Dealing With Hate Speech and Unsafe Spaces

Trigger Warning: transphobia, hate speech

Welcome to the conversation.  So, recently, I got into an internet debate with someone.  Wait, actually, it wasn’t a debate.  It was an argument in which hate speech was leveraged against me.

Here’s the situation: I responded to an article written for my college newspaper’s opinion section, in which a self-identified middle class, white, straight, Christian girl (I’m assuming cisgender) tried to use the whole “intolerant of intolerance” argument to claim that she had been unjustly attacked for her views on same-sex marriage.  When she spoke up in class to defend her view that same sex couples should not be allowed to get married, there was a slew of responses from the rest of the class (which contained many queer people and allies) that critiqued her opinion.

Simply, clearly, and without apology, I tried to explain why some people might not be “tolerant” of this girl’s viewpoints.  Here is my initial response:

“I think it’s important here to recognize the difference between feeling uncomfortable being challenged as a person who has privilege (which is you, since middle-classness, whiteness, and being part of a major religion are all privileged identities, not to mention you are probably cisgender, although I don’t want to assume) and actually experiencing oppression (which is what your viewpoint is promoting towards same-sex couples). As a transgender, queer, lower class, atheist and polyamorous person, a lot of the views that Christianity promotes directly contribute to my oppression. The thing is that when my voice is silenced (by anything that doesn’t support me having equal rights as any other human being) that contributes to my oppression. Transgender and queer people aren’t validated under the safety net of Christianity (after all, this country is supposed to have religious freedom, but yet we still have God on our money, in our pledge, in our legal oaths, etc.). When you speak up about promoting oppression and are silenced, you are merely made uncomfortable. When I am silenced while trying to fight my oppression, I experience more oppression. Being tolerant of “intolerance” isn’t tolerance. It’s giving a pass for privileged people to oppress others.”

I also included a follow-up comment acknowledging some of my own privileges and possible solutions for this girl to rectify the harm she had caused:

“And I want to take a moment to acknowledge some of my own privilege. I’m not saying I don’t have privilege, because I definitely do in certain respects in my identity (whiteness, education, etc.). What that means is that I step back and stop talking in conversations where I could harm people because of my privilege. Until I know how to talk about things in a non-harmful matter, my voice should not be in the conversation. Also, step one to being a good ally: apologize when you’ve harmed a group of people. Then ask what you can do to fix it. Which is what I’m going to recommend in this situation. :)”

Unsurprisingly, I got a little bit of backlash from other white, straight, cisgender Christians defending this girl’s “bravery.”  I had a person tell me that oppression doesn’t exist in the United States, “as if anyone who has lived their entire lives in the US actually knows what oppression is,” to which I replied:

“There are millions of people in the U.S. that experience real oppression on a daily basis. For a quick proof, look at the statistics for homeless transgender youth, murder statistics for trans women of colour (which are the highest targeted members within the LGBTQ+ community), incarceration rates for any of those people above, etc. I am less likely to be hired for a job or given a lease because I’m trans*. I’m less likely to be provided necessary health care or to have an insurance company that will cover my health care. And I’m white and able-bodied. When you add in the intersections of everyone else’s identities that are part of the trans* community alone, it’s disgusting and frightening how at risk a lot of us are. There’s nothing I can say to you if you don’t believe oppression exists, and honestly, the fact that you say that makes me feel very unsafe within this conversation, because it makes you much more likely to promote attitudes that harm me and a lot of the people in my community who have less privilege than I do. And actually, Christianity has begun a lot of movements that directly oppress and harm people. The Crusades, anyone? Colonization? The passages from the Bible people cited to sanction hate against people of colour? Homosexuals? Trans* people? I could go on forever. Christianity doesn’t HAVE to be an oppressive force, but the fact of the matter is that in the past, it definitely HAS been, and I won’t apologize for retaliating when you just tried to silence my voice when I spoke up about behaviours that harm me. You might want to read my initial post more thoroughly.”

And the kind person’s response:

“See? Even my dissent is labeled an attempt to “silence your voice”. Have you even considered that maybe we just don’t agree? Have you ever actually had to interact with people who don’t share all your political views?’
I have no doubt that discrimination and prejudice exist in society. You’d be hard pressed to find a single society where they do not. That is not the same thing as oppression. The fact that you can post your opinions on this forum means that you are not oppressed. Try doing that in North Korea, China, or Russia.”

