Archive for the ‘How We Communicate’ Category

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Best of 2013

2013.December.31

I am by no means an exhaustive consumer of media, but this year had some gems that I feel compelled share. Simply put, this list comprises things I experienced that helped me grow & love better in 2013. No rank or order is implied; “Honorable Mentions” are older but were new to me in 2013.

Favorite Concept: “self-othering”
To self-other is to claim narratives of the powerless for oneself with little or no authentic claim to such levels of powerlessness. Examples might include the concept of “reverse racism”, equating being “broke” with actual poverty, exoticism, framing “language police” as equally oppressive to the use of offensive terminology, borrowing from an unfinished struggle to promote a contemporary one (e.g., “gay is the new black”), and the claim that polyamory is a queer and/or oppressed status — but most instances are actually far more subtle. By its privileged nature, self-othering is far more pernicious in educated, hetero, white, cismen [friendly wave]; it is not usually a conscious co-option, which makes it difficult to recognize in oneself, but I suspect anyone who examines zir own social power will struggle with it at some point. Perhaps even those with very little social privilege could benefit from remembering that actual physical and societal oppression feels different for every person and every circumstance. This concept needs to be contemplated and discussed widely, so we might all better catch ourselves exercising the power of naming and the privilege of inclusion; try not to water it down too fast, Internet.
Honorable Mention: Intersectionality
The Grand Unified Theory of social activism, where those deconstructing sexism, racism, classism, and countless other systemic power disparities compare notes. In a few more years, the Internet may relegate it just another dialectal buzzword, but for now it has teeth as a thoughtful and dynamic post-social-justice outlook.

Favorite Discussion Piece: Orange Is the New Black
I cannot say I exactly love this show, but I absolutely love to watch and participation in its deconstruction. I dare anyone to read White Chick Behind Bars and not feel personally challenged somewhere. Some friends have begun to shy away from discussing OITNB publicly because the critiques made them feel like bad (white) people, but to let call-out critiques of such a complicated, try-hard show brand it irredeemable would be just as short-sighted as to review it purely for cinematographic and storytelling qualities. In these discussions, there is the opportunity to examine where poetic license and politics collide, to ask which is making us feel uncomfortable this week (and whether it was the show’s intent), and to celebrate the heretofore overlooked perspectives now receiving thoughtful screen time. Until perfect art comes along, let us continue to be motivated by imperfect art that keeps us talking, introduces us to new situations, and makes us check our assumptions about what a titty-shot really conveys.

Favorite Blogger: Ferrett Steinmetz
I discovered Ferrett shortly before his earth-shaking Dear Daughter: I Hope You Have Some Fucking Awesome Sex went viral, but he’s been posting all over for a while. In Ferrett, I found a rare straight guy who could not only educate but inspire me: atypically male, relatable, passionately self-aware, sex-positive, polyamorous (but kind of relaxed about it), thoughtful about the creative process, AND prolific. Every time I approached one of his posts expecting a mere oasis from the kind of entitlement narratives that poison me against my fellow white guys, Ferrett transports me levels beyond by finishing thoughts I hadn’t even started yet. His approach is to excise common misperception from reality with quick, deft text grounded in everyday experience — and he owns it when he messes up! The man writes about anything without wasting a word; I can trust that if I don’t find a particular post profound, SOMEONE ELSE WILL. Not that I’m saying you should idolize him (or anyone else).

Favorite Music: Janelle Monáe, The Electric Lady
A late arrival in my year; I was slow to pick up this album because I was afraid it couldn’t live up to my first impressions of the hottest android-impersonator in music, but I was wrong. So very wrong. I’m just starting to dig into the mythos she’s created and the funked out fusion she’s worked into the tracks, but I know this album will be getting a lot of play in 2014.
Honorable Mention (album): Black Snake Moan Soundtrack
I could spend the rest of my life debating where the movie sits on the line between “problematic” and “irredeemable”, but its highest point was the filmmakers’ engrossing love letter to Delta blues.
Honorable Mention (song): Lupe Fiasco (with Guy Sebastian), “Battle Scars
The conscious rapper dropped this crossover hit — questioning the battle-like nature of relationship discord — and went platinum. Yes. This.

