America Runs On Coercion

November 17, 2013 § Leave a comment

I recently returned to school.  I moved to another city and left my beautiful little home and community of like-minded folk in JP.  Entering the academy and life on the West Coast, I am stunned to realize by how privileged I was to live in a subculture already consciously valuing consent.  Because the cultural norm is entirely unlike what I left.

Never has it been clearly to me that modern Western culture believes the world is created and held together by coercive force.  I see it everywhere from our dominant religious imagination, to our social and political practices, to our methods of agriculture, to our ways of relating to ourselves with food and exercise and work, to our child-rearing, to our academic classrooms with their constant pressure and evaluation.

We believe that on the other side of coercion, in its absence, is chaos.  If I ate whatever I wanted, I would be unhealthy or worse.  If we didn’t punish criminals and punish them harshly enough, we could never stop crime.  If teachers didn’t push us, we would never learn.  If businesses didn’t coerce workers, stealing wages here and abroad, they would never be a success.  Without the threat of God’s punishment, we would have no morals.  Without shaping everyone into gender roles, we would have no nuclear family, no coupling, no children, no order, perhaps no love.  Without pervasive advertisements, people wouldn’t spend money, perhaps then wouldn’t work, and our economy would fail.

The best thing my English background offered me a vision of the incredible extent to which we humans are made, created, constructed.  I believe all human action derives from an attempt to meet some need.  The skills we use in this endeavor are not innate, they are learned.  Violence is a tool we learned.  We use it constantly to try and meet human needs.  And the problem is that, for meeting human needs, violence is an incredibly shitty tool.  We need to be able to distinguish violence, what it is, and see it as a problem.  And, more importantly, we need to imagine new tools to replace it.

I’m staring to realize that feminism drastically altered my world when it offered me an ethic of consent.  The results swept through every part of my life.  It is moving still, constantly.  I’m going to try to honor that with more words.  I’m going to try to talk about my life post-feminist awakening, about the world I can more and more imagine that runs on consent, and point to other people I see imaging a world that prioritizes consent.

A God Who Loves Queers

March 21, 2013 § 3 Comments

Valerie quoted to me recently Kate Bornstein’s direction to find the God who likes you, the God who acknowledges and affirms your being.   I found this God initially, oddly enough through the Christian church, and primarily through studying the Bible.  Lately, I’ve been at risk of letting go of what I know.  I’m going to bypass the question of if God is real, since people name God as a motivator for all kinds of things, and thus God is real, whatever kind of real that means.  And also since more than one God has been real for me, in my life.  I’ve heard other queer people struggle with this, to keep hold and keep learning this God, as God.  Not everyone can put it into words, and not everyone has to.  But for myself in this moment, and for other people, I am going to try.

Who is the God who affirms queers?  Who loves the people society hates?  What have I seen about him?  What do I know about her?

This God is not a God who is invested in control.  This God does not need to shape creation to please himself, break it open, contort your truth, your individuality, consume you and leave you obedient.

Instead, this God is a God who is invested in freedom, committed to free will despite the cost, who is invested in consent.  That God created from a place of taking joy in creativity, who wanted the joy of watching what was initiated take on a life of its own, go places and learn a self separate and divine.

This God is not going to hurt you.  Even if, sad to say, you hurt someone else.  Instead of control, instead of intervening in our free will by stopping us or punishing us until we are controlled by fear and made “good” she gave us the resilience of the human spirit, the presence of conscience, empathy, the will to change, the brilliance and potential of humanity to unbury the wisdom the Creative Spirit put into their own bodies and the living world and find it still there after suffering so much violence, and see new ways of being, nonviolent and creative and loving ones.

This God is not in the angry voice, the machine gun, armies made uniform and obedient and ready to be deployed, the nuclear bomb, the voice of shame, the electric rake of fear going up our spine and threatening what will happen if you do not obey.  This God is not in the machine, the suppression of the self, the murder of the soul.

This God is in your own body, in the opening of your chest when witnessing something beautiful, in the energy of new truth running up your spine, in the pleasurable ache of desire in your belly, in the exhaustion of content.  This God is in the resistance of the spirit against its own oppression, the courage of the commonplace person to refuse to harm another despite the threat of punishment, this God is in the vision of the radical, the humility and strength of the civilly disobedient, in each connection between human beings, in each moment of truly seeing the world, in the humanity and vulnerability of knowing ones own or another’s suffering without blindness or a need to move away.  This God is in the natural world, in the reverence for one’s own true loves, the expansion and liberation of the soul.