To which I replied (and don’t worry, there’s not going to be much more back and forth in this blog post):

“#1. This is not a “political view.” This is who I am as a human being, and who my friends, partners, and other loved ones are as human beings. There is no “political disagreement.” There are people who think we deserve equal rights and people who don’t. #2. I grew up in a very conservative, heteronormative, Christian, white, small town. I have dealt with people who invalidate my personhood on a daily basis. #3. Oppression is discrimination against a group of people that exists on social, institutional, and systematic levels. Which definitely exists in the United States, and definitely exists for transgender people in the United States. The examples of other countries indicate that oppression is not limited to one country only, and that there are levels of oppression and intricate ways in which different identities are treated under various systems. #4. I am telling you to A. Stop silencing my voice. B. Check your privilege. C. Don’t you dare ever try to tell me that you know more about my own experiences than I do. D. Apologize to all of the people you have harmed within this conversation. #5. I am leaving this conversation now, because you are causing me emotional harm. I recommend you do some research before you ever try to have another conversation with someone whom you show such clear disrespect for as a human being.”

ALRIGHT, FOLKS, HERE WE GO. There’s a lot to unpack here alone (the way my voice wasn’t deemed relevant even though I experience oppression from this girl’s viewpoint, the way the responder resorted to attacking my personal character, the way false assumptions were leveraged against me, etc.).  But we haven’t even gotten to the real meat of this yet.  More people jumped on the hate train!  And here’s where the conversation turns into flat-out hate speech.

Responder #2:

“Those who scream the loudest for tolerance are without exception the most intolerant. Ms. Jasper you don’t owe anyone an apology nor do you have any reasons to doubt your own beliefs and opinions. Those people who attacked you are what we would call “the weak”. The weak are usually inferior, lazy, and riddled with low self esteem. Now in your home and my home these problems would have been solved by our parents or family by requiring us to take responsibility for our lives and actions from our early youth and as such we would have a reason to see ourselves in a better light. The weak, take Ollie the poet there for instance, will list as many things as possible they can claim offends them and therefore grants them victim status. In Ollie’s case he/she wears 5 different medals of offense in transgender, atheist, queer, poor, and polyamorous. So anything that doesn’t go his/her way or any instance where someone else is favored over him/her for a job, promotion, date, whatever… can all be blamed on one or all of these traits. Ollie never has to take responsibility for his/her actions and can instruct you to apologize to a group for your beliefs. Ollie honestly believes you owe the world an apology and why? Because your beliefs aren’t the same as his/hers. Let that digest for a moment. See? See the arrogance in that request? You had a class full of people who are going to learn a hard cruel lesson the first year they’re out of school, trying to make you the bad guy because you’re white and you’re a Christian. Whatever problems they have are theirs not yours. Before you adopt their beliefs because you’re bullied…. look around you at all of them and see what kind of people they are. They’re loud, hateful, vindictive, intolerant and contribute nothing to the world except for the endless array of whining about what a victim of society they are. We’re all responsible for ourselves and frankly the world doesn’t owe you anything and doesn’t give a fk if you think it does. Stay strong and never apologize for your beliefs. The Bible said in the end we’ll be the bad guys so take that as an award and thank God that the weak and ineffective call you privileged as though you should be ashamed of it. Catch up to them in 15 years and see what they’ve become.”

I decided not to respond to this comment for the best of my emotional health, and I had a whole slew of really great friends and allies who performed that work for me, pointing out many of the flaws within this argument and giving me emotional support.  Here are a few sentences of my favourite responses:

“Its necessary to flag what you are saying. You are calling Ollie inferior and weak. This is hate speech and transphobic.

There are many systems in place on social, institutional and systematic levels that deny and negate Ollie’s identity. Lets use your example. You said not being “favored” for job a is something trans people would blame on being trans and “not take responsibility for.” In 33 states you can be fired for your gender identity. To deny someone a right you would give someone else because of their identity is oppression. You cannot equate this with not taking responsibility for your actions.

It is different to be angry that you are denied rights because of your identity than to be be upset that people don’t share your beliefs.”

“”Those people who attacked you are what we would call “the weak”. The weak are usually inferior, lazy, and riddled with low self esteem.” I thought that was privileged people? Because honestly, privileged people might be the most easily offended, babied group in the entire country (read: they most definitely are). They seem to constantly go onto random articles that address systemic discrimination and go “You know, if you just w0o0o0o0orked harder, and stopped playing the victim card, you could be like me!” Way to eat the neoliberal BS cookie. It seems privileged people also have an ego issue, because everything needs to be centered around them. How… typical.”

Alright, so you all have been very patient through reading this whole conversation, and if you’re still curious about more of the specifics, feel free to read the article and the comments thereafter. But to wrap up this blog post, I’m going to give you a few closing thoughts on why what Responder #2 said that was 100% not okay.  Some of these points have already been articulated by my partner Ashley in her response to the thread, but they bear repeating.

#1. Calling a trans* person “weak and inferior” is straight-up hate speech.

#2. “Now in your home and my home these problems would have been solved by our parents or family by requiring us to take responsibility for our lives and actions . . .”  I don’t know if you noticed, everybody, but I DID take responsibility for my actions, my privilege, and how my actions should follow based off of that privilege.  I even included handy suggestions (see my second comment) for other people with privilege.

