Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Best Meme Ever

Stole this from Ronnie Maier, who is awesome forever because hers included Agador Spartacus.

First, select ten fictional characters (from any medium) by whichever method you like best.

1. Willy Wonka
2. Spock
3. Hermione Granger
4. Captain Planet
5. James (from Team Rocket, on Pokemon)
6. Rose Nylund (from the Golden Girls)
7. Beetlejuice
8. Milhouse
9. Dr. Orpheus (from the Venture Bros.)
10. Kermit the Frog

Divide the list up by even and odd.

Odds: Wonka, Hermione, James, Beetlejuice, Orpheus
Even: Spock, Captain Planet, Rose, Milhouse, Kermit

Which group of five would make a better Five-Man Band (like a Power Rangers team)?
They'd both be horrible. I think the second team has a slight edge, in that Spock balances the stupid people a little, whereas in the first team everyone is just crazy.

Who would you slot in each position: Leader, Lancer (second-in-command), Big Guy, Smart Guy, The Chick?

Clearly whoever made this reads TV Tropes a lot. I approve.

Leader: Wonka, because he's not going to let anyone else do it.
Lancer: Orpheus, because he's a ham and has to have a main role.
Big Guy: Beetlejuice. He's the only one of these I could see acting remotely tough.
Smart Guy: Hermione. Too easy.
The Chick: James. He's only good for looking pretty in a dress and being amusing.

Leader: Kermit. He's small and meek, but he's likeable and he's got chutzpah.
Lancer: Fallout Boy Milhouse. He doesn't fit anywhere else, plus it's his usual role anyway.
Big Guy: Captain Planet. Because all he does is swoop down, fuck your shit up, and then leave.
Smart Guy: Spock. Too easy again.
The Chick: Rose. The only person who could be more useless in a fight than Milhouse.

If you think the teams would be improved by swapping one character between the even and odd groups, which ones would you switch?
Hmm... maybe Kermit and Orpheus. The odd team has too many loudmouths and the even team has too many quiet people. Orpheus would fix that in a jiff.

Gender-swap 2 (Spock), 8 (Milhouse) and 10 (Kermit). Which character would have the most change in their story arc? Which the least? Would any of these characters have to have a complete personality change to be believable as the opposite sex?
Milhouse would be pretty believable as a girl. He'd just turn into Velma. As for Spock, female Vulcans annoy the hell out of me, but I don't think his personality would change at all. Kermit would be the worst, I think - his nervous-guy schtick wouldn't work so well.

Compare the matchups of 1 (Wonka) and 8 (Milhouse), and 5 (James) and 9 (Orpheus). (Ignore canon sexual preferences for the moment.) Which couple would be more compatible?
Oh my lord, James and Orpheus would be a fantastic couple. Seriously, I can imagine nothing greater. They're both so camp.
Wonka and Milhouse I don't even want to think about. Especially because it seems plausible.

7 (Beetlejuice) becomes 1's (Wonka's) boss for a week in some plausible fashion. How's their working relationship?
Hilariously awful. I want this to be a movie. Right now.

2 (Spock) finds himself inserted into 6's (Rose's) continuity. As far as anyone other than 2 or 6 is concerned, they've always been there. What role would 2 be presumed to have had in 6's story, and could they fit in without going wonky?

brb, lolling forever

No seriously, I'm trying to imagine how that would happen. The only way there are men on the Golden Girls is if they're sleeping with one of the main characters, and in this case Dorothy would be the only person Spock could tolerate being around for more than a few minutes, so I guess he's Dorothy's... alien boyfriend? This is rapidly descending into the darkest realms of bad crossover fic. Let's move on.

3 (Hermione) and 5 (James) get three wishes. The catch is that they have to agree on all three wishes before they get the benefits of any of them. What three wishes would they make?
I'm not sure that would ever happen. We're dealing with opposite characters here: one is a know-it-all member of Team Hero who wants to free creatures that don't even actually want to be set free, the other is a moronic thief who steals enslaved animals from children so that they can do his bidding instead. Yeah.

Your team is 3 (Hermione), 4 (Captain Planet), and 9 (Dr. Orpheus). The mission consists of a social challenge, a mental challenge, and a physical challenge. Which team member do you assign to each challenge?
Social - Hermione. She's annoying, but she can be clever at tricking people and talking them into things.
Physical - Captain Planet, because he's the show-offy superhero guy.
Mental - Orpheus. He gets this over Hermione because he can astral project and mindread and such.

1 (Wonka) and 2 (Spock) are brainwashed by a one-time artifact that works even on people immune to mind control to attack and kill 4 (Captain Planet). They keep their normal personalities, skills, and competence levels, except any code against killing has been turned off. Can 4 survive?
Captain Planet has a lot of powers, so he's probably safe as long as he doesn't let Spock near his neck (which shouldn't be a problem since Captain Planet can fly) or, I dunno, take exploding candy from Wonka.

