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

30 May, 2007

The Casual Stupid

So someone I know on LJ posted about the whole Polish officials investigating whether Teletubbies have teh ghey thing. And homophobia is a big problem in Poland at the moment, getting all tangled up (back to intersections) with some of the difficulties eastern Europe is having with the whole post-Soviet identity thing. Nationwide strike a possibility, fears of energy dependency on Russia, constitutional issues with the EU, ... and that's just the first page of hits on

The person who linked the article added a comment about how, y'know, he thought about making a Polack joke, but it's not worth it.

And gee ... how nice that it's not worth the effort to make that sort of display. Because responding to one bit of bigotry with another is so chic and enlightened.

Not just speaking, you know, as someone whose grandmother's surname was Jeranonek.

29 May, 2007

Navigating the Labyrinth: Left-Hand Rule

Over on Little Light's place in the discussion of intersectionality issues, magniloquence said in response to me:

"I think, along with the privilege, there's ... hrm, assumption of purity there? Like the yelliest feminists - the ones that put oppression as a woman before everything else, and who are most likely to cast everything in terms of their feminist viewpoint - tend to be the upper/middle class, relatively well-educated white ones. Not just because they're privileged and think they should dominate (though yes, that's huge ... and annoying), but also because for them, that's all that's happening. That's the only thing 'holding [them] back.' There's no intersection to be had there."

As I have mentioned now and again, I have, historically, serious issues with the values of the upper-middle class relatively well-educated white feminism I was exposed to when young -- largely because, well, it doesn't like my kind. Though I fit its nominal demographic.

And I'm now wondering if that's because sexism was never the primary issue holding me back in my life.

My primary issue? Education access. Trying to get a good education was the dominant issue of my childhood -- and I had parents who were doing the best they could for me, bringing that upper-middle-class privilege to bear on the school system, fighting for access to programs that could address my needs, able to pay for things outside the school's limitations. And I was fighting there as the precocious intellectual brat, which is a privileged position of a kind, but I still have this gut-kick reaction that damnit, if the education system worked better, if there were adequate funding, if there were more options available, if some of the craziness were removed, if people had the skillsets to do various things, that would Save Teh Wurld Tee-Em.

The horrible, horrible sexual harassment that made my junior high school days a living hell? Is subsidiary to the education access issue in my head -- because that was tied up in matters of school choice and familiarity, wound up dictating what schools I was willing to go to come high school (and I recognise that I had the privilege of an option to choose to escape the abuse, which is not something that other people, especially people with certain other intersections, have available) -- because I was a target because I was an asocial nerd, and thus I was rendered perpetually, constantly aware that my sexuality was being treated as a public chew toy because of being The Smart Girl, and nothing we could do could render my schooling free of that. It dominated my choice to do after-school activities (so I didn't have to take the bus home with the mangy hounds), it plagued me during the school day, and sexism only superceded the way that it ruined my access to education when I was told that nobody would do a damn thing about it because "boys will be boys". (That was my first exposure to institutional sexism.)

Secondary issue and first intersection? Mental health. Not just my own depression issues or my probably-PTSD, though that's a big chunk of it. But stuff like my cousin, whose intersections between learning disability/ADHD/race meant that he dropped out of high school and never went back (and look, there's the education access again, funny that). Not just my experiences with a parent who is probably mentally ill with more than depression, with the generational effects of alcoholism, with all that stuff. But things like -- I went to one of the Seven Sisters schools, right? Bastions of professional-class white feminism. One of the folks in my social group had been hospitalised because she was suicidal, and others of my friends tried to organise a trip to visit her there. And were told, more or less, "Don't you worry about the likes of her, she's shown that she's not good enough to be one of us. Go worry about your homework."

I wasn't terribly surprised that when my own mental illness issues led to me dropping out, I was bullied and browbeaten by the administration, and then abandoned by officialdom. (And look, there's education access again. Fancy.) At least I wasn't suicidal, eh?

After that it starts getting to be a complicated, tangled mass. Religious issues have mostly been my increasing sensitivity to language of religion that presumes beliefs that are not mine, such as some sort of monotheism (which I see both from majority-culture theism and the atheistic reaction to same). Sexuality issues have been largely an ongoing, underlying thread of anxiousness about my kink, partially induced by anti-BDSM feminism. I have ongoing concerns about the safety and security of my nontraditionally-structured family, which have been a major focus of activism for me for ten years now, because I want to get the world to be as safe as possible for my children before I have them rather than have to fear once they exist; that starts to blend into some other civil liberties stuff in a complicated way that I don't know qualifies under any adjective-related issues. I started developing body-image issues somewhere in my late teens or early twenties that I mostly don't talk about (they're currently under control, in any case).

I pass well enough as cisgendered under most circumstances that it doesn't much come up as an issue; I suspect that this has shielded me from a lot of issues over time, as it strongly shapes my experience of sex polarisation. My physical capability issues are both sporadic and comparatively minor. Race issues and queer issues and trans issues mostly come up because of supporting others, and I try to be aware of them though I suspect that I often don't do as well as I might.

If I had to boil the tangled mass down into a single thing it would be a constant, snarling wrestling match with categorisation -- the whole monstering problem, being the other in an inescapable around the edges way. There's this whole intricate morass of images that people get measured against, whole bunches of default-human assumptions, and they all rankle at some level. ( I used to measure myself against the standards of that white upper-middle-class educated feminism, and when I did I would break down in tears and feel like a worthless piece of shit.) But all the cardboard people rankle -- the this-or-thatness, or the assumptions of limitations, or the institutional biases against those people who don't happen to fit the cutouts the institutions favor. Freedom isn't fitting into the shape the institutions favor -- and some of us will still be unable to fit that shape, for whatever reason. Some of us will remain in the maze.

