human rights

Interview for Bi Any Means

I sat down with Trav Mamone of Bi Any Means to discuss my book, my new vlog, disability activism, atheism, and more. You should take a listen if you get the chance.

Listening through the podcast I realized that I accidentally used  an expression I’ve been trying to eliminate from my vocabulary because of it’s ableist implications. A good reminder that even people who care about these issues make mistakes and it is up to us to make amends when we do. To those who were hurt, I apologize and endeavor to do better in the future. Mea Culpa. I’m sorry.

Teal Haired Ania Cartoon blushing and looking apologetic

I’m sorry

As such please note: CN for use of Insane as a pejorative.

Listen to the Podcast Here

The Totally Biased Guide to Canadian Politics for my American, UK, and Aussie Friends

How it works:

Each city is divided into ridings based on populations, so smaller cities might make one riding, sparse rural territories might only have 1 MP, and each of the territories only has 1 (which is fucked up and is a slap of Native People). Each riding votes for a Member of Parliament (MP) who becomes the riding’s representative in the House of Commons. The party with the most MPs in the House of Commons has their party leader become the Prime Minister of Canada (get it, first minister). The party with the second highest number of MPs becomes the Official Opposition. If there are more opposition MPs than there are leadership party MPs then it is a minority government, if they have more than half the MPs in the House, then it is a majority government.

The Parties:

The Conservative Party of Canada:
Leader:
Stephen Harper (Douche King of Douche Mountain) aka Canada’s Bush.

For comparisons sake, this party is akin to the Republicans in America, and the Tories in the UK (in fact, we call them Tories here too), and from what I understand the Liberals in Australia. Just to make this extra confusing.

A little bit of history: The Conservative Party of Canada is actually a relatively new party made up of former right wing parties including the Canadian Alliance, the Reform Party, and the Progressive Conservatives. There has been a “Conservative” Party of Canada since the British were here so they kept the name for branding sake.

The current leader of the conservatives has been Prime Minister now for a decade and his tenure has been one of shifting the whole country into a recession, taking away people’s rights, and generally putting this country in the shitter. Oh and he committed election fraud. Multiple times.

The Liberal Party of Canada:
Leader:
Justin Trudeau (Pierre Elliot Trudeau’s Son, is overly fond of reminding people of that.)

Justin Trudeau wearing Buck Dewey's glasses and hear from Steven Universe, with the Caption I'm Trudeau's son.

Akin to the Democratic Party in the US, though I would compare them to Hillary Clinton Democrats shifted more right of late. Possibly similar to the Labor Party for Australia. He voted in favour of the controversial and messed up Bill C-51, which is akin to the US’s Patriot Act. He’s young and considered by some to be handsome. Basically high school Jock Legacy running for Daddy’s seat, and ironically he’s not the one who’s Bush… that would be Harper. This party used to be the left’s primary party of choice however in the last several years they’ve shifted to the right in an effort to go after the conservative’s base. The irony being that in doing so, they lost a lot of their support on the left.

There was some hope with Trudeau since his father was the Prime Minister responsible for the Charter of Rights and Freedoms which is akin to the Bill of Rights. But his vote for C-51 helps strip Canadians of a lot of those very same rights, no matter how much he might bring up his father in conversation.

The New Democratic Party of Canada
Leader:
Tom Mulcair

The NDP used to be considered the fringe left party, kind of like the kind of people who would want Bernie Sanders to run. During the last election, they replaced the Liberals as the official opposition which was kind of a coup. This year, they have a real chance of winning the election if the left can get adequately mobilized, kind of like how Bernie Sanders seems to have a chance now that people understand how much we need to shift towards better social policies.

Tom Mulcair lacks the charisma of the former NDP leader Jack Layton, but the NDP is also offering the only real alternative to Conservative Party policies, especially now that the liberals are catering to the conservative base by supporting scary bills like this one. The NDP does have a strong history on a lot of these issues.

The Green Party of Canada
Leader:
Elizabeth May

The Green Party in Canada is like the green party everywhere. Consistently the party that has the best environmental policies and seems to align well with most social policies. Invariably though they also seem to be more connected to woo policies including those like anti-vax movements which is seriously scary for immunosuppressed people like me.

