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Thursday, October 27, 2016

Why Do So Many White People Get Upset by "Safe Spaces" for People of Color?

This article originated as a response to this Tumblr thread, where a lot of white people were upset by the idea of safe spaces for people of color, as described by this article by Aeman Ansari.

A lot of white people who think safe spaces (and the like) are racist were raised with the idea that racism is resentment/bigotry against people of a different race than yourself. I know that I was.

I believed that so deeply that when I attended my first anti-racist workshop in high school, I was incredibly defensive and didn’t listen. It took years to realize that what I’d been taught about racism was wrong. Not only wrong, but actually harmful.

What we white people have been taught about racism in school and in our families is a lie that’s actually meant to stop progress in dismantling racism.


Imagine someone beats you and your friends up every day, and one day you say, “I can’t stand being beat up. I think me and my friends should get together and talk about how we feel about this and what we can do to make it stop.” But all of a sudden, all the folks who beat you all up daily are complaining because they think it’s just as wrong for you to have a separate group to talk about what to do about them. And all those people’s friends are defending them too. They want to come to your group, too, and express their feelings, like how they’re sad because they feel like you’re pointing the finger at them when they didn’t even do it, it was their friend who did it. Suddenly your group is overrun by your attackers and the friends of your attackers, who all want a turn to say how it feels to feel so attacked and victimized by your group’s existence.

And yet, the next day after your group, you and your friends still get beat up. You didn’t get a chance to talk about what to do, because you were so busy with the feelings of people who felt upset because you formed your group and excluded them from it. You tell the friends of your attackers, “Hey, why don’t you talk to your friends instead? Help them understand they have to stop attacking us. You say you sympathize, so please, help us change things.”

And they say, “Hey, this shouldn’t be our responsibility. We didn’t attack you.”

It doesn’t take long to figure out that these friends-of-the-attackers don’t really want you to make any progress at all. Because anything you can do that works to solve the problem, they don’t like it. They even make up theories about how if you would just stop mentioning the problem, it would stop. You’re perpetuating it by talking about it, they say. You should really just stop pointing the finger.

And every day, you and your friends still get beat up. But now you’re not even supposed to mention it. Somehow, someday, this will solve the problem, according to the buddies of your attackers.


The lie that white people have been taught about racism is that it isn’t our fault, either individually or as a group. If it isn’t our fault, it isn’t our responsibility, and we can go on tearing down people of color when they try to speak out.

We can turn their logic against them and insist that them talking about being attacked, or oppressed, or undermined, is the same as the act itself. We can try to undermine every way that people of color try to change the situation. Unfortunately, that’s what we usually do.

The scary and awful truth is that racism is something that white people did to the rest of the world. It’s not bigotry against people who are different - it’s a whole complex ideology of lies about why white people are superior and deserve more, going back hundreds of years. It’s always been about making white people, specifically, superior in society.

People of color did nothing to bring this on themselves. It’s not a battle with wrongs on both sides. It’s a systemic, complicated, economic and social war that our white ancestors waged to make sure they, and we, their descendants, came out on top.

It’s still going on, today. So if you do want things to be better, you can start by supporting people of color in the ways they fight this battle, even when it makes you uncomfortable. No, you’re likely not going to feel ‘included.’ You can’t decide how people of color fight, and sometimes you might hear things said about white people that hurt your feelings or make you feel uncomfortable.

Recognize that this is necessary, it’s a side effect of things that have to happen so that the situation can change. In fact, it's even a crucial part of a change you can make within yourself so that you can stop accidentally fighting for the side of the attackers, and start making space for the resisters, start speaking to other white people about racism, and start helping a better world into being.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Google Privacy Controls Suck (Or Why There Are No Pictures Anymore)

Apparently, there are very few working images left on this blog. This was entirely unintentional and doesn't indicate that I've decided to neglect this blog. Rather, it's because Google's privacy controls for pictures suck, as a result of their decision to push their Google+ product to the detriment of their users.

As you may know, Google introduced their social network, Google+, to a fairly unenthusiastic response, and ever since then they have been trying to push it by linking the social media profile to every piece of content created or interacted with by that user using the Google email account associated with the profile. This can lead to content ending up centralized in the profile that the user may not have intended.

