Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Missing and Murdered Children

[Strong Trigger Warning for murder of young children]

This is a local news page about something horrible that happened in my area last month. A little girl disappeared walking home from school; her dead body was found a week later in a landfill just across the state line. She was seven years old, and it is a horrible tragedy for her and her family that some subhuman decided to kidnap and kill her and leave her like trash on a landfill. No child deserves that.

She was also white and cute, so her horrible tragedy made news. I think it even made national news, but I know for a fact it was BIG NEWS here locally.

Now there's an organization called Justice for Somer, trying to find her killer and bring zie to justice.

What I want to know is where is the outcry when a little kid whose skin is brown of some shade disappears and zir dead body is found somewhere? Where's the justice for them? Do we, as a nation, think that black, Latin@, Asian, Native American/First Nations, mixed race, otherwise non-white kids are less valuable? Do we think it's less tragic when they are kidnapped and murdered than it was for Somer? Do we think their families grieve any less?

I'd love to live in a world where child predators didn't exist, but the truth is, we live in a world where some very horrible individuals enjoy harming children. And it doesn't just happen to cute white kids.

Where is the justice for all children?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Explanations and Such

Okay, it's early in October and I said I'd be back, so here I am.

However, I will probably not be posting much for at least the next month or so. Suffice it to say the house move is not completed yet, and life has gone a bit pear-shaped in a lot of ways.

I spent 21-30 September as an inpatient in a behavioral health center, because my anxiety and hallucinations had just gotten to be more than I could handle. I am now in intensive outpatient treatment, which will continue at least through the rest of October but could go longer than that, so I will not have much time to blog here.

In any case, I still care deeply about the issues of human equality that led me to start this blog in the first place; I just need to take some time to take care of myself before I can raise my pen (or tap my keyboard) in defense of others.

Bright blessing attend you!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Brief Hiatus

I know I haven't been posting here very regularly or consistently, but I've posted a good bit in the last month or so. I just wanted to let anyone who reads Human Equality know that I am going to move house in the next couple of weeks, and will therefore be very busy with tasks which will keep me from the computer.

I have submitted "Crazy Does Not Equal Stupid" to Shakesville, but I haven't decided which mental illness stereotype I'm going to address next, so there may not be another post in that series until inspiration strikes.

I will probably also revise "How to React When Someone You Know Tells You Zie Has a Mental Illness" because I am planning to ask some other people for input on that topic, because I am well aware that my viewpoint is not the only one out there, and that things that do not occur to me often occur to other people, some of whom are kind enough to share said thoughts with me.

Once I get my residential situation sorted out, I will try to post more regularly, but I can be a fairly erratic person anyway, so no promises on that count.

Bright blessing attend you, and I'll be back soon, probably early in October.

Monday, September 7, 2009


I almost can't believe this exists, being a post by a Presbyterian pastor in favor of universal health care in which the main thesis is that allowing people to be sick and die because they have no money to pay for doctors or hospitals or medical whatever is immoral and--get this--un-Christian!

DesertRose, member of Pagans, Heathens, and Otherwise Who Really Wish Soi-Disant Christians Would Actually Follow the Teachings Ascribed to Jesus of Nazareth, truly amazed because a Christian in a position of leadership is actually being Christ-like.

How to React if Someone You Know Tells You Zie Has a Mental Illness

There is a website called What A Difference that has a lot of good information about this very topic. I’ve seen the advertisements on TV and the site says they’ve also made ads for radio, although I personally haven’t heard any. But a lot of people haven’t seen or heard the ads or discovered the website. So here, as concisely as I can, I’m going to enumerate, from the point of view of a person with mental illness, how to behave if someone you know tells you zie has a mental illness.

First off, because of the way society at large views people with mental illnesses, zie has probably spent a lot of time considering whether to tell you about zir diagnosis. Zie may be afraid that you will drop zie as a friend or, if zie is a family member, refuse to see zie or refuse to allow zie near the children or something like that. So remember that it takes a lot of courage and trust for a person with a mental illness (or several mental illnesses) to come to you in the first place and tell you about zir diagnosis. Chances are, you’ve known zie for a while now, or else zie wouldn’t trust you enough to tell you.

Secondly, given that you and zie have probably known one another for a while, zie has probably known about zir diagnosis or diagnoses for some time and has probably been experiencing symptoms before diagnosis (if zie didn’t have any symptoms, why would zie see a mental health care provider to get a diagnosis in the first place?). So zie has been a person with mental illness for a while now, and zie has been your friend, relative, coworker, classmate, or what-have-you all this time; are you going to treat zie differently just because you know something about zie that you didn’t know before? If zie told you something else about zirself that did not indicate zie was involved in any sort of criminal or exploitative activity, like zie collects seashells of the exact color of the complexion of zir first sexual partner (just for something admittedly a mite unusual that nonetheless means nothing harmful), would that change whether zie is a good friend (or loving relative, or competent coworker or interesting classmate or what-have-you)? Whatever drew you and zie together has not changed because zie has told you zie has a mental illness. Zie is still the same person you’ve known and cared about for however long you’ve known and cared about each other.

Third, please do not broadcast zir diagnosis to everybody you both know. Having a mental illness is really not a good cause for feeling ashamed, since having a mental illness does not mean someone is violent, stupid, weak-willed, or a bad person, simply that zie has a medical condition over which zie has little if any control, just as if zie had diabetes, or epilepsy, or an allergy to peanuts. However, the world at large tends to treat people with mental illnesses as if the state of having a mental illness somehow makes someone a bad person, and thus, a lot of people with mental illnesses are hesitant to let it be known that they have a mental illness (or more than one). Let zie choose whom zie wishes to tell about zir diagnosis.

Last, and most important, just be there for zie. Be zir friend, or relative, or coworker, or classmate, or what-have-you. Have lunch together. Talk on the phone. Text zie. Keep zie on your Facebook friends list. Just be there. Accept zie for who zie is. I cannot stress enough how important it is for people with mental illnesses to have people in their lives who care about them and support them by just being there.

