Friday, November 23, 2012

Against a Classical Education

While browsing the homeschooling section of my local library, I stumbled across The Well-Trained Mind. Having heard traditional homeschoolers refer to this book many times, I was curious about its contents, so I checked it out. 

The book's first chapter argues that modern education has become too focused on self-expression, without giving children any tools with which to express themselves. It puts forth the idea that childhood should be a time of building skills and knowledge so that a child can better express herself later in life. While I don't think there's any such thing as "too much" self-expression, they do raise a good point. Self-expression is easier once you've learned the skills to do it. I find there is a certain appeal to the book's focus on teaching skills like logic and rhetoric, skills that I find the population at large to be sorely lacking. And I can understand their position that exposure to lots of good art and literature helps "fill the well" of creative inspiration.

So while I find the idea of a classical education intriguing, I still have many objections to it. Primary among them is its treatment of children as empty vessels to be filled, as non-persons whose time and energy can and should be controlled by those who "know better". I find the very idea of "training" children to be dehumanizing. But there is another problem with classical education that I'd like to focus on here, and that is the pedagogy itself. 

Classical education is based on the idea that there is a highly specific set of knowledge that all people should have. On the surface, this isn't a terrible idea; it's not hard to argue that reading, writing, math, logic, history, and science are important things to know. So my problem isn't with the idea that everyone should have this set of knowledge. My problem is with the idea that everyone should have this set of knowledge to the exclusion of everything else.

There are worlds and worlds of knowledge out there, and I personally think all of it is equally valuable. A classical education seems to be focused on the idea that Greco-Roman and Western European history are essential for everyone, but African, Middle Eastern, Asian, Eastern European, and Native American history are not. I find this notion to be rooted in Eurocentricism, colonialism, and its accompanying racism. On the subject of religion, The Well-Trained Mind makes brief mention of "explaining" religions like Buddhism and Islam, but ultimately treats Christianity as truth. As a person of faith myself, I understand their position that faith should be part of education. But even if your family happens to be Christian, my own belief is that children should be offered a buffet of possible ideas about God and allowed to work with those which make the most sense to them. It is possible to teach "our family believes this about God" without teaching that everyone else's beliefs don't matter.

A classical education does seem to include lots of exposure to art, music, and literature - but again, this is the art, song and story mainly of dead white men. Why is it more important to study Mozart than to study aboriginal tribal music or watch a Bollywood dance scene? Why is the Bible to be studied at length but the Koran only glossed over and the Tao Te Ching left out entirely? Classical education seems, again, to be rooted in the idea that the elements of Western civilization are the only ones worth studying, and by extension, that (mostly white) Westerners are the only ones whose ideas are worth caring about. This is fundamentally racist in nature.

And that's my ultimate objection to The Well-Trained Mind and its accompanying philosophy: it teaches that some people's lives and perspectives matter more than others. It offers children the same restricted, whitewashed world that was offered to me in school - and even more regrettably, to my non-white peers, who continued to see their own histories and people devalued and ignored, sometimes even having their destruction glorified in the name of justifying white imperialism. This kind of treatment of the world of knowledge is not okay. Children should be taught to see the world whole, to see all people as equally beautiful. They need to learn to live in a world that contains all kinds of people, and to treat all those people with respect. When I am interacting with an adult, whether as a friend, a coworker, a consumer or a voter, this is the knowledge I am most interested in seeing them have. If they can do that, I really don't care if they need to use spellcheck to send a good email or a calculator to do simple math. Seeing everyone as equally human matters more.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Changing Identity, Changing Goals

The last time I wrote about my goals and plans, I was planning on buying an RV to travel around the country. For various reasons – not the least of which being that I love Massachusetts – I have decided to stay put instead.

I was also planning on getting chest surgery. Again, for various reasons, I decided against that. When I looked closely at my motivation for getting the surgery, I realized I was mostly just doing what I thought a female-assigned trans person was “supposed to do” as part of transition. But the further along I’ve gotten in my transition, the less strictly male-identified I feel. My gender is much more non-binary, and I’m trying to allow myself to explore that more. The fear of being misgendered as female used to keep me doing 100% typically “male” things, but now I’m starting to allow myself to play with things like nail polish again. If I was ever going to be a boy, I wanted to be a damn queer-ass boy anyway.

As for my long-term goals, they’ve gotten a bit more abstract. I still want to go to Goddard College, and I know I want to focus my study on disability rights. I think ultimately I’d like to write books on the subject, and maybe on gender as well. I think I’d enjoy being some kind of counselor for teens, assuming I can get my own mental health in order.

