November the Twentieth

and once a year we count our slain

and one a year we say their names

and another year gone

and others gone

some saw in them the faces of demons

we are not your demons

we are your mirrors

and once a year we count our slain

and once a year we say their names

mirrors

you startle at your own

fragile

shattering

you cannot shatter the mirrors

we are born among you, always

of you, we are not other

another year gone

and others gone

you could chase away the demons

but not the faces

and once a year we count our slain

their transgression of your own making

they dared to be of their own making

and once a year we say their names

they dared to be of their own revealing

another year gone

they dared to be as we ever remain

and others gone

they dared to be not to themselves ever other

you could face the demons

you make faces into others

gone of your own

fragile

shattering

mirrors but not merely

faces

we are born among you, always

names

and once we dare

faces

we dare of our own making

and once a year we count our slain

and once a year we say their names

and another year gone

and others …

we remain

their names

fragile

we remember

shattering

we remember

we remain

With Love

What comes to mind when you hear, “When they go low, we go high?” Playing nice with the opposition by gently telling them they’re loved and they could do much better than the current outrage they inspire? Probably something like that. It can descend into well-meaning tone policing.

Let’s talk about what that phrase. I want to suggest we use it to mean more.

It’s an appeal to stick to love. Let’s keep that part. It needs to be at the core of our principles.

Let me tell you… When someone has really hurt you, one of the most brave and loving acts one can do is to tell that person, honestly, unflinchingly, how what they have done has hurt you, and showing them demonstravely how you feel. There are other actions that are also brave, true. Leaving someone abusive also requires bravery. We can think up other scenarios and contexts and actions all day, we can think up times we’ve received that well or poorly on the other end, but stay with me on just that moment of standing up that way. It’s at once powerful, vulnerable, principled, and loving.

It’s “going high” in a way I’m betting most haven’t considered before when they inject that proverbial maxim into public discourse.

I want you to know that “going high” requires honesty and principle. No sideswiping other injured groups out of carelessness. No resorting to lies, or carelessly repeating lies that others tell. (There are ways to fact check.)

But I also want you to know that it means not silencing others that are injured who are being honest about their plight and their wounds.

And I really need you to get this down solid. “Going high” does not preclude showing you’re angry. Furious. Grieving in tears. Full of mistrust of future actions. Fearful. Wounded and lacking the ability to accept replies at face value.

Because honesty is not going low. It’s going high with an amount of love that isn’t even asked for or justified by what’s happened. It’s based on a small tiny shred of hope that somewhere in the rest of the people receiving this that there’s some empathy and compassion in someone, anyone out there.

Don’t you DARE quash that last shred or hope by silencing it.

–random

Safety Work, Even from Words

If I’m in a debate, and suddenly I stop to correct the pronouns of a trans person that has been brought up during the conversation, and entirely change my tone, it isn’t to change the topic as a diversion.
It’s to ascertain whether or not, if I met you on the street, you would constitute — directly or indirectly — a physical threat to my safety.
Yes, this was a specific incident. Person has since apologized, genuinely, via a mutual friend. I accept it. I’ve observed in multiple contexts that, though this person might be someone I’d disagree with, they are nothing if not direct and earnest.
That doesn’t necessarily change the fact that, by doubling down repeatedly, on the street, I would interpret those actions as having raised the specter of physical violence. Not them, not directly. But because that then elicits certain kinds of thoughts and reactions in bystanders, depending on their attitudes.
I’m torn between going scarce for a little while and making a point of staying and engaging. Simply: Fight or flight, even in hindsight, writing about it.
My only point in bringing it up is to educate just how loaded a thing misgendering can be. Even if you’re only misgendering someone in the past tense and not someone who is actually part of the direct conversation. My point isn’t to call this person out, they’ve done what they can to mitigate what they did, and I’m done with that conversation. It’s to say that even after the apology there are still consequences when the misgendering is obvious and willful, even when it is directed to a third party outside the conversation. (It doesn’t matter if I was assumed to not be trans, the assumption should not have been made, and that in a way would make it worse, like a conspiratorial aside between people that are supposedly of the “same tribe”.)
The phenomenon isn’t limited to trans folk, there are analogous verbal behaviors depending on what kind of minority you may be having a conversation with. That itself is worth some deep meditation time.
Respect? Yeah, basic physical safety is baseline respect.