6 (Rose), 7 (Beetlejuice), 9 (Orpheus), and 10 (Kermit) must help an orphanage full of small and depressed children have a merry Christmas. Who does what, knowing that at the very least the kids will be expecting a visit from Santa?
Rose and Kermit would both bend over backwards making sure they had presents, entertainment, decorations, snacks, the whole works. Orpheus would try to help but end up scaring everyone by talking about the undead or something.

And that would be Beetlejuice's cue to come fuck everything up and make all the kids cry. And Rose.

3 (Hermione) and 8 (Milhouse) are challenged to circumnavigate the Earth in eighty days or less, using only forms of transportation invented before 1900. Can they do it, or will they be fatally distracted by side quests or their own personality conflicts?
Since Hermione is a witch they could just take a broom, but Milhouse would be annoying and need a barf bag and would probably fall off. I can't imagine anyone circumnavigating anything with Milhouse around.

Monday, September 21, 2009

In which I whine about good things

This seems like kind of a strange thing to complain about, but like, suddenly I seem to have too many friends. And I have good prospects for making even more friends soon. And it's freaking me out a little.

Wait! Come back! I don't mean I don't want all the friends I have, and certainly I don't see having a lot of friends as a problem, per se. It's just something I'm not really sure how to deal with.

See, I used to be a complete social idiot. Like, really bad. As I've gotten older, and with the help of the internet, I've gotten better at socializing. But I've only ever had a pretty small group of friends at a time. I'm used to having maybe 10 friends I actually talk to, and believe me, I built up to having that many friends *very slowly*.

Now that I've been traveling, and gotten more confident, and started posting on more forums, I have more friends. A good deal more. But since I've always had just a few, I don't have much practice balancing more than that. I have trouble knowing where the line is between just an acquaintance and a friend, gauging how much/how little people want to see/talk to me, etc. I also have a bad "out of sight, out of mind" habit where if someone doesn't contact me for awhile I get distracted by a bunny or something and forget to contact them.

Basically I'm like a poor person who just won the lottery and has no idea how to manage money because I've never had any.

I know it's good to be challenged and grow and all, but it's also intimidating, especially when you're still not totally past seeing yourself as an awkward weirdo. I'm not used to thinking of myself as any kind of social butterfly. In my mind, I'm still the icky kid nobody wants on their kickball team. So when someone I've known for a short time enthusiastically invites me to come hang out, my head explodes just a little. When someone suggests I lead a gathering, I automatically think of childhood birthday parties where I invited the whole class and no one showed up. I always assumed I was doomed to be that kid forever. It feels weird that I'm not.

Good, but weird.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Cracked article mentions unschooling

I love cracked.com - it's a humor website, but many of the articles are genuinely informative as well. I was reading this article, called "What if Kanye West is Retarded?", and was enjoying it, but cringed when I got to the part about Kanye "railing against education". Knowing the mainstream tendency to confuse being anti-school with being anti-intellectual, I had a feeling I knew what was coming. But when I actually read it, I was pleasantly surprised:

"For two whole albums, Kanye rails against college and education in general. At first glance, it seems likely that he detects some discrimination in Chicago’s public school system. It’s possible, based on his own success that occurred independent of formal schooling, that he thinks the whole system is inefficient, or that the wrong set of skills are being encouraged. That’s admirable. Plenty of intelligent people embrace unschooling, a practice that seeks effective alternatives to conventional education.

If Kanye West is retarded, it means that he wrote two albums attacking college because he gets frustrated with complex numbers and words that are a) longer than three syllables and b) not written in all caps."

THANK YOU, DANIEL O'BRIEN. This is the first time I have ever EVER seen a mainstream source (inasmuch as popular comedy websites are considered 'mainstream') clearly delineate between being opposed to school and being opposed to learning. That the article mentioned unschooling directly and favorably seems almost too good to be true. So awesome.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


Living at home is starting to make me feel like a caged animal. But I have no other choice.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

So... much... writing!

I feel like I've been writing nonstop since I got home! Mostly I've been concentrating on my pop culture blog: I wrote up my Dragon*Con experience for anyone who was wanting to hear about that, and I'm working on some stuff for Halloween.

I'm also gearing up for NaNoWriMo in November. At this stage, that just means I'm getting addicted to the forums and starting to panic at how little I've thought about my story. I have the basic premise but no characters or plot so far, eek! I don't want to give away much, but I'm planning a weird mix of sci-fi and mythology.

