Thursday, June 7, 2012

Fuck striving for divinity, let’s be real

People on my Facebook friends list keep posting this article called “A Call to the Sacred Masculine: Ten Daring Invitations from the Divine Feminine.” I cannot let this article go by without comment, and I also cannot let it go by without a trigger warning for rape imagery. More on that in a bit.

The tagline for this article is, “If I am going act like a goddess, I want a man who acts like a god.” Based on this, I knew I was going to find the article nauseating before I clicked on it, and I’m honestly not sure why I bothered. But now that I’ve seen it I’m going to pick it apart in a totally nonscientific and childish way, because that seems like the appropriate response to an article whose very premise makes me want to barf.

First off, who the fuck said you had to act like a goddess, and why are you listening to them? Having a vagina and/or identifying as female does not obligate you to be superhuman.

“goddess propagandists promote the unilateral concept of a spiritually elevated womanhood—strong but supple, decisive and nurturing, wild yet wise”

Dear women, please believe that you do not owe it to anybody to be ANY OF THOSE THINGS. You are allowed to fall apart emotionally and not be strong all the time. You are allowed to be indecisive or not nurturing or make foolish mistakes. And I’m not even touching the downright creepy notion that women should be “wild” and “supple.”

But the author’s problem does not seem to be with the misogyny inherent in this ideal. Rather, she thinks this goddess mythology is a good idea, and should be extended to men as well:

“Organizing a spiritual revolution as women without inviting men to the front lines with us means we are orchestrating a collective reframe with only half the available power. Real change means humanity—yes both genders—opts for the cosmic upgrade to Divine Class together.”

Women are organizing a spiritual revolution? That’s funny, because I was under the impression that women were a diverse group of people who run the full gamut of spiritual beliefs or lack thereof. But that’s not even what has me rolling my eyes so hard. I spend a lot of time thinking, talking and learning about gender, and even I have rarely seen a single paragraph so densely packed with binarism. I think I’d have to start reading neocon blogs for that to happen. Because women – half of people! – are organizing this feminine revolution, by being feminine because all women are and wish to be feminine, and they need men – the other half of people! Both genders! Two is all there are! – to come along and be masculine because all men are and wish to be masculine. Look, I’m not usually this crass in my blogs, but just go ahead and fuck right off with that shit.

“So, on behalf of the X chromosome, here is my invitation to mortal men who wish to dance as gods with wanna-be goddesses.”

Someone failed Genetics 101: Everyone has an X chromosome. You need at least one of them to exist as so much as a blastocyst. Please either take a biology class or never make any attempt to say anything about human life ever again. Plus, there are women with only one X chromosome, either because they’re trans or they have Turner syndrome, and men with more than one, either because they’re trans or they have Klinefelter syndrome. The X chromosome is about as divinely feminine as your lower intestine.
Yikes. I’m already nauseous and I haven’t even gotten through the introduction yet. Let me just pick out a few choice sentences that make me want to puke and/or weep silently.

“The world needs your brave heart to take bold action.”

And then there’s a picture of Braveheart. i c wut u did thar. And fuck you. The world needs to drop its patriarchal notions that bravery and boldness are traits inherent in and exclusive to maleness. The world needs bravery and boldness, sure, but it also needs to quit fucking associating them with penises.

“As a man, you wield a sword of truth that can cut through cultural distractions to what really matters.”

As a trans guy, I’m already wincing at the phallic imagery in the statement “As a man, you wield a sword.” As a feminist, I’m downright horrified at the notion that being a man is equated with knowing truth. The entire fucking kyriarchy is based on the notion that Father Knows Best, that women should stand aside and let the men handle it because they have all the answers. It sallows my spirit to see this notion being so blatantly perpetuated by a woman.

“Work for more than the mortgage and car payments—work because you find some measure of joy in your job. And if the job is just to make ends meet for now, then meet that employment with gratitude and a call to service.”

You were so close to being anticapitalist in that first sentence. Too bad you completely took it back in the second one by suggesting that all forms of paying work are good for the world and good for the worker. I dare you to look a Chinese factory worker, whose job contract includes promising not to commit suicide, in the eye and tell them to meet that employment with gratitude and a call to service. If you really believe in the divine feminine, I dare you to suggest any such thing to Mother Earth.