When I say this God is real, it is because I know her.  I know that other God, too, the one who hates us queers.  And I say, from the spirit, don’t follow that one.  That one is real.  But that ain’t God.

Tactics For Living Well As An Introvert

November 27, 2012 § 1 Comment

Eat, drink, sleep ~ I believe this is the one best thing anyone can do to help achieve a balanced temperament.  Basic needs must be met consistently in order to alleviate basic, animal anxiety and imbalance.  Self-care should be consistently reprioritized as it slips from our habits.  For introverts, I think feeling overwhelmed, oversensitive, excessively emotional, indecisive, anxious, and immobilized are the general responses to stress from inadequate food, water, and sleep.  Eat enough wholesome foods throughout the day, safeguard your access to food when you’re busy by carrying snacks and taking breaks, drink ample water and if you like add some coffee and tea with a heap of even more water.  That’s pretty much my baseline for sanity preservation.

Provide processing time ~ As an extremely social introvert, this is perhaps the most important one on the list for me.  Time between inputs, like spending time with friends and lovers, experiencing art like films and books, and other extraverted activities are important for an introvert to process and store information and sort out their perceptions and opinions.  I honestly think I can’t remember well without enough processing time.  I feel as if I lose experiences when I overcrowd them.

Learn to be a gentle handler ~ You can’t charm a fox with a brash approach or scare a rabbit into heightened performance.  If you want to get yourself to take action, gentle nudging and internal coaxing will work while pushing yourself forward, brandishing the knife towards yourself and making threats will only lead to paralysis or resistance.  A lot of introverts had pressure applied to them by adults as children in order to get them to become bold and have internalized this tactic which disrespect their true nature and also tends to backfire, as it’s counterintuitive for managing introversion.  Improve your gentle self-talk and reduce your inner harsh, critical voice.  It may seem like a motivator but is actually an inhibitor and a block.

Practice use of body language ~ For introverts, it is often difficult to talk, and if not to talk, then to take the risk of speaking authentically.  Learning to use nonverbal expression can help give approval or positive attention to people you’re interested in, help you show annoyance or anger when you’re boundaries are being overstepped, and help you show your feelings when you want to but feel shy or inarticulate.  I feel like I learned a lot by interacting with dogs, who wear their feelings on their sleeve by nature.

Notice your love of other introverts ~ One of the greatest struggles practically everyone faces is self-negativity and judgment.  Many introverts gravitate towards other introverts and find shared traits understandable and even likable in others they judge in themselves.  Remember to compare your consideration and respect for others to how you feel about yourself and try to make them equal.

An Analogy for Awakening to Consent

November 24, 2012 § 1 Comment

If you believed in germs and no one else did, I’m pretty sure you’d be freaked out.  By people’s behavior, for one thing.  And by the fact that they didn’t “see” it.  I’m sure you’d also feel crazy at least some of the time.  The world would constantly undermine what you believed.  Depending on how you presented your deviant worldview, you’d likely get some really intense reactions.  People would be nice about your craziness, or be condescending and mock you, or be threatened and attack you.  You might even end up incarcerated for your own good.

But germs would still exist.  And everyone would still be subject to them.  They’d still play out their causes and effects.  Lack of public agreement wouldn’t stop them, or change what they were doing one bit.

I’ve talked before about “awakening to feminism,” and with it to an ethic of consent.  It’s one of those amazing experiences that also freaks you out and costs a lot of energy and emotion, a lot of regret and anger and horror and anxiety.  A lot of mainstream media and everyday interactions begin to freak you out.  You can never casually waltz into a rom-com again.

Because in our culture, unacknowledged violence is commonplace.  If you start seeing and naming all the coercion that goes on, recognizing this authoritarian, hierarchical rape culture we live in, you will probably have to either gravitate towards likeminded people you can be safe with, or be very tactful in how you present your worldview.  Because people are going to be kind of freaked out by it.

