a lil existential poe-rose

before consciousness, self awareness, and abstract thought

there was no freedom because there was nothing to be free from-
but only in the sense that everything was already free

frighteningly, uncontrollably, inexorably, free

caring about dying is animal still
and building mechanisms to prevent it is instinctual too

freedom from inanimate objects is pointless,
just as much as needing it from the animals around us…

the only thing we need to be free from is control

that, and the things no one can control

Advertisements

I get pissed off! (About rape culture)

George Carlin is a heavy influence in my understanding of humanity and our workings within the universe. Man was brilliantly on top of our interconnections with each other, our own behavior, and our environment. He was also unbelievably, sharply observant of realities and truths that no one else seems to have been able to match in terms of being able to articulate them in a way that the rest of us could appreciate without being steeped in shame or fear of repercussion because he knew we are all subject to the culture and environment we live in. He was on drugs sometimes too, but his astuteness was not terribly diminished by that. At any rate, one time he got so riled up, he just stopped and said “well I get pissed off Goddamnit!” thus the title of this post.

I’ve been salty as all get-out in my life, pissed off beyond belief, or whatever other fun terms you care to apply to fits of rage or aggravation… and like most folks from my general cultural area, I eventually resort to what’s affectionately known as the “F-bomb”. And at least for me as an adult, I wanted an expletive that captures the sentiment I felt, so as not to act out in an even worse way, like starting physical altercations. I’ve screamed the F bomb at the top of my lungs, spat it out in disgust and used it in jokes as part of youthfully excessive vernacular, aside from using it as filler or decoration.

Lots of recent cultural changes have led to a satisfying challenge of cultural norms that have been dubbed “rape culture”. And I’ve got to be honest, even freakishly liberal as I am, I felt like that was an inflammatory choice of words when I first heard it. To me, it seemed over the top, and in my mind I minimized some very prominent cultural factors that led to the creation of the term. It’s partly from my own acculturation into accepting sexism, and partly from a place of wishful thinking that “we” had somehow evolved or developed “beyond” that type of mentality and behavior. I’m not going to speculate too hard on the remaining amount or placement of sexism in society, but I’ll say that it isn’t gone enough to warrant disregarding any amount of this entirely unacceptable behavior.

I despise language policing by and large, because I firmly believe that we can typically determine context and/or the general intention the person has or is attempting to express. I believe that most of us are not using our language in the offensive without making that clear from the outset, which is a different scenario from everyday conversation. I also believe that when we’re not clearly on the offensive, that we should enjoy the benefit of our audience giving us the latitude to express ourselves using language that is familiar to us, and the courtesy of recognizing our underlying message while overlooking minor differences in phrasing. It’s part of effective communication – everyone is different and as long as the person’s intent comes through, let’s not worry about the exact shades of connotation that may differ between us. We can always clarify as needed, and please do so whenever possible! George Carlin remains my example in this case… I saw him eject the word “faggot” during a set once, and saw his face fall for just a moment before continuing, because this was simply a remnant from his past, but he never intended it to be derogatory to gays, it was a reflection of his cultural upbringing: language is firmly established early in our lives and it’s difficult to adjust without essentially learning a new language. We can go on and on about how he should never have said that, but the point is that we should look at his intent and recognize he wasn’t being deliberately hateful; the language pathways of his youth had deep ruts and his wheels went down an old path for a moment.

We who are familiar with the “F” bomb know it is a term referencing a type of sex. It can be used as various parts of speech, but is normally some conjugation of the verb form. We’re not confused as to its meaning – whether someone is the subject or object, the operative function remains. There are plenty of terms that are just plain vulgar, describing or referencing things that are considered inappropriate or distasteful, and the “F” word reigns supreme as the most offensive one, at least here in ‘merica. It’s not because it references sex itself – goodness knows sex is the bee’s knees, and I’m no prude. I’m more than good with sex and talking about it openly. However I came to realize something about the usage of the “F” word, and how consistently the underlying message comes through. It’s never meant to make love, or even rough-but-fun sex. It means rape. It means without consent or comfort. It’s obvious in the way that it’s used that even when a friend of mine recalled their drug-filled youthful past, saying “I used to love to get all coked up and F***” that it wasn’t an endearing, fond look back on days of glory. It was obviously a demoralizing, creepy description of forcing sex upon themselves. When we say the word about someone else’s mom, be it “F” your mama, or “mother F-er” it’s not meant lightheartedly, no matter what put-on people trot out. When we say “F” that, we mean rape it. We mean no lube, no kissing, no love, just rape.

Now, I’m not going to speak for others or ask anyone else to change a thing about their communication, but I’m announcing here a change that I’m making for myself. I’m not going to use the F bomb anymore. Because I don’t “F” things when I’m angry. I don’t even engage in make-up sex after anger, but I digress. I don’t want to “F” that, or you, or this, or my life. I don’t want to wish it upon anyone from another source. I don’t think it’s funny, and I don’t think it’s empty. I believe it’s a level of dehumanizing ourselves or others to a state of emotional disrepair that serves only one purpose; to cut to the core of violation and violence. At the deepest levels it strikes at everything we have come to hold sacred: our physical and emotional security from unwanted transgressions. This term is used purely to highlight one of the deepest fears we have, which is that someone will not just go against our desires, but forever ruin a delicate physical and emotional activity that informs the highest bond between consenting adults: trust. Rape is often seen as worse than death, because we are forever scarred by its very existence, let alone being subject to it. That’s why “F’ed up” means completely wrecked, because that’s what rape does.