Your friend (or relative or coworker or classmate or what-have-you) is still your friend (or whatever zie has always been to you). Don’t treat zie any differently because zie has had the courage to trust you with zir diagnosis.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Crazy Does Not Equal Stupid

Part Two of Crazy Does Not Equal...

Full Disclosure: I have schizoaffective disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. I have suffered from one form or another of mental illness for most of my life, mostly depression in one form or another, anxiety, and various manifestations of PTSD. I am 33 years old, a ciswoman, white and Cherokee, divorced, mother of one completely awesome daughter, owned by two adorable tabby cats, bisexual with polyamorous tendencies, a proud bleeding-heart liberal, an eclectic pagan, and completely out of my tree.

I've always been hesitant to be open with people about my mental condition. Mental illness is still HUGELY stigmatized, and I don't want to be treated as if I'm somehow less than other people because my brain and mind are funky. But I've come to the realization that mental illness will remain stigmatized unless people with mental illnesses are open about their conditions and show the world that we're not what society would have the world believe.

People with mental illnesses are often stereotyped as violent, or, in contrast, figures of fun, to be mocked for “abnormal” behaviors. And if we're not to be feared or made fun of, we're childish and incapable of making our own decisions. Failing that, we're weak-willed or of poor character, often therefore leading to the conclusion that we're responsible for our conditions and could be “normal” if we'd just decide to be. On top of all that, we're often considered lacking in intelligence, which can be part and parcel of the “childish and incapable of making our own decisions” or “weak-willed or of poor character” tropes.

In this post I’m going to address the stereotype that people with mental illnesses lack intelligence or are otherwise incapable of thinking for ourselves or making our own decisions. (Yes, I know, I’m not addressing these tropes in the order listed above. I’m dealing with each stereotype as I damn well feel like it.) I’m going to get pretty personal on this one, because this stereotype is my single most hated of all.

If you ask people with mental illnesses who have received treatment, be it psychiatric (medications, hospitalization, etc.) or psychological (counseling, support groups, etc.), many of them will tell you that psychiatric and psychological health care providers can be horribly condescending. Many are not, and many providers who begin their relationships with patients with that condescending attitude can be brought up short by a patient either refusing to tolerate the condescension and/or showing the provider that, as a matter of fact, people with mental illnesses can be and often are intelligent people. Some providers, no matter what anyone does, are just asshats. Some people are just asshats, and that seems to apply across all lines we draw and all categories into which we place ourselves.

The title of this post and this series of posts actually comes from something I said one time. At the time I was attending a support group for people with affective (mood) disorders. The support group leader had asked permission to allow a few nursing students who were considering specializing in psychiatric nursing to sit it on a group meeting. We did our usual group stuff, and then the leader asked around the room if any of us had any tips for these students. I looked the students in the eyes individually and then said, “Crazy does not equal stupid. PLEASE do not treat your patients like they’re idiots just because you’re seeing them in a psychiatric clinical setting.” Damn near everyone else in the group (all adults with histories of dealing with psychiatric and psychological health care providers) agreed almost immediately.

I guess this particular stereotype irks me so badly because I am intelligent, in fact outright nerdy, and I REALLY hate being treated as if I’m stupid when I know bloody fucking well I’m far from it. I have a high school diploma and a Bachelor of Arts degree in English with a minor in psychology; I was an honor student for most of my academic career. In addition to English I can also speak, read, and write Spanish, and read and write French and Latin. This is definitely anecdata, but I’ve known a lot of people with mental illnesses, and if I’ve met as many smart crazy people as I have, I’m fairly confident that stupidity is not rampant among the population of people with mental illnesses. The films “A Beautiful Mind” and “Shine” seem to have helped with this stereotype a little, as they both depicted people with severe mental illnesses who were highly intelligent and/or highly talented. But there are plenty of people out there, some of them in the mental health care professions, who still believe that mental illnesses render people incapable of logical thought, intelligence, or thinking for themselves.

I’ve been hospitalized for psychiatric reasons on quite a few occasions. One time, I had to go to the county facility because I was severely suicidal, but I had no medical insurance and was too ill to work and was still fighting Social Security for my disability benefits. Having been hospitalized for psychiatric reasons before, in private hospitals covered by medical insurance I had at the time, I packed a couple of changes of clothing, my personal toiletries (soap, shampoo, deodorant, tampons and pads, comb, toothbrush, a few other things like that), and a couple of books to read because I almost never go anywhere without something to read (I think it’s an English major thing). Silly me.

When I entered the facility, my purse and the tote bag in which I had packed my clothes, books, and toiletries were both confiscated from me, which in and of itself did not particularly surprise me, but I thought that they were just going to lock my purse in a safe (usual procedure with patient valuables in any hospital) and search my tote bag to make sure there wasn’t anything in there I could use to hurt myself or someone else or any illegal drugs or whatnot like that. No. They took my tote bag, gave me my housecoat, a change of trousers, two paperback books, and put me on the ward, keeping the rest of my belongings locked up at the security desk. No change of underwear, no toiletries. I asked the next day if I could please have an actual shirt, clean underwear, and my toiletries so that I could, oh, I don’t know, take a shower. I was told that somebody would do it and bring my stuff to me but nobody had time to do it right then. Okay, fine. I went into my room and read. Several hours later, I asked again if I could please have a shirt, clean underwear, and my toiletries so that I could shower. Again, I was told nobody had time to do it right then but somebody would and they would bring me my stuff then. The next day, I asked again. Third verse, same as the first. Later in the day, FOURTH verse, same as the first. I went to bed for the second night in a row without being able to shower or brush my teeth or comb my hair, and still wearing the same shirt, bra, underpants, and trousers I’d worn when I’d checked in two days previously.

