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Oh, #Gamergate

I’m a gamer. Yup. You got it. I’m a 55-year old black woman (er, well, genderqueer) gamer. I’ve been playing video games since PONG. Right. PONG. I don’t have a console now, but I’ve had 4 in my life. I have 144 games in my Steam Library, and I have downloaded probably hundreds of Android games. I play a game (or two) just about every day. Every once in a while I’ll even spend a good chunk of the day on an especially compelling game. I spend far more time gaming than I do watching TV and movies. I have been sitting on my hands, drooling, waiting for the release (tomorrow!!) of Sid Meyer’s Civilization Beyond Earth. And I will happily plunk down my $50 to get it and play it (tomorrow!!) And, my dream (really, my dream) is to write for games. I would love aspects of my novel “The Right Asteroid” to make it into a game. I love strategy, space, puzzle and sim games. Really, I love them.

OK, I’m done with the gamer creds. But truthfully, if you play Candy Crush Saga on Facebook, you’re a gamer. If you play Bejeweld on your phone, your a gamer. Most importantly, if you ever have spent a dime on a game, you’re a gamer. You might not resonate with that label, but as far as the game industry is concerned, they want to know who you are. And you know what? It turns out, that there are a lot more women and people of color gamers than anybody thinks. Well, not anybody. The industry knows. They have been slow to respond, but they are responding, and games are changing, and great diverse indie games are appearing. Hence, #gamergate.

So what is #gamergate, anyway? I don’t want to spend much time outlining it here. This is the best article summarizing the whole thing that I’ve read recently. Go read it. I’ll still be here. What is fundamental to #gamergate is that it is, as that article says, a symptom of a much bigger issue. Let’s be frank, here. It’s White Guy Fear Syndrome.

Maybe I’ll coin that term: WGFS. White Guy Fear Syndrome. Maybe it will make it into the DSM VI (that is, if there actually ever is a DSM VI.) Of course WGFS is everywhere. The backlash against women in technology is a symptom of WGFS. Ferguson was a symptom of WGFS. People like Mike Huckabee show the classic symptoms of WGFS. You can think of many, many others. The news is full of them. (Note: Luckily, WGFS is found in a minority of white men.)

The hallmark symptom of White Guy Fear Syndrome is the desire to cause fear in others. In some cases, this is creating fear in allies, so that they will act in certain ways. The other is to cause fear in enemies.

Actually, I don’t really want to pathologize these men (although some of them have done pathologically horrible things.) What I want to say is that the core of all of this is fear. Their fear of not having a place. Their fear of not having control. Their fear of losing what they have. They are afraid of change.

Sound familiar? Guess what, we all have those fears. They are deeply human, and normal.

What happens when a woman challenges the status quo in the gamer community? She gets threats, and she gets doxxed (which means her physical address is shared publicly.) This has been happening a lot, and most recently, Felicia Day, a well-known actress and fabulous geek, spoke out about #gamergate, and she got doxxed. Many men have also spoken out on #gamergate, including Will Wheaton and football star Chris Kluwe (read this article, it’s great.) Men don’t get doxxed. There is no question, that #gamergate is aimed squarely at scaring women. It is misogynistic at it’s core. And misogyny is fear of women. Yup, there’s fear again.

So what to do about #gamergate? I think the only answer is for all of us, especially on the female side of the spectrum (born or identified) to stand up and say: “Yes, I’m a gamer, I want a game industry that is diverse, and not misogynistic, and I’m not scared of you.”

Go ahead. Dox me. No, wait, I’ll dox myself. 2480 Rio Lindo Ave. Healdsburg, CA. 95448. I’m waiting for ya. You’ll get some tea.

Update: Upon posting this, getting some interesting responses on Twitter and other places, it appears this is getting pretty complicated.  It seems #gamergate proponents are a much more varied, diverse lot than the press is suggesting (even feminist/progressive press, which is where I’m getting most of my news on this – I don’t read about games and the game community much – I just play games.) Some are still very adamant about ethics in game journalism (ethics in journalism is always a good thing.) Also, apparently (although this is disputed) there is a pro-#gamergate group called #notyourshield, which is made up of women, trans and poc gamers. So I want to clarify one thing: I clearly can’t say #gamergate as a whole is a symptom of WGFS, but I will say that responses to women and others that were anti-#gamergate, where they were doxxed and/or threatened under the aegis of #gamergate is a symptom. And I stand by my statement about a game industry that is diverse, and truly represents the wide variety of people who play games. For me, that’s the bottom line, the crux of the matter, and any backlash against that is where the problem is.