I had expected to have more to say after this, but I’ve read through it a couple of times and this is it. I’m not going to perpetuate a cultural norm that says if I’m angry enough I’m willing to be violent at all, but especially not in this way. I won’t do it. Others are welcome to speak as they see fit, and I’ll continue to abide by my general policy of giving people the latitude to express themselves in a way that is familiar to them. And I will look for their intent over taking their casual word choice with too much seriousness, because I do understand and acknowledge that we all have habits, cultural affectations, and socialized norms. I get that other people aren’t examining or analyzing this term every time they use it; to most, it’s just a handy word that’s broadly known and used. I’m not accusing anyone else or calling for a linguistic revolution. But I’m also no longer going to use terminology that comes from and promotes culturally accepted violence, especially in relation to sex.

Good riddance F word, may your usage decline rapidly and your intent be forever buried in the ugly past that we shouldn’t gloss over but certainly never re-enact either.

i’m no shiva

i wanted to destroy the destroyers, tear their empires to the ground
bringing them to their knees wasn’t nearly far enough down
i couldn’t destroy them as fast as they just kept on spawning
still i fought to destroy all the badness in what’s left of good life,
i tried to kill everything that had ever caused strife

but the hurrier i went the behinder i got, til i turned around to look at what i had wrought
i ground down, tore down and wore down some of the worst, but in my hurry
babies looked more and more like the bathwater, lousy with dirt
and in my frantical hectic fright filled dilemma, i was almost

willing to chuck it all and start over

but if there’s anything that being a part of a child’s life has taught me,
it’s that here lies an inherent series of chances
to be a maker of things and protector of value
that’s obviously beyond measure or explanation

the best things in life are free
only ourselves put frames around what we see

we are what we do, so we can be what we dream

growin’old ain’t for sissies or cowards so much though,
it takes courage just to become our true selves out loud

feeling safe would be great if it felt that stable
but most folks still struggle with that one way or another

i’d rather meet challenges and overcome them, but i no longer
feel the need to meet every one with a bludgeon

because sometimes what’s needed isn’t enough force
but enough wisdom or experience or knowledge to think first

i got a plan on a broader level, and that plan involves being
just what i wanted to preserve, and growing what i know to be good

i never thought i WOULDN’T be a destroyer
it feels kinda weird still, to be honest
like, what i do if it’s not breaking down?
oh yeah, now i have something to look forward to inside

i guess i could wait for my fate to come find me,
but i can’t seem to be patient enough for that honey
so if it wants to chase me down, we’ll see how it goes
in the meantime i’m movin’ on to a world i helped build
because my destiny awaits my steady loving hand to do more good work on what my ancestors began

Feeling “Better” than Others

No one is “better” than someone else. But what’s odd, is when someone is super caught up on proving that they are better than someone, or anyone really. I still can’t even find what possible benefit there is from thinking you’re better than someone, but those people don’t rest on the laurels of betterness as they supposedly deserve. I mean, if you’re better… you’re better. That should provide a deep and unending feeling of complete satisfaction and relief. I mean, you’ve overcome the challenge of making yourself better than others, and now you are, shouldn’t you get to bask in that glory? Shouldn’t you sit back and say I did it, I’m great, that feels great, and then feel the greatness?

But they don’t. They don’t walk around quietly fulfilled with their betterness, pride in a job well done, feeling accomplished. They should be all set, they should be smiling a little enigmatic smile that other people wonder about… they should be using their betterness to better the lives of even more people, and the world. Heck, their betterness could save everyone! But instead, they insist on and demand that others openly display appreciation of their betterness. Because it’s about getting attention and it’s never enough because it’s really more about trying to get love because they are unable or unwilling to build healthy relationships to get love through building it, and instead they only focus on forcing others into relationships with them out of obligation or coercion. It’s sad and creepy and certainly doesn’t make them better than anyone else, plus, the desperate bid for attention makes it obvious that they are unwilling to engage in authentic human interaction to ease their loneliness and other mental health disorders.

Healthy people don’t need to feel “better” than others. That behavior pattern is based in a social hierarchy which is the foundation for bullying and general social inequity.

Lecture Circuit

I wish I could go on the lecture circuit speaking my truths to avid listeners. I want to have a podium, an audience, I don’t need a microphone but a master of ceremonies to introduce me wouldn’t be bad. I’d still introduce myself in the traditional way, which would easily take 10 min to name all my ties and lineage, to give honor to those who came before.

The ancestors knew how to lecture. They commanded your attention, held it in suspense and delivered epic, earth shattering lectures that changed the face of humanity as we know it. My grandmother has made a room of hundreds of people hold their breath, thinking about how they connect with the world, and reconsider every action they’ve ever taken or will take.