Help them out?

I was reminded today, by a friend’s coming out day post, that there are health benefits to coming out.

I was reminded a few days earlier by a separately helpful friend that there are a few ground rules for coming out day that need be observed and aren’t always. First, never out anyone for them. That’s a hostile act, and secondly it’s hypocritical to ask for self-determination and then do something that denies someone else that agency. Secondly, if you’re not a sexual or gender minority, don’t prank your friends by “coming out”. Thankfully, I don’t really feel like I have to lecture any of you, that’s not my point in actually bringing up those ground rules. It just gives me context for being reminded about the health benefits.
There are a lot of folks who aren’t out, either at some point in their life, or in places and context for which that entails risk of one kind or another — either severe financial penalty or personal injury or social ostracism. That’s WHY there are health benefits.

Part of the point of NCOD is to make it easier for others, later, to be out, and to normalize what it means to be out. Part of the point is an excuse to be out.

Let me add another, if I may ask?
What can we do to make it easier for others to be out? What can we do to reduce or mitigate the risks involved? Even more fundamentally, how can we help people who will need it find the information about what it means to be a sexual and/or gender minority, so that at least they can come out to themselves and minimize any period of misinformation, as some do. (Yes, there are always going to be late bloomers. How do we make it easier for those folks?)

Happy Coming Out Day!

And yes, for the record, I’m still just another queer trans gal…

[PS– Ohey! Here’s an older article on that… ;-) http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/coming-out-of-the-closet-may-be-good-for-your-health-7400182/ ]

Casts, Molds, and Breaks

So… Since I was asked elsewhere what the issue is…

Production companies constantly make the mistake of casting people of a hegemonic majority while ignoring qualified (or overqualified) people of the minority of the role being cast. White people cast as Asians. Or blacks. Het people cast as queer. Cis folk cast as trans folk. It’s important to admit up front that this isn’t an outright fault, but a contextual one. One that if it was addressed would cease to be a context, and casting reversals could actually be a healthy thing. Let me explain the context.

First of all, in an industry where career performers have a tough time as it is, the fact that straight folk (or, possibly, closeted folk), and white folk, and cis folk, have had not just the majority of roles but nearly all of the compensated roles that are cast in the US is still quite the shutout. There are careers that have never been allowed to happen because of this. If you think back to the way sports leagues were officially segregated in the US, and how minority leagues paid their players compared to the “major” leagues — there’s a defacto situation enforced by production timidity.

Secondly, by not casting minority professionals in these rols, at a time when too many writers, directors, and producers do not have a good grasp on when they are or are not creating a scene that will play as offensive to the minority that is being portrayed — they’re losing an opportunity to have a first-hand witness to living as that minority serve as a catch against it. “No, I don’t think that will play well, here’s why… Here’s what might be more realistic… Here’s what won’t risk a public media backlash once this is in front of an audience.”

We’re still stuck in a mode of portrayal where production timidity steers minority roles into tragedy or stereotyped mocking. In both cases, the specific timidity I’m talking about is the inclusion of a minority as a role but then seeking to minimize the threat of that role. Either the portrayal is made to be inappropriately humorous, mocking the role, or the portrayal is made to be tragic, which while attempting to pull empathy from some of the audience also serves to reinforce attitudes in some who proclaim, “that’s what they deserve.” It’s approaching the point of the horror movie that is laughable in spite of its every attempt to be taken seriously and emotionally, and the joke that is anything but funny.

Moreover, production timidity isn’t limited to casting, but also to decisions about creative staff that isn’t in front of the audience. Artists that set the scene or the costume and makeup can influence the outcome. Writers, directors, and producers certainly influence the outcome. Anyone who takes part in editing especially influences the outcome, they have the decision of veto, and anything that was produced before might be subject to last minute timidity.

Being timid in a production might feel like being safe with audiences, but it’s itself a gamble. It’s gambling that the audience will also want to be safe and comfortable with their existing prejudices. But that only plays to a very small portion of the audience. Much smaller than your fears, in reality.

The mold hasn’t merely been set, it’s set in. It’s flooded the performance arena, it reeks, and it’s toxic. It needs remediation.

