Thursday, November 29, 2012

Barbies and Legos for All!

For those of you not linked in with the Trans and Godless facebook page, I posted this yesterday:

Dear Toy Advertisers,

Is this really so fucking difficult? Rather than making kids feel bad about playing with toys they enjoy, why not just admit that toys don't have a gender? They're just toys! No boy ever "turned gay" from playing with a doll and no girl "turned lesbian" from playing with guns. Besides, Nerf guns are fucking awesome.

Sincerely yours,

The image in question comes from a Swedish toy catalogue that works as an importer for Toys R Us.  Last year they were in some hot water for violating Sweden's laws against sexist advertising.  Yes, you read that correctly.  There are laws in Sweden against sexist advertising.  How.  Fucking.  Cool.  Is.  That?  You may also recall from previous posts that many European countries have laws that limit or prohibit the types of pervasive marketing to children we have in The States.  This means Swedish children may have the least amount of brainwashing when it comes to selecting toys they enjoy.  It means Swedish children will be more creative with their play because they're not just mimicking what they've seen advertised ad nauseum on television.  It means Swedish children can have more fun and enjoy their toys more.  And because they're not being told to limit their selection to only one half of the store, they have more variety to choose from and the toy sellers have twice as many opportunities to sell the same number of toys.  If nothing else sinks into the heads of Corporate America, that concept should.  Why on earth would you intentionally alienate half of your potential buyers for a product?

Here's the problem with sexist advertising.  While the intention is to alienate half of the population in order to win the loyalty of the other half, such as saying Barbies are only for girls so that girls will like it more, you still end up alienating your intended consumers as well.  Plenty of women will tell you they had no idea what they were supposed to do with Barbie, but rather than just shrug it off as not being a toy that holds their interest, they start to wonder if there's something wrong with them instead of the toy.  She may think, "Girls like Barbies, so if I don't like them what does that make me?"  This creates a whole group of girls who may resent Barbie for making them feel confused about their gender.  These girls grow up to be women who don't buy Barbie for their daughters.  Meanwhile, their daughters may actually enjoy a Barbie doll and resent their mother's for not buying one.  All this over a 12-inch piece of plastic!  Meanwhile, a boy really wants a Barbie doll so he can brush and style her hair, but he can't have one because "Barbies are for girls" and his parents don't want him to grow up gay/queer/trans/"different".  So you've got a girl who hates her Barbie and a boy who desperately wants one and neither of them can be happy because of the sexist marketing designed to induce loyalty.  Can anyone come up with a more fucked up system?

Let's imagine, just for a little while, that we live in a world where toys are marketed by their function and not by their non-existant gender.  Barbies and Superheroes and Dinosaurs would be on the same "Toy Figures" aisle.  This means you could have some cross-over rather than a huge divide.  Barbie could go on away missions as a secret spy and later go on a Triceratops ride with Batman.  (By the way, this is how I played with our toys as a kid.  If my sister's Barbies weren't being lesbians, than they were dating Superheroes.  Even as kids we could tell Ken wasn't really interested.)  You could have a "Make Believe" aisle, with all the play kitchens, mini lawnmowers, and baby dolls that let kids imitate their parents and pretend to be grown-ups.  And since men and women become parents and cook and shop for groceries there is really no need to segregate.  There could be a "Dress-Up" aisle, where you have princess dresses and firefighter coats and ten-gallon hats with cap guns on holsters and all kinds of other costumes that are a ball for any kid to try on.  There could be an "Outdoor" aisle, with Nerf guns and supersoakers and hula hoops and jumpropes and balls and all the other fun stuff you can do outside.  What girl wouldn't have fun playing capture the flag with her brother? 

My point is, you don't have to radically change toys in order to appeal to all genders.  A lot of the most popular toys out there are popular because they're fun to play with.  Legos are awesome!  Nerf guns are awesome!  I loved my baby doll as a toddler and learned to double-dutch when I was in elementary school.  We shouldn't try to limit who is allowed to play with toys or tell kids how they should play with them.  Playing is how kids learn.  It's how they figure out the world and decide how they're going to fit into it.  If they want to coordinate Barbie's outfits and style her hair, that's great.  If they want to strip her naked, paint a costume on her, and have her fight crime, that's great too!  Toys are fun and kids don't need any help from adults figuring out how to play.  It's when adults get involved and start trying to make rules that we stunt their imaginations and limit who they can be.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Religion and Patriarchy

I've been asked on multiple occasions why I conflate my atheism with my feminism.  It's not as though you need to be one in order to be the other.  In my opinion, it helps, but it's not necessary.  But the ultimate reason why is because nothing supports patriarchy better than religion.  Religions are created by men and, conveniently, place men at the top just below whatever deity or power is being proposed.  All of the major religions who have deities have male gods as the "figurehead", which is then used to justify the same set up in the mortal world.  This simple position trickles down into countless other atrocities that could not be justified by moral, rational people without a supernatural argument.