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Fat: Fear, Hate & Love

I just finished watching a documentary film called “Fed Up” about how totally screwed up our food system is, particularly when it comes to sugar. (I’ve also seen quite a number of documentaries on our food system, all of which are incredibly damning.) And I’ve read some blogs and such about the movie, and one of the primary critiques of the film is that it exploits fat hatred, and fat phobia. And then I came across this post, about a powerful art installation (the post does not include information about who the artist is – if you know, please let me know.) The post’s primary critique was this image, saying that among other things:

I call SUCH FUCKING BULLSHIT on the picture with the fat child. First, because being fat ISN’T A FUCKING CRUCIFIXION, ASSHOLE. It isn’t a damage or a blight or a sickness or a perversion or any kind of wrong. A kid being fat isn’t automatically a kid who’s got something wrong with them.

And what’s true is that statement above is very right, and very wrong. Across the spectrum, we have a set of truly problematic ways of thinking about and dealing with the issue of fat.

One one hand, we have a society which feeds us photoshopped pictures of models and stars that set completely unrealistic (CRAZY unrealistic) ideals for how women (particularly women) should look. We have objectified and fetishized thinness, to a degree that is, actually, crazy. It is simply not healthy to be as thin as women are “supposed” to be, and the amount of money that is spent on diet books, diet plans, surgery, gym memberships, etc. is, well, part of the reason I expect those ideals get perpetuated.

There is a lot of fat-phobia. It’s considered our fault if we don’t meet society’s standards. “You don’t work out enough, you eat too much, it’s all your fault.”  But there is evidence that diets actually harm people, instead of helping them (and cause people to gain even more weight.) Sugar substitutes are harmful (and can also cause weight gain, and increase likelyhood of diabetes.) And these standards have made their way into the medical community, which has affected how research is done, and what conclusions are drawn.  The whole “low fat” craze, which was based on faulty research, has probably harmed a lot more people than it benefited, since, it turns out fat isn’t the problem (except for transfats. They aren’t good). And doctors use the beauty standards instead of research when they talk to their patients (I’ve experienced this myself.)

But yet, there is a problem. Childhood obesity, which used to be rare, isn’t. And kids are getting Type II diabetes (it’s actually called “adult onset” for a reason.) Most of the food that is sold in most grocery stores is so processed, that it lacks much in the way of nutritional value, and totally screws with our metabolism. Industry leaders like McDonalds are a critical part of the picture. Food in our country has been designed to be addictive. It’s also designed to deliver the highest number of calories for the lowest cost. In many places in the US, obesity is a manifestation of lack of food security. And it turns out that the whole thing about “energy balance” (that is burning as many calories as you eat) is not so accurate. What kind of food you eat is at least as important as the number of calories you eat.

I was small (very small) for most of my early life. I didn’t get tall until college, and didn’t gain weight until I was in my 30s, when for a number of reasons, I stopped being so active. I would have gained some weight even if I’d kept active – because, genes. When I was growing up, there were varied pictures of thin women on the refrigerator. It embedded in me that standard that I know I can’t meet (and, at this point, have truly no interest in meeting.) I am learning to love this body, this big body. And part of learning to love this body is changing how I eat, and how active I am.

I don’t have a lot of money, but I do have enough privilege to make the choice to spend a much larger percentage of my money on food than most people. I eat as little processed food as I can, and I try to lessen it more and more (I’m down to brown rice pasta, gluten free bread, crackers, and organic tortilla chips – which I’m trying to eat somewhat sparingly, but it’s hard to give those things up.) and I have a new commitment to use sugar like I’d use cinnamon, or curry powder. It’s meant to be a seasoning. It’s actually pretty poisonous, and addictive. I’m working with a personal trainer (a trade, thankfully) and I’m focusing on flexibility, strength and endurance. Not losing weight. I don’t even have a scale.

We need both things. Proud fat/large/zaftig/big women and men proclaiming that there is nothing wrong with us. And the medical community needs to look at our actual health, not our weight.

And we need an honest discussion about our food system, and how it relates to our health (and the health of the planet, too.) We can’t let our responses to fat hatred and phobia blind us to the truth of how we have to change how we eat, and what food is available to whom.

