So Tell Me ... What's The Weather Like on YOUR Planet?

29 June, 2007

... Whoa

I've been off reading the comments to this thread at Making Light, which have been a fascinating and frustrating discussion of all kinds of things related to sexism and gender identity (and kept me up far too fucking late because there are umpty-hundred of them and I didn't even finish). (It got linked by someone saying, 'Wow, the discussion starting at comment 602 is fascinating'. I read the previous 601 comments, too, as I had last read the thread when it was around 20 ....)

I just got to this chunk of comment by the inimitable Teresa Nielsen Hayden. (This is comment #730, by the way; it has a wee bit of context.)

    I once heard Annie Sprinkle say that until prostitution is legalized, no woman will be free. This struck me as true at the time, but it took a long time for me to tease out the implications. One of them is that as long as there are women who are outside the protection of the social contract, all women are threatened with reassignment to that category.

Well, hit me with a fucking brick. I'm just sort of, ... what an illuminating angle to sit at and peer.

28 June, 2007

The Clothes Make The Er Um What

I've been thinking a good bit about clothes lately. (Not just because I'm helping my liege work out what he's going to wear for his wedding, but not not because of that, either.)

I've been exploring, mentally, what it means to dress like me.

This doesn't have, necessarily, that good an intersection with the clothes that I have. But, y'know, not having won the lottery recently or anything, I don't have the resources to go out and transmogrify my wardrobe, so I mostly pick things up slowly over time that feel more like me than what I've got.

Or rather ... more like the rest of me. The part of me that doesn't have anything in particular to say with clothing other than 'I am not exposing my nipples and genitalia' is well-supplied with t-shirts. And really, being too damn lazy to bother thinking about clothing and thus putting on a t-shirt and some pants as necessary is a part of me that is legitimately expressible.

As I was reminded recently, one of the early manifestations of the 'I want to dress more like me' thought was picking up a couple of pairs of slacks. It used to be jeans-and-t-shirt, but I got to a point where it mattered to me to be able to move more freely -- coincidentally, opening myself to the possibility of an office job by expanding my office-appropriate apparel options -- but mostly just not liking the feel of the weight of the jeans.

The house we moved into last fall has a gifuckinggantic closet. So I've been unpacking and hanging things, like my collection of vests, and thinking about how to coordinate that into what I wear on a regular basis. Shirt, pants (or long skirt), vest is dressing more like me than just the shirt-and-pants does, but it also requires more conscious effort (the only skirt I have clean and put away at the moment is a broomstick skirt with paisley patterning; this does not go with more than one of my vests).

I look at this, and I have no idea what's being communicated there. I mean, I'm aware that there are signalling cultures which convey all sorts of information with their clothing, and those which don't, but I can't say I speak any of the codes. I just wind up feeling that falling back on the unmarked clothing is a habit I got into as part of my depression coping mechanism, something I didn't have to think about at all, and thus thinking about how and whether I want to differ from the default there is something that I want to do. I don't know what I'm saying, beyond "I like these clothes" or whatever, but it's ... an interesting bit of thing to think about.

And when I start trying to synthesise things and work out what the whole shape of the message is -- okay, I'm pretty sure I can work out the slinky blue dress, I can get somewhere with the velvet bellydance-style shirt with the fantastic lace sleeves, and I'm also pretty sure I can work out the burgundy swallowtail coat and the snazzy grey top hat, too. Living in the space that encompasses these (and the other things that living in my head encompasses) is interesting to imagine, as if from the outside.

(On a note of petulant acquisitiveness, he's been looking at a lot of nice waistcoats ....)

26 June, 2007

A Funny Thing, Perspective

So when I was in my early twenties, and still quite callow when dealing with politics, I came across, in a newsgroup I read, a particular cluster of people. They were my first reasonably direct exposure to people who self-identified as feminists in a vocal way, as opposed to the subtexts of feminist thought that I had been raised with or encountered, distantly, on news reports or editorials pages.

I don't remember what order the cascade of revelations of position was, entirely, so this is all a bit jumbled and haphazard in my memory.

Early on was the argument about whether men could be feminists. Which, even in my anxiousness about the word at the time, seemed to me to be the stupidest damn thing I had ever heard; I don't hold opinions with my genitalia, and I don't see why my genitalia would qualify me to be identified as someone with a particular set of opinions. This caused some in-depth friction, including with a transman friend of mine who had been raised to be a good feminist girl by a mother who was of the "only women can be feminists" flavor, and who thus took his trans-ness as a particularly vicious betrayal. Again if I'm remembering right, he was told, by this crowd, that he could be a feminist if he wanted, because he had the relevant experience as someone with girly bits to qualify; he said, more or less, "Fuck that noise."

I think it was at about the same time that some members of that crew put forward the proposition that agreement with the statement "Men are pigs" was a significant criterion in evaluating whether someone was a worthwhile person. Something to the effect of, "The only appropriate response from a man is, 'I know we are, I've met us'" was stated, while simultaneously the usage of the phrase as a litmus test was denied. This position was agreed with, to my incredulity, by one of the male posters to the group.

Whenever these discussions came up, the same half-dozen voices would club together and compete to be the first to smack down the dissent. People who objected to the positions they expressed were typically accused of blindness, insensitivity, and abuse of privilege; they were told they needed to shut up so they did not silence alternate positions. They were occasionally called on American-centric positions by posters to the group who were not American; this position of privilege in discourse was not acknowledged. They also did not acknowledge 'being able to speak without being descended upon by silencing harpies' as a position of privilege; they were the ones in opposition to privilege in all its forms, after all. When they had successfully silenced their opposition by rendering people unwilling to speak up because it was just too much effort to deal with the junior-high-school nastiness, they congratulated each other publically on how good they were, and how successful at enlightening others, to the point that actual on-topic discussion on the group suffered for me -- I was afraid to post anything that might rouse the wrath of the cabal.

They ebb and flow in the newsgroup, but continue to be a reason that I am not particularly open there anymore.

And now they're taking it over again, with vicious attacks on those who do not agree with their ideologies on certain issues. Their particular target of the moment is a woman I know from several areas, who I have always found helpful, informative, and engaging. They are accusing her of a variety of things, among them attempting to silence opposing positions.