The next day, my period started, which I had been expecting, as you might have guessed by my decision to pack tampons and pads. I asked, yet again, if I could PLEASE have clean clothes and my toiletries so that I could shower. Can you guess what they told me? At that point, I lost my temper completely, screaming that I’d been asking for something as simple as MY OWN CLEAN CLOTHES and MY OWN TOILETRIES so that I could take a fucking shower on multiple occasions for TWO FUCKING DAYS. Various employees tried to tell me to calm down and be reasonable. I screamed that I’d been reasonable and calm for the last two days and it wasn’t fucking working and that it shouldn’t be this much trouble to get a fucking shower. I then screamed that my period had started and I’d like to bathe or at the very least not bleed all over everything. They gave me a pad from behind the nurse’s station, of a cheap brand that irritated my vulva and upper inner thighs (I have sensitive skin, and nowhere is my skin more sensitive than in the lady bits). When I was finally discharged, I told my then-boyfriend (who had insisted I be hospitalized because I was suicidal) that I’d seriously rather commit suicide than be there again.

This experience was probably an intersection of prejudice against people with mental illnesses and against people with no medical coverage and no money, because never before had I been treated that way by mental health professionals. Apparently, people with mental illnesses who have no medical coverage and/or money don't deserve to have their own clothing nor use their own toiletries whilst hospitalized for psychiatric reasons, and, should they dare to request their own clothing and toiletries, they are being unreasonable, because no person with a mental illness could possibly be so reasonable as to want soap, shampoo, and deodorant to take a shower and clean clothing to wear after showering.

After that, I found out about a program at a local private hospital called Charity Care, which helps pay or entirely pays hospital bills for people who need hospitalization (not just for psychiatric reasons, anything really) but have no coverage and/or no way to pay. Thereafter, I went to that hospital, and was treated like a human being who just needed some help.

The private hospitals aren’t perfect either. I’ve seen plenty of psychiatric nurses and nursing assistants who seem surprised when psychiatric patients show intelligence or critical thinking skills or anything that might make you think, “Holy shit, this person is smart (or at least not stupid).” I’ve known plenty of psychiatrists, psychiatric nurse practitioners, clinical psychologists, and counselors of various stripes to do the same, and, although the “Wow, she’s intelligent and articulate” reaction of surprise and the usual subsequent change in behavior is annoying, it’s better than continued condescension.

It seems like the general public also tends to think that people with mental illnesses are lacking intelligence or the capability to think for themselves. Honestly, there are times when the latter is true, even of me. I’ve had several episodes of psychotic behavior during which I wasn’t capable of thinking for myself or making decisions for myself. However, for the great majority of my time, even though I experience psychotic symptoms on a more-or-less daily basis, I am perfectly capable of driving a car (even a stick shift), cooking meals, shopping for groceries, reading and comprehending what I’ve read, writing coherent (and often complex) sentences (betcha hadn’t noticed that), carrying on an intelligent conversation, and otherwise not being an idiot. I’m not an idiot, and I’m not the only person with mental illness who isn’t an idiot. Please don’t treat people with mental illnesses like they lack intelligence; chances are, they don’t.

Or, to quote the Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca, “Nullum magnum ingenium sine mixtura dementiae fuit,” which translates as “There has never been any great [talent or genius, the word can be translated either way] without an element of madness.”

Friday, September 4, 2009

Crazy Does Not Equal Violent

This is my first post in a series entitled "Crazy Does Not Equal...", in which I intend to explore the stereotypes about people with mental illnesses and how those stereotypes hurt people REGARDLESS of their mental health status. I have submitted the following to Melissa McEwan in hopes that she will use it as a guest post on Shakesville, which has a lot more readers than I do so far.

Full Disclosure: I have schizoaffective disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. I have suffered from one form or another of mental illness for most of my life, mostly depression in one form or another, anxiety, and various manifestations of PTSD. I am 33 years old, a ciswoman, white and Cherokee, divorced, mother of one completely awesome daughter, owned by two adorable tabby cats, bisexual with polyamorous tendencies, a proud bleeding-heart liberal, an eclectic pagan, and completely out of my tree.

I've always been hesitant to be open with people about my mental condition. Mental illness is still HUGELY stigmatized, and I don't want to be treated as if I'm somehow less than other people because my brain and mind are funky. But I've come to the realization that mental illness will remain stigmatized unless people with mental illnesses are open about their conditions and show the world that we're not what society would have the world believe.

People with mental illnesses are often stereotyped as violent, or, in contrast, figures of fun, to be mocked for “abnormal” behaviors. And if we're not to be feared or made fun of, we're childish and incapable of making our own decisions. Failing that, we're weak-willed or of poor character, often therefore leading to the conclusion that we're responsible for our conditions and could be “normal” if we'd just decide to be. On top of all that, we're often considered lacking in intelligence, which can be part and parcel of the “childish and incapable of making our own decisions” or “weak-willed or of poor character” tropes.

Let's lay this out one by one. In this post I'm going to address the stereotype of people with mental illnesses as violent. People with mental illnesses are FAR more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators. A study done by North Carolina State University and Duke University around 2000 revealed that people with serious mental illness (defined as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder [commonly called manic-depression], or psychosis [which is actually an umbrella term that covers a number of illnesses with symptoms involving hallucinations, delusions, and other disturbances in perception]) were 2.5 times more likely to be attacked, raped, or mugged than the general population. Another study showed that mental illness alone is a very poor predictor of future violence. (Pile on a substance abuse disorder, and you might have a problem, but mental illness alone, not so much. In fact, substance abuse alone is a MUCH better predictor of violent behavior, even without the presence of a mental illness.)

I'm going to put this in personal perspective. I needed to go stay with my parents for a while, shortly after I had finally told them about my condition. (They knew about some of my earlier struggles with depression and PTSD, but not about the psychotic symptoms nor the severity of my symptoms in adulthood.) My stepfather, who at that point had known me for over 20 years, during at least 10 of which I shared his home, asked me in all earnestness if he would wake up one morning with me standing over his bed holding a knife. It made me want to cry. In the moment, I answered, no, I'm not a danger to anyone (except myself, sometimes, but I didn't want to get into my self-injury and suicidal tendencies with him right then). Later on, I thought, “Jesus H. Christ on rollerskates, the man has known me for 2/3 of my life and he thinks I'd hurt him? Family? Someone I love, who has pulled my ass out of more slings than I care to count?”