 

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The Social Media Product is YOU

ElloI was inspired to write this post by reading a post from my colleague Peter Campbell. It’s worth a read.

If any of your fellow travelers are queer or trans, you definitely have heard about the Facebook real names brou-ha-ha. It has been, for many, the straw that broke the camel’s back in terms of Facebook. I don’t know that I’ve seen an exodus, per se, but I know that a lot of people I know have been checking out Ello, as have I. (If you want an invite, email me. Frankly, it has a horrible UX.)

There is no question that the real names policy makes being on Facebook untenable for some, for a wide variety of reasons, not just because someone’s a drag performer. I personally know people who could possibly be injured by ex-partners if they revealed their real names on Facebook. I also personally know people who’s “real” name isn’t who they are anymore.

But there is something critical people forget. Facebook is free (as is Google+, Ello, Twitter, and every other social network.)

If the product is free, you are the product.

Protesting that Facebook (or any other free social media service) bow to the wishes of their users is not especially likely to succeed. They will, of course, do some things to keep people happily on Facebook – they may yet revise their policy. But they will do everything they can to enhance the money that they can make from you, the product. That is the only thing that you can ever guarantee. The real reason behind the real names conflict isn’t at all about reducing the number of trolls. It’s almost certainly about advertisers being able to better target you. That’s why privacy keeps sucking. Privacy is in direct opposition to the ability to market to you.

A moment of disclosure. I am one of those people that pays Facebook. Yup. I’m an advertiser. Very tiny potatoes as it goes, but Conscious Girlfriend does indeed run Facebook ads now and again. It has proven to be extraordinarily useful, and Google ads don’t do nearly as much in terms of getting the word out about what we do. Sadly, there really is nothing to replace it (if there were, we’d use it.)

And this is where the problem lies, of course. The nugget of the problem, that started out very many years ago (in internet time). Everything started out free, but of course, it doesn’t cost nothing. Software costs money to make and maintain. Servers cost money to run, everything costs money.  And the more users something has, the more it costs. So where does that come from? It comes, ultimately from most of us that buy stuff that is advertised on the internet. That’s how the money flows, and alternative systems (paywalls, etc.) have been flops.

So to demand that Facebook (or Google+, or Ello, or any other free social media platform) do anything that will get in the way of them making money is not going to be especially useful. The only answer is something along the lines of Diaspora, the open source, distributed social network. But that requires that way more people dive into things that require technology expertise. And running a Diaspora pod takes… right, money, too.

I don’t have a good answer to this (besides dismantling capitalism, my favorite answer to most of our problems), but I do know that at some point, maybe it’s a year or two, Ello will start doing things to make money. And people won’t like it.

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The Outrage

I had a conversation with myself this morning. One side of me, let’s call her Outraged, was annoyed at what the other side of me, let’s call her Stillness, was thinking.

Outraged said, “I can’t believe you’re sitting there looking at everything happening and not doing anything.”

Stillness answered, “I’m doing what makes sense to me. Living my life as full of compassion and joy as I can manage. Meeting everyone with kindness. Is there anything else I can do?”

“But you should be outraged at the fact that a black man is killed by police every 28 hours! You should be doing something!”

“You are addicted to outrage, Outrage.”

“How dare you say that!”

“See, your blood pressure is up. That’s adrenaline flowing. You’re going to get addicted to your own adrenaline.”

“But we can’t allow this to happen! What are you doing, sitting there looking at the trees?”

“Calm down, Outrage. This happened. We must accept that it happened, and keeps happening. Is there anything I can do at this moment that will prevent it from happening in another 28 hours?”

“Stillness, what are you talking about? Accept it? How dare you accept this! That’s horrible!”

“All I am saying is that what has happened, has happened. We can’t change the past.”

“I’m sorry, but I can’t accept it! I won’t accept it!”

“Outrage, can you turn the clock back to Saturday, or yesterday?”

“Well, of course not.”

“Then, you must accept that it happened. You must accept that it happened twice more since.”

“So what’s your alternative, Ms. Stillness?”

“I don’t have an easy answer, Outrage. This is a very complex issue. It won’t come untangled easily.”

“Oh, so you don’t have an answer, but you want to accuse me of being addicted to outrage? I’m outraged!”

“Well, I do know that if everyone approached everyone else with kindness, this wouldn’t happen. So I’ll just start with me. I will make a commitment to approach everyone I meet with kindness.”