Let me clarify two things.  First, when I say religion, I mean organized religion.  Not just major or generally accepted religions, but all organized religions including cults.  If your "religion" is just tripping on acid and talking to trees on the weekends than I have no issue with it as long as you are not then taking what you believe the trees said to you and using it to place yourself above others.  I have absolutely nothing against personal religious beliefs that in no way interfere with others.  I think it will harsh your trip on the earth, but that's your decision to make.  Second, when I say patriarchy I don't just mean men oppressing women.  That's certainly the common use of the phrase, but I want to expand it to mean any person or group exploiting power against another person or group.  This would include men against women, whites against non-whites, heterosexual and cissexual against homosexual and transsexual, English-speaking Americans against ESL or non-English-speaking Americans.  Whatever class oppression you can picture in your mind at any point in history, that's what I mean when I talk about patriarchy.  So let's not dissolve this discussion with arguments about "My religion is one of peace" or "Men's rights" or anything else.  Let's really examine the issue at hand.

I can still remember the first time doubt crept into my head as a Christian.  I was 12-years-old in the 7th grade and had just started youth group at my church not long ago.  At one point our bible classes were split by gender and, in one of the many farcical moments of my life, I was the only appalled one in a room of a couple dozen boys and men being taught about the position of power men have in Christianity.  You know, the man is the head of the household just as God is the head of the church.  Women are ultimately servants of men just as Even was created to serve Adam.  A marriage was meant to produce children and a wife's primary function is to raise good little Christian children.  You've heard it all before, I'm sure.  The problem was I'd been raised by my feminist mother, who obviously illustrated she knew how to function far better than the majority of men I'd known.  So I began to ask my teacher questions, which will always get you into trouble.  I started to wonder what other disturbing things were in the bible and that's when I stumbled on the passages about slavery.  I asked why we no longer held up those passages but still hung on to the outdated views on gender roles.  I got a lot of apologetic crap in return and was basically told, "Hey, don't rock the boat, dude."  In the years toward my de-conversion I realized that women were seen only as property in the bible and that all the commands to be faithful and keep your virginity and the rest were just paranoid men worrying about passing their inheritance to someone else's son.  Not a very good basis for morality.

The two most damaging aspects of religion when used against women are "modesty" and "submission".  These are the foundation for what "good girls" are supposed to be and set up a double standard that no one can follow all the time.  Let's start with The Ugly Side of Modesty.  Religions in varying degrees all try to shift the blame of men's actions and thoughts about women back onto the women themselves.  This is why religious women are required to cover their hair, or not show skin, or only where skirts to their ankles or whatever ridiculous dress code might be put in place.  The thought process is always the same, "Men can't control themselves if women are unmodest, therefore it's the woman's responsibility to be modest lest she face the consequences of the out-of-control man."  It's the justification for rape we've heard too many times before.  What was she wearing?  It doesn't fucking matter!  Even if you walk naked down the street that's no justification to be raped.  And the fault lies with the person raping, not the victim.  This tries to make women out to be something mystical or perhaps evil by nature that must be tamed and controlled by men.  Fathers are expected to keep their daughters from having sex.  Husbands are expected to keep their wives from promiscuity.  Well, I have news for all religious men out there:  You are responsible for what you do with your penis.  Case closed.  No other arguments.  And women are responsible for what sex acts we decide to take part in.  No man has control over a woman and no woman has control over a man unless someone willingly gives it to or coercively takes it from them.  But the most disturbing part about modesty is how it's used against little girls who are just beginning to understand and maybe even love their body. 

Their told their body is an evil temptation that must be guarded, lest they lead boys into sin.  Fashion choices are no longer about what they enjoy, but are all directed back to what men will think about them.  Look at this disgusting "test" from SecretKeeperGirl, a website that shames tweens about their bodies and clothing in the name of God.  If there is one thing I am greatful for about growing up trans, it's that I internalized much less of this bullshit than my cis sisters out there may have.  I still struggled with thoughts about whether I'm showing too much skin, but it's not because I worry about what a man might think, it's usually because of body issues, which is another topic for another time.

