Some words about Charlottesville, white privilege and racism

I have many words and feelings I want to express, but before I do, watch this, if you haven’t already. It’s important to witness what happened in Charlottesville and who these people are. The reporters at VICE who documented this are incredibly brave and deserve a medal.

The opposite of alt-right isn’t alt-left.
The opposite of Nazi-ism isn’t Communism.
The opposite of white supremacy isn’t white hatred.

I was a punk rock kid in high school. Punk is very much the music of teenage rebellion, of pushing boundaries, of clashing with the system. It’s also an identity thing — punk is about not caring about other people’s expectations of what you should be, it’s about making those choices yourself, no matter how brash, how loud and how stupid.

I bring this up because I was remembering a Black Flag song yesterday, “White Minority”. At the time, I assumed it was sarcastic, because I was 90% sure Black Flag wasn’t racist (they had a Puerto Rican singer for a while, after all). But the lyrics aren’t clear on that point:

We’re gonna be a white minority
We won’t listen to the majority
We’re gonna feel inferiority
We’re gonna be white minority

White pride You’re an American
I’m gonna hide Anywhere I can

I knew a couple “white pride” punk kids in high school. It’s one step away from the skinhead punks I’d see hanging around Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco. It’s one step away from the “white nationalists” in the VICE video. In fact, honestly, I can’t even say it’s a step away, really.

At the time of the song, lots of people thought it was racist for what I’d see as fairly obvious reasons. But Greg Ginn, the founder of Black Flag and author of the song, said no.

The idea behind it is to take somebody that thinks in terms of “White Minority” as being afraid of that, and make them look as outrageously stupid as possible. The fact that we had a Puerto Rican (Ron) singing it was what made the sarcasm of it obvious to me. Some people seem to want to take it another way, and somehow think that we’d be so dumb to where a Puerto Rican guy would sing it and it would be–I don’t know how they could consider that racist, but people took it that way.

But in the same interview, he says later that he really doesn’t care that much about that song, in particular.

It’s not a kind of song that has a long term emotional impact or value to us. We don’t even play it all the time.

This is the kind of careless use of words and language that comes with white privilege. Greg Ginn never experienced racism first-hand, but you can bet his Puerto Rican singer, Ron Reyes did. He never thought seriously about skinheads and Nazi punks taking his song and using it as an anthem to promote white supremacy and ethnic cleansing and thought it was “obvious” that it was satire, that he’s making fun of those guys. But if you put an angry, weight-lifting white dude with a shaved head like Henry Rollins in front of the band, it takes on a different meaning and the satire becomes (even) less obvious.

Words have meaning. Words matter and the choice of words matter. This is why we are angry about what Donald Trump said, and didn’t say and then said after coercion and then went back on again with regard to Charlottesville.  The intended meaning of words is irrelevant: how words are interpreted is what matters.

Apologizing or explaining later “oh, that’s not what I meant” doesn’t change anything if people use those same words to incite violence. Donald Trump’s words are being interpreted very favorably among white supremacists whether he knows it, or cares, or not. And that’s what brought us here.

I am pissed.

I dreamt about Nazis last night. I had a Twitter rant in my head the other day that I didn’t write down because I start to form thoughts together and something new happens and I’m having that thing again that happened at the beginning of the election where every minute it’s some new, horrible thing, and I can’t stop hitting refresh.

I have been ashamed by the religion I was born into.
I have been ashamed of the gender I was assigned at birth.
I have been ashamed of my color.
But until this year, I have never been ashamed of my nation.

We have literally gone to war to defeat Nazi ideology, to defeat the concept of a “superior race” and now we have an American President who defends people who agree with those things.

I remember this sketch from Saturday Night Live after the election where a group of white people and the token black character are watching the election results come in.

This is literally us right now. How did this happen? You weren’t paying attention. This has been happening for a long time and we sat there, being complacent and thinking all our victories were won when we elected our first black president.

I’m not perfect either. At the rally for solidarity I went to Monday night, organized by the Utah League of Native American Voters, three people, dressed all in black, wearing masks and carrying a flag I couldn’t read entirely came up behind us and I was nervous. There were counter-protests happening and I wasn’t entirely convinced that they weren’t trying to infiltrate the rally somehow. It took me a minute to realize they were latinx. And even after that, and after realizing they were applauding the speakers, my unease did not entirely lift right away. It wasn’t until we were walking back to our car after the rally that it hit me — they were most likely covering their faces for protection. The same reason many people were saying it’s dumb that the white supremacists didn’t wear masks Friday night (and are now suffering the consequences), and the reason the original KKK wore hoods: to protect their identities. If they were undocumented immigrants, they could be deported. Hell, in this country right now, even if they weren’t undocumented they could get deported. And again, I’m struck by my white privilege.  And my ingrained racism.