“Pah, I hope you’re not holding your breath, waiting for everyone do do that.”

“Is being outraged any better, Outrage?”

 

 

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War, blame, self-responsibility, and compassion

There are many, many wars going on right now. Some, like the 44 military conflicts, create suffering on massive scales, and large losses in life. But there are many, many other wars. Gang wars, sectarian conflicts, internal conflicts that have not yet gotten violent, conflicts between political parties, as well as the internecine conflicts between sub-factions social groups, and, sadly, between people in a couple who love each other. Conflict, including everything from the small, private conflicts we live each day, to the huge conflicts that kill thousands, seem to be simply… human. We can’t seem to avoid it. We haven’t managed to avoid it for any of our history as a species.

I spend a lot of my day talking to couples (or members of ex-couples), and writing about relationships. My (relatively new) work as a relationship geek and coach has given me insight into why conflict gets out of control. And in thinking about what’s going on in the world, I actually think that it’s all the same stuff, just vastly expanded in scale. What happens in couples, especially in what we call “high conflict” couples, where each person blames the other for everything, is exactly what’s happening in the world today.

The problem is, blame is never a useful thing. It never gets at the root of the problem, and never solves anything. Even if you are able to get to a sort of settlement, blame will rear its ugly head yet again, and a new cycle of conflict will start. Blame is completely useless in healing conflicts, whether it be conflicts between partners, or conflicts between countries.

If a couple is locked in conflict, it’s easy for a cycle of blame to start going. One person blames the other for an affair, for instance, while that partner blames the other for being cold and withdrawn. Then that partner blames the other for being critical… you get the picture. This is about as useful as the cycle of blame in Israel and Palestine. There comes a point where “who is to blame” is a completely useless path to walk down. And the problem is, especially when it comes to global conflicts, there seems to be no other conversation. Hamas is to blame because they are shooting rockets into Israel. Israel is to blame because they’ve been cutting off Gaza for years… etc., etc., ad nauseum.

So what is the right path? The right path is two fold: self-responsibility and compassion. Where blame doesn’t help, taking self -responsibility does. And we’re not talking self-blame here. We’re talking looking deeply at yourself, and seeing what’s there, and what you are really responsible for. For that person that might have had an affair, it would be taking responsibility for their feelings of alienation and loneliness, and acting on them. I think that a really big thing that people need to take responsibility for is acting out of fear. Some of that fear is immediate, and some of that fear is historical and cultural. But it is fear nonetheless, and acting out of fear never has good results – it can never heal conflict.

And compassion is actually really simple. Not always easy, but simple. And compassion always starts with ourselves. So much misery is caused by lack of self-compassion.

Of course, Israel and Palestine, Russia and Ukraine, and many other conflicts are not between equals. So the burden of self-responsibility is most heavy on the party that has the most power to effect changes in the relationship. But compassion is important for both sides.

I’m glad that I am able to help couples heal conflict. I wish there were a way to help countries do the same. Human beings have a hard time with self-responsibility and compassion, and it just gets worse the larger the collection of humans there are.

 

 

 

 

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The Personal is Still Political

It’s funny, I’d never read the original paper that coined the term “the personal is political” until I was getting ready to write this blog post. It’s an interesting read. The basic point, from my perspective, is that you can’t separate what we do (or what happens to us) individually, from what happens in society. It’s all connected. Interpersonal social dynamics interweave with group dynamics, differences in culture, history and oppression.

What makes this even more true today is that even more than the late 60’s when that article was written, we live in a society that commodifies everything. There are absolutely a lot of problems with this, but this blog post is not a rail against commodification — that train has left the station, and we’re stuck with it, unless we wish to radically change the way we all live our lives. (I don’t see that coming down the pike anytime soon.)

This year, for Gay Pride, Kink.com, a San Francisco-based company that specializes in internet porn, specifically around BDSM, had a prison-themed party. Here’s a little taste of the promotional material:

What kind of trouble will 3000 of the world’s hottest men get into when in lockdown? Let your fantasies run wild in solitary, fall in love in the shower, plan your jailbreak with your mates, celebrate your creative freedom, in Pride weekend’s BIGGEST circuit party of the year!