To not get lost in the labyrinth, keep one hand on the wall. Turn the same way at every intersection.

Here be monsters.

26 May, 2007

It is of course well known that careless talk ...

I seem to be having this tremendous difficulty with "lifestyle".

It's one of those words that pops up in a couple of the subcultures I drift through and gives me howling "That word, I do not think it means what you think it means" fits. The word means "manner of living", with strict denotation; with connotation, it's heavy on the economic activity and public show -- one of the quotes in one of the dictionaries I've checked on this word is something like "living a millionaire's lifestyle on a middle-class paycheck". Lifestyle is what you do, where you're seen, how often you go out to dinner. It's stuff like whether or not you have credit cards -- and whether they're paid off. That's lifestyle.

You know why the anti-gay crowd are big on the word "lifestyle"? Two things. One of them is that they're trying to create the belief that there is a common manner of living that can be equated with queerness. The thing that's never spoken but is always there in the subtext is "indiscriminate, disease-transmitting anonymous bathhouse promiscuity"; that's what they're trying to slather into all the discussions of gay rights issues, that's what the codeword is for. The other one is encoded in the subtext of the word "lifestyle" itself -- that this is all trivial, superficial shit, something that people do for shits and giggles, not orientational, just ... the current fashion. The trappings that someone might adopt, something easy to change, not a matter of substance. A lifestyle choice, y'know? Like deciding where to go out to dinner or whether or not one can afford to buy a new car, maybe something like a hobby, not anything important to one's soul or inner nature.

So I get kind of irritated when people in one or another of my subcultures refers to something as a 'lifestyle'. Partly because, hell, I don't know anyone with a manner of living that can be meaningfully pointed at with one of their adjectives. I tend to suspect that those people who can be said to be living a fill-in-the-blank lifestyle are, honestly, pretty boring. (I'm reminded of a gay acquaintance who spoke in great frustration about the sort of guys who just wouldn't have a personality at all if they weren't gay.) If the whole of one's life revolves around one thing -- one person, one adjective, one whatever -- that's an awfully limited sort of concept.

You can get all kinds of people wanting to construct a lifestyle around their stuff, but the thing is, none of it is inherent. Not the guy who was absolutely certain that poly people just 'cause they were poly would be interested in being recruited to his particular brand of leftist activism or Deborah Anapol's crazed "Polyamory is less a recreational activity than an alternative way of life which often encompasses economic, nutritional, and political alternatives" from The New Love Without Limits; not the people who are for-damn-certain that anyone who claims to be pagan has to be a vegetarian because that means they wuv momma Earth; not the people who think that Trinity should be wearing a corset 'cause of being a top and all; none of these people are defining what it means to be whatever.

And there's a dangerous, nervewracking thing -- the fact that sometimes people hit the lifestyle stuff, with all of its attendant nonsense, and wind up believing that they have to have all the crap additional stuff to be whatever they are -- all the trappings and dancing around and all the other stuff that they'd only be interested in because it legimates their identity. I saw a discussion recently about Goreans, and a number of people who got into that whole subculture with all of its sexist baggage and mediocre prose because it gives them a structure under which it's okay to be kinky. If the only way one thinks it's okay to, say, be a female submissive is to go do Gor, then by all that is good and holy they will do Gor, and even the weird shit will be critical to defending it, because it's the only way that's acceptable to embrace that identity.

This is where cults come from, in their way -- tying all kinds of other crap to being The Way It's Okay To Be This Way. I've seen some folks damaged in some bigtime ways with the other crap associated with The Way It's Okay To Worship These Gods, let alone anything more complicated. The power of justification is a big deal, and it gets all tied up with the sense that I think is out there that if there's a coherent system, an entire lifestyle, in which whatever thing is embedded then that is somehow more acceptable to adopt than doing the thing on its own.

I saw someone recently make a comment along the lines of, "I'm wondering sometimes if this lifestyle is being taken as a fad", and I could not resist pointing out that that's one of the things that's tied to the concept of lifestyle. Having a family or being oneself isn't a fad; it's not a lifestyle either.

I think there's something to be said for building systems that let people identify what it is that they want to do or be or perform or whatever else and do that, without having to hang all this other rubbish off it. But then again, even if one is avoiding festooning one's life with the dirty laundry of assumption, that won't stop other people from pelting one with stinky socks. (Yeah, I've read the edges of the pole dancing foofaraw.)

24 May, 2007

Blood from a Stone

Okay, setting aside my whole set of issues with the whole gender identity thing, you know, of all the things that would never, ever occur to me as precipitating the need to engage in serious thought about what it means to be a woman, taking a version of the pill that stops menstruation should probably go near the top of the list. Really, my first thought on cramping up at the end of my medication cycle is not, "Oh, thank the gods, I'm still a woman." I don't consider the whole oozing blood thing to be a reassuring reminder of my gender identity as a woman, and I can't imagine that I would if I had a gender identity as a woman.

More pointing and laughing at Pandagon. Don't miss the video of the crazy woman at the end, holy shit.

23 May, 2007

I Can See In Myself Wings As I Feel Them

I had one of those moments of hilarity when I came across someone arguing a position that can be expressed, "Come the revolution, we will no longer be Fallen."