Being split between those two mistresses, I may not find a lot of time to blog here for awhile. I know, posting just to say you might not post much is lame, especially since people who post such messages invariably end up writing a bunch anyway. Buuut I seem to have gained a bunch of new readers since NEUC so I wanted to give a little heads up, lest everyone think I panicked and ran away from blogland or something. *g*

Aside from that, the only other thing I've really been doing since I got home is dancing. I am not the type of person who is into gyms and working out for the sake of working out, so sometimes I forget how good it can feel to exercise for fun. But I caught the dance bug at Dragon*Con and now I can't stop! I'm considering maybe getting back into bellydance when I have the money for classes, or possibly looking into something like jazz or swing. That's if I have any free time where I'm not writing, of course :p

Friday, September 11, 2009


When I was about seven or eight, I saw something on TV that made me mad. I don't remember what it was, but it had something to do with adults' attitudes toward kids, and I vowed right then that when I grew up I would never ever forget what it's like to be a kid. So far I've kept that vow, and it's served me well.

I realized recently that it would serve me equally well to make the same promise about every stage of life. I need to remember, too, what it was like to be a teenager: to have a mature mind and body yet be seen as a child, to have to depend on others to take you places and buy you stuff, to be changing so fast you barely recognize yourself from year to year, to be treated as someone who is likely to start trouble at any moment even if your reputation is spotless. (That last one is particularly handy for white folks to remember; while we usually don't have to deal with that prejudice past age 20, many others are not so lucky.)

I'm also realizing now that it's going to be vital, as I get older, to remember how it is to be a young adult. I'm sure when I have kids and a mortgage it will be easy to romanticize these years as a free, halcyon time with no responsibilities. It'll be easy to forget all the anxiety over an uncertain future, the struggle to scrape up any money at all, the pressures from every angle to get a job NOW and get married NOW and have kids NOW. Once I'm settled into whatever career I choose, it'll be easy to be nostalgic for "no responsibilities", and forget the stress of having no health insurance and the fear that maybe I'm not good at anything after all. When it feels like nothing I like is popular anymore, it'll be easy to talk down to people 20 years my junior and assume they're too ignorant and self-centered to have heard of anything that happened before they were born. When I start to get wrinkles, it'll be easy to dismiss the concerns of young, smooth-skinned women who fear that they're not pretty enough to find love. When I turn 50, it'll be easy to roll my eyes at people who are panicking because they've just turned 25 or 30 and are suddenly expected to Grow Up and Take Things Seriously. And when my kids are young adults, it'll be easy to see everyone their age as "just kids", instead of as people who have waited 20 years to be seen as adults and deserve to be treated as such.

Right now I'm vowing - with all of you as witnesses - not to forget any of this. Other people should consider promising not to forget how it feels to be in the stage of life they're in now, and the ones before if you haven't forgotten those already.

And those of you who are older and have well-established lives, particularly those with children: Please try to take off the rose-colored nostalgia glasses, at least this once, and look at your youth from all sides. Sure being young is fun, and all that fun is worth remembering. But look past the fast cars and freedom for a minute. Remember the uncertainty and the pressure and the prejudices you faced. Remember the frustrations of living in a society that was run by your parents' generation, not your peers. Realize that much of the onus is on you to be mature and understand people who are younger than you, because you've been their age before and they haven't been yours. You have the advantage of experience and wisdom, a gift that younger people will happily accept if and only if we feel that you're trying to understand us and see our side of things. The rewards are mutually great if you do.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Life is good! Really!

Recently I made a post in which I revealed a lot of ghosts from my past, and it apparently struck a chord with many people because it brought me an enormous amount of traffic and comments. Had I known so many people would read it I probably never would have had the courage to write it. But I'm glad I did, because the feedback I've received has been 100% positive.

However, since the post dealt with a lot of the negativity in my life I've been worried that I might have created a skewed picture of what it was like for me growing up. Yes, I went through some tough stuff, including some things that would be difficult for an adult to handle, let alone a young child. And it was healing to write about that, to be up front and honest about it and have it read by strangers and new friends. But now I want to balance that a little and post about how GOOD my childhood was. Because mostly when I look back on being a kid, I don't think of all the bad stuff. I think of how free I felt at home and how loved I was.

I think of my grandfather taking time to play with me even when he was bedridden. He didn't need to get out of bed to pull a quarter out of my ear, or to play "astronaut" and help me count down to liftoff, or to teach me to play chess.

I think of my dad, for reasons I have never found out, dragging home a full-sized Centipede arcade game and plunking it in the yard. We only had it for a night or two, but my four-year-old self was amazed.

I think of my mom busting out the fingerpaints and helping me paint a beach scene on the wall behind the bathtub in our old trailer. We called it Hawaii, and it was still there when we moved out.

I think of my grandmother telling me ghost stories - I insisted they be ghost stories - before I went to sleep, every Friday when I stayed at her house. Most times I told her what the story should be about and she just repeated it. She wasn't a patient woman in general, but she was always patient about this.

I think of having cats running around our wide open yard, and of checking every cat-sized hidey hole for new kittens every spring. I always got to name them, and we always kept them all.

