A note about The Deviated Norm

This here is a low traffic blog on topics close to my heart. As such, comments and engagement on old posts are always welcome and will be responded to. Except! for comments on old posts telling me to lighten up, not take things so seriously, or let things go, 'cause that shit's just plain ironic. Those comments will get a suggestion to visit Derailing for Dummies.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Kokopelli, Mohawks, Appropriation, and White Racism/Privilege

This is a sort of scattered post today.

I've been thinking about Kokopelli recently because of two events. The first event (though chronologically second) is that my partner and I visited the house of one of his good friends, who has a woven rug/runner thing tacked to the wall with like 20 Kokopellis woven along it basically in a conga line. The second event (chronologically first) is that a couple weeks ago, while over at my parents house, my sister mentioned that her friend had a tattoo (I believe, I can't think of the context, but I can't think of what else it would have been BUT a tattoo) of Kokopelli. Apparently I made a face, because my sister found it necessary to explain that Kokopelli is a "Native American god*" (again, I'm not certain that was exactly what she said, but I AM certain she didn't specify either: what tribes worship(ped) him or what his powers are believed to be). I stated that I knew exactly who Kokopelli is and that my face was for the fact that I think it's really screwed up for white people (her friend is a white person, just like my whole family) to appropriate meaningful symbols/gods from other cultures.

My sister countered that I didn't know how meaningful Kokopelli is to her friend. I don't care how meaningful Kokopelli is to white folks... pick a fertility god from a culture you have a background in... oh wait, what's that?, you didn't know that Kokopelli is a fertility god?, wow he must be SUPER meaningful to you I suppose! (Sorry, angry rant done). We dropped it soon after because regardless of whatever we'd say, it wouldn't change the fact that her friend had that tattoo** (they're permanent you know).

I thought back to that argument (which my partner was there for) when we entered his friend's house. I looked at the wall hanging, and was made intensely uncomfortable by it, but we were there to ask for a favor (or something), so I didn't say anything. Which makes me feel cruddy. I think the difference was that my sister brought it up in conversation the first time, whereas just seeing a wall-hanging isn't exactly an invitation to talk about it. But I still wish I'd said something (perhaps next time we're over I'll ask what her interest in fertility gods is?).

So obviously appropriation of Native cultures has been on my mind a lot recently.

Which brings me to Native Appropriations, and Adrienne's most recent post about white people wearing "Indian"/"Indian-style" headdresses. Now there are some things I don't love about her posts on the topic, well, really just one thing. It's that she calls them "Hipster Headdresses." Yes, most hipsters are white/come from upper-middle class backgrounds, but not all. Appropriation that those (privileged) individuals do they do as privileged white/rich people, not as "hipsters." Hipsters are not defacto privileged, there isn't "hipster privilege," so it seems stupid to say it's a "hipster" thing instead of (say) a "white thing" or a "rich thing." This is a common naming that happens in liberal/radical groups where I'll hear people talk about "hipster racism" as though it isn't the same damn racism that other white people do. It's white racism, and rich classism, it isn't special to hipsters, and they aren't a specially protected/privileged group (in my analogies on this subject I've pointed out that tea drinkers are probably predominantly white/privileged just like hipsters, but we don't call racism perpetrated by them "tea drinker racism"). Anyway.

One of the things that happened the other day while I was reading her post (wherein she describes having a clothing designer come to an old post to harrass her about being opposed to white people using headdresses as a cool new "accessory") was that I was struck with revulsion at the privileged asshole-ishness of E. Starbuck. Fuck that noise.

Which brings me to mohawks (the hairstyle, not the tribe).