(The word "Fallen" was used, with the capitalisation.)

Encoded paradigms are funny, funny things. The notion of the Fall is one of those bits that rattles around, culturally, without getting questioned at all -- this notion that there is something fundamentally wrong with people, something intrinsic and uncorrectable without salvation (which may come in the form of some sort of divine presence, or The Revolution, or some other thing).

And, y'know, when I got sophisticated enough cognitively to explain why I couldn't manage to be Christian, the essential problem was: I can't bring myself to believe in the Fall.

And it's not the misogyny of most interpretations of that myth -- the whole "women are the mechanism by which humankind was flung out of paradise" fragment of the Eden thing made the whole notion of a radical-feminist sympathiser appealing to salvation from the Fall the funniest damn thing I've read all week, though -- it's just ... I can't believe in it.

Glass half full, glass half empty. It really comes down to a certain sort of optimism vs. pessimism, as far as I can tell.

It would be very, very easy for me to just go off into the "there's something just fucking wrong with people, look at the way they behave" cognitive pattern, and justify it from my experiences. And there is certainly enough wrong with the world to justify misanthropy on a grand scale, to suggest that this world of flesh is no more than a vale of tears, and all of that weight of past theologies. And I still can't believe in it.

I can't believe in it. I believe that humans are drawn to groups, to preserving the well-being of the groups they perceive themselves to be in; I believe that humans are prone to drawing lines and saying 'these humans are not in my group', and have wildly varying treatments of those outside. I believe that work to expand the groups that people are willing to affiliate with leads to an expansion of the basic goodness that drives that urge to protect and develop one's social group.

I believe that some people are willing to be utterly, utterly vicious to the other, the outside-the-group, and that these people should not be allowed to dominate the definitionals of the groups they are in. I also believe that this requires care and maintenance, because there's an easy false support one can give one's group by dragging the not-group down and treading them under, not improving one's own status in real terms, just making everyone outside the group worse off, and because this is so easy, it's easy to slide there by being lazy. And once there, it's so easy to see how dangerous it is to challenge that state, so risky to possibly lose the group's support and become one of the ones in the mud.

I believe in laziness far more readily than I believe in innate evil. I believe in fear far more readily than I believe in innate evil.

I believe that a well-ordered and healthy reality requires maintenance, requires vigilance, requires work. I do not believe that it is outside human scope to get there; I do not believe in the necessity of salvation.

I think back to some of the most miserable times in my life, when I was the favored target as an outside-the-group person, that long pattern of sexual harassment and degrading behaviour. I think back to how they would taunt me, and I would sing to myself to close them out, and then they would challenge me to sing for them as if that was a taunt, too.

I sang.

And there was the one in the back who was quiet and thoughtful when I sang. I always remember him, and the way he so clearly knew that I was human too, even though he wasn't strong enough to admit that he could see.

"I did not put it in their hearts to do evil", said Ra, in one of those bits of mythology.

I believe in the essential possibility of purity of heart.

I believe that sometimes it is very, very hard to be strong enough to let that shine.

21 May, 2007

The Marked Case of Equal

So I've been reading The Lenses of Gender: Transforming the Debate on Sexual Inequality, by Sandra Lipsitz Bem lately. And chasing down links off let them eat pro-sm feminist safe spaces.

This produces interesting intersections.

The chapter I just finished in The Lenses of Gender was about androcentrism: the basic notion that the unmarked case of human being is male. (I will probably have more to say about this later, but for now I'm just giving context.) Which shows up in all kinds of ways; one of the ones that stuck in my head from the book was an insurance company unwilling to cover pregnancy-related disability issues because that was gurl stuff, not human stuff -- while still covering issues like prostate cancer -- and this being upheld as not being sex discrimination because hey, it doesn't affect not-pregnant women or men, so it's not discriminating on the basis of sex! The woman-specific issues were outside of the scope of human care.

This crops up a lot -- this notion of what normal is, what the shape of a default human being might be. Marked and unmarked cases. At one point it was expected to say "woman doctor" -- having a woman with a medical degree was so remarkable that she needed to be distinguished from her colleagues, set apart as something subtly different. These days, a similar language tic can be seen in "gay marriage". There's the normal thing, the thing that just gets the noun, and then there's the special case shit which isn't covered by normal, which probably doesn't get covered at all -- those marked case people, so long as they're doing the marked stuff, they gotta fend for themselves; they're outside of what Normal Humans Do, so Normal Human Coverage doesn't handle it. That's what they get for being weird.

So, with that framing context in mind, I was reading this old post of Trinity's, where concerns were raised about equality in relationships as regards certain BDSM practices. That a practice of egalitarianism -- of treating people equally regardless of various traits -- precludes doing the sort of stuff that kinky people do. At least so long as adequate demonstration of "self-examination" is not presented.

So we have the Normal Human Thing again.

And here's the thing with certain models of egalitarianism: the argument that people should be treated the same regardless of their preferences on the matter mostly looks like the nightmare-bogeyman that was hacked together to explain why we shouldn't be commies to me. The argument that I shouldn't go my kinky-submissive way because it promotes inequality mostly looks like I am held to be unequal: that because my stuff is outside the Normal Human Thing, it doesn't deserve the consideration that other people do.

And I should be pleased with the way the disability insurance will pay out for my prostate problems, too.

This is the thing: equal treatment has to take into account individual differences, individual experience, context, background. No amount of modelling the default human as male will take away my uterus; no amount of modelling the default human as vanilla will take away my kinkiness.

