The assassination of Qasem Soleimani via American drone

Sooo as a lot of you are probably aware, an Iranian general named Qasem Soleimani was recently killed with an American drone. At the time Soleimani was assassinated, he was attending a peace talk with Saudi Arabian representatives hosted by the Prime Minister of Iraq.

An NPR journalist named Jane Arraf tweeted that this peace talk was actually initiated by Trump in an exchange with the Iraqi Prime Minister. Later, the American media ascertained that Soleimani had a travel ban imposed on him that prevented him from entering Iraq: his presence at the peace negotiation was therefore a violation of the ban.

So it’s possible that Donald Trump not only orchestrated the event at which Soleimani was killed, but indirectly caused him to violate his travel ban and place himself beyond the reach of legal and military protection.

When I learned about this nuance I had this huge depth of “what the fuck” going on in my head.

To keep my reaction somewhat concise: I think the American public has underestimated Donald Trump. Specifically, they have overlooked the difference between lacking wisdom and possessing base cunning. I don’t necessarily think this level of planning is terribly sophisticated, but it does show a little bit of thoughtful calculation. In addition to the obvious moral bankruptcy. Donald Trump lacking wisdom or morality should not cause anyone to think he is not dangerous. At the very least, this reveals a depth of malevolence that goes beyond ordinary self-interest.

My level of shocked incredulity also for awhile made me forget something both terrible and obvious: Trump never made any secret of his disposition. He said over and over again, prior to his election in 2016, that he wanted to “go after” the “families” of terrorists. In essence, making it clear that he is prepared to kill civilians in the Middle East. He even crassly expressed support for police brutality during a Bill O’Reilly interview. He never gave us any reason to expect anything else from him.

I also felt like an idiot because we’ve all known that warhawks in Washington have been jonesing for a war with Iran. But I’ve been assuming that they would seize an opportunity to go to war with Iran if one presented itself. I was too naive to consider the possibility that they would actually orchestrate it on their own. And this brazenly. I mean, if Trump wasn’t suggesting the peace talk to get Soleimani to violate his travel ban so he could kill him then why did he suggest it?

Think I’m catastrophising? Let’s consider the arguments to the contrary: Mike Pence has since stated that the White House has intelligence that Soleimani was involved in 9/11 and he therefore needed to die. When pressed for clarification, Pence said that the information they received suggested that it was possible that troops trained by Soleimani may have fought against America during the 2003 Iraq invasion. You know, that thing that occurred after 9/11 and later proved itself pointless when it was made clear that Saddam never co-operated with the 9/11 hijackers. So no, the information Pence was referring to does not hold water or even any relevance.

Oh hey, while we’re on the subject, do you know where the majority of the 9/11 hijackers came from and were radicalized? Saudi Arabia. You know. The country that Trump has made multi-billion dollar weapon deals with. The country that executed an American journalist and had nothing but co-operation from Trump. That is the country the hijackers were from.

Not to sell short the bottomless loss and mourning that’s bound to ensue from these events, but I wanna talk about my personal reaction. For me this is the latest in a series of “what the fuck” moments. The one before this was learning that we might, optimistically, have maybe a few decades before the real consequences of climate change start ramping up. That has been my highest political priority ever since then. Now, in my dark moments, I wonder if homo sap will even last long enough to die from floods and hurricanes before we vaporize ourselves.

Oh yeah, and Iran is now participating in joint military operations with Russia and China. Iran is also now ignoring the centrifuge stipulation of the 2015 nuclear agreement. Sooooo I….don’t want this to mean that we’re walking right up to the brink of annihilation…but….but….but…but…

What if we never sufficiently internalize the possibility of our shared extinction until the moments before which it is inevitable? This is the price of avoiding the possibility of death and catastrophe. Death is scary and it’s therefore tempting to act like it doesn’t exist.

The problem with such indulgences is that they can add up to cumulative disasters. I remember after Trump got elected a lot of friends on social media were saying things like “Your world won’t end, this doesn’t have to be a disaster, we just have to ride it out.” If every bad political decision is an innocent mistake then what do you do with a million innocent mistakes? Are we always gonna say “we’ll do better tomorrow” up until the point where there is no tomorrow?

I want these thoughts to be mistaken so badly. I would like nothing more than to be proven wrong on this in the long run.

Mental health

Trigger warning: contains descriptions of potentially disturbing events, violent language and frank discussion of suicidal ideation and a suicide attempt

So yesterday, while my family and I were at a restaurant for Thanksgiving dinner, a stranger had a very bizarre outburst that seemed to be aimed at me. She was addressing an old man at her side while passing us and she was becoming harder and harder to ignore. At first it wasn’t altogether clear who she was referring to. She kept saying “it’s her” and “there she is, next to that wall”. I glanced around, incredulous. There was only one female person who is standing anywhere near a wall in the immediate area, and guess who it was. There was some sentence fragment about someone on her porch. A case of mistaken identity? Lately, in the community I live in, there has been a rash of break-ins that usually start at sliding glass doors on a porch or a deck, and these people had recently began targeting victims sleeping inside of cars.