While this may not comprise a privacy violation in the strictest sense, it can pose problems that did not exist before, as media associated with a single email address is aggregated in one, highly searchable location. The most problematic aspect of this for me was the Pictures tab, where all images from all blogs that I have ever contributed to (and there are quite a lot) were aggregated on a profile that I would have very much liked to have used as a professional representation of myself and my non-LGBT-related small business. Having content associated with my critiques of the internal functionings of the LGBT community or the BDSM scene were not appropriate to have on my Google+ profile together with content I've generated for client blogs and so forth. While I don't expressly hide these aspects of my life, the way they were presented on the Google+ profile made them seem like work I was promoting in association with that profile.

Accordingly, I deleted them from the albums. Google did not offer a warning that they would also be deleted from my blogs; in fact, they explicitly used the term "album" during the deletion process, as if to indicate that the pictures existed in two locations, the album and the blog. In part, I was also doubtful that by deleting the pictures from my profile, I would be deleting them from my blogs, because that just seemed like too irresponsible, careless, and unintelligent a way to organize their system. Of course people would want to delete some pictures from their profiles without affecting their blogs.

Yet, of course, Google's rush to force the use and relevance of their social network had abrogated the concerns normally applied to the handling of users' media by a social network. Typically, when using a media-sharing website, users are reminded that, if deleting content, it will also be deleted in other locations where it appears, if that is the case. Instead, with Google+, a basic respect for users' content, and desire to control the locations in which it appears,  is entirely absent.

In some cases, I have backups of the pictures from this blog, and in other cases, I may have hidden the pictures instead of deleting them. I will restore what is available as I'm able to. What's worse, I will have to deal with the issues of further picture uploads to this and other blogs I contribute to or may contribute to in the future and how those will appear on my Google+ profile. It may be simpler to simply not have a Google+ profile at all if it's too difficult to control -- a reaction opposite to that that Google+ developers would have hoped to inspire.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Why You Should Say "Cis"

The word "cis" or "cisgender" has been growing in popularity recently. While the terms have been around for some time, it is only recently that they have broken into the mainstream discourse. Some people are understandably confused about what these relatively new terms mean, and some people are surprised to find themselves called "cis" or "cisgender" by trans people.

The word 'cis' was coined by trans people in order to describe people who were not trans, and this was done because no word existed to describe them. Though one could say 'non-trans,' this defines people as what they are not, and is ultimately unwieldy. The other option would be something like "normal," "real" or "biological."

Cis people did not have a word to describe themselves as a group, prior to the invention of the word "cis," besides words like "normal," "real," or "biological." All of these words are transphobic and inappropriate. Trans people are not abnormal, less real, or non-biological. Prior to the invention of the word/prefix "cis," there was no word for non-trans people that did not stigmatize trans people in some way.

Trans people used some other words to describe non-trans people, prior to the emergence of the word "cis" into mainstream usage. These include "genetic (girl/boy/man/woman)" and "natal (girl/boy/man/woman)." Neither of these formulations are particularly viable. The genetic prefix puts the focus on bodies and chromosomes, neither of which are a helpful focus for meaningful trans liberation. In order to use genetic as a type of classification system for trans/non-trans people, we would have to assert that some genetic configurations create womanhood or manhood naturally, while other men and woman must be created in another way.

A more liberated perspective asserts that genes operate independently of internal gender identity; that is, an XX set of chromosomes does not inherently result in a female, feminine, or "woman" identity, and visa versa.  This is our perspective.

As trans people, we have decided that our liberation is best served by emphasizing gender identity as being much more important than genetic code or types of chromosomes. We have emphasized the human, social experience of gender, rather than the biological underpinnings of chromosomal sex. This is a more humane and human perspective, and as time goes on, terms like "genetic girl" or "natal female" are falling to the wayside quickly.

Additionally, there are other problems with terms like "real," "biological," "natal" or "genetic" to describe how one came to one's gender. To use terms like "genetic male" is confusing in terms of genetic diversity-- plenty of trans-identified and non-trans-identified people, are intersex (see the post and comments here for more on the intersex/trans distinction.). Whether someone identifies as male, female or another non-binary identity stands apart from their genetics and their sex as assigned at birth.

And what's more, many people do not identify as male or female, man or woman-- such as genderqueer, gender variant, two-spirit, non-binary, third gender people and many others. The natal/genetic identity prefix was only meant to encompass the distinction between a binary-identified (exclusively man or woman identified) transitioned or transitioning trans person, and a binary-identified cis person. It comes from an earlier time when non-binary gendered people were still very much hidden and not understood.