Now as you might imagine, there was some degree of outrage at the idea that playing at prison is a good idea for a party for Gay Pride. It’s a really horrible idea. I don’t know who came up with it, but I can think of about 50 different reasons why it should never have happened. Some people rightly protested, and Kink.com’s response to the protest has been also horrifying.

To me, why it could happen, is a much more interesting question than why it did happen. I was in a couple of different Facebook conversations about it, and I thought that I should lay out my perspective in a more ordered, lengthy fashion.

First off, I want to be clear that when it comes to sexuality, I’m libertarian. I think consenting adults should be able to do whatever it is we want to do with each other, and although that party was a horrible idea, kink.com had the right to put it on, and people had a right to go. That said, I am also relentlessly committed to consciousness. I have the habit of doing what I can to shine a light on everything I do in my life and examine it, and ask about whether it is really resonant with my values and higher purpose. Some things I can easily reconcile, and others are a lot harder, because we live in complicated, problematic times, and I’m human (and not a Buddha.) I do have the habit of shining that same light to everything I come in contact with (for good or ill, depending on your point of view, I guess.)

So back to the question, why could this happen? Is it just some one person’s weird idea that it might be fun to have a party where people play at being in prison? Not so much. From my perspective, it’s a reflection of personal play, combined with the commodification of that play.

Being queer in the Bay Area means that you know people, and are exposed to things that are more edgy than, say, living in New England. I do actually rather like that about it. One thing that I’ve been exposed to is sexual play that includes a dynamic that involves drastic power imbalances. For instance, pretending to be prison guard and prisoner, or master and slave. Some people just play at this in the privacy of their bedroom, others play in play parties, and some others live that life 24/7.

I’m going to be clear here — I do have my kinky (I actually say curly) edges, but some particular kinds of role play have always been difficult for me to swallow.  And the reason is that they reflect very real power imbalances that real people do (or did) experience every day in ways that are (or were) very, very less than fun–in fact, in ways that are (and were) devastating to them. Further, some of them are (or were) condoned and institutional, and reflect (or reflected) the very real manifestations of oppression.

Of course, that is their power. People play at being, say, the plumber and the housewife all the time, and it can be kinda sexy, but it doesn’t have an edge, does it? I know that some might argue that embracing those extreme power differentials in the context of sexual play is transformative. I can imagine that might be true in some situations, but I’m not utterly convinced, particularly for dynamics that reflect situations of real oppression. Prison guard/prisoner play, even between people in the privacy of their own bedroom, minimizes the lived reality of people and objectifies the people who are oppressed.  I’m sure it’s fun, though.

But that’s the problem. From my perspective, pleasure is trumping consciousness. And the result?  Add that to the commodification of everything, and add a little dash of OITNB, and you get… The Kink.com prison play party. It was inevitable. I could also write a long treatise on the problematic nature of master/slave play, but luckily, there wasn’t a kink.com slave auction  for Pride.

Sex and sexuality is powerful, fun, enlivening, sacred and transformative. And it can’t be separated from society and its imbalances, oppressions, divisions, and complications. We have to shine the same light onto it as we’d shine onto anything else. We have to be willing to at least look at the effects of our personal choices in  how we find pleasure.

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Happy.

Ruth and I were walking down our road on our almost-daily walk. And as is often the case when we take this particular walk, I feel happy. Since I didn’t spend most of my life happy, I tend to take sadness or despair for granted, and not question why I feel that way. But happiness? I’m always asking why when it pokes it’s little head up, like a new flower arriving in the spring.

But for the last few months, I have realized that I am happy. I’d say deliriously happy, except that sounds like a state that isn’t sustainable, and I know I am happy in a sustainable way. Not that I’ll always feel happy. I know that I’ll feel sad, or angry, or despairing, or one of a dozen difficult emotions, now and again. But instead of sadness being the baseline, and happiness being a high, it feels like my life has reversed – happiness is the new baseline.

And the funny thing is that it’s not because everything is actually perfect. I still have chronic health issues I am dealing with. I’m still (trying) to pay off my seminary student loan debt. My life at the moment is in flux. I’ve left behind the career I’ve known for 15 years, onto another set of endeavors that have no guarantee. But all of these those seem more like a set of puzzles to solve or experiments to try, rather than a problem I have to deal with.

But what started me out on this journey of happiness was this: I was committed to listening to myself, and how I wanted to live my own life. And being committed to giving myself love and compassion, and being self-aware–they are both things that are core elements of what makes my life happy.  And the funny thing is, I don’t have what many people (at least in the US) think will make them  happy,  but I don’t even want those things. Ease and time is way more important to my quality of life than money or security or stuff.