I wish I could wrestle horse’s heads down and make them drink the water they need, then make them stop when they’ve had too much. I wish I could force people to admit and change when they have been engaging in unhealthy, unethical or otherwise destructive behavior. I wish I could demand that they hold up their end of the social contract by supporting those around them and reducing their burden on others.

I wish I could put the grandmas in charge. Everyone would be happy because they’d be well rested and well fed, they’d be respected or the perpetrator would be lectured into regret and we would all take our turns first come first served, and we’d all feel good because it’s not about winning, it’s about having some fun!

Happy Birthday to me, may I get to see World Peace in my lifetime, or the closest yet.

Ditch the frames

Our worldview is shaped by how we frame our experiences; the narrative we tell ourselves about what we have gone through. The frame is comprised of various cultural values, opinions, priorities, correlations, preferences and expectations. If memory serves, it is transcendentalism that says we operate by the lamp of our own experience, and as such every new experience is colored by those that came before.

It’s hard enough to deal with the fickle feels of biology that make us cranky at the slightest imbalance or discomfort (I think modern sensibilities are more tender as well, but I digress…) let alone the difficulties inherent in meeting deviations from our givens; the things we take for granted. The challenges that come with disturbing our sense of regularity are manifold, and cause cognitive dissonance for the majority of average folk.

Our understandings of reality are built on observational comparisons and contrasting analysis with all previously acquired knowledge. As such, we use all sorts of compartmentalization, categorization, and priority evaluation to determine what we think something is, how it functions, how it can be interact with us, and we assign it an approximate value in relation to our own existence.

Part of the nature of perception is that it uses a limited quantity of data for analysis, since we’re limited by our biological capabilities. What we choose to focus on then becomes a more heavily weighted element in our value calculations. How we quantify and qualify our perceptions and experiences is layered, and includes our own biological responses, and what we perceive of the people around us. Social behavior dictates we observe each other’s cues for group security.

It is up to us to paint the picture of reality in our mind’s eye with some fundamental understandings behind that work. When we look at the famous painting that reads “This is not a pipe” beneath a representation of one – we are encouraged to understand that we are not creating or re-creating the real thing in our own estimation, we need to keep the spirit or essence of the real thing in our handicapped versions though, since that’s the best we can do. It’s up to us to look beyond the paint and implied shadows or textures it represents, to recognize the concept that something is inherently more than we could possibly grasp or regurgitate psychologically. We need to see that our own personal understanding of the world is limited, and that the whole world is very real and ongoing, despite our own limited understanding of, and limited direct experience with these elements of the world we live in.

When we try to use previous experiences, correlations or qualifications in relation to our current situation, we are looking to provide context or some level of overarching or widely connecting concepts to help us understand the situation. But truthfully, past experiences are only helpful in a limited number of instances going forward – in specific, anyway (past experience is generally useful but hardly in specificity). It’s a detriment to us that we look for patterns in a completely unplanned and unfocused reality. Events are rarely linked enough to be worth making connections about, despite our tendency to force them into a limited set of categorical definitions or sections that provide a false sense of cohesion amidst entropy at work.

The truth is, even (or especially) when it comes to human behavior, drawing conclusions based on expectations of regularity is counter productive at best. As much as we wish anything was consistent or predictable, things are largely neither. Even fundamental scientific principles can surprise us in how they play out. This mindset also limits our ability to draw a more complete or accurate view of a given situation. We rule out pertinent data and keep irrelevant data, largely based on our pre-existing frameworks.

The tendency to try to create order has a lot to do with adaptation, and it’s the evolutionary trait that rightly tells us that it doesn’t really matter what value we place on something, in order to survive we need to adapt to what we are currently and most frequently are confronted with. We need to work with what we’ve got to make it. But humans would generally prefer to modify the situation to fit their definitions and understandings. However, too much framework or coloring-in of our experiences only leads us to a false sense of imaginary structure around things that were never truly premeditated or organized to begin with.

What we tell ourselves about what we see changes the reality we live in, and if we only do things we expect and only accept things we can control or compartmentalize, then there’s not as much room for the things we wish or hope or struggle for. Letting the past color the present is about hanging on to pain and suffering and bringing it with us, but we can acknowledge and remember those transgressions without prolonging or worsening the damage from them. We can move on past feeling hurt by things and take comfort in the fact that it’s not a premeditated plan of ultimate punishment that is personal against each of us. We are not in hell and we are not here to suffer for what is only colored as bad, when really it’s shades of self preservation.

We don’t need to spin tales for ourselves to convince us that there’s a reason for things or a pattern among them or deem them targeted, nor are things inherently bad or worsening. Life is just living, one breath at a time, each moment alone in the continuum. Let us find points of reference in existence rather than attempting to paint the universe in frames of reference.

 

Build it and they will come

Like almost every young person I wanted to tear everything down that would seem to stop me, and personally I wanted to break down every last thing that ever got in the way of peace and justice.