Some people are concerned that cis is not well-defined, and shouldn't be used-- or that it sets up a new binary of sorts. Simply put, cis means someone who was assigned a certain sex at birth, raised in the socially corresponding gender, and continues to identify as such. A person who is assigned female at birth (generally, based on the doctors', parents' or nurses' evaluation of that baby's genitalia), raised as a girl, and identifies as exclusively as a girl, woman, or female, is cis. A person who is assigned male at birth (based on the doctors', parents' or nurses' evaluation of that baby's genitalia, and possibly their chromosomes), raised as a boy, and identifies as exclusively as a boy, man, or male, is cis.

Is it just that simple? Nope, sorry. Life is complicated. Here's the deal:

Some people are not clearly cis or trans. For example, some people do not feel comfortable claiming that they are trans, but also do not feel that they are cis. They occupy a middle area. Perhaps they have some feelings of identifying with the sex other than the one assigned them at birth, but they are not sure how strong those feelings are, how much they affect their life, or what they wish to do about them.

While these individuals deserve the same compassion, support, and where possible, access to trans spaces that trans people do, this does not negate the usefulness of the categories "trans" and "cis" any more than the color green negates the usefulness of the categories "blue" and "yellow." Complexity will always exist, but that doesn't mean that words or concepts are useless. It's okay to not be either cis or trans, just as it's okay to not be either man or woman. It means that when conversations about privilege are happening, people who are neither cis nor trans will need to parse those conversations more carefully and more individually. Some things may apply to them, some not.

Additionally, some people who have fully transitioned no longer identify with the word "trans" or "transgender." They do not experience themselves as part of the conceptual meaning of "trans" (to go across, or to transcend, or to be on the other side of). They also may not see themselves as cis.  Additionally, some people, regardless of their transition status, do not like the word "trans" and prefer "affirmed male," or "affirmed female." All of these people should be supported in their chosen use of language for themselves, but this also does not negate the usefulness of terms like "trans" and "cis" in many situations.

Some feel that words like "trans" or "cis" just divide us further. "We are all just human beings!"

Words like trans and cis are necessary, not to divide us, but because we already are divided. Unfortunately, trans people are divided from cis people by our life experiences in critical areas like access to jobs, medical treatment, social acceptance, safe housing, freedom from violence, and the ability to live in, and be seen as, the gender(s) with which we identify. (Other kinds of oppression, such as being a person of color, being disabled, &c. play a great role in producing inequalities as well. When compounded with being trans, disparities between populations are even larger and systemic violence is also more extreme.)

Trans people, and often trans women in particular, face serious disparities (inequalities) in mental and physical health and economic well-being. A wealth of statistics now verifies that trans people face serious barriers in many aspects of life. One in five transgender people in the U.S. have been refused a home or apartment, and more than one in ten have been evicted, because of their gender identity (source). 41% of trans people have attempted suicide (source). Trans people are medically insured at a lower rate than the general population, and almost 50 percent of transgender respondents have postponed medically necessary care for financial reasons or because they were afraid of encountering discrimination from providers (source).

Without words like "trans" and "cis" we cannot discuss these disparities as effectively, and without being able to discuss them, we cannot work for change. If we cannot work for change, we are powerless to make the lives of trans people better. Our allies know that words like "trans"and "cis" are tools to fight inequality and uncover systemic violence and discrimination against trans people. Language is one of the best tools that we have-- if we can't say it, we can't think it, and if we can't think it, we can't even begin to act.

Some people feel that they simply don't like having a label or additional identity. It is understandable that some people do not want to be labeled--either as trans or as cis. It is important to understand that trans and cis are not identities. That is, they are not usually thought of as gender identities, the way that "woman," "male," or "genderqueer" are.

Instead, they refer to states of being and often to gender histories. A person may identify as a woman, and also be cis. In this case, woman is her gender identity, and cis describes the way her womanhood is culturally situated. Because she is cis (assigned female at birth, raised as a girl, and identifies as a woman) it is likely that she experiences privileges that trans women do not, depending on her culture and how that culture views gender. For example, she may be able to use the women's restroom in public areas without fear of being kicked out by security personnel. This is not because she is a woman, but because she is a cis woman.

