I’m Coming Out

Right now, I’m playing the hit Diana Ross sang in the 1980’s (written by Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers) “I’m Coming Out.” It has been such an anthem in my life, as in the lives of many queer people. I can’t even count how many gay bars, marches, or events I’ve heard this song played at, or have danced to.

There’s a new me coming out
And I just had to live
And I wanna give
I’m completely positive
I think this time around
I am gonna do it
Like you never knew it
Ooh, I’ll make it through

Seems appropriate for this announcement. This has been brewing for about a year.

The image connected to this blog post is a hint, but I’ll lay it out. After living as an adult woman for 40 years, I’m transitioning to live as a man for the rest of it. The reasons for this decision are complex – I don’t have the standard narrative that “I’m a man born in the wrong body.” I actually identify as bi-gender – that is, I feel that both genders exist within me. That said, I’ve lived with gender dysphoria since puberty. I’ve spent many, many years working to love my body as it is. From therapy, to meditation practice, to embodied modalities such as Authentic Movement, all of which I deeply value and have made my life so much better. But they didn’t actually allow me the sense of being fully embodied and fully accepting of my body as it is.

What I came to was a full acceptance of the dysphoria, which is what led me to realize that the right avenue for me was to actually change my body and how I live my life. And, amazingly to me, once I made that decision, the embodiment I had sought for so long came to fruition. (To read in more detail about this process, and to keep up specifically on my transition process, you can read more at my other blog here.)

I’m legally changing my name to Maxwell next year. I’m having top surgery in early February.

In any big change, there are losses and gains, and I’m working to accept all of them with equanimity. One loss is one of community: I have been a part of the lesbian community for more than 30 years, and it feels weird to say “I’m not a lesbian anymore.” But it’s true – as I’m basically identifying as a man, I don’t get to be a lesbian anymore. I’ll miss that community, although I also have gotten to become a part of an amazing, loving, supportive community of trans-masculine folks, some of whom live right here in Sonoma County.

Life is quite the journey, and although there were many, many signs from very early on, I didn’t quite see this coming, so if you’re surprised, I get it. There’s more news, as well, and you can watch this video Ruth and I made for the Conscious Girlfriend Community.

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What I Have to Say Today

I’ve been triggered, greatly, by the events of the last two days. Not because I didn’t expect it. Not because #ThisIsNotUs. But because I knew it was going to happen, but I didn’t really want to believe that it would. I’m not including any pictures on purpose – I’ve been way too triggered by them, and I don’t want to make it worse for anyone else.

I am really a Gen Xer, even though supposedly demographically, being born late in 1959, I’m a boomer. But I say that because the country I grew up in was different than the one boomers grew up in. I was barely 4 when the Birmingham church was bombed. I was still very young when the schools in the south were desegregated. Because of the class I grew up in, I grew up in a world of opportunity, even as I could see that it wasn’t one that all black people shared.

I’ve been a student of history for the past 20 years or so – intrigued by the past, and the ways the events of the past not only have echoes now, but actually create what we are looking at right now.

I’m not sure the Civil War ever really ended. I think perhaps we’ve been fighting a cold civil war since 1865. There have been great strides since then, as the quality of my black, queer, genderqueer life attests to. That said, there is a relatively small but significant number of people in this country that would happily return us to a time when blacks (and all POC) are subservient, women are in the kitchen, and queer people are shot on sight. And there is a much, much larger number of people who might not say they want this, but frankly wouldn’t mind so much. Those are the people who voted for Trump.

There’s been all sorts of strum and drang from the GOP about what happened in Charlottesville. But what you’re not hearing is them repudiating 40 years of stoking the flames. My bet is, that if Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” was never started, first, the GOP would no longer exist, and second, we wouldn’t be dealing with a strong white supremacist movement. Stoking the flames of white resentment was the survival strategy of the GOP, once the Democratic party became progressive around race.  This is the continued survival strategy of the GOP. They can’t win without racist gerrymandering, racist voter suppression, and turning out their base with either “dog whistles” or outright racist rhetoric. They can’t repudiate their survival strategy and keep going as a party, and they fucking know it.