Meanwhile, my mom and uncle are talking and I’m saying hi to a cousin and I’m dealing with two strange demands on my attention: one is that this increasingly loud stranger is talking about me, second that it has something to do with the recent break-ins. I hear the word “porch” a few more times. Later, as this woman is inside of a rickety elevator with a clear plastic door (evidently designed to resemble glass) I catch the phrase “that’s a man, that’s a fucking man”. The elevator is closing and it’s harder to make her words out, as loud as she is. I catch a mention of a place I used to work, and she says something that contains the words “gonna get shanked”.

So this, at least, is where the flood of raw, spontaneous crazy ends. But now there’s the crazy of the apparent implications and what sense, if any, can be made of it. For one thing, there was another transsexual working at the place she mentioned mid-rant. This person preceded me by some years and before I came out I would hear people referring to this location as the place where “so and so” works. People would bring it up to me as a punch line before anyone in my hometown had any reason to think I was transgendered. So there’s that layer of the local gossip fixtures.

One part of me feels like Graham Chapman in this skit from Monty Python’s Flying Circus. The Graham Chapman character is standing around at a restaurant waiting to be seated while a waiter played by Terry Jones stops to make small talk. Near the end of the conversation the waiter says “now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go commit suicide.” Graham Chapman: “Oh no, I’m sorry!” Terry Jones: “Oh don’t worry, it’s not because of anything serious.” The Terry Jones waiter walks off and Chapman has a look on his face that is both disturbed and very confused. Another part of me has been put in touch with another set of memories.

One of them involves a walk I went on a few years ago. I stopped for about an hour to read in a park and it was near the end of the summer. My mother passes by and we stop and chat for a while, then I go back to my book (I think it was The Basketball Diaries, the Jim Carrol memoir). When I finally start for my apartment, my walk takes me by a community center building where my mom’s ceremonial native dance group used to practice when I was a kid (and yes, as a kid I was involved). There was a large woman standing in the driveway who seemed to be looking vaguely in my direction.

“You fucking cunt!”

At this time in my life, I live in a part of town where people are frequently intoxicated and loud and colorful outbursts are known to happen, but normally only among involved parties. At first, I have no reason to think this has anything to do with me.

“I’ll kick your ass!”

This time it’s louder and there is something of a meaningful beat before the ‘fucking cunt’ yell. I glance at her and sure enough this bloated, sow-eyed oxygen-thief is dead-eyeing me.

“I’ll kick your ass, you fucking bitch! That’s what you wanna be, right!? I’ll kill you, you fucking cunt! I’ll kick your ass!”

I break eye contact and keep walking. She gets louder but doesn’t say anything new, just more combinations of ‘cunt’, ‘bitch’, ‘kick your ass’ and ‘kill you’. It shook me up a little and I avoided that part of town for a long time afterward.

Next summer, I’m walking from my apartment to a convenience store. A large bald man and a short elderly woman are arguing. The old woman seems like she’s spacing out and making absolutely no secret of the fact that she’s not listening to the pissed off bald guy. By the time I’m walking by, mister bald dude is nice and livid and his head swivels at me. He’s a little more inventive then the cunt-shouter from last year, but not much.

“Fuck you, you fucking skag! Fucking no one wants your ass, bitch!”

I’ve managed to put some distance between myself and him and two tourists emerge from a store between us and start walking in his direction. I hear him say “I’m sorry you had to hear that, ladies, I’m not like that normally.” So I take my sweet time shopping and walk a longer, separate route home. At this time I’m not driving so I start wondering about the feasibility of maybe finding a convenient way to get across town where there are other places to get groceries.

A few other similar events happen over the years. Once I get asked “Do you suck dick?” by a random man while I’m walking home. I ask why and he says he doesn’t know and eventually walks away. Another time at a strange man says “Nice new tits” to me while I’m shopping and I just keep walking.

If it seems like I’m going down a rabbit hole of itemizing different, unrelated things, there are two reasons for that. One is that, as a transwoman who began transition in her late twenties, many of things experiences were new to me. Some ciswomen might say that all this is simply par for the course, at least as far as the encounters with men go.

Another reason is that I have a hard time channeling my fear and anger. For a handful of reasons, I grew up thinking that anger or loudness is an invitation for even worse bullshit then whatever made you afraid to begin with. When I feel those feelings stirring in me I have this sublimely squirmy impulse, like you just want something off of you and away as quickly as possible. As a child and a teenager, standing up to bullying and harassment never made anything better for me and then, as the dysphoria began to reach suicidal proportions, my spirit was essentially broken. For most of my late teens and early twenties, I cared about very little except alcohol, marijuana and dying somehow once I get the nerve up. At a certain point I finally got the nerve and I tried my best. My slow, tentative steps toward coming out have done wonders for dragging me back from mental and emotional living death, but I still have a world of work to do with dealing with threats like this.