I didn’t realize that anything that was ever built was built by people to do some kind of good, be some kind of support.

People who hate and oppress don’t build. So tearing anything down would be the wrong method.

What I have hated and wanted to break down was hatred and prejudice, and those don’t have brick and mortar store fronts.

Turns out that all that I have ever wanted to bring to its knees was nothing but someone’s hard earned dreams.

The ones that cause trouble and strife already do it piggybacked on the good ones. They use the framework lovingly erected by builders like the Amish do it for survival.

That which was built can end up used for evil, like any good tool it can all be turned against goodness.

But I needed to see that things that were built are meant to stand tall and be our support, so we can build more on top of that. And if it was used by badness we can still reclaim it.

So I haven’t lost my edge I’m as sharp as ever, but I won’t cut down the fabric of society any longer, because good people need good things even if sometimes good things become commodified.

Because it’s not good people’s fault that badness uses good stuff, and I’m done throwing out the bath water and then looking around  for the baby. It’s not the baby’s fault that the tub keeps filling up with mud.

Behavior is not dictated by Affiliation

Social currency is real, and people need enough of it to be accepted by others within cultural groups. Survival largely depends on social recognition for safety, whether it represents stability that decreases volatility of resource accessibility, or is essentially a “protection” racket. Aside from survival though, humans need enough acceptance by others to be able to carry enough self esteem to go on. They want to feel needed, loved or at the least, allowed to be around.

Modern sentiments have begun to apply cultural ownership through affiliation. This affiliation can be offered by the group or assumed by the individual, with the loudest voices in the group generally determining access or eligibility to participate. Credibility within the group is becoming associated most strongly with participation levels – meaning quantity over quality, however there remains a quality threshold to meet with most groups. The participant is also obligated to self-educate if the group does not provide training already, but either way, affiliation requires playing by the rules and meeting the standards of the group that the individual wants to be a part of.

Yet there is still a strong sense of ownership through genetic heritage present in cultural membership – the original determinant in belonging to any group. Genetic heritage bestows automatic, unimpeachable ownership (with few exceptions). It is also unavoidable, unlike affiliation. That’s right, there are some things we simply may not disavow ourselves from, and genetic connection to certain cultural aspects is one of them – whether or not it is deemed just. This conflict of basis for cultural ownership causes cognitive dissonance within the modern person, generally leading to guilt and/or anxiety over the definition and use of “true” cultural ownership. And a sense of belonging is critical to our success in life – again, if we don’t get it, the void that remains is detrimental to the individual, and by extension society.

We cannot rely on genetic heritage alone to define cultural ownership any longer, thus the rise of affiliation based acceptance. Whether it’s due to prevailing heterogeneous heritage, or simply acknowledging the power to include others based on affiliation for mutual benefit, cultural ownership is not simple or straightforward. And I think it’s of note that folks want to allow others the ability to disavow affiliation from cultural groups. But of course, genetic heritage retains a hold that can’t be fully severed in all circumstances. I feel like the affiliation aspect may be historically based in religious behaviors, as these groups are outside of genetics-based cultural heritage and they participate in recruitment/conversion techniques, but, as with everything I say, that’s largely my conjecture.

When there is no central regulatory body governing the ownership of cultural affiliation, mob mentality arises. It latches on to key tenets of a group’s ethos and enforces them via peer pressure, or threat of rejection. The fear of being ostracized is freakishly compelling and most folks will make sure the group sees them as valuable or harmless in order to maintain their affiliation. Most folks won’t give up membership in a group without access to a new group that will accept them either, causing defensive behaviors to arise if they feel their affiliation is threatened.

In the modern aesthetic, participation in the cultural norms of a group now include collaboration in the constant re-evaluation and evolution of the cultural norms themselves. Basically, it’s no longer good enough to be included in a group. Now, if you’re not driving the cultural behavior within the group, you can quickly fall out of favor being seen as not committed enough, or improperly aligned. This constant re-adjustment could be coincidental or superficial, but I suspect it comes from feeling criticized and seeking to avoid that criticism entirely, which necessitates constant change with the tides of fickle public opinion.

The cultural boat is caught in a maelstrom of self-defeating behaviors as it’s sucked into the vacuum caused by the breakdown of moral authority – without absolute control over definitions and priorities, moral values have become fluid and subject to fad patterns. No one is willing to acknowledge any authority as absolute, but unfortunately they miss the part about how much humans prefer a structure they can rely on to feel confident about themselves and how the world works. Without it we’re just seeing incoherent combinations of the remains of what we once trusted.

I don’t have the answer to a conundrum that has none – folks feel that genetic heritage can trump cultural affiliation, but only in some ways. We want to be able to shed trappings of the past and assume what we want to be. But it’s awfully difficult for me to let people do that when they pin cultural ownership on others based on genetic heritage, via visual cues, or assumptions, while wanting to eschew those interpretations for themselves… it’s hypocrisy at its finest (and as mentioned, myself included). It’s hard for humans to let go of historical connection to culture, with good reason; it’s our basis for our worldview.