Even if I did not know this woman, I could not look at this argument without laughing my fucking arse off. The head of the clique that descends upon someone who does not adhere to a particular ideology and starts just sniping, sniping, sniping is not a credible witness when it comes to "silencing opposing positions". The woman they're attacking starts a sentence with something like, "My personal objection to this is" and the chief buzzard replies, cutting off all other substance, with, "as usual, wrong."

When someone pointed out that this is what privilege looks like when it tries to silence dissent, another one of that crowd responded with, "Thanks for the demonstration."

The thing is, I don't want to write about these people -- I'm just trying to generate enough context for the short thought that I had sudden perspective on.

I'm watching the circling mess, and watching the way it all plays out, set-piece responses, entire long sequences of posts utterly predictable, with the handwringing, "I feel silenced and shut down!" from the bullies when they're called on their behaviour ...

... and I wonder how much it looks like the same thing from the other side.

I don't wonder it enough to want to go there, to pull the worst of them out of my killfiles, to pretend that that space can ever be a place that I can present myself as genuine and whole. But I wonder if they genuinely think that the people they are bludgeoning out of that space are threatening them.

Today, that makes me sad, and angry. But not sad enough to forgive.

25 June, 2007

Thinking About Libidos

This is in response to the discussions that Trinity started at her place and at Let Them Eat Pro-Feminist Safe Spaces about what women's libidos are actually like.

Not to generalise from a small sample (but everyone does that!), I want to ramble about things that I note have an effect on my libido and have seen other people dealing with. Just anecdotal data, of course, but maundering in directions that I find reasonably illuminating.

Relationship age shifts

My experience of my sexuality with a partner is that I tend to be very intensely sexual for the first six months or so of the relationship (more if there are distance issues); I also experience emotional spikes that often translate sexually when seeing someone after a long time apart. However, this intensity does not last; at about a year or a year and a half into the relationship, it has drifted down to a significantly lower and stable level.

Definitional issues

A lot of people seem to equate "libido" with "how often one wants to initiate or seek out sex". The thing is, for me, that's almost never (outside of the early phases of a relationship); it's not something that I tend to seek out. The thing is, my libido almost entirely runs on responsiveness to stimuli. (Early in relationships, I think the major stimulus it's running on is 'Partner nearby! Woo!') If I get the right things to respond to, I can respond very strongly -- and some of those things are difficult to articulate or isolate as stimuli.

I see people talking about masturbation frequency or use of porn as something keyed into libido, and that tends to leave me baffled. My sexuality is intensely partner-focused, and by 'partner-focused' I mean 'specific people', which means that neither of those things satisfy the focus of my sexuality. Masturbation can take the edge off a "the partner I want is not available to me at the moment", but aside from that has no particular appeal. Porn is, well, to paraphrase a guy on usenet, "Sex happening to someone else. Why should I care?" It doesn't involve me or my partners, and I am moderately squicked by voyeurism, so I just don't get it. Relating either of these to my libido just feels like trying to relate golfing to my libido -- has nothing to do with the subject.

So what does "having a libido mean"? I tend to parse it in terms of sexual reactivity and responsiveness, because that's the way my sexuality functions. Other people seem to refer to it in terms of sexual initiation, aggression, or loose sexual energy. Are we even talking about the same stuff?

Depression issues

My experience with depression is that my libido is the canary in the coal mine; if my emotional system is going down, one of the first things that goes is my responsiveness to sexuality. Often, the way the sailing that part of the neurochemical sea goes, it's not something I miss or even note as absent unless it is brought to my attention in some way; I have had several multi-year periods of asexuality.

I recognise this as something that does damage to certain parts of my relationships; this does not help the mood problem.

Damage issues

I've written extensively about my experiences with sexual harassment and assault, even just in this space.

I haven't written about what effects that has had on my sexuality as much.

My first period of asexuality occupied most of the dissociative period after the assault, and it was clearly self-protective. It may also be a chunk of the origin of the depression/asexuality link; after all, if the correct thing to do to be safe at one point was to cease being a sexual entity, then that's a pattern that worked once. Why not try it again when under similar stresses (isolation, anxiety, trauma)? I honestly have no clear sense of continuous memory with the person on the other side of that; I can pull up facts, but they're not entirely contiguous with my sense of self.

At my best guess, the person who would grown out of a version of me who was not assaulted would have been a good bit more sexually open. Probably would not have been one for casual sex, but might have been more comfortable and fluid with friends-with-benefits sorts of relationships. Would have had a clearer sense of sexual exploration rather than sexual danger; would probably have been less reckless in initiating sexual relationships. Might not have as strong a distinction between physical and emotional arousal. She might have masturbated occasionally, or might have come to the conclusion, after some more experimentation, that the sensation was not satisfying.

Physical arousal and mental arousal are only loosely linked for me. Most often, this manifests as physical responsiveness (getting wet, etc.) without associated mental/emotional "I'm turned on/horny/interested in sex", though it has occasionally manifested the other way around. This has meant, among other things, that the studies that show physical responses and purport that to have to do with arousal have always left me cold; my sense of arousal is much more mental than physical, and I can have one without the other. I wonder how much of this is because of having a history of dissociation around sex, and how much of this is that physical arousal is somewhat less overt for me than for a man -- lubrication doesn't always register to me as something to be aware of, so I don't have to work out questions like, "If I have a physical response to this, does it mean sex is warranted?" I know of people who assume that "erection" = "sexual arousal", despite the fact that the physical response is fickle and responds to a variety of things; I wonder, also, whether that confuses things any.

I used to get flashbacks. (They are, at this point, very rare, and mostly controllable.) The trigger for those flashbacks was the sight of an aroused and erect naked man, especially of a particular body type. As flashback triggers go, this one is rather inconvenient if one is a heterosexual woman. Wrestling with the flashbacks, especially at times when I was just not feeling emotionally strong enough to explain what was wrong or even mention that something was wrong, is utterly exhausting in demoralising ways.

For a variety of reasons, I get easily messed up by a sense of sexual pressure, with any sort of expectation that I should be more sexual or more readily sexual than I am. Some of this is self-inflicted trauma from personal esteem issues interacting poorly with other things -- I, basically, wind up with tremendous complexes about my value as a partner if I'm not sexually available, which, once they exist, wind up setting off depression issues very easily, and, of course, make me unable to sexually respond smoothly or without extensive effort, because I need to have the complexes soothed as well as the responses evoked. This is a self-perpetuating bloody mess, as I get into a mental state where any sexual approach that doesn't synch up within a very narrow band of response triggers completely tenses me up. And I don't know how to fix this, which depresses me, which ....