And I'm not going to try to count the number of news stories that harp on the mental illness (or possible mental illness) of perpetuators of violence. Just to quote a recent one, how many of the stories covering the rampage on women of George Sodini characterized Sodini as mentally ill in some fashion ("crazy", "insane", insert adjective here)? I don't know if Sodini was mentally ill or not, I don't give a damn, and it's not the fucking point. The point is, he was a misogynist asshat who thought that all women were to blame for the fact that he couldn't get a date, and he got VALIDATION of that from numerous websites and books perpetuating the idea that women's bodies are public property and/or financial commodities. The other point is, even if he was mentally ill, his misogyny is what led him to shoot those women in that health club, NOT any mental condition, and by calling him "crazy" or "insane" or whatever, the media has done yet another disservice to people with mental illness. We have enough stigma to overcome without every news channel calling perpetrators of violence "crazy" or "insane" or whatever whenever some horrific act of violence occurs that often has little to nothing to do with mental illness and more to do with societal prejudices and beliefs taken to a violent extreme.

People with mental illnesses suffer enough from the illnesses themselves. In my own life, I've wrestled with suicide countless times; I've cut myself, scratched myself, beaten myself in the face and head. I also fight, EVERY SINGLE DAY, with perceptions that may or may not reflect reality. One of the symptoms of schizoaffective disorder is extremely vivid dreams. Sometimes I'm not sure if I dreamt something or if it actually happened. Sometimes I see things that either no one else can see (bugs crawling on walls or my skin) or that logic tells me cannot be (inanimate objects moving towards me menacingly). Sometimes, I'll see/read/hear something that triggers me into a panic attack. And that's just my life. That's my personal daily struggle, along with the other, more ordinary daily struggles like "what the hell am I going to cook for supper?" and "oh shit, I have to do laundry again" and "damn, the car needs an oil change."

And then the stigma piles onto the daily struggle. How many people suffer without help because they're afraid to ask because of stigma? How many people seek help but keep it a secret, not telling family or friends who might be willing and able to help, because of stigma?

There's been a series of public service announcements on TV (and according to that site, on radio, but I've never heard the radio ads) about how to deal with it if a friend tells you zie has a mental illness. They're really great ads; they tell the public that your friend is still your friend even if zie has a mental illness (which should be a colossal "DUH!" but often is not) and that continuing to be zir friend can be a HUGE help in zir treatment (which is very true), but, in the face of the number of times the media perpetuates stereotypes of people with mental illness, they are teaspoons emptying the sea.

So is this post, and the ones I'm planning to continue to explore the stereotypes of people with mental illnesses and how they hurt, not only people with mental illnesses, but everybody. People with mental illnesses are PEOPLE. We are human beings who deserve dignity and respect. We are here, we are real, and we are not the monsters we're made out to be.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Notes From The Geek Show: Stoicism, Sophistry and Sodomy

Notes From The Geek Show: Stoicism, Sophistry and Sodomy

More WIN from the erudite Hal Duncan, in the form of a continuation of his masterful satire previously linked here.

Go forth and read. Please.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

And in feminism news...

Two items, actually.

The urgent news item is this horrific law in Afghanistan. If you don't want to read the link, the summary is that Afghanistan has passed a law allowing Shia men to refuse food and sustenance to their wives if the wives refuse to have sex, automatically granting custody of children to fathers and grandfathers, requiring women to get permission from their husbands to work outside the home, and permitting rapists to pay "blood money" to their victims in lieu of facing prosecution. Liss at Shakesville has suggested that we email Secretary Clinton and protest. To that end, I submit this link to email the State Department and request that any readers of my blog please write in protest of this reprehensible dehumanization of Afghan women with its thin coat of religious justification.

And in further Shakesville linky goodness, Liss has written an essay debunking the accusation that feminism/womanism equals the hatred of men. Liss' words have such terrible beauty that words fail me to laud it sufficiently. As with Hal Duncan's open letter in the previous entry, go forth and read it.

Homophobia, or the Cognitive Dissonance, It Burns

Okay, so a science fiction writer I've never heard of, let alone read, posted a nasty homophobic rant on his LJ because a certain SF television channel has recently made a commitment to include more portrayals of LGBTQI characters. He has since taken down the rant, but a Google cache copy still exists (because the Internet is forever). If you want to read his outpouring of vitriol, go for it. If not, I don't blame you.

The point of this post is actually a lovely open letter in reply to said outpouring of vitriol. Hal Duncan (the writer of the open letter) has written his response with sufficient detail that you don't really have to read the original post to understand the open letter. Mr. Duncan has also written with sufficient eloquence and marked mastery of irony that the open letter is a joy to read even if the sentiment were not something I heartily applaud.

Hal Duncan points out, amongst many other excellent points, the incredible cognitive dissonance of the argument that homosexuality equals the sexual abuse of children, incest, or bestiality.

So go forth and read. Please.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Oh for crying out loud!

I just saw this article online, highlighted as "ABC News: Is the Y chromosome going bye-bye?"

Okay, cool. I like science stories, even though I'm mostly a language geek, personally. So I clicked on it.

The fucking title of the article displayed on my browser, read "Will End of Men Imminent?"
Leaving aside the grammar and/or formatting fuck-up (as the title on the article itself says, "Will Y Chromosome Go Bye-Bye?" and is subtitled, "Is the End of Men Imminent?" so I'm thinking that it's more of a formatting error), the article firmly states that no genetic research has given the slightest indication that the human male is DOOOOOOOMED to extinction due to the genetic deterioration of the Y chromosome. (It indicates that even if the Y chromosome eventually ceases to exist in the human genome, other genetic material will replace it. Nothing in this article is suggesting that humans are facing extinction or a change to asexual reproduction.)