Two months ago, while being trained for my current job, this came to a head as well. I’ve gone on for awhile and I’ll try to keep it short. Basically, there was an instructor who would misgender me every damn day and every damn day try to chalk it up to an accident. If I had to interact with her for any prolonged length of time she would eventually drop the apologies and just start with consistent male pronouns. At that point I was seething with anger. I need and want this job and I don’t want to do anything to screw it up, but I simply cannot make eye contact with her. During one particularly awful day where she just wouldn’t cut the shit I had to excuse myself to go to the bathroom because I was having a panic attack for the first time since I was twenty. Like I said, that was about two months ago.

Then our jolly Thanksgiving happens.

I feel like I’m at a time in my life where I have to draw a harder line with my mental health. When I was twenty-two and just coming out of my engagement with the first person I ever tried to come out to, I made a promise to myself that I would not die by suicide, that I would live as long as I could and as best as I could. Talk is cheap, though. A few years later when I was twenty-six I tried to kill myself with a couple bottles of cold medicine and a fifth of whiskey.

Talk is so fucking cheap. You can say whatever you want as loudly and passionately as it can, but the universe will never cease to say “Fucking prove it” as soon as you stop. You can promise all you want, you can talk yourself up in the privacy of your own soul and that is where many important first steps are taken. But things still must go past the first step. And on top of everything else that drove me to the edge when I was twenty-six, the fact that I broke my promise made me feel like the blackest failure. Even then, though, you have to keep trying. I tried to kill myself once, so now I have to learn to say “once was enough, never again.” I felt guilty and remorseful after I came out to my ex-fiancee and she cried over it, and after that I had to learn to say “once was enough”.

A broken boundary is not defeat. It is a screaming call to arms. Is there any reason to believe that? How about because you need to, because if you don’t behave as if you believe it then the worst truly will happen.

My therapist told me recently to give myself more credit for being as strong as I am. That is a new experience for me but I like to think I’m taking to it. I’m learning to remind myself that my life is filled with genuine triumph and I’ve come a long way. But the areas that you’ve paid less attention to because it’s too painful, those times and places where you feel like your only choice is to shut up and take it, are not going to get any better unless you walk yourself, step by step, to fixing what you thought was unfixable.

Some of the blind spots in my mental health exist due to my fearful neglect, but I also have a truly non-violent personality and moral attitude. Values are worth holding on to and worth living out, but you must also recognize adversity for what it truly is without letting your values lapse into escapism about how you wish things were. This is everyone’s problem and it never stops. The good news is that we are equal to it. We can do this, it’s possible and we have everything to gain.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. I know this is a departure from the relatively light-hearted lit-crit and video game reviews that I usually do more of than anything else. And I’ll soon get back to that. A review of Alan Moore’s Promethea will be coming soon. I just have to get this out of my system, and if you’ve accompanied me this far you have my sincere gratitude.

Thank you, and best wishes

The importance of non-binary language for those who are not

I have a lot of mixed feelings about bringing up this topic but since I brought it up in my very first post I feel like I should clarify what I meant.

Way back when I heard Jordan Peterson’s appearance on Sam Harris’ Waking Up podcast and felt compelled to sound off publicly, I briefly mentioned my own relationship with non-binary language when I first began coming out.  The more personal and anecdotal stuff was secondary to my main points there, but upon re-reading it I don’t think I was very clear on what I meant.

Right away, I want to make it clear that I’m not saying everybody is non-binary.  A. that just isn’t true and B. it parallels a very fallacious line of thought about bisexuality.  In the past, when people have learned that I am bisexual, they’ve been a little incredulous.  A straight friend of mine from high school seemed to think that I’m interested exclusively in men and, for awhile, was surprised whenever he was reminded that I’m attracted to women as well.  One man, whom I was involved with for a long time, would sometimes say that, on the rare occasions he had sex with women, that they were essentially “the exception that proves the rule” (this person is gay.)  The point of these stories seemed to be that everyone has some degree of flexibility but there is an inevitable average that, for most intents and purposes, designates your orientation.

I don’t think this person knew about Alfred Kinsey, but his beliefs clearly mapped onto the concept of the Kinsey spectrum.  When Kinsey gathered his data for his two books on human sexuality, he surveyed innumerable people and reported that people who are exclusively heterosexual or exclusively homosexual are rare, and that most people are “predominantly gay” or “predominantly straight”.  In essence, everyone is bisexual but everyone has an average that designates their sexual orientation more than the deviations from the average.  Back when my high school friend would be surprised by my attraction to women, he would sometimes express something similar.  I would say something like “you already know I’m bisexual” and he would say something like “yes but don’t you…desire men more than you desire women?”  The high school friend and the ex-partner seemed to be driving at the same thing: the term ‘bisexual’ is fundamentally not relevant.  Either you have a consistent average within more diverse possibilities, or you are simply refusing to “own up” to the fact that you are either gay or straight.

I don’t think people should be afraid of fluidity but I also think embracing fluidity can obfuscate other relevant averages.  On one hand, consider people who have been mostly straight except for one very deep and long lasting same sex attraction.  If that one relationship ends, such a person may simply continue being interested in the opposite sex.  The one break in the pattern does not, in and of itself, compel one to re-evaluate their identity.  Internalized homophobia could also come up in this context: if you think that gay people are foreign “others” who you think of as existing far from you, you might not mentally place yourself in that category.  On the other hand, there are people like me who simply do not have a consistent preference for the sex or gender of their partners.  For myself and other bisexuals, bisexuality itself is the average.

