Life in the slow lane

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I’m on a news and social media fast for the month of December. I’d realized I’d gotten so despairing about the news, as well as just kind of full of useless stuff, so I decided a month off from the constant influx of information would be a good thing.

It’s day 2. This is the withdrawal phase. I open my browser out of habit, and then realize that I have nothing to do in it. (I email clients, and not the web interface for email, so I really have nothing to do on it.) OK, well, I’m writing this blog entry, and I’m looking at the weather for my trip down to Southern California. And I’ve read all my email (and deleted the many, many cyber Monday (extended sales!) and giving Tuesday emails.

I do have work I can do, and writing I can do, but it’s strange, not getting my standard social media injection. No community chatter, and no engagement in conversation. But my head is certainly quieter, and so far, I’ve gotten a lot more stuff done. I think I might actually even get to this after a while.

I’ll blog about this over the next month. Of course, since I’m not posting this on social media, I have no idea whether anyone will read it.

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Hanging Out Here, On This Edge

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Ever hear of the Political Compass? It’s pretty cool. It basically suggests, based on good evidence, that simply left and right aren’t enough to really characterize political views. You have to include at least one more axis, and that is libertarian vs. authoritarian. It’s worth taking the test, just to see where you fall. I imagine many people I know will fall somewhere in the green left bottom square. But I’m quite the outlier. Ghandi and the Dalai Lama are less outliers than I am. And Obama is actually well up and right in the blue quadrant, kinda near Mitt Romney (that’s correct, we really didn’t get that much of a choice, now, did we? But we knew that.) Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate (president, 2012), is five little squares more authoritarian and 6 little squares more right than I am. (She’s kinda in the upper right of the lower left quadrant.) The governments of Scandanavia, the leftist poster children, are still in the blue quadrant.

So what does this mean? It means that I feel completely politically alienated, almost all of the time.

Let me give you a few examples:

Q. What can we do about police brutality?

A. Why are there police?

Q. What can we do about unemployment?

A. Why do people have to have jobs?

Q. Shouldn’t we tax the rich? 

A. Why are there people who hoard money?

Q. How’s that Obamacare doing?

A. Why are for-profit entities involved in healthcare?

Q. Should we regulate against GMOs?

A. Why should for-profit entities be growing our  food?

Q. Should there be a carbon tax to combat climate change?

A. What is all this shit we’re doing for, anyway? What’s the point?

Every single political question of our time leads me not to an answer or my opinion, but to another question about our fundamental assumptions about how to live our lives. Of course, if you constrain me, and force me to answer questions based on current assumptions, then I’m your standard, garden variety far-leftist. But I don’t like being constrained in that way. And I also am fully and completely aware of how I am constrained into living a life that isn’t actually the life I’d want to be able to lead, and some things I do go against my own ideals.

There’s another part of being alienated, for me. It has to do with my own identity. Because I’m black, queer, genderqueer and a woman in our white, heteropatriarchal society, I live on the edge of danger, of marginalization, of silences, of struggle. I don’t generally see myself reflected in society, and when I do, it’s usually distorted. And I also don’t always see myself reflected in queer of color spaces, either.  Often it’s because I don’t live an urban life. Sometimes it’s because I’m too much of a geek. Sometimes it’s because I’m too much of a weird spiritual mutt. Sometimes it’s because I just can’t sustain anger and outrage.

You might say, especially now, how can I say that? Oh, I’ve been angry and outraged. But I can’t hold onto the anger for more than a short while (like less than an hour). It’s not healthy for me. Feeling it is important, but so is letting it go. I have to let it go, or it will eat at my soul like battery acid. I don’t want an acid-eaten soul.

So here I sit, on this edge. This socialist/libertarian/queer/geeky/rural/mutt-spiritual/not-so-angry edge. And  this is  why I write novels. At least I can use this alienation to good ends.

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Religion vs. Atheism

I read an interesting article the other day, in Salon. It includes quotations from Lawrence Krauss, suggesting that religion could be gone in a generation. One salient quote:

Change is always one generation away. So if we can plant the seeds of doubt in our children, religion will go away in a generation, or at least largely go away. And that’s what I think we have an obligation to do.

There is so much wrong in this one sentence, I can’t even… To start, change is sometimes a generation (or shorter) away, and often not. But what’s more important, I think, is the attitude that many atheists have (some, most? I don’t know how common this is, but it certainly is common among the “new atheists”) about religion. To them, religion at worst are these big, fundamentalist systems that deny science, and do horrible things in the name of God, and at best are some stupid fairy tales that people use as a crutch to give their lives meaning.

I want to start with the flaw in the fundamental premise that many (most?) atheists espouse: atheism as the rational, logical conclusion based on what we’ve learned about science. I have nothing against atheists, just like I have nothing against anyone who believes in anything else. That’s the key. Atheism is a belief, just like any other. The scientific method doesn’t have in its toolkit a way to investigate the divine (especially since there are gazillions of ways that people define  it.) The only logical, rational conclusion based on science is “who the frakk knows?” Anything else is belief.

Second, what is “religion” anyway? As you see above, there are a couple of definitions that apply here. First “the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods.” It’s funny, by this definition, I’m not actually  religious (I take issue with the phrase “controlling power”.) The second is “a particular system of faith and worship.” Ah, that’s pretty broad. I think in modern life, people who consider themselves religious are those that are part of big systems – the Catholic church, some form of protestantism, islam, etc. The rest, if they choose, often call themselves “spiritual” which has probably as many meanings as there are people who call themselves that. But it’s really important to say that not all religions deny scientific truth. Not all religions tell you exactly what to believe. Not all religions do horrible things in the name of their god/s. (And, of course, the “new atheists” hardly mention Stalin, Mao, and the Kmer Rouge.)

One of the things about being human is that it’s pretty frakking mysterious. How did we get here? Why are we here? What’s the point? What meaning does my life have? These are questions that can’t really be answered by science, probably because we as human beings aren’t really equipped to understand them (that’s my belief.) People will always be searching for an answer.

And what is planting “seeds of doubt” in children? Teaching them science? Again, the assumption is that all of the children of religious parents deny science. Nothing is further from the truth. Certainly, in some parts of the country, there are plenty of parents whose religion denies science (in odd ways: they will get a vaccination, but they believe the Earth is 6,000 years old. Go figure.)

For me, the fundamental issue with this article and the writings and attitudes of current “new atheists” is that it’s not a conversation among perceived equals. They think they are better/smarter/whatever than people who are “religious.” But in fact, there are plenty of religious people who are smart, open-minded, and fully and completely accept the findings of science. Just talk to some Jesuits or Sufis, would you? Or talk to me. :-)

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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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road

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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