It seems absurd to me to when I hear someone say they were born in one place, but then name a different place that they’re “from”.  I can’t even wrap my mind around a mentality that allows someone to continually redefine their heritage. Maybe you can change where you are now, or headed next, but how can you change where and what you come from? But more importantly, why would you? How can you shed the old let alone don the new (*in terms of heritage*)?  I mean, I get not being stuck in behavior patterns, but we can’t actually change our origins even if we choose not to live by historical standards set by our originators.

Funniest is I think many folks think that’s what’s being asked of them – I’m referencing the white shame/guilt complex that drives them to disown their connections to any genetic heritage they have. The narrative that indicates this is even a possible solution is misguided at best; culture is how we behave. That narrative and game plan to disown the past attempts to deflect or protect against responsibility for historic injustice. It’s sweet to think there’s a solution by divorcing from the group, but it ignores the fact that injustice does not live in the past (complaints are not just about the past, they are current), and that we cannot actually divorce completely from genetic heritage anyway, even if we try. Separation from the group does not create any goodwill or offer any support to victims either, it’s a symbolic gesture that can’t make up for anything.

Not to say that anyone is responsible for the past transgressions of another, but if we want the benefit of cultural ownership we do need to take some responsibility for ongoing group behavior, especially in light of the current policies obligating each of us to participate in driving the group cultural dynamic as I mentioned above.

I’d love to throw off the shackles of the past entirely, but it seems delusional. People care strongly about being part of a group and accepted, so they should feel a sense of personal responsibility as strongly as they feel their cultural ownership. It’s beyond disingenuous to act like you don’t share any responsibility for a group you are connected with, whether you automatically were a member based on genetics or affiliated by choice. Again, folks may not like it, but some cultural aspects are connected to our heritage, which we did not choose yet remains real. Like siblings or our parents, we don’t get to choose everything about our social connections in life.

Modern folks are notorious for “cherry picking”, and it’s an untenable policy of self serving denial that’s an insult to true commitment. You can’t have your cake and it too, as they say. If you serve yourself up another slice, it comes with calories and unmitigated they will make you fat. If you exercise enough though, you can eat all the cake you want. So go out and do good and it will be like exercising, you’ll be a thin cake eater who has the best of both worlds. You can never say you didn’t come from cake bakers, but you can say you make low-sugar cakes, or that you don’t make cakes even if they did, or choose not to eat cake, etc. You can say, yes I came from this evilly fattening background, but I don’t have to let it make me fat too… anyway I’m sure this metaphor has met it maker. Basically, you can live through ongoing cultural ownership without succumbing to its downfalls or predations. You don’t have to stop eating cake to be thin, you just have to exercise more. You don’t have to stop being/admitting you’re enjoying the benefits of the first world, just make sure you’re not perpetuating bad behavior out of historical habit.

But there it is – what I’ve been searching for in this whole writing – if we can change behaviors yet retain identity (and we can) then there is no reason to ever need to “adjust” identity or even affiliation, because feeling that need is based in the faulty association between a cultural group and certain behaviors. That association says that cultural groups behave a certain way, but culture is not static or regressive, it’s always changing. That faulty belief in a lack of ability to change is used as basis for bigotry, which is unconscionable. Any group or individual has the ability to learn and change, to accept new things or get rid of old.

We are not only what we do, nor are we solely representatives. We can take pride in who we are. I’ve actually never been offended by the concept of “white pride” – I’m offended by REAL miscarriages of justice, regardless of the group the perpetrator hails from, or identifies with.

Our personal behavior can be separated from our identity and our cultural status, thus allowing us to develop and flourish within cultural groupings. What I’m saying is that your cultural citizenship may define your relation to others, but the cultural group does not determine your behavior – you do not have to behave as others do within your group. You are free to have an individual identity within a group, and behave differently than other members do. As part of that policy of driving cultural behavior I mentioned, go ahead and take the reins; you are not just responsible for group behavior, you are a force of change and growth within it simply by choosing to behave as you know to be right and appropriate.

The bonus is that if you retain your membership and help the group overcome biases or bad behaviors, you’re helping the world significantly more than you ever could by separating yourself from the group for the sake of not being associated with people who probably just didn’t know any better anyway. I know, you’re probably thinking, but what if the group is continuing to behave in a way that I disagree with? I’m not saying you can’t do your best to extricate yourself from a hurtful environment if they’re not respectful of your right to make your own choices, but typically people see you making your own decisions and it helps them realize that they don’t have to behave exactly like others just to avoid rejection. And typically there is not as much rejection or backlash as people fear, but I’ll get off the confrontation soapbox and save that for another post.

We can retain core moral/ethical values, priorities, and focus to overcome bigotry and separatism from inside our groups – and more importantly, we need to. Washing our hands of perceived stains by association will never eliminate the bad behavior we disapprove of. It’s critical that we recognize that shunning a person or group will never shut them up or make them disappear. Not only that, but it’s more difficult to help them develop from afar – people who have an intimate acquaintance with them can help people change far more quickly and deeply. The best way to help your group escape criticism or derision is to stand firm in helping that group become the best it can be. Besides, a certain amount of criticism is not just inevitable but healthy. We all need to be able to examine our decisions carefully in avoidance of bias, and to help keep ourselves on track.