Elizabeth May however is often discriminated against and not allowed to participate in any of the leadership debates. In the Maclean’s one, where she was, she came off a lot better than any of the other politicians, probably because as a woman she is used to being cut off by men and so knows how to be succinct. A lesson more politicians would do well to learn, perhaps by not talking for a while. Her history includes failing radically on issues relating to victim blaming, see also the Jian Ghomeshi Rape Case.

The Bloq Quebecois
Leader:
Gilles Ducceppe

Conceptually closest to the Scottish National Party. Their aim is essentially for Quebec to separate from Canada to become its own country. The support for this movement gains and recedes depending on what is going on at the time. Although they really only exist in Quebec, they have been the official opposition before since Quebec is a major population center in Canada. When that happened, Lucien Bouchard, who also was famous for losing his leg to Flesh-Eating Disease, made it party policy to only speak French in the House of Commons: a policy which is in place till this day.

They are relevant enough to mention.

The election is to be held on October 19, 2015. If Harper wins, I’m moving to New Zealand.

Unpacking the Red Pill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE BEAUTY AND THE BEAST OF ABUSE

TW: Discussions of Abuse

A graphic related to Beauty and the Beast has been making the rounds again. It discusses a different perspective of the movie, which suggests that rather than a representation of domestic abuse and Stockholm syndrome, that the movie represents the force of finding that special someone when you are socially outcast and isolated. It describes how both the Beast and Bell exist in social isolation. In the case of one, because of his monstrosity and in the case of the other as a result of being an avid reader and thinker in a town in which the social convention is for women to avoid books.

This graphic has some interesting ideas, but I think that even while what it said there is true, it is also important to discuss how that truth doesn’t invalidate the legitimate criticisms regarding the abusive elements of the Beast and Belle’s relationship.

The beast might be a social outcast because of the way he looks, but the way he looks is a result of his refusal to give shelter to an old woman for the night. It was meant to teach him not to judge people based on their appearance, and in the older stories it was also a punishment for being a mean-spirited and selfish brat.

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A World Gone Comfortably Mad

Anyone who has played Dungeons and Dragons with me knows that my favorite themes and monsters always tie back to the aberrant.  The D&D category of “aberrations” is where the particularly bizarre composite creatures, the monsters with mind-control powers, and monsters that manipulate the forms of others tend to be.  Here reside the giant paralytic tentacle-caterpillars, formless multiple-minded masses with the ability to attack through moveable portals, and mounds of flesh that constantly shriek alien curses from their thousands of mouths.  It is difficult to beat their thematic potential and stage presence, even with such iconic creatures as manticores and sphinxes.  Fantasy adventurers who encounter an aberration don’t get to dismiss it as “we fought a dragon”—they always require a description.

In recent years, these strange creatures became not just strange for its own sake, which is good enough, but strange in a cosmic sense.  Recent editions of Dungeons and Dragons, as well as dozens of other fantasy properties, draw on the fictional universes created by H. P. Lovecraft to provide background for their aberrations.  Once upon a time, many of these aberrant creatures simply were, but now, most of them are implicitly or explicitly tied to a distant dimension whose laws bear no resemblance to those of the rest of the cosmos; owe fealty to alien masters that wish to unmake the universe; break the minds of those who attempt to understand them; or otherwise unsubtly nod to the antics of Lovecraft’s creations.

Lovecraft’s fiction first appealed to me as an atheist.  Lovecraft had no fondness for religion, and few of the religious characters and themes in his fiction say anything good about any variety of it.  Deeper than that, though, the central conceit of Lovecraft’s world is that the underlying nature of reality is far beyond humankind.  Lovecraft’s world is not for us.  Earth is a blip in a teeming cosmos; life on earth is the youthful dalliance of an insignificant planet.  A full description of Lovecraft’s universe begins eons before the emergence of humankind and proceeds for millions of years after the last human is forgotten.   Humans are a footnote, tiny against the cosmic impact of creatures such as the Elder Things and the Great Race of Yith, and still smaller against the power of beings like Cthulhu, Nyarlathotep, Hastur, and Azathoth.  These beings command forces utterly beyond the physics known to Lovecraft’s humans, reshaping life into new servile forms and manipulating hidden dimensions of space.  To all of these creatures, humanity is a diversion at best, and a distraction at worst; our irrelevance to them is as the irrelevance of seaside huts to a tsunami, or, sometimes, as deer to a hunter.  Learning that the commanding forces of the cosmos have no affection or regard for humanity and would no more consider us in their actions or goals as an earthquake does is the final straw that undoes the sanity of numerous Lovecraft protagonists, the truth that fills his stories with their supposed horror.