I've had a relationship with someone who was so devoted to egalitarian treatment that he was deeply, painfully uncomfortable with my submissive tendencies and only faced them with such ambivalence that I wound up, more often than not, suppressing the reactions so as not to distress him.* I have a relationship now with my liege, who not only accepts but cherishes my submission even though he doesn't always remember to do anything with it (outside when it becomes quite obvious in the bedroom). And it's in the latter of these I feel far more treated as someone with equal standing in the relationship -- because even though I am explicitly in a support role rather than one of "equals", even though I have to deal with certain constraints and obligations, I am in a position to define what that interaction means and my satisfaction with the dynamic is of equal importance to his.

As soon as one starts to acknowledge the range of humanity, there has to come an acknowledgement that different people want and need different things as part of their support, satisfaction, and even happiness. And, as the old saw goes, if it were otherwise, think of the oatmeal shortage.

I am not a lesser being because of being submissive, nor is it a sign of weakness or ready compliance.

I'm just a marked case.

(Maybe I'll try The Trouble with Normal next.)

* I have run this sentence by my ex both for checking that it has reasonable accuracy and consent for posting it. (And to let him know that I was commenting on this in public, for that matter.) This particular incompatibility is not something I in any way blame him for; it was just one of those factors that didn't work out. C'est la vie, live and learn, and all that good stuff. He wishes to note that he has a better understanding of my kink in retrospect, but not any better idea of how he, specifically, would handle it. Which serves as further illustration of my point, funny enough.

Narrative Discourse

So I'm watching some discussion here and there about fanfic provoked by this piece by Cory Doctorow.

Fanfic is one of those contentious subjects in some circles, really. The whole interplay of ownership of worlds, of what of the presentation of story is a shared matter and what rights the original creator should have to define the way those worlds are viewed and defined. The writer as divine creator, bringing forth universes from the sweat of their brow, is a compelling mythology to some -- but what happens once other petty godlings start interacting with those universes?

The thing to keep in mind -- the fanfic impulse is old, old, old. One of the frequent topics of conversation in my life of late has been how much of the Arthurian mythos is fanfic. Lancelot and the whole love triangle plotline? French fanfic. And those bits of fanfic become a mythological canon later on, shaping White's The Once and Future King for a straightforward Arthurian, and Walton's The King's Peace for an Arthurian that isn't so straightforward.

Homer? Mythology fanfic. Criticised in his time for being insufficiently respectful, too. Our surviving version of the Isis and Osiris myth? Greek fanfic, Plutarch I think, which would probably have kinda bothered some of the original myth-constructors with its changes to authorial intent.

Story exists as a dialogue between the storyteller and the people around them, the people interpreting the story. The words on the page, or recited, or whatever, aren't the whole of the story; there's a whole other chunk of it that comes with what weight that people bring to what they're hearing, what interpretations they have, the shapes of things. (And someone I know objected to having a subtitle to a poem removed, because it changed the story of the poem -- unqueering it. Context, context, context.)

When I write, I am, for the most part, not operating in a world of someone else's conception -- but at the same time, I am functioning in the vast multiverse of worlds perceived and realised, real and fictional, engaging in this giant discourse with the nature of story, the sort of story that matters, the shape of what it means to make story happen. I may not be telling you an Arthurian, but if I speak of proper rulership or nobility I will be operating in the context of a discourse shaped by memories of Arthur, generations upon generations of people talking about the Round Table and elaborating upon rulership and right action.

And there are stories that depend on that matrix, for better or for worse. Lancelot could have been written in some other structure, perhaps, but would he have had persistent story to him if he had? "There was this great king, who organised the best warriors to exemplify certain virtues -- they went on a quest for ... oh, fuck it, let's just tell a story about King Arthur."

This impulse isn't different when it's telling a story about Harry Potter or Luke Skywalker -- these are story matrices just like the ones which have been around longer. And people will engage with that matrix, with that world or those characters. (And I will admit I am far more comfortable with the impulse directed at the world than the characters, save when the characters are already collaborative work, but that's my own quirk.) And when people engage with the matrix, sometimes the result is more story.

Sometimes the matrix is a metamatrix -- the structure of multiple stories, past and present, in response to more than one thread, and when that happens, we don't call it fanfic. We may recognise threads of inspiration here and there, recognise them as falling into a sequence of development or originating a notion that other people's work explores later, but because it isn't set in Camelot or Gotham City, we call it "original".

17 May, 2007

I'm just not brave enough

Okay, I'm having a hell of a day, so this isn't going to be as poised and well-written as the usual incoherent mumbling.

I wrote a bit ago, in my comments to a post a little bit down from here:

It was generally assumed that I would go forth and do something worthwhile and 'powerful' by my family; because my family's progressive attitudes framed that partially in terms of egalitarianism, and because of the professional-class feminist attitudes I encountered, I picked up -- again, from the way people expressed their assumptions -- that it was my obligation to do such things. The negative terms that people (largely outside my family) used to frame professional-class women who did not pursue powerful roles made it clear that these were not acceptable paths.

I just spent about half an hour trying to figure out how to reply to someone who was saying that the feminisms that lead some women to not considering themselves feminists weren't things he saw outside the blogs. And eventually I decided I couldn't -- especially not given that today is a different sort of flailing emotional hell without opening myself up to the sort of savageing that ever admitting to this stuff tends to do.