That said, let me round back to what I first admitted. If we arrived at a point where the performance industries routinely were even in giving out performance and staff roles to all groups, where the performance industries were not merely portraying minorities but actually soliciting their participation for the sake of better entertainment. More poignant and more amusing and — amazingly — not confusing the two in offensive ways. When the performance industry is actually healthy in this way, novel cross-casting and re-casting of people outside of their experience is professionally healthy, expanding professional empathy and range of performance if successful. But we aren’t there. We won’t be there for quite some time, unfortunately. Because, unfortunately, when it’s this one-sided it starts to look a lot like a more polite version of the days when coating one’s face with a thick color of paint passed for a minority role. Just because the shellac isn’t all over one’s face doesn’t mean it isn’t apparent in the final production.

–random

Are we all …? Are we?

Wondering if there will be calls and banners, “We are Pulse”. When they come for a gay night club, “We are all gay.”

Wondering if there will be calls and banners, “We are all Latinx”. It was Latinx night at Pulse.

I feel just nauseous even wondering. It forces tears into my eyes. It’s not like the solidarity with victims wasn’t already abundantly selective. Any Arab or Islamic target barely registered.

At least the bomb in the local Target appeared to have been random and not hate-related. The woman who did that is rather opaque on motivation.

What a mixed up day, emotionally. We’re on vacation. It’s the second anniversary of me informing my office of my transition. It’s even a planned event, Children’s Day, making the day special for children of all ages…

And I wake up to read that overnight we had the worst shooting spree in U.S. history at an Orlando gay night club, and they’re trying to decide if it’s a hate crime or domestic terrorism. Like it could be decided cleanly and easily between the two. Like you could take a scalpel to the two problems. Which… they do. On one side, you describe the assailant one way, minimizing the threat, and on the other, you describe them completely differently, maximizing the threat. And it’s all just mixed together there, imagining the futures that aren’t, imagining the futures of those that know them, and reading the trail left on the airwaves.

Make History

There’s but one problem with the phrase we sometimes use to decry bigotry, “standing on the wrong side of history.” History is not inevitable. There is no unavoidability to the long line of human progress over time towards a more just society. We become a more just society because of innumerable contributions, small and large, towards the work of making society more just. It is only when we emerge after doing that work that history will judge us. Because that history is written by those who follow us. Unless you take an active hand in teaching those that follow, they will write history according to someone else’s truth. History is a creative act.

Take a side. Do the work. Make history.

Fighting the Good Fight

Somewhere in the middle of NaNo, I slipped up and abruptly halted. I slipped up by letting the world get to me. I got into a funk, had this specific essay in mind, and had a sizable creative block about writing it. Not my usual M.O..

In the middle of November 2015, you might remember, there were mass killings in Paris. Then I learned there were mass killings in Lebanon. Before Paris.

It’s bad enough to have to rerealize there are mass murderers for ideology in the world, then having to confront the fact that media coverage is incredibly selective about which mass casualties are worth covering. And not as an isolated incident. As a pattern that has been repeated especially often in the past few months. Brussels or Ankara? On and on. (Lahore is a bit of an aberration, but perhaps not, because it was quickly disclosed that the Taliban had intended to target Christians. I suspect some were secretly delighted that the targeting went “awry” and the publicity would be mixed for the Taliban. Another species of Daesh.)

I lost my temper over that. Specifically the day I learned of killings in Ankara, yet days after, because of the selective coverage, it finally boiled over into an angry rant. I won’t repost it. Someone kindly talked me out of my rage.

There have been a few editorials bemoaning the lack of solidarity with Ankara but, surreally, that’s the most coverage I have seen this side of the world.  The lopsidedness of it continues still. There are still terrorist incidents around the world, and they’re still selectively covered. The primaries are going on in the U.S., and that takes a tremendous share of time and energy, but still? When there’s a clear bias going on, and it smacks of intolerance, it’s time to call it. So I’m calling it, partly as racist bullshit, partly as Christian hegemony in the U.S. and its traditional marriage with Islamophobia.

And that right there would be enough to say for one essay (only the start of the work on that, but plenty of a topic), except there’s more that I needed to say. I’d been questioning why I bother trying most weeks to improve anything at all. Not seriously. Just a kind of dejection of the fatigued. In any event, losing my temper jarred enough loose that I can begin to write this. At last.