I always found the thought…comforting.

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The Violence of the Mental Health Excuse

It’s become a trope. A white man is involved in a shooting, and within moments people are rushing over themselves to call him mentally ill. Sometimes this happens even before there is a suspect on which to pin the label. There are several cartoons and memes out there depicting the trend, and comparing it to the coverage received by people of colour in similar circumstances.

Whenever people are called on it however, there is always someone rushing in to defend the idea claiming that no “sane” person would commit such a heinous act of violence. That that level of obsession, that level of hatred, could only be the result of there being something mentally wrong with a person.

I understand why we need to believe that. Growing up listening to tales of good and evil, the villain is always readily identifiable. Whether an underground network of evil super villains, the wicked witch, or even just the bully at school, there is always some way of telling who the bad people are. To borrow from Christian mythology: some mark of Cain identifying the evil inside. (more…)

ABLEISM CHALLENGE

CN: For Ableist slurs.

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

Why does this matter?

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

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

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

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

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

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The Problem With Gay Marriage

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

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

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

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

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A Crowbar for Normalcy

There are people out there who have a problem with “labels.”  I’ve dealt with them on several occasions, to point out that some identities cannot so easily be set aside and to point out that, a lot of the time, their pretense of being unlabeled is a front for something altogether more horrid.  There’s something else in the conversation about labels, though, something that intersects with the idea of self-identification and the idea of normalcy to show us why some words are vitally important even when no one chooses them for their own.

I bear many labels.  I am not “just a person.”  I am a Hispanic, American, transfeminine, female, atheist, ex-Catholic, D&D-player, aquarist, student, feminist, skeptic, progressive, and lots of other things, on top of being a member of Homo sapiens.  Every one of these things that give me experiences I share with some people and not with others.  Having a noun for each of these affiliations eases the task of finding those who have similar histories, values, and interests, replacing a cumbersome tangle of “I do these things” and “I know that feeling” multiplied dozens of times.  This is a natural evolution of language, at least in English, by which the Californian descendants of migrants from Oklahoma became “Okies,” aficionados of Doctor Who became “Whovians,” and those who buy binoculars and cameras to witness the behavior of wild dinosaurs became “birders.”  Other connections and similarities build around these terms and the groupings they represent, and they become identities.

This, I have learned, certain incredibly privileged people face with consternation.  They see this array of defined difference and segmented identity and see in it the seeds of future conflict.  Why do we need to be all of these other things, have all of these other affiliations, recognize ourselves as things other than “just people”?  Aren’t all these labels “divisive,” separating us from our fellow humans with a line between “us” the Hispanics, birders, otakus, sapeurs, Qizilbashi, lesbians, and liberals and “them” the white people, herpers, film geeks, goths, Uzbeks, straight women, and socialists?   Doesn’t recognizing oneself as distinct in this way automatically separate oneself from others and therefore prevent us from recognizing what we have in common with them, leading immediately to their demonization and dehumanization?  Why can’t we all be “just people”?

These are the folks who think that QUILTBAGs disappearing back into our closets would “solve” our oppression.  For if we can no longer be identified, how can we be targeted for violence and discrimination?

That is what this rhetoric is: an attempt at erasure.  This rhetoric is pointed specifically at people who differ from a perceived norm, for daring to recognize and then not be ashamed of that difference.  It is pointed even harder at people who notice that their membership in one of these minorities is related to hardships they face, because even noticing that pattern, let alone seeing it as something that ought to be addressed, requires recognizing some people as being different from others.  The endgame of this line of thinking is to erase people’s experiences of difference and especially oppression by denying them the voice and language needed to express those experiences.  It is not the majority who loses the ability to talk about itself when people with certain commonalities abandon the best linguistic tool for finding one another: it is the minorities.

When we are “all just people,” what we get is “we are all the majority.”  To bury the breadth of humanity under “we are all just people” is to pretend that the loudest of us can speak for everyone—for, if we are all just people, why would it ever matter which one we ask about something?

This brings us to a labeling bogeyman that has gotten vastly outsized attention over the past forty years: “cis” and its derivatives.

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