“The tender-hearted masculine is both wise and merciful. When you weep, you give women permission to be strong.”

Ooh, she got so close to breaking down some aspect of the gender binary by suggesting that men should be allowed to feel emotions. But then she flies right back into patriarchy by suggesting that women need a man’s permission to be strong. Women, you do not need a man’s permission to do anything. Fuck. That. Shit.

Okay, now this is the section where I need to put in a couple of TRIGGER WARNINGS for condoning emotional abuse and rape. Read on cautiously:

“Show us the way by standing firm when we are in a beautiful rage. Don’t run from our fury—after all it might contain magical wisdom. In the gale force of feminine anger, your calm is a powerful reminder that we are met and accepted by our beloved partner.”

Show your woman the way – because you are in control, men – by remaining stoic in the face of emotional violence from your partner. Accept abuse silently, because abuse is magic, or something. I don’t even fucking know. This whole paragraph is a wreck. But it gets worse:

Ravish your woman. Every now and then, take her wholeheartedly, without apology. Press her against a wall and bind her with your kisses.”

Jesus, I’m not even a woman and I find this triggering. I want to make it clear, for anybody that thinks this sounds sexy, that this statement is condoning rape. It is suggesting that as a man you have not only the right, but the responsibility, to overtake “your woman’s” body (because all men date women, and they own them besides) and do with it as you please, without asking for consent and “without apology.” That “without apology” bit creeps me out the most, because it makes it clear that you are doing something your partner will object to. But do not apologize for rape, men! It’s just your divine masculinity at work!

There’s more I could say about this article – the heterosexism, the sexist and binarist language oozing out of every sentence – but honestly, I’m fucking done. Once I hit the rape section I could read this piece of garbage no longer.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

An open letter to the people I love

I really love you all. I do. I don’t mean to push you away, or reject all your attempts at help, or scare you, or hurt you, or do anything bad. In fact, I am fucking piss-terrified of doing anything to lose anyone in my life. I would probably bow down and kiss your feet at this point to keep you around. There are no ends to the degrees to which I will degrade myself, and have degraded myself, to keep from losing people in my life. This is the first thing you need to understand about Depression.

I’ve chosen to capitalize Depression because one of the misconceptions people seem to have about it is that it is not a serious disease. I understand that you all mean well with your suggestions, but I cannot cure myself with positive thinking, gratitude journaling, the Work of Byron Katie, or any other thing that boils down to deciding not to be depressed. If I could decide not to be depressed, I would have done so when my first Depression symptoms appeared in childhood. You may feel that I do not give you enough credit when I reject these suggestions. I feel that you do not give me enough credit when you assume that I am voluntarily electing to feel constant, crushing emotional pain. Understand that the very nature of my disease is that I am not capable of thinking positively or enjoying life.

I have a disease. I have Depression. If you truly love me, you must love me as a person with Depression, just as you would love me as a person with diabetes or cancer and not make your love contingent on my efforts to cure myself from those diseases. If you think only a terrible person would abandon or shame someone for having cancer, imagine how it hurts to be abandoned or shamed for having Depression, a disease whose symptoms already include punishing and shaming myself. If you cannot accept me as a person with Depression, the honorable thing to do is to admit this as a flaw in yourself, rather than saddle me with the additional burden of feeling I do not deserve your friendship. I am not exaggerating when I say that this could kill me.

If you choose to remain my friend in the face of Depression, realize that I literally need you to live. I understand that this is a large and terrifying burden. But the only hope for my survival is in realizing that I have some worth in this world, and the only way I can realize this is by being constantly reminded of my worth by other people. Contrary to popular opinion, I do not believe that it is a person’s job to love hirself first in order to earn the love of others. That is not how humans are designed: we are pack animals, and we must have value to others in order to feel valuable ourselves. I think putting the burden of self-love entirely on the sick person is reflective of our pathologically individualistic society. I need constant, obvious love in order to heal, and I need it from you.

One of the most harmful and painful things you can do to me right now is to take my symptoms personally. Please do not treat my symptoms as something I am doing to you. Do not accuse me of putting words in your mouth or telling you what to feel when I say that everyone hates me or that I’m a piece of shit. I am trying to tell you that I am in so much pain that I want to die. I am begging you to give me some reason to believe that everyone doesn’t hate me. Getting angry with me will do the opposite.