The word "cis" is our best way to describe the social position this woman occupies that allows her to access this privilege. It gives us a way to ask: If two women share the same race, are abled or disabled in the same ways, come from the same economic background, and so forth, why would one woman possess the privilege to freely access the women's room, and the other would do so only with justifiable fear and apprehension? Our simple answer, in this case, is that one is trans and the other is cis. These words don't label gender, they label the social position that these gender identities occupy.  They give us power by naming a type of inequality in our society.

BDSM is Not Immune to Rape Culture: Part 2/2

This is the second part of a two-part article. The first part is here.

Some people promote the idea that someone who is “sexually liberated” is necessarily interested in BDSM, power play, or similar kinds of “kinky” activities. The truth is, sexual liberation—and liberation in general—doesn’t depend on taking part in particular activities with your sexual partners. What is liberating is to do what you (and, if applicable, your partner or partners) genuinely want to do! Sexual liberation can look any way at all, including not having any sex, just having sex in a committed relationship, only having pretty traditional kinds of sex, or having wild and creative sexual escapades. The key is doing what makes you feel comfortable (and if there are other people involved, what makes everyone comfortable).

While the BDSM community offers many opportunities for self-exploration, it can also serve to funnel people's diverse and creative desires into two main expressions-- submission and dominance. This succeeds because the BDSM scene is able to promote the notion that these are the foundations of kink, and any kinky desires must be somehow related to dominance and submission, sadism and masochism. In fact, kinky or non-traditional desires are infinitely diverse!

Unfortunately, the BDSM scene does not have a vested interest in exploring the ways that it is coming up short sometimes, especially in terms of providing structural cover for sexual assault and domestic violence, harboring abusers and rapists, and pressuring people in various ways. In soliciting feedback for this story, I allowed anonymous submitters to share their experiences with consent violation. Here is one submission:

I've been very fortunate that my experiences have been very positive, surrounded by a very safe community who are very strict about their policy of "don't touch what isn't yours, and don't touch what hasn't given you permission". In private, however, I did have an experience in which I stated something as a hard limit (meaning a total No-No) and it was violated. I felt hurt, betrayed, and dirty. It ruined my trust in him, and in playing with others. It should have never happened.

People's experiences with BDSM vary widely. Some have had such positive experiences that they hate to hear anything negative said. Others have had negative experiences, but protect themselves from having to acknowledge them and feel their impact by defending the BDSM community against any allegations that it  too is part of rape culture.

If you are interested in exploring a “kinkier” side to your sexuality, it’s important to know, first of all, that there are many ways to do so that don’t require you to hand over power to someone else. For example, sexy outfits, using sex toys, costumes, role-play, playing with heat or cold, spanking, cross-dressing, etc., can be done in an atmosphere of fun, mutual trust, and equality. Even something as “BDSM-sounding” as bondage doesn’t have to have a serious power dynamic. For example, although we might think of being tied up as inherently “submissive,” restraint can be understood in many ways (For example, in everyday life, being restrained by the seatbelt in the car isn’t about dominance—it’s about safety and security. One idea, like “restraint,” can be used in many ways!) It’s up to everyone involved to decide the mood and the kind of words, ideas, and roles that are going to be used. 

However, of course, some people will explore this idea and realize that what they really want, still, is power play.  This may include role play in which one partner has power over the other. That often includes things like bondage, pain, or humiliation. These situations can be extra-challenging in terms of consent. Whatever the activity, it is very important prioritize genuine consent, and never to pressure partners into doing something that makes them uncomfortable. On the other hand, if it is you that is uncomfortable, listen to your gut. Never allow a partner to convince you that you need to do something in order to be a good partner, to be sexually liberated, or because they are "dominant."  Never, ever do something simply because it is what you feel you have to do to be a "good dominant" or " good submissive."It is always up to you. Trust yourself!

It’s also okay if you have consented to something in the moment and afterward realized that it didn’t feel right to you. Consent has many dimensions. One of those dimensions is what you may say out loud (“Yes”) and another is how you feel inside—before, during, and after. It’s possible to realize, after the fact, that you actually feel that you shouldn’t have said yes. This doesn’t necessarily put the fault on the other person involved (unless, of course, they were coercive or abusive, or used alcohol or drugs to get a “yes.”) Instead of seeing consent as something contractual and legalistic, it’s healthy to evaluate consent on an ongoing basis. Processing these issues together with a partner can even lead to better and more fulfilling experiences, or even the choice to stop having sex together if that is what is best for both of you. Real sexual liberation means that you have the power to make those choices.