Kink compatibilities

I've learned from experimentation that I cannot sustain a relationship well that doesn't have a certain level of kink compatibility. What I actually need is the ability to have my own kinks be expressable and not remarkable when they tend to show up; on the flip side of that, I can't handle dealing with too much stuff that just doesn't turn me on in my sex life.

A bunch of my kink stuff is very strong sexual responsiveness trigger, too; a good mesh can lead to a bunch of things raising energy very easily. This doesn't mean I don't have responsiveness to non-kinked stuff, but it does mean that the more I can synergise with someone on this front, the easier it is to be sexual.

Cultural stuff

There's a whole hell of a lot of weird pressure out there on sexuality. Not just in the whole cultural assumption that women must regulate male lust in some way rather than having desires of their own, or the notion that even if one does have sexual desires one should not express them for fear of being inappropriate, too forward, too pushy.

A friend of mine in high school completely flipped out when she learned I was sexually active. Completely, totally lost it. Because she had seriously bought into the whole Sex Is Dangerous propaganda of the upswing of the AIDS panic -- someone who was sexually active was going to come down with a horrible disease or die. Or become pregnant and ruin their lives. Or something like that. Crazed panic. The whole mythology that it's impossible to be responsible about sex was one of those things I had to think about a lot, especially given my reckless tendencies as a result of the trauma.

There's no teaching about how to think and communicate about desires, which makes it harder to articulate and present them. Which makes it harder, at least for me, to be able to express what I want, talk about the hidden desires, and so on.

And the difficulty of talking about things ramps up harder and more vicious around kink stuff. The stuff that I fantasised about when I was telling myself stories to go to sleep by is all stuff that a lot of people tell me I Shouldn't Get Off On, and that makes it harder to go there, harder to admit to it, all the complex tangles of the need to, basically, come out to oneself.

(I managed to avoid the "good girls aren't sexual" stuff, but I know people who didn't. I also know people who caught a bad case of "Only assholes have and express sexual desires".)

Inhibition and Expression

I am far more interested, sexually, in a communicative lover than an unexpressive one. Sounds, facial shifts, physical response, it's all good; if I don't get something like that, my own responses tend not to kick in, or not terribly strongly. It is far easier for me to express myself sexually with someone who is sexually expressive and does not manifest hangups and glitches about sex (whether culturally induced, history induced, or whatever else); I have enough sexual glitches for two.

So that's a few things that I know play into how my libido responds. I used to have a joke that I had the libido of a philodendron -- I bloom profusely once a year -- though that's less accurate these days. It's still not a bad joke, in a lot of ways, because the entire process is fraught and complicated and sensitive, and I can't help but wonder how much of the play of all of these factors might be a part of the whole mythology of women wanting less sex.

Some stuff to think on.

24 June, 2007

Selling My Soul

How fascinating that a thread discussing Faust should go this direction.

The claim was made that "messing with brain chemistry is a bad thing", in a context of the discussion of antidepressants. (Also comparing Prozac to heroin and ecstasy, and making an analogy to defacing written texts.) And was baffled and hurt that this offended people.

There are all kinds of places I can go with this, but I want to go into the mythology of depression. Many of which struck me as being in play in that discussion.


- Mental illness is fundamentally different from physical illness, and should be treated with different rules. Never mind, of course, that most "mental illness" is organic in some way, whether it's my depression as rooted in digestive and thyroid disorders as much as a propensity to the specific chemical glitch-set, which is just as much a part of my fucked-up body as my other weirdly functioning bits anyway; never mind, similarly, that some physical illnesses are in fact psychosomatic, something that any child who has induced a fever by failing to finish their math homework is well aware of. Never mind that the brain is another body part.

- Mental illness is intrinsic to a person and a personality. Sometimes this takes the form of "What an excellent example to others you are!", which is a sort of patronisation that I've seen directed at physically disabled people as well. Sometimes this takes the form of the romanticisation of the tortured artist; how many artistic heroes committed suicide or died young, and we hear, "Yes, so tragic, but would the art have been as good without it?" Sometimes this is in the form of, "If you treat the illness, you are changing who that person is!" whether it's calling Prozac Ecstasy or suggesting that Ritalin treatments for ADHD children are producing 'zombies'.

- Mental illness is not a real concern worthy of treatment; the moral question of whether it is acceptable to alter brain chemistry is significant enough to call medication into question. That medication is the equivalent of illegal drugs or puritanically disapproved euphorics, not the equivalent of insulin treatment for diabetics.

And then the fascinating:

- Mental illness is a special case because brain chemistry is more bound to "self" than other body parts. Modifying other body parts will not change sense of self; modifying brain chemistry will axiomatically change sense of self.

The argument against antidepressants and other treatments seemed to boil down to (I say "seemed to" because the person making the argument seemed to me to be increasingly incoherent; the unawareness that the position was mind-body dualism was a fascinating bit of "Aren't you paying attention to what you're saying?"):

Axiom 1: The personality ought to be immutable and sacrosanct.

Which is bloody nonsense, honestly, in denial of the functions of the real world: personalities shift over time and circumstance all the time. I note, for a dramatic example, that I never used to swear before the assault; it wasn't an inhibition, it just didn't occur to me to do so. Other changes, those Trousers of Time moments where one knows that one's life has forked (but perhaps not what the different ways might have led to, other than "Something different"), the gradual accumulation of experience -- like the post over on SM-feminist Trinity made about gender supremacism and being embarassed by old thoughts while still understanding how the person she had been had had them -- all of these change who we are, how we respond.

Axiom 2: Any modification of brain chemistry is morally questionable.

Setting aside, for the moment, that in practical terms this means that one should not eat, sleep, have sex, fall in love, experience any other emotion, record memories ....

The notion here was that changing the brain chemistry changes who one is, and because of the axiom encoded in (1), that's bad. Of course, for at least some depressives and other people familiar with similar issues, the concept of identifying with the disease is about as appealing as binding one's identity to a pus-filled abcess: that is not the self, that is a lesion on the self.

