social creatures evolved to group things into categories, often into in-group and out-group categories. I would like to make people think about this tendency so that maybe next time they won’t be so quick to accentuate the normalcy of their role models to the detriment of all the other “so very human” members of their movement.

Let’s look at examples:

I started with Sandra Fluke. I am going to lay out her story in a bit more detail. When she fights for birth control access, she completely ignores the root cause of why the religious right doesn’t want women to have reproductive freedom. See, the root cause, the big idea, the entire fucking point, is that the religious right (made up of patriarchy defenders) consider women to be subjugates who should not (as ordained by god) enjoy and/or have sex unless for the purpose of generating the patriarch’s offspring. So when Fluke defends her friends’ rights to medically necessary medication, she perpetuates the normalizing ideal that women shouldn’t have or even want to have sex for fun. She says “Ignore the sluts behind the curtain. Look at these pretty little specimens I offer you.”

Now I won’t say that Fluke’s  own choice to normalize the examples presented before the panel is a causal factor in Limbaugh’s choice to demonize her as a “slut.” First Limbaugh doesn’t think about social complexities to that degree (or any degree perhaps) and second, Limbaugh’s overall assholiness is typically explanation enough. I will say that there is a deeper underlying cause though. Something far less direct but still a perpetuating force in the whole “calling Fluke a slut” kerfuffle.  Would Limbaugh call Fluke a slut if being a slut was considered socially normal? I think not. Would Limbaugh have called Fluke a slut if being a slut was considered socially good? Absolutely not. There is no benefit to using slut as a pejorative if the word has no bearing in culture as a pejorative.

So all these years fighting for women’s rights in a plethora of spheres, we still haven’t even scratched the surface in showing that sex for fun is normal for women too. We haven’t scratched the surface because almost every time we hold up a role model for scrutiny in the fight against sexism, we oh-so-conveniently discuss her purity, her untarnished résumé as why the opposition is wrong.

It gets more dangerous. Consider the effect that allowing “slut” to remain a pejorative has.  Consider the purpose of Slut Walks. How often is a woman’s purity a question in the case of rape? Every single fucking time. And it wouldn’t be if those fighting sexism had been fighting for women’s rights to fuck indiscriminately this whole time. It wouldn’t be if all the women fighting for their own cause, refused to distance themselves from sluts and instead embraced sluthood as normal and right.

Instead we continue to normalize female purity, and demonize female promiscuity.

Next example:

I haven’t blogged about Trayvon Martin. Other people have done a far better job discussing the case and the racism that still permeates our culture. I am going to discuss it now. When media attention caught onto the Martin case, the first step was to normalize Martin. “He was a straight A student.” Because failing students deserve to be murdered. “He had never been to jail.” Because every one who has been to jail deserves to be murdered.

The backlash was similar to that of Fluke”s. Defenders of race privilege in the world found every possible way to demonize Martin. Victim blaming in full force. He deserved to get shot because black men in hoodies are scary. He deserved to get shot because he had marijuana in his pocket once.

He deserved to get shot because he wasn’t as normal innocent as black people are supposed to be to not be murdered.

The long-term normalization of role models and martyrs for causes in fighting race discrimination, had done little to fight racism for actual normal victims. We still think that if you don’t “shuffle your feet” enough then you are to blame for your own death.

Trayvon Martin’s murder is a horrible consequence of this own sort of normalizing, but if that isn’t enough, consider the recent murder and coverup by police of Kenneth Chamberlain, Sr. or the long list of victims on Crommunist’s blog.

Yet one more example:

This is the case of an extremely normative member of a particular movement versus the  rest of the members of the same movement.

In Canada, two forces in the fight for transgender recognition and rights, fought simultaneously for positive cisgender media attention. The first was Canadian Trans Rights Bill C-279 which would place gender identity and expression under the rightful protection of the Canadian Human Rights Act. The second was the disqualification of pageant contestant, Jenna Talackova, from the Miss Universe Canada beauty pageant.

Both events sparked petitions. Both events begged for attention. Both deserved attention but clearly one deserved attention more. The wrong one got the most attention. As of this writing, The Canadian Trans Rights Bill C-279 has 1,817 signatures. The Jenna Talackova petition has 42, 123.

Cisgender people (and transgender people as well) came out in droves to fight for the right of one trans person to be a role model for trans rights but refused to fight the larger battle for the actual rights of trans people in general. The blanket acceptance of trans people to have the day-to-day rights that cis people enjoy with impunity (like using the restroom or flying on a plane) lost out to the right of one trans person to do exactly one thing.

This is not to say that Jenna Talackova didn’t deserve the right to do that thing. She absolutely did. The thing is though, if this bill were to pass, all the future Jenna Talackova’s wouldn’t have to worry about being disqualified. They would be protected from the discrimination that disqualified her in the first place.

Privileged people of all sorts don’t want that though. Privileged people of all sorts are being taught they only have to swallow the uneasy medicine of tolerance if we coat it in sugar first.

And it only delays teaching them to swallow like adults.