And on the progressive stance on the 2016 elections, I’m sorry, but right now I have to say that some of us told you so: Clinton and Trump were not just as bad. Trump is a white supremacist, ran with clearly white supremacist rhetoric, has white supremacists on his staff, and covers for white supremacists. This is only the beginning. With a DOJ run by a neo-confederate, which will happily stand by idly while other neo-confederates kill people (and make themselves busy investigating “discrimination” against whites), local police, many of whom have plenty of these people in their ranks, “leave the area” when neo-confederates stage rallies, and the fact that these people are the most well-armed private citizens in the United States, this is only going to get worse. I just hope we can make it through the next 41 months.

 

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You’re Not Off The Hook Just Because You Don’t Have Privilege

Preface: This is only about interactions and conversations with people who are active, committed allies. This is NOT about conversations with anyone in the alt-right, or your sexist, homophobic uncle.

I see this dynamic play out over, and over, and I realized I really needed to write something about it.

The dynamic is this: someone with privilege (race, gender, class, cis, sexuality, ability, etc.) says or does something. Perhaps it’s an unconscious mistake, or perhaps not. What happens next is that the person without privilege gets triggered. And then they speak about what that privileged person just said, which then triggers the person with privilege, because, of course it does.

And with both people speaking while they are triggered, they continue to injure each other, and probably themselves, too. The person without privilege gets more jaded, and the person with privilege gets more wounded, feels more shame, and nothing changes. They each bring this same dynamic into other places and spaces, and… no wonder everyone feels like shit about the whole thing.

What’s most important for both sides of this equation is learning to get untriggered before you speak. It’s just as important for the person without privilege as it is for the person with.

Why is this? This is not about what’s right, or what’s polite, or whatever. This isn’t tone policing. This is about what’s effective, knowing what we know about the brain. One of the things we know about the brain is that when we get triggered – we’re in fight or flight mode. Our amygdalas are active. And what do they do? They actively hijack traffic from your pre-frontal cortex – that’s your wise, thinking brain. The amygdala does that because it’s not evolutionarily advantageous for us to be thinking when we’re in mortal danger.  But it gets us in all sorts of trouble because in this modern world, we’re not all that often in mortal danger. And you might think you’re being brilliant in your riposte to what you are sure was the racist/sexist/homophobic/transphobic/classist comment someone made, but you’re not. You are actually not using your wise, thinking mind. Which means that whatever you think happened isn’t necessarily what happened, and what you say isn’t going to be effective. And how a conversation like that unfolds is never going to result in the outcome you’re looking for.

Why is it that what you think happened isn’t necessarily what actually happened? First off, as I said, when you got triggered, your brain turned off your wise mind – so you can’t effectively evaluate what was said or done in that state. Second, our brains are masters at filling in blanks – it’s really an important tool, but when it comes to interpersonal relationships, the way our brains fill in blanks is actually quite often wrong.

Anyway, if you keep doing this, it’s going to keep being the same thing, over and over. We can’t move forward with our amygdalas. That’s part of why we’re in the mess we’re in. Those of us without privilege don’t get off the hook, sadly. We still have to do our own work to do, too.

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I Read Tuvel’s Article, So You Don’t Have To.

There has been quite the uproar about an article in the journal Hypatia on “transracialism” by Rebecca Tuvel. It’s creating a real controversy in feminist academia and philosophy.

So first off, I’m not a philosopher. I took one philosophy course in college. I did teach feminist studies of varied sorts in my academic career, so I guess I have a few creds, but really,  one could say I’m not all that equipped to critique an article written by a philosopher in a peer-reviewed journal. Except I am. It’s hard to believe this article actually got published.

An amazing quote I got from an article written by Kelly Oliver, a philosophy professor at Vanderbilt is this:

As one academic wrote to me in a private message, “sorry I’m not saying this publicly (I have no interest in battling the mean girls on Facebook) but fwiw it’s totally obvious to me that you haven’t been committing acts of violence against marginalized scholars.” Later, this same scholar wrote, again in private, saying Tuvel’s article is “a tight piece of philosophy” that makes clear that the position that “transgender is totally legit, [and] transracial is not—can only be justified using convoluted essentialist metaphysics.

And given that quote, I just had to write this post. If this is a “tight piece of philosophy”, I’ll eat my hat.

Let’s get one thing done first. The whole premise of this article is to debunk varied arguments that suggest that you can change gender, but you can’t change your race. And I have absolutely nothing against talking about, and thinking about what that means – what it means to decide you are of a different race than you’ve grown up with and society perceives that you are. And because both gender and race are social constructs, and do often define one’s position in the social hierarchy, it might be easy to think they are, in some ways, similar, so I can see that one might be tempted to argue that being transracial = being transgender.  (Insert sound of squealing brakes.)

