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.

 

2017 Goals

I’m not one for making resolutions as typically they end up being things that get forgotten by February. That said, 2016 was rough all around for most people. Personally, I had a pretty good year (new job, new house) but there were a lot of things I’d like to improve upon. Resolutions are not powerful in themselves — it’s saying the thing and/or writing it down that commits those things to memory and makes them real. As such, I’m not calling them “resolutions” but “goals” for 2017. Here are some things I’d like to look back on in 2018 and think that I did a better job of.

  1. Read more. Reading books for me pretty much only happens on airplanes which I take infrequently. I managed to finish Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency but only because about 80% of that was read during jury duty. I want to make it a point to read more things that are not on my phone. I have a subscription to WIRED magazine but I think I literally went 12 months without opening a single one and I used to, at least, read that while eating breakfast and doing my morning routine. I’d like to get back into that routine and stop reading crap news on my phone.
  2. Write more. I have an amazing opportunity to write for the SBNation blog, RSL Soapbox which I’ve mostly let fall by the wayside in 2016. Sure there were reasons — I was a developer lead, I had very little free time and what free time I had I didn’t want to spend on my computer. I also wrote very little on my blog. I kept having things I wanted to write about but lacked the “time” to do such things. Time is relative, you can always make more time. Now that I am not in a position where I feel like I need to clock a specific number of hours a week and/or I need to be more available for half a dozen phone calls a day plus management duties, I want to make the most of my time and write more. I’ve already written one article for RSL Soapbox since landing my new gig and I want to write more both there and here.
  3. Do something with chrisreynolds.io. For a long time I thought my domain chrisreynolds.io could be a sort of portal into various projects that I am active in, but that meant building a site and that’s where the plan fell apart. I want to do something with that domain besides just using it for email even if that means just mirroring jazzsequence.com there.
  4. Make music. Music in 2016 suffered from the same fate as writing for the same reasons. I didn’t participate in the RPM Challenge in any capacity which tends to be when I double down and focus on making music for a month. It sounds daunting right now to even think about trying to participate in RPM next month but that’s probably the perfect reason to do it.
  5. Take time off. My mindset around taking time off has been focussed around making the best use of the small amount of days I have and don’t get sick and waste them. This often meant scheduling trips around holiday weekends when I’d get an extra day for the holiday, plus two days for the weekend, so I’m only using one or two vacation days. Trips scheduled like this are typically jam-packed, with last minute visits to cool places on the day that we are leaving so we get back home late and I work the next morning. Having a vacation that rushed is extremely stressful almost (but not quite) to the point of offsetting the recharging nature of taking a vacation. And I did it again for my Solstice/winter break even though I’m no longer in a position where I need to watch every PTO day. I took a longer break, but there was no break between when my parents came out to visit and when we left to go to the Pacific Northwest to visit family and no break between getting back and going back to work and I worked one of the days my parents were in town even though I didn’t necessarily have to. Not taking sick days because I tend not to get sick is one thing, but not taking mental health days because I need a break is silly when I have the days to take. I want to be more mindful of myself and part of that means taking time off and actually enjoying the time away from work and the computer.
  6. Learn javascript, deeply. 2 years ago now, Matt Mullenweg set out a goal for WordPress developers to “learn javascript, deeply.” While I am increasingly taking a more objective view of Matt’s opinions rather than what I did when I was a Matt fanboy, it’s obvious that JS is increasingly becoming the future of the internet. WordPress powers over 25% of the internet. The idea is that in order for WP to keep up with the rest of the internet, the future will be much more js-based. I have felt for a couple years that I am at a place where if WP died, I could make my way as a straight PHP developer. This is a fairly big leap from the days when the only programming language I felt fully fluent in (in that I could write something from scratch without a framework or existing platform) was HTML/CSS. Which means I could hop technologies pretty easily to, say, Joomla! (yuck) or Drupal if WordPress disappeared. More recently, I feel like I’ve gotten to the point where I’m capable at javascript — I can use existing libraries and write some simple things, mostly in jQuery. But I am not at the point where I feel like I could write something from absolute scratch. One of the first things I did when I joined HM was purchasing some javascript courses from Wes Bos and my goal for 2017 is to begin to become fluent (not just able to use/adapt) in javascript. Becoming fluent in a language means using it all the time, so the language is reinforced in your brain and at your fingertips. Yes, a lot of that involves Googling which is partially why at any given moment I have 30 different tabs open but having to Google doesn’t mean you aren’t fluent — mostly my Googling is to find out proper syntax or figure out the parameters and what order they come in for various functions. You have to know or be familiar with the functions to get to that point. I can do that with PHP and WP, but I’m not there yet — I don’t have the functions in my head and at my fingertips — with javascript.
  7. Listen to music. Thinking back on 2017, I feel like I was in a musical hole. I listened to my Spotify Discover Weekly playlist but on the whole, I had no idea of new releases or new artists coming out. What I listened to was, largely, the same stuff I normally listen to. Oh sure there was the new IAMX and Nick Cave and David Bowie but I completely forgot (or missed) that Radiohead quietly put out a new album and even those four specifically are artists that are already in my playlist, not new things I’ve never encountered before. I want to listen to more and find more new music so that I don’t look back on 2017 and wonder if any music at all came out.
  8. Make cider. My first batch of homebrewed cider was pretty much a success. As a first batch, it wasn’t too bad. More on the sweet side than what I would have liked. The instructions in the cider-making kit I got for my birthday said that you needed to use a sweetener with a more complex molecule structure than natural sugars (honey, cane sugar, brown sugar, etc) because the yeast will just eat it up and you’ll lose the sweetness. However, the result was that it tasted artificially sweetened (a little like Splenda or Sweet n’ Low). The instructions also said that the sweetener would bring out the flavor of the apple more. I’m sure that’s somewhat true. However, one of the best ciders I’ve had recently — Crispin’s Honey Crisp — was made with all natural ingredients including locally sourced honeycrisp apples and sweetened with honey. It had a very apple-y bite and wasn’t too sweet. I would much prefer using honey as a sweetener and if we lose some of the sweetness in the fermenting process, that’s okay because the batch I made was too sweet anyway. I also think that using a specific variety of apple, or using real apples (the kit came with a concentrate) makes a difference — the Honey Crisp cider tasted very distinctly of honeycrisp apples — and this means that using our apples from the apple tree in the back yard of our new home should work really well. They have a snappy, apple taste that’s not too sweet. I am looking forward to getting my new hose and auto-siphon so I can start thinking about what the next batch will be.
    Sidenote: In looking back on the label I made for the first batch of cider, I think there was a missed opportunity — I should have put a sombrero on Trump’s head. Would have made the visual much more absurd and much more obvious that I’m trying to make fun of him and his stupid use of the phrase “bad hombres”.