So how about submission?  And I don't mean the fun, consensual kind that people can enjoy in their bedrooms.  I mean the kind that says women only have a limited number of purposes and these are all dictated by the man who owns her.  The most disturbing aspect of this to me are those women coerced into the "quiverfull" movement.  And I use the word coerced because hardly any of the girls raised in this lifestyle are given any kind of informed consent.  Many are homeschooled and given no alternative views about life and reproduction.  They may not even know about contraception and other birth control options until they've already been brainwashed by decades of indoctrination and married off at a young age.  The Duggar Family are the most famous example of the mindless reproduction. But I don't want to talk about them, although I could.  I'd rather point out a more tragic consequence of this "quiverfull" bullshit.  I want to talk about Andrea Yates.

Now for those who don't know, Andrea Yates is a woman who suffered from severe psychotic episodes brought about by postpartum depression.  This means that every time she had a child she was deeply depressed and often delusional and a danger to her children and herself.  This was an issue known by her, her husband, and her mental health practicioner, who warned the couple not to have any more children, lest the psychosis return.  Her husband didn't listen and proceeded to impregnate his wife again.  They could have used any number of forms of birth control, but they didn't because he believed God wanted him to have as many children as possible.  Baby number five came along and only a few months later Andrea drowned all five of her boys because she believed God had told her it was the only way to ensure their salvation.  This is one of the most disturbing illustrations I know of to show how religion not only twists someone's mind to believe that killing one's child could ever be a good thing, (Don't forget the stories of Abraham and Jephthah) but because a tragedy that could have easily been avoided was pushed further because of outdated views about women from the Bronze Age.  That is why I get so disgusted with religion.  I don't have a problem with the good people think religion helps them do.  I have a problem with the evil that can only come about because of religious beliefs that one is doing the "right thing".

And I believe patriarchy is one of those evils that can only be perpetuated by religious thinking.  Even the non-religious misogynists out there (and they're out there) are still suffering the effects of a religious society that routinely views men and women as different and perpetuates that misconception with every chance it gets.  It's going to take a lot of work to reverse the damage done to all of us, religious, non-religious, men, women, queer, straight, white, black, Asian, Hispanic.  We've all suffered at the hands of religion for too long.  It's time to realize the only good morality comes before religion, not from it.  If, after all is said and done, you want to hang on to the few moral stories in the Bronze and Iron Age books, that's fine.  So long as you keep it to yourself.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Transgender Day of Remembrance

Today is one of the saddest days in the transgender community.  It's Transgender Day of Remembrance, the day when we honor our dead, specifically those who have been killed because of their gender expression.  This year, 265 people have left us forever because of hateful people lashing out at something they did not understand with violence.  We've made a lot of progress over the years, but until a November 20th rolls by with no deaths to honor, than we're never finished fighting. 

Even if you can't attend a memorial service tonight, take a moment to think about our fallen brothers and sisters.  Think about their last short moments of terror as someone, usually someone they were close to, ended their life.  That is why we must never stop working to make this world a better place.  So we no longer have to live in fear when we begin a relationship with someone.  So we no longer worry about being spotted and targeted for a hate crime.  So we no longer hear lawyers and defendants using the "gay panic" defense as a justification for taking the life of another human being. 

We are the lucky ones.  We are the survivors this year.  Let's not waste such a precious gift by hiding or being silent.  Our lives are short and precious.  Let's use them to fight back until we no longer draw breath.  Because every year, some of us become sacrificed on the alter of hatred and if we don't stand up and say, "ENOUGH!", than our silence will be taken as consent and next year we'll have even more names to honor. 

Tonight, we honor our brothers and sisters and shed a tear for what should not be.  Tomorrow, we rise up and give the world hell.  Tomorrow, we hold others accountable for their hatred, their silence, and their indifference.  Let's make sure our fallen are not forgotten or abused even further in their death.  Hopefully next year, we won't need a Day of Remembrance.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Not Too Proud to Beg

In response to the overwhelming support of my fans and loved ones (especially my Aunt Carole and Rosie Roetto) who responded to my last blog post and wanted to help, I've set up a "GoFundMe" website.  It's a nifty little fundraising site that lets anyone make whatever size donation they'd like.  There's even special rewards ranked for everyone who can give me a hand.  I'm not too proud to beg, and whatever help can be offered would be wonderful.