I think of being able to watch all the Nickelodeon I wanted, and watching hours every day, yet still finding time to play outside, make up stories in my room, read encyclopedias, and draw. I had all the time I wanted to do all this stuff, except when school interfered.

I think of my family being dirt poor, yet finding ways to get me into Girl Scouts, ballet, softball and marching band, and still getting me new Barbies too. My mom told me recently she used to roll pennies to buy me toys. We ate a lot of hot dogs and cheap noodles, but no one minded much.

I think of handing my mom a tape recorder and insisting she say something funny, and labeling the tapes COMEDIENS with a big marker.

I think of Elvis movies and Beatles records and Partridge Family reruns. My mother's childhood was part of my own, always, and I feel like I've lived in more decades than the two and a half that have passed since I was born.

I think of being allowed to "plunder", as Nannie called it, in dresser drawers and jewelry boxes, and then hearing the stories about the treasures they held: buckeyes from my great-grandfather, Confederate money, beaded necklaces from the 70s, my late uncle's wolf ring, my mom's bright red Willie Nelson bandana. I was just looking for fun stuff on a boring day, but I found my whole family history.

I think of my grandmother easing one of my bad years in school by taking me to either McDonalds, the park, or the library after she picked me up. Every single day.

I think of being picked up from school early one day to go get a Nintendo 64, because they'd been sold out everywhere and Walmart only had two in stock and by God my mother was going to get me one if it killed her. I'm sure she rolled pennies to get that too, though I haven't asked.

Of my teen years, I think of my grandmother driving me all the way into the city (she hated to drive in the city) to see my best friend. I think of sleeping when I wanted, spending hours on the internet chatting with close friends from all over the world, meditating, playing the piano, dancing, and exploring religions I'd never heard of. I think of getting all the privacy and time I wanted (I was extraordinarily private and introverted as a teen), and my parents agreeing to always, always knock before coming in my room.

I could go on like this forever, listing the little details that made my childhood more happy than sad, that gave my life an unschoolish feel years before I ever left school. Because that's another key to unschooling: you build a foundation of trust and joy with the little things, and that foundation cannot be destroyed by whatever big, scary, bad thing that comes along. No matter what pain I've gone through in my life, I've always known deep down that I was loved. Whenever life has sucked, I knew on some level that there are things to live for. I had good memories to hold onto during bad times, and people to spend time with when there was no money to go anywhere. Those are the things that get you through when shit happens.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


One last blog about NEUC before I head off to Dragoncon.

I've been trying to capture something of the essence of NEUC, the feeling that made it so special for me, and so far I feel like I've missed the mark. But now I think I know what it is. It's not just that I had a blast - even though I did. It's not just that I listened to some great discussions - even though I did. It's not just that I made awesome friends - even though I did.

It's that all the stuff I did, the talks I went to, and the friends I made were so profoundly inspiring.

I'm inspired to blog more, and not fret so much if I don't get any comments.

To start my own business instead of getting a job working for someone else.

To stop hiding my various differences, because when I do that I'm hiding myself.

To stop hiding myself in the more literal, not leaving the house sense.

To travel the world. To believe that I can travel the world.

To look at obstacles to my goals not as impassable roadblocks, but as walls that can be climbed.

To say hi to people, ask questions, start conversations.

To be more loving and less judgemental.

To care more about the environment, even if I see serious problems with the trendy, oversimplified, superficial green movement that has emerged in the past year.

To realize that I can recognize and address the problems in the world without carrying them on my shoulders.

To study physics, because it makes me feel more religious than religion ever did.

To watch more anime, because I stopped paying attention around the time Cowboy Bebop and NGE were popular (and I never even finished watching those).

To try and speak at some conferences. At least to consider it.

To bust out my guitar once in awhile, because it's so much fun to be able to just entertain your friends while they sit in a circle, and that kind of thing is the original reason I got interested in the guitar.

To be myself, be confident, and be open.

And to go to more conferences, to see these cool people again!

Boston/NEUC 2009 Highlights!

I leave for Sabrina's house in about three hours and I really, really should be packing for Dragon*con instead of doing this... but I gotta write down everything I can about the conference before it all gets pushed out of my head by my next trip! This will be long, because honestly, almost everything that happened at the conference was a highlight for me.

-Thursday I missed most of the conference because we were waiting on a car, so Val and I hung around her house playing old Sega games and laughing our asses off at stupid shit. It has been WAY TOO LONG since I've just hung out at somebody's house playing old video games. Guitar Hero has nothing on ridiculous pixelated fighting games from the early 90's.

-We also had a failed Walmart adventure in Quincy (pro tip: not every Walmart has a grocery store), but that meant I got to kind of see the area a little. I was pretty amused that Quincy had signs up featuring John and Abigail Adams, but not John Quincy. Also, we saw a sign for "Joseph McCarthy Air Conditioning." Opening a window is for communists.