Sometimes, as I watch the horror the world seems to have in store every single day, I feel a little guilty at being happy, and living the life I truly want.  Watching the world go to hell in a handbasket doesn’t make me happy. But I’ve fully realized that I don’t have any control over what happens in the world, just over what happens in my life. I have control over the things I say (or don’t say,) the actions I can take (or not take,) and the things I can contribute (and not contribute) to the world. Understanding that, and letting go, has made a huge difference. Some of us live lives of choice, and that is a great privilege, one I try to be responsible with.

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Transitions R Us (or… So Long #nptech, and Thanks for All the Fish)

If you’ve known me for any length of time, you know I don’t do any one thing for very long in my life. I think that is both my strength, and my weakness. I don’t know if most polymaths are like this, but at least I am. I’ve been a scientist, a teacher and academic, a business owner, a theology student, and a science fiction author (and a few other things, too.) But the one thing I’ve done the longest of anything is a technologist and developer for the nonprofit sector. 

I discovered my love and fascination with computers and code in the late 1970s in college, and it has been a pretty consistent thread (and will continue to be) in my life. But I have been “doing stuff” for nonprofit organizations around technology issues, primarily having to do with internet technology and web development, since 1994-5, and full time (with a break in 2005-6 to study theology) since 1999. I’ve been meaning to leave it now for a while, and after almost 20 years, it’s finally time to bid all of it adieu.

I’m in my last weeks of working with the fabulous team at DevCollaborative, and if you want some ace people to build your nonprofit Drupal website, they’ll do it with integrity and great skill. I’m happy to have helped build the collaborative, and sad to be leaving them. I look forward to watching them grow and develop as individuals and as a team.

I felt drawn to write some reflections about my time doing the work I’ve been doing, and how I feel now, nearly 20 years down the pike. The first thing to reflect on is nonprofit technology. As a board member of a bunch nonprofit and religious organizations since the mid-80s, I have been committed to the care and feeding of those specific nonprofits, and the sector as a whole. Helping nonprofits use technology wisely felt like a good choice – it felt like I got to have my cake and eat it too, in a way – indulge my love of technology and help change the world in the process.

Twenty years of that has poured some cold water on that nice idea. First, my love of technology meant that I wasn’t always the best arbiter of what a nonprofit should do. I know that there were times our judgments as nonprofit technologists have been clouded by shiny (love of bleeding-edge tech.)  And on the other hand, I was advocating strategies for the development and use of open source software that would free organizations from proprietary products, some of which were crappy, obscenely expensive, promoted lock-in, and made by publicly-traded for-profit companies. I got a lot of bored yawns for those ideas, for years.

Am I glad that nonprofits have the benefit of technology that everyone else does, and lots of help and support? Of course. I’m glad that there are great people and companies and organizations doing this work, and I’m happy for my part in it. And I’m glad that at least for some things like servers and websites (oh, and phones!), open source software has indeed won the day. But I’ve come to feel that none of that is going to change the world. The world needs way, way more than technologically well-equipped nonprofit organizations to save it. (Actually, it needs way, way less of everything, but that’s a post for another day.)

The second set of reflections is about being one of a few among many. I’ve been one of not so many African-American women in nonprofit technology, and one of a very few African American women contributors to open source projects. The space of developers of open source projects and even nonprofit developers is still very white,  very straight, and still largely male.  I didn’t realize for a long time that this loneliness was wearing, but it has been. As I’ve watched the growth of younger women and women of color developers, it’s made me happy, but has not made me feel less lonely, because the space, even as it gets more diverse, is still also pretty young. There aren’t all that many developers my age (I’ll be 55 in August), let alone women my age, let alone queer people of color my age. I hadn’t let myself really feel how tiring that loneliness was until a year or so ago.

I am happy, though, to have been a little part, and a witness to the growth of two communities (and the places those overlap.) In 1994, a student and I installed Linux, which then came on a big pile of floppies, on a server in my office at Hampshire College, for a local nonprofit organization, so they could have email and a website. That’s how I learned about open source software. In 2000ish, I got hooked up with these people who called themselves “Circuit Riders.” The ride on both the open source and nonprofit tech trains has been interesting and full of great characters. I’ve made friends, contributed what I could, and it’s been a nice trip, with no regrets.