It is an unfortunate symptom of Depression that there are days when I do not have the capacity to care about anyone’s feelings but my own. I am not doing this to be selfish or because I don’t love you. I’m doing it because I have no spoons and if I spend one more than I have I could end up hospitalized or without a job or possibly dead. Remember that Depression means that I constantly flagellate myself for not being a good enough person no matter how much energy I spend on others. Remember that I want nothing more than to devote all my energy to everyone besides myself, and that in order to heal I must force myself – FORCE myself, tooth and nail - to devote energy to me. Again, I am fucking terrified of being selfish, terrified of losing you or making you mad at me.

Also remember that I am in constant psychological pain. Imagine trying to do all of your activities while in searing physical pain; imagine how this would drain you. Now imagine trying to do all of your daily activities while feeling as you would moments after finding out your closest loved one had died. Imagining these things may bring you closer to understanding how I live.

Finally, remember that if I claim to be suicidal, YES I AM SEEKING ATTENTION. IF I DID NOT SEEK ATTENTION WHEN FEELING SUICIDAL, I WOULD BE DEAD. Humans NEED ATTENTION. Capslock is intentional because I want you to imagine me screaming this. No matter how many times I claim to be feeling suicidal, do not stop taking me seriously. Remember that if I post a suicide note and then I don’t do it, THAT IS THE OUTCOME YOU WANT. THAT IS A VICTORY. It is not a sign that I was not serious. IT IS A SIGN THAT I WON THIS TIME. Be careful what you wish for. You may find my persistent suicide notes annoying and wish for a stop to them, but consider the alternative - I could not be here to post those notes at all. I could never be here to say anything again.

If there’s one thing you can do to help, it is to keep loving me. Keep showing me that it is okay to express my true feelings around you. Keep showing me that you are thinking of me. Keep checking in to see how I am doing. Keep paying attention to me in whatever way you can. Don’t stop just because I seem to be feeling better for a few hours or a few days. Give me love. I desperately, desperately need it.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Limit screen time? You’re limiting their future, too.

With technology always on the rise, the amount of time children spend in front of screens is increasing. Many parents seem alarmed at this trend. I personally think it’s a wonderful thing. Listen to this Facebook status from my friend Annie, for example:

Josh has a friend in the UK that he plays with on Skype almost every day. Mostly they play minecraft, but in so many creative ways like hide and seek and making up game shows for each other (usually minecraft related questions). I love it, he is having so much fun!

The benefits in just that little paragraph are almost too many to count: Talking to a kid in another country, pretend play, the strategy involved in playing hide and seek in a near-endless online landscape, the creativity involved in Minecraft itself, and the bond of a good friendship. Why on Earth would anyone want to limit that?

Right now I'm running a laptop with a second monitor docked in, so that I can watch How the Universe Works on Netflix on one screen while blogging with Windows Live Writer and Evernote on the other. My mind tends to jump from one idea to the next while writing, so I have one screen subdivided into four separate windows so I can run separate notes with each paragraph I'm working on, without worrying what order the paragraphs will be in in the final draft. So actually, I could do with even another monitor! I can also use one monitor to watch Khan Academy lectures while solving equations on the other. I can use one screen to keep an eye on Twitter and Facebook while using another to create art. If I added a smartphone or a tablet to my setup, I could do even more. More screens = more productivity and more learning.

I share a house with four other young adults, plus many friends who regularly come over. Our living room contains four screens, not including any laptops or handheld devices that wander in. We have a large HDTV hooked up to cable with TiVo, a Wii, a PS3 and an XBOX 360, which can also be used to watch DVDs, Netflix, Hulu and Youtube. We have a small CRT TV connected to older gaming consoles like my SNES and N64, as well as a PS2 for playing DDR (exercise!). We have a monitor hooked up to an arcade-style console for fighting games, and another large monitor connected to a small netbook for use as the house "guest computer". What all these screens do is enable many people to do activities together when they may have otherwise retreated to their individual rooms.

