Monday, May 14, 2018

This Election Year, Leave Your Troll Farm Training Behind

In 2016, Russian Troll Farms helped Americans hone our unfortunate skills of hating women and people of color (and our/their pesky “identity politics”) to undermine our election and support straight white male supremacy on both the right and the left, including efforts to suppress the African American vote overall. ( I’ll stop writing about 2016 someday, but not until its influence is over.

Here in 2018, we’re seeing a lot of progress despite the ongoing fascism at the top. We have so many more female candidates, LGBT candidates, and candidates of color to root and cheer and canvass for. But as much as those candidates will have our support, as much as I believe in the Blue Wave and the Rainbow Wave and all of the other against-evil signs that I see in our near future, it saddens and angers me that all of the inspired candidates entering into or persisting in our political sphere will face the misogyny, homophobia, racism, and white male entitlement of Trump’s/Sanders’s/Putin’s well-trained army of commenters.

As Bernie’s adherents turn their Hillary-hatred toward Kamala Harris and Corey Booker, heaping them with comment-contempt and demonizing all Democrats as shills, will that hurt the Blue Wave and end up (maybe unintentionally) supporting Trump’s agenda? Will the Left’s version of white male supremacy end up supporting the Right’s? I hope not. I know the White Male Supremacist Left is louder than it is pervasive (That’s why they don’t get, you know, THE VOTES.) but I still think reclaiming the government in November is going to take extra badass efforts on the part of all intersectional feminists and our allies.

While the misogynist Troll Farm mentality is concentrated in the MAGA/Our Revolution camps, our training in abusive commenting bleeds into everything. Last year when the Al Franken story broke, my misery at being triggered by that gross picture was made worse by the fact that many of the members of the Marching Onward Facebook Group (Which has previously felt like a marvelously comforting group of Hillary supporters to me.) refused to acknowledge Franken’s misconduct, preferring to gaslight, debase, and undermine his victims. I hear that they have since moved on to trashing Kirsten Gillibrand for daring to speak out about Bill Clinton’s abuse of power.

Misogyny, abuse, voter suppression, racism, and cultural gaslighting are not just the product of some right-wing “other”—they are everyone’s problem, everyone’s fault, and EVERYONE’S responsibility to change.

I live in a very liberal neighborhood, but since 2016 I’ve been learning more and more about its general Get Outness. I’ve learned over and over that the label of “liberal” does not translate to “not-misogynist” or “not white supremacist.” But still, it usually seems like things are getting better. As we gear up for the primary election, we are lucky enough to have a choice between two Democrats of color for State Representative; an incumbent guy with lots of charisma and all the best endorsements, and a lady challenger who is very vocal in opposing the NRA but about whom it can be hard to find other information. I’m likely to vote for the incumbent because he seems more vocally supportive of LGBT rights, but I feel protective of the female candidate, for good reason.

The other day, on our neighborhood Facebook group, a neighbor asked a perfectly straightforward question about the female candidate’s endorsements. Her question seemed to trip some sort of Manchurian Candidate wire in many neighbors’’ heads. They saw this innocuous question as a chance to show contempt for the female candidate, dismiss her accomplishments, and denigrate Democrats in general. I just Googled the male candidate to make sure and yep, he’s a Democrat too, but for ladies, it’s for some reason a sin to have the benefit of belonging to a party.  It was a thread of very low-key misogyny, but it let me know that Troll Farm mentality is still in effect, and I pushed back and then turned off notifications.

I’ve been suspicious of calls for civility ever since I realized they most often come from conservative white people, so I won’t ask for civility here. But since I can’t go back in the political TARDIS to 2016 and get my Bernieful neighbors to respect women’s accomplishments and help us save America from Trump, I can ask them for that respect now. Stop erasing women’s accomplishments, and stop pretending that misogyny is anybody’s revolution, that it does anything but support the status quo. For America to prosper, to get all of the freedom and inclusiveness our country is supposed to stand for, you have to stop using the comment section as a way to put women in our place. Nobody signed up for Troll Farm Hate Training, it was forced upon us. It is way past time to let that training go.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Maybe Spring is Real?! April Checkmarks and Lilac-y May Goals

Pssst! If you like these goal sheets, you can subscribe and get your own, made just for you, at my Patreon page!