I'm a white person, so I have white privilege. In high school I had dreads (not something I'm proud of these days, but at the time it didn't seem like a big deal). In college I had a mohawk. For a long time I've mourned that I "can't" have a mohawk anymore. For a while I felt I couldn't because I was out in the world where people would judge me negatively for having hair that didn't conform to "appropriate" standards (but I was going to find a job and then settle in and then shave it again). More recently (the past year and a bit) I've been feeling like I "can't" wear one because of the appropriation aspect of it. But I've been fighting that. I didn't feel like it was a choice I was making for myself, but one that was made for me, and it made me upset and sad (boo hoo, I know). I'd see a person (usually white, sometimes black) walking down the street with a mohawk and sigh longingly, and then Bluejay (my partner) had to remind me that it's appropriative and such. And I keep/kept saying "but hair! it's... anyone could think up shaving a stripe onto your head! plus! all the white hairstyles are boring" and then he'd (very smart, my partner is) point out that the reason that mohawks and dreads and such seem "cool" and "not boring" is because of uh, white privilege, appropriation, and racism. So then I spent weeks/months whining (not often) about how I guess I'd just have to come up with a "not boring" hairstyle that wasn't appropriative.

Bluejay pointed out to me that maybe I could use this as a learning experience to acknowledge how difficult it can be for other white folk to give up something that they think of as dear to their hearts (Kokopelli, sweat lodges, "moccasins," whatever) "just" because of white privilege. He pointed out that the things that I've "given up" because they were racist (not going to see Avatar, being opposed to conflict diamonds, etc.) are things that I either don't care about (like clothes/jewelry) or was anti-racist before I heard about them, and thus didn't find appealing (like Avatar), so it wasn't a very big sacrifice. I'm not sure Bluejay's idea worked in making me more sympathetic to people who cling to privilege, but it is helping me acknowledge that I am not Super Anti-Racist, but instead flawed (gasp! shock! horror!).

But hey! luckily for me (and my fragile white psyche), E. Starbuck has made it oh-so-easy for me to give up my fantasy for oppression-free mohawks. How? Because the second I read zir screed, I said to myself "oh fuck, I NEVER want to act like that privileged a wanker, that's probably what I sound like about mohawks." And I was (very close to) cured of my desire for one. I mean damn but that's a jerkish thing to do: seek out a Native person to harrass because they are opposed to you stealing their culture. Ugh.

So, I don't have a really good wrap up to this, other than I guess to acknowledge to myself and the world that I am not Super Anti-Racist, but with a little help from friends (and racist assholes) I can work to be less oppressive to others. Who knows, if I talk with Bluejay's friend about Kokopelli perhaps we can move together towards a less oppressive future.

*Using a non-capitalized "god" is not meant as a disrespect to Native cultures, but is instead due to my desire to not give a false reverence which I do not feel for any religions' god(dess)(es).

**For full disclosure I should mention that for 3 or so years in undergrad I seriously believed I'd get a full back tattoo of Quan Yin and Kali, two archetypes/goddesses/symbols that I really appreciated. At some point during that time I was talking with a Hindu friend of mine who apparently told me he thought it was fucked up that I was going to get a tattoo of a Hindu goddess even though I wasn't Hindu. I don't remember that conversation, but I do remember the one following it when he brought it up later as I mentioned some hugely disrespectful toilet paper with Hindu gods on it (I believe). He implied that what I was planning (still at the time interested in the tattoo) was only slightly less disrespectful than the toilet paper. I'm pretty sure I behaved in a privileged white way as a response (blabbing on about how she was meaningful to me, etc.). I don't know if I ever apologized to him for that (we no longer chat much). So, just to say that I'm not immune from having felt like appropriation is a-ok, but luckily I did take long enough figuring out who to design it and tattoo it and everything that I stopped wanting it.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Trigger Warning for Transphobia

This article made me gasp in horror, fear, and revulsion. (Synopsis, a Texas firefighter died on the job, his parents are suing to stop his widow from getting any benefits because she is trans).

Some things that made me rather sick:
The article/picture captions seem to LOVE qualifying "wife" with "born a man" and "transgendered."
The bigotry of the lawyer for the mother saying that his wife is "attempting to make a huge money grab" when to any person with any sense of fairness in this world would acknowledge that the parents are the ones making a money grab, since you know, they SUED to stop their daughter-in-law from receiving any benefits.
Texas law.
and of course the comments. Don't read the comments.