There's this little incoherent flailing voice in me that says look, the blogs weren't around when I was a kid. I grew up steeped in this form of feminism that means that if I embrace it I have to embrace the fact that from its perspective I'm at best a complete failure.

And by the time I got to be a teenager, I met more than the professional-class feminism that was concerned with women in the corporate boardroom and in the high-level science and engineering classes and pennies on the dollar -- I met the stuff that was hostile to the secret sexual expressions that I hadn't told anyone about and said that it was anti-woman and should never be allowed to happen.

Other sexual discussion? Where I grew up the generalised state of discussion of sexual violence was, "Is date rape a real concern? Is it really rape?"


Somewhere in The Price of Motherhood, Ann Crittenden mentioned that she knew she had to write the book when, after she'd taken some time from her professional-class job to have her children, someone greeted her with, "Oh, didn't you used to be Ann Crittenden?" Her motherhood rendered her a nonentity: only the professional-class job counted to make her a person with a name.

When I read that, I almost cried: someone, some Big Name Someone, knew what I was talking about. Knew where I had come from. Wouldn't call me a liar or deluded for having been from there, or demand that I pull up cites of the appropriate Big Names with tidy little quotes making flat-out statements that only professional women doing professional woman stuff qualified as enlightened human beings.

But I'm not brave enough to go say this to someone who questions it. Not anymore.

At least not today.

15 May, 2007

Speaking Ill of the Dead

So I hear Falwell died.

Partly I hear about this because so many people I know spoke up about it specifically to dance on his grave in text, or piss on it, or otherwise celebrate the end of a life.

And partly I hear about this because so many people I know spoke up about it specifically to say, "Look, he was a godawful man when he was alive, but he has a widow and children who mourn him, I'm not going to celebrate his passing."

And I find myself more aligned with the second than the first, and remembering another difficult man and his passing West some several months ago. About whom I said, "I am glad that he is now unable to do any more harm. I am glad that he is no longer suffering from the horrible illness that killed him. I cannot rejoice at death; I can give thanks for these two things. Beyond that, I feel very complicated; at least my faith has mechanisms for dealing with difficult ancestors."

I feel less complicated about Falwell, largely because he was so much more of an abstraction than that other difficult man I never met, one of those forces of politics well out of my sphere, someone who disapproved most mightily of the people like me who lived off the edge of his map, an organiser of forces that stirred the social waters rather than a part of my community. But it's the same sort of feeling -- this sense that I can feel satisfied that he no longer has the power to do harm, that I can wish he gains some perspective in whatever afterlife, if any, he turns up in, and understands that he did do great harm, but I cannot in truth wish him ill. I would have fought him with every fibre of my being in almost anything he supported had I had the chance to armwrestle him when he lived; now that he is not among the living, I can only say, "There goes a man to the West, a gate that every human being must pass through alone."

Fred Phelps will be protesting his funeral, I also hear.

I wonder if I will be able to wish that monster well on his way West when the day comes that he ceases to plague the living.

13 May, 2007

Rape in the Literary Mirror

I was discussing the shock jock thing with my husband as we were pottering about, and this went immediately into a discussion of some of the novels he's been reading.

You see, my husband really loves alt history/apocalyptic future sorts of novels, reads a bunch of them. And he says that, the apocalyptic stuff, the major cue that the apocalypse has come is focused around a rape. This is the iconic symbol of the degeneration of society in all of these novels -- and as I said, he reads a bunch of them, different authors. Probably the same subculture, though.

Which got us off on what it means that there's this common trope that rape is the iconic image of non-civilisation -- aside from the fact that it demonstrates that we don't much live in civilisation. What does this bit of our literature reflect back about us.

These are the theories that I managed to come up with, which I would like to add to:

- First of all, there is the thread of "there being social order is the only thing that keeps us from perpetrating sexual violence on each other". Human decency is a thin veneer only enforced by the need to look good for the neighbors or the fear of consequences.

- Murder, theft, other violence, are all normal; rape, however, is the worst of worst things, the sign that everything is ruined. Sexual things are beyond the normal rules. Which of course ties in with the "better dead than raped" notion, and the common notion that someone who has been raped is completely beyond the pale, can only be considered as the object of sexual violence from then on. Further, someone who has been touched by the fundamentally anti-civilisation energies of rape is thereby pulled out of civilisation -- they have become Other by their encounter with the unmaker.

- The will to power is tamed by civilization; when given free rein for expression, it automatically does so in terms of framing women as property available for use.

- As a friend pointed out over in the discussion that I had in my journal on the subject, the acceptability of rape is a matter of whether or not women are people; thus, the acceptability of rape is a sign of how thin the veneer of belief that women are people is presumed to be.

- And something really disturbing and consistent with observed reality that occurred to me, partially because I read Pigeon's On the Record post over at Little Light's place -- if the absence of rape is the sign of civilisation, and people wish to believe that this is a civilisation, then it is the people who claim to have been raped who are threatening civilisation, not those who perpetrate rape. Because this is civilised, right? And we have always been at war with Eastasia.

There was some more, but I've lost 'em. I'll add 'em back in if I remember. Anyone have any others?

12 May, 2007

The Hell Is Wrong With You People?

So apparently a couple of shock jock DJ's got a big laugh out of one of their guests suggesting that he'd really like to rape Condi Rice to death.

What actually is there to say about this shit? I'm at a loss here. I could get up a good rant about how this is evidence that sexual violence is something some people grab at when they want to put uppity women back down in their place, but it's not like that isn't hitting my seven and a half readers with the obvious stick.