Sexual roles, like dominant or submissive, are only roles at the end of the day. They are sets of socially constructed characteristics-- often constructed along the same exact lines as traditional gender roles. While for some it might be tempting to be submissive or dominant all the time in daily life, we are all called to be full human beings, able to assert ourselves, stand up for what we need, and care for and respect others. This requires some time when we’re not in a “role” and are able to just be ourselves. 

Some people engage in relationships that omit (or have less of) this kind of "outside-of-the-role" time. These are called 24/7 (because they're going on all the time) TPE (total power exchange) relationships. These kind of relationships can meet some needs and stifle others. Though there is not enough talk of this issue in the community itself, BDSM relationships don't exist beyond the possibility of abuse, and certain conditions of BDSM relationships can remove safeguards that might have existed to lessen the possibility of abuse or to stem the rise of a dominant partner's controlling tendencies.

Some people who have been in 24/7 relationships have unfortunately had them degenerate into controlling, abusive, or sexually violent relationships. This is never the victim's fault. Often, people are misled into thinking that they need these kinds of relationships in order to satisfy needs, to satisfy their partner, or to fix themselves or feel better.

EvanExhumed, a former submissive participant in a 24/7 BDSM relationship, writes: "[In my previous relationship] I let myself fall far too deep. It became unhealthy and abusive overtime. My current relationship is exactly what you describe in your last sentence [about "trust and love and infantilism."] It's really great. I don't feel consumed. I'm really happy. I feel in control still but, I sometimes let myself go. I feel equal. I feel that my pleasure is just as important as hers. I don't feel guilty for receiving something."

No matter what interests you sexually, remember to listen to yourself and your partner. Even though we say “yes means yes,” it’s crucial to move beyond just “getting consent” and start creating, together with your partner(s) or alone, the kind of situations that make you both feel thrilled, enthusiastic, and comfortable.

Friday, July 18, 2014

You Can Tell Me if You Feel Shitty

We lie. Everyone does, and people with chronic illnesses do. I lie to my family and my friends when I can tell by their voices that they really want me to be doing well. When they say, "You must be feeling so much better now that the weather is warm!" I say, "Yeah, sure, it's good, it's okay." Even if I'm mid-relapse and thought about suicide twice yesterday because my body hurt and I started to think it always would.

And I lie to doctors sometimes when they really, really want their new treatment to have worked. And it didn't, not really. But I'll say that maybe it was a little improvement. Maybe 5%. Maybe it made a difference.

Maybe I should stop lying.

I don't want to lie, and I don't want you to have to, to feel that you have to, either. You can tell me if you feel shitty. If I say, "I hope you're feeling better," you can say, "I'm not. I feel like death. I feel like utter, complete shit and I can't imagine ever feeling better." And I can say, "Shit, I am so sorry you feel that way." And if we're close, I can suggest ways for you to think about things  that you have done in the past that helped, and I can offer help to you so that you can get what you need. That's what I'd want you to do for me.

 Here's the thing about listening: We can hear what people say, and really listen to their reality, without necessarily accepting their conclusions. When I'm feeling really sick, I often think to myself that I may not get better again, I may never have another upswing. For my particular illness, that is very unlikely. Much likelier that I will feel better again. Much likelier that I have forgotten a crucial element of my self-care routine or medication routine. But I will never figure that out if I have to keep telling people I'm okay. I need to say, sometimes, that I am really not okay. I need to say that so that I can say, "What do I do, now? What do I need to fix?"

And likewise, I need to know if you are feeling shitty so that I can hear you say what's wrong. And maybe you will tell me it's all hopeless, and I need to hear you and accept what you feel without accepting your conclusions. I need to be able to remind you that it's not necessarily hopeless. I need to remind you about picking up your meds. I need to remind you about your sister or your friend or your mom or your therapist who would be glad to talk to you and help if you just call. I need to remind you about your savings account that's meant to help with just this sort of thing. I need to remember the things you forgot about, because we all have a very selective vision about our own options, when we feel really bad.

So tell me if you are feeling shitty. Maybe we can figure something out.