Yes, because the most important part of the article is that it affects teh menz. ::eyeroll::

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Pi and "Sanity"

Last night, I watched the movie "Pi", which is an independent film about an ethnic Jewish (as opposed to religious Jewish) mathematician who finds (via his computer mainframe) a mathematical concept of natural unity whilst trying to make mathematical sense of the stock market. It's sort of hard to explain. His mentor had found a similar (perhaps identical) concept whilst studying the transcendental number pi.

Anyway, Max (the protagonist) appears to have some physical and/or mental illness issues. He seems to suffer from chronic migraines and at the very least severe social anxiety.

It's a very intense and multi-layered movie, and I'm sure I'll get more out of it on subsequent viewings.

One of the things I got out of it on this first viewing is that neither Max nor his mentor (Sol) are particularly mentally healthy. Max, as previously stated, appears to suffer from severe social anxiety and possibly some sort of paranoia. Sol has had a stroke. And yet, they have both at least glimpsed a truth and a reality beyond normal perception.

It seems like sanity blocks the perception of such profound truths and realities. It seems like, in putting our perceptions of the world into neat little boxes, we miss the forest for the trees. It seems like only in "madness" does the truth really emerge.

It just put me in mind of my favorite Seneca quote: nullum magnum ingenium sine mixtura dementia fuit. (There has never been any great talent without an element of madness.)

Monday, May 4, 2009

Refuting Homophobia on Marriage Equality

I got involved in a discussion on a message board that had ranged into same-sex marriage. One commenter said that her husband wishes "gays would keep their sex life in the privacy of their own bedrooms. What he finds most offensive is the militant homosexual-rights activist who screams in his face something like, 'I'm queer, I'm here, and you have to accept me!' He doesn't go around advertising his sexuality, and he doesn't want to hear about theirs either. I can agree with him on that point. Whether it's gay or straight, sex belongs in private, where it's nobody else's business, and no couple of any orientation should be bringing it out in public."

I don't think too many people, gay, straight, or somewhere in between, want to have sex in public. What non-straight people do want is the ability to walk down the street holding hands or arms-around-waists with their partner and not be subject to open hostility, or to be able to marry their partner (with all the attendant societal upsides and downsides of legal marriage), or to exchange a hug and a kiss when one picks the other up at the airport, or any of a zillion other normal interactions between adults who love each other just like any other adult human being. I don't see what's so wrong with that.

I know a lesbian couple who've been together nearly as long as my mom and my stepdad (which is to say well over 20 years), and a gay couple who've been together for nearly 20 years. Why shouldn't they be able to get married? Why shouldn't they be each other's legal next-of-kin in case of emergency?

And if you want to get Biblical, the meaning of marriage has changed SEVERAL times since the Bible was written.

12 Biblical Principles of Marriage

1. Marriage consists of one man and one or more women. (Gen 4:19, 4:23, 26:34, 28:9, 29:26-30, 30:26, 31:17, 32:22, 36:2, 36:10, 37:2, Ex. 21:10, Judges 8:30, 1 Sam 1:2, 25:43, 27:3, 30:5, 30:18, 2 Sam 2:2, 3:2-5, 1 Chron 3:1-3, 4:5, 8:8, 14:3, 2 Chron 11:21, 13:21, 24:3).

2. Nothing prevents a man from taking on concubines in addition to the wife or wives he may already have. (Gen 25:6, Judges 8:31, 2 Sam 5:13, 1 Kings 11:3, 1 Chron 3:9, 2 Chron 11:21, Dan 5:2-3).

3. A man might chose any woman he wants for his wife (Gen 6:2, Deut 21:11), provided only that she is not already another man's wife (Lev 18:14-16, Deut. 22:30) or his [half-]sister (Lev 18:11, 20:17), nor the mother (Lev 20:14) or the sister (Lev 18:18) of a woman who is already his wife. The concept of a woman giving her consent to being married is foreign to the Biblical mindset.

4. If a woman cannot be proven to be a virgin at the time of marriage, she shall be stoned. (Deut 22:13-21).

5. A rapist must marry his victim (Ex. 22:16, Deut. 22:28-29) - unless she was already a fiancee, in which case he should be put to death if he raped her in the country, but both of them killed if he raped her in town. (Deut. 22:23-27).

6. If a man dies childless, his brother must marry the widow. (Gen 38:6-10, Deut 25:5-10, Mark 12:19, Luke 20:28).

7. Women marry the man of their father's choosing. (Gen. 24:4, Josh.15:16-17, Judges 1:12-13, 12:9, 21:1, 1 Sam 17:25, 18:19, 1 Kings 2:21, 1 Chron 2:35, Jer 29:6, Dan 11:17).

8. Women are the property of their father until married, and their husband after that. (Ex. 20:17, 22:17, Deut. 22:24, Mat 22:25).

9. The value of a woman might be approximately seven years' work. (Gen 29:14-30).

10. Inter-faith marriages are prohibited. (Gen 24:3, 28:1, 28:6, Num 25:1-9, Ezra 9:12, Neh 10:30, 2 Cor 6:14).

11. Divorce is forbidden. (Deut 22:19, Matt 5:32, 19:9, Mark 10:9-12, Luke 16:18, Rom 7:2, 1 Cor 7:10-11, 7:39).

12. Better to not get married at all - although marriage is not a sin. (Matt 19:10, I Cor 7:1, 7:27-28, 7:32-34, 7:38).

How many of those rules do present-day Judeo-Christians advocate? These rules are so violently misogynistic that it defies description.

Then they need to STFU about legally defining marriage as "one man, one woman," because the Bible says so.

The only Biblical reference anyone gave me for that meme of "The Bible teaches that marriage equals one man and one woman" was this: For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. (Gen 2:24)

Okay, yeah, that speaks of marriage as being one man and one woman, but it says nothing to the effect that "This is the way it was, is, and ever shall be."