What does the phrase “fighting the good fight” mean to you?

My history with it and how I encountered it colored my understanding of it. For the better, I think. It means a lot to me. It’s my way of motivating myself to do better and to decide, intentionally, what I will do.

I first encountered the phrase in, I kid you not, Fallout 3. For those not familiar, that’s a video game, set in Washington D.C., in a kitschy yet deadly nuclear post-apocalyptic world. There’s one non-player character, a D.J., who uses it to frame their motivations, why they keep speaking into the radio, and trying to tell truth to everyone. Most especially to motivate others to do well and to get everyone to fight oppression. And in a bleak post-apocalyptic world, there’s a lot of oppression. To me, the longer I explored playing and replaying the game, it began to take on a sort of anti-racist parable. (Whether it was meant that way by its writers or not.)

You see bits and pieces in the stories and even side quests leading up to the end, and in the end you make a decision. Purge the land of mutants and undesirables, make it “human” the way we used to define human, or instead let the waters of life flow freely to everyone. Detailing the numerous places in the story I saw this and the nuances I saw in those would be a whole other essay. There are parts that don’t entirely dovetail with this, too, they’re just opportunities to do the right thing — or not. It is a choice. In that fiction, but especially in the world.

Suffice it to say, I began to identify the phrase with trying to make the world a better place, every chance one had, at every turn, to the best of one’s abilities.

At one point, years later, I researched the phrase and found out it had a history. A long one. A somewhat mixed one for me.

The most recent notable person to use it that appeared in researching it was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Possibly one of the most misused sources by white folk in trying to discredit black folk agitating, or even just asking, for better. Sorry, a bit of an aside, but it’s just flat out true, and that also has been brought up again in the past several, several months. Please quit doing that, it’s a jackass move.)

More, though, it has a rich connection with Evangelical Christianity. Something that makes me tread carefully here. But some of the first instances are in the bible. I’m not cozy with Evangelical Christianity. I do know Evangelicals who are on the side of good, honestly. But it seems a dwindling variety. Even Jimmy Carter left the Southern Baptist Convention in protest. Which, well, good on Carter for knowing how to stick up for a principle more than an organization. Being a Progressive Evangelical seems a bit like swimming against a riptide in the U.S. these days. You can survive it. Maybe. But perhaps better to be unencumbered by the weight of a large organization operating “in your name” against much of what you hold dear. I’d say it’s hopeless, but it’s a little like how I view being a U.S. citizen. I feel duty bound out of loyalty to be a better citizen.

Christianity is no longer for me, I discovered other experiences and traditions that speak better to what I believe, but there’s a kind of witnessing I hold dear to heart still. It’s not insisting to others they convert to your religious views and constantly trying to show one’s fervor and enthusiasm for one’s own viewpoint. It’s setting a good example, taking the best of your own views, and volunteering them truthfully when asked. It’s living your worldview and your ideals, and letting that be a beacon that draws others to those ideals.

I’ve agonized it, but I’m not going to jettison a perfectly good idiom and rally cry over the fact that there are other people using it to rally towards an antagonistic and exclusionary version of it. It’s the right phrase.

It often is paired with a sense of doom or hopelessness. That perhaps one already knows one has lost going into a situation, and is going forward, regardless. Some days it feels that way. Thus the fatigue.

And I often bring it up with a variety of phrases, which more or less amount to, “We’ve got work to do.”

Why comes easy for me, though.

I believe the world as it is can always be made better, that we can comport ourselves better in it, that we can help one another in doing so, and that all of this is both the ethical and even the happier thing to do. Heartbreaking and angering, at times, but happier than not doing so or running the other way into selfishness.

And… If you believe the world can be better, do you believe you can be part of making it better? I believe I can. I believe everyone can, though not everyone chooses to. I believe choosing to is a moral imperative, though I also believe one should work within one’s abilities sustainably. This is a long and nontrivial undertaking and, unless there’s an opportunity worth throwing yourself away for, unlike Fallout 3, there’s more to be gained in being here to continue working than burning out.