Forgive me if I’m taking a long time getting to the point, but I think this habit of mind bears mentioning.  With sexual orientation and gender, there are categories that are used the most and that people are the most familiar with, i.e. gay, straight, male and female.  The vast majority of people can relate to one of those four categories and their common acceptance can create doubt about people who do not relate to those four groups.  If it is commonly assumed that those four groups are universal and if someone has things in common with more than one of them, a lay person might think that some sort of male \ female straight \ gay identity must be there, even if it’s not obvious.  This has an unintentional consistency with “questioning” people who may feel alienated from commonly accepted groups but eventually come to identify with one of them.  This both alienates people who truly do not identify as gay or straight, male or female, and compels people to re-interpret their lives with previously unclear aspects of their identity re-defined as lucid.

Aaaaaannndd……at long last we’re now close to that “point” thing that seems to be all the rage these days.  In the Waking Up episode with Jordan Peterson, he expresses his anxiety with legal protection extending to non-binary individuals in particular.  In other situations, Peterson has described gender neutral pronouns like ze and hir as words that he “hates” and will never use.  From that point, I started getting anecdotal with my early twenties when I was struggling to come out and how Kate Bornstein’s explanation of being genderqueer was my first really accessible way of making sense of my feelings.

As I said at some length above, I do not want to say that everyone is non-binary in the same way that Alfred Kinsey encouraged people to think that everyone is bisexual, and that once you’ve nailed down your consistent average the wider flexibility ceases to matter.  As someone who used to identify as non-binary, I would never say anything that flippant.  But I’m not at all convinced that my lived experience is unique, or even very different from the average transgender person.

For me, the most basic and obvious reason for the usefulness of non-binary language is that the average transperson has internalized a script from the rest of society interrogating their existence.  Most transwomen, at some point in their lives, have heard something like “it takes more than a dress, heels and surgery to make a woman”.  Queer people in general are also likely to be asked why they are how they are.  I’ve heard some truly odd replies to this question when older transwomen have told me about other conversations that they’ve had.

In my own family, there’s a widely circulated story about a trans individual who said she wanted to be female because men open doors.  I don’t think I need to dwell on how absurd that is.  But if you have been told that you’re mentally ill and have had people demand an explanation from you over and over again, it definitely makes sense that you’d start to think that any answer would be better than no answer, that if you just say something, no matter how transparently false, it will take the heat off of you.  If someone badgers you to answer a question over and over again throughout your life, it makes sense that eventually you’d just want them to shut up and go away, and giving a random answer could be a learned way to do that.

Another surface level reason for why non-binary language is useful for trans people within the binary is their lived experience.  I have not had the childhood that a ciswoman or a cisman has had.  Cismen don’t have their peace of mind ruined by gender dysphoria and ciswoman have female anatomy.  As a bare bones concession to objective reality, I have a set of experiences as a transgender person that cispeople simply do not have and vice versa.  TERFs are infamous for pointing out the absence of wombs, vaginas, menstruation, etc.  Strictly speaking, these remarks are relevant, but not in the way that TERFs maintain that they are.  It doesn’t mean that transwomen are less female or that transmen are less male, but it does mean that there are experiences that trans people have that cispeople do not.

If that seems obvious to the point of being silly, let me break down some stuff about myself.  My body dysphoria compelled me to persistently seek out hormone replacement therapy and voice training.  The stress of my dysphoria compels me to make my body more female.  Regardless of what I believe about gender or consciously assert about myself, my bodily transition is definitely headed in a direction that fits within the binary.  I don’t know why that is and never have, so my dysphoria seems to have a subconscious origin.  According to the definitions, this makes me a transsexual woman, since the motivation comes from and relates to my sex.  A big part of my transition is making my body female, which in and of itself is an experience that both cismen and ciswomen do not have.  Although I’m female, only a minority of females need to transition.  It’s absolutely true that I don’t have a uterus and have never menstruated, but the same can be said of many women, and it fits with the larger phenomena of experiences unique to transpeople.  I don’t think owning this uniqueness causes anyone to lose, it certainly doesn’t invalidate anyone.  Only in a world where male and female are the only two gendered categories could that be invalidating.

An intuitive objection to this is that mainstream culture in general only accommodates the categories of male and female and to act like this does not have the power to isolate and harm people is naive.  I totally agree, but the consequences of social censure is not the same question as whether or not something is real.  A lot of us have had conversations with straight people who think that being queer is a “bad idea” because of all the ways that society punishes queerness.  This is also more or less what social conservatives mean when they say that the definition of marriage is between a man and a woman.