My point being, A WHOLE LOT of what the Bible has to say about marriage not only demeans women to the status of property at best, but sounds more like the transfer of said property than the union of two people who wish to make a lifetime commitment of love. And if two people who wish to make a lifetime commitment of love just happen to have the same genitalia, who really gives a shit?

I know who: those asshats who feel like it's a personal insult and a sign of the breakdown of civilization as we know it that they have to acknowledge the humanity of anyone who doesn't fit into their WASP, hetero, cisgendered, etc. world.

Friday, May 1, 2009

What Disablism Means to Me

In 1990, when I was in the ninth grade, the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed into U.S. law. I had to research it and write a paper on it for my English class. At the time, the conditions which now render me legally disabled (major depressive disorder with psychotic features and post-traumatic stress disorder) were present but not yet disabling (the psychotic features didn't show up until my late 20s, and the depression and PTSD were manageable at the time).

I hadn't been around many people with disabilities at that point in my life. My elementary school best friend Jessica had a twin sister named Bethany who was blind and severely mentally and physically disabled; Bethany could not feed herself, nor control her bladder and bowel functions, nor had she learned to speak by the time Jessica and Bethany were eleven years old. In ninth grade, my best friend was my next door neighbor, Suzie, who was legally blind; she was severely nearsighted and had been born without a certain type of nerve cell that enables humans to perceive color. She was about six months older than I, but attended the state school for the deaf and blind instead of the local public high school I attended. PaPa (the "a"s are pronounced like the a in apple), my maternal uncle's father-in-law, who, despite only a tenuous connection by marriage to me, always treated me like a granddaughter, had lost the lower portion of a leg and was losing his vision due to complications of diabetes. That was about the extent of my experience with people with disabilities at that time.

I don't remember any more exactly what I wrote in that paper; I no longer have a copy, either printed or electronic. But I do remember that most of what I wrote was about reasonable accommodation, like ramps for wheelchairs and the widespread availability of closed captioning and other adaptive technologies. I believe I said that it was only fair to provide reasonable accommodation, that to fail to provide reasonable accommodation was to disenfranchise people with disabilities. I don't think I was wrong, but I also realize in retrospect that I didn't quite get the whole picture.

Some years later, I remember telling a shop owner that he was in violation of the ADA because I couldn't get my (then infant) daughter's stroller through his shop aisles, so how was a person in a wheelchair supposed to shop in his store? (The stroller was narrower than most adult-sized wheelchairs.)

I remember at various times being on crutches for temporary ailments of the lower extremities and cursing the inaccessibility of public establishments and thinking, "Jeez, what do people who use crutches permanently do?"

I think those are perfectly valid reactions to an ablist world, but that's still not the whole picture.

It wasn't until I became disabled with an "invisible illness" that I really began to see. To look at me, you wouldn't think that I'm disabled. I can stand and walk without assistance. I wear glasses but that hardly counts as a disability. I can hear. I can speak and write clearly in English and Spanish, and I can read and comprehend French and Latin (never was too hot at writing or speaking French, and my Latin is VERY rusty). I can drive a car (even a stick shift) without adaptive technologies (other than my glasses). It took ten years, but I have a four-year college degree.

What I can't do is hold down a paying job. Some days, I am so depressed I cannot get out of bed except to use the toilet. Some days, I can get out of bed but I have to force myself to do it. Some days, I'm so afraid of people that I cannot stand to leave my house. Some days, I can't trust my perceptions, because my eyes and skin are telling me that there are bugs crawling on me. Some days (like today), I'm okay. Occasionally, I even feel really good. Because I can never predict from day to day whether I'm going to be okay or not, I can't commit to a work schedule. Before my condition became this severe, I worked 8am-5pm Monday through Friday (like "normal people"), doing clerical work. I can't do that any more. I'm working with my state Department of Vocational Rehabilitation to try to find a line of work in which I do not have to commit to a work schedule and therefore might be able to get and keep a job again.

What I've come to see and detest is the idea that if you can't (or for that matter, don't) earn a paycheck, what you do means nothing to the world at large (but the "don't" part is for a post on sexism, and that's not what this post is).

What I've come to see and detest is that if you differ in any way from the able-bodied norm, you're not real.

What I've come to see and detest is that if you're not in a wheelchair, or on crutches, or wearing hearing aids, or visibly different from the able-bodied norm, you don't count as disabled.

I'm sure that's STILL not the whole picture, but that's disablism, to me.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Reflections on Hip-Hop

In the company of my boyfriend, who is African-American, I watched part of a documentary on the history of hip-hop music, followed by a countdown show of "The 100 Greatest Hip-Hop Songs." It was interesting to see the differences in the way he and I experienced the music being highlighted on these shows.

To me, what is now considered "old school" hip-hop music was part of the culture of youth in the 1980s. When I originally heard this music, it was part of the soundtrack of my life. It was a new, youthful music style. It was cool. I learned to break-dance (there is an extremely goofy photograph of me, age 8, backspinning on a flattened cardboard box); I wanted to decorate my bedroom walls with graffiti a la New York subway cars. (My parents wouldn't let me actually spray-paint my walls, so I faked it. I made poster boards of graffiti and tacked them to my walls.)

Part of it is that radio was not as genre-fied then as now; when I was growing up, and really up until about the time that alternative rock burst upon the popular consciousness, the pop/rock radio station might play Salt 'N Pepa, followed by Def Leppard, followed by Janet Jackson, followed by the Eagles. No present-day commercial radio station would play Disturbed and follow up with Nas. You might get that kind of variety out of an independent online radio station, or a college radio station, but not commercial radio these days. And that's a shame, although it is reflective of the changes that technology has brought to music; there are other ways besides commercial radio for an artist to get his/her music to the listening public, but that's headed for a digression and not my point right now.

Anyway, it didn't really occur to me in the 80s that I was listening to black music. It was just good music, new, interesting, fun music. And I don't think that's a bad way to see hip-hop. But it's a viewpoint that is made possible by being white, to be able to see music by black artists about black issues as just good music. (And yes, I know there are white hip-hop artists, but they are the minority.)