#3. The use of “his/hers.”  This is an age-old way to disrespect me as a non-binary trans* person. I do not exist in terms of man/woman.  This “he/she/whatever” bullshit is getting really old. I didn’t assume anyone’s pronouns throughout the conversation: neither should you.

#4. ” . . . because you are bullied.”  Alright, Michelle Bachmann.  I forgot that white, cis, straight, Christian people have such a hard time being bullied while they get all of their holidays off, are more likely to be hired for jobs, accepted for housing, and instantly given respect, not to mention the fact that they don’t have to explain themselves to every person they meet.  They also have bathrooms they are safe in, medical staff who are educated about them, and literally still have their God acknowledged in most of the President’s speeches.

#5. “We are all responsible for ourselves.”  You’re right.  We are.  So I’ll be waiting over here for the apology you owe to me and to the rest of the queer and transgender community.

In closing, I’ve been asked by various people whether or not hate speech bothers me.  I’ve also reached out to others to learn how to deal with it and how to protect myself against it.  Of course hate speech bothers me.  Of course it hurts to be called “inferior, lazy, and riddled with low self esteem.”  I remember back when my rapist would call me those things, and it took me years to build my confidence back from being emotionally and sexually abused.  Hate speech is a form of abuse.  So yes, hate speech hurts me.  Especially because the people using it don’t know or don’t care about how much harm they are causing.

So please, never allow your religion to be an excuse for hating other human beings.  We are human beings, and we deserve respect.

Activism And Self-Love

Originally posted on Ashe Allan:

For all the folks involved in the work, it is news to nobody that this stuff gets really tough. Some days are excruciatingly difficult, and other days you really wonder if your life will actually leave any kind of dent on these oppressive systems. Being an activist is hard. Living as a marginalized person is hard. In this post, I do not necessarily want to address how to fix everything (because I don’t know how to), but I do want to talk about self-love for activists.

I am an educator and writer who dabbles in multiple forms: essays, short stories, novels, page poetry, and spoken word. Lately, I have been focusing a lot on the essay writing portion while dabbling in page poetry and short stories. My educational efforts have me interning at a public charter school, where I work with this school’s feminist club and GSA (gender and sexuality alliance)…

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This Sucks, but You’re Probskies Gonna Make It: Dealing With Dysphoria

I feel like this post is important to write.  There’s a tendency for us to feel forced to smile in every picture and reply “fine” to anyone who asks how we are.  But I’m here to tell you it’s a-okay to feel not okay, and right now, folks, I’ve been feeling a lot of not okay.  So prepare yourself for honesty, feels, and a banging good adventure.  YEE-HAW!

Lately I’ve been feeling pretty consistently shitty.  This doesn’t mean I’m going to off myself in the bathroom with the revolver.  This doesn’t mean I’m on the verge of seeking out some small rodent to inflict suffering upon.  This doesn’t mean I need to be hovered over, and you don’t need to do that thing with your eyebrows when you look at me with a face of condescending pity.  It’s quite frankly unbecoming and reminds me of two caterpillars slowly approaching for whatever I’m sure can only be described as caterpillar sexy times.

What this means (not the caterpillar thing; the feeling bummed out thing) is that I have dysphoria and depression (which is really nothing new), and it’ll be fine eventually because things usually always turn out fine.

Let’s talk about dysphoria.  Dysphoria, in basic terms, is the opposite of euphoria.  It’s a feeling of dissatisfaction, discontent, discomfort, and a whole slew of other things that probably have the prefix “dis.”  Gender dysphoria more specifically is when that feeling arises due to the way society is an asshole about your gender and/or biological sex (since society so often fails to make the necessary distinction between the two). In less emotional verbiage, gender dysphoria is discomfort brought on by the gender/ gender roles you were assigned based off your designated birth sex.  I experience a lot of this.

A lot of transgender people undergo a significant amount of dysphoria, and, since depression is a preexisting (but largely well-managed) factor in my life, adding dysphoria to the mix can make life a bit difficult for me sometimes.  I’m not going to go into specifics for the time being, but dysphoria can manifest itself in a lot of negative feelings about one’s body, presentation, image, self, etc.

Imagine if every day you walked into a CVS to get some OJ and the cashier was like, “Hey, Bill, it’s good to see you! How’s your wife?”  And you’re like, “My name is Tom, and my wife died three years ago.”  And the cashier says, “I’m sorry to hear that, Bill.  You’ll have to give your wife my condolences.”  And you say, “BUT SHE’S DEAD AND MY NAME IS TOM.”  And the cashier is like, “Oh Bill, you’re a funny one.  Tell Martha I say hi.  And here’s a dog biscuit for little Sparky.”  And then you have no choice but to stalk and kill that cashier’s entire family.