What’s next, you ask? Most importantly, my long Buddhist practice, seminary training, and life experience is helping me in an endeavor I’m doing with my partner, Ruth. We’re working on creating tools and resources to help the relationships of women who love women happier, healthier and more conscious. We’ve started Conscious Girlfriend, which is an exciting and completely new chapter in my work life.  It’s using different parts of my brain and gets me back into teaching and writing, both of which I really enjoy. I’m still writing science fiction, and I also hope to start to be much more deliberate about getting the word out about my work. If you want to learn more about that, definitely read my author blog. (hint: podcasts and audio versions!)

 

 

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What Does Marriage Mean to Me?

A old colleague of mine wrote a sweet piece about marriage, and what it means to her to be getting married. I’ve been thinking a lot about marriage these days, for a variety of reasons, and that post prompted me to finally get out the one that’s been brewing in my head for weeks.

As some of you know, I’ve been building “Conscious Girlfriend” with my partner, Ruth. Conscious Girlfriend aims to provide resources for lesbian and queer women to have relationships that are full of awareness, joy and compassion. And this endeavor means that I have been thinking and talking about relationships a lot lately.

This country seems to be in the midst of a major sea change in not only attitudes about marriage, and who should get them, but also the laws regarding marriage. Just today, a brand new set of federal policies were enacted, treating married same-sex couples exactly the same as straight ones. And it seems almost every month brings a new state into the fold of states that allow gay marriage.

Clearly, there is something about marriage that has deep significance for people, so I’ve been examining this for myself. What does marriage mean to me?

There are two threads I can follow. The first is personal, the second political and historical.

First, the personal. When I was growing up, I would not say that I saw very many married couples with relationships I wanted to emulate. I remember when I was 10 or 11, telling my mother I didn’t want to get married. I do know that some of that had to do with the fact that I was beginning to understand that I was queer. But I also think it was because I didn’t really see many couples that seemed especially happy. So in my early life, I assumed that I would never get married.

As I got older, and met more people who had relationships I could see myself in, I still never thought much about marriage per se. I had one partnership where the early assumption was that we’d stay together forever (thankfully, we did not,) but it wasn’t couched as a marriage, really. But also, this was in a sense societal. It was before the gay marriage movement got really going, so it wasn’t in our consciousness at the time.

Between my current partnership with Ruth, and the sea change that has occurred around gay marriage, the idea of getting married isn’t so far from my consciousness anymore. I can imagine getting married, which is something I could not have said 10 years ago.

When I think about it, I think a lot about the sacredness of relationships, the deep, intimate connection between two people, the idea of a safe harbor and platform from which one can branch out and do great work in the world. But I also know that there is something in the idea of official and societal recognition of that deep connection with another human being. And even more when that connection is between two people of the same sex – a connection that has been disallowed in society until quite recently.

That’s big, and I can feel it, even though, for me, the institution of marriage is historically problematic, especially for women.

I remember that fateful May, in 2004, I was in Northampton, Massachusetts, along with a lot of other people, celebrating while couples went to city hall to get married, in the first state in which it was fully legal. I remember standing outside, watching couples walk to get their marriage licenses, talking to a friend of mine. We shared a sense of whiplash – it seemed not so long ago that marriage was something lesbians, at least, didn’t need, or want, and the scathing critiques of marriage from feminists was fresh in all of our minds.

Marriage is an institution with a rather interesting history. The idea of romantic love leading to marriage is a fairly recent development. Earlier than the 19th century (and, sadly, still true in some societies today) most marriages were arranged by the parents. Men had more autonomy in their choices, women had nearly none. In many societies, the parents would basically sell off their daughters to the highest bidder (or the bidder with the highest stature in the community.) Marriage was not an institution that served women well, at all.

I sometimes laugh at the critiques of gay marriage. But, there is a dirty secret that gay marriage advocates are not willing to admit. Gay marriage will not damage any individual heterosexual marriage, but it will change the institution. Just like societal changes that moved marriage from an economic transaction to a romantic connection, and the women’s movement of the 60s and 70s changed marriage again, gay marriage will inevitably change what marriage looks like, and what role it has in our society. It has to, and, frankly, it should.

Even as the idea of getting married myself seems more possible to me, my hope is that at the same time as marriage becomes available to everyone who wants one, and is celebrated and embraced by everyone, our society changes such that those who choose to not get married can be as celebrated, honored and respected  as those who do.