This notion is one that I have a hard time understanding at all, really. But, mind, I have at times made studies of my mental reactions to various substances so that I know what cognitive shifts they induce -- so that I feel better able to handle the workings of my mind in a variety of states, so that I am familiar with what tools I might want to use in order to get my cognition into functional order. Some of these I maintain long-term (such as B vitamins and various fatty oils, which induce the cognitive shift of 'not suffering from persistent severe depression with anxiety attacks'); others are more situational (such as, say, my awareness of my responses to various forms of alcohol). This does not leave me with much sympathy for the "OMGitchangesthebrainchem" position; I am systemically inclined to want to know how to captain my brain through a variety of waters, not least because I can't count on it remaining smooth sailing on the biochemical sea in the first place.

Axiom 3: A person taking antidepressants or other medications is not the same person as the same body not taking them.

Given my sense of piloting through the Straits of Serotonin I ... don't get this one. Not how it meaningfully differs from any of the other changes in the self over time or circumstance, especially.

Even if I believed that this particular use of medication crossed a line into being a qualitatively different way of readjusting oneself than any of the other ways that people change, consent to activities, or otherwise deliberately do things that have a risk of rearranging their perspectives, I'm not sure I'm capable of seeing the problem. When the meds work, this philosophically-defined suicide and transformation into a new person produces a happier, more productive, more capable individual in the body of someone who was suffering. Considering this morally questionable strikes me as the old suffering-is-virtue trope, which I've never much cared for.

Mostly I'm left with a weird impression of what-gets-called-privilege -- that this level of lack of understanding can only be maintained by someone who has no intimate personal experience of what it's like living in a mind that doesn't work right. Probably someone who has no intimate personal experience of what it's like living in a body that doesn't work right, either.

I'll just continue selling my soul to those demon vitamins.

22 June, 2007

Fractal Liturgy

I love liturgy.

I was having a lengthy pontification about liturgy this evening, which is tied up with a poem I'm working on at the moment, though that's sort of incidental to it. And I came to the realisation that liturgy, good liturgy, has a fractal nature.

Look at it this way: someone who's first encountering a religious ceremony isn't going to know what's going on. The liturgy provides action guidelines and a set of imagery that should be able to convey the basics of what's going on and serve as a pointer to the basics of the action for someone who doesn't know a thing about it.

It also, for someone who does know the basics, goes deeper, pointing out and evoking points of the Mysteries of that particular faith.

If it fails at the former, then new people will be unable to smoothly begin to assimilate the religious material; if it fails at the latter, it will be ineffably shallow.

I got here because I'm trying to write about a Mystery, and because of my study in the relevant religion, I don't have much liturgical knowledge. This is, in part, because people are supposed to be constructing their own religious material -- which is, in fact, why I'm trying to write about it -- to serve as pointers to and illumination of their understandings of the Mystery.

The problem is, I only have one strong verbal pointer to this one. I can wave that around a bit, but it's not enough to get me parallax that includes language. And Mysteries are hard to talk about; all we can really do is exchange pointers. And I caught a new layer of fractal, I've gone deeper than the surface, than the basics, and I want to articulate an image of where I've been, leave it as a signpost saying, "I am here". And I don't have enough to interpolate from to do it easily or smoothly.

Liturgy is a form of dialogue, engaging the people, the experiences, the ways of relating to the faith, moving these things around so they can be grasped and grappled. New liturgies develop in part because of this exchange, this way of talking about faith, the generating the images of meaning.

I've got a single line. In iambic pentameter.

And an old pointer to where I want to go.

And the stars my compass.

21 June, 2007

Can't Use Sex To Sell Condoms

So apparently, out there in the world where people use televisions for something other than watching recorded material and playing video games, the Trojan condom company has put out an ad with the basic concept, "Men who push for sex without condoms are pigs; don't be a pig."

Fox won't play it, because it's talking about pregnancy risk rather than disease prevention. CBS won't say why they won't play it.


(At some point I'll generate content of my own again. Honest.)

(Also at Pandagon.)

Sudden Heat

I can't ... actually come up with anything coherent to say about this.

Just go read it.

Summary: a man was beaten to death. The people who did it are claiming gay panic.

The case has received minimal attention from any media.

17 June, 2007

The Shipwrecked Sailor Considers Sinuhe

So one of the things that I think about a lot is the threads of cultural appropriation potential in religion. On a number of different levels.

I'm on this mailing list for discussing forms of Slavic paganism, for one. And ... I don't post to it, really. I skim information as it comes by, but I don't post, because I don't feel welcome there. Because every time someone mentions, say, Wicca, they get hit with at least three, "Remember Wicca is not a Slavic religion and while you can do whatever damnfool thing you want on your own time this is for Slavic discussion, you hear me?" Maybe less strident than that, a little, but they all run together into this silencing morass.

But mostly because it's full of language about how the people there are all giving due attention to The Folkways Of Their Ancestors. (To the point that asking a question about how one goes about actually doing anything in the religion gets a, "One follows the folkway!" Without, y'know, actual information about stuff like ritual structure. And I'm a liturgy addict.) And the assumption that the only people who would be interested in Slavic gods are those with Slavic ancestry (as opposed to, y'know, the far more plausible "Slavic gods are so goddamn obscure that someone who is, say, tapped by Perun may never stumble across the right set of search terms to discover His name").

Folkways of the ancestors, eh?

Okay, so, I have Polish heritage. And German heritage. And English heritage. And Scots heritage. And Irish heritage. (And if I have anything else, it's not in the Official Genealogies.) I'm a northern European moggy, half-Yankee (because damnit, when a chunk of the family's been in New England since the 1600s, Yankee culture is overwhelmingly more important than which handful of European nations supplied the genes), and any sort of majority ruling on what my ancestral folkways might be would require the construction of a coalition vote. (And I think the only two-party combination that manages a majority would be the Irish and the Poles. Uh.)

And, as the blogger handle might suggest, I deal with ... the gods of Egypt.

Which is not in any way northern European, to say the least.

But there's this sort of moral weight that gets put on The Folkways Of The Ancestors in some conversations, a sense that this is one's natural home -- or that falling outside of that is probably appropriation, though it is probably acceptable if one's dealing with a European culture (because all of that is White People Stuff, I guess, so drifting within White People Stuff is okay). (Never mind the whole process of ethnic differentiating among those groups, and "How the Irish Became White" and all. And my Polish grandmother tried to obliterate her ethnicity and just be American -- anti-immigrant sentiment, ethnic bigotry, and all of that. I think that's the only basis I have for a coalition: immigrant groups who were treated like shit just outside of living memory ....)

