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.

What we can learn from Canada and Vash the Stampede

This is how you make your country great:

For that matter, replace “country” with any word that represents a community. Because the way you make any kind of community better is with love, not hate.

Fighting hate with hate only creates more hate. The way you fight hate is with love and acceptance. With understanding and empathy. You can’t fight hate with bigotry, isolationism, divisiveness, that only fosters more hate, more bigotry, isolationism. More divisiveness.

Looking at pictures of Justin Trudeau welcoming refugees from Syria and his “Welcome to Canada” response the other day to Donald Trump’s Muslim ban and watching him tear up when speaking with a Syrian refugee’s experience entering Canada just makes me think about how that’s what we should be doing. This is what freedom looks like.

Because it’s not about keeping all the good stuff to ourselves and a few of our friends, it’s about welcoming strangers in and letting them share in that good stuff, too. Justin Trudeau gets that. Barack Obama gets that. This country used to get that, too. That’s one of the fundamental principles it was founded upon.

I recently rewatched Trigun with my partner and here’s why Trigun is a topical anime series for what’s going on right now that if you’re unfamiliar with it, you should watch it, like, today. You can find the entire series on YouTube (English dubbed) on Funimation’s channel, but it’s worth owning.

Trigun takes place in a dystopian future that resembles the wild west. Civilization has fallen apart, and people are struggling for survival in a harsh, desert landscape with little access to water or resources and there’s no real law or government. The story centers around a gunslinger, Vash the Stampede, who refuses to take anyone’s life, at great personal risk. He frequently sacrifices himself, both physically but also emotionally, at times publicly humiliating himself if it means saving the lives of others.

Throughout the series, he’s constantly told “I don’t understand you, why do you do these things?” His mantra seems contradictory for a legendary gunman: “love and peace.” He uses his skills as a gunslinger to change the trajectory of bullets, to knock a rival gunman’s weapon just off course, he uses his incredible speed to usher people out of harm’s way. He does this because he believes that no one should have to suffer, even those who cause harm and terrorize others. His love is indiscriminate.

There’s so much television that is about hate and fear. But what is television but an escape, a way to give your brain a break from what’s happening in the real world? Why escape the hate and fear outside your door with more hate and fear? Why not fill your head with the fanciful notion that everyone is an inherently good person if you let them?

I struggle with the idea of “love and peace.” I sometimes think that, at a certain point, you need to fight back, right? There are a lot of things I have yet to learn from Vash, but being more Vash-like is definitely something I aspire to. It’s important, now more than ever, to remember Vash when we are being faced with adversity and fear and terror and hate. When we are being told to fear these people over here because they are too dangerous to enter our country, it’s important to remember that we are those people. Our histories are not separate, they are the same. We are each and every one of them. We are the ones causing terror and the ones being terrorized. The sooner we open our doors and welcome everyone in, regardless of whatever, the sooner we can show others that there is something better and worth more than fighting.

Love and peace.

With low expectations, you create your own dismal reality

I’m reading an article in December’s WIRED (look at that, 2017 Goals ? ) about the three days in a row last summer where there were 3 fatal shootings in a span of 72 hours, each of them livestreamed via social media. During the protests following the first two, police approached the protesters in riot gear. There is a quote from a police officer that I wanted to respond to:

If something happens in Baton Rouge and Minnesota, millions of people are finding out about it instantaneously with the video going out. You get a reaction much quicker. With that mob-type mentality — we want to do something — sometimes it’s to do some harm to those in law enforcement. We become a target again and again and again.

Here’s the thing, Frederick Frazier, Vice president of the Dallas Police Association, what you expect to happen shapes the outcome of what actually happens. If you send out an officer in a SWAT uniform to confront a crowdfull of angry protestors, you better believe they are going to react strongly to that. They are going to feel like they are being attacked. If you send out an officer in plain clothes or a regular uniform, who never touches his weapon, you can have a conversation. You may be sending in your officer in riot gear because you expect him/her to be attacked, but that expectation is going to create that reality. The officer will be looking for an attack because they are expecting it to happen. That’s what leads to a black man being shot for reaching into his glove box to get his wallet.