I just ... what the hell is wrong with the universe?

Shakesville has it, twice. Don't read my inarticulate flailing, go read that.

I need a goddamn drink.

09 May, 2007

Owning It

A few of the places I read have been talking about women's sexuality of late. The way it gets warped, the way it gets used, the way it gets controlled or whatever.

When I was a kid -- I mean eight or nine, pre-pubescent -- I had an active fantasy life. It was a little fairy-taley, complete with questing to free beautiful princes who were trapped in towers sort of thing, with an entire sort of Disney-movie notion of how to woo and win the boy of my dreams, and I was too young to get that this was the early, inchoate processes of sex, but it was there. As I got older, I got to experimenting with my body, figuring things out, learning what I reacted to; my fantasy life got more explicit as I got to understand sex, and much more explicitly kinky, in ways that would probably really bother some people who're concerned about male/female dynamics patterning.

And that was back when I owned my sexuality. Not securely, because I didn't have a good handle on what any of it meant, but it was mine and nobody had messed with me yet.

I was a shy, weird kid, not so up on the social development thing, and significantly later than most of my peers on the physical development end of things. Which meant, in practical terms, that mostly I didn't know what junior high school slang-laden conversations about sexual things were about -- I was sharp enough to pick up that it was sex or sexually related, but I didn't speak the language.

And because I was a shy, weird, socially inept kid, I was a favorite target for the overbearing bullying type. And because my body type is within social expectations for 'attractive female' -- in other words, I'm too damn skinny -- that targetting was not physically violent, but rather intensely sexual. I spent my days in a perpetual haze of encounters with people who made constant oblique references to my sexuality in terms I did not understand, who enjoyed treating it as a toy for their amusement. They only got physical once, but the taunting was ever-present, the suggestiveness, the unpersoning of me into some sort of sex toy. When my parents tried to get the authorities at school to intercede, the response was, "Well, boys will be boys"; my only defense was to arrange my life to avoid them as much as possible and develop a shell that detached me further from my sexuality, as that was something they were working desperately to claim as public property and their avenue of attack on my self.

At the same time, I had one friend -- another shy, weird kid who happened to be male. We had very little in common other than loneliness and a few games; we spent a reasonable amount of time in each other's company, eating lunch together at the isolated end of a particular table, occasional afternoons spent playing Tetris on his Nintendo, that kind of thing. And -- innocently in his case -- he also laid claim on my sexuality with his assumption that this meant romantic connection rather than amiable companionship. He took my willingness to spend time with him as attraction and felt betrayed by my involvement with someone else, despite never having asked if I was interested in bestowing my sexuality upon him.

It wasn't mine to give, apparently, just some stray boy's to pick up.

This was a major factor in the assault -- this notion that asking for consent, asking if I wanted to share my sexuality, was beyond the possible. I was a curious fourteen-year-old, interested in grappling with this whole question of sex and sexuality, trying to figure out what I wanted; I was not, of itself, averse to exploring the concept, but it was all very new, it needed contemplation, and I was never asked. The mode of interaction seemed to be "gently try something and see if I get told 'No'". But without the time to think about it beforehand, I couldn't reasonably or honestly say "Yes", so there was this constant pressure on untested boundaries and transgressing across them clogging up my processing of consent, leaving me trying to catch up with it, and leaving me with the sense that, y'know, I wanted to say no to something a month or two ago, but now it's too late, I need to figure out the now ... and that progressed until I hit something where I was certain of the no and folded up into a little ball of panic pinned down by a much larger body that was trying to understand why after all that quiet compliance there was a wall there.

I had been taught that I had to say "Yes"; I wasn't taught a damn thing about people who would presume that lack of being slapped meant yes. And, again, my sexuality was something that was made his without me being able to figure out what to do to prevent it. I didn't have good boundaries on my sexuality -- I hadn't even really begun to figure out what my sexuality was, and the experiences that might have helped me define it and explore it in more practical terms mostly tugged it out of my grasp and turned it into someone else's plaything.

Among the things I lost then was my fantasy life; even that most private and intimate bit of my sexuality, the stuff that existed only in my own head, was lost to me. It wasn't safe anymore to even contemplate sex, to explore the intensity of power and eroticism, to construct the little narratives that I used to soothe myself to sleep with. Nothing of my sexuality was mine anymore; it belonged to other people and their visions of me.

When I started to get it back, when I started to heal, it was a headlong thing, grabbing a hold of sex, seeing what it wanted, and going there maybe a little faster than I would prefer in an ideal world, because if I initiated, if I was the one to push my boundaries, at least I was the active force, the determining one. I was deciding where things would go. I was in control -- a rickety, headlong, no-brakes-down-the-mountain sort of control, but at least I was steering the wagon.

Which isn't really owning it either, but it was a step up from having it all under the control of others.

It was a long, rickety route with a lot of sliding and slipping to get to where I am now, more or less -- a few complexes and places where I can't hold on to my sexuality, a few broken bits that are outside my command, but an awareness that I can roll sex around in the curve of my hips and keep it as my secret, an awareness that my desire is my own, and something that I can share with who I want to, and can share how I want to. I read Renegade Evolution's post on power in sex work, and there's something there that is part of the owning it that I aspire to -- having it as a tool, something that I can apply to situations when I want to, having the power of command of my own sexuality, which, perhaps, has something compelling about it, to the right sort of people. To choose to present it in a manner under my control, rather than having it something that other people suck out of me.