Asserting that someone disbelieves in something or will attempt to dissuade others from doing something is not evidence against it.  A statement of belief or disbelief is not objective evidence of anything.  So it’s absolutely true that society punishes people who do not conform to the binary, but that’s not the same question as whether or not non-binary experiences and language matter.  I think it even attests to the weakness of the binary that it alienates and oppresses people who identify within the binary, like transsexual women or men, who typically have to deal with a lifetime of reconciling their felt gender with a world that constantly demands an explanation or justification.

There is another objection to this that I really do have mixed feelings about, though; that trans people feeling alienated from the binary is a consequence of internalized transphobia.  That’s true and there’s nothing like the difference between a trans persons’ conscious assessment and beliefs and the persistence of body dysphoria to underscore how true it is.  Body dysphoria can compel someone to transition in the face of a lifetime of internalizing messages that they should not.  At the same time, though, I also believe that part of exorcising bad emotions is to acknowledge that it’s okay to feel them.  If you have felt that being trans has caused society to make you feel unwelcome as either a man or a woman, then the next step could be to acknowledge that it’s okay not to be either.

Me and American Patriotism

As a Native American, I’ve found it hard to have a straightforward way of identifying as an American.

Before I get into a bunch of personal stuff let me clarify what I do not mean.

Clearly, I have no doubt of my legal nationality.  That might sound too basic to bare mentioning but we’re all familiar with how idea exchange on the internet works and sometimes basic stuff needs to be clarified.

I am also not claiming to speak for anyone’s experience but my own.  My use of the personal pronoun I in that first sentence looks a little clunky to my eyes but I did it anyway.  I’ve held onto a few basic assumptions about writing and grammar from college English classes and one of those is that, since your writing is authored by you, there is no need to attribute your own conclusions and chains of reasoning to yourself.  Nonetheless, I’m leaving that sentence as “I’ve found it hard” instead of “it is hard” in order to emphasize that I’m only speaking for myself.

(I’ve never broken anything like that down before now, and I’ve definitely been way less careful when talking about books and video games, but I suspect this is a topic where the reasoning behind word choice might be looked at closely)

A third thing that I am not claiming actually segues into the rest of what I wanted to write about: I am not anti-American, although throughout my life I’ve found it hard to be well disposed to America emotionally and morally.

So, getting back to me-

Early in life, like many Native Americans, I learned that the nation my family has historically belonged to had it’s autonomy wiped away for no better reason than that white people wanted their land.  Said white people were also guided by a moral force that made land piracy innocent so long as it happened to non-Christians.

If I wanted, I could take this into a bigger argument about the annexation of Native America in general, but as this is a blog entry about my personal feelings I’ll confine my scope to my own heritage and my own thoughts.  I’m a Tsimshian, and Tsimshians are indigenous to modern day British Columbia.  When rampant disease broke out upon initial contact with white people, a Scottish missionary named William Duncan led a handful of Tsimshians farther north where they would settle Annette Island which is now the reservation called New Metlakatla.

It is documented that William Duncan wanted to abolish the rank of chief, largely because Tsimshian chiefs were believed to be the descendants of divine supernatural beings.  The chiefs were considered representatives of the spiritual world which made them religious authorities.  In his letters, Duncan wrote that he intended to replace the authority of the chief with the Anglican Church.

Now, William Duncan is justly celebrated in the Southeast Alaskan Tsimshian community as someone with genuine good intentions and a worthy legacy.  He wanted New Metlakatla to be an economically and socially self-sufficient community and today he is remembered as one of its essential founders.

But it all came at the price of forfeiting our historical spirituality and replacing it with Christianity.  And the movement north from British Columbia to Southeast Alaska happened in reaction to rampant disease and economic displacement, which makes the moral framing of Duncan as a great founder really questionable.  If someone offers to save you from death and disaster if you do whatever they say, is that person really a hero?

This is a minority opinion among the Natives I grew up around and I’m well aware of it.  Once, as a teenager, I attended an anti-suicide event with a handful of other kids from my hometown with family ties to Metlakatla, along with a few community leaders.  One of those adults accompanying us mentioned once that conversion to Christianity was the one undeniably good thing to happen from white contact.  Many rural Native communities in Alaska are strongly Christian as are many rural communities across America.  One night, during a summer-camp trip organized by the local Native corporation that I was a part of, a few adults and a few kids decided to assemble a traditional sweat lodge.  Many of those participating helped build this and participated in a sweat, while many others refused on the grounds that it was “witchcraft”.

While many in the Native community I grew up in are heavily invested in our traditions, language and culture, Christianity is given priority whenever it clashes with those traditions.  The moral sanction that Christianity gave to the American conquest of Native Americans was the main reason why American patriotism was emotionally and morally repugnant for most of my life, to say nothing of the emotional and moral repugnance of Christianity itself.

While, as a thirty year old adult, I am not anti-American, this is not because I think any of these things turned out to be good in the end.  Nothing can ever exonerate or justify the erasure of Native American culture and spirituality and nothing can diminish the role the Christian Church played in it.

In spite of that, my distance from  being anti-American even extends to being pro-American.  This is because, in many substantial ways, America has set important moral and historical standards.  The moral elevation of freedom of expression, religious and intellectual pursuit and democracy are all essential steps forward for both the West and the rest of the world.  I absolutely believe that the existence of a global standard-bearer for democracy and the steps the Enlightenment helped us take away from monarchical autocracy and religious tyranny is necessary on the world stage.