Someone on a pagan discussion forum I read started a thread recently asking if there was a stigma on black pagans, a sense that they shouldn't be involved. And someone raised a point that I think is accurate, and goes back to the ranting that was my first post on this blog at all, the sense of who has "a culture" and who doesn't. "Why would you want to go outside the religions of Africa?" has this strange privilege-encoding of, "But you have a culture, you have a history, you have a background; you don't need to seek elsewhere for fulfilment." And I know a couple of pagans-of-color who have said, straight out, that the gods of their apparent ancestors don't speak to them -- they are called by European gods, or the gods of other peoples-of-color. Or, from that thread, someone who is mixed-blood with ties to a particular tribal reservation, who takes flak for blending the practices of her tribe with those of miscellaneous modern pagans -- when people don't know she has status there, as an appropriator; when they do, as someone who should be content to be the exotic.

And there are groups who deeply resent the exoticisation of their culture, especially when it comes with the assumption that their faith can be truly adopted without being adopted as a member of the tribe and steeping themselves in that culture. And that's a real concern, and one that is often masked by the number of colonising group members who fancy that a few shiny toys from those faiths will make them authentic. And at the same time, cultures blend; a homage to other people's practices that seem to speak to the soul or meet a particular need is almost inevitable in someone's space, and the line between inspiration and theft is not a clear-cut one.

Egypt sat, historically speaking, between the Mediterranean and Africa and alongside the religions of the Middle East, and it partakes of the cultural expectations and theologies of all of these. It was an insular nation, and its artwork emphasised ethnic differences between its people and outsiders -- but its reality was racially mixed, ethnically complicated with all the flows of population of the region. The Greeks and later considered it the paragon of the exotic and mystical, and reinterpreted it to suit their beliefs about what that meant. But those first appropriators are gone, culturally, almost as much as old Egypt herself.

There are Egyptian stories about finding gods elsewhere and bringing word of Them back to home, so that more people could partake of Their worship. And there are stories about Egyptians living in foreign lands who, when they grew old, desperately wished to return home to be buried with their people. Always, this sense that there is a place where people belong, to which all valuable things return: Egypt, in that cultural setting, the homeland and center of things.

Mostly, when I think about this, I wind up feeling uncertain how to judge which people are mine. My personal tribe is full of people who are called by a variety of gods. (My personal self, likewise, as I also deal with a particularly American religion, with its own questions of appropriation and appropriateness as shaped by a culture that assimilates and recasts everything it sees into something more like its own self-image.) In my home, I honor a goddess Who I do not serve because She looks over another member of my family. I am mongrelised, my faith is mongrelised, and when I consider "the folkways of my ancestors" I am torn in a dozen directions.

The gods Who called me are the gods Who called me; in the end, I put my trust in Them.

15 June, 2007

On Not Being Assimilated

So I got pointed at a discussion over on The Wild Hunt about paganism and polyamory, in the context of the Salon article that identified pagans as the largest religious subgroup among polyfolks who subscribe to Loving More. (The favorite magazine of the crystal-waving fluffernutter poly set! Remember, we aren't committed to each other, but to Love! Pass the barf bag.)

The nominal subject of the discussion was one of those, "Hey, are pagan organisations prepared to deal with questions on this yet?"

And somewhere in the comments was the expected, "Well, I don't approve of that. It doesn't work out. It's bad for the children." Et cetera, et cetera, and so forth. And somewhere in there is the want to argue, to note the plenty of people for whom it does work out, to cite the child someone mentioned who was told by a friend, "You're so lucky. You have three parents and they all like each other and live together." To do some version of the snide, "Have you looked at the divorce stats lately for the successes of monogamy?" Or just to, y'know, be visible, and exist, and real, without being combative about it.

But I don't know the leverage to shift that worldview to a different grid. I'm betting that one blames every end of a relationship in an open system on the being-poly, among other issues. As opposed to, say, someone showing their true colours and becoming abusive, sexual incompatibility, the relationship having run its natural course, long-term stresses making the relationship no longer sustainable, incompatible long-term goals, grew apart ... to pick reasons I count among reasons my own relationships ended. (I also count one as ending in part due to the poly thing, from back when I was eighteen or so, because I had a boyfriend who was orientationally monogamous and fairly conflict-happy and decided that he wasn't ever going to "win" the competition for my affections.) Which have been part of the breakups of monogamous relationships.

But I just wind up shaking my head and figuring, y'know, people can go around not believing in the existence of my life all they want. I don't have to go around kicking rocks at them to say "I refute it thus!" That which exists is possible. And I'll just carry on existing, without even going to the effort of doing so in defiance -- just because, well, I exist.

Eventually they'll come around. Or they won't. Either way, I've got my life to live.

11 June, 2007

One of Those Thoughts to Save

Comment posted in response to Renegade Evolution at the Feminist Critics blog:

My ex commented to me last night that he had figured out why I had never been comfortable with feminism. He noted that there are (at least) two ways of thinking about oppression of women -- one concerned with with women's access to areas from which they'd been restricted, and one concerned with the cultural devaluation of the stuff women were traditionally limited to.

Basically, the feminism I grew up with was supportive only of women who wished to adopt traditionally-limited-to-male or at best gender-neutral roles: pursuit of career, pursuit of higher education, financial and social independence. All of the stuff encoded in your #1 and #2. And frequently, that support came in a context of perpetuating the other oppression of women -- adding layers of "women who are home-focused are throwbacks and pawns of the patriarchy" to the already well-established "domestic work isn't real work, childcare is taking time away from its rightful owner, the employer".

A more balanced approach -- one that addressed the access to choice issues and the denigration of the choice-set that's historically flagged "female" -- would probably have left me in the camp of those folks who say, "Damnit, I'm not going to let those jerks steal the word that I've been fighting for all this time." Probably even after I ran into the neo-puritans who want me to examine how bad my sexuality is to have a little more. As it falls, though, the "let me guilt and shame you into stifling your sexuality" crowd were just the sound of the door shutting.

10 June, 2007

Yeah? Well, My Power's Got Balls

There are days that I am kind of sad that I was out sick when they handed out the gender essentialism derangements, because damn, if it doesn't make it hard to understand people. I swear, there are times I feel that I'm only monstering around in this damn labyrinth because someone put pink and blue frocks over all the damn signposts; what's a snake to do?

This one was, almost tangentially, talking about "masculine" ways of being a dominant in a BDSM interaction, as opposed to, presumably, "feminine" ones. And the "masculine" was defined as "force or overt force-inspired power."