The horrible consequence that this delay can have? Consider the rights of a young, trans girl in Germany. Alexis Kaminsky isn’t a cis normative knockout like Jenna Talackova. She is too young to narrow in those terms. Instead she is a girl, born with male genitals, who wants to preserve the option to transition with relative ease in later life. Alexis Kaminsky wants Lupron and currently authorities have deemed that she cannot have it. Authorities have deemed that she doesn’t fit into their frame of reference for what is “normal” and she therefore must be corrected to fit into that frame of reference. Because she must pay for the crime of being “not normal,” authorities want to force her to undergo ineffective and possibly damaging psychiatric  treatment while her body is forced to continue to develop in a gender that she is not. Because she must pay for the crime of being “not normal,” she might now pay for the crime of not even “passing for normal.” They have put her life in jeopardy because the possibility that a trans girl might pass for a cis girl and live in congruence with her body is too bitter a medicine for them to swallow yet.

I am going to discuss the quote at the beginning of this post.  Many people have probably heard something similar in the movie version of  A Time to Kill. I chose the book version for a particular reason, and it isn’t because it makes a better sound bite. In the book by John Grisham, the lawyer Jake Brigance is not the one that makes this point to the jury. Instead, it is voiced by a juror to the rest of the jury during deliberation. Now the point made in this quote would have been well sold as a closing argument (as it was in the film adaptation), but it would have been a huge shift in Brigance’s character to do so. Grisham writes the character of Jake Brigance as a one who stubbornly refuses to make the case about race. It is a stubbornness that I absolutely love to watch play out in Brigance. From the outset he views the vigilante justice enacted by a father protecting his daughter to be the lawful, right thing to do. Race in this circumstance is a context that doesn’t matter to Brigance and he refuses to let it matter despite how much every one else tells him it does.

And in all his stubbornness, Jake Brigance is wrong.

Because all these years we have normalized our martyrs. We have coated them in sugar and flavored them in just the right way, ignoring the fact that the medicine isn’t actually bitter. We have decided the easiest best way to demonize intolerance is to offer up the most “normal” members of oppressed groups up for scrutiny rather than demonizing the excessive scrutiny itself.

And it will continue to be this way if we don’t start telling the world:

Promiscuous women* don’t deserve to be raped.

Black people who don’t “shuffle their feet”* don’t deserve to be killed.

Trans children* don’t deserve to be forced into living in fear of cis on trans violence as adults.

*I won’t use the pejoratives here because I do not own them to rightfully use them. I want sexist/racist/transphobic people to know though that no matter how pejoratively you use the terms in order to demonize your victim before you victimize them, they are still the victim and you are the horrible monster.

In case I wasn’t clear

I will get a few things out of the way:

I am cis

I support trans people when they empathize  with “Die Cis Scum” or use it as a source of empowerment.

I support trans people that think that using “Die Cis Scum” as a tool for empowerment is too divisive for their tastes. I don’t agree. I still support their right to their methods and believe that they are still working toward the same goals I am working toward.

See how easy it is to be an ally to someone whom you don’t agree with on a particular issue while still maintaining your voice?

If you can’t, then I am sorry. I have no idea how to make that more clear.

Now I haven’t posted a full and complete defense of “Die Cis Scum” yet but I think now I need to clear up why I defend it so easily. After all, I am cis, and the sentiment targets cis people. I still defend it.

First I have to distinguish between the two things I am defending.

The tattoo itself is separate from Asher’s  post on the tattoo.

I see the tattoo itself as reactionary, an act of defense against a cruel world. I see it as a desperate measure by someone who is truly, deeply afraid that they may one day become a statistic. I see it as their way of saying “Fuck you. I won’t be afraid anymore.” I empathize with that feeling. I have had real reasons to fear and real reasons to hate those who cause me fear. I don’t see the tattoo as a communication with the world in any way. I see it as a communication with one’s inner struggle. I see it as reactionary and empowering in the same way I see “men are pigs” or “fuck the police” as reactionary and empowering.

Now you may see this tattoo in a different light, but this isn’t about all the possible ways that everyone may perceive this tattoo. Instead it is my attempt to make it clear to you why I support it.

I see Asher’s post on the tattoo completely differently than I see the tattoo itself. I see it as a communication with the world. I see the post as someone who is ready to take the very thing that helped keep them alive that empowered them to not become a statistic and use it to 1) empower other people and 2) teach us something.

It has been said that the only people alienated by this tattoo and post are cis allies. I absolutely agree that Asher’s post and the author’s tattoo will have little to no effect on the general transphobic population. Most people in the general cis population have no clue that “cis” refers to them. So when I read Asher’s post, I have to take that into consideration. Don’t you think the author knows which “cis” people will understand this or even read this post? The author absolutely knows this, so it begs the question of what the author is attempting to do with this knowledge.

Is the author trying to alienate cis allies? That seems a bit self destructive, so probably not. Is the author trying to warn cis people that they are in danger of reactionary violence? While it is expressly stated in the post that the tattoo is a threat, it seems a bit ridiculous to assume that anyone intent of killing cis people at random feels the need to warn them.

Perhaps the author is attempting to use a literary device to force the reader to feel something they wouldn’t otherwise feel. I am just going to go ahead and state that this is what I think the author in Asher’s post is trying to do. I think Asher’s post is not about an actual threat of the possible mass murder of cis people. I think the author realized the most effective way for cis allies to empathize with the struggle that trans people the world over face is by forcing said cis allies to walk in their shoes for the length of time it takes to read this post.

And maybe the author is willing to lose some cis allies in the hopes the ones who stay will have a better sense of what they are fighting for.

I feel like Asher’s post gave me that, and that is I why I support “Die Cis Scum.”