Make no mistake, like any other huge developed nation, I think America harbors an inevitable degree of confusion and animosity.  While there is always a rational-to-irrational spectrum within public opinion, I feel like many sides of many common conversations agree on the right things.

For example, the importance of individual autonomy.  In spite of what many Libertarians claim, they are not a besieged minority.  Most people in America think the individual is a basic cornerstone of our values and any politician who wants to get elected will need to say so.  You could be a corporate Democrat with everything that makes them repugnant, the kind of person that Republicans think of whenever anyone brings up big government or political correctness run-amok and Progressives think of as a Hilary Clinton-style bad guy who gets cuddly with Super PACs and is totally okay going to war with whistle-blowers like Edward Snowdin and Chelsea Manning…and you would still have to at least pay lip-service to the individual.  Sorry for the ugly run on sentence, lol

To illustrate this a bit more: my values as a libertarian made me a feminist.  For me, feminism has been a logical expansion of the values had back when I identified more strongly as a libertarian.  As far as defending ones right to control their own bodies and govern their lives as freely as possible while not disenfranchising anyone else, feminism has done way more heavy lifting.

I’m not gonna waste my time defending second-wave feminist insanity any more than a self-proclaimed Libertarian will defend Timothy McVeigh.  I don’t think any transsexual (such as myself) or anyone who is a sex worker or thinks that sex workers are human could ever get behind second-wave feminism.  Those who espoused second-wave feminism were also disturbingly willing to ignore the autonomy of large groups of women and queers, this would happen along the lines of “you’re too saturated with internalized misogyny to be reasoned with”, with transsexual women being especially likely to end up on the receiving end.

With the freak-bin safely out of the way, I feel like the link between feminism and libertarianism is pretty hard to avoid, at least in terms of moral reasoning.  No one is wed so much to the sanctity of the individual and self-determination as feminists and libertarians.

(if I seem inconsistent about capitalizing things like proper nouns, it’s because I know there is a difference between those who identify as Libertarian with a capital ‘L’,  as a proper political party, like Republican or Democrat, and those who use words like ‘libertarianism’ and ‘feminism’ as generalized categories like ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’)

What I’m saying is that, a lot of the time, we agree on many of the essential and necessary things even if we disagree on a million other things.  Lately, I’ve become less convinced of this.

While I feel like many people are aware that the press has been profit-driven and manipulative in the past, it has never really bothered me as much as it does now.  While presidential elections in America have often been a personality competition, I don’t feel like I’ve observed anything like the 2016 election in my lifetime.

Before 2016 I feel like there was this threshold for cynicism, within which was permissible irreverence and a somewhat hopeful spectrum of possibilities for an elected official.  Before 2016, if your choice for president made it to office, you might be resigned to the fact that they will play ball with the big money on the other side but still confident that some of things you voted them in for might reasonably happen.  Now, I’m not altogether sure if that threshold still exists.

At least a little bit of my doubt began when Donald Trump began his relationship with Alex Jones.  A presidential candidate had chosen to validate someone who thinks all mass shootings were false-flag operations carried out by NWO puppet masters to trick America into surrendering its guns.  Trump validated a group of people who don’t think mass shootings even exist.  So far from introducing a specific side in the debate on gun violence, the American mainstream was now embracing people who are willing to dispute whether one even exists.  Perhaps involving disagreement over the nature of reality itself was meant to provide room for a positive view of how an unobtainably expensive border wall will impact our economy.

My doubt grew a little more when anti-SJW internet trolls unanimously fell in line behind Trump.  These are people who felt like a hypothetical anecdote from Anita Sarkeesian was the same as an attack on all male gamers and the panic surrounding non-binary individuals.  I think, inevitably, the hysteria over genderqueer people within alienated nerd subcultures has some link with the stigma of furries and otherkin.  A ton of Anonymous and 4chan groupies had already built something of a subculture over ripping on otherkin and furries and the second someone got confused over the concept of “non-binary” it became an intuitive lightening rod for these people.

I mentioned in my very first entry in this blog that I have, for a few years, anyway, followed Sam Harris’ Waking Up podcast and considered him the last remaining good guy among pop-atheists (I might include Ayaan Hirsi Ali in that as well but she’s not very invested in theism versus atheism).  And even Sam Harris mentioned “nude pronouns” as one of the things that alienated people from the left and contributed to the election of Trump, as if it was a clearly insane priority that the left should have known better than to get involved with.

The reason I’m mentioning trolls is that Trump validated a whole movement of people with a ton of anger and no inclination to map that anger onto anything that exists in the real world.  Within internet troll culture, ripping on feminism in gaming and gender non-conforming people didn’t beg any further explanation because, within its own culture, it was understood to be supported entirely by malicious humor.  After internet trolls were embraced by the alt-right, though, they were empowered  by the realization that they were taken seriously without an explanation.  Feminism and queers were accepted as illegitimate and threatening on their face and that position could not get called out in public without drawing censure and ridicule.