One more thing that’s changing for me is that I’ve admitted to myself that I need a spiritual side to my life. I don’t care what anyone else believes, I don’t even care if my own beliefs are right. I just know that I need to pray and to believe that someone/something hears those prayers. It’s essential for my sanity. If that makes me ignorant or stupid in someone’s eyes, that’s their own narrow-minded problem. I need to take care of me.

My housing situation is also in flux right now. Three of the original four people I moved into this house with have moved out, and the fourth is leaving soon. One person has moved in who I get along with really well, but we still have to replace the other two, which is stressful. I’ve had some trouble making everyone involved understand the safety concerns I have as a trans person. I can’t feel safe living with just anyone.

So that’s pretty much where things are for me right now. I’ll end this by saying I have a lot of spare time these days, so please feel free to talk to me! I miss lots of people right now.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Depression and Fatigue

Obviously, I bailed on NaBloPoMo, in which I planned to write a blog post every day. I’d almost say that this is harder than NaNoWriMo, where you can take a day off here and there if you’re sick or something, and catch up on a better day. In any case, the reason I bailed is mostly because the last few weeks have involved a sudden increase in my level of fatigue.

I usually have fatigue, because I have depression. But it’s gotten worse lately. Now, for those who haven’t experienced fatigue, I need to make it clear that this means more than just “feeling tired.” It’s more like feeling exhausted, both physically and mentally, for no discernable reason. (If you haven’t read The Spoon Theory, now is a good time to go do that.) Going to the grocery store can be enough to sap my energy to such a degree that I cannot read a book, let alone do anything physical. It’s like moving through molasses when everyone else is on rollerblades. The worst part is I can be exhausted and still be unable to fall asleep and get some relief.

I don’t know if the cause of my increased fatigue is due to the changing seasons and decreased light, something physical, or what. I’m currently on a hiatus from working, planning to live on savings until the holiday season is done. I’m also on two antidepressants and just recently started a regimen of vitamins that will hopefully boost my energy somewhat. I’m also trying to eat more protein and vegetables. My therapist has recommended exercise but I’m not convinced she fully understands the degree to which I am fatigued. I don’t feel like I have the capacity to exercise right now.

I do plan on trying to start blogging more, if only because I would like to feel productive in some way. But there are so many days when my brain just won’t do it. It’s really, really frustrating.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Why I’m A Fighter, Not A Lover

Today is Election Day in the United States. It’s a stressful time, and many people just want it to hurry up and be over. I’m seeing lots of posts on my Facebook feed by people who are tired of both sides slinging mud at each other.

I do understand that feeling, believe me. I will also be glad for the election to be over. But I also have very strong feelings on a lot of issues, and I think it’s important to speak my mind and stand up for what I believe in. That’s supposed to be the point of voting and the point of free speech.

What I want people to remember, this election day, is that many of us do not have the luxury of turning politics “off”. As a queer, transgender person with disabilities, politics for me are not merely a matter of getting things the way I would like them to be. They are a matter of life and death. Let me be very clear: I’m not voting based on things like the right to get married. Marriage equality is nice, but there are much more fundamental rights at stake. I’m voting based on things like the right to receive health care, the right to be employed, the right to access food when I am not employed, and the right to walk down the street without being murdered. These are matters of life and death for me and many other people.

I am a sensitive person too, and I don’t enjoy fighting. I wish I could put away the politics and just relax now and then. I wish I could just be friends with whoever I enjoy being around, and not worry about their political views. I don’t enjoy constantly being the person to point out when people have done something hurtful. It is exhausting, it’s not fun, and it doesn’t exactly get me invited to a lot of parties.

But fighting is what I must do in order to survive. The world fights against me from many angles, and if I am to get through life with any shred of self-respect and dignity, I must fight back with all the strength I have. In the areas of life in which I am oppressed, I cannot afford to be silent.

And in the areas of life where I am not oppressed, it is also not okay for me to be silent. As a white, able-bodied, male-presenting person, who is living in a state with marriage equality and universal healthcare, and is able to afford safe housing, I have many privileges. Having privileges means that whether I like it or not, I profit from the oppression of others. And the only way to begin to resolve that inequality is for me to recognize those privileges and work to help raise the voices of those who do not have them. Here, too, I am obligated to fight.

I will not play nice with bigots, bullies, abusers, or people who defend them. I will not play nice with people who want me dead. I will not play nice with people who care more about protecting their privileges than protecting my right to exist.