Okay, jokes on that last part about the stalking/killing, but this is kind of what being misgendered every day of your life is like.  There are all of these people trying to tell me who I am, and I just keep saying “Nope, you’re wrong.  Do better.”  And they keep saying things like “but this is hard for me” and “but I was just basing this off your body…” and “that could make some cis people feel uncomfortable.”  What they don’t realize is that no matter how hard it is for them to get my pronouns or my name right, it is nowhere near as hard as being trans*.  Like, dude, MY WIFE IS DEAD AND I JUST WANT TO BUY THIS ORANGE JUICE AND HAVE YOU GET MY NAME RIGHT OKAY.

That being said, it’s no surprise that sometimes I feel shitty for a while.  And whatever I do to feel not shitty again is my prerogative, and you’re just going to have to trust that I’ve got this shin dig under control.  That being said, anyone else out there who is experiencing a lot of dysphoria, I’m always here to listen, and you are a stallion of awesomeness and can get through anything.  Whatever you need to do in order to feel good, you should do (as long as it’s not shitting on someone else’s identity, and also please try to do things that are healthy for you).  I suggest a hot tea latte green tea with banana and cappuccino from the Tea Garden if you’re into comfort foods/drinks.  I personally am spending a lot of time knitting, avoiding homework, writing poems, researching various surgeries/hormones, sleeping, chatting it up at the garden of the teas, and trying to reestablish balance in my life.  Remember, if you’re unsure if it’s you or the world that’s fucked up, it’s probably the world, because I’m sure you’re cool as hell.  See here: http://binarysubverter.wordpress.com/2010/11/24/trans-101/

Guilt and Activism: How to Take a Break from Saving the World

So, here’s the thing.  As an activist, I’m invincible.  It gives me super powers.  I can do it all.  I don’t even need to drink coffee; I can just snort it and absorb its powers.  I HAVE SUPERIOR STAMINA ABILITIES.  I can jump more than two inches and throw things accurately.  Animals like me instantly.  Whenever I eat a meal, barbecue sauce magically drips out of my fingers to season everything to perfectly perfect perfection.  I don’t need breaks; I’m Ollie Schminkey! Sleep? Oh, that’s a cute thing that other people do.  Moderation? Oh, please. Why have moderation when you could do ALL THE THINGS!

Except….that I can’t do all the things, and (this one is going to come as a shock) I’m actually not invincible.  I’m sorry, kids, also Santa Claus isn’t real.  Growing up is hard. Get used to it.

Lately I’ve been in a funk.  And by funk I mean that I’ve had a solid 3-4 days filled with depression, anxiety, and an overall confused/scared/unsafe feeling.  This was not a good feeling, but I think it’s important to talk about all feelings, not just positive ones.  Naming something is the first step to dismantling it and figuring out how to approach it.

Depression is something I’ve always had, and I take a very active role in managing all of my symptoms to live a happy, productive, and full life.  Sometimes I’m more successful at this than other times. For instance, today, after three nights of restless sleep and racing thoughts, I woke up and cried for fifteen minutes while my best friend hugged me on the couch.  All of my movements felt slow motion, and every article of clothing required absolute comfort and fuzz.  There was no way I was putting on real-adult pants.  I was in survival mode.  For those of you who don’t have/have never experienced depression, this is probably going to be really hard for you to understand.  But survival mode is pretty much what it sounds like.  Existing gets difficult to the point where surviving is my main focus. Forget about homework, social interactions, caring about things.  Instead, I force myself to eat brunch.  Drink a glass of water.  Brush my teeth. Put on shoes.  Remind myself it’s winter, and winter requires a jacket and hat.  Convince myself that avoiding frostbite is non-negotiable. Pretend to give a shit about the length of eye contact I give strangers and reasons why I shouldn’t do something stupid and impulsive and dangerous, like mash some hummus with corn kernels, spread it around my mouth, and then wipe my fake vomit onto passersby while screaming “LET ME NOURISH YOU.” Today was one of those days where I had to focus on making sure that I could say ‘thank you’ to the bus driver without crying and eat dinner without apologizing to my food.

After a long, brisk walk and a solid internal pep talk, where I just repeated the words “You are important; you are strong” for twenty minutes, I think I figured out what I needed: to reestablish and strengthen the love I have for myself.  This means many things.

One of my favourite quotes is by this amazing person named Eleanor Roosevelt: “Friendship with oneself is all-important, for without it, one cannot be friends with anyone else.”  I use this as a kind of pro-self-care mantra. If you’re not good to yourself, you’re sure as hell not going to be any good to anyone else.  Survival-mode Ollie isn’t being a good ally.  Survival-mode Ollie isn’t tutoring underprivileged youth or writing articles or starting necessary conversations.  Survival-mode Ollie is wearing stretchy pants in public and mashing hummus and corn together and justifying cake as a legitimate breakfast choice. 