Part of the uproar about the critiques of this article is that those critiques have called the article “epistemic violence,” and defenders of Tuvel are outraged by the use of that term. What is “epistemic violence”? Epistemic violence is a term I hadn’t known about, so I googled around. It’s a term by Foucault (of course.) Here’s a quote from Wikipedia from their article on post-colonialism:

Spivak developed and applied Foucault’s term epistemic violence to describe the destruction of non–Western ways of perceiving the world, and the resultant dominance of the Western ways of perceiving the world. Conceptually, epistemic violence specifically relates to women, whereby the “Subaltern [woman] must always be caught in translation, never [allowed to be] truly expressing herself”, because the colonial power’s destruction of her culture pushed to the social margins her non–Western ways of perceiving, understanding, and knowing the world.

At first, before I researched this, I thought that the idea that Tuvel’s article is “violence” was hyperbolic. But, actually, in reading a bunch of things, based on my reading of Tuvel’s article, I actually have to agree with this. Tuvel’s article does indeed meet the standard of the term epistemic violence as applied by Spivak and others. I do think that the term includes the word “violence” is not great, because using it amps up the controversy in a way that’s unfortunate. But I do think the article fits that definition.

So why is this article epistemic violence? Or to rephrase, using some of the language in the quote above, how does it destroy black and transgender ways of perceiving the world?

The first way that it does that is by basing the entire argument on the foundation of two particular lives and experiences, neither of which is representative. That is, Rachel Dolezal is no more a representative of transracialism than Caitlyn Jenner is representative of transgender lives. Tuvel spends a bit of time not prosecuting Dolezal’s case, but her concern is “more with the arguments for and against transracialism.” OK, if your arguments are for and against transracialism you have to spend some time defining what you are actually talking about, and not leaning too hard on the example of one particular person, with some very serious personal issues.

Tuvel says:

Is it even possible to feel like a member of another race similar to the way one can feel like a member of another sex? I do not know whether it is possible to feel like you belong to a different race. Indeed Dolezal’s claim that she saw herself as black as a child and drew self-portraits with the brown crayon instead of the peach crayon do strike me as decidedly odd. But I cannot say whether they seem odd because they are false, or because we are not routinely confronted with such claims. Indeed, I imagine it was once just as odd to hear people say they felt like they belonged to a sex other than the one they were assigned to at birth.

In any case, it’s not clear how one can affirm that it is possible to feel like the member of another sex, but deny it is possible to feel like a member of another race. How can one hold such a position?

Oy. This is a philosophy article? In a peer-reviewed journal? To first, reduce the transgender experience to “feeling like the member of another sex” is problematic (at best, at worst, it’s epistemic violence.) Second, to equate transracialism with the experience of Rachel Dolezal erases years of history of *actual* transracialism – that is, the experience of people of color who can pass as white.

She then goes on to talk about “identity categories” and what might appear “to limit to the status quo the possibilities for changing one’s membership in an identity category.” But she doesn’t talk about he pivotal difference between race and gender, which is the ways in which our brains process appearance, and the what that means in terms of the social situation of people who wish to change identity categories.

There’s a great article about the neuroscience of prejudice. Our brains process who is “us” and who is “them” before we can make a conscious thought. It also processes information about gender quickly, but that’s based largely on changeable characteristics. That is, it is very possible to change your appearance so that most (or all) people will read you as the gender you want them to read you as, but that is virtually impossible for with race, unless you are multi-racial and can pass as white.

Ijeoma Oluo interviewed Rachel Dolezal recently:

I‘m sitting across from Rachel Dolezal, and she looks… white. Not a little white, not racially ambiguous. Dolezal looks really, really white. She looks like a white woman with a mild suntan, in box braids—like perhaps she’d just gotten back from a Caribbean vacation and decided to keep the hairstyle for a few days “for fun.”

So then, Tuvel spends some time discounting the idea that white people identifying as black is different than the long tradition of blackface. Which, of course, it is. Except that this whole argument is tottering on the threads of one woman’s mind. It’s not like there are thousands, or hundreds, or even tens of white people who identify as black. And most people would agree that the white people who identify as Native American are doing cultural appropriation.

