Thursday, August 30, 2012

College Girl

Sorry I haven't updated more recently, but this week has been my first starting classes at Texas Woman's University.  It's been awesome, though occassionally frustrating, but all-around a great experience and even relevant to the subjects of this blog.  Why?  Because I'm at Texas Woman's University.  Now, just to clarify, while the college was once exclusively for women they have allowed men for at least a decade.  However, the campus is still 90% women.  It's so skewed that I've started playing a game called "Spot the Boy".  It's like Where's Waldo.

That being said, being surrounded by other women is so different from all of my educational history.  The majority of my professors are women (and not grad students, go me) and I think I can count the number of male students in all my classes on one hand.  What's so fascinating about this is class discussions are completely different from what I'm used to.  In nearly all of my previous classes, I was one of few women who spoke on a regular basis in class.  (Anyone who knows me knows I'm never afraid to give my opinion or share the answer to a question.)  Most class discussions were dominated by men and I'm sure the teachers and professors didn't even notice.  But here, I don't feel like a know-it-all just because I'm a girl who answers the professors.  Here it's the norm!

I must admit, I was slightly worried about attending a nearly-all women's school because I haven't had the best history of friendship with other women (unless they're queer and/or godless) because I have a low tolerance for passive-aggressive behavior.  But it seems as though having practically nothing but women has had almost a reverse effect from my previous experiences of being in all-girl situations.  Maybe it's because there are no boys being fought over (most of the ones here are gay) the girls here have learned to chill out on the catiness.  Or maybe we're just all the girls who had trouble making friends with girls growing up, kind of like roller derby.  Either way, it's a very refreshing environment and I absolutely love it here.

For those interested, I'm taking Abnormal Psychology, Professional Development in Psychology, Applied Statistics, and Ethics.  Except for Ethics, all of my classes are speciffically for Psych majors.  It's so nice to only take classes relevant to my future occupation.  And the Professional Development class seems especially useful; it's designed to help us plan our careers, including preparing for grad school.  It looks like there will be more homework and it will probably be more difficult, but I'm ready and excited for the semester.

I'll try my best to write another blog entry over the weekend, however we're getting ready to move to a new apartment so don't be surprised if I don't have time.  I look forward to your feedback.  Take care!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Thrilled and Nervous

Wow, my blog has blown up over the last couple of weeks!  I'd like to thank everyone who's left me comments, encouragement, and helpful criticism.  I'm glad to know people are enjoying my work.  I'd also like to thank Freethought Blogs and Skepchick for sharing my blog and getting the word out about the F3 conference.

For those of you who don't know and live close to the DFW area, I'll be part of the Feminine Faces of Freethought (F3) Conference in September.  I'll be privileged to share the stage with Noelle George, Dr. Jean Kazez, Elyse Anders, Bridget Gaudettte, Anne Crumpacker, Melanie Clemmer, Jayme Carr, Tammy Walker and many other talented godless women!  And if you have little ones, child care is provided with your ticket purchase.  So please come if you're close by and able and look out for me in the diversity panel.  

I just learned our conference is more-or-less in response to the monstrous Women of Faith where good Christian women hand over hard-earned cash in order to learn how to be better little subservients to men.  It's a huge event every year that fills the American Airlines center.  Hopefully the F3 conference will help to inject some sanity into our little corner of the Bible Belt.

Once again, thanks for all the encouragement and I hope to meet as many of you as possible at the F3 Conference on September 15th.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Queer and Godless Symbols: Part 2

Earlier this week I wrote a primer on LGBT flags and symbols used by the community because, let's face it, there's a lot of them!  Today I'd like to walk you through some of the symbols and parody religions used by the Secular movement so you'll no longer be confused the next time your atheist friend says "Glory be to His Noodly Appendage!"

Parody Religions

"Why do atheists have parody religions?  Do they have to mock theists beliefs?"  This is a common question when someone first learns about the many parody religions out there, but the majority of them actually have an education purpose behind their humor, generally against one or several tactics of apologists.  I'll try to cover the most well known ones here and explain why they exist to the best of my ability.

Russell's Teapot - A concept created by Bertrand Russell to demonstrate the concepts that the burden of proof rests on the theists making a claim of god(s) and that such claims are not logical unless they are falsifiable.  Russell pointed out that if he claimed a teapot was in orbit somewhere between Earth and Mars, it would be nonsensical for others to believe him if he could provide no evidence.  Thus "A-Teapotists" aren't making the claim that there is no teapot, but simply rejecting the claim that there is one until proven otherwise.

Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM) - Also known as "Pastafarianism", it is perhaps the most popular parody religion.  It is primarily used as a parody of creationist and intelligent design apologetics.  In response to the Kansas State Board of Education's 2005 decision to allow intelligent design to be taught as an alternative to evolution, Bobby Henderson wrote a letter professing his belief in a supernatural being who resembled spaghetti and meatballs, for which there was just as much evidence as intelligent design and thus should be offered as an alternative.  Atheists often challenge theists to disprove the Flying Spaghetti Monster, because doing so points out how flawed their own arguments for god(s) can be.

Invisible Pink Unicorn - Another modern take on Russell's Teapot, the Invisible Pink Unicorn is used to point out that supernatural beliefs are arbitrary, generally by replacing the word "god" with "invisible pink unicorn".  It illustrates the nature of unfalsifiable claims a bit better than Russell's Teapot because the unicorn is invisible and thus can't be seen.  And if scientific demands are made, she can be magical, always shifting the goal post out of reach.  It also points out the absurdity of faith.  "How do you know it's pink if it's invisible?"  "I just have faith."

The Church of the Latter-Day Dude - Also called "Dudeism", it is a parody of eastern religion, primarily Taoism, based around the Coen Brothers' film The Big Lebowski.  It liberally uses quotes and iconography from the cult film and has it's own "holy books", including The Dudespaper, The Tao Dude Ching, The Tao of The Dude, and The Abide Guide.  All are parodies of popular theist publications, such as The Watchtower for the Jehovah's Witnesses.

The Church of Google - Makes the claim that, while the Google search engine is not supernatural, it is the closest mankind has come to observing an all-knowing being.  Their website even has a list of nine "proofs" that Google is god, similar to other apologists.  Among these proofs are that Google is infinite as it is exponentially expanding and that it answers prayers so long as they're done through the search bar.

Last Thursdayism - A joke version of omphalism (the claim that the universe only appears billions of years old because a god made it appear that way to humans) that claims the universe was destroyed last Wednesday, but we're here so the universe must have been recreated last Thursday in order to appear as though it were never destroyed, complete with lifetime memories, geological formations and stars.  There are also "heretic" versions, including Last Wednesdayism and Next Thursdayism.

The Great Pumpkin - Created by Charles Schulz in his comic strip Peanuts.  It is seen as a Halloween parallel or parody of Santa Claus, believed in only by the character Linus, who refuses to reject his belief despite overwhelming evidence against it.  This illustrates, perhaps accidentally (Schulz was a Christian) the absurdity of supernatural claims.  For many atheists, this was an early stepping stone to losing their faith and thus they thank the Great Pumpkin for their atheism.

Festivus - "A Festivus for the rest of us!" A parody holiday featured on Seinfeld (and based on real traditions followed by one of the writer's family) which has since been embraced by many as an alternative for Christmas in order to escape its commercialism.  The holiday has a "Festivus Pole" in place of a Christmas Tree and has a Festivus dinner immediately followed by the "Airing of Grievances" in which the family members lash out at each other verbally for all their shortcomings.  Other traditions include the "Feats of Strength", a wrestling match between the head of the household against another person of their choosing, and proclaiming mundane and easily explainable coincidences to be "Festivus Miracles!"

That's a lot of religions!  And I know I've left out plenty, but those are the most popular ones most people are likely to come across.  I hope I've illustrated that these religions are mostly used for humor between other atheists and as instructional tools to help theists understand how certain claims appear to those who don't believe in them.

Secular Symbols

While Secularists aren't as steeped in symbolism and iconography as many religions are, we do still have symbols and concepts that we use to quickly express thoughts and ideas, like all other people and cultures.  Here's a few of the most common. 

Darwin Fish - A parody of the ichthys symbol (Jesus Fish) seen on many car bumpers that appears as a fish with legs with "Darwin" in the middle , it has since spawned countless variations, including Star Trek fish, (as seen on my boyfriend's truck) FSM fish, Cthulu fish, and many more.  This has resulted in a "fish war" in which Christians show an ichthys eating Darwin fish and vice versa.  They are primarily used by Atheists as a humorous way of proclaiming their heathenism.

Happy Human - Symbol for Secular Humanism, a moral philosophy held by many atheists (myself included) which is explained by the International Humanist and Ethical Union as "a democratic and ethical life stance, which affirms that human beings have the right and responsibility to give meaning and shape to their own lives. It stands for the building of a more humane society through an ethic based on human and other natural values in the spirit of reason and free inquiry through human capabilities. It is not theistic, and it does not accept supernatural views of reality."