-On Friday, once we FINALLY got to the hotel after walking 2 miles in the heat (ugh), there was lots of fun stuff to do. I met Chelsea and Emilie in the ATC funshop, and Chelsea told us about Nerd Fighters. The only ATC I made sucked and I didn't trade it, but it was still fun. Then I went to a duct tape funshop and made a duct tape flower thing that looks more like a pinecone, but is still nifty.

-At home I often complain that nobody likes to just sit around and play games anymore. Unschoolers LOVE to sit around and play games. There were constant games of Bananagrams (in which the parent table was about 10 times as loud as the teen/young adult table), several games of BS, and an awesome game of Yahtzee, aka The Game That Makes People Flee in Terror. I think perhaps I'll start carrying dice and a Yahtzee score card in my purse in case I am ever accosted in a dark alley. My attacker will either want to play, or they will run screaming in the other direction.

-I also had fun playing with Heather's son Milo. We were playing Battleship, kind of, except we were using an intricate set of rules that he made up, involving lava, lasers, and "jetpack guys". I have no idea how he kept up with all the rules. They were obviously made up on the fly (and designed, naturally, so that I couldn't win), but they were really clever. He was also way better than me at remembering whose turn it was.

-There were lots and lots of great talks and presentations. My favorites were Michael's GLBT discussion (I'm pretty sure I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw that on the schedule - I've felt inexplicably funny about being out in the unschooling community); Kathryn and Erika's "Even More Different" talk, which I've already mentioned here; Eli and Idzie's "Untraditional Adult Paths" discussion, which left me feeling way more confident about my desire not to work for someone else; and Dayna Martin's "Renegade Parenting" speech, which included a great message about looking for the needs that are causing people's behavior - not just in kids, but in all the people you deal with.

-The media trade was fun; I got Yanni and Enya CDs because I am a damned hippie, plus an Elvis CD for my mom (who thanked me at least six times when I gave it to her), and a DVD of "children's fantasy movies" including The Secret Garden, which is... uh... not fantasy at all, but it is one of my favorite movies. Also, Emilie gave me a Star Trek comic she got, because she could see that I was far more of a pathetic trekkie than she is. I also noticed she picked up the Matchbox 20 CD I traded in - it's pretty cool to see one of your friends benefit from something you might have just thrown away.

-I only saw part of the talent show, but it was fun seeing Brenna sing and play the guitar, and Broc and Ben's Blues Brothers routine was awesome. It was also great seeing how confident some of the kids are: one little girl sang "Going to Kansas City" with all the gusto of an adult, and many kids made up their own skits, told stories, or danced.

-There was also a great Irish band, Fishing with Finnegan, and for one song we all got up and danced and it was awesome. They also sang "Rainbow Connection" and almost made me cry, because that song always almost makes me cry, and I'm not really sure why that is. I get emotional over Muppets, I guess.

-I had some great one-on-one conversations with adults ("real" adults, because I refuse to consider myself an adult until I'm like 30) and got some great advice. Debbie gave me a good strategy for exploring careers, Kathryn talked to me about adoption and unschooling, and I got to have a really cool conversation with a woman named Vanessa about physics.

-Going out for sushi Sunday night! Sushi is delicious all the time, but it's even better when it involves awesome people, hangman, and sillyness.

-As supremely awesome as all that stuff was, it wasn't the best part. The best part was just making so many friends! You know, usually if you hang out with some people who live far away for three days, you might have fun but you probably won't ever see them again. But because there are so few of us, unschoolers tend to keep in touch. I feel like the people I hung out with this weekend aren't just some people I hung out with for a weekend. They're my friends. That might not be as big a deal to everyone, but it usually takes me a really long time to make friends. It takes me forever to open up and trust people, but at NEUC I met people I could be myself with right away. That is absolutely invaluable, and I came away feeling so much more confident than I've ever been before.

And you know, it was partly about making friends with unschoolers, but in a more general sense it was about making friends with people my age who think. People who see stuff wrong in the world and want to fix it, people who haven't been beaten down by the system. I already have some friends like that, but they're internet friends who I never get to hang out with as a group, in person. Spending time with a whole group of young adults who think talking politics and playing games are equally fun was refreshing. I'm at the age where most people have just become free and just want to party and not do or think about anything serious. It's just so cool seeing how unschoolers skip that rebellion and are really useful, interesting, awake people their whole lives.

Also great was seeing how eager unschoolers are to learn! I grew up eager to learn, so I know how that happens, but being an adult watching kids excited to learn is a whole other matter. The thing I hated most in school was that the other kids always seemed to be deliberately avoiding learning. They got defensive if you told them something they didn't know or would make fun of you for knowing too much about stuff. Unschoolers are excited to share what they know and excited to hear from others. It's awesome.