Then, there is this:

…to point out that a white-born person could always exercise white privilege by returning to being white, I note that the same argument would problematically apply to a male-to-female (mtf) trans individual who could return to male privilege, perhaps especially if this individual has not undergone gender confirmation surgery. But the fact that a person could potentially return to male privilege does and should not preclude their transition.

Her point is to debunk the idea that privilege or lack thereof shouldn’t preclude transition, and I concede that point, except it’s not that simple. Many feminists have the idea that women who were born as men had male privilege. Which is, on it’s face, true, but it’s much, much more complicated than that. If you spend your boyhood wanting not to be what you are, it’s a very different experience of privilege than if you’re happy being a boy. It’s just not the same. And the millisecond you express your gender in a way that is not completely male, *poof*, male privilege is gone.

She then goes on to talk about Michael Jackson and Lil’ Kim, but completely erases the history of “passing.” How is it that she doesn’t even mention it in an article supposedly about transracialism?

Then, there’s this:

Recall my earlier point that for a successful self-identification to receive uptake from members of one’s society, at least two components are necessary. First, one has to self-identify as a member of the relevant category. Second, members of a society have to be willing to accept one’s entry into the relevant identity category. At this stage, I think it’s reasonable for a society to accept someone’s decision to enter another identity category only if it is possible for that person to know what it’s like to be treated as a member of category X. Absent the possibility for access to what it’s like to exist and be treated as a black person … there will be too little commonality to make the group designation meaningful. For example, if a cisgender white man fights for his rights not to be subject to anti-black police violence or to misogyny, yet never faces the possibility of having his rights so violated, we can reasonably expect allyship, not identification from him.

This is really an odd statement. But in a way, it destroys her argument. Rachel Dolezal is rarely, if ever, seen as black (even if she thinks otherwise.) Therefore, she is kinda like the cis white dude, because her personal experience is going to be one of white privilege.

She describes a specific theory of social construction (that of Sally Haslanger):

According to Haslanger, then, the presumption of one’s biological role in reproduction or the presumption of ancestral link, coupled with the relevant social treatment, is sufficient for one’s membership in a gender or race. Insofar as a transracial individual is presumed to have black ancestral ties and is treated accordingly by society, then such an individual could qualify as black on Haslinger’s account.

Cough, sputter. presumed? Presumed??? Um, upon what basis is that presumption, pray tell? I’ll tell ya: specific physical characteristics, skin color, hair, nose, lips. So yeah, if you have black ancestry, and you look black, and are treated like you’re black, you’re black. Duh.  She then goes on to say:

The advantages of Haslinger’s account are clear: it helps us identify groups that formed, and continue to exist, due to oppression… In the same way that Haslinger’s account accommodates transgender individuals, I think it could similarly account for transracial individuals.

Really?

She goes on to describe a couple of examples that are, frankly beside the point: a black couple adopting a South Asian child and raising them as black, and a theoretical Rachel Dolezal with some African ancestry. But again, these are straw people – she’s building a whole argument on one woman.

Then she wraps up with this hum-dinger:

Haslanger writes, “rather than worrying, ‘what is gender really?’ or ‘what is race really?’ I think we should begin by asking (both in the theoretical and political sense) what, if anything we want them to be.” I have taken it as my task in this article to argue that a just society should reconsider what we owe individuals who claim a strongly felt sense of identification with another race, and accordingly what we want race to be. I hope to have shown that, insofar as similar arguments that render transgenderism acceptable extend to transracialism, we have reason to allow racial self-identification, coupled with racial social treatment, to play a role in the determination of race than has previously been recognized. I conclude that society should accept such an individual’s decision to change race the same way it should accept an individual’s decision to change sex.

So this is where we get into some more epistemic violence. It’s as if she (and it seems Haslanger, but I can’t be sure) completely forgets that race is a social construct that white people created. It’s not natural. It’s not real. It’s not random. It’s a construct that was purposely built, and purposely continued, to oppress and exploit certain people. I could tomorrow decide that I’m white, but no one is going to agree with that self-definition, and it’s not going to change my day-to-day life.

The whole of this article, besides the completely unstable basis it is written upon, also completely ignores years of critical race theory and intersection theory and trans theory.  You’d hardly know that there were tons of people who have been working and writing and talking about race and gender and their intersection for a long time. And I don’t know how you get away with writing and publishing an article comparing transracialism and transgenderism (I don’t like the way that term is generally used) without diving into that literature.