It’s nice to say “I don’t see color” but that’s like saying “I don’t see gender” or even “I don’t see flowers.” Unless you’re actually blind, you see color. It affects you. Maybe you don’t allow it to affect you, maybe you are fighting with all your might for it not to affect you, maybe you really, really don’t want it to affect you, but it does. And the sooner you can acknowledge that, the sooner you can be able to recognize that this is not a new problem. This is a 200-year-old problem.

I used to believe that in order to be a good person, I needed to be tolerant of everyone, even if I don’t agree with them. This extended, I believed, to people using the power of freedom of speech to spout hatred and intolerance. “That’s their right, I can disagree, but I can’t take it away.” While it’s true that I can’t take away another person’s freedom to express themselves, remaining silent is condoning that behavior. I learned about the paradox of tolerance, a philosophical concept that says this:

Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them.

Remaining silent is the same as allowing intolerance to take hold. It’s easy, and it’s easy to justify under the banner of “free speech” but it is just as violent and  just as destructive as driving a car into a line of protestors.

It strikes us, as Americans, as harsh to hear that in Germany you can get arrested for making the Nazi salute. Our knee-jerk reaction is that that’s a civil rights violation. But the Germans know what happens if that kind of thing goes unchecked. They know how easily it starts and how quickly it can spread to hysteria and get out of control. And maybe that doesn’t even entirely solve the problem, but it sets a precedent: these ideas are not welcome here.

I don’t have any solutions and there are many problems. I am just as tired as you are. I am read the news by white men on TV. I am represented in government by white men. People I follow on Twitter, friends of mine on Facebook, speakers I bring to WordCamp are white men (thankfully not all of them). But I am listening. And I will continue to listen. And I will try to use my privilege to fight.

When there was news of a counter protest at the rally Monday night, a lot of people said they wouldn’t go. There was a threat of violence, some white supremacists taking pictures of guns and threatening to bring them. I went anyway. Because, you know what? Living in constant fear of being attacked is what it means to be a person of color in this country. And until that changes, we need to do everything we can to shape this country to match our beliefs and the ideals that we are all created equal, every one of us, and that we are indivisible.

The thing that has always given me the most pride in my nation has been the thing I learned about in elementary school — that the United States is a melting pot. Everyone comes from somewhere else, and it’s when we bring all those people together and mix up all those ideas and beliefs and values that we create something that is ours. To be American is not to be white. It is to be multi-cultural. We need to build bridges not tear them down.

Shepard Fairey We the People Defend Dignity Shepard Fairey We the People are Stronger Than Fear Shepard Fairey We the People Protect Each Other

What is Net Neutrality and why should I care

Today I’m at the OpenWest conference, but today is also a day that — if you noticed the pop up that appeared when you loaded this site — websites and organizations all over the world (including my employer, Human Made) are taking a stand in support of Net Neutrality. There’s a battle being waged but a lot of people don’t really understand the weapons being used by either side or why it should affect them.

I was contacted by someone at VPN Mentor about an infographic they produced that explains what’s happening right now. Full disclosure: I know nothing about VPN Mentor — I use a VPN service called Private Internet Access and have been for several years and am very happy with them. However, I think this infographic is good at explaining what’s going on. Feel free to share if you so desire.

And if you are a WordPress owner and want to support this (and future) campaigns defending internet freedoms, check out and install my Cat Signal plugin.

Help me, I live in a rogue state (revisited)

The following is an essay I wrote 14 years ago during George W. Bush’s tenure as POTUS as he was prepping the country to go to war in Iraq to find non-existent WMD’s. I’ve been thinking a lot about how the pendulum swings in American politics and, in particular, what might happen after Donald Trump is no longer acting President. GW took office following Bill Clinton, whose progressive views helped revamp the economy after a double-header of Ronald Reagan and Bush Sr. created a devastating recession. They followed an incredibly liberal Jimmy Carter who is generally regarded in history as a poor President and lost his re-election campaign. GW was accused of “stealing” the election (remember “dangling chads”?) in 2000, and also lost the popular vote. It’s important to revisit where we’ve been in order to potentially see where we’re going. As America hunkers down in another wave of isolationism, the bright light at the end of the tunnel is the idea that this too shall pass, and maybe what comes after can be something truly amazing.