Surgery Blues

I put up a good game when it comes to representing trans women and the atheist community.  I answer all the questions I can as respectfully as I'm asked, I try to be out to as many people as I can to disprove stereotypes, and I work hard on writing this blog so I can share my perspective with others.  But some days are harder than others.

This week I've been in a slump because of surgery, specifically my lack of it.  It's hard to wake up every day and have to deal with this thing during my morning routine.  Typically I just wear my panties in the shower so I don't have to look at or touch it.  That may seem extreme, but I'd rather not start my day off depressed.  It's those few brief moments when I have to change or use the restroom that I get the most down and realize that for all my effort I'm no closer to affording surgery now than I was 4 years ago.

Ten thousand dollars doesn't seem like too much.  About the price of a good used car or a few semesters at a university, but trying to come up with that kind of money as a full-time student and part-time worker is damn near impossible.  Practically all my finances go toward living and whatever I do save generally gets used by some kind of emergency eventually.  I've learned not to set dates because whenever they sail right past me I get absolutely depressed and start to wonder if things are ever going to work out.

I don't mean to make this a pity party, but for those who aren't trans it's a strange kind of feeling to express through words.  Imagine you have a serious physical deformity but nobody notices it.  To the outside world, you're just like everyone else, and even you forget about it through most of your day, but you know if you or anyone else examines too closely the illusion bursts and revulsion and disgust quickly follow.  I feel like everything else in my life is going well.  I've had a wonderful boyfriend for almost 3 years, I start a new job next week with better pay that isn't retail, I'm getting straight As in my classes, my educational and occupational future looks very bright, this blog has become increasingly popular, and I've become established as an atheist speaker in the region because of it.  I try to remind myself of all these wonderful things whenever I beat myself up, but it doesn't change the fact that part of me is still broken.

I struggle with my weight occasionally and other body issues, but for the majority of the time I like the majority of my body.  It's mine, I've fought my ass off to make it the way it is, and we've been through heaven and hell together.  I just wish I could fix this one damn birth defect so I could escape from the shame I otherwise don't feel about my body.  It feels like finishing a giant puzzle and missing one piece.  It's going to drive you crazy and with that last piece it's never complete.  You can't glue and frame a puzzle that's missing a piece.  It's not fit for display.  That's what being a pre-op trans woman feels like.

Sorry I'm not my usual fired-up, humorous activist self today, but like I said, some days are harder than others.  I'll try to come back at you next week with something more light-hearted and inspiring if possible.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

This Just In: I Masturbate (And So Do You)

As you all know, I spent the weekend in Springfield, MO at the amazing Skepticon!  It was so much fun.  The setting was informal, but still educational, and I got to hang out with so many friends I generally only see at atheist get-togethers and make plenty of new ones as well.  We even got to debate the Christian protesters who bothered us every morning, one atheist even "street preached" all the horrific and graphic sections of the bible.

One of the talks that I found most inspiring was from Darrel Ray, author of Sex & God: How Religion Distorts Sexuality, titled "Why Do We Act Like Christians?"  He took the data he discovered while working on his book and pointed out the obvious that often gets swept under the rug.  The religious have sex just as much as the secular.  We start having sex around the same time, we both masturbate, we both look at pornography, and we both have fetishes and unusual sexual practices.  In other words, the religious are almost indistinguishable from us when they're in the bedroom.  The difference is how they present themselves when they're not having sex.  Every major religion uses sex and other acts (like jealousy) that all humans engage in so its members will experience steady amounts of guilt which drive them back to the very religion that caused the guilt in the first place.  This is one of the biggest problems I have with religion, I makes us feel disgusted with ourselves for behaving in a perfectly healthy way.

Darrel pointed out that, even though we are not religious we still act like it when it comes to talking about sex.  Many of us lie about our sex acts, number of sexual partners and every other detail about our sex lives.  Ask yourself if you've ever felt ashamed or embarrassed about masturbating, if the thought of talking about sex with your children makes you blush, if you lie about your sexuality or go to great efforts to keep it "private".  If so, then you've become a victim of the toxic environment created by a religious culture.  There is absolutely no reason to feel embarrassed or ashamed about doing something that is so common it may as well be universal.  It makes about as much sense as being embarrassed about sleeping or eating.  We all do it, so get over it.