A lot of people are suggesting that this controversy is going to end Rebecca Tuvel’s academic career. That’s unfortunate. But if that’s so, I place the blame more on Hypatia for letting this through, and for her mentors for letting her down (after reading this, somebody should have sat her down with a stack of critical race theory books.) And if it was more that she didn’t listen to her mentors, then it’s all on her.

 

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I’m a Primitive Christian (among other things)

I’ve been attending Quaker Meeting lately (off and on for about 2 years, regularly for 6 months now.) In particular, Redwood Forest Friends Meeting in Santa Rosa, CA. I’ve been struck by a number of things about it, which I’ll be writing more about, for sure. I’ve been reading about George Fox, and early Quakerism, as well as current manifestations. And I’ve been amazed to learn how many different strains of Quakerism exist.

I knew that in some ways, modern Quakers in unprogrammed meetings were, in some regards, a fair bit like UUs in the breadth of their beliefs. And I do find this to be largely true, at least in what I’ve experienced locally, and what I’ve read lately. But that breadth developed a little differently. For Quakers, it seems, some of that breadth comes from the core concept the priesthood of all believers, and the central importance of the direct individual experience of God, present in each one of us.

I’ve been reading the Faith and Practice of the Pacific Yearly Meeting (the Yearly Meeting that my local meeting belongs to.) I came across this quote:

Early Friends considered themselves Christians; they interpreted and justified their unique vision in Biblical and traditional Christian terms. However, from its inception the Quaker movement has offered critiques of many accepted manifestations of Christianity while at the same time empathizing with people of other faiths. We might use the phrase “primitive Christianity” to describe more closely where Friends fit across the Christian spectrum. Primitive Christianity usually refers to those teachings that pre-date Fourth Century Christians, who had been embraced by Constantine and were becoming “established.” These earliest followers of Jesus were radical revolutionaries, representing a “new order” of faithful who lived communally, eschewed violence of all kinds, and practiced simplicity.

I left seminary before I could take Christian History, but I did grab the textbooks of the class, and read them, so I learned a lot. And ever since then, I’ve been of the belief that of all of the many mistakes of Christianity, it’s biggest mistake was letting itself get adopted as a state religion. And next to that is Augustine’s christology of substitutionary atonement.

I don’t know what the world would look like (one of my possible future projects is an alt-history of that scenario) if those things hadn’t happened, and the more radical, communal, anarchistic strain of Christianity had dominated (we’d sure have a different New Testament, perhaps more like this one.) But it’s nice to know and connect to one community of people who are working on it.

 

 

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Three Communities, Right Now

I am likely one of a very few people who has nosebleed seats to the goings on in three different communities right now. I say nosebleed because I’m not closely involved in any one of these controversies, but because of my spiritual, avocational, and professional histories, I remain connected to these communities.

So in no particular order, here we go:

Drupal.

Drupal is an open source CMS that I used to build websites with. It has a large vibrant community of developers (of which I used to be a part) who contribute to it, and advance it, and just basically make it run well, and build cool stuff with it. Like many open-source communities, it has a “Benevolent Dictator for Life,” generally the person who started the whole thing in the first place. Over the past few weeks, a very long-time contributor to the project, named Larry Garfield (also known as crell) was asked to leave his leadership position by Dries Buytaert, Drupal’s BDFL. In the beginning, it seemed that the issue had to do with Larry’s particular BDSM lifestyle, but later, after the unveiling of DrupalConfessions, it has appeared that there may well be more to it than that. Again, I can’t really say, because, nosebleed. But it has left the Drupal community in disarray.

Unitarian Universalist Association.

A few weeks ago, the UUA President, Peter Morales, resigned just ahead of the end of his term, because of a controversy relating to the hiring of yet another white guy to lead the Southern District, when there was (at least) one woman of color who was eminently qualified for the post. There has been a lot of weeping and gnashing of teeth, as well as three amazing people stepping up to lead the UUA at this time, and, of course, some backlash about the co-presidents (and some wonderful responses to the backlash.)

OdysseyCon and the science fiction writing community.