Ryan Gosling’s snickers are another victory for rape culture

Mashable thought this was pretty funny:

This seems like a pretty typical reading of an alien encounter and a live sketch where Ryan Gosling couldn’t keep it together. Hilarious, right?

Except there’s one thing that is particularly disturbing.

Hey Girl, I'll totally watch while some extra-terrestrials fondle your breasts

Why are we just okay with the narrative here? Taken at face value, we have three individuals who have been kidnapped, one of whom describes in fairly graphic detail waking up half-naked, being observed on by multiple onlookers who are — according to the narrative — taking pleasure in peeping and watching her urinate, and who, later, get in line to take turns fondling her breasts. And this is so hum-drum that the flat retelling of the story in a comedy sketch becomes chuckle-worthy of the actors on stage.

What the actual fuck?

The alien abduction and sex trope may have started with Whitley Streiber’s Communion — a supposedly true account of a man being taken in an alien space ship where they performed experiments on and explored his body — including sexually. When the book came out, it was pretty universally seen as a) a joke and b) a pretty entertaining piece of fiction. In the book, the sexual experiences are not told with any degree of regret or disapproval (in fact, the narrator becomes fairly attached to the aliens who are doing this to him), but never was there any degree of consent. The aliens never said to him (telepathically or otherwise), “hey, is it okay if I make you orgasm for science?” And among the backlash about the book, not once do I recall it ever opening a conversation about male rape or Stockholm syndrome (where the victim falls in love with or empathize with their captors).

And this trope about being abducted with aliens has been so widespread that now it’s just assumed that when anyone talks about being abducted by aliens, it’s obviously for sexual experimentation. So much so that we have the backstory for the SNL sketch above.

Consent is consent. Sexual activity without consent is rape. Whether you were sort of okay with it at the start or you didn’t actually hate it afterwards, if you did not expressly voice consent, it is rape. And this joke isn’t funny. The fact that we think it’s funny is just evidence of how ingrained rape culture is and how messed up our views on sexual consent and ownership of our own bodies are.

Mashable posting this as a ha-ha funny sketch is also troublesome. Not that Mashable is a beacon of light in the darkness of sexist media, particularly, but, in general, they try. Recently, they celebrated a feminist on Tinder who actively trolls the most sexist suitors. They don’t see why this scene is more evidence of rape culture, either.

Surely I’m not the only one, right?