This makes my head hurt. On a number of levels.

I'm aware, in a sort of intellectual way, that it's a cultural norm (at least in a number of circles) to equate maleness with force, and to equate force with power, but it's not something that's ever been intuitive to me. And I certainly wouldn't get "force or force-inspired power" from the concept of masculine dominance.

Not least, I think, because my particular prejudices read power that rests on force as insecure power. Fragile power, easily disrupted, needing to prove itself consistently (to itself and its subordinates) by making displays. Power that doesn't trust its capacity to act and has to demonstrate that it can make changes by forcing them. Which means this "male = powerful" assumption that rests on force as proof of power mostly comes across to me as fragility with bravado masking weakness.

There are places for power as force that aren't going to come off as weakness to me, but it's not where I would rest the nexus of power, or even, if I could wrap my head around what "masculine power" was supposed to mean in the first place, "masculine power".

A thread of power in my relationship with my liege is that he is someone who inspires me to a support role who gives deference to his leadership. This might wind up somewhere where I would assume someone was pointing when they said "masculine dominance", as the cultural unmarked case of leadership is male. (My favorite story about the 'I just don't think to challenge your leadership' response I have involves a good friend of mine: we were puttering about Edinburgh sort of aimlessly, and I had the distinct impression she wasn't sure where we were. It wasn't until she said, "I don't know which way the hotel is" that I pointed straight at it. My sense of heirarchy is happy to offer support and directions, but not to lead, where she's concerned.)

A thread of power is care and responsibility, the capacity to look after my well-being (and I his, but that starts getting complicated). And, y'know, I see this in places outside my own crazy moon language or whatever -- in Raven Kaldera's written comments about his boy, often explicit from people who do some sort of animal play in which the sub is considered a pet, and thus the owner has extensive care responsibilities as part of the framing, but there's at least the basic "If you don't take good care of your toys, they'll break and then you won't have them to play with anymore." And the thing is, taking care of people is I know -- again intellectually -- flagged "feminine", and I don't get that one either.

A thread of power is that he respects and values the support and service that I have to offer in all of its forms -- ranging from sexual through emotional through making sure he has dinner available to scraping the polyurethane bubbles off the bottoms of the shelves for his bookcases so he can put on the rest of the coat. And really, if respecting support roles were considered a gendered trait, it might exist as a cultural norm for someone. (Not that I'm bitter.)

There are other threads, but if I started hauling out all of them I'd be here all week.

And, y'know, I've had a kinda rough week, emotionally, for a bunch of reasons, and I got to spend the afternoon with him, and he held me and stroked my throat and pulled me close when I near cried from the needing of that care and concern, and he's no less my liege and my love when he's opening me up and holding me close and cherished like that than with the hair-pulling rough fucking or the rope or the performing household tasks or whatever else is butch enough to get recognised as showing power to the essentialists. His ability to do that is intimately wound up with the fact that he is my liege, has the power to crack my shell like that, which has nothing to do with force. We are whole, complete people, and sometimes even subtle.

Don't Ask, Don't ... What?

Pentagon not currently working on a 'gay bomb' intended to induce opposing soldiers into being distracted with how buff their squadmates are.

I can't figure out if that's weirder than it's offensive or more offensive than it's weird.

09 June, 2007

Spinach Politics

I was a-gonna write something else. I have this half-formulated discourse on ethnicity and religion thrashing around in my head after some discussion over at Bucking the Dominant Paradigm, but it's not letting me write it right now.

Instead, I've got something else that has been stewing around for a bit, which is finally demanding to be written partially in response to this nonsense.

This thing I've been trying to formulate goes something like this:

The first standard I use for evaluating the quality of an activist ideology is whether or not it actually hurts the people it claims to be helping.

The way I figure it, the worst an activism should be doing is not improve the situation of those in its target group. If it's only actually helping people in a certain situation, or with certain additional traits, or with a certain ideology, it could probably do with better labelling, but is not lying when it claims to be supporting people-of-that-trait.

I'm willing to cut slack for activisms that, while I consider them to be doing some harm to people they claim to want to be helping, are at least aware that there are perceptual differences that will cause people to oppose them on that basis legitimately. At least these people can be said to be operating in good faith, and may, in fact, be responsive to sensible critique about their methods being genuinely damaging -- and people can also decide whether or not the harm done is worth the benefits gained.

The "The only people worse off under our ideology are those who do not adopt the ideology" crowd, however, gets no slack from me. Even the least abusive of these, the "If you only agreed with me you'd understand why I'm right" crowd, are trying to get out of even basic critique of their position, which is an intellectual dishonesty that I have no patience for. When it gets into the "Whatever suffering my ideology inflicts upon you is a consequence of your shameful Incorrect Behaviour" lot ... I do not really have language to express my opinion of that sort of evil. The ones who are willing to treat innocents as acceptable collateral damage in their targetting of the Ideologically Incorrect -- who will, say, deprive the people taking refuge in a women's shelter of support staff because that staffer is a sex worker -- are among the vilest of the vile, not merely hostile to those who do not agree with them, but willing to betray the needs of the people they actually claim to be supporting in order to support that conflict.

If the activism is not capable of even imagining working for the good of those who do not share its ideology, it is not only incapable of producing positive results in the real world in which diversity is the rule, it is an ideologically oppressive system that will inevitably be opposed by those who are outside its scope. (And will almost certainly take that opposition as a perverse proof of rightness, as the immune system responds to it.)

I say it's spinach, and I say the hell with it.

07 June, 2007

More Cheerfully and Better Fed

My liege's birthday was this weekend; his father took us out to dinner to celebrate it.

By us, I mean myself, my liege, and his fiancee.

There are layers upon layers of what this meant to me. That my liege treats me as a partner to the extent of thinking of seeing about having me along on such little expeditions is a big damn deal. That he asked, and that his father was willing to take me along -- and feed me! -- and that gets into the conversation I'm having with Little Light about the social rituals of feeding other humans. That the conversation included not only casual discussion of the state of the wedding plans, but asking after my husband, who is out of town this week. That my holding my liege's hand or resting my hand on his shoulder was not a matter of comment or alarm, just the normal interactions of people who touch.

The whole thing was just a quiet experience of being treated as real. As visible as a person, not needing to hide any of the little bits or pretend to get along.

And the food was fucking amazing.

The bread with the oil to dip in was freshly made and still steaming when my liege cut it, not pre-sliced. The oil was full of pepper flakes. Crusty bread with soft, generously yielding innards.