Favorite Movie: Gravity
Another item I feared couldn’t possibly live up to the hype. I was left breathless the first time I saw the two-minute trailer, and the movie theater experience was basically 90 minutes of the same. I won’t say it’s the best story ever (and I really think I would have liked Robert Downey, Jr., to have kept the part that eventually went to George Clooney), but its telling is gripping and its visual achievements should do to space what Jurassic Park did to dinosaurs: raise the bar to impossible heights and dare every movie that follows to choose between pitiful homage or pointless improvisation. Along the way, it instilled for me a dread of what happens down here on Earth should our skies ever receive such a disaster.
Honorable Mention: Beasts of the Southern Wild
Another visual spectacle, Beasts is carried by a six-year-old thriving in Southern myth-making — and yet I can’t watch it without cross-referencing myth-like places and people I’ve known. The stories from behind the scenes are just as breathtaking.

Favorite Parody: Pretty much anything riffing on Blurred Lines
The horror of the original song/video/message isn’t the kind of thing you can rectify with academic deconstruction or even conscious indignation — you need a good genderfucking parody or two.

Favorite Reads: Parenting on the Internet
Perhaps even more than Ferrett’s piece above, this piece showed how parenting can provoke individuals to look within for change. The RenegadeMama sees the greatness in her son’s gentle nature and, going against her won inclinations, decides to let it stand. It’s impossible to encapsulate its brilliance without lifting swaths of text (which you should go read for yourself), but I can say this: it made me appreciate parents and parenting a little more, and it even fostered forgiveness for the ways my own family had tried to socialize me against my gentler inclinations. That’s powerful wordsmithing right there.
Honorable Mention: Cat’s Cradle
My lover put this book in my hands and told me to read it; she is wise, and there will be celebratory tattoos. The legacy of a dead scientist draws a listless writer to a banana republic with an outlaw religion and a captivating woman. Sardonic wisdom and global change ensue.

Favorite Introspection: Defining Allies and Their Role
I should note that this conversation is far from over, so rather than trying to encapsulate it how about I share a tiny sample and you go join the conversation yourself?
Growing Up Online: Why & How I Care About the Comments
8 Ways Not To Be An Ally — A Non-Comprehensive List
For Whites (Like Me): On White Kids
Holy Gender Politics, Batman! How a D.C. Punk’s Music Video Sparked an Identity Controversy
Honorable Mention: Call-Out Culture
Another unfinished debate, is “calling out” the Internet’s greatest act of justice, a stalled strategy that’s keeping allies from necessary reflection, or flat-out liberal bullying? Is anger and vitriol on another person’s behalf ever justified, even helpful? What are our assumptions about people who call out? about people who don’t? Is there something better they could be doing? Reply hazy, try again.

Favorite Polyamory Topic: All Good Right?
Alan from Poly in the Media shares a few thoughts from himself and several other long-time poly writers on the assumptions that can slip into nonmonogamy and how rapid growth of the identity has made it harder to check such foundational misunderstandings.

Favorite Cracked Article: 5 Mind-blowing Facts Nobody Told You About Guns
Just read it; you won’t be disappointed.

There! You get ten. But here’s one to grow on, my favorite piece that I’ve written this year. Feel free to add it to your Best of list!

How Dyadism Ruind the Best Moment at SexTalk

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I Beg of You

2013.November.2

Ganked with permission@Anti_Intellect was talking to his people, so with his permission I decided to translate his message to people who share my identifiers:

Dear White folks: Stop undervaluing Black folks, whether it is thinking they are uniquely evil or uniquely good.

Dear men: Stop undervaluing women, whether it is thinking they are uniquely evil or uniquely fragile.

Dear hetero people: Stop undervaluing LGBT* people, whether it is thinking they are uniquely evil or uniquely good at decorating.

Dear cis people: Stop undervaluing trans* people, whether it is thinking they are uniquely evil or uniquely rare.

Dear liberals: Stop overvaluing Republicans/conservatives/Tea Partiers, whether it is thinking they are uniquely evil or uniquely powerful.

Dear Southern people: Stop undervaluing the complicated nature of history and science. Just stop.

Dear polyamorous people: Stop overvaluing monogamous people, whether it is thinking they are uniquely evil or uniquely calm.

Dear people raised working class: Stop overvaluing rich people, whether it is thinking they are uniquely evil or uniquely good. And stop planning and voting as if you’ll be one any day now.

Dear people who are financially stable: Stop overvaluing poor people, whether it is thinking they are uniquely evil or uniquely poignant in fiction. Their lives are real and it could happen to anyone.

Dear educated people: Stop undervaluing people without degrees, whether it is that they are uniquely evil or uniquely in control of their circumstances.

Dear non-religious people: Stop overvaluing religious people, whether it is thinking they are uniquely hateful, uniquely hypocritical, or uniquely unified.

Dear human people: Stop mis-valuing everyone who seems different from you, whether it is that they are uniquely evil, uniