The End of Civility

The philosopher Karl Popper is famous for a lot of things, but one of the things he is famous for is the “Paradox of Intolerance.” The paradox is that if a society is tolerant of intolerance, the intolerant will eventually destroy the tolerant society.

Some people will say we are losing our democracy. But that’s not what I think. What I think is that the rotten foundation (genocide, stolen land, stolen labor) that we built an edifice of democracy and civil rights upon are finally crumbling, and people who never believed in democracy and civil rights in the first place have, through a variety of means, started winning.

There is a big conversation happening right now about “civility.” Civility is, in a normal democratic political system, a norm worth maintaining. But we don’t live there anymore – we have to simply admit that. Everyone who isn’t white, cis, straight, male, and Christian are fighting for our very lives.

Civility isn’t going to save us if we are going to survive. As much as I love Michelle Obama, “Going high when they go low” isn’t going to get us out of this mess. It’s already proven itself to be futile. People who don’t care about your life and rights definitely don’t care about how you say something. They will just use whatever you say to their advantage somehow.

So be uncivil. Say “Fuck you” to intolerance and intolerant people. They shouldn’t be able to eat, or sleep, walk down the street in peace, or work. We have to stop being tolerant of intolerance, or, like Popper said, we are well and truly doomed.

I’m still deeply struggling with where the practice of  lovingkindness and “Love thy neighbor as thyself” fits in. I know I don’t want to feed hatred. But I also know that I want a tolerant, loving society, and it’s not going to happen with intolerant, hateful people given free reign. It’s a narrow path to follow, and I wish I had better ways of thinking about it. Please comment if you’ve found some ways to walk this path.



Straight Male Privilege is a Trip

So just first, to get this out of the way: I do not identify as straight. I identify currently as pansexual (that’s a story for another blog entry,) and I am queer, and will always be queer, even if at any one moment (like this one) my romantic attachments are only with people who identify as women. Many trans men do identify as straight – and that’s totally fine – just not my story.

I am now pretty much cis-passing to strangers (and I imagine I don’t set off anyone’s gaydar.) Which means I have had some very interesting experiences. One is that when I am with one woman, even a friend, everyone assumes we’re a straight couple. I was traveling with an old friend recently (we’ve traveled together in the past) and people totally assumed we were a couple. From the AirBnB host, to the restaurant waitperson who gave me the check. Maybe, in the past, people had made that assumption, but I didn’t *feel* it the way I did this time. I also noticed that internally, once I realized people were making that assumption, a sort of invisible wariness that I didn’t realize I was walking around with went away. It’s kind of like a noise you don’t hear until it stops.

That’s how I would describe all of what’s happened to me now that I am walking around in the world, and people assume I’m a straight guy. There is a wariness I didn’t quite realize I was carrying around with me. A weight on my shoulders as it were, that has now just gone away.

And, in the past, unlike most women because I was gender non-conforming, I wasn’t much of an object for male attention or harassment. But I still walked around with a kind of wariness around men. I had an experience last week that was eye opening. I was hanging out in Oakland at Lake Merritt for a little bit before I was meeting someone, and a homeless guy was sitting under a tree, and began to talk to me. I noticed a kind of wariness and caution, then I realized that he totally saw me as a guy. And then the caution just dissolved, and I walked toward him and had a great conversation with him.

But there is much more. I notice that people listen to me when I talk to them. They pay attention a lot more. When I’m on the phone with tech support, they assume I know what I’m talking about (the frustration level with tech support has gone down amazingly.) I get so much more respect from strangers, even as a black man.

But it also does feel weird to be in queer spaces, sometimes. Like if I’m being physically affectionate with a woman in a queer space, I’m really aware of the optics. So I am buying a bunch of trans t-shirts.


A New Kind of Pride

It’s Pride month. That annual festival of queer celebration.

My first Pride march was in 1985. I went down to Columbus, OH (Cleveland, where I lived at the time, didn’t have a Pride march yet.) I was 25 years old, freshly minted lesbian, marching with like 200 other people, with about that many counter protesters with hateful signs and more hateful looks on their faces.

When I lived in Western Massachusetts, Pride came early  – because of the students, the Pride march was in May. I rarely went. In 2000, I was traveling to San Francisco with my partner at the time, for a conference she was attending, and we went to the Dyke March, and the pride parade the next day, and it felt really special.

Since I moved to the queer equivalent of Mecca, Pride has seemed both a bigger deal, and a smaller one. There’s lots going on for Pride month here, concerts, film festivals, all sorts of events. And I’ve dipped in and out (much less since I’ve lived up in Sonoma County.) I’ve been to the Dyke March and the Pride Parade a few times, but not lately. It seemed like pride was kinda “old hat.” (Besides the fact that it has become increasingly commercial.)

This year, I’m going to Santa Rosa Pride (today!), and also traveling down to SF for the Trans March later in the month. It feels like a new moment in my life. I was always proud to be queer. And I’m still proud to be queer. And now I’m also proud to be trans.

Happy Pride!