As you read the words below, replace “George W. Bush” with “Donald Trump” and you’ll be surprised (or maybe not so much) at how many parallels there are.


HELP ME, I LIVE IN A ROGUE STATE!

This is for all the patriots who disagree with our President. This is for all the people around the world who disagree with our President. This is an apology.

I don’t believe in George W. Bush. I didn’t vote for him. I don’t think that makes my opinion invalid.

I oppose what he’s doing in Iraq and to the world not only because it’s unjust and unjustified, but also because I didn’t vote for him, and neither did half of the American population who voted. Have we forgotten that? The only reason he’s in office is because of the rules of the electoral college, he lost the popular vote. And in an age in which only 30% of americans vote, period (and that’s a generous estimate), whose President is George W. Bush, other than George W. Bush’s? He’s certainly not the American President. In a democracy, the person chosen to lead the country is selected by a majority. That does not mean a majority of those who turn their ballots in, that means a majority of the country. Our country has become so alienated and disenchanted by the American government, that we don’t feel like what we say, think, or do matters to our local representatives, senators, President. And it probably doesn’t. Why should we be surprised that America is going to war despite the fact that most of the world opposes us, the United Nations oppose us, and a huge number of Americans oppose the war, too? Did we expect anything better from a man who didn’t even win the American people’s vote?

Several months ago, there was talk about Iraq being a “rogue state”. What does that mean? That Saddam Hussein is a tyrant, winning his people over through fear, propaganda, and force? How is that different from our President? Who are we to say who is a rogue, who is an outlaw, and who isn’t? Aren’t we the outlaws of the world? With so many Americans lining the streets protesting against this war, how can our President say “i respectfully disagree”? Isn’t it his job to do that which reflects the voice of his people?

I live in a rogue state. I live in a country where my leader was not democratically elected, whose decisions do not represent the opinions of his people, who uses the media and advertising to terrorize and terrify his own people into believing that there is no other choice but to follow him. George Bush may not have planned the events of September 11th, but he’s certainly capitalizing off of them. I live in a country where if I’m not with President Bush, I’m with the terrorists. I guess that means I’m with the terrorists.

I live in a rogue state.

Just because we disagree with the President does not mean we are treasonous. Democracy means people have opposing views. We are patriots because we care about our country and care what happens to it, and we care about the world, and the effects of what our country is doing to it. We are patriots because we disagree. that is our right, our privilege as Americans.

A case for women Doctors

We need to talk about Doctor Who.

I know Doctor Who is everyone’s favorite sci-fi television show. I understand that it is the longest running television show and that it’s able to bridge generational gaps because of it. It is as iconic as Star Trek and more storied than Star Wars. I get that. And the modern remake has fueled a fire in the current generation and spawned toys and games to keep the obsession hot.

But Doctor Who suffers — and always has — from a fatal flaw. Rampant sexism.

The new series of Doctor Who kicked off this weekend with what looks to be a new companion — one who’s dark-skinned and lesbian. And while I’d love to use those things to applaud the show’s attempts to add diversity to television, I can’t.

Despite the ambiguity inherent in the titular character, there has never been a female Doctor. And, though at times there have been multiple travelers with the Doctor, there is always one “Companion” and she is always female.

Since the Peter Capaldi doctor, most of the romantic overtones between Doctor and Companion in the new series have been sidelined, but that doesn’t change the inherently straight, cisgendered nature of the relationship between Companion and Doctor. Adding a lesbian to the mix doesn’t change the fact that the show is still sexist.

Companion is a weird archetype, but it loosely translates to “sidekick” — even when the Companion’s story overtakes that of the Doctor himself — as it did with Clara. A sidekick can never be as important as the hero, and anyway the show isn’t called Clara Oswald — it’s called Doctor Who. No matter what the new showrunners do with the show, no matter what new characters and stories they tell, as long as the Doctor represents only half of the population.

The Doctor is a Time Lord and Time Lords can regenerate. When they do, they take on a new form and a new personality — which is a convenient retcon to explain when leading actors are unavailable to continue the role, and likely at least partially the reason for the show’s longevity. Despite the fact that Time Lords can regenerate to a different gender, that has never happened to the Doctor (though it did happen to the Time Lord known as the Master, sometime arch enemy of the Doctor, who’s currently calling herself Missy).