One of the guests of honor to OdysseyCon emailed the organizers to express that the guest liaison is someone who is a known sexual harasser, and she didn’t feel safe. And the OdysseyCon concom (convention committee) poured salt on the wound by not listening, then she, and finally all of the guests of honor pulled out. And now everyone is talking about it. I would not say that the SF community is roiling in the same way.

What’s interesting to me in my nosebleed perspective is how similar these are to each other, even though they are completely different. They certainly are eliciting similar emotions on both sides of the controversies. There are definitely conversations about safety, who feels safe, who is safe. One could say that all of these are just about white men acting badly. But, on top there are issues of who has power and why. It’s more dimensional than that, of course, but power, whether it be the power to hire and fire, the power to make big decisions for a community, or the power to allow certain voices and disallow others is something few want to give up when they have it, and, predominantly, white men have it.

We’re in for a rough patch, I think. We are “led” by a group of basically unabashed white male heterosexual supremacists, and having to deal with that and then deal with it in the communities we might be involved with is a double whammy. And the problem is, this is not likely to get better. Because of the current administration, some people now believe that they don’t have to worry about their behavior. They can complain about people who are being “PC.” Be careful out there.

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Contemplating the Questions

I don’t have much in me right now, except for questions. So I’ll ask them, sit with them, and perhaps you can sit with them with me.

First, How can I balance my regular life with the effort, work, actions needed at this time?

These are not normal times, and this is not a normal, garden variety conservative president. I remember what life was like under Reagan, Bush I and Bush II. My life went on, pretty much as normal. I was an activist, so I did activism, but it didn’t feel like an emergency – urgent, but not life-threatening. Most of us have to work to eat, keep the roof over our heads, keep our cats in kibble, so there has to be some modicum of a normal working life. But sometimes it feels like even that is problematic now. How can I plan courses or events, or launch new products, or write new code, when all this stuff is happening? But I have to, at the same time.

What effort, work, actions are really needed?

This is the tough one. On one hand, sure, writing our congresspeople, marching in the streets, doing other kinds of activism, is important – but what is really going to make a difference? We have someone in office who actually seems not to care at all about the rule of law, nor does he respect the balance of powers. So what is really going to make the biggest difference? Those of us against Trump might be in the majority, but there are an awful lot of people who like authoritarians, and are fine with what he’s doing. So what actions can I take that are going to have the biggest effect?

How to reach those people?

Ultimately, white working-class people who are authoritarian Trump supporters are going to eventually be hurt too, since Trump actually doesn’t care about them. In fact, they’ve already been hurt when he took away the interest discount for home buyers. But one of the hallmarks of Trump’s campaign has been that facts don’t actually matter to many people. Telling someone who says of the new ban on immigrants and refugees from the selected countries that none of them were responsible for a terrorist attack in the US isn’t actually going to make a difference to them. In general, humans are really hard to convince with facts when those facts don’t align with their pre-existing beliefs, but some humans have spent time and effort disciplining themselves to critical thinking approaches. But unless both sides of a conversation have that same approach, there can’t actually be a conversation. So how do we talk with people like this? How do we show them that they will be hurt too? Or maybe, ultimately, as long as they aren’t hurt all that much, they won’t care – they’ll be the “good Americans.”

What’s the endgame?

I’ll be very happy to see information that suggests that I am wrong about this, but I’m not seeing a way back to normal democratic process here in the United States. Dick Cheney actually said of the recent immigration ban that it “goes against everything we stand for and believe in…” That’s all well and good, but he’s one of the few men responsible for the process that led us to the mess we’re in right now. I just re-watched the movie “Lincoln” which shows how brilliantly Lincoln managed to end the Civil War, and bring the nation back together… sort of. The sad fact of the matter is that we have at least two different countries (actually 11, if you talk with Colin Woodard.) And I’m not sure that these countries are really compatible anymore.

And even if somehow, we manage to get rid of Trump, there is still Pence. And the Democratic Party holds a minority of everything except mayors – minority of congress, state legislatures and governors. How are we going to turn that around, and can we? And I’d also love to see information that suggest otherwise, but the toxic combination of the inevitable  exacerbation of income inequality and inaction on global climate change that comes with GOP leadership means disintegration, if not in the short term, in the medium term. So what do I do with all of that?

And what about practice?

I keep feeling called to a deeper engagement with spiritual practice. I’ve felt that over the past few years, but the tug is even stronger now. How do I live into that while all this is going on?What does that look like?

As I said, all I have are questions, now.

 

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The Way Forward

This post is primarily written for my queer/trans/POC community, as well as allies actively engaged in anti-oppression work. And the context of this article is the assumption that people you are talking with, or in connection to, are allies – this is not about talking to Trump supporters, or people who aren’t working to be allies. Please share widely as you see fit.

Some of us were shocked, and some of us were not shocked by this election, and the events afterwards. For some of us, there is a new load of fear over the one we’ve been carrying for most or all of our lives. A lot of us are really scared, not knowing whether the casual interaction at the bus station, or the street is going to be harassment or worse. We’ve been scared for a long time of police, but now we’re scared of everyone who is white or straight, or cis, or all of those things. And we’re angry – with righteous anger for all of what has happened, and is still happening, and, perhaps, also what we know will happen. And there is deep sadness, too, for all of the suffering. All of this is understandable, and OK – that is, we should not feel bad to have these feelings, or to express them to others.

Over the past few days, there has been a raging conversation (and in some places, argument) about whether or not it’s right for allies to wear safety pins. And I have noticed patterns of communication that have meant that people stay mired, instead of being able to move forward in solidarity. The sheer fact that we have been spending several days on this should suggest to us that there is a problem.

One of the things I spend a lot of time doing is teaching queer women how to have happy relationships. And one of the things I see over and over again is that how we act in unhealthy ways in relationships are exactly the same as how we act in unhealthy ways in communities – except that in communities the damage is magnified. And from my perspective, there are things to learn here. So I’m going to outline four principles for healthy community communication – principles that will help us move forward. If we don’t practice these principles, we and our allies will remain mired and paralyzed.

Four Principles

These principles are based on science, and on what we know about how people can successfully relate to one another. These are also informed by Buddhist principles.

First, don’t speak or act when you are triggered. There is real science here. When we are triggered, a part of our brain called the Amygdala is activated. And when it is activated, a process called “Amygdala Hijack” happens, and it literally hijacks signals that are going to your pre-frontal cortex – your smart brain.  You literally cannot think, even when you think you are thinking. Remember the litany from Dune, that starts with “Fear is the mind killer.” It is, literally.

So often in activist communities and conversations, we’re triggered, and speaking and acting from that triggered place. In relationships, this means fights, or processing that gets nowhere, and resolves nothing. You know what this means in conversations in community and activist circles.

Second, speak and act with self-responsibility. Our emotions, whether they be fear, sadness, or anger are OURS. They were perhaps triggered by something someone said or did, or things that have happened, but our emotions are still ours, and we need to take responsibility for them. No one else can create those emotions, and no one can take them away. Only we can deal with them.

Third, speak and listen cleanly. By speak cleanly, I mean speak without blame (or self-blame,) shaming, criticism or defensiveness.  At some point in the culture of the left it became de rigeur to shame people who you didn’t agree with. I don’t know when or where it started (the 80s?) but it has become the way we talk to each other when we don’t agree. And, I think as pretty much everyone has witnessed, it is completely unhelpful, and generally results in alienation. (And, in the relationship context, not speaking cleanly ends relationships.)

Listening cleanly means a couple of things. It means not making assumptions about actions and words, and also noticing our own habitual triggers. One really helpful tool that we teach a lot is to use a set of questions developed by Byron Katie. If someone says or does something, and we think, for instance, that they had an intent to obstruct, we might ask, 1) Is it true that they were trying to obstruct? 2) Do we absolutely know that this is true? 3) What does believing this bring up for us emotionally? and 4) Who would we be (or how would it be) without believing that they meant to obstruct? It can also mean assuming good intent.

Give actionable, specific requests. When an ally does something, often times the response is something like “that’s not enough” or “that’s just perpetuating the problem,” or what have you. But it actually doesn’t help an ally figure out what to do – it generally alienates them. Instead, if in response, you gave a specific actionable request, that’s much more likely to have a useful result.

For example, if you really don’t think that wearing a safety pin means anything, you could say something like, “I appreciate that you are trying to make a statement of solidarity with that pin. What I would really like it if alongside that, you’ll come to our meeting on Monday where we discuss specific actions we’ll be taking.” Or something of that nature.