Happy May!

Monday, April 30, 2018

From “Bi” to “Pan”—Prefixes and Progress

I'm sorry her accent mark is missing!!!!!!!

 “(I) initially identified as bisexual, she clarifies, “but then later I read about pansexuality and was like, ‘Oh, these are things that I identify with, too.’ I’m open to learning more about who I am.” – Janelle Monàe comes out in Rolling Stone, as quoted in this article.

Janelle Monàe’s new album is so good I can barely listen to it. Coming from her, the sentiment “I’m not crazy, I’m American” is enough to start me car-sobbing. Hearing The Way You Make Me Feel on the way home from work the other night, on the day she came out and what felt like the first day of spring, led me to an epiphany—it’s way past time to change my prefix.

When I came out as bi ( TWENTY-SEVEN YEARS AGO (!!!) (A whole Kurt Cobain lifetime ago!), it felt like such a freeing relief to my sixteen-year-old self. I couldn’t make heads or tails of men (Sorry, sixteen-year-old me, that hasn’t changed AT ALL.) and it made the world seem open and easier now that I had what I thought at the time was one other gender option.

One of the things that gives me the most hope for progress is the difference between my coming out in 1992 and the coming out of my present-day favorite pansexual middle-schooler, an honorary niece. The fact that her adolescence offers a spectrum of options, a vast catalog of identities, and a deeper (but by no means perfect) freedom from assigned gender roles fills me with joy. I think I’m ready to claim some of that freedom, both for my current self and for my sixteen-year-old self who is always still with me and always ready for more hope.

Technically, I could still be bi—by the current definition, it just means you’re attracted to more than one gender. I’ll still attend Bi Visibility Day, (Last year, the mayor came! Reason a million why Philly is the best!) I’ll still do my part to combat bi-erasure ( in whatever ways I can, I’ll still be mad at Dan Savage for that time he said we’re the only sexual orientation he hates. (That’s when I’m not being mad at him for the hostile work environment he created for Lindy West… ) (Or being grateful for the beautifulness he created with It Gets Better, which seems to want to be a running theme here…)

ANYWAY, the “bi” prefix hasn’t been sitting right with me. Even though the word doesn’t want to, “bisexual” still sounds like “two” to me, and it’s been a long time since I A. Thought there were two genders or B. Was only attracted to two genders. About ten years ago, a crush on a handsome New York performance poet sent me down a giddy rabbit hole of trans-infatuation (I’m pretty sure I totally fetishized and objectified him, and I’m really, REALLY sorry.) that has lead me into some of my favorite friendships and communities. I am NEVER surprised when someone I am drawn to later transitions—even my favorite writer in the world is headed down that road. ( )

So it has felt increasingly weird to have a label that sounds like two, even though I know that isn’t what “bisexual” actually means.

I guess it’s total dork-o-rama to change my prefix because Dirty Computer was finally released, but it’s WAAAAY more dignified than choosing the name “Jane” because a character on Blossom said she thought it was cool. (Thanks Jane’s Addiction and Jane Eyre for providing cover all these years, it’s good to let the secret out!) I’m sad to (sort of) let my old category go—twenty-seven years of anything is a long time—but I want my prefix to reflect my heart. Though I tend to go for those who present as masculine these days, I’m not sure assigned gender is an important factor. I want my prefix to reflect the world I want to see, a gorgeous, free spectrum where self-expression and self-determination trump prefabricated roles and expectations.

There’s a mantra that often floats through my head when I’m uneasy, especially in spring: Let Things Change. It feels vulnerable and maybe even silly to have a new word, but I know it’s right.