I get really twitchy around people who talk about sexuality like it's public property. Or property of someone other than the person who has it and the person or people they have consensually agreed to share ownership with. That Purity Ball crap freaks me the hell out. The obligated-to-put-out-by-the-third-date crap freaks me the hell out. The "nice girls don't do that" crap freaks me the hell out. The "what you do with your sexuality has to be framed and considered in terms of what it says about genero-woman!" crap freaks me way the hell out. The Barbie-whore clothing for toddlers freaks me way the hell out, oh gods. There's a lot of stuff out there that freaks me the hell out with this regard.

But when I see people talking about sexuality, especially women's sexuality, I look for the code language to sort out who they think owns it. Because people who think that they have some level of entitled position to control someone else's sexuality without explicit consent ... are scary, scary fuckers.

07 May, 2007

Power, Redux: Revisiting the Last Paragraph of "The Personal Is Political"

Octogalore writes here about women and power and sexuality; Renegade Evolution responds here.

I am going off on a complete fucking tangent.

I was raised in a reasonably affluent progressive family. My parents are both college-educated; both of them have taught at the college level. There was the whole "You can do whatever you set yourself to" rhetoric, vigorous attempts at egalitarianism in upbringing that were partially thwarted by myself and my brother being extremely different people.

And one of the subtextual messages that I picked up, whether intentionally or no, was that I ought to want to be powerful -- in the sense that I think Octogalore means when saying "I think the only real power comes in leverage. Being able to leverage your time and create something bigger than yourself." Some of this is class privilege -- being affluent, white, progressive, educated, the encoding was you-are-one-of-the-proto-movers-and-shakers-of-the-world. And some of it was a twisted-lens imposition of leftist nanny obligation: as a professional-class woman, I was supposed to be one of those people who Improves The World For Women. As someone who was good with maths and sciences, perhaps, I should be out there being one of those women who proves that there's nothing about having a cunt that precludes producing science. Failure to have this ambition, to strive towards this sort of power, was ungrateful at best, and seen as actively anti-feminist at worst.

(I want to be clear that Octogalore makes clear that this is not the position she is trying to express. I own my own shit here.)

The thing is, the affluent-progressive-live-your-life-as-an-example-to-others trip makes me miserable. Trying to get onto that ride is a big chunk of why I went mad and dropped out of school and never got the degree that would qualify me to be an Educated Class Social Activist By Example. I lost myself trying to figure out what I should be doing to please my parents, to uphold the values of my social class, to be a good little liberated woman. I don't have the fucking ambition to pull off living on a grand scale that way, and back when I tried to hold that as a value it mostly made me crazy.

The thing with leverage for myself and women that follow me, that large, weighty sense of desire to construct legacy, is that that approach to the world robs me of all sense of power. That was where I was supposed to be by now, right? What all my background was gearing me towards, and yes, it was all "You can choose to do what you want", but the frame was that that would serve the Greater Good, that I would want power -- educating the next generation in a university, or advancing the study of astrophysics, or something that could be held up as a Good Example. And so if I look that way, look that way at all, I'm a catastrophic failure, too crazy to hold down a job as a legal secretary let alone pass the bar, unable to manufacture sufficient ambition out of obligation to Class Woman to bring the weight of my privileged upbringing into the service of the whole.

And this is why I ruminate on power a lot, on recognising things like the power of the submissive role, of the caretaking parent, of all these things -- because I don't want to embrace a model of power that leaves me intrinsically powerless, whether an abject failure, a traitor, or a pawn of Teh Patriarchee. Maybe somewhere down the road I'll be the one to make a difference, working on the scale where I am -- what Little Light referred to as the two little hands -- but I can't live for being that, or even count on knowing when it happens. Field too large.

05 May, 2007

Growing Up Secular

I used to weird people the hell out when I say I was raised secular Christian. They didn't believe in it. (These were frequently the same people who had no problems with the concept of secular Judaism. I was never entirely certain how they held the concepts in their heads.)

My mother has described herself as a "recovering Catholic". My father is a lapsed Anglican who I vaguely suspect of atheism (not that it stops him from reading lots of theology). We celebrated Santa Brings Pressies and Bunny Candy Day, without any sort of coherent religious meaning. I think I had a Children's Bible of some sort. I was taught the Lord's Prayer, and occasionally would remember to mumble it before bed. That was pretty much my family's state of religiosity.

I wound up going to church semi-regularly when I was seven or eight, I think, and my experience with it was pretty much comparison shopping. I had the option of going to the Methodist church with one of my friends, to the Catholic church with the neighbors that I had adopted as bonus grandparents, or watching Sunday morning cartoons. I alternated for a while between the churches with occasional days where the cartoons won. Eventually I settled on the Methodists and was reasonably active in that church's community for a nine-year-old, including listening to the sermons and thinking about it a lot.

I didn't have any particularly religious friends. At least not in ways that impinged upon my consciousness. My parents had Jewish friends with children about my age, which meant to me that they had a holiday with roast beef before we did in December. I had a friend in elementary school who I suspect of being quietly and very devoutly Catholic, but it never came up; I have vague memories of there being a crucifix hung up in her house, and clearer memories of my mother mentioning that her brother had been disowned when he came out of the closet, but, again, religion never came up.

Religion qua religion never came up at all. I mean, yeah, it came up in church, with people talking about ways to live, but the evidence that it extended beyond that was surpassing subtle. As an adult, I've met people I know to be devoutly religious from personal information, but their faith is pretty much invisible in the actions of ordinary life. People whose faith is visible are weird.