It’s been posited several times that Time Lords can regenerate only 12 times; Peter Capaldi marks the twelfth doctor. Unless the new showrunners add in some more convenient retcon (something that we can’t exactly put past them in a show like Doctor Who), that would mean that the Doctor is, was, and always will have been, male, an obvious gender imbalance that should put even hardcore fans up in arms. And if they do add convenient retcon to support Doctors beyond the twelfth? Anything other than a long string of female doctors (twelve to be precise) would still be perpetuating this inherent, latent sexism.

Let’s talk about Companions for a moment.

Why has there never been a male companion? In the early days the companion was very much like whatever uterus-bearing, nameless side character in the original Star Trek that Kirk ends up making eyes at — fodder for brief romantic interest and/or involvement and a reflective surface on which to display the Doctor’s genius and ingenuity. In the current incarnation, even during the brief period where Amy Pond‘s husband tags along on the adventure with the eleventh Doctor, the Companion has continued to be, invariably, female. And despite the fact that in the new series, we see the Doctor with a wisecracking bald guy helping him out — wisecracking bald guy is not the Companion. You know this intrinsically the first scene that the character Bill appears — ah, yes, new companion, you think as you see her walk onscreen for the first time. And then you start to wonder (or, I do, anyway) why the Doctor is only ever interested in traveling with women.

I have no problem if the Doctor is just heterosexual, but the current incarnation of the show goes to great lengths to explain how the Doctor/Companion relationship is not romantic, that the Doctor doesn’t want a romantic relationship with his Companion and that he already has a (albeit unusual, time-traveling) relationship with River Song. And that only works if we explore other relationship types as well, which we can’t if the Doctor is only male.

Doctor Who has many great things going for it. It’s also terribly formulaic. To be sure, that gives it some of its charm, but the male/female, Doctor/Companion dynamic — that has been a staple of the show since its inception — is one thing that needs to go. We need more diverse stories in television and in science fiction, in particular. We need stories told from the perspective of more than just straight white men. Give me the show about a time-and-space-traveling heroine and I will be there. Television in a lens through which we perceive the world around us and, as such, needs to reflect the diversity of the world around us, not the homogeneity of writers and producers making the shows.

Sex !== Gender

Feeling confessional and my Twitter rant this morning and the bathroom bill thing has gotten me riled up so I’m going to tell a story.

I wrote a paper while in college (16 years ago) for an independent study I did on gender. (You can still read it, if you like.) My independent study was a result of a personal exploration about gender and it was primarily through the lens of transpeople, because that’s where the real exploration and discovery of gender and what that means is happening. Cisgendered people (individuals who identify with the gender they were given at birth) don’t think about these things because, for the most part, it doesn’t apply to them, and to those people, gender is an easy binary thing.

Gender is not an easy binary thing.

But here’s the thing that I really wanted to highlight and the thing that I feel needs to be reiterated, particularly to the cisgendered people who obviously are responsible for the so-called “bathroom bills” that will put a legal impediment between transpeople entering the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity, is that gender is completely unrelated to sex and sexuality.

The nightmare scenario that organizations like the one described in the Mashable article in my rant portray is this: Transperson is secretly hiding in the bathroom of a gender that is other than the one on their birth certificate for the purpose of taking advantage of the cisgendered individuals visiting said bathroom. This scenario assumes two things, both of which are incorrect:

  1. That being transgendered is a choice, something that can be turned on and off. It isn’t.
  2. That being transgendered is equivalent to some form of “sexual deviancy”.

It’s the second thing that, I believe, is most harmful, but both are pretty terrible. So, let’s talk about that.

The idea that transgender is in any way related to sexual deviancy is predicated on the idea that gender is tied to sex and sexuality. Like sexuality, gender is a spectrum, not a binary, but that’s where the relationship ends. I think it’s safe to say that we have gotten to the point where most people are pretty aware of and to one degree or another can at least acknowledge the fact that who you have sex with is unrelated to your specific anatomy. But we still correlate the two, particularly when discussing the “sex” of a baby or person. It would be comical (and probably inappropriate) to respond to a official form you were filling out when asked “Sex:” to fill in “yes please” or to check the box of the gender with whom you have sex. It’s assumed that “sex” in this context means “gender”. And that’s where the relationship between the two can be confusing and why, in most cases I’m aware of, the question has been reworded from “Sex” to “Gender” which is more accurate.