 

 

Leftist Blasphemy

I know this will come as blasphemy to some if not many, but I’ve got to explore something I feel and see how it pans out in written form. I could never quite put my finger on why transvestite behavior bothered me when I’m good with all forms of sexuality and gender identity. And look, there’s not enough time in the continuum to make you believe I’m genuinely good with something if you’ve set your mind to thinking I’m not – but I’m the decider of whether or not I’m good with something and how, so we’re going to need to at least say it’s that way for the sake of argument, if nothing else. In the same vein, I don’t need to prove my cred for speaking on this topic to anyone (whether or not I’m qualified). So if you think I shouldn’t be talking about this then read some other blog post. Moving on….

My problem is layered or faceted or whatever you want to call it, so no, I can’t have a short definitive thesis here in the beginning. It’s simply a complex issue, which is oxymoronic again, so we’ll move along.

A main issue I take with transvestism is that it inherently reinforces restrictive gender norms. By nature, dressing like the opposite gender reinforces that genders dress differently. And taking on behavioral affectations bothers me even more. It’s bad enough to pigeonhole dress code, or associate make up and such with a gender. But to then take it a step further and “act” like a person of the opposite gender reinforces gendered behavior patterns.

Basically, when you dress “like a man” or “like a woman” you are stereotyping that gender and objectifying them. You’re telling us that women act a certain way, and that men act a certain way, that they dress and look a certain way. It’s divisive and it supports the narrow minded conservative views that state there are ways in which we should or should not act, based on gender (perceived or otherwise).

When a man dresses and acts like a woman he’s showing everyone that this is how he thinks women are, and vice versa with FTM. (Even if he doesn’t think that way and it is intended to highlight how “dominant culture” behaves, it still acts as reinforcement). It’s that show of gender that not only confines what we do, but puts focus on gender and sexuality in a way that is not necessarily the show of freedom some claim it to be. It’s bowing to conventional gender roles while qualifying your humanity. It perpetuates what it intends to disrupt.

Just like most black people would rather be called people than qualified as black people, I’d rather be called a person than be qualified as a woman. It’s not to say I do or do not deny any connection with gender, but rather that gender is not relevant to most of my day to day life, job, or actions except for some minute logistical differences, and that injecting it into non-sexual parts of life is unnecessary at best and inappropriate in many circumstances. Western society finds bringing sexual behavior into the workplace largely unacceptable, just as we feel the same around children; just to name some simple examples. That’s because sexuality does not need to be a component of every aspect of our life any more than any other trait or interest – biological or otherwise. I don’t read with my genitals, and neither do you.

If we are truly all human and free to express ourselves, choose our identities, and display them as we see fit (which we are) then a woman may wear anything and act any way she likes, as can a man, or someone in between. I think what I’m drilling down to is if we claim true equality and freedom as human rights, then it shouldn’t even really be called cross dressing, or transvestism or be anything. It’s simply a human that put on an outfit today – there is no real relevance to what color or cut of fabric it is, nor the material it’s made out of; that’s all subjective and preference based.

I have more written on “acting” feminine in another post, in case you’d like to get some depth on gender identity and what it means to me in specific. But I’ll give a short bit here to keep the context going in this post. Behaviors considered “feminine” are usually associating femininity with traits from sexual dimorphism – meaning that statistically females of most species are smaller and weaker than males, as well as more prone to difficult issues associated with child bearing. That weakness and volatility translate into submissive behaviors, like avoiding eye contact, toes turned inward, shoulders slumped, excessive apology, low speech volume, etc. When hatred is poured on transvestites, non-heterosexuals etc., it is usually a manifestation of misogyny , and calling a man anything related to womanhood is a well established insult that is used in other sexualities almost as much as heterosexual culture. It is automatically demeaning and belittling because of the cultural valuation of strength and forcefulness over weakness and submission. Aggression is praised while cooperation is seen as distasteful at best.

Part of the problem with reinforcing those gender norms is that it makes it that much harder for our overall equal rights movement’s progress. Women have been working for generations to be seen as equal and capable, while the visions of us remain qualified as a burden or distraction, and yet somehow simultaneously an object of desire to be sought after. When we are portrayed as these characters that are dominated by our gender and what it supposedly dictates, it chips away at our platform to be considered truly genuine equals, aside from the detrimental emotional consequences that are part an parcel of any restrictive doctrine.

I get that many consider this behavior to be self expression and displaying identity. I used to know someone who wore dresses and makeup because they wanted to, although being born “male”; it fell under the self expression and displaying identity categories. I am and was cool with that, for what it is, which is to say this person is welcome to have their own style. What I’m less cool with is grossly exaggerated versions of gendered behavior or clothing that appear to be intended as rebellious or lampooning the status quo – which means not to express self but as a tool to drive social change through a form of protest or satire.

I get the mentality of wanting to make people question assumptions about gender, and expression of what we feel is reflective of our inner selves. Yet when gender issues are put in that satirical light it is unfortunately not a light that drives meaningful change in those who do maintain true inequality institutionally. Satire is also not being appreciated as such or its role is not being understood as completely as it could be in these modern times, leading to a lot more misunderstandings than viable solutions when this method is used.

No, I’m not saying I want to do away with transvestite or transsexual identity, behavior, or culture (not that I could) – they’ve been a part of humanity since always – there’s evidence of it far back in history. But because of that history these practices come from a binary gender culture norm, and they are reinforcing that same binary definition, rather than displaying representations of the spectrum of possible identity, behavior and expression without qualification.

Cross dressing has its own cultural identity and I’m glad for it, but that doesn’t mean the practice makes social improvements in the arena of gender equality, social justice, or anything else in society. I can say what I want here and I’m going to say it, I feel like the practice of exaggerated transvestism diminishes my struggle for equality, and makes it harder for me to be a woman who isn’t effeminate, isn’t delicate, isn’t weak and doesn’t conform to gender norms as it is. It tells me that if I want to be myself in that case, that I must eschew femininity in favor of “acting” like a man or constantly live outside of what are portrayed as the only two choices available.

I’m on the same spectrum as everybody else which is an infinitely variable gradient – not stuck with one of two choices that were never adequate enough to begin with.

 

 

 

Fruit of the poisonous tree

It’s not even really that new, and to me, it’s always been the more insidious version of the two… but there’s a different type of discrimination than the obvious, and it’s worth noting if only to better understand the scope and breadth of what this really is, that it’s not all black and white (pardon the pun). I know someone who would (in bad taste) joke that racism is different in the south… that walking down the street is like “mornin’ nigger” “mornin’ sir”. Bad taste or not, that type of discrimination is wholesale, and upfront; it’s obvious. I almost prefer that method, so there’s no confusion or period of adjustment – this person has made things clear from the outset, so we’re all on the same page about their views. But that’s not the only type of discrimination, and it’s certainly not the one that makes my lips curl up as my skin tries to crawl off my body and my insides scream to get out the hard way. That feeling is reserved for a different kind of experience.

My grandmother is dark skinned because she’s half Filipino and half Alaskan Native, but she was raised in Seattle and has never spoken another language aside from English… she was raised catholic, and attended Holy Names Academy. My uncle has a quarter from each of her sides, and his father provided some European genetics so my uncle is light skinned. My uncle was a teen in the ’80s, tried eyeliner and New Wave music like any kid of the day, and then got married in the ’90s, had kids, and maybe someday in the future he’ll be a grandpa, but not yet. On a road trip with his family when he was a toddler he fell ill. My grandfather was a postal carrier and had full health insurance coverage for his family, but he wasn’t with his wife and son at the moment. When she entered the small town clinic nearest by, my grandmother explained that she had full medical coverage and that her son was sick – that he needed medical attention.

How long do you sit in the waiting room of a virtually empty clinic, watching appointment after appointment go by before you realize they’re never going to serve your child? that they’re not going to call your son’s name because you’re darker skinned than the other people in the room? how long do you sit and wait and wonder about coincidences and schedules before you come to the conclusion that no, they’re not going to tell you, they’re simply never going to call your name? Whether they don’t believe you can tell if your kid is sick, or they don’t believe you have insurance, or anything else… discrimination is not always flagrant, it’s not always obvious or straightforward, and it may not be intentional in a conscious way – more on that soon.

So, aside from perceptions and realities, if she had known of the issue, maybe my grandmother could have taken him to another clinic, or another town for that matter. This was a child who needed medical help, and please let me assure you my grandmother is a ridiculously patient person – she waited more than long enough, this was not a case of her misinterpreting or misunderstanding. I’ve seen plenty of this type of discrimination in action. Frequently the culprit believes their discomfort lies in some other aspect of the recipient of the discrimination, like my peers who were told it was their youth that roused suspicion, despite us all knowing and seeing the proof that magically, well-to-do children were not cause for extra vigilance;  just the ones who appeared disadvantaged, regardless of race.

Perhaps that first story was too vague, too easily misinterpreted to be counted on as enough proof though – maybe my grandmother misunderstood after all. To put an even finer point on unspoken discrimination that is real and specific (and more impactful than denied service), I’ll share something that has haunted me since I was told about it. My grandmother’s auntie gave birth to her son around the same time my mother was born, give or take a few years. She gave birth to him in a modern urban hospital in liberal Seattle, after the civil rights movement. Yet when she was done, and went home, there was something she didn’t know. She tried for a while to have another child, but no pregnancies arrived, not even miscarriages. She had never been told by her doctors or husband that they had decided to sterilize her after giving birth to her first and only child. She didn’t misunderstand the intent or nature of this action – it isn’t up for debate as to whether or not this choice could have been happenstance, it was deliberate. Whether it was racism or the sexism of asking her husband and not her, they did this to her without her consent or her knowledge.  How long do you wait for a baby before you start asking what’s wrong?