In our culture, we aren’t educated about violence, about coercion, about rape.  They play out their affects nonetheless, causing pandemic suffering and harm.  But collectively, we deny it or just don’t recognize it.  Rape and abuse are supposedly rare.  Freedom is the alleged status quo, because over time more and more of the most overt forms of oppression have been named and combated.

Sometimes I feel depressed because I believe in an ethic of consent.  It seems like there is so much violence and so much denial, so many tiers of abuse in common people’s lives, such complex webs of power and violence.  Using the germ analogy helps me, because I can see then how seeing something harmful that’s pandemic and seems extreme and crazy can turn overtime to common knowledge, something we’d never refute because the effects, not just the science, are such realities in our own lives.  And I can imagine that violence might be like that one day.  Something we learn about and combat in more and more complex ways.

Why Sex As Sin Hurts Everyone

November 17, 2012 § Leave a comment

A quick conversation I had recently with a friend from the past has me wanting to write again on a topic I come to often – why I am opposed to religious teachings that posture sex as unethical.

The crux of why this kind of teaching distresses me is that it does not have affirm at its heart an ethic of consent.  It instead attempts to add a layer of coercion to what people do sexually.

I see this as problematic along two major lines.

One is that by alienating people from consent, it makes it more likely that they will experience rape.  Anything which normalizes coercion and the absence of consent in life and in sex contributes to a rape culture –a culture which supports, hides, and fails to name or resist rape.  It also makes it less likely that people will recognize what they have experienced as rape, as the world around them will reflect back false messages of their culpability.  Many people feel guilt or shame after nonconsensual sexual experiences, yet do not think of them as rape, imagining their experience makes them less good or whole or holy.  This is a terrible thing to do to people.

The second is that by alienating people from consent, it makes it less likely they will seek and have the profound and sacred experience of consensual sex, particularly while being free from outside punishment and fear.  This in and of itself is causing harm, working to subtract from people’s lives a source of self-discovery, intimacy, pleasure, and excitement strong enough to be transformative in lasting and dramatic ways.  Consensual sex is holy, and it can reaffirm in one’s body and spirit the reality that there is the potential for good in this world and pleasure and joy is possible for them.  It reaffirms the will to live and to love, which I see as the hallmark influence of the Divine.

Sex negativity and any discussion of sexual ethics that does not have at its heart an ethic of consent can only serve to make people more vulnerable to abuse and take away from experiences of joy.  Evidence of this is all around us, being explained with incongruous and detached rhetoric or just outright ignored.  And it is in each of our lives.

I think it is time to rebel.

To Be Good Is To Obey: Unpacking Authoritarianism

October 12, 2012 § 3 Comments

I’ve been thinking lately about what it means to be an anti-authoritarian.  I’ve never actually heard anyone claim to be an authoritarian… worrisome since it seems to me that this is an unrecognized status quo.  In the simples, broadest strokes it seems to me that being an authoritarian means believing that those in authority, those with power in terms of unequally large proportions of resources and/or status, are inherently right, good, or better than others and that subsequently they ought to be obeyed.  My belief is that we are all taught to be authoritarians.  Only through active choice can be unlearn it.  And it is hard to unlearn.

The belief  that to be good is to obey is the beating, perverted heart of authoritarianism.  It functions on many levels in our society but none so stark and formative as the relationship of children to parents.  Children are often explicitly taught to think, “I am good when I obey,” often to obey without questioning, resisting, or responding negatively by showing signs of pain, unhappiness, sadness, anger and other “troublesome” emotions while complying.  At other times the message is implicit in the withholding of affection or attention or resources or other unacknowledged punishment, which theorists like Alice Miller and John Bradshaw point to as the cause of the construction of a false self, an inauthentic self adapted to the demands of a parental figure in order to survive.

Perhaps the next most stark and evocative example of this dynamic is in religious teaching and hierarchies.  First it stands out in the manner in which we relate to our religious “authorities.”  I’ve talked before about the idea of the Bible as “the ultimate authority” and pointed to the reality that there is no such thing as a direct Biblical ethic since everything from the translation, to the application, to the picking and choosing of what would otherwise be contradictory in its content, to oftentimes the simple reading of the Bible is in fact through this argument being left to the “authorities” which often means the clergy and significantly to celebrity or widely publicized members of the clergy.  The implied message is not to think or engage with ethics and spirituality yourself, but to obey the mandates of others.  This is appealing because it allows us to be lazy (our inherent, original sin) and hard to escape because it threatens us with fear of rejection and damnation should our own consciences and beliefs contradict with those messages.