In the SNL sketch, after the abductors were finished, they abandoned the victim on the roof of a Long John Silver’s, still without her pants (and presumably, based on the story, her underwear), which they dropped in a tree several feet away. Again, take this out of the context of the scene for a minute. A woman is abducted, undressed, forced to urinate while others watch, has multiple captors touching her body, and when they are done, they abandon her, half-naked, where she will need to expose herself to others in order to cover her body and go home. There’s no one she can talk to — obviously going to the police in this case would be ineffectual, they are aliens after all — and she can’t even really explain where she’s been or how she got there.

I’m just wondering where the joke is in all this.

On Trans, Gender, and Body

I tweeted out a post on Mashable this morning and then, after it went out, I wanted to elaborate on why it’s important. This is the tweet:

Gender is not a binary thing

It would be easy to look at that headline and switch off. I don’t care about trans-anything. Those people aren’t like me. There’s nothing for me here. That’s the nice version. The not-so-nice version might get into the mental states of transpeople or the “right-” or “wrongness” of a 14-year-old taking estrogen for hormone replacement treatment. Having met a trans kid who was living as one gender in kindergarten and first grade and then publicly coming out as the opposite gender the next year, I’ve had to take some time to evaluate my own feelings on whether it’s a nature or nurture thing, of whether we are pushing things, and our own agendas onto kids and that this is a decision rather than a part of who they are.

Despite what you may have been told, gender is not a toggle switch. It’s not Green for male and Red for female (see what I did there?). The reason why there has been a marked increase in articles about transgender individuals and issues and more transgender people in the media is because this is a human thing. This is a thing that exists in the grand scope of human existence and it is normal.

It’s a thing that we just accept as a given that people are different. No two people are alike. “Everyone is a unique snowflake” and all that. So why do we assume that the same does not apply to things like gender, like mental health, like sexuality, like autism? There’s more to it than just XX or XY chromosomes, but even within those, there are more variations than just those two. None of these things are on/off, you-have-it-or-you-don’t things. Like everything else that it means to be a living creature on this planet, it’s a spectrum. And it’s that spectrum, that variety, that makes things interesting.

Speaking from a place of extreme privilege

Look, I’m well aware of how easy things are for me just to exist in our society. I will never know how hard it is to be a woman walking down the street, let alone what it means to be a trans woman walking down the street. I’m white, male, cisgendered and (more or less) heterosexual. I have it easier than most, so it’s important to me to take advantage of that privilege and add my voice to these types of issues.

…and so…why that post is important

I have never experienced the feeling of not knowing/understanding/trusting/feeling comfortable in my own skin. I have maybe experienced mild gender dysphoria but it had nothing to do with my identity and everything to do with the expectations and cultural values assigned to men. Men are supposed to be muscular, drink beer, watch football and shoot guns. They harass women, rape, and are physically and emotionally aggressive. They are villains but they are also heroes. They are the center of the story. They are the ones who rescue the princess. They make the rules and run the show. They are presidents, CEOs, prime ministers. I am not, nor will I ever be, any of those things, or those things I might be because of my gender, I do not accept. Ergo, I must not be a “real man.” It was later, after doing an intense study on gender and transgender issues, that I realized that none of that mattered, really, because society’s expectations are stupid and don’t define any of us. But I digress.

The point is, I don’t know what it’s like to be a teenager who feels like she is trapped in the body of a boy and I never will because that’s not me. I only know what it feels like to be a teenager and young adult who has a lot of self-hate having to do with what it means to be the gender that I was born as. But I don’t have to have that common ground to watch that video and realize what just happened. And what’s happening every. single. day. that posts like this and others are published and more awareness is spread around the existence and acceptance of women and transpeople as human beings deserving of equal rights, respect and privilege.

I am well aware of the demographics of my followers on social media and the sorts of folks who will stumble across my blog. Very few of them are around because I talk about gender equality or gender issues. Mostly it’s nerds like me, or people who follow me because I write about soccer or WordPress. And that’s part of what makes it so important that I also talk about stuff like this. Because maybe someone who would never have looked at that video of a transgirl getting her first hormone treatment from her mom and breaking down in tears of gratitude will be able to see it for what it is — a real, human experience, real joy and acceptance. And the more stories like this there are, the more real, human experiences from transfolk and women and people of color we see, the closer we get to a world that I want to live in. One that accepts you for the person you are. Not for what you look like, not for what society expects you to be, not for the things you like or the way you style your hair or your tattoos or piercings or clothing or money or where you live or where you were born or what god you put your faith into or what the motherfucking scale says. Just you. That’s where I want to live.