I really don't know what to say about this, it's just so heartbreaking that at this most vulnerable time for her his parents are trying to cut her off from the help she could get. She's having to spend her time in court being told that she wasn't his wife for the past years (and obviously being told she isn't a woman), all to make his parents richer. Shame. Shame on them. It's days like this that make me despair for myself and the world.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Today in Meet a Poly Person: All Relationships are "Real" Relationships

Often in online conversations about poly people's relationships, real lived experiences of poly people, (or people in open relationships, or swingers, or anyone else who isn't monogamous) are ignored. There will be a strawperson (or strawrelationship) set up for the blogger or commenter to knock down in their quest to show how very bad and no good we non-monogamous people are. This series was set up in order to combat that. People in non-monogamous relationships aren't all the same, so our experiences aren't.

Hi, I'm Melusin, blogger at And What Was Ze ... I'm a pansexal trans man, a newbie activist, poet, playwright and director for a small theatre company. I live with my fiance, Roland, in the English Midlands, and we're polyamorous.

There is an old friend of mine for whom I had feelings for a long time. She is the first person I ever fell in love with, causing all sorts of angst and drama in my late teens. She's still a very good friend and every now and then I realise I'm still attracted to her, still sometimes have romantic feelings towards her. (She's made it very clear she isn't interested, and as such I wouldn't act on them).

When Roland and I were monogamous this caused me no end of grief. In fact, my entire sexual identity caused me no end of grief- I was lesbian identified at the time, and my partner is a man. I would be attracted to someone (quite often the aforementioned friend) and constantly feel like I had betrayed Roland, if in thought only. I'd be furious at myself for dreaming about women, or noticing someone I found attractive. It was exhausting.

Roland was bewildered by this. He was accepting of me being attracted to women, and sometimes we'd semi-seriously talk about having sex with another person together, sometimes discussing it more seriously than others. We were concerned with liking the person in question, and there being interest on all sides, and other things that might suggest we'd be amenable to polyamory. But when we discussed polyamory outright we were sure that it "just wouldn't work for us."

We were trying to stick to the structure, to the identification of monogamy, even though it didn't really fit us.

One day I realised that I had a very strong attraction to another person, and commenced the standard "feeling awful about this and that I was a terrible person." I blurted this out in confused fashion to Roland, with much focus on how guilty I felt and how terrible it was. A couple of days later I was in the pub with him when he said that he was okay with me telling the person this, and making advances towards and sleeping with zim. A while later that did happen, and we had a very nice, loving, one night stand. This was followed by a second occasion, and then Roland and I had the "are we poly now?" conversation and decided we were.

My relationship with my secondary partner was the first obviously queer relationship either of us had had, and then ze left the country and we're now not sure whether it will resume when ze returns, but we have enjoyed flirting and similar for most of the year. And if it doesn't resume, that doesn't mean that it doesn't count. Like Jadelyn said in a previous post in this series "Our culture would have us believe that jealousy is the natural state of a relationship, that affection is a zero-sum game and our partner enjoying the company of another somehow diminishes their love for us. But I learned otherwise."

Poly has given my partner and I a chance to appreciate the many different forms of sexual attraction and love, and realise that they are all valuable. My feelings for the old friend I mentioned at the beginning are not a threat to my feelings for Roland, and certainly don't invalidate them. Mine and Roland's other relationships, which sometimes intersect, are valuable in their own right. Poly has meant that we've both come to appreciate many things a great deal more: our past relationships, temporary relationships, single incidents of kissing with an old friend after several years of sexual tension, and our own relationship with all the details and pleasures unique to it.