But more heartbreaking and what seems more personal and pivotal to me, it shapes the way we think of God, of the Divine.  We see God as an authority figure – self-centered and temperamental, ready to dish out rewards for our obedience and punishment for our disobedience.  We imagine God wants to police and restrict us, to water-down our thoughts, correct and censor our feelings, to constrain and reduce our desires.  God wants us to conform to what God wants.

For some of us, this isn’t even as explicitly “religious” as all that.  I think in our own minds most of all we find ourselves engaged in a disturbed dynamic in which obedience is equated with good.  When our shame, guilt, self-consciousness or ungrounded “selflessness” guides our actions, we imagine some external authority approving of us.  When we begin to listen to our own feelings, bodies, minds, and conscience we often find ourselves fearing retribution, feeling arrogant, uncomfortable and fearful that we are stepping out of line.  Self-violence is the watermark left on the conscience of those raised in authoritarian contexts.

I seriously doubt that many of us would believe in authoritarianism if it were presented as such and the alternative well represented.  But we are taught and imbedded in that teaching is deference.

If You’re Not Gay Enough

October 1, 2012 § 2 Comments

Many, many times in my life I’ve heard someone say, timidly and ashamedly, that they’re “not gay enough” or “not queer enough” for something.  Usually it means to be included in a particular social group, date someone, wear something specific, voice their experience or opinion.  There are tons of reasons for this, and I am only able to list some of them here.  I think a lot of us are afraid of being coerced, one way or another.  We want our sexuality to ourselves, and every “identity” and culture feels like it wants us to feel and act a certain way or we will get shamed, often these days in the form of unwanted, hostile pop-psychology.  A lot of times, we just aren’t sure yet, and feel our sexuality is still working itself out and is too fragile to voice.  I think there is also a resistance to divesting of privilege artificially – as in, if I am a woman and still date mostly men, but I sometimes have relationships with women, I still likely receive most straight privilege, so I should not call myself gay.

I often suggest that those people consider calling themselves “queer” if they feel comfortable with it.  And they ask, “What does that mean?”  I say, I don’t know.  Generally, when placing words on people, mistakes are made.  But this is what I think.  This is for those who would like to have a word to describe themselves, but feel that it may not be okay for them to use queer.

The way I see it, if I am uncomfortable enough with how society defines gender, sexuality, and relationships to feel resistant to accepting a label, if I feel a simultaneous urge and resistance to voicing my discomfort with how people do sexuality, I can claim the identity of queer.  Queer means, not mainstream.  Not comfortable.

Sometimes, it’s because we don’t want a single relationship to take primacy in our lives.  Because we don’t believe in the romantic myth.  Because we don’t get what’s up with wanting marriage.

Sometimes it’s because we love people who aren’t our “opposite” gender.  Because we don’t get gender.  Because we just love who we love, and want who we want, how we want them.  Because we aren’t going to let some concept of gender get in the way of how we make our love bonds.

Sometimes it’s because we don’t want the sex society says is okay.  Because we want to be tied up or knocked around.  Because we want crazy, dirty things we would not say out loud in most settings.

Because if and when our true sexuality is made public, we will get pathologized, we will get abused, we will get prosecuted.  Because we squirm in our skin whenever people are defined, whenever mainstream relationship talk hits our ears, whenever we someone hate themselves for wanting “the wrong things.”

Because we don’t want to get on the conveyor belt of relationships in this society, carried along, passive and half-hearted, when we know there’s something more.  We’ve felt it in our friendships, and we want it to grow, not die out with time.

I am sure there are tons of reasons we’re made “queer” in this society.  It seems it’s getting harder and harder to be what we’re supposed to be, to comply with contradictory norms and bizarre, inhuman standards of appearance, desire, and behavior.

No one in the world should have to “be queer” if they don’t want to.  But I just wanted to say something for people who think they might like to, but maybe they can’t or shouldn’t.  Because it seems to come up a lot.

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