The generalized dismissal of feminism and queer equality also had a smooth consistency with many men in Trump’s fan base who showed up to rallies wearing t-shirts saying ‘grab America by the p****y’.  The whole ‘p***y grabbing’ buzz phrase evolved from a sexual abuse allegation.  Not infidelity, not being a closeted gay or bisexual, not for being a closeted kinkster or any number of morally innocuous (in my opinion) things that politicians have been discredited for in the past.  The allegations were about sexual assault. Soo…within mainstream right wing culture, the people who claim to support individual autonomy no matter what, up to the point that they think you should be able to shoot trespassers on your property…these people, so many of whom being self-proclaimed Libertarians, have ceased to consider sexual assault discrediting.

Remember when I said that we are generally aware that the press has a history of being self-interested and manipulative?  Strictly speaking, I think shifting popular conversations away from policy and facts toward generalized attitudes is nothing new.

But maybe, now that I’m thirty, it’s really sinking in for the first time.  Or maybe this time it really is different.  Presidential addresses have definitely been very suspect in the past for similar reasons.  How many former presidents, though, have called the American press the “enemy of the people” and mentioned political fads in popular sports (at least) twice?  The Independent recently published an article about spent casings from artillery used by ISIS has been tracked to nations and groups that America supplies with weapons.  And yes, the casings and the weapons the ammunition goes to are of American make.  The rebel groups and nations that we are supporting in the Middle East are openly playing ball with ISIS and Trump is making stupid little pot shots at sport stars who support BLM.

All that can be simplified as: the American president is now openly attacking the press while at the same time using it to establish links between pop-culture and the attitudes of his base.  What sort of political leaders attack the press outlets that aren’t being bent to their will?  While also hijacking attention away from things our government is doing that has real consequences?  Where in history or contemporary geography have we seen things like governments that go to war with the press while using it for misdirection and propaganda?

Again, manipulating the masses through buzz-words and oversimplifications is nothing new.  But I can’t help but think that America has never had a president that is as openly cynical about it.  And sure enough, whenever some stupid new outrage catches the ire of CNN some talking head is going say that this isn’t going to happen a second time, that this isn’t the new normal.  They’ve did it more than once, every time CNN or some other big name news outlet compiles a list of lies spoken by Trump they’ll also add some comment about how this is just a contemporary anomaly and that Trump definitely is not setting a new standard.  I find it very hard to believe these optimistic claims…but if they’re as wrong as I think they are, then what does that suggest about our future?  Have we actually passed the threshold from political cynicism to political nihilism?  Have our disagreements over the nature of reality passed beyond the attacks the religious right makes on science into something even more ubiquitous and destructive?

AAaaaaaaaaand now we’re full circle regarding my own personal feelings regarding patriotism and my beliefs about America’s role in the world and what being an American is even like.  I mean, I’m not gonna say right now that America has abandoned its moral and cultural vitality, but I’m definitely closer than I’ve been to thinking that than I’ve been in a very long time.

https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/syria-missile-arms-deals-west-us-uk-saudi-arabia-a8459731.html

https://www.cato.org/publications/commentary/why-wall-wont-work

Jordan Peterson, Sam Harris and Canadian gender identity protection

So I was listening to a recording of Sam Harris’s Waking Up podcast just now and was put in the uncomfortable position of getting exasperated with one of my intellectual heroes (Harris).

Harris was interviewing Jordan B. Peterson, which I thought was exciting given Peterson’s thoughts on mythic archetypes.  I’m a creative writer myself and I’m also a total spazz for literary criticism, mythology and history.  I was kinda stoked about this.  But before they got to what I thought would be really interesting they began by discussing a legislative measure in Canada protecting gender identity from spontaneous public heckling.

Soooooo I’m a trans lady myself (on HRT for over two years and been totally out for as long) so I realize I have a protective emotional impulse on this topic.  But I think there are glaringly obvious reasons why these legal policies should not be seen as absurd on their face.

Yelling random invective is something that you could end up in court for.  If I loudly scream ‘fuck you’ while we are arguing in public I can reasonably expect legal charges.  The basic way of behaving in question is not something the mainstream would disagree about beforehand.  We all agree that random and spontaneous verbal harassment should have some kind of legal protection or social consequence.

Peterson trots out the Canadian protection of gender identity and preferred pronouns as if people would be hashing it out with you on a regular basis and it wouldn’t be reasonable to impose a legal penalty for it.  I know I’m just relaying an anecdote here, but I work in an elementary school.  It requires you to be around all kinds of people all day.  In general, my gender identity and preferred pronouns are not a problem.  Around the time I came out I was assured personally by many of my coworkers that I had nothing but support from them.

I’m not trying to say my lucky experience is normal but I am saying that there is such a thing as an ordinary expectation of civility in mainstream culture.  All our lives we’ve learned that baiting trouble is a bad idea so I don’t see how legally protecting preferred pronouns and gender expression is somehow beyond the pale.  It does not demand anything that general social mores do not already.