Next in the process will be figuring out where I am on the asexual spectrum these days, and I expect there’s a prefix to contend with there too. One thing at a time though. One syllable at a time.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Weekly Not-Just-for-Patrons Activist Resources on the SF Patreon

Image Description: Watercolor of a pink-iced cake with blue roses and writing: "You can do something about it!" (Still a little mad at Tina Fey.)

Hi friend-o-ramas! I decided to do weekly free posts on my Patreon page with activist resources. I'm planning to do mini book reviews, pop culture recommendations, and of course activist activities you can join. This week, it's how to talk to Trump supporters if you're more chill than me and therefore capable of such a task!

Friday, April 20, 2018

Woke Misogyny Is Hard to Write About

Trigger Warning: Sexual assault, online violence

***PLEASE NOTE: I’m writing as a white cisgendered women, and every oppression that happens to me happens so much more often to women of color, trans people, disabled people, etc. My point of view is extraordinarily privileged in so many ways. As I write about the ways in which misogyny and rape-victim-blaming can intersect with the callout culture approach to social justice work, it’s likely it will seem like I’m forgetting that privilege. I am not. I’m interested here in what the identity of rape survivor really feels like in a body, and how misogyny and victim-blaming still exists even in the most well-intentioned circles. A disclaimer can’t assure that I won’t get it wrong, but this is the space where I get to get it wrong so I can learn. ***

A few weeks ago, I read the wonderful, wonderful, WONDERFUL book The Body Is Not an Apology ( by Sonya Renee Taylor. The book came into my life at a time when I was feeling stuck, and it felt like a lifeboat. The theme of the book, to wildly over-simplify, is that radical self-love is a starting point for making the world a less-terrorized place for bodies. Not just an I-love-my-curves kind of love, well that too but also a deeper love that celebrates even the difficult, ESPECIALLY the difficult, parts of the process each of us is going through. The book gave me space to truly love myself, even to forgive myself, and I felt ready to grow and serve the world better.

I LOVED The Body Is Not an Apology, I still do. I evangelized it all over town, I couldn’t help myself. My neighborhood even has a body-positive book club, and I joined even though I am super wary of groups. The problem is, Sonya Renee Taylor is a friend of some former friends of mine, and the IRL side of the life-saving book knocked me off of my radical-self-love square almost as soon as I got on there. The world, like depression-brain, will always find a way to remind me to live in self-criticism, to remind me that nothing I ever do will be good enough. The depression-brain part is on me, but I didn’t get this way in a vacuum.

While I was going on a kickass self-love adventure with TBINAA, the book club’s Facilitator was having a spoken word journey. This is where things went awry. A few days before the group was meeting for the second time, Facilitator posted a video of a poem to her facebook group. Not Sonya, that would have been lovely, but Mean “Body Positive” White Lady. M “BP” WL was a sort-of-friend of mine until she wrote a blustery post attacking Hillary voters (There may come a day when I’m over the 2016 primary, but this is not that day.) and, when I pushed back, called me a “vagina voter.” How can you call yourself body positive if my anatomy rules out my enfranchisement? Anyway, the usual things happened after that, some people pressed like, some people collected cultural capital by piling on and saying GOD KNOWS WHAT, I blocked the thread and moved on. Mean “Body Positive” White Lady, through very little fault of her own, became a figure of fear in the trauma-soup that is my once-beloved National Poetry Slam community.

For almost a decade, the thing that has made it hardest for me to hear and be heard in online interactions with the NPS community is the pile-on. In fairness, in about 2010 when I secondhand-witnessed my first NPS pile-on, social networking was fairly new. Troll farms, 4chan, revenge porn, etc, weren’t part of the public lexicon, and there wasn’t as deep an understanding of the violence that the online world can perpetrate on women, particularly queer women and women of color. Because of my magic/annoying PTSD brain, the mob-mentality aspect of the pile-on jumped right out at me.