Now, while I'd like to emphasize what a supremely epicly fantastic fun weekend this was, there were a few downsides I also feel the need to say something about:

-While I wasn't with the little kids most of the time, I did keep hearing a lot of conversations about "unparenting". Some of the parents seemed to be just allowing their very small kids to run around fully unsupervised. Now I'm not advocating helicoptering or anything - I do think kids should have the freedom to do things independently, especially at an unschooling conference! But when things are getting broken, other hotel guests are being disturbed, and some parents have no idea where their kids are, something is wrong. Unschooling doesn't mean that there aren't other people in the world who also have feelings and rights. Not having arbitrary rules in your family doesn't mean kids don't have to follow the rules of a public space.

-In some of the talks, there were a few incidents of... um... oversharing. Part of respecting your kids is respecting their privacy, but some people were sharing some very personal things about their kids. One child even covered his mom's mouth because she was sharing too much. Some things are private. If it would be inappropriate to share a certain kind of story about one of your friends, you shouldn't share it about your child. It is extremely unfair to the child, and quite frankly, there are things that other people don't want to know.

-There were also a few talks which seemed to be totally dominated by one or two people. It's great to ask questions of the person giving the talk! That's what they're there for! But if a session is only an hour long, and you ask questions for 30 minutes, then the talk doesn't get to even really happen. The person giving the talk is there because they have something to say. Others are there because they would like to hear it. Every single person who spoke made it clear that they'd be available to answer more questions at any time after the talk was over. Is it so hard to wait and meet someone in the hall? Even worse, there were incidents where people refused to leave the room when it was time for the next panel to start. I think this problem is in the same vein as the unparenting thing: some parents get the idea in their heads that unschooling means do whatever the hell you want. No. Unschooling doesn't excuse you from basic courtesy.

-I also heard several conversations about cliqueishness. I didn't really feel this myself - I'm pretty content to hang around just a few people and don't care about being included in the big groups - but I could kind of see it happening. A group would go by and you'd always see the same couple of people trailing behind, being mostly ignored. Or a person would come sit with a group and get that icy "you don't belong here" look, or that "why are you talking?" look. I realize not everyone is going to be friends with everyone else, and that people are there to hang out with their friends. I get that. But everyone at a conference should feel welcome. If someone seems to be hanging around your group, clearly wanting to be included, invite them to join! If you see someone walking alone, say hi! If someone makes a joke that isn't funny, just let it go. The "what the fuck are you talking about, crazy person from space" stare isn't necessary.

Don't let the volume of what I've written about the negative stuff make you think it was a bigger deal than it was, though. Most of these things were fairly minor annoyances. The conference was soooo much fun, and I was so happy, and I didn't want to leave. I can't believe it will be a whole year before I get to see some of these people again. I've spent like the last 24 hours friending people on Facebook, making sure I can at least talk to everyone. I can't wait for the next conference!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Gender Sanity

I hadn't thought much about gender identity in awhile, but at NEU one of my new friends, Michael, led a talk on transgender issues, and that reminded me of a great site I found earlier this year. It's called Gender Sanity, which I think is a fantastic name. I found it by googling "gender scale" to see if there was a gender identity equivalent to the Kinsey Scale, which is used to explain the spectrum of sexual orientation. On this page I found that there are actually several scales relating to different aspects of gender, and I found it interesting to see where I fall on each of the various scales.

The first scale deals with biological sex, with male at one end and female on the other. This one should be a no-brainer, right? I mean, you're either born with a wee-wee or a hoo-hah, right? Well, no, not exactly. For most people biological sex is a more cut-and-dried issue than, say, sexual orientation, but there are still many ways in which people can fall toward the middle of the scale. In my case, I was born 100% biologically female, but I have a hormone disorder called polycystic ovary syndrome which gives me a smidge more testosterone than your average woman. Since biological sex includes hormones, this inches me slightly to the left of "purely 100% female", though I certainly have all the working female parts and would not consider myself anywhere near being intersex. I suppose I'm "slightly-less-pure 99% female", the main consequence being that I spend more time shaving than most women. I struggle a bit with the fact that society has for some reason decided women cannot have one single strand of body hair without being disgusting trolls, but otherwise it's not a big deal.

But for many people, biological sex is a more ambiguous thing. In terms of chromosomes, most men are XY and most women are XX, but men with Klinefelter syndrome are XXY. The Y chromosome ensures they are still essentially biologically male (they have a penis and testicles), but they may have some feminine features such as a more rounded body type or breast development. There are also women with Turner syndrome, who have only one X chromosome. Just as Klinefelter men are male but not "male enough", Turner women are female but not "female enough". People with both these conditions are generally infertile. Then there are people who are born with ambiguous genitalia, or with unambiguous genitalia that nevertheless don't match their chromosomes, or with missing genitalia. There are people who don't go through natural puberty, because their bodies either don't produce or are insensitive to the hormones that would turn them into pubescent men and women. In short, biological sex isn't as simple as it sounds.