Large diversity of different non-binary pronouns are mentioned by Peterson as a problem and a dangerous foreign step into something static, delicate and necessary.  The volume of different pronouns alone is, for Peterson, an indication of scary Marxist post-modern nutjobs taking over the world.  Listen to the video yourself if you think I’m exaggerating.  Peterson mentions social justice tribunals and means for determining unconscious biases that he says are not supported by science.

I realize that Peterson sees the pronoun question as the ‘bath water’ and the suspect unconscious bias examinations as the ‘baby’ in question here, so he presumably sees the pronoun issue as the tip of the bigger iceberg and, implicitly, not strictly culpable.  The segue from the specific policy protecting gender expression and preferred pronouns to Peterson’s general anxieties about social justice kicking open the door to cultural fluidity is glossed over.  After talking about employers being sanctioned for the bigoted language of their employees while on the job or with the public, Jordan Peterson says this that this is in keeping with “other elements in the background that are equally reprehensible” and then starts with the social justice tribunals.

You could say that Peterson is not specifically laying blame against transpeople here, but he is also trotting out an implicit association between gender-nonconforming people and social break down.  Jordan B. Peterson is a big boy and I think we can safely assume he knows that he’s making the association.  The fact that he glosses over it could mean that he doesn’t think it matters, that he takes it as a matter of course or that the audience should know already that the pronoun lead in was a “ringer” to begin with- that it never was the real subject.  None of those possibilities provide a sequential justification for the association.

(I don’t wanna dwell on things beyond Peterson’s bald subject jump, but he mentions that he’s worried about the dialogue concerning biology and gender identity- read Julia Serano and Susan Stryker.  The trans community is interested and active in that conversation and making it sound like you’ll be slammed in an iron maiden for mentioning it is stupid)

My next big problem here has to do with what I think is a misunderstanding about non-binary language.  Let’s start with something nice and plain and personal.  To say nothing of the genuine experience of non-binary individuals, non-binary language can make the early steps of coming out easier to understand for trans people within the binary.  This I’ve experienced.

In my early twenties I made my first earnest attempts at coming out.  In the interest of staying on topic I’ll try to not digress too deep into personal anecdote. I barely knew what I was doing at the time and soon I became anxious to be familiar with a body of information that would make my feelings easier to talk about.  I began reading everything I could find about gender variance throughout history and current psychological wisdom.  I found book-length studies of male crossdressers, historical texts and pop culture commentary.  A lot of it was extremely interesting and academic curiosity alone would have been reason enough to read all that in the end.

Curiosity may have been the only reason in the end, since nothing I found addressed what I wanted: what I wanted was to understand my dysphoria and find a way to think clearly about feelings that would help me to put self-destruction behind me.  It just didn’t happen during my gender bending psychology, pop culture and history kick.  A book about gender-fluidity did speak to what I was feeling though.  A day putzing around in Barnes & Noble put me in touch with Gender Outlaw by Kate Bornstein.

I said earlier that I wasn’t going to make this particular entry all about me and my life.  I’m really not, even now: I’m just trying to explain how language without it’s emphasis on designating someone as male or female has practical applications for trans people within the binary, like myself.  I was raised in a starkly non-conformist mixed-race environment both before and after my parents’ divorce.  As the child of a single mother- and also as a female-identified queer -I need no convincing as per feminism or the oppressive nature of historical gender roles.  A basic part of my nature spoke to a particular state of being- to express it would be to walk into a rhetorical nightmare of “you think femaleness is X”.  I had no way of discussing or understanding it, even to myself.  For me, learning how to think and talk about gender outside of the binary was a much-needed kiss of life, even if I myself am not non-binary.

So let’s wrap this up: dysphoria has to do with a visceral experience of being required to live in total resistance to your gender identity.  If I may hearken back to my parenthetical remarks about Jordan Peterson, I’d be all ears for a definite verdict from evolutionary biology or neurology relating to gender identity.  The conflict between how I was reared versus how I felt is so staggering and mysterious that I can’t help but wonder about biological factors.  But however amorphous this notion may be for a cis person, let us at least stay with the bedrock that dysphoria is total panic and confusion; dysphoria is to be driven toward what you need because where you are right now is fundamentally not supportable.  Dysphoria will tell you what you need to get away from but it will not tell you where you are going.  My resistance to dysphoria has taught me that I am a transwoman.  I know that now, but simply knowing the word ‘dysphoria’ and the concept of gender-variance could not have told me how I would make sense of things in the end.

In case that’s too wordy: gender dysphoria is a visceral, repulsive experience that does not endear you to normal ways of discussing gender.  Non-binary language can be way of disarming aspects of this early on, even if one is not non-binary.

I think that might be all I have to say about this that requires any sort of minutia.  And, although I said it would not be, it was largely anecdotal.  What I wanted to do was explain one or two plain reasons why a gender-nonconforming person would benefit from non-binary language, whether or not they are non-binary.  As far as legal protection and rational expectations go, you cannot yell ethnic slurs or insults without legal sanction- I’m not convinced that protecting gender identity demands anything more of society.