 

 

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By Jurrian Persyn (http://www.flickr.com/people/oemebamo/)

Loving the work you do

Image by Jurrian Persyn (http://www.flickr.com/people/oemebamo/)

There has been a lot of talk about a recent article in Slate which is a rather harsh critique of the “Do what you love” idea about work. There is a great critique of this article at the Unexpected Mogul that I encourage you to read. But here is my critique, which is from a slightly different angle.

For the author of the original article, the “do what you love” mantra is said by elites completely oblivious to the realities of most people’s lives, and it devalues workers and their work.  A choice quote from the article:

“In ignoring most work and reclassifying the rest as love, DWYL may be the most elegant anti-worker ideology around. Why should workers assemble and assert their class interests if there’s no such thing as work?”

I do know that many people who use this mantra are completely blind to their privilege.  However, there is another way to look at this, which I’m going to outline here. It is the idea that in fact, “doing what you love” could be the most radical, empowering idea about work that every single person should be able to embrace.

I think I need to have a little preamble before I dive into why I think this could be so radical. First, I have privilege, privilege I hope that I am not blind to. I know that my ability to pursue work that I love (which  I pretty much have for my entire  life) is totally based on the fact that I grew up with educated parents, went to good schools, and got  into a good college I could attend without having to work or take out loans. My father was an independent business owner for many, many years, so I knew the model.

I do think (and have always thought) that for the current model of work to be compassionate and equitable, strong unions are critical. My perspective is that everyone, regardless of education or ability, needs to be able to work a reasonable amount of hours (giving plenty of time for leisure, family, hobbies, community, etc.) to gain compensation that gives them a comfortable life. And if they can’t work, they need to get a reasonable stipend so they can live a comfortable life. A combination of strong unions, government policies that ensure full employment, and a strong social safety net should assure this.

But, frankly, the United States is not Europe, and never, ever, ever will be  (at least not as it is currently arranged.) And besides, Europe is quickly moving backwards. Unless a large chunk of the US either has brain transplants, or decides to secede (my preference) we’re never going to have this combination of unions, full employment and a strong safety net. The US has this weird soup of greed and individualism that will make this impossible. So given this soup, what’s the solution? To my mind, the solution is to use capitalism to destroy Capitalism.

Little “c” capitalism (or perhaps one could use the term “free markets” but that’s kinda co-opted – I’m not sure of another word – basically small biz) is you and me, little guy, leaving the wage slave life, doing work that we love, whether it be growing food, or making bread, or roasting coffee, or cooking meals, or building houses, or helping people with relationships, or helping people get healthy, or walking dogs, or building websites, or one of a zillion vocations.  And maybe we have apprentices (that we pay.) And, if everyone, instead of going to WalMart, or McDonalds, or whatever, bought stuff we needed from you and me little guy, the power that big corporations (big “C” capitalism) have over us, and over our work lives, would disappear.

Let’s face it. For the majority of people in the US, work is something they do to make other people rich. Even creative types – writers make publishers rich, actors make movie moguls rich, athletes make team owners rich. In some cases, if people work for the government, or nonprofits, they do actually work for the good of the people. But mostly, people work so that a very tiny percentage of people can get obscenely rich. For some it does provide reasonable compensation, but for many, it leaves them in poverty, even if they spend almost every waking hour working.

This is not the work I want to value. And it’s not the work I want anyone to be doing (unless, I guess, if they really love making other people rich.)

I’m not saying this is easy. Getting from here to where everyone (I mean every single person) is able to pursue a vocation doing something they love is a very, very long journey. I’m not sure we’ll get there before we do ourselves in by other means (global climate change, for instance.) There is a lot of complexity (for instance, what about all of those gadgets we love? Who cleans the streets?) There is complexity both for individuals (cost, convenience, etc.) as well as the society as a whole.

Really, because of the industrial revolution, and technology advances, we all actually don’t have to work a whole lot for all of us to be just fine (food, health care, housing, etc.) It’s not something that there is a lot of historical precedence for.  In fact, history since the dawn of agriculture is filled with societies that exploit the work of one group or another (even in the name of “the proletariat”.) But it’s not impossible – that’s the path I want us to be walking, and it’s the path I want to help as many people as I can walk it, privileged or not.

 

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