Honestly, I feel guilty sometimes for needing to take a break from certain types of activism.  Racism doesn’t stop while I’m eating ice cream.  Mental illness isn’t suddenly destigmatized. Facilities don’t become accessible by me cuddling a stuffed animal and weeping to Adelle. Oppressed groups don’t get to “take a break” from these issues.  Why should I be allowed take one? 

I should because I need to, because my body is telling me that I can’t handle any more stress.  

I should because I actually want to be a good ally and activist, who makes the world a little less shitty, and that requires work.  Work I should treat with my full attention.

I should because without breaks, I’m disrespecting myself and everyone I’m trying to help by not giving them the best, most capable version of myself. You wouldn’t want a bunch of drunk people calling your governor to petition for change.  And I wouldn’t want Survival-mode Ollie half-assing my issue because they were having trouble focusing on breathing while they contemplated smearing fake vomit on strangers.

I wrote a poem about a year ago about this subject, and I feel like it has a simile that describes the necessity of balance and self-care.  “There is a reason airplane emergency instructions insist that parents fasten their own masks first before those of their children.  Activism without self-preservation is a sea of masked children and dead parents.”  I don’t want to be the dead parent.  Especially because by ignoring my own needs, I would be putting in danger the very thing I was trying to save.

So I’m giving myself permission.  Permission to ignore important articles on my newsfeed.  Permission to watch a twenty-eight minute video of the best cat vines of 2013 (true story).  Permission to walk away from a difficult and potentially triggering conversation, even if it means the other person will leave still ignorant of important facts. Permission to slow down, breathe, eat cake for breakfast, surround myself with fuzzy things, shut off my phone, put on my slippers, remove all negativity, pretend that the world is a kind and fair place, and take a break. 

I can archive the important articles and take a look at them in the morning.  I can respond to emails in the morning, search for internships at non-profits in the morning. There will still be plenty of messed up things for me to try and tackle when I wake up. But for now, I am important, I am strong, and I am taking a much-needed break.

Activism and Accessibility: Why Movements that Privilege the Upper Class are Worthless

So as you may or may not know, I just finished up a poetry tour of the East Coast, and a lot of interesting things came up for me while I was out there, and the one I want to talk about today is class within daily life and activism. This trip did what poetry tends to do to me, which is kind of inspire all these big realizations (guess what this post is about!).  So, basically, for the tour, we drove out and bummed on couches and stayed with a bunch of super awesome and welcoming people for three weeks while doodling around and getting paid to do our poetry (I KNOW RIGHT).  While we did that, I observed a few different things:

#1. I feel more comfortable in places where spilling on the carpet is a-okay because “that’s why it’s brown.”

#2. I feel more comfortable in places where it is automatically assumed it’s okay to put your feet on the couches.

#3. Everyone in Boston is perpetually unhappy, and finding a coffee shop there that isn’t Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts is nearly impossible.

#4. Strangers will surprise you with their kindness.

#5. Strangers will surprise you with their lack of kindness.

#6. Boston driving has no rules, and it’s every person for themselves. I didn’t learn this until later on in the trip, so silly me was still all like: “IF ONLY THERE WAS SOME WAY FOR THAT CAR TO LET ME KNOW ITS INTENT TO MERGE…HMMMM…LIKE MAYBE SOME KIND OF SIGNAL….PERHAPS A BLINKING RED LIGHT?”

#7. Portland, Maine is a beautiful paradise that will some day be populated with all of my probably-never-going-to-happen children.

#8. An ‘espresso’ comes in a tiny cup that makes you feel like a giant, and you’ll feel ripped off the entire time you’re drinking it because you paid four dollars and you thought it was a 16 oz drink but is really the size of a shot glass.  

#9. Rich people make me uncomfortable. 

Ah, there we go, let’s start there (smooth segue, Ollie).  Rich people make me uncomfortable.  Being around them, talking to them, interacting with them, all of it.  This was a huge realization for me since I normally have to focus most on my queer and trans* identities, and so my class background hardly comes up in conversation, even though it affects how I live almost every aspect of my life.  I get it; people don’t like to talk about money. People also don’t like to talk about any sort of privilege they have, and class privilege is seemingly ignored in many of my recent conversations. But it makes a huge difference, and so we should talk about it. 

First off, I go to this (awesome) fancy liberal arts college where I have a ridiculously large amount of financial aid.  Without financial aid from the school and the state and the federal government and scholarships, there is no way in hell I would ever be able to attend this school in any sort of fantasy land you can imagine.  (Fantasy land: unicorns, dragons, chocolate fountain, marshmallow clouds, and still a school that is too expensive for Ollie to attend).  People from my socio-economic background simply cannot afford places like this.  This school costs per year what our parents make per year.  But colleges are institutions that need to make money, so obviously most students aren’t feel-good charity cases like myself.  For example, I’m part of the minority because I haven’t been to another country.  My family has never bought a brand new vehicle.  I’ve never been skiing in Colorado, and I just saw the ocean for the first time (IT WAS SO COOL) on this relatively dirt-cheap trip (we drove and couch-hopped and ate peanut butter sandwiches using the roof of the car as a plate; you can’t really say we were splurging or living in luxury).  

Don’t get me wrong, my childhood was great.  I didn’t grow up in poverty, and I don’t regret not having the same experiences as the rich kids who go to my college. We always had everything we needed and a few things we wanted.  But if you broke one of your toys, you didn’t get a new one. I’m ultimately grateful for this, because it taught me how to take care of my possessions and create (and stick to) a budget.  This also means that when my friends at college want to drop $20 on dinner, I have to consider whether or not I should actually be putting that money towards my student loans, which I will pay off by myself, and not because my parents are trying to teach me a lesson about being a ‘real adult’, but because I am an adult, and my safety net is the only safety net I’ve got.  There is no vacation home for me to crash in if I can’t make rent.  There is no monthly allowance if I waste all of my money and can’t afford groceries. I know that my parents will always do everything they can to support me, and I also know that a large amount of financial support is just not an option.  I do not regret this, and I don’t pity myself.

What does bother me, though, is that many upper class people appear to be wholly unaware of how many middle/lower class people live.  People who don’t travel out of state for Spring Break.  People who shop at thrift stores not because it’s fun but because that’s what they can afford (although personally I think it’s a lot of fun also to rummage through all the clothes).  People who can’t afford to shop anywhere other than Wal-Mart.  This is especially disturbing because classism shows up all the time in activist circles, which ties into systems of racism.  Here’s a super simple break-down for anyone new to this type of conversation, (and this isn’t meant to be comprehensive, but I think it’s a good place to start to get a basic understanding):

#1. Any action that privileges rich people is ultimately racist, because racism/colonialism has led to white people having more monetary wealth than other races, which means that when rich people benefit, white people benefit (and not really much of anyone else).   See here: (http://money.cnn.com/2012/06/21/news/economy/wealth-gap-race/).

#2. Any action that privileges white people (and rich people) reduces accessibility to oppressed groups.  Let’s do some overly simplified math. This is because wealth = resources, and resources = education, and wealth = whiteness, and so education = whiteness, which means that many lower class/minority groups are being cut out of the conversations about oppression, which further allows dominant groups to hold power.  This concept is true for any number of oppressed identities; whoever has the money has the power, and right now, white, heterosexual, cisgender men still have all the money. 

#3. Many activist circles (like the majority at my college) are led by rich, educated, white (cisgender) people, who end up talking to a bunch of other rich, educated, white (cisgender) people about how to end oppression.  They are well-intentioned, (and I think it’s important here for me to point out my white privilege and my privilege of being educated despite lacking wealth) but these activist circles often end up leaving out the people who need to hear the information the most: oppressed groups. The point of activism is to put power in the hands of the oppressed, and that’s not going to happen if information is only circling within elitist activism circles. 

#4.  A lot of this has to do with language, and the (in)accessibility of language.  (The idea of a ‘standard English’ actually makes most of the language we use racist, as it implies certain dialects are more ‘proper’ than others, which is also tied to whiteness and wealth.  “Writing Centers and the New Racism” is the thing to read if you want more info on that).  Since education is tied to race (which is tied to wealth, etc.), activist conversations that don’t use an accessible vocabulary are impractical and near-worthless for actually helping the people they’re trying to help.  If you aren’t using words that people have been taught to speak, whatever you spew at them isn’t going to be an effective method of sharing knowledge and giving them power.  This is why I try to break my blog posts into simple, easily definable terms so that everyone has equal access to the best of my ability (which is probably not perfect, but do I ever try). 

These were the types of conversations I had with myself while I was on tour:  Why did my cisgender friend have better access to information about trans* identity than I did growing up?  Queer identity?  Why didn’t I have the words to talk about myself, while my friend did? Shouldn’t I have had access to information about my own identity? Why didn’t I know about any of these systems of power until I went to college, while some of my (rich) friends were being taught about them in more progressive private schools?  Why was I only taught about these things at my predominantly white and wealthy college? Why weren’t other people being taught these things?  Why wasn’t this information actually making its way to the people that needed to hear it? 

Classism.  Wealth.  Racism.  Transphobia. Sexism. The list goes on. 

So how do we fix this? That’s always the question I’m most interested in, and the solution starts where the problem starts: with money. Since wealth = resources and resources = education and education = knowledge and knowledge = power, we need to accomplish activism’s goal of giving power by financially supporting activist groups run by oppressed groups and by using inclusive, accessible language, which then spreads the information that people need to know in order to understand systems of power and how to try and change those systems of power.  This information should not be a secret that only the privileged can access.

See? I told you poetry makes me have big realizations.   

 

 

 

The Noble Quest of Allyship: How to Not Suck About Your Privilege

WHO WANTS TO END OPPRESSION? Me! (Super, great, you too? Then I shall take you along with me on a unicorn ride through the magical forest of education and allyship.) (Also, if you don’t want to end oppression, I hate to say it, but you just might be an asshole).

So on the unicorn ride that is my life, I’ve been sprinting full speed ahead, leaping over rainbows and moats and battling oppression with my sword of knowledge (and no, Freud, there is nothing phallic about the sword of knowledge).  And upon my quest for betterment and personal growth, I attended something a few weeks ago that fits in perfectly with what I promised you all we’d talk about coming up here: How to be a Good Ally.

You might be thinking, “But, Ollie/Renee**, why were you at an allies training?? You’re already queer!” While that is an apt observation, identity doesn’t quite work that way.  We often have this idea that only members of the LGBTQIAP (and other letters I may have accidentally left out) community need allies, or that since you’re a member of that community, you don’t need to educate yourself on how to support all of the members within that community and other communities.  But the fact of it is that we all encompass many identities, and we need to be aware of the ways in which we are privileged and how we can use that privilege to help oppressed groups.  For example, I’m white (and queer and trans* and middle class and a whole slew of other identities).  This means that I should educate myself on how to be a good ally to people of colour.  Since I am part of the dominant group in this one aspect of my identity, I should use that power to help other people.

I’ll explain more.  So, at this training, they gave us this handy-dandy booklet with some definitions and tips for good allies.  I’ll give you a basic run-down and start from the beginning in case you’re new to this social justice/ending oppression journey of journeys.

Agent/Privileged/Dominant Group: “a social group that is positively valued, considered to be superior, independent, or ‘normal’ and has access to social power.”

Privilege: “a resource or state of being that is only readily available to some people because of their social group membership.”

Oppression: “the systematic, social phenomenon of prejudice and social power that manifests on a personal, institutional, and societal/cultural level.  The result is the exploitation of one social group by another for the benefit of the agent/oppressor group.”

Alright, so let’s start there. First off, we need to understand that not everyone is treated equally within our society.  Secondly, we need to understand that everyone has multiple identities, often times a mix of dominant and subordinate identities.  (Dominant identity = more privilege.  Subordinate identity = more oppression).  And example of this with myself would be my race and gender identity.  Being white is a dominant identity, while being trans* is a subordinate identity.  This means that being white gives me privilege, while being trans* denies me a type of privilege.  Thirdly, we should recognize that people need to use their dominant identities to help the subordinate identities.  The thing about privilege (and oppression as well) is that we didn’t ask to receive it, and we sure as hell can’t give it back.

This means that we’re all stuck with all these identities, and we are all stuck within these systems of power that make life easier/harder for some people than others.  Even if you, as a white person, don’t use racial slurs, you still benefit from the privilege of being white, which means that you’re still contributing to a system of racism.  Even if each white CEO isn’t personally racist, the fact that over 90% of CEOs in the fortune 500 companies are white means that all of these people are still perpetuating a racist system.  If the system wasn’t racist, there would be a much closer representative number of each race.  (America is not 90% made up of white people).  By exploiting our privilege, as in the example above, we are contributing to the oppression of others, whether or not we want to accept it.

So how do we fix this? Since privilege is something we didn’t earn but also can’t give back, how do we become good allies to put an end to these oppressive systems?  Here are a few things you can do to be a good ally to any marginalized group (stay tuned for some tips specific to trans* allies):

#1. Educate yourself.  Learn about different identities and how systems of power, representation, and types of speech affect different groups. Learning about the systems that perpetuate oppression can help you to better fight that oppression.

#2. Speak up.  If you hear someone saying something racist, misogynistic, cissexist, homophobic, transphobic, ableist, (the list goes on and on), say something.   You can do this politely by using “I” statements (ex. “I feel uncomfortable when you make rape jokes.  I know you may not mean to hurt people, but rape jokes contribute to rape culture, which ultimately leads to people getting raped.”)  Advocate for oppressed groups, especially when they are unrepresented in a space; however, recognize the line between helping a group and attempting to speak for them.  Always speak from your own experience and place importance on the need for fair treatment and representation.

#3. Listen.  People who are part of oppressed groups are not lying about their oppression.  (For example, d-fab (designated female at birth) people aren’t whining about some fake wage gap.  Discrimination against female-bodied people in the workplace is an all too real form of oppression).  People of oppressed groups know their own life experiences.  If you are in a space with identities less-privileged than your own, take their life experiences seriously.