The next scale deals with gender identity, or your internal sense of what gender you are. This is generally what transpeople are referring to when they say that they were born into the wrong body; their gender identity is/was at odds with their biological sex. Gender identity is what made me look this up in the first place, because mine is weird. I kind of feel like I don't have one. Sure, I've been socialized as a female and had all kinds of dolls and pink things as a child. But in terms of the sense of who I am, I just don't factor gender into it much at all. My favorite toys as a kid were mainly unisex things: building blocks, video games, jungle gyms and art supplies. I've never felt masculine or wanted to be a boy, but I've never felt feminine either, never felt that being female was a big part of my identity. My interests are a pretty even mix of "guy stuff" and "girl stuff", perhaps leaning more toward the guy side much of the time. Gender just isn't much of who I am. This is one reason I'm grateful to be aware of transgender issues, because it would be very easy for me to go through life believing that everyone else is like me and that gender identity doesn't exist or is socially constructed. But I would be wrong. Gender identity absolutely *is* a big part of who many people are. Just not me.

The third scale covers gender expression: the way you dress, your mannerisms, and the general impression you send the world about what gender you are. Once again, I find myself somewhere to the middle of the scale. I wouldn't call myself androgynous, necessarily, because androgyny tends to imply a person who intentionally uses clothing or mannerisms typically associated with the opposite gender: men in makeup, women in suits, things like that. I tend to be most comfortable in gender-neutral clothing: jeans, t-shirts, some makeup but not much, some jewelry but not much. In very heavily gendered clothing I'm uncomfortable. If you put me in men's clothing, I'd feel weird, though I might find the novelty kind of fun. If you put me in a dress and heels, I'd feel even weirder (long hippie skirts are an exception, mostly because they're so comfortable). I do tend to prefer that my hair and face look feminine, but still less feminine than women are "supposed" to look. I don't do flat-irons and curlers and such. My mannerisms are NOT feminine; I don't "sit like a lady", I don't flip my hair, I talk pretty loud. Basically my gender expression matches my gender identity: vague and noncommittal, leaning towards feminine but only very slightly.

The final scale on the page is the Kinsey Scale I mentioned earlier, covering sexual orientation, with "attracted to men" at one end, "attracted to women" at the other, and "bisexual" in the center, though of course people's stated identities don't always match the scale 100%. Most people, regardless of their stated identities, are neither purely heterosexual or purely homosexual, but somewhere in between. Personally, I play hopscotch on the Kinsey Scale. At various points in my life I've been exclusively attracted to men, exclusively attracted to women, attracted to men more than women, attracted to women more than men, attracted to both equally, or not attracted to anyone. I'm pretty sure I signed the Jasmyn paperwork with a different orientation every time that I went there. "Bisexual" is probably most accurate, but it never felt right to me, in part because I kept changing my mind, in part because it reinforces the idea that there are only two genders, and in part because people carry so many assumptions about it that really don't apply to me. Most recently I've settled on calling myself simply "queer". It makes it clear that I consider myself something other than straight and that I'm not ashamed of it, but it doesn't tie me down. I also like that people aren't sure exactly what it means: I'd rather have people go "huh?" and have to ask me about it than jump to conclusions that aren't true. The only downside is that many people assume it's a synonym for gay, which can drive away guys I might want to date, but then I wouldn't want to date anyone who hasn't taken the time to get to know me, so I don't worry about that much.

The idea is that I'm attracted to who people are, not what's in their pants.

So on all counts except biological sex (which in my case is pretty clear-cut), gender is a vague, ambiguous thing that I mostly kind of ignore. I've found that I'm usually most comfortable being friends with people who aren't very "gendered" one way or the other; I have little in common with people who are very masculine or very feminine, because I don't relate to either of those traits. My scales are mostly in line with each other, but that's not true for everyone. Some biological males who have no desire to become female like to put on dresses and makeup. Some straight people are transgendered. Some gay men are very masculine and some lesbians very feminine. You get the idea.

And while the scales are useful, they're not perfect. You get people like me who hop around the scales or don't fit on them at all. And that website puts asexuals in the middle of the Kinsey scale, but I don't think my one firmly asexual friend would agree with that. The scale is useless to her. And I'm not sure that all intersex people would consider themselves "between" male and female. But imperfect though they are, the scales are useful for introducing people to the idea that gender, sex, and sexual orientation are not strict dualities with no room for ambiguity. Gender is a complicated thing, and we as a society need to get over the idea that it's simple and clear. That's the first step not only to accepting transpeople, but also to freeing children from learning oppressive, enforced gender roles. The more people understand the complexities of gender, the closer we come to creating a culture in which people are free to be exactly who they are.

Shit happens. Even to unschoolers.