My mother told me there are two kinds of people in this world: people who masturbate and people who lie about masturbating.  I proudly place myself in the first category and encourage you to do the same.  Masturbation is healthy and helpful, even (or especially) if you're in a sexual relationship.  It helps you blow off steam when you're partner is not able to, it helps you discover what feels good, it helps you communicate with your partner so you both have a better time, and it helps you feel more confident about your body.  It does not lower your sex drive, make you grow hair on your palms, make you go blind, make you infertile, or make you a sex fiend.  So don't lie about it and don't be ashamed.  If someone asks you if you masturbate, you should treat it like they just asked if you brush your teeth.  Sure, a few outliers don't brush, but we certainly shouldn't encourage that kind of behavior.

I think what I find most freeing about the queer community is how sex and sexuality are upfront and open topics.  It has to be, that's why we're there!  But it's exceptionally rare to be at an LGBT function and hear someone try to hide their sexuality.  And I don't just mean what gender they're attracted to, I mean sexuality simply to mean that they are a sexual person, as are the vast majority of us.  Sex isn't something to be ashamed about in the queer community because so many of us have fought like hell in order to express ourselves sexually.  Shit, we have a damn parade to celebrate it at least every year!  Whenever I hear stupid, bitter, homophobic straight people say they want a "straight pride parade", I agree with them, so long as their parade is also a celebration of all the wonderful sex acts they perform on each other.  If straight people want to dress up in lingerie and leather, paint their bodies, dance down the street and share their love of sex with the world, then I'm all for it.  Though, really, you could just join our parade to make matters simpler.  I know plenty of straight atheists who love to march in the pride parade, and they don't give a shit about who fucks who as long as it's done between adults with "enthusiastic consent".  (A new phrase I picked up from Rebecca Watson, which I love!)

The bottom line: Regardless of your beliefs, celebrate the fact that you are a human being.  That entails all the things that make you a happy and healthy human being such as sex, appetite, yearning to improve the lives of yourself and others, and an ability to share love and compassion with all you meet.  Let's make the world an awesome place where everyone can get their rocks off without feeling dirty or ashamed.  Let's shout from the rooftops (at least metaphorically), "I have sex and I masturbate, and so do you!"

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Yes We Did!

Way to go America, I'm damn proud of you.  Four more years of the most supportive president of LGBT rights and the most inclusive of secular citizens.  Even though my state didn't vote for you, I'm glad the rest of the country helped me out.
Too bad Hillary has already said she won't be running in 2016.  But hey, I've got my fingers crossed.

Skepticon, Here I Come!

This week I'll be joining my friends from Secular Students at Collin College, Metroplex Atheists and the Fellowship of Freethought for a road trip to Skepticon in Springfield, Missouri!  There's going to be a ton of awesome speakers and events and the best part is IT'S FREE!  So if you're free this weekend and in the area, why don't you join me and these lovely people:

Jessica Ahlquist - Student who fought for seperation of Church and State in Ahlquist v. Cranston.

Richard Carrier - Freethough Blogger.

Sean Carroll - Theorhetical Physics and Astrophysics Scientist.

Greta Christina - Awesome blogger.

James Croft - Skeptics of Oz

Matt Dillahunty - Host of The Atheist Experience and pretty decent magician too.

JT Eberhard - Blogger of "What Would JT Do?" and Campus Organizer for Secular Student Alliance.

Phil Ferguson - Skeptic Money blogger.

David Fitzgerald - Author of Nailed: Ten Christian Myths that Show Jesus Never Existed at All and a good friend of mine.

Julia Galef - For a Rational Future blogger.

George Hrab - Skeptic musician and a pretty cool dude.

Deborah Hyde - Editor in Cheif of The Skeptic Magazine!

Keith Lowell Jensen - Atheist comedian.

Amanda Knief - Secular Coalition for America

Teresa MacBain - Ex-Minister and fierce Female Freethinker.

Hemant Mehta - The Friendly Atheist blogger.

PZ Myers - Well known blogger of Pharyngula.

Jennifer Oulette - Author of The Calculus Diaries: How Math Can Help you Lose Weight, Win in Vegas, and Survive a Zombie Apocalypse.

Tony Pinn - Liberation Theology professor with a focus on African-American Humanism.

Darrel Ray - Founder of Recovering from Religion and author of The God Virus and Sex and God: How Religion Distorts Sexuality.  Also a good friend of mine, he's like the dirty uncle everyone loves to hang out with.

Rebecca Watson - Skepchick blogger and a pretty cool lady.

So what are you waiting for?  Get registered now!  And I'll see you this weekend.