We got a salad and an appetiser. The salad was sort of five-parted, and since there were five of us, that worked out quite well -- a big slice of yellow tomato with some thin-sliced salty ham of some sort (prosciutto?) and buffalo mozzarella on top, with basil and greens and viniagrette, and the combination of the flavors was just ... spectacular. Amazing stuff. The appetizer was some sausage thing on I think polenta with a sauce, which I only had a little of (not a sausage fan, me, except in the metaphorical raunchy ways), but the rest of the table thought it was quite good. (I just don't have the space to judge from.)

And then the entree thing, I got chicken with a white wine, lemon, and garlic sauce, which was that perfectly tuned sharp bite of delicious goodness that a lemon sauce should be. With broad noodles and greens. It was spectacular, with that edge of pepper and ... oh, so good. I had the half of it I couldn't eat for lunch today, and it was still so good. Glorious, glorious stuff.

(I won't even get into the staff, who were a trip and a half.)

Well-fed helps with feeling real. But not as much as just the being there, and acknowledged, and having it not be a giant production.

Sex Education, Andromeda Appendix

I've actually been thinking a lot about the whole sex ed thing, through reading everyone's collective contributions and discussions I'm having elsewhere. And it gets me wound up like I don't really get wound up on teh intarwebs anymore, this whole thing about sex education.

I take it so damn personally.

Because sex education is a place where The System completely and utterly betrayed me. Not just fucked me over bureaucratically (the story of much of it) or didn't manage to transfer necessary skills (much of which was at least as much my fault as The System's). Beyond that.

The sex ed I got from the school system (all six and a half fucking hours of it, total, in twelve years in the public schools) was all about How To Be Safe, with a bit of biology on the side so I knew what to expect from puberty and a little bit of the process of pregnancy. And if I wanted to be Safe I needed to avoid these diseases, not stash sperm near my ovaries, and then I would be okay.

And I didn't even run into a real predator, for whom How To Be Safe is a much more complicated proposition. I ran into another badly instructed kid, and I don't think either of us came across the word "consent" in the information we'd gotten from The System (I should find my copy of the book my parents gave me and see if "consent" is in there, but I don't actually think so), and we certainly didn't know how to negotiate it or think about it.

And yeah, it'd have been good if that kid had had the guts to say, "Hey, are you interested in this touch?" rather than trying it out on me and seeing if I punched him in the nose. And it would have been good if I'd known where my boundaries were ahead of time, rather than having to try to figure it all out on the fly and feeling over my head and too late to speak up. But deriving that shit from first principles with no support, no errors, and no clear implementation isn't exactly something that a fourteen-year-old in the middle of hormone stew is going to be skilled at. (He was seventeen. I don't know that seventeen is much better, or, for that matter, less stew-y.)

Everything I needed to know to be Safe was that if I didn't say Yes it was rape. Oh, and blood contact transmits AIDS.

That's what they taught me.

There's this little screaming voice somewhere in the back of my heart who sees an earnest person who does not mean harm saying, "Look, but we don't know if they're teaching good information in those classes, that's reasonable concern" and ... this is the person who The System was trying to appease when it lied to me, symbolically speaking.

It's hard to respond to that rationally.

I mean, a rational voice might point out that you know exactly as much about what your school's sex ed classes are teaching the kids as you do about what they're teaching about geography or science: you have the same level of access to the handouts and research materials, the same ability to look at the school curricula, the same ability to write cranky letters to the administration about it and get it adjusted. That's a rational thing to say, a rational thing to point at.

But of course learning where Madagascar is isn't as fucking terrifying as learning where the clitoris is, and the existence of electrons doesn't hold a candle to the danger of the existence of gay people.

And I can't be rational about this. There's this little chunk of my psyche that responds to the Dutiful Parent With Concerns as if it were the great oceanic beast come lurching up to devour the virgin sacrifice where The System left her bound and vulnerable to pay for its hubris. I can't be rational, with my heart tasting of sea spray and terror.

04 June, 2007

Blogging For Sex Education Day

Blogging For Sex Education, hosted by Renegade Evolution, who is keeping this link roundup.

I'm quite certain that someone else is out there pointing out that starting sex education at the point at which people's brains are starting to be scrambled up by puberty is bone stupid, or perhaps boner stupid. I'm quite certain that someone else is out there pointing out that the statistics from Europe indicate that extensive sex education covering all of the physical mechanics and such seems to lead to lower teen pregnancy rates, lower teen sex rates, a later age of first sexual activity, and all that stuff. And even if someone doesn't have it covered, I'll presume that all seven of my readers are capable of googling for those factoids now that I've mentioned them, so I don't have to go do it. These are things that matter to me, but they're not the big, personal rant I have to make. So now that I've at least gestured at this other stuff, the thing.

Knowing the mechanics is nowhere near good enough. It's not good enough to have an encyclopedic knowledge of STDs, how to use birth control of a dozen different varieties. It's not good enough to have access to this stuff either.

The hardest part of sex education is not the facts. Facts are easy, if you can get someone to teach them: they just are, they sit there in little rows and are factual.

The hardest part is knowing what to do about them.

Adolescence is a confusing, complicated time to start out with, full of all kinds of emotional shifts, and into that mix is the development of more active sexuality from its inchoate roots. I think in general the culture I grew up in is not very good at navigating this time, and it is terrible at doing so with matters involving sexuality.

And part of this is the emphasis on giving out facts. Which are, again, important, but not the whole shape of things.

When I was maybe twelvish, I got given one of those "Okay, you're entering puberty, this is what you can expect" books. And it was useful, and full of facts, and I read it several times. And I still say that my left breast is stuck in Tanner Stage Four -- in fact, I said it to my new doctor last week. And then when I went back to reread, mostly what I pored over was the single chapter on emotions. Over and over again, trying to get something that would help me sort out how I felt about sex and sexuality, how to actually relate this to what I was experiencing. I saw the author had another book on the subject, and asked my parents for it -- I'd been told to ask them if I had any questions, and that was the one I asked -- and when I got it, I read through it, hoping for something that would help, and it didn't have anything that would help me evaluate the stuff in my head or do anything useful with it.

The stuff I wanted to know was stuff like:

How do I relate the stuff in my head that hooks into my sexuality (much of which was entirely incompatible with the real world levels of fantasy world construction) to dealing with real people? (And here, I think, a lot of stuff that would really help young folk who are wrestling with issues of their kink would fall, even without necessarily going into kink explicitly.)