We can say these are stories of time past, but they certainly happened well after the civil rights movement had secured assorted rights and assurances for minorities, including women. There’s droves more anecdotes I could research and present and we all know that too, so I’ll let you look them up should your sensibilities require more timely or pertinent proof than my own family’s experiences. These aren’t intended to be the only stories or even wholly representative of the newest manifestations of discrimination either, but they are intended to highlight behaviors well after supposed equality was reached (on paper), and to illustrate that they need not be upfront or harassment oriented. It’s not always about petty micro-aggressions or who goes first in line. It’s about a fundamental lack of respect for certain parties based on pre-conceptions or assumptions about their fitness to make decisions in their own lives and that of their families.

The problem with the upgraded version of racism is that it isn’t about public displays of domination and control, it’s now about subtler feelings, finer tunings. The receptionist or even the health care providers who denied a child service weren’t throwing him out of the clinic appalled that he came in through the front door with a brown person. They were more likely uncomfortable with or unsympathetic to someone they don’t know how to relate with (his mother). They saw someone who looks different enough that they assume they can’t interact with this person comfortably, and thus they avoid what they perceive to be an upcoming confrontation. Despite the fact that the minority person at hand may have no intention or awareness of possible confrontation, the authority figure feels discomfort associated with confrontation, and acts from a place of defensiveness.

Discrimination has changed in the wake of legal changes eliminating institutional support of bigotry. Now, it’s not necessarily with purpose or structure that people discriminate, but out of a place of unfamiliarity with the other party, which carries a lack of empathy and shows the emotional distance placed between the well known and the unknown. It’s no longer about asserting open boundaries between groups as much as representations of how we instinctively prefer those who we relate with, and feel discomfort around those who are different from ourselves.

But to finally get to my battered and ignored thesis: discrimination is now connected to a matching type of experience – favoritism.

Favoritism is the new manifestation of discrimination; it’s the other side of the same coin. It’s convenient in many ways, and offers an alternative that makes perpetrators feel significantly more comfortable with their own decisions. People feel free to engage in favoritism because it’s seen as inherently inclusive rather than divisive, and is less controversial, but also harder to identify and even harder to prove as discriminatory. They don’t see it as “favoritism” though, they simply feel feelings of comfort, familiarity, acceptance or agreement with the person they’re favoring. They feel a connection through shared experience or history, they relate with the other person in some way, so they feel some small sense of loyalty to this person over others who can’t or won’t work on that emotional connection or don’t already share overt genetic/cultural similarities. The receptionist probably felt like she was prioritizing existing clients rather than discriminating against a child (in my grandmother’s case). The doctors and nurses (or her husband) probably assumed that they knew what was best for my auntie based on their own understandings (rather than consider her judgment as fundamentally different yet still valid). I’m not defending those cases of discrimination, I’m illuminating that they probably did not see their actions as discriminatory.

It can become very difficult to get people to understand, let alone admit or change the fact that they’ve been engaging in favoritism at all. To their way of thinking, they have simply been operating based on what they feel – they haven’t acknowledged that their feelings are biased even when they’re aware of the concept and attempt to keep it in mind. Many folks don’t just happen to think that they never had bias (which happens, and is challenge enough). Many truly believe they have been able to cast off bias… especially because feelings of comfort and agreement do not seem suspicious so we don’t examine them, we accept them as correct and base our decisions on them. People trust their “gut” on this stuff.

If we were only dealing in interpersonal relationships, it would be more than fine for someone to only choose to interact with people who they can relate with or have some sort of shared connection with. However, when dealing with the provision of services, hiring and firing, etc., this type of behavior is inappropriate, despite how common it is. Of course when people insulate themselves with like minds they get more entrenched in feeling connection with a limited segment of the population and draw further from the center, regardless of which direction they head.

But if they don’t think they are biased or bigoted, then they will never absorb or accept messages aimed at bigots – because they don’t identify themselves that way. Just like opening up a letter with “Dear Jerks,” will never garner much change from jerks who have no idea it’s even directed at them, the same is true for bigots. More importantly, in the same vein as jerks, if someone is self aware and continuing that behavior then they don’t care and they are choosing their actions with purpose, which means it’s going to be monumentally difficult to change their mind – shaming them probably won’t work as well as we wish it would.

This is why we need to have strict guidelines for the provision of services etc. that are not based on how we feel, because our feelings are subjective and relative and irrational. As long as people like to feel favored and participate in giving special treatment, favoritism will keep its stronghold on decision making. And we do like receiving special treatment, so we issue it when we have the power to do so. It is up to each of us to realize that we can’t make rational decisions if we are unaided by structure that ensures adherence and accountability. Without it, we will continue to have pockets of bigotry;  microcosms that perpetuate favoritism and discrimination. I’m going to call them whiners when people want to complain about being forced to comply with evenhanded protocols, because doing so indicates some level of unwillingness to fully respect others, as well as a desire to skirt rules for their own benefit, be that direct benefit or the power of bargaining in social currency.

If racism is the root and discrimination is the trunk, then favoritism is fruit of the poisonous tree.