Saturday, January 30, 2010

For The Record, I am Attracted to Adults

Though Australian Senators Barnaby Joyce and Guy Barnett would probably just assume I am a pedophile. Or maybe they would just assume I am "at risk" as it were, for pedophilia. The symptom? I happen to be rather fond of small breasts. But according to Joyce and Barnett, porn that includes small breasted women should be banned, because it encourages pedophilia.

I wish I were joking, but I am not. Along with their campaign against small breasted women, Joyce and Barnett are also going after what they call the "abhorrent" sex act of female ejaculation. Apparently believing this is somehow akin to urination, breaking the rules against depicting urination as a sex act. For the record, female ejaculate is most assuredly *not* urine.

Of course just as important as female ejaculate not being urine, is the fact that it shouldn't fucking matter. I am not personally interested in water sports/golden showers, but there are a lot of people who are. Some of them are really into it. And you know what? There is absolutely nothing wrong with that - nothing whatsoever.

Human sexuality is remarkably diverse - diverse and complicated. One of the ugliest complications is intense pressure towards a social norm. Mind you, this social norm is ever changing. What we are told we should be attracted to/get our kinks from changes pretty much constantly - never mind we are diverse and diversity means we are attracted to/get our kinks from many different things. This pressure to engage in this ever changing social norm creates a great deal of shame for a lot of people who happen to be into something else.

And of course when your fetish happens to be rather more atypical than most, that shame is just that much worse. People who have a bodily waste fetish are pretty much wide open to ridicule and disdain. People who are into latex fare little better. People who are huge into being abused - about the same. People who are into providing the abuse - just vile excuses for human beings. People who are into feet, fur, vegetables or power tools - complete and utter freaks.

Only they are most certainly not. They are no more or less than part of the diverse web of human sexuality. Some engaging in sex acts that are only marginally about what most people think of as sex or sexual fulfillment. Sex is beautiful, diverse, complicated, fascinating and wonderful. That is not to say it doesn't have an ugly side. Nonconsentual sexuality is just plain unacceptable and steps should be taken to ensure that people who would engage in it are comfortable with getting the help they need not to - before they cannot control the drive to act on it. But outside of that, sexual diversity is a beautiful thing.

Certainly not something that we need a government trying to control.

(more or less a HT to Pharyngula's never ending thread - though Juniper pointed me to the article, not the post)

Monday, January 25, 2010

Is it Rude?

Something I haven't really discussed much, is my rather extreme discomfort in crowds of people - at being out in public in general. It is exhausting to me, to have to deal with being surrounded by strangers, yet as a student, I am surrounded by them on a virtually daily basis. And as an avid user of public transportation (when living where decent PT is available), I am often pushed in close with them.

One of the things that I do to help myself feel better, is to listen to music or audiobooks on my mp3 player. There are occasions when I manage to wander down the hall without it, but generally I don't actually get very far before I pull it out and put it on. Listening to something that the people around me are not makes me feel like I am at least experiencing a little bit of privacy. And for the record, no, I cannot manage grocery shopping without it...

What I am wondering, is if you might happen to think this is rude. To what degree you might think it rude. Whether you think the degree of rudeness would outweigh the discomfort of not wearing it (for me, it is roughly the difference that an average dose of valium might make).

To be clear, I am not the least bit discomforted by interpersonal communications. When the number of people I am talking to gets up much more than four or five people, I start getting rather uncomfortable - my preference being for more intimate gatherings. Being in front of a crowd doesn't bother me in the least. I have spoken to crowds of a hundred plus and as front man, I have played for audiences of more than a thousand - didn't break a sweat. And being in class, or moderating support groups is not nearly as uncomfortable as being stuck in a random crowd or group of people...

So what do you think? Is it rude of me to walk around with earbuds in all the time?

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Now for the rest of the Culture Questions...

I do want everyone to know that I appreciate all the responses I got to the last set of questions and rest assured, I am going to be using the responses I got - indeed, they are an integral part of this whole project. I would appreciate even those who did not respond to the first questions to respond to these. I will write a blog post about why I asked these and the others, as well as posting the paper that I am going to write, using the responses to these posts as something like the core of the paper.

I would also like to mention again - even if the response you have for any or all the questions has been given, please respond anyways. And again, if you are a professional (i.e. anthropologist, sociologist, psychologist, please refrain from responding in comments. I would be happy to get your response via email, but I would prefer that your response not bias other responses.

First, I am going to define culture for the context of these questions - actually defining culture in a few ways that differ, but are not mutually exclusive. For the sake of simplicity, I am going to write them separately - though they will get melded some in the questions.

Culture = the human capacity to define experience through symbols (language) and communicate experiences using the symbols that define it.

Culture = an experience that is shared by the members of a particular language community, transmitted from one generation to another, through the use of symbols.

Culture = a common interest shared by several humans that includes language specific to that common interest. This common interest may transcend shared language communities, but includes symbols specific to that interest - though the specific symbols used may differ from language group to language group, the meaning of the symbols are consistent.

For the first question, let us assume you are part of a particular culture that transcends shared language communities - please consider this in the context of a culture that applies to you (i.e. SciFi, Comic books, a specific discipline of science, etc.).

Which would it be easier for you to share something interesting you have discovered about your interest;

Someone who is a member of your language community, but not your culture? or Someone who is part of a different language community, but is as strong a part of your culture as you are? Assume for the latter that you have no shared language and that even the symbols specific to your culture might be somewhat different.

Assume that you are trying to engage someone from a different language community than your own and that you do not share common language (aside from a couple of words that you think you might recognize). You have to communicate with this person, but all you have are each other. You are in your home, while this is taking place. How would you go about trying to communicate with this person?

Now you are trying to communicate with someone who is part of your language community. You want to explain a very common, integral aspect of your culture to this person, who is not a part of the culture you are trying to talk about. How would you go about this?

Finally, you are trying to communicate with someone who is part of your language community about a common, integral aspect of your culture, who while not being a part of that culture, does have a different shared culture with you. Would you explain it differently to them, than you did the last person? How?

To provide contextual examples for the last two questions - I am an exceedingly hard-core scifi/fantasy geek (though I have never been to a con). I am currently going through a series of books that I started in the nineties, but gave up on afraid the author was likely to die before he finished them (at that point, nine books in, following the same plot line, same characters). Now it is going to be completed, in spite of the author dying, so I have started over. This series (The Wheel of Time) has a rather peculiar system of magic - not even going to try to explain, suffice to say it is complicated and it is also entirely integral to the books and the cultures described in them.

For the first question, it would be like trying to explain this system of magic to someone who absolutely loathes fictional writing. For the second, it would be like trying to explain this to someone loves particularly well written crime fiction (i.e. Dennis Lehane, Elmore Leonard) like I do, but who has never really gotten into scifi/fantasy.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Burying Childhood Friends

This is something that should only be done at a ripe old age - until then, one should only have to bury friends and loved ones who are much older. Unfortunately, I am about to bury my first childhood friend. I suppose he is technically my second, but I was not around for the funeral of the first and in all honesty, he wasn't really a friend.

In this case, it is especially difficult, because this friend was younger than myself and in a couple of ways I was a mentor to him. I am really not sure how I feel about it, I haven't actually seen him in roughly fifteen years - possibly longer. I cared for him and never stopped caring for him - he was my friend and I am not one for letting lack of contact stop me from caring for old friends. But it has been a very long time and that makes for some dulling. And there are other more personal reasons that are causing confusion.

What I do know, is that I am way to fucking young to be burying childhood friends - especially younger childhood friends...

What is this thing we call Culture? *Updated* (Help DuWayne with Schoolwork)

I would just like to note that even if your definition has been mentioned, please respond anyways. I am interested in the numbers of people responding in a particular fashion.

I have way too damned many things to address, so it is fitting that I should add something more to that. This semester I am taking two classes that overtly delve into culture and another that addresses a specific subculture that looks to be intensely interesting.

I am going to provide my own response a little later, but I am rather curious how you might define culture. What do you think of, when someone mentions the word "culture?" How does "culture" differ from "society?" What is/are your culture/s?

Depending on the responses I garner (if I garner any), I will probably have some more questions. Indeed, I actually do have some specific questions to come that I am not asking now simply because I don't want to bias responses to the questions I have already asked.

I am asking these questions because I am hoping to use the responses as part of the foundation for one of my papers this semester. If you could help me out, I would really appreciate it. I would ask that those who have a background in anthropology or sociology refrain from responding in comments - I am not looking for professional definitions. What I am looking for is purely layperson responses. And if you have the urge to encourage others to respond to this post, I would be very appreciative. The more responses I can get, the better.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

BikeMonkey and Equivalence of Oppression (update)

A certain lovely someone made the point to me that I wasn't particularly clear on a point that I am quite definitely not trying to claim that the bigotry aimed at atheists is like the persecution of the Jews. I am not at all. My entire point was that I have had to deal with some very intense feelings regarding this particular issue. Feelings that are completely valid.

PalMD wrote a rather upsetting post the other day, one that resonated with me on one level and made me spitting fucking angry on another. He finally felt the need to respond to Garrison Keillor's vile diatribe in Salon, trying to put non-Christians in their place in regards to celebrating x-mas. Pal comes from a very different perspective on this than I do, one that I cannot possibly understand, not being Jewish myself. His feelings on this resonated with me not because my experience is the same as his, but because Keillor's sentiments have been thrown in my face as well - sometimes by people who were once my friends and who despite my anger towards them and their bigotry, people I still care about. But that was not my first comment there - my first comment there was an expression of all out rage at something besides Christmas that Keillor ripped from Pal.

I am a musician and a midwesterner raised in Michigan - the same state that Pal hails from. I am not and never have been primarily into bluegrass, but bluegrass and hybrid mountain folk are nevertheless a part of my musical experience - a rather big part. Some of the best times I have had playing music, have been as part of a relatively large crowd of people hanging out and playing bluegrass and folk. Because of Michigan's automotive history and the importation of a hell of a lot of workers from parts of Appalachia, Tennessee and Kentucky, there is a huge presence of this sort of music here. There are professional and semiprofessional bluegrass and hybrid folk players, as well as dulcimer makers who can build instruments to rival the best instrument makers from the aforementioned areas. And I have had the pleasure of playing with a lot of these folks, as often as not, while sitting around a fire.

Here is the thing about bluegrass and folk - no one gives two shits what labels someone wears. If you want to listen and enjoy, you are more than welcome any time. If you want to join in, most folks don't care if you can't carry a tune to save your life, much less care what labels you wear. What matters is that you love music, love the community being fostered right then and there and want to take part - whether by listening or joining right in. That is what bluegrass and mountain music is all about - that is the point of it. Traditionally, folk music of any sort in most cultures has been a great leveler - a chance for everyone in a village or group to be equalized and enjoy themselves freely.

So when I read Pal's heartfelt sorrow at feeling that was taken from him, I got fucking angry as hell - far more angry than I did about Keillor's overt x-mas commentary. And I expressed my indignant anger at the notion that some motherfucker could take something so fundamentally open and inclusive away from anyone, much less someone I like. I was not invalidating Pal's feelings, I was expressing my own - and to some extent expressing my anger and refusal to let motherfuckers like Keillor "put me in my place" as well. Nowhere was I suggesting that Pal's feeling weren't valid or that he should just be able to ignore the bigotry and pretend it doesn't matter. Hell, I wasn't even suggesting that I can do that. Not letting not only people like Keillor or right wing blowhards or people who used to be my friend "put me in my place" doesn't mean it doesn't matter or effect me - obviously it does, rather fundamentally even. I just happen to have a different attitude than Pal does about how to handle it from there - in large part because I have a very different experience from Pal's.

But BikeMonkey, in his infinite wisdom decided that I needed to be put in my place, much like Keillor does - though in a different context. BM doesn't think that my feelings about this topic are valid, because my experience isn't Pal's and my overwhelming privilege means I should just shut the fuck up and pretend it doesn't matter. BM decided that there was some sort of equivalence being made, rather than what actually was happening and assumed he knows all about my great fucking privilege in the face of religious expression. I am going to address this idiot notion of equivalence first, then talk a little about my extreme privilege and experience with bigotry.

There is no equivalence between my experience and Pal's. None. Because I don't actually have a window into Pal's head, I cannot say for sure what he feels, but I do have his words to go by and can assume that this whole situation had a rather profound affect on him. Pal has a lifetime history of being Jewish that feeds his experience of Keillor's diatribe that I do not have and he has feelings that have nothing to do with Keillor that impact what he is feeling about it now. And we have to add to that that he was raised by people who are Jewish and who probably faced even more antisemitic bigotry than he has faced - something that probably had a pretty profound effect on his worldview. There is absolutely no equivalence to our experience, because his is not mine - I didn't grow up with the anything like what he grew up with.

That does not mean that my feelings are somehow less valid than Pal's. They are different - very different. They may not even have the depth of his own, though that is impossible for anyone to judge, because no one has a window into anyone else's head. I don't know what Pal's feelings are or what feeds them - I only know my own and what feeds them.

I am an atheist. I am not an atheist because I wanted to be an atheist, I am an atheist because I finally was unable to perpetuate my faith in the face of so very much evidence to contradict everything I Believed. I feel free now, like a huge burden has gone from me - do not get me wrong - in many ways I feel much better for finally shedding my faith. But that has come only after a nearly twenty year struggle to cling desperately to that faith. I described a great deal of that experience and the abusive nature of my brainwashing here, here, here and a bit here, so I am not going to really go into the abusive nature of my relationship with my faith now - suffice to say, if you do not want to click the links, that like a lot of people I spent a very long time in a very abusive relationship with religion. I will highlight one aspect of that abuse though, because it speaks well to my immense privilege.

Before I do, I do want to be clear that I am pretty cognizant of my privilege. I am privileged and I have benefited from it my whole life. But privilege is relative - it is always relative.

One of the worst abuses my relationship with religion fostered, was my attitude about my neurological issues. At an early age I was taught that I did not have neurological problems - or if I did, it was totally a matter of demonic activity being at the heart of it. I was taught by my fundie mother that it was totally a matter of wholly surrendering myself to her god and following his plan for my life. That if I just believed enough - prayed enough - figured out and accepted her god's plan for my life, I would no longer have any of these problems. On the other hand, I was told by my atheist father that these neurological issues are just as excuse others were making for me and that if I just damned well did as I was told - if I buckled down, I would be ok.

Being a hardcore little fundamentalist myself, this god person was the obvious choice. Not that it mattered, whether my faith was too weak or my will to weak, my inability to overcome my neurological issues without help was entirely my seven year old responsibility. There was therapy in there when I was in middle school, but with a therapist ill equipped to help me, especially given that I was truly convinced by my parents that it was all on my head. Faith or will, it was all up to me and me alone. It wasn't until my entire world shattered around me as a teen, that I changed my view on that - unfortunately it only changed for the worse.

I decided then to embrace my mental illness and in exactly those words. I decided that just as my god obviously wanted me to have sex and use drugs - else he wouldn't have sent the opportunities for both my way so often - I became convinced that this is the way I was made, the way my brain was made and I should just accept it as it was. I decided that the only way I could ever be successful, was if I truly accepted who and what I was, because when my world shattered I didn't stop believing. My beliefs changed to be sure - they changed quite fundamentally. But the Faith was still there - the absolute Belief was still there. Not only that, but it was something that I described as Christian, though I explored all sorts of other beliefs.

I no longer denied that I had atypical neurology, but I didn't believe that I should try to change it - in spite of using a hell of a lot of drugs that did just that. As I learned more and understood more about the world around me and even myself, my feelings about my brain evolved. I accepted eventually that I really would probably do better with help, but help wasn't available and recreational drugs were. But still there was that faith - though even that had evolved further and further.

I should note that I was quite often subject to bigotry from other Christians, because I was not the right sort of Christian and as a rather serious substance abuser and horrendous slut, I obviously did not live their version of a Christian lifestyle. My advocacy for glt rights also counted hard against me, as did my acceptance of evolution.

There were times when I might have let it go, but for the simple stark terror I had of hell and the possibility of hell. That, combined with this belief that there were otherwise unexplainable interventions in my life - the biggest being that I was still alive and relatively coherent. And it was a great comfort when I moved to a new city where I literally had two friends before I moved there. My partner and I had split and I was pretty much bereft of anything approaching the support network that I had developed and fostered back in Lansing. I went to the church that my two friends in Portland were attending and was embraced into a wonderful new family.

Until it all fell apart - until I could no longer reconcile or justify any of it. Then I was rejected by this family I had been part of. I was rejected by people who were an important part of my life and the life of my eldest child - not just in the context of faith, but in a very holistic fashion. I was rejected and my child faced rejection for things he had no comprehension of, by people who were as important to him as they were to me. And ever since, I have either endured rejection from these people or pressure to just read this book or listen to that speaker - and it would all make sense again. Comments that they are still praying for me and have every confidence I will one day return to their god's grace.

And while it is certainly not all, many people I care about find it downright offensive that I would infringe on their holidays and any other aspect of their culture.

Being back in the midwest has brought on other problems. Friends who were my friends in spite of my identifying as a Christian - friends who had been rejected by most people who carry that label, but accepted me because I did not have come to reject me for rejecting any spiritual or religious beliefs altogether. To be sure, I still have many friends - including many gay and transgendered friends. But I have lost as many as I still have.

And I still have to make a lot of decisions about whether or not to admit to being an atheist to whom. There is a very common theme in the midwest (and many places) that people don't care what your spiritual or religious beliefs might be - they just take exception to people who don't believe in any sort of higher power.

I have been soundly rejected by most of my community of friends and loved ones. Was rejected at a time when I was dealing with the trauma of finally getting free of my struggle with religion. As abusive as it was, like many such relationships it was nevertheless a fundamentally important part of my life. It is over and I am free of it, but I am not free of it's influence. I am not only dealing with the hole left by faith, I am dealing with the hole left by many people I love - exacerbated by the bigotry of people I love, the bigotry of strangers aside. And while people can't just look at me and see that I am an atheist, I sometimes have to sit quiet and pretend I am not.