I tried being a lover. I tried speaking softly without carrying a big stick. Ultimately, the result was that I was either abused or became complicit in the abuse of others. I’d like to be gentle, but I can’t. The cost is too great.

This is why I fight.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

NaBloPoMo Day 1: Queerer Than One Can Suppose

I have a sticker on my laptop that says "God made me queer", and a rainbow tattoo on my arm that says "It's something that I'm supposed to be". Being queer is an intrinsic part of who I am, and by extension, you might think this means queerness comes as easily to me as breathing. You'd be wrong. I actually find that being queer takes up a sizeable portion of my time and energy. I realize this sounds a bit like I'm expending all my energy on hot gay sex, but believe me, that's not what's going on. Rather, I find myself spending a lot of time exploring, explaining, and defending my identity. In the interest of making that simpler, I am going to list and define some of the terms I use in describing my queer identity.
  • gay
  • queer
  • transgender
  • transmasculine
  • genderqueer
  • nonbinary
  • asexual
  • gray-asexual
  • demisexual
  • homoromantic
  • demiromantic
  • androromantic
Gay and Queer:

Contrary to popular belief, these are not synonyms. "Queer" is a broad term for "defying cultural norms of gender and/or sexuality". I identify as queer because I'm not straight. I identify as "gay" because I am a masculine-identified person who is primarily attracted to other masculine-identified people.

Transgender, Transmasculine:

"Transgender" is a broad term meaning that my gender identity does not match the sex I was assigned at birth. "Transmasculine" is a term that can mean different things for different people; for me, it means that I am a transgender person who does many things associated with being male, such as using male pronouns, using the men's restroom, and wearing masculine clothing. 

Genderqueer, nonbinary:

These are both terms which mean "having a gender identity other than strictly male or strictly female". There are lots of ways to be genderqueer/nonbinary, but in my case, it means that a) my gender feels mostly neutral most of the time, and b) my behavior defies many cultural norms associated with both binary genders. Some people prefer one term or the other for various reasons; for myself, I use whichever makes the most sense in context. 


These stand for, respectively: female-assigned at birth, assigned female at birth, designated female at birth. These are all ways of referring to a person's assigned birth sex while avoiding problematic terms like "female bodied" or "born female". 

Asexual, gray-asexual, demisexual:

"Asexual" is a spectrum of identities that involve not experiencing sexual attraction, not being interested in sex, or not having a strongly-felt sexual orientation identity. In my case, I have no aversion to sex, but I experience sexual attraction so rarely that it is not a significant part of my life. "Gray-asexual" means having an identity somewhere between completely asexual and normatively-sexual; I often use this because I feel my interest in sex is slightly greater than what most asexuals experience. "Demisexual" is a type of gray-asexual identity where a person only experiences sexual attraction to people they have an emotional bond with. When I experience sexual attraction, it is almost exclusively for people I already have a romantic attraction toward. Note that this is about attraction, not behavior. When I say that I am demisexual, I'm not just saying that I only choose to have sex with people I love. It means I literally am not capable of sexual attraction to people I don't already have a bond with.

Homoromantic, demiromantic, androromantic:

These words describe my romantic orientation. While I only experience sexual attraction very rarely, I experience romantic attraction with relative frequency. "Homoromantic" means, loosely, I am a boy who is romantically attracted to boys. "Androromantic" also means I'm attracted to masculine-identified people, but it doesn't have any connotations related to my gender. This can be an important distinction, because I don't feel that all masculine-identified or masculine-presenting people have the same precise gender identity as me. "Demiromantic" is an identity I've only recently begun exploring, but it essentially means I only become romantically attracted to people I already know pretty well.

Also, because it's useful, here's a list of terms I do NOT identify with:

Homosexual (unless you're being tongue-in-cheek)
Transman or man (Boy, guy, and dude are okay, but I really prefer "person")

Finally, you may occasionally hear me refer to myself as a "fag". A discussion of reclamatory speech and who gets to use it is beyond the scope of this post, but basically: Don't call me a fag unless you know with absolute, 100% certainty that it is okay for you to do so. If you're one of the people who can say it, you probably know who you are. Otherwise, don't. The same rule applies to other people who self-identify as a fag or any other reclaimed slur.

I hope this list gives you a better understanding of my identity and which words to choose when talking about me! Again, I want to emphasize that not every term listed here applies universally in the same way it applies to me. When in doubt, describe people using the terms you hear them use to describe themselves (however: see note above re: reclamatory speech). And don't be afraid to ask me if you need a definition clarified!