Let me be clear: a man dressed as a woman to gain access to a women’s restroom for the purpose of attacking women is absolutely something that everyone should be concerned with. But anyone being attacked in any bathroom (or anywhere) for any reason is something that everyone should be concerned with. Women being attacked, sexually or otherwise, by men is something that everyone should be concerned with. Attacks on people of color is something that everyone should be concerned about. Attacks on queer people is something everyone should be concerned about. Attacks on transpeople is something everyone should be concerned about. The thing that’s different here is the idea that someone “snuck in” to some place they were not welcome and in all other contexts are not allowed. And the reason it’s such a hot topic is because bathrooms, in particular, are places where we make ourselves more vulnerable. But the case that Just Want Privacy is using to prove their point, doesn’t actually prove anything — it wasn’t a person who was transgendered attacking a cisgendered woman, it was a cisgendered man in a women’s bathroom attacking a cisgendered woman. Your argument is invalid.

Let’s back up a bit and look at the root of the problem which is the idea that gender is binary. Because that’s the crux of the bathroom issue. There are two bathrooms, one with an image depicting what’s assumed to be a man, but really just looks like a non-specific human, and one with an image depicting what’s assumed to be a woman — identified with the triangular shape that is intended to represent a skirt or a dress. Here’s a fun fact: men wear dresses and skirts. Women wear pants and leggings. And then there’s a whole host of people in between that are not accurately depicted by these two minimalist representations of humanity that we somehow have to shove ourselves into every time we enter a public restroom.

I went to a pretty liberal program at a university in Southern California — one that was afforded a fair bit of leniency in self-governance and independence from the rest of the university. And before I walked on campus, I was told that the bathrooms were non-gender-specific. And sure, at first, I thought that was kind of sexy. You know what’s not sexy? Going to the bathroom. And that’s what a gender neutral bathroom was. Just a bunch of people using the bathroom. Yes, there were showers in there. Yes, people of both genders used them. Never, in the three years I spent there, was there ever a problem with non-gendered bathrooms. It was just a thing that existed and everyone was fine with it (possibly after a little initial time getting used to it). So, I’m acutely aware that the real solution to this problem is not to check what’s under the skirt, but to remove the binary and normalize the idea that gender isn’t one.

My independent study on gender was the result of going through a period of gender dysphoria which largely came down to not accepting or identifying with the typical expectations our society has for what it means to be “male”. “Men” are supposed to be strong, fearless, courageous. They are the protector and the breadwinner. They are dominant and assertive. They can also be violent and angry. They can be abusers and assailants. They are predominantly responsible for the depressing statistics around the number of women who have been sexually assaulted some time in their lifetime. “If there’s a choice, and I have one, I don’t want to be associated with that” went the thinking.

The same year, I went to a conference at Occidental College with the on-campus GLBSU (Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual/Straight Union). One of the things that remains with me from that experience is a workshop/session/discussion about bisexuality, in which everyone in the room was asked to stand in a line, and place themselves on that line with where they put themselves in terms of attraction to members of the opposite gender — the idea being that sexuality is not binary, there is a spectrum and all of it is okay. We were then asked where we would have put ourselves a couple years ago. And where we think we might put ourselves in a couple years. Where you place yourself in that spectrum changes over time.

From my independent study, the thing that was reinforced over and over (besides that gender is not the same as sexuality) is that gender is also a spectrum. I’ve come to the point where I no longer believe in binaries unless I’m dealing with software. People don’t work in binaries. Nature doesn’t work in binaries. We talk about being “on the spectrum” when we’re talking about Autism — the idea that there’s no single, all-encompassing definition of Autism, it’s a range of different things in different intensities, and each individual experience is unique.

The idea that groups like Just Want Privacy want you to believe — that a transgendered woman is really just a sexually deviant man in a dress — is preposterous. And it’s extremely harmful. It’s harmful to those who identify as transgendered on an emotional level, but it’s also harmful in a very real, physical level, by playing on people’s fears, by positing the idea that they are “wrong” and can and should be “fixed” it fosters fear and hatred toward transgendered individuals. Bills like this create a culture a fear which cultivates violence towards those deemed socially unacceptable.

Transgendered women are women. Transgendered men are men. As long as gendered bathrooms still exist, you wouldn’t ask a woman to enter a men’s bathroom and you wouldn’t ask a man to enter a women’s bathroom. So please, stop doing it.