Scarlet Letter - Based on the same-titled Hawthorne book, it has since been adopted as a symbol for atheists and agnostics, which is seen as much worse than adultery by many religious people.  It is often seen as a lapel pin worn as a subtle way of identifying other atheists as the symbol is not commonly known outside the secular community.   

American Atheists' "A" - Symbol used by American Atheists, a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting the constitutional rights of atheists in the United States and defending the separation of church and state.  One of the first and largest groups of its kind, the symbol is often used outside of the organization, including as a grave marker for atheist soldiers.

Cross Buster - Used by the popular atheist punk band Bad Religion, it has since been adopted by many in the atheist community, particularly those with an anti-theist stance toward religion.  There are many variations for different religions, including one used by my podcast, Secular Shethinkers.

Eating Babies - A common joke used in the Secular community based on the outrageous claims made against us by religious fundamentalists.  (See also, "Worship Satan", "Angry at God", "No moral compass", and "Love to sin") As a result, it's not entirely uncommon to see a baby-shaped cake or other types of food at a secular gathering.

Well, it's not everything but it's a pretty good start.  I hope you enjoyed it and learned something new, primarily that atheists are snarky bastards who really like sarcasm.  Don't forget to check out Part 1 on Queer Symbols if you missed it and let me know if I forgot anything important.  Join me next time as I talk about the misperceptions of feminism.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Queer and Godless Symbols: Part 1

As our communities become more diverse, we find new ways of signaling our identities to each other through flags, symbols, and other trinkets.  For the sake of the straight, cis, queer, trans, theist, or atheist folks out there who have ever asked a question like, "Do straight allies have their own flag?" or "What the hell is a FSM?" this primer is just what you need!

Queer Flags

For the sake of simplicity, I'm going to separate these into categories, provide pictures and give a quick run-down of who and what they represent.

Rainbow Flag - Represents the general LGBTQ community, more specifically gay and lesbian.  The mixture of colors symbolize the "colorful" variety in the queer community and the six individual colors symbolize life (red), healing (orange), sunlight (yellow), nature (green), harmony (blue), and spirit (purple).

Transgender Flag - Represents the transgender umbrella that can encompass transsexual, crossdresser, intersex, and other gender-variant communities.  The pink and blue colors represent female and male identified people, respectively, while the white stripe represents intersex and others who consider themselves outside the gender binary.
Bisexual Flag - Represents the bisexual community.  The deep pink represents female attraction, the deep blue represents male attraction, and the purple in the middle represents attraction to any other gender in-between.

Asexual Flag - Based on the Asexual triangle (see Queer Symbols below).  The gradient from black to purple represents the sliding scale from complete asexuality to sexuality, based on Kinsey's original sexuality scale.

Genderqueer Flag - Represents the Genderqueer community, a catchall for those who identify outside of the typical gender binary.  The lavender represents those who identify with male and female (mixture of blue and pink), the green represents those who identify as neither male or female (inverse of lavender), and the white (sometimes replaced with black) represents people who reject gender all together.

Pansexual Flag - Represents the pansexual community.  Similar to the bisexual flag, the three colors represent female attraction (pink), male attraction (blue), and gender-variant attraction (yellow).

Straight Ally Flag - Represents straight (and/or cis) allies.  The rainbow "A" in the middle of the black and white stripes represents involvement and protection of the LGBTQ community.

Bear Flag - A subculture of gay men that appreciates specific secondary sex characteristics such as generous body and facial hair.  The various colors represent the different varieties of skin/hair color and the paw print represents, well duh, bears!

Leather Flag - Represents the Leather and/or BDSM community, which encompasses all sexual orientations.  The heart represents love (something many "vanilla" people might not see in BDSM relationships), the black and blue have been said to represent leather and denim or bruises, depending on who you ask, the white has been said to represent purity or perhaps "mocha" and "vanilla" allies.  The color symbols are often contested because the flag's designer refused to specify his symbolism, leaving it up to each person to decide.

Polyamory Flag - Represents the Polyamorous community, people in relationships with more than one person.  The blue represents the honesty and trust required in poly relationships, the red represents passion and love, and the black represents the secrecy that is sadly required in our society.  The Greek letter "pi" in the middle is for the first letter in polyamory and it is gold to represent cherishing all relationships, be they friendly, romantic, physical, or a combination.

Queer Symbols

Wow!  That's a lot of flags!  That's why, for simplicities sake we generally just use the rainbow flag.  Imagine trying to explain all of these flags in a casual conversation to someone.  Here's some of the symbols that have been used throughout LGBT history, many of which are still used in various frequency today.

Pink Triangle -  One of the first gay pride symbols.  Originally used as a badge by the Nazis to denote male homosexuals in concentration camps, it has since been inverted (now pointing up) and turned into a symbol of openness and freedom.

Straight Ally Triangle -  Represents Straight Allies or sometimes denotes an LGBT "safe space".  The green circle surrounding the pink triangle represents the protection of allies for the LGBT community.

Green Carnations - Once used as a signal between gay men, either as a identifying accessory or a gift to another man, particularly during the Ancient Greek and later Victorian Eras.  Famously worn in Oscar Wilde's lapel.

Violets - Similar to Green Carnations, but for lesbian and bisexual women.  Based on a poem by Sappho (an ancient Greek lesbian poet) in which she describes her lover and her wearing garlands of violets.  The coded gift of violets was especially popular among queer women from the 1910s to the 1950s.

Labrys - Symbol often used in ancient Minoan Crete, believed to be a matriarchal society.  It has since been adopted by the lesbian community in diminishing popularity since the 1970s.  Often seen as a tattoo on the inner wrist or a pendant.

Greek Lambda - Adopted by the Gay Activist Alliance in the 1970s.  Signifies unity against oppression and thus has been used by many oppressed communities besides LGBT.  For this reason, the LGBT lambda is often pink in order to specify.

Transgender Symbol - An amalgamation of the traditional male and female symbols.  The "arrow" on the upper right represents male-identified people, the "plus" on the bottom represents female-identified people, and the combination of both on the upper-left represents gender-variant identified people.

Asexual Triangle - Similar to the Asexual flag, but the gradient is from white to black with a purple outline.

Purple Hand - No longer popular, but tells an interesting story.  In 1969 the Gay Liberation Front staged a protest outside the San Francisco Examiner for negative articles on LGBT people and bars.  The staff inside the building dumped purple ink on the protesters below, who used it to scribe "Gay Power" and other symbols all over the building and covered it with purple hand prints.  The crowd was subsequently brutally beaten by the police who arrived on the scene.  It was later used with varying success as a warning to gay-bashers in gay neighborhoods.

Whew!  That's a lot to cover in one blog entry.  If I missed a flag or symbol of your particular liking, I apologize.  I tried to be as thorough and inclusive as possible.  Don't forget to check out Part 2 where I talk about Godless Symbols.

Friday, August 17, 2012

26 Role Models for 26 Years

In honor of my 26th year living on this Earth, I thought I would share 26 famous people who have inspired me, be they living, dead, real or fictional.  And in honor of this day also being my 4-year "tranniversary", 4 of them are trans women.  Enjoy and thanks for all the happy memories everyone!

Amanda Fucking Palmer - One of my favorite musicians of all time.  So many of her songs are about gender norms and the like that she was extremely helpful when I was coming to terms with the whole "I'm a girl" thing.

 Amanda Simpson - The first trans Presidential appointee (that we know of).  She was not appointed because she was "diverse" but because she had decades of experience in her field and was the most qualified.  Good on her.

Bill Nye - Inspired me and countless other children to understand the scientific method and gave us all a thirst for discovery, experimentation, and learning.  If we had more people like him, maybe our country wouldn't rank 48th in science education and more than half of our nation would understand how evolution works.

Carl Sagan - If Bill inspired me as a kid, then Carl inspired me as an adult.  His show Cosmos is still one of the best programs of its kind and fills you with true fascination with the sky above us.  To top it all off, he was a firm but gentle atheist and pointed out the destruction religion can have on human progress in a non-confrontational way.

Christopher Hitchens - There's really only one word to describe his writing: ruthless.  I was lucky enough to be at two of his last public appearances before his death.  The way he bravely confronted his mortality was almost as inspiring as his writing.  Whenever I write a particularly angry piece, I like to think I'm channeling his energy.

Commander Shepard - Whenever someone asks me how women should be portrayed in video games, I point them to Mass Effect.  Why?  Because she's incidentally female.  She doesn't wear sexy outfits, she wears full body armor, because she's a soldier.  She doesn't beat you over the head with the fact that she's a bad-ass woman, she just is a bad-ass woman.