One of the best sessions I attended at NEU was the "Even More Different" talk led by Kathryn Baptista and Erika Davis-Pitre, about the experience of being a minority within a minority within a minority: unschoolers are minorities within homeschooling, but some of us - because of race, economic background, sexual orientation, family type, religious views, gender identity, etc. - are also minorities within unschooling. It was a fantastic talk overall, and I'll probably get several blog posts out of the things discussed there. But the biggest thing that got my attention was when Erika addressed an attitude that keeps cropping up in the unschooling community: the idea that there are no limitations, that life can be as awesome as you want it to be, that if bad things happen to you, you must be doing something wrong. Erika pointed out what should be the obvious, that bad things can happen to anyone.

I think most people who have this attitude think they're being optimists. I personally am a huge optimist, at least on good days, and I think positive thinking is incredibly powerful. But optimism does not grant superpowers. Life is good, but sometimes it isn't. People die, jobs are lost, natural disasters come, marriages end, haters beat you down with their -isms and phobias. A positive attitude, a joyful outlook on life, and a network of true friends are all things that will help to catch you when you fall, and that is an incredibly important thing to have. What they can't do, though, is allow you to bend the laws of gravity. Sometimes life pushes us down, and we fall.

Shit happens.

All my life I've had the most gentle, attentive parents a kid could ask for, yet I can't say that I had an easy childhood. The tragedies of my family began long before I was thought of, before my mother was even old enough to think of me. It's easy for someone from a privileged background to believe they can create their reality with positive thoughts. But apart from being white and having loving parents, I come from no kind of privilege. I come from a family with a long history of poverty, divorce, mental illness, early death, and an inherited tendency toward anxiety, shyness, and a dysthymic sort of ennui. I come from a grandmother who once walked into a hotel just to knock the lights out, and a grandfather who once shot a phone because it kept ringing. These stories are funny, as I tell them at parties, but they speak of an instability that runs through my genes as surely as shortness and dark wavy hair. Throw in my uncle's death at 20 in a car he wasn't driving, and my mother's schizophrenia and teenage struggle with what was probably Reye syndrome, and you've got a pretty bleak picture. And this is only the story up to the 70s. Once I came along you can throw in my dad's absence and the subsequent food stamps and welfare checks, my grandfather's death when I was eight, my grandmother's refusal to leave her bed except to do chores and drive me places, and her eventual death when I was 17.

Perhaps as a cruel joke from the gods, I also came out queer, mildly autistic, and non-Christian.

We live in the rural South. I'm going to Hell, I've been told, though the people who say this have done a good job of creating Hell for me right here and now, thus saving me the travel expense.

I tell all this not to elicit pity, but to illustrate why even the years I spent unschooling, living free and following my passions and sleeping and eating exactly when I felt like it, were also filled with pain and depression and a very real sense that the world didn't want me around to sully its reputation. The world told me that I was a leech and a sinner, and that my mom, who is perhaps the gentlest person in the world, should be locked up somewhere. I heard subtle and not-so-subtle messages coming from everywhere saying I shouldn't have been born. My suicidal ideation came not from the sense that I wanted to die, but from the sense that I did not deserve to live. My mom could tell me over and over that I was fine just like I was, but she couldn't get the whole world to shut up and leave me alone. The fact that she didn't add to the chorus of disapproval was immensely helpful, but she couldn't silence it. She didn't have that power.

Leaving school helped a lot. My new freedom was deeply healing, and allowed me to eventually become a pretty happy person. What would not have helped was if someone had told me that I create my own reality. That probably would have just made me feel like even more of a fuck-up, since obviously everyone else had created a better reality than mine. When the world shits on someone, telling them they're entirely responsible for whatever happens to them is abusive. "Your thoughts create your reality" is the new age version of "Your daughter was born blind because of your past sins". Really. If you want to encourage optimism in someone, show them how good the world can be. Bring them to new sources of joy, show them possibilities they haven't seen before, introduce them to people who felt their same pain and survived. Love them unconditionally. Tell them they deserve better than this crap.

But please, please don't bristle at the fact that they're not bubbling fountains of joy. I realize unschoolers are subject to the pressure that all minority groups face, to make ourselves look good so the outside world can't scoff so easily at us. But in the process, we run the risk of excluding anyone who "makes us look bad": people with special needs who don't learn as easily, people who have pain in their lives, people whose kids are unhappy no matter what they do. Automatically assuming that anyone whose life isn't sunshine and rainbows must be doing something wrong doesn't do them any favors, and it adds to the perception of unschooling as a privileged thing that is only accessible to white upper-class hippies. That's a perception we really need to work on tearing down if we want all unschoolers to feel welcome and accepted. Unschooling isn't utopia, it's just life. It's a wonderful, free life, but it's not a perfect life. The real beauty of unschooling lies not in perfect bliss, but in the throwing off of unnecessary frustrations so we can save our energy for the unavoidable ones. We can't show that beauty to people who are contemplating unschooling, though, unless we show our frustrations along with our joys.