And the acknowledgement of that, the discussion of current crushes and loves and anxieties and whatever else, has meant that my constant fear of slipping up, of breaking some "unseen rule," has faded. It has meant that when I'm worried about something I tell Roland about it, and that then we are able to work out "seen" rules together. There has been drama over the past year, and tensions, but it is such a bloody relief to be able to talk about it.

Poly means that we're able to create our own mould for relationships, rather than forcing ourselves into tropes and moulds that don't fit us.

If you think you or someone you know would be interested in submitting something for the Today in Meet a Poly Person series, please check out this here post with guidelines for submission. Thanks!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Recent Searches and What they Mean to Me

I've been looking at the search terms that get people here to this fine blog (still a WHOLE LOT of hits on my post about why I don't like gender bender fiction. Frankly, I'm pretty sure that years from now I'll be known as "that guy that wrote about gender bender fiction").

While I think that the person searching for gender bending rock fucking pornos is by far my most confusing of searchs, I want to talk a little about 2 general types of searches that I've been getting recently that really strike home for me.

The first is a couple with searches about like so:
"what is it called when u dont like any gender"
So, since I think this is important information to get out into the world: the word you are looking for is asexual. It's a growing movement, of which I am not really a part ('cause I sure do like sex and I haven't really put in the hours/energy to count myself an ally), which isn't exactly a situation where you don't like any gender (I know that some people who identify as asexual nevertheless have romantic relationships and inclinations towards certain genders of non-sexual partner, etc.). I don't know a whole lot more, because, as I said, I am not asexual or really an ally*. I suggest looking for some of their blogs. Here, I'll get you started (I do not vouch for these, I just googled and found them): Love from the Asexual Underground, and AVEN: the Asexuality Visibility and Education Network.
If you are typing words to the effect of "someone who doesn't like people of any gender" into a search engine because you feel like they describe yourself: awesome! Naming what you feel is a great first step to recognizing and loving yourself.
If you are typing those words because a loved one has told you they aren't attracted to people of any gender, also great (that you're taking the time to learn about this), though again, I would suggest not looking to me for answers.

The next major search result that I want to talk about is less happy fun times and more crankyness. That is "ffm." I get a lot of these (ffm marriage, ffm poly, ffm triad, etc). I guess they all go to Jadelyn's guest post Drama Does Not Define Us. The thing is, FFM relationships are the stereotypical poly triad that people (read: straight cis men) talk about.
All the jokes about "oooh, threesomes" are based on the idea of male pleasure/sexuality and about how "hot" it would be to have TWO WOMEN who were having sex with you at once (if you were a straight cis man). There's an assumption that women in these relationships are "able" to have queer relationships at the whim of a man but that men should never be expected to put up with another GUY in their relationship, OH NOES (and certainly not that a guy could be attracted to a man)! It's a frustrating meme, that is frustratingly common.
I really enjoyed the book Opening Up except at those times where Taormino seems to very uncritically take at face value those relationships that fall into the "one penis policy" ("OPP"). I hate that fucking policy. It's a terrible, sexist thing that apparently happens with some frequency.

The "OPP," as I've heard it described is basically as such: a straight (cis) couple is going to open up their relationship. The woman is bi/bi-curious and the man is not. Therefore, he states that it is fair that they both get to have sex outside of the relationship with women. But no men. Afterall, he can't enjoy having sex with men, so how is it fair for her to have sex with men? Not to mention that it'll make him jealous (of course SHE won't be jealous of him having sex with other women because... ummmm.... because women are magical non-jealous people! and because, like, duh, she'll be getting to have sex with women too, so it's totally fair!), and that she might leave him for another penis. It's often offered as a "stepping stone" to a more fair situation where she isn't artificially limited by her partner's genitalia, but that "just for the moment" he isn't comfortable with it. Only, very rarely does it seem that the "moment" ever ends. I mean, why would it? He gets to sleep around with whoever he'd want to sleep with, while he controls his partner/girlfriend/wife! What's not to love hate?

