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.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Scooters, Women's Bodies, and Male Anger

[Trigger warning for Male Anger manifesting in misogynistic language, threats of violence, and verbal harrassment]

Bluejay and I got a scooter back in the spring which we have been using daily as our main mode of transportation. Scooters are excellent, especially in the city. In the city no one can go much faster than 30 mph (the speed that a scooter tops out at) for long stretches anyway. In the city there are often long lines at lights where scooters can mosey up the right side and then scoot off into the sunset when the light turns. In most municipalities, scooters have rights to the bike lanes, thus making us potentially safer than otherwise. Scooters look cool (ours is creamsicle-like, white and orange), and they awesome gas mileage (on a tank of gas from a crappy gas station we only get 50 mpg but on a tank of gas from a high end station we get like 90 or 100 mpg).

One thing that isn't so great about scooters though is Male Anger. Scooters (and bikes) tend to make men in SUVs cranky. A few months back when Bluejay and I were going somewhere (yep, it fits two people), we stopped at the red light. Seems pretty normal, right? Other than the asshole in the SUV (actual bumper sticker: Got Oil?) behind us apparently wanted us to continue out into traffic. He honked, (Bluejay gave him the finger, he doesn't like the tendency of Boston drivers to honk at you for following traffic laws). I took the right on red I was planning on taking moments ago anyway (after having actually deliberated on whether another car would hit us if I did... you know, following those pesky traffic laws). He of courseb sped up, pulled around us into another lane, yelled curse words out the window at us, (I gave him the finger, not realizing that this was the second finger of the encounter), and proceeded to pull into the lane in front of us and weave back and forth from lane to lane when I tried to get out from behind him. Male Anger. Sort of terrifying. You know, what with us being on an open to the elements motorized bicycle, and him in a fucking Hummer (no joke). The best that could be said about him was that he had absolutely no respect for the fact that his actions could have killed us, the worst that could be said is that he was actively attempting to get us to crash.

Last night, on my way home from class I got another taste of the way that scooters elicit male anger. You should know that Boston has a notoriously large community of bicyclists that a) almost never follow traffic laws (as in passing lines of cars stopped at a red for the past minute, and then proceeding to somehow make a left on the red through oncoming traffic), b) rarely wear safety gear (brakes?!? who gives a shit about brakes! helmets? pah! they'll mess up my carefully mussed hair). Perhaps you've noticed from my rhetoric a slight disdain for that type of "loose"ness with one's safety? As in, that even if I meander towards the front of a stopped line I don't actually breeze through reds, and that I wear a helmet, and not a "brain bucket" helmet, but a full helmet with a clear eye guard that I put down in inclement weather.

So I'm stopped at the light waiting for an opening to take my left when a guy pulls up to me (I don't notice him, focusing on oncoming cars) and hisses out the window "put your face mask down, Bitch," just as there is an opening/I'm leaving. Usually in encounters like this I'm too flabbergasted, but in this case I knew exactly what I wanted to say but the coward/asswipe had already sped off.

Does this guy give such helpful safety tips to all the guys around town who think that little half-melon helmets are sufficient? Does he hiss "buy a better helmet, MAN (said with derision)" when he passes them? Does he perhaps verbally assault the male bicyclists he sees around town as they go from place to place without any protective headgear? I mean, really, what exactly is he trying to accomplish here. Did my facemask offend his delicate sensibilities?

I'm not a woman, but he clearly thought I was. I feel (just maybe) that he found the idea of a woman scooting as intimidating. Why? The experience got me to thinking about a town I used to live in where the entire biking community knew about this person who would drive around and while passing them (while they were being entirely safe and legal) would shout obscenities at them (calling them "bike faggots," among other things), and the police refused to do anything because they never "caught her in the act" and she would explain that she was just doing it for bicyclists' "safety" (uh huh? pull the other, it's got bells on it). What is it about bikes and scooters that scares people? What is it about them that is coded as "feminine" (the use of "faggot" I feel like is pretty indicative of a desire/belief that bicyclists are somehow effeminate or less manly if they aren't already women)? And why this need to police the bodies of those who are assumed to be women (or are just assumed to be feminine men)?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


I've been really stressed recently. It's been vague amorphous stress, I can't pinpoint where it comes from well enough to excise it and it has been starting fights. Some of the things that are probably contributing are that my summer part-time job is drawing to a close and I need to start gearing up for my second/last year of MSW program, Bluejay and I are talking about where/when/how I'll get into a PhD program. Houses, children, animals, free time, money are also part of this future-talk. It's all sort of been swirling a bit.

Last week my father was taken to the ER because he was having trouble breathing. For the first couple rounds of chemo it seemed he'd been doing really well, his counts were up in all the right places. The last 2 rounds though he'd been having a worse reaction (it seemed to me, not actually living with him), and more lag time to feeling base level ok. Last week my mother wasn't home when he woke up and he realized he couldn't move around the house without worrying about falling over/passing out. He's said that he thinks that if she'd been home he wouldn't have bothered to call the doctor/911, he'd have tried to tough it out. Turns out there was clotting in the leg that traveled to his lungs. He's on blood thinners now.

I'm jealous of my sister who's living at home with our parents because she found out before I did and was able to see him in the hospital the day it happened. When the diagnosis for the cancer happened I was ready to be part of a caretaking team. On some level I was happy too, because I'd been feeling like a subpar son/male relative with my other folks who are sick. I wanted to redeem myself (on some level... it's also true that I just genuinely wanted to be there for my dad). Instead I've only taken him to one round of the chemo and since he does better with less people around I haven't been around more than once every few weeks. My sister and mother know what times of the week are "good times" after the chemo, but I wasn't close enough during that time to learn his personal cycle.
A neighbor came around the other day when I was there (after going to the hospital to see him) asking after him. It just felt mostly like gossip to me. There'd been an ambulance and a fire truck and as my dad put it "almost all of the emergency folks in the whole town," and she'd seen him getting wheeled away. My sister took it as her being involved and caring about him, (and probably knows better than I do), but I just found it so frustrating and icky to have just gotten in from seeing him and having her pounce on us in the driveway to get all the details.

When he first started chemo, he wanted to not have his hair look patchy. He shaved his head. He started losing his beard and I kept expecting him to shave that too... it's so thin right now I feel like I could count the individual hairs. I didn't know whether to be worried or not that he wasn't putting energy into keeping his head from getting peach fuzzy (since it was going to keep falling out and looking thin), did it mean something? Did it mean he was focusing on the important stuff or did it mean that he didn't have the energy to do something that was important to him?

I don't really need to worry about that anymore though, 'cause they've taken him off the chemo. It was killing him. Technically that's the point of chemo, to have it kill you, but hope that it kills the cancer quicker. We think? (hope?) the cancer's gone, but this wasn't the plan. This is the new plan. The one that involves rat poison (blood thinner).

Anyway, so I'm stressed. Not sleeping well and throwing up. I've got an itch in the back of my throat starting, so I'll get to begin the school year sick as well. And my grandmother's still alive, which should make me happy, other than it just means that the funeral hasn't happened yet. It's selfish but I want her to die in such a way/time that the funeral isn't during my school year, so I can attend without worrying about classwork. I'd be fine with winter break but I honestly doubt she'll make it that long, she's already beat the 6 month pronouncement by multiple months and when I visited her in early July everyone seemed to think it'd be mere hours.

About a third of me thinks that this isn't the reason I haven't been blogging (or doing anything "productive" for the upcoming school year), a third thinks it is, and another third wants it to be the reason 'cause it's a damn fine excuse.

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!