Now I can already hear the objections to all of this. I will be accused of tone policing, for one. And I also know that many people feel that it is not our job to educate allies on what to do. And I’m sure I’ll hear many others. You’ve heard the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results.  If we can’t figure out how to come together as allies wanting the same kind of inclusive, equitable society infused with compassion and love, we are going to get mowed down by the right, and I refuse to watch that happen.

Using these four principles in our conversations about what to do and where to go from here takes learning some skills, but they aren’t hard to learn, and there are many teachers, me among them.

 

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The Next Four Years

I’ve had some time to digest the disaster that was the election this year.  I’m not feeling quite as shocked, or in disbelief. as I was yesterday. I’ve finally fashioned my plan for the next four years (longer, if necessary.) This is not really in order of importance – I think the priorities may re-shift themselves over time.

And first, a caveat – I currently live in one of the bluest counties of one of the bluest states. And even though this particular part of California is a bit less diverse than many, I feel personally pretty safe as a QPOC, so that’s one thing I don’t have to worry about.

  • Keep on teaching self-compassion, self-love, emotional awareness, and befriending fear.
  • Keep on teaching queer women all over the world how to have happy relationships.
  • Keep writing science fiction with my social justice warrior self.
  • Work on creating a spiritual intentional community.
  • Find one or two pivotal issues in CA to work on (single-payer health care would be one that I care about somewhat selfishly, as I am likely to lose my health insurance.)
  • Find ways to work on climate change, which is, from my perspective, the most urgent national issue. It was urgent before, but with a climate denier as president, and a GOP House and Senate, whatever small steps forward the US was taking will now become huge steps backwards.
  • Re-jigger my budget and give more $ to orgs that help the most vulnerable, like women seeking abortions in red states, queer and trans youth, etc.
  • Re-join the ACLU.
  • Take care of myself.
  • Spend time in nature.
  • Strengthen my connections to my friends and communities.
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Eating the Lion

This is a post in my project series, tentatively titled “Overlapping Magisteria” – which is a project to bring together old spiritual wisdom about how to live as human beings, with current scientific understandings.

I’ve been having a great time reading Cynthia Bourgeault’s book “The Wisdom Jesus: Transforming Heart and Mind“. The reason is that it is the best articulation that I’ve come across of Jesus’ teachings that really resonates with my own understanding and experience – Jesus as a teacher of transformation. Ever since I read the Beatitudes in church when I was a child, I knew this Jesus dude had something going on – something I knew I wanted a part of. But even as a Nazarene in my late teens and early twenties, I had a hard time with the “Jesus as Savior” narrative, and I spent a lot of time in seminary thinking about how I was going to theologically squirm my way around the Nicene Creed. I was introduced to the “Jesus as Political Radical Revolutionary” narrative just before and since seminary, and I certainly like it a lot better, but it didn’t quite sit right with me either.

There are some very challenging teachings of Jesus that neither of those narratives can really handle very well. One of them is the parable of the bridesmaids in Matthew 25, another is the parable of the workers in the vineyard, and another is the parable of the prodigal son. Here’s what Bourgeault says about these:

These hard teachings are admittedly disconcerting. You simply can’t translate them into a sentimental theology that says, “Jesus just wants us to be nice, to share, to trust.” They are classic esoteric teachings, echoed and confirmed throughout the universal wisdom tradition, that speak to the need for a certain spiritual substance (or quality of consciousness) to crystallize in a person before he or she can emerge as a complete human being. But what are these teachings doing here? They are like sophiological tidbits that somehow strayed into our soteriological gospel, and there they stand out like a sore thumb, always irritating and slightly unsettling. And even if the four gospels are all we have to work with, these sayings are odd enough to tweak our suspicion that there might be more to this iceberg of Jesus than meets the eye.

Another “hard teaching” is found in the Gospel of Thomas, Logion 7:

Jesus said, “Blessed is the lion which becomes man when consumed by man; and cursed is the man whom the lion consumes, and the lion becomes man.”

It seems like a strange teaching, doesn’t it? But really, in essence, it’s pretty simple (simple, but not easy.) If you think of the lion as our dual (us/them) nature, then to consume the lion is to be able to tame that dual nature – in neuroscience speak, to tame our amygdalas. To be consumed by the lion is to be consumed by the dual nature – to allow our amydalas to rule us.

I imagine if Jesus were alive today, he’d probably use a lizard instead of a lion, but it’s the same idea.

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