Screens can be a vital tool for allowing kids to connect with other people. While I was growing up, I had relatives I spoke with only a few times in my entire childhood because we could only reach them by expensive long-distance telephone calls. Now kids can be with family and friends for free via Skype, or instantly email photos, or keep everyone updated via a blog. There are even websites designed to keep family updated on the progress and treatment of people with medical conditions, so if your child breaks his leg or your grandmother is in the nursing home, everyone in the family can find out how they're doing from the other side of the world. 

I've also seen "screen time" used to help kids connect with people face to face (or, to use a geek phrase, in "meatspace"). Lots of kids need downtime when faced with a huge crowd, and a Nintendo DS or a laptop with Netflix is the perfect solution for allowing a frazzled kid some "me" time so they can return to the party calm and ready to play again. Even as an adult, I find my laptop extremely useful for handling social situations which I find overwhelming. If I didn't have it, there are many cases where I'd just have to go home early or not attend the gathering at all.

The frustrating part about the stigma of "screen time" is that even while demonizing their kids' use of technology, adults know screens are useful. How many adults do you know who check their email every half hour, or never put down their iPhone? How many adults take classes online or depend on a GPS to get where they're going? And what about ebooks - would a Kindle or Nook be considered "screen time" and summarily banned or limited, even though it is used to read books? 

I feel almost silly, in this day and age, writing a post about the benefits of technology. It's almost like I'm writing for a time-traveler from another era. But in a way, I am. I think many parents see childhood as something that exists outside of the current state of the world. If something wasn't part of their own childhood, they assume it's not necessary for growing up. I think that's absolutely false. Sure, proficiency with computers, smartphones and other technology may not have been necessary for kids growing up 40, 30 or even 20 years ago, but kids growing up now have to live in the world as it is today. And whether you personally like being surrounded by technology or not, your kids have just as much right to access it as you do. They need it more than you, because when they are adults, technology will have sped even further ahead of where it is now. Kids who grow up comfortable with a variety of devices today will be running the world tomorrow.

Now, I realize there are class privilege issues with access to technology. All these computers and iGadgets are expensive, and there are families who can't afford them. I'm not trying to shame or demean those families! But not being able to afford something is very different from intentionally withholding it. Would you deny your kids access to a library, a community art class or a good summer camp if you knew they wanted that access and you could provide it? I doubt many parents would prevent their kids from accessing those resources if they knew they could afford it. And to be perfectly honest, as someone who grew up poor, I think it's offensive and wasteful to spend hundreds of dollars on computers and video games and only allow your kids to use them for 30 minutes a day. It's like buying a designer outfit, wearing it to one party and then putting it in your closet for the rest of the year. My parents saved pennies all year to buy me a Super Nintendo, and you bet your ass they let me use it. They wanted me to get every dollar's worth out of that thing. So if you think giving your kids access to lots of technology is "spoiling" them, I'd argue that it takes a much more privileged attitude to buy expensive devices and then leave them collecting dust.

But for me, ultimately what makes limiting "screen time" nonsensical is that there is simply no such activity as "screen time". A screen is not an activity, it is a tool, just like a pencil or a canvas or a wrench. Except those tools all mostly have one purpose, and a screen can have hundreds. Screens are used for all kinds of activities, from socializing to gaming to movie watching to organizing to writing to studying - almost anything you can do, you can do on or with a screen! And yes, that even includes exercise: witness the Wii Fit, for example, or iPhone apps that track your workout routine. By limiting screen time, you are not limiting an activity. You are severely narrowing your child's whole range of activities and denying them access to valuable tools. If you tried to argue in favor of limiting screen time twenty years ago, when screens were mainly useful for MTV and simple video games, you might've had a better case. (You still wouldn't have convinced me, because I don't think TV and video games are harmful, but you would've had a better case.) But today, when screens do absolutely everything? Demonizing screens is absolutely absurd. And limiting screen time is foolish for the same reason limiting any activity is foolish - scarcity increases value

All in all, I think limiting screen time does kids way, way more harm than good. I’m a better person because I spent hours a day as a teen chatting with people on the other side of the world. I’m a better friend because I can stay connected across distances using Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr. I’m a better employee because I know how to use assistive technology to help the kids I babysit. I’m smarter, I’m happier, I’m more connected to the world. If my parents had limited my screen time, my world would be small and sad. That’s not what I want for any kid in my life.