The First Big Pile-On (meaning, the FBPO that entered my consciousness, not the first they had) didn’t happen to me, but also it sort of feels like it did. The details are fuzzy to me, but I’ll do my best. A White Lady Slam Leader was sort of live-facebooking the finals of a national slam competition in…2010? She was making the point that the options for how to be a woman and get slam points are very limited, and in making that point, she said something racist—NOT OKAY. I’m glad people spoke up about her misstep, but the response was wildly disproportionate, with everyone weighing in, comment after comment. To her credit, WLSL saw the whole thing as a learning opportunity, and I learned a lot too, but alongside our progress toward awakening came a clear message: You don’t get to comment on poetry culture, and if you do, you are eligible to be ripped to shreds. At the same time that the mass-pushback was helping us make progress and learn, at the same time that it was helping marginalized voices be heard, it was also sending women a clear message to stay in our place, to keep ourselves small and stop trying to comment on the culture as a whole.

Not too long after that, my own work with the Philadelphia Poetry Slam started to feel like I was being used and like my work (We’d call it emotional labor now—YAY TERMS!) was being taken for granted, for only-sort-of-related reasons. For good and ill, the NPS community stayed with me through my friend feeds. That’s how, in that benighted spring of 2016, I got tangled in the tail-end of a much more upsetting pile-on.

A queer white woman had written a performance poem about her rape. Some of the language in the poem implied that her rapist was Mexican, when he was, in fact, white. THAT’S BAD! It’s upsetting and definitely a problem but also IT’S A POEM SHE WROTE ABOUT HER OWN RAPE. Even though she was a very privileged rape survivor, she was still a rape survivor, and I felt like a PUBLIC PILE-ON was maybe not the best way to address it. I’m a super-lucky rape survivor too, but I don’t think I could’ve made it through the NATIONAL TRIAL BY FACEBOOK that this woman survived. I’m sorry, but no one deserves that.

Like the WLSL, this poet was willing to learn from her mistake. The Woman Who’d Written Her Rape Poem Wrong wrote a public apology on facebook, including an apology for taking private time to heal. By now you’re yelling JANE! DON’T COMMENT ON THAT THREAD! Because I never learn, I commented. I told her she’s still a person, still entitled to self-care, and that taking time for herself was not going to make there be more racism. Then I blocked the thread, vaguebooked about how the NPS community can be shitty and misogynist and went to bed.

What I didn’t know was that the Queen Bully of Poetry Land, who used to be a friend of mine, was at the center of this pile-on. My phone buzzed around 3 AM, QBPL letting me know she thinks I’m as racist as Susan B. Anthony (There’s a certain line of thinking that suggests feminism can never be a thing because of Susan B. Anthony’s poor choices. If this same standard were applied to men, there would NEVER BE ANYTHING EVER.) She told me that I had failed at teaching not because I’d lacked self-care, but because of my own weakness and entitlement. Accurate, but not helpful. After I blocked her and went back to sleep, she texted my ex-wife/BFF to yell at her for having #blacklivesmatter on her facebook page, since clearly we both must be unredeemably racist for thinking a white rape victim is still a person.

No matter how much I distance myself from that NPS scene in my heart and mind and feeds, it still hangs like a tattooed ghost over my creative life. I was surprised when my jangledness about those years-ago pile-ons knocked me out of The Body Is Not an Apology Book Club, but I’m glad to give the Facilitator the chance to go on her spoken word journey without worrying about my weird residual triggers. Today, for me, radical self-love means admitting that this stuff still matters, that there’s still so much fear and un-worked-out pain, so much letting go of the ten-to-twenty-years-ago NPS community that still sometimes knocks me off balance. Mostly, that off-balance is good. Mostly, I’m getting somewhere.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Need Help Spoiling Your Creative Self? Join the Serotonin Factory Patreon Page!

I'm underemployed while I work on building up m tutoring business, but the great thing about that is having extra time to devote to blogging, art, and activism. So I've got this dream to CONTINUE having that extra resistance-ing time, and you can help! And get spoiled in the process. Consider taking advantage of any of the patronage/creative coaching options on my new Patreon page:

You can get goal sheets, art, mini-tarot readings and more. I think it'll be so much fun.