And the experience of hip-hop music is very different for someone who didn't come up as a middle-class white girl. Hip-hop music is neither part of nor reflective of my ethnic identity, and that makes a difference to the experience of the music.

And I don't know that you can separate black music from American music. Music historians say that jazz is the first "American" music style. Well, white people did not come up with that one, folks. Rock and roll itself came from blues, which has its roots in the spirituals of black slaves. Elvis was said, even then, to be a white boy singing black music. And separate hip-hop from pop and rock now. Without hip-hop, there would be no rap/rock-fusion-type music, like the Beastie Boys or Linkin Park. And certainly no Kid Rock or Eminem.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Knapsack Thoughts

I've been having a bit of a think (and a re-think) about racism and bigotry.

Let me set out some definitions, first off. When I say racism, I mean prejudice plus power and privilege. When I say bigotry, I mean individual prejudice from members of groups other than the privileged group. Neither of these is a positive trait, but I feel the need to distinguish between the two for the sake of clarity.

People judge each other. This is not, in and of itself, a bad thing. We have to make judgments about each other. On a basic biological level, we have to evaluate other people, animals, and objects for possible threat to our personal safety. We also evaluate other people for potential relationships, be they friendships, romantic relationships, working relationships, what have you. What we do not have to do is make judgments about each other based upon anything but demonstrated individual behavior. For example, a job interviewer SHOULD select the applicant who is best qualified for the job, regardless of race, sex, sexual orientation, religion/personal philosophy or lack thereof, nation(s) of origin, or any other trait that does not relate to the ability to perform the job. We all know it doesn't work this way in actual practice, but that's the ideal.

Let me reiterate. We, as human beings, should not decide anything about another human being based upon anything but that person's behavior. We should not decide that someone is a threat to our personal safety based upon anything but that person's behavior. We should not decide that someone is a potential friend, or partner, or supervisor/co-worker/employee, or whatever, based upon anything but that person's behavior.

Prejudice is wrong, be it in the form of institutional racism, or individual bigotry. As institutional racism, prejudice is also insidious.

I am a white woman in the United States of America. I am of mixed ethnic ancestry, mostly northwestern European, but I have fair skin and Caucasian physical features.

It's hard to admit that I reap the benefits of racism, but I do. I am a member of the privileged race.

I am also in love with an African-American man. This has given me a kick in the ass to make me think about the differences in experience of life that being white makes.

Yesterday, I read this list, excerpted from Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, about, to put it simply, the cultural/social goodies that racism confers upon white people.

It's a tough pill to swallow, but with one exception, I can't say it's not true.

1. I can if I wish arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time.
2. I can avoid spending time with people whom I was trained to mistrust and who have learned to mistrust my kind or me.
3. If I should need to move, I can be pretty sure of renting or purchasing housing in an area which I can afford and in which I would want to live.
4. I can be pretty sure that my neighbors in such a location will be neutral or pleasant to me.
5. I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.
6. I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.
7. When I am told about our national heritage or about "civilization," I am shown that people of my color made it what it is.
8. I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the existence of their race.
9. If I want to, I can be pretty sure of finding a publisher for this piece on white privilege.
10. I can be pretty sure of having my voice heard in a group in which I am the only member of my race.
11. I can be casual about whether or not to listen to another person's voice in a group in which s/he is the only member of his/her race.
12. I can go into a music shop and count on finding the music of my race represented, into a supermarket and find the staple foods which fit with my cultural traditions, into a hairdresser's shop and find someone who can cut my hair.
13. Whether I use checks, credit cards or cash, I can count on my skin color not to work against the appearance of financial reliability.
14. I can arrange to protect my children most of the time from people who might not like them.
15. I do not have to educate my children to be aware of systemic racism for their own daily physical protection.
16. I can be pretty sure that my children's teachers and employers will tolerate them if they fit school and workplace norms; my chief worries about them do not concern others' attitudes toward their race.
17. I can talk with my mouth full and not have people put this down to my color. This is the exception. Before I read this list, I had not once in my life ever heard of anyone thinking that talking with one's mouth full had anything to do with one's ethnicity.
18. I can swear, or dress in second hand clothes, or not answer letters, without having people attribute these choices to the bad morals, the poverty or the illiteracy of my race.
19. I can speak in public to a powerful male group without putting my race on trial.
20. I can do well in a challenging situation without being called a credit to my race.
21. I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.
22. I can remain oblivious of the language and customs of persons of color who constitute the world's majority without feeling in my culture any penalty for such oblivion.
23. I can criticize our government and talk about how much I fear its policies and behavior without being seen as a cultural outsider.
24. I can be pretty sure that if I ask to talk to the "person in charge", I will be facing a person of my race.
25. If a traffic cop pulls me over or if the IRS audits my tax return, I can be sure I haven't been singled out because of my race.
26. I can easily buy posters, post-cards, picture books, greeting cards, dolls, toys and children's magazines featuring people of my race.
27. I can go home from most meetings of organizations I belong to feeling somewhat tied in, rather than isolated, out-of-place, outnumbered, unheard, held at a distance or feared.
28. I can be pretty sure that an argument with a colleague of another race is more likely to jeopardize her/his chances for advancement than to jeopardize mine.
29. I can be pretty sure that if I argue for the promotion of a person of another race, or a program centering on race, this is not likely to cost me heavily within my present setting, even if my colleagues disagree with me.
30. If I declare there is a racial issue at hand, or there isn't a racial issue at hand, my race will lend me more credibility for either position than a person of color will have.
31. I can choose to ignore developments in minority writing and minority activist programs, or disparage them, or learn from them, but in any case, I can find ways to be more or less protected from negative consequences of any of these choices.
32. My culture gives me little fear about ignoring the perspectives and powers of people of other races.
33. I am not made acutely aware that my shape, bearing or body odor will be taken as a reflection on my race.
34. I can worry about racism without being seen as self-interested or self-seeking.
35. I can take a job with an affirmative action employer without having my co-workers on the job suspect that I got it because of my race.
36. If my day, week or year is going badly, I need not ask of each negative episode or situation whether it had racial overtones.
37. I can be pretty sure of finding people who would be willing to talk with me and advise me about my next steps, professionally.
38. I can think over many options, social, political, imaginative or professional, without asking whether a person of my race would be accepted or allowed to do what I want to do.
39. I can be late to a meeting without having the lateness reflect on my race.
40. I can choose public accommodation without fearing that people of my race cannot get in or will be mistreated in the places I have chosen.
41. I can be sure that if I need legal or medical help, my race will not work against me.
42. I can arrange my activities so that I will never have to experience feelings of rejection owing to my race.
43. If I have low credibility as a leader I can be sure that my race is not the problem.
44. I can easily find academic courses and institutions which give attention only to people of my race.
45. I can expect figurative language and imagery in all of the arts to testify to experiences of my race.
46. I can chose blemish cover or bandages in "flesh" color and have them more or less match my skin.
47. I can travel alone or with my spouse without expecting embarrassment or hostility in those who deal with us.
48. I have no difficulty finding neighborhoods where people approve of our household.
49. My children are given texts and classes which implicitly support our kind of family unit and do not turn them against my choice of domestic partnership.
50.I will feel welcomed and "normal" in the usual walks of public life, institutional and social.