How do I evaluate what I want to do in general? How do I do sexual scouting missions safely so I can learn what I'm comfortable with? How do I define my boundaries? How do I defend those boundaries from people who are not actively malicious? How do I defend those boundaries from people who are actively malicious?

How do I negotiate with people about sexuality and romance and all of this new stuff? How do I approach people? How do I respond to people who want to approach me? How do I get enough space to think about all of this usefully?

How do I say no in ways that will be clear and likely to be respected?

How do I know when I want to say yes?

And I've said it before, and I'll say it again: I didn't know how to think about this stuff when I was fourteen. I didn't know how to evaluate it, how to determine whether or not I wanted something, how to say no clearly when I'd decided that I didn't, how to say "This is going too fast", how to say, "I don't like that", I didn't know how to say any of that -- and I had to build the ability to even think about it up from scratch, because I didn't have any tools to apply to these questions at all, and I didn't know how to ask for them or do anything other than build them myself, which is a slow, difficult process and could not keep up with the progress of a relationship with someone notably older who had presumably worked a lot of this shit out for himself already.

And that's where sex education failed me: I do believe that had I been clearer, more able to communicate, more able to understand what I was going through and what I wanted, I would not have been sexually assaulted. The guy who assaulted me was also a reasonably inexperienced kid, but not a Bad Person, and he could've used a little training on "How do I ask if she wants something?" to balance my needing a little training on "How do I figure out what I want?", and I really do think if I had known when I wanted to start saying 'no' he would have been able to listen to me.

But neither of us had the damn skills to navigate that social situation, because learning about how to implement sexuality is done by throwing a bunch of adolescents into a school system and seeing who survives. There's no knowing how to think about it, or evaluate it, and these days the abstinence-only shit pre-assumes the correct answer to "What do I want?" and doesn't give any tools for actually getting there.

I want more people to survive adolescence whole -- and that means I want people to figure out how to think about sex, how to make reasonable judgements on it, evaluate the risks -- not only physical and temporal but social and emotional -- and make and hold to decisions they make on it. I was never given those tools, or a way of getting to those tools, and because of that, I didn't make it out in one piece.

03 June, 2007

The Club That Would Have Me As A Member

I'm watching one of my religious communities have one of those gigantic, tumultuous arguments that happen occasionally, one of those things that shows up especially in transitional phases, the whole "Who are we, what do we stand for, what does it mean to be one of us, and what are those people doing to change it?" I see it when I read Christian debates about homosexuality, too, though a lot of those arguments are much deeper-entrenched in some ways; I've seen it in some of the discussions I've had with Little Light about the evolution of Islam.

The subject specifically under discussion in that community is the legitimacy of paid training: of learning the skills, practices, and mindset of the religion from someone who is paid for that service. There are a large number of reasons raised with this, such as the possibility of corruption, the question of whether other faiths do something equivalent, and then, the big one, the whole question of "Is this appropriate to our tribe?"

There is this belief that members of this religion are a family of sorts, drawn into it by some sort of resonance with its truths, and, when recognised as such by a teacher, is taught the customs of the tribe and thus brought into it as an adult. Comparisons are made to indigenous cultures who object to people who teach watered-down customs for pay to outsiders, people talk about how families are naturally run on a gift economy, and much hostility is directed to people who may not wind up being a part of "the family".

The funny thing about this argument from my perspective is that I'm on reasonably good personal terms with a fair number of these people, and they seem to accept me, more or less, as proto-one-of-them -- and my formal study has been paid exchange. And because, while I am strongly considering the possibility of pursuing initiation in this religion, I would not have done so without the opportunity to study it for two years with a teacher who not only was not expecting me to make that commitment but who was not teaching for that purpose.

But still, politically speaking, they don't want my kind in their group -- the kind of people who are willing to pay for familiarity, for the introduction, for the basic grounding before making a deeper commitment to 'the family'. And there is much talk, from all the factions in this, about how going through the initiatory commitment is a marriage to the gods, something not to be undertaken lightly -- and they object to me taking the gods out to dinner a few times and maybe a movie before considering the possibility. Too commerical, not enough love at first sight.

I find myself wary of people who talk about their group as a family, about the welcoming of People Like Us into this recognition of kinship. Not just as a matter of knowing that families are not idylls. But because so often, I've seen "People Like Us" being put forth as something that means more than it claims. There's always the hidden catch to it, the "People Like Us" are also like this, and if you don't toe that line, all that magical family-feeling that was supposed to be there just vanishes, leaving behind a suit of black wool. And if the family ever felt real, those people who are now making the nasty comments just on the edge of hearing probably know exactly how to make that loss of community feel like being flayed alive.

I first started formulating this set of thoughts as part of my experiences with science fiction fandom, which was full of rhetoric about how, y'know, we're a family for people like you, the sort of bookworm nerd who always felt a bit at loose ends in most human gatherings. We're like you, we will love and understand and cherish you.

Until you come across the underbelly and discover that some of those loving people will turn into frothing harpies if you see any merit whatsoever in Dr. Who or enjoy doing the costuming. "We love you! We will accept you!" So long as you hide this bit of you away.

I never had the "this is My Family" feeling with fandom, because I have a family -- a selection of individual people who, y'know, are familiar with my foibles and my cranky opinionated tendencies and my rough bits and still accept me for it. And these people aren't unified by some sort of allegiance to a subculture, an adjective, a political cause, or, indeed, a religion: we're just a sort of mixed-up extended family, some bits of it closer than others. So I never had to cling to fandom for that sort of social affirmation; I started building it on my own when I was about fifteen.

I know too many "We are here for people just like you" systems that wind up only being for people like me if I'm closeted or obedient, and I'm not terribly good at either of these. And then they tell me "You're one of us even if you don't think you are, because you have these traits", and I wind up wanting to dig in my heels and insist on proper consent protocols, because it's damn hard to safeword out of one of those black sheepings once they get going, once the allegiance doesn't prove to override all the peripherals, once the mutterings of traitordom start for not signing on to an ideology that wasn't advertised when one was welcomed in like the prodigal.

And with all of this, I see someone on one of my newsgroups making one of those, "How can you not call yourself a feminist?" queries, directed at someone else, but inviting everyone who doesn't have such an identification to speak up and justify our existence.