I also believe that perfect isn’t attainable. That there will always be work to do, even if we’re all pulling for better. And, no, I believe there are always some working for their own selfishness, instead, and we have less than ideal conditions for working on this. It’s practically built into the system, there are simply going to be a variety of people, we live in an ecology of people and ideas, and in any ecology there will always be exploitative individuals. The fact that we can’t get perfect isn’t an excuse, it just means that we can’t shirk the responsibility of working to improve the world, or then the world actively gets worse. It might even get worse when we’re working to improve it, some eras are just like that, but there’s every guarantee it will get worse without active help.

So what does fighting the good fight look like to me. Not just a completely abstract “better” but what to do about it?

  • Better is love, and love is better. It sounds trite until you put it consistently into practice. It sounds simplistic until you get down to details. It sounds naive, but really… It’s less naive and more open-eyed than any alternative out there.
  • Love is founded not in simplistic admiration and flattery, but in empathy and care and concern.
  • Empathy is the basic skill in learning to understand and model others emotions in ourselves. Outside of the (relatively) comfortable world of our own selves. It comes harder for some people, easier for others, but if you can learn it, it’s ty to learn it.
  • Care and concern are what happens when we feel the urge to act on that empathy. Not just feel what another feels, but use that information towards everyone’s betterment. Empathy without the impetus to action is empty, it’s paralyzing. Do what you can.
  • If you take care and concern, and notice what opportunities you have at hand to act on those, you are seeing the chance to do the work.
  • Do the work.
  • Get better at seeing more opportunities.
  • Even more, develop the capacity to see more. Develop the capacity to do more. And even to feel more. To be able to sustain deeper empathy and take a fuller account of what is going on outside of ourselves, and then to act on it.
  • Develop the capacity in others to continue the fight, to continue the work. The fight isn’t solo. It’s not you against the world, it’s you alongside the world. You see someone struggling, you help them back up.*
  • And most especially, as befits the impetus of this essay: The work is for everyone, neither by a few nor for a few.
  • Then get in there and do it again. It isn’t over.

And what does this have to do against, say, terrorism? There are few things more useless, few things that change less in the world, few things that are more selfish than mass murder for the sake of instilling fear into others. It’s one of the acts in the world that is the antithesis of the good fight. But witnessing it makes it all the more imperative to step it up. Even if it doesn’t directly fight people who would do that, it indirectly buttresses the whole world to be both more resilient to such events, and making the world a better place actually makes such acts less appealing. It’s easier to justify propaganda designed to foment attacks when the world looks shitty. People who are themselves terrified see it as a way to bully others, and in some contorted logic that’s supposed to lead to a better world. It doesn’t. It’s flawed logic. But it’s there.

Even something as seemingly remote as an attack thousands of miles away can be influenced by how we, collectively, make the world better or fail to. Imagine how much more influence we have closer to home. Better is better. Maybe not evenly, but done right and in the right spirit it should become more even, more just.

The particulars vary. They always vary. I may get specific about what I am trying to do, later. But I’m not getting too specific here just now because it is a certainty that your opportunities will be different than mine. (Maybe less long winded, too.)

But please.

Fight the good fight with me.

I have some great allies. More than I could hope to know, in fact, and many don’t know me.
But we could always use more.

Best,

random
* (In fact, this is often my role, but when I lost my temper earlier this week, a relatively new fiend, Tori, reached out to me and helped me back up, for which I am immensely grateful.)

Encryption is not Opinion

Graaaah!

Dear Journalists:

Please stop asking law enforcement their opinion about how encryption functions. It’s a matter of mathematical fact. It’s as mechanical as a mechanical universe gets, even when not all of the universe is mechanical. And when they claim “Apple doesn’t have all the facts” and “this is just a specific solution to one problem”, they’re lying very dangerously. Perhaps out of ignorance. Asking their opinion is creating a false equivalency between mathematics and a wishful idea of how mathematics could be conceivably bent to the side, selectively, for the sake of cases we might find it convenient.

You open that door, it isn’t just law enforcement that will crawl in. Encryption hampers law enforcement. Given. It also keeps a world of criminals outside, if you choose to use it. It’s exactly an argument over one case versus millions. Do you allow millions of criminals easier access to solve one case? Do you? Really?

Grumpily,

Me