It really made me think about things I never even noticed, things that society gives me, as a white person, that any non-white person does not get.

So I'm trying to be conscious. In order for people of color to be on a level playing field with white people, white people must first be conscious of the advantages attached to being white.

Having read this list, I noticed something that I doubt I would have noticed before. In my doctor's office, I saw a little clip on TV featuring the actress S. Epatha Merkerson, who plays Lt. Anita Van Buren on the original (and beloved by me at least) “Law and Order” TV series. (The clip was actually about Ms. Merkerson's struggle to quit smoking cigarettes, for the record.) What struck me is that when they spoke to her out of costume, her hair was in dreadlocks. When she is in costume, her hair is in a short hairstyle requiring relaxed hair (I assume it's a wig). It bothered me that, in order to portray a professionally successful African-American, she has to wear relaxed hair, which process (relaxing African textured hair) as I understand it is a way in which African-Americans are encouraged by society to appear more like white people. So in order to portray a professionally successful person, she had to appear more white. That's not fair, and it's wrong.
It's quite a paradigm shift, and it's been on my mind for days. I've been turning it around and around in my head, shifting my thought processes to include thinking about the way that being white makes life different for me than life is for people of color.

In order for the world to come to be the way I would like it to be (amongst other things, for people to be judged on their behavior and not on any other trait), I have to, as a white person, be conscious.

That's not enough. I have to take many more steps to try to bring about the change I'd like to see. I have to live the change in my thinking. I have to try to help other people see what I've seen. But the first step in bringing about change is to be conscious of what exactly needs to change.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

An Almost-Argument with a Pro-Life Man

I almost got into an argument over abortion last night. The other party to said discussion is militantly Catholic and therefore pro-life to the point of believing that not even rape victims should be allowed to terminate a pregnancy caused by the rape (not that this situation occurs that often in the real world anyway, and more and more rapists are using condoms these days to avoid leaving their DNA with their victims). The only reason it didn't turn into a loud and vociferous debate (at the very least) was that I cut it short with the excuse that it was late at night and people were trying to sleep and would not appreciate said debate/argument. I really wanted to tear him a new one, though. Pro-life men drive me even crazier than pro-lifers in general; men are not the ones who have to carry a pregnancy. They have no clue what it's like, especially not someone his age (early 20s). And yes, I know men can be raped and I have every sympathy in the world for any victim of any sort of assault, but the plain fact is, women are hurt in that way much more often than men. His argument (re: pregnancy as a result of rape) was that the unborn is not responsible for the crime of its father. Mine is that rape is not just a physical and sexual crime; it is deeply emotional. Pregnancy is also a deeply emotional experience, and I don't think that a woman who is trying to recover from a rape should have to carry the child of her rapist. She can if she wants to, but she shouldn't be forced to. It comes down to this. The needs of a living woman are more important, to my way of thinking, than the needs of a cluster of cells, albeit a cluster of cells that will one day become a human being. We count life from the date of birth, not the date of conception, which can't usually be nailed down anyway. There are just too many situations in which abortion is a viable--and in some cases, the best--option. What about a pregnancy that endangers the mother's life? Why should a 12-year-old incest victim have to bear her stepfather's child? I used to know someone who had been in that situation. It is not healthy to carry a pregnancy so young, and her body paid for it in later years. And when you really get down to it, why should any woman have to bear a child she does not want or cannot afford?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A Fertilized Egg Has the Same Rights as a Person?!?!


If you don't want to read the article (it's short, I promise), the North Dakota state House of Representatives has passed a bill giving a FERTILIZED HUMAN EGG the same rights as a person. It isn't law, yet. It has to go through the state Senate first, and with any luck, somebody in the ND Senate has a brain and will stop this lunacy in its tracks.

Can you say "anti-choice" and "anti-women's rights"?

Don't get me wrong. I don't think abortion is the greatest thing ever. From the perspective of a woman who has had an unplanned pregnancy (my daughter was born when I was 16 and a senior in high school), there are no easy choices in that situation. I chose not to have an abortion, but the choice was available to me. I want the choice to be available to my daughter (now age 16 herself) should she find herself in that position (heaven forbid), or to any other woman.

A man can walk away from an unplanned pregnancy. Yeah, there's such thing as child support enforcement, but a really determined man can hide from that if he wants to. The anti-choice crowd wants women to be stuck with a child they might not be able to support, or might not be medically able to carry, or (in some cases) might not have had any say in the conception of, or just plain don't want. And I can't quote statistics, but I wonder how many abused children were unplanned.

A fertilized egg has the same rights as a person? WTF? So I guess the 40% of pregnancies that end in miscarriage (some of which happen before the woman is even aware she's pregnant) merit a funeral?