Daria Morgendorffer - Pretty much me in high school, minus the skirt and long hair.  I can't tell you what a relief it was to know I wasn't the only one who questioned the "best years of our lives" prattle.  She was a smartass, a writer and spoke her mind freely.  Why wouldn't I love her?
Douglas Adams - No one captures the humor and absurdity of life, the universe, and everything quite like Douglas Adams.  If only he was the perception of what atheists are like we might not be the most distrusted group in America.

George Carlin - Dedicated his life to "detecting the bullshit" and making us all aware of it too.  Few comedians set out to change the world with their comedy, but George Carlin makes you look at the world, laugh at it with him and then want to change it once his routine is done.

Harvey Milk - The first openly gay elected politician in America.  A truly inspiring pioneer to keep in mind whenever we face adversity.  His "Give Them Hope" speech never fails to bring tears to my eyes and inspire me to fight the good fight.

Hedwig Schmidt Robinson - Strange as it may seem, this genderfuck punk-rock star was the first remotely positive transgender person I'd seen.  And the ultimate message of the musical, fuck what others think and be who you are, changed me for the bettter.

Hermione Granger - I love Hermione, because she has strong principles and stands for her beliefs even when they're not popular (S.P.E.W.), speaks her mind, never pretends to not know the answer and is one of the few teenage girls in literature who isn't "boy crazy".

Jadzia Dax - Whether you knew it or not, she's the transgender character of Star Trek.  She has such great lines as, "If it helps, think of me as a man.  I've been one several times."  She's fierce, smart, handy with a bat'leth and easy on the eyes.  What's not to like?

Jessica Ahlquist - Despite death threats and protests, she fought for the constitutional removal of a prayer banner at her public high school.  The case went to court and she was found to be in the right.  It takes real guts to face that kind of adversity and stick to your guns.

Katniss Everdeen - When I read The Hunger Games and she volunteers to take her little sister's place, I burst into tears while riding the bus because I would do the exact same thing for my sister.  Although I dislike the ending, (another blog for another time) I relate Katniss because she's independent, a survivor, and extremely protective of her family.

Lady Sovereign - One of my favorite hip-hop artists.  Not only is she British, white and female, but she's also a lesbian.  That's a lot of traits that go against the typical rap culture, but she's clever and has a great sense of humor in her music.

Lana Wachowski - Bet you didn't know the Wachowski Brothers are no longer brothers.  That's because their the Wachowski siblings now.  I love her and her brothers movies and I'm impressed she somehow managed to transition and not get caught up in a media circus about it.

Lara Croft - The first female video game character I ever played will always have a special place in my heart.  Even if she's been sexualized by every creepy fan-boy out there, that's not her fault.  She's just here to explore ruins and find treasure.

Leia Organa - The only princess I can really relate to, because she carries a gun and rescues herself and her man.  Her love interest was also my first crush growing up, probably for the best love line ever: "I love you!" "I know."

Lenore Gore - One of the first trans derby girls, who skates for the D.C. team Scare Force One.  She was also influential in changing WFTDA's gender rules to not exclude girls based on their surgery status. 

Lisa Simpson - Sure she's a know-it-all, a Buddhist atheist, a vegetarian, and a jazz musician, but don't hold that against her!  She may think she's the only sane one in her family (most of the time) but she loves her family all the same, warts and all.

Madalyn Murray O'Hair - The mother of the Atheist movement.  I love the "four horsemen" as much as the next godless heathen, but let's never forget it was a woman who started it all.  Despised for sticking up for her son's constitution rights and creating a community for atheists, she ultimately paid for it by being brutally murdered.  Never forget where we came from.

Michelle Dumaresq - A downhill bike racer and one of the first transgender athletes on an international level.  She had to put up with a lot of shit when she won her first race, but she kept her head high and blazed a trail for the rest of us.

Neil deGrasse Tyson - He's been called the next Carl Sagan, and he's even said to be hosting the upcoming revival of Cosmos.  He's another great scientist who makes science accessible to all and invites everyone to gaze up at the stars.

Sally Ride - The first American woman in space and the only lesbian (as far as we know).  Sadly she passed away recently and her partner will receive no benefits because the shitheel Republicans are worried that might encourage other lesbian astronauts.  Yet another reason we need to fight for human rights.  That way we can get to more important matters, like space exploration.

Selina Kyle - She's like Batman, but without the rigid morals and billion-dollars bank account.  While some may say she's a villain, she only robs from assholes who have it coming and donates the majority to worthwhile charities, keeping some for herself so she can keep doing what she does.  She's the gray-suited character in the black-and-white world of Gotham.