And it is only in the last year, while dealing with this rejection and pain, that I am finally actually getting help for my neurological issues and managing to repair the severe damage those problems have created in my life and in the lives of my children. At thirty three, I am finally getting an education in hopes of pulling myself and my children out of the poverty and near poverty that has been their lot in life.

So no, my experience is not PalMD's experience. His experience may even plumb greater depths than my own, I can only speak for myself on that count. All I can say is that my experience with religious bigotry has had a very painful and profound affect on not only myself, but my eldest son as well. There is no equivalency because Pal's experience and mine are very different and because neither of us could begin to know the depth of suffering the other feels to compare. But just because there is no equivalence, does not make either of our experiences or the feelings fostered by those experiences less valid than the other.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Gearing up for the winter semester

I took the boys back to their mother on new years, amazed again at the ability of my two and almost eight year old to endure ten hours plus on the road with minimal fuss. I am rather depressed they are gone, talking on the phone every day just doesn't hold a candle to snuggles, reading to them in person, being peed on post bath or even having same two year old wander over to the corner to crap in his diaper five minutes after spending twenty five minutes sitting on his potty holding it in. I will also miss the sledding - post tooth coming out and emergency oral surgery actually included. While it was rather horrific, it is also better now and another experience shared with eldest.

But they are back with momma (for now) and I am getting ready for another semester.

I am really excited about my classes this semester, even the bloody math. I am taking abnormal psych, cross culture communications, American sign language, intermediate algebra and language and culture. The last three are four credit classes, making this an eighteen credit semester. I am a little reticent about the load, but ultimately I think it will be pretty easy going.

Abnormal psych is with a rather brilliant instructor and I can expect to write one paper, tests making up the rest of my grade. I am pretty comfortable with my knowledge of abnormal psych going into this class, so I don't expect any problems with tests and most regular readers of my blog know how I feel about papers...For those who don't - I bloody well love writing papers.

Cross culture communications is an online class - something I have never managed to deal with well before. But the instructor is my instructor for interpersonal communications and he made it clear that he is available personally and that he not only has message board discussions, but actually takes part in them. And most excitingly, there are only two tests (IIRC) and the rest of the grade is pretty much wrapped up in three - yes three papers!!!

I am taking intermediate algebra with the same instructor who taught my remedial algebra class and have every confidence that this will be just as great as that was. He was very instrumental in helping me understand concepts that I have had a totally shit time with in the past. He also is very available before and after class, as well as during rather more extensive office hours than a lot of instructors.

American sign is going to be pretty awesome - I actually dropped it last semester, after a couple of sessions for personal reasons, but have every confidence that this will be a great experience. The instructor is great and given my limited experience with her, someone I can totally deal with. She is very pleasant, very warm - without being saccharine, at the same time she is also very strict - a combination I am very fond of.

Language and culture is something I am really looking forward to for several reasons. First and foremost, I am really looking forward to the instructor - I would have taken any class she happened to be teaching this semester. She is the head of the humanities department and there are several things that I am interested in discussing with her - things she has a fair expertise in. And joy of joys, the only class she is teaching this semester is something I very much wanted to take. I am approaching the study of language from a very science oriented perspective - I think it will be valuable to look at it from a humanities perspective, extremely valuable really. I have been reading Terrence Deacon, who among many other things makes a solid case for approaching symbols/language/icons from a broader angle than science really allows for, when engaging the study of language and cognitive/neurological evolution.

And honestly, I have to admit that I am excited about having the opportunity to write a couple of papers in MLA. There is something rather relaxing about the MLA format - not to say that I don't appreciate APA - I do. But I will totally admit to being something of a whore when it comes to writing styles and there is just something rather sexy about MLA...

With all of my paper writing this semester, I am hoping I will be encouraged to write more blogposts - though they will be rather topical to the papers I happen to be working on at a given point. I know that we will get the parameters for our communication papers within the first week - so those will probably be the first ones that I hit on. I also expect to get the psych paper parameters early on as well. I am not all that sure when the humanities paper parameters will come out, but don't expect them until a specified time before they are due. The paper for sign-language will be available right away, but we won't have the background for it until we are well into the semester (I believe that one might be MLA too!!!).

All in all, I am really looking forward to the upcoming semester. It looks out to be totally big fun and excitement through and through (ok, so I am rather less excited about math, but still)...Good times will be had by all!!!