#4. Step back.  Using your resources (energy, money, time, etc.) to help an oppressed group is a phenomenal thing that is important to do.  However, once you’ve helped to empower a group (let’s say, you created and funded a center for homeless youth of colour), then it’s time to take a step back and empower them further by handing over the reigns (for example, turning over the management to people of colour).   The point of being an ally is to help empower a group of people, promote equality, and end oppression.  If we never relinquish our power, we aren’t really being effective allies (This is like the CEO example.  If white people still hold all of the power, the system is still racist regardless of people’s personal views on race).  This same idea goes for spaces of conversation.  If you are a straight person in a space designed for queer discussion, sit back and listen.   Giving those voices power within a room is very important to being a good ally.

Recap: I know this was a lot of info for anyone new to the whole ending oppression thing, so I’ll try to condense it into a few sentences of how to be a good ally: Speak up when a group is being marginalized; listen to oppressed groups, and don’t speak for people who are already speaking for themselves.  Instead, help them to get their voices heard.

I hope this was helpful for anyone exploring allyship, and as always, I hope your day is full of kittens and love and sunshine and cookies and bubble baths.  I’m sure you’ll hear more about allyship from me at some later date.

**I’m in the middle of a name-change of sorts (exciting, yay!)

Marriage and Other Sensitive Subjects (Like Peach-Os)

So my life right now is like busy times seventeen hundred unicorns.  Like not busy, but BUSY.  This is a good thing, most of the time. Sometimes being busy can stress you out, where you just want to sink down onto the floor and fill tiny vials with your tears and then sell them as unicorn sweat to people Craigslist.  But then sometimes being busy is like snorting a bunch of pixie stick dust and you’re like BRING IT ON, WORLD, FIGHT ME!!!! And then you sing the part of that one Front Bottoms song where he yells “I will remember that summer as the summer I was taking steroids.”  Except there will be no steroids.  Only pure, unadulterated (okay, probably adulterated) ASS-KICKING ENERGY.

One of the many things I did this week was attend a group created by one of my friends called Queer Theory Wednesday.  It is held on Wednesdays, and you guessed it, we talk about queer theory.  One of the topics we raged about (I mean, discussed) was same-sex marriage.

Don’t get me wrong, I think everyone should have the right and opportunity to get married if they so choose.  But I also think that right now we need to stress the difference between an option and an obligation, and what this current “option” does and does not do.  There are many reasons to get married and so many reasons not to.  Also, a fact that many people don’t know is that same-sex marriage does not guarantee queer people equal rights. For example, if a trans* person wants to get legally married and change their name (from a legal name to their real, chosen name) it will cost them over $4000.  That’s right.  And since many trans* and other types of queer people are close to the poverty line (in short version, because of systematic oppression), there are many classist implications that still prevent people who want to get married from doing so.  Not to mention polyamorous relationships that the government still doesn’t (and likely never will) recognize. Here is an awesome article that sums up some of my thoughts:

http://queeringthemind.com/2013/10/28/now-that-were-married-can-we-go-back-to-being-queer/

You also may have heard about this little thing called ENDA. Basically, if ENDA passes in the House (it already passed the Senate), queer and trans* people will finally have some basic protections.  These basic protections include things like not being able to be fired from your job purely based on your gender expression or sexual orientation.  Many people don’t know that this is not already the case.  In at least twenty states, you can still be legally fired from your job based on your sexual orientation.  In thirty-one states you can be legally fired for your gender expression.  Whoa, right? (Also, big shock, one of them is Texas).

I think that is really messed up.  Really, really messed up.

Same-sex marriage, while nice for those who are religious or want their relationship to be validated by the state (or can afford either of those things), does not pay the bills, my friends.  It’s also not quite saving all the lives I want it to.  In fact, (prepare yourself for a shocking and unacceptably high statistic), 41% of trans* people try to commit suicide at some point in their lives, compared to the 1.6% national average.  I think that issue deserves a little more attention, here.

I know this might have been a lot to digest.  And some days, when I think about how the cards are so stacked against me, it’s upsetting.  It hurts to live in a world that sometimes feels like it couldn’t give two shits about my existence.  But this is called the Optimistic Pluot. And I recognize that problems can’t be solved by mere optimism -we need people to actually do things about them- but optimism helps me, personally, to not become part of the 41%.

So here’s a great .gif my best friend made of my hands during my poems.

Yay! :) If you don’t know what poems these are from, you should check out my poetry on the internets.

Sometimes you’ve just got to focus on the ones that love you in order to get through the tough stuff.  Also sometimes you need to rage and then have all your friends send letters and phone calls and show up with their own bodies on your congressperson’s doorstep until finally all people will be treated with some basic human dignity.

But what can we do about this, Renee?? Don’t worry, one of the next few posts will include ways in which you can be a better trans* ally.  For now, let’s focus on being aware of the ways in which we are privileged and the ways in which that privilege contributes to systems of oppression (we’ll get into that more later as well).

Oh dang it! I almost forgot about the Peach-O thing.  Mid-bite, I was informed they are not vegetarian. (I’m a vegetarian).  They have ground up cow bones in them.  GROSS.