I don't know why people are searching for "FFM poly" and "FFM marriage" on my pretty lil' blog. It might be that they are all happily in such an arrangement. It might be that they are a woman and are actively seeking out such an arrangement. It could be a multitude of things. But you should know, if you don't fall into those aforementioned categories, if you are, say, a straight single (or currently coupled) cis guy fantasizing about how poly chicks are all about the FFMs, or how awesome a threesome would be? Stuff it. I'm sick of poly being envisioned as this field of pussy for the penises to frolick amongst. Poly relationships take work. Queer relationships are as meaningful/"real" as straight relationships (frankly, I feel like sometimes they are more meaningful/real, but I suppose I'm just biased what with being queer). FFM triads and threesomes and V relationships should not be about making the man happy, but about making EVERYONE happy.

Also, in case you're wondering? Any triad I'll be in will probably be QQQ (or possibly QQF, or QQM). Where are the searches for those types of relationships?

*Besides acknowledging that it is a: real, b: not bad, and c: not inherently a "phase." I do consider myself to have gone through a year long phase of asexuality where I didn't have crushes on people, I didn't fantasize about sex, and I was just plain asexual. However me saying that it was a phase for me is no more implying that asexuality is "just a phase" for others, than me saying that since I happened to go through a 10 year phase of assumed heterosexuality, that heterosexuality is "just a phase" for the rest of the world (that is heterosexual). Just because something was/is a "phase" for some people doesn't mean that the identity was/is any less valid. Though I do note that the phrase is almost entirely used by our society when referring to identities that we want to discredit or mark as "bad," so see point "b" for how I feel about that.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Words Matter, So Use Them Correctly

I've got a pet peeve folks.

Well, to be honest I've probably got a lot of them, but this one in particular is making me cranky today. I'm sure other people have written extensively about it (though cursory googling does not produce any results).

It's this: Don't use "GLBT" or "LGBT" (which are the two most common iterations of that particular acronym) if you don't actually mean Gay. Lesbian. Bisexual. and Transgender. Each. Specifically.

I'm frankly pretty sick of the label being used when really it should be "white cis gay men, and maybe a few lesbians."

Things that are not *actually* GLBT friendly: the Human Rights Campaign (when the only trans person on your board quits in protest of how thoroughly you fuck over the trans community, you are NOT an organization focusing on the GLBT community, you are, at best focusing on the GLB community), the Advocate (when only 1 of the past 21 covers you put out have a picture of a lesbian on them, and none have pictures of anyone identified as trans, or even bisexual... this is not a magazine for anyone other than the G in GLBT, let's not delude ourselves here), "LGBT panels" (that are invariously described as being about writing "gay" characters, that focus on slutty evil bisexual male characters, and that have no mention of lesbians or, wait!, this seems to be a theme!, trans people... OK, sure sounds REALLY LGBT friendly, uh huh, do you happen to have any bridges?, I'm especially interested in purchasing the Brooklyn one I've heard it's pretty), you get the idea.

Apparently some time a while ago, after Gay orgs got called out for being exclusionary, they decided that calling themselves GLBT (or LGBT) would do to fix that particular problem. And it probably helped for about 5 minutes. Trans and Bisexual folks would walk in the door and be struck by the fact that it had an acronym that included them. Yay!

These days, I think it does a whole hell of a lot more harm than good, because like Gender Bending fiction that doesn't actually depict our lives, it gives the veneer of respect and inclusion. It tells allies (or potential allies) who don't yet know about the issues going on, that "this" (whatever "this" it is, which is almost invariably a more powerful organization, and thus less likely to actually be engaged with the more marginalized of our populations) is what is trans-friendly, or bisexual inclusive looks like. So that people working on a project about the trans community use statistics from an organization that had their only trans board member quit in protest of their transphobia.

So please. If you are a safe space for gay men, fine, call yourself that. If you are a safe space for gays and lesbians, say that. But if you tack on an extra letter, MEAN IT. Don't insult us by using our letters to pad your inclusive cred.