When my faith is visible, I'm weird. And sometimes this throws me for a loop -- I'm one of those freaky fanatic people who actually has religious structures that are part of everything else. I pour water to the gods regularly. I do my rituals regularly. I read and write theology like someone who means it.

I'm not secular anymore.

It's funny to have that perspective on the world. It gives me some sympathy for the crazy fanatics sometimes, the whole sense that everything around me is operating according to different principles, not the ones that I'm living by. Feeling the need to keep it slightly under wraps so that nobody thinks I'm a nutcase.

Because I still have the impression that out there in the world beyond my walls, people doing things for religious reasons are ... strange. I'm watching a friend of mine have to wrestle with some bureaucratic tangles that involve having to go to a religious building of a faith not her own, and the difficulties she has in convincing people that this is a problem, that yes, real people who aren't living in enclaves with walls and guns have restrictions on their lives depending on their religion, that it isn't just showing up to weekly service, listening to some readings, maybe singing a hymn, and doing social brunch with the folks from the temple afterwards. That it's real and makes a difference, and that it can be real to people who aren't completely on the margins of society fanatical weirdos.

My bread is rising, so that there will be bread for the Beltaine I celebrate with my ritual group; not my holiday, but I mark it anyway. There will be bread, and the first piece goes to the domovoi as I promised him. And I will go out and plant seeds, then, because the season demands it, because getting the seeds into the ground before the festival matters. And we will light a fire, and we will pour things for the gods, and possibly the neighbors will think we are quite, quite mad.

02 May, 2007

Courting Equality

The existence of this book makes me very happy.

On a lot of levels, really: the Goodridge decision was one of those watershed things, and the backlash (some of it spearheaded by then-Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney) more or less fell flat in Massachusetts. And the photography that's visible on the site looks spectacular.

And there's the fact that the text on the website uses things like "marriage equality" and similar language, which goes back to my ongoing rants about same-sex marriage rights and the proper use of language to describe what one's in favor of.

Just, y'know, damn, those people look happy.

01 May, 2007

Shame, Shame, Shame

So, Renegade Evolution asked for folks to talk about experiences with sexual shame.

I come at this one from a slightly funky angle, but my world is always on a slant; my biggest shame issues around sex have a lot more to do with not doing than doing.

My libido is fairly low in general, by which I mean that I don't seek out sex or, in most circumstances, seek it out; I will respond to a partner, but almost never initiate. And when I get depressive ... well, the responsiveness takes a major hit, too, and I go from 'almost never initiate' to 'will not initiate'. If the depression gets really bad, I go from 'responsiveness takes time and effort' to 'responsiveness is impossible'.

I used to get flashbacks, too, to the sexual assault, and my major trigger was the sight of an aroused man. This has something of a chilling effect on the free expression of the sexuality of a heterosexual woman interested in partnered sex.

For a long, long time I had major shame issues around the assault. I minimised it constantly, feeling embarassed that it had damaged me badly enough to give me flashbacks, to interfere with my interactions with other people, because I was not raped or injured physically, so why, why did I have all of this mental damage? How could I possibly be that fucked up by it? I was ashamed of my damage, ashamed of needing to close my eyes, afraid of the tension that would lock up my mind at times, shutting down my ability to respond the way I wanted to. And I was too ashamed to try to seek out psychological help -- get a diagnosis for my damage, get treatment, anything that might help -- because it was an admission that I had been broken so badly by something that was, at least in my head, supposed to be trivial. He stopped, right? Before it was rape? So why was I hurt? How could I possibly be so slashed up inside my mind from that, when it didn't even cross over into the much-debated-as-legitimate "date rape"?

I've never had an adult sexuality that didn't have echoes of that as a part of it, that didn't have the shadows of him behind me. I was a late bloomer, physically; the assault came six months before menarche. (The fact that I had not developed that far at the time was about the only thing that was visible in the fractured horror-movie mirror of my mind through the experience, the: "I don't even have my periods yet. How can he think I'm ready for sex?" Over and over again, shards on shards on shards of my mind shattering around me.) I've never had an adult sexuality that was untouched by the shame.

In the end, it's that that I can never forgive him for, for taking that away from me. For associating sex and terror before I had fully grasped how to claim sex as my own thing. For tainting my uncertainties with shame.

The major thing that started to loosen the bonds of that shame on me, the thing that got me actually thinking, was that I was swapping assault stories with another survivor, late one night. She had had an experience that I parsed as flatly horrific, and had fought off her attacker by tearing his throat open with her teeth -- and when I told my story, she said, "How horrible!"

How horrible, what happened to me. From someone who knew from horrible.

There's a key to the chain. There are other locks to that shame, but that was the first and largest.

I don't know if the depression takes out my sex drive because of that, or if it's independent, but either way, it vanishes, all my ability to connect and express my sexuality fades out with the rest of the world when I'm depressed. And then I have the shame of the inadequate partner, the failure as a lover, the knowledge that others want that form of connectivity with me and I just ... can't ... open up and live that much.

And that's the shame that hurts the most these days, this sense of failure, of personal inadequacy, that I'm unable to consistently or readily fulfil that part of relationship. If I could only figure out how to set that shame aside, to get over it and myself, then maybe the flow wouldn't be blocked up with shame, maybe it wouldn't be so ... damn ... hard sometimes.

If I weren't ashamed of my shame.