It’s like this: there are a lot of LEGOs that my kids have left out on the floor for several days. Any parent anywhere will agree with me that LEGOs on the floor is a bad thing because you end up stepping on them or breaking things or whatever. If I, as a parent, walk into the room where the kids are, sigh heavily, and say “can you guys pick up the LEGOs, please?” without helping them do it, expecting that they won’t actually clean them up in the time I want it done or to the degree that I would like, it’s absolutely going to go exactly the way I expect. I will walk into the room 2 hours later and nothing observable has been done. I am creating that reality by a) expecting that they aren’t going to do the thing I asked them to do and b) not providing the tools or support to help make the reality that I would like to actually happen.

It’s hard to do. I struggle with it. Somewhere along the way, I decided that it was better to set my expectations of people very low and be surprised when they are exceeded rather than having high expectations of people (and occasionally being disappointed). Having low expectations is a generally miserable place, let me tell you, because I guarantee you will always see the worst possible outcome. And maybe you tell yourself “well, at least I was prepared”, but where does that get you, really?

When the results started coming in for the 2016 election, it was easy to see where the trajectory was going fairly early on. There was an SNL skit that ran afterwards that showed a bunch of white people (and the token black guy) constantly going back and saying “well, if Hillary just wins here, we’ll be fine” and continuing to pat themselves on the back for being so empathetic and supportive towards various marginalized groups. As the skit progresses, they get more and more panicked as the scenarios for Hillary winning become more and more far fetched. And the punchline at the end is “are we really that racist?”

I didn’t feel that way on election night. Sure, I wanted Hillary to win, but once the results started swinging in Trump’s favor, they never really swung back. You could look at the 538 or a million and one different reports about how Trump has no chance but historically, people did that the whole campaign and he did have a chance and he continued to defy expectations. He was a blind spot for half of the country who believed he couldn’t stand a chance. But it doesn’t take a data analyst to see the pattern, which was, every time we expected he couldn’t do a thing, he did it. A dark part of me started considering what would happen under a Trump presidency, even while I hoped that Hillary could turn it around.

And here’s the real “hindsight is 20/20” thing: many of us who supported Hillary heard what the Bernie supporters were saying about “this may be the only time we can elect someone like this, with ideas for radical change like this”. We heard you. But the thing is, we didn’t expect that to work. Government is slow, he would be fought on every decision by the GOP every step of the way. Every time he tried to make something happen he would get shot down. It would be as hard or harder as it was for Obama. Yes, Obama was a black man but a lot of what Bernie wanted to do was more drastic than anything Obama actually set in motion. And then there’s the fact that the President doesn’t really do a whole lot on their own. They don’t write laws themselves, for example. They can’t just pass amendments to change things. They make appointments, they set things in motion and they approve or deny bills. Would Bernie have had a better shot at getting things done than Hillary because he’s male? Probably, but we’ll never know. The point is, this whole thing maybe could have had a different outcome if some of us had a different set of expectations. Maybe. The point is that if we expect the worst, we won’t be disappointed. The point is, expecting to be attacked will make you more likely to be attacked or see a possible attack where there is actually none.

The point is we should expect better of ourselves and of humanity.

And to nod back to my last post about resolutions and goals for the new year (and to not end this post on such a down note), maybe the reason we so epically fail at our new years resolutions is because we never actually expect to accomplish them? Maybe if you are doing NaNoWriMo and you are focussed on the impossible task of writing 50,000 words in 30 days you won’t do it. But if you expect to be able to accomplish that goal, maybe you have a better shot at it. That’s the theory I’m going to have going into RPM next month. I have no idea how I will manage work and making music enough to compose an album in a month but I know I’ve done it before and I know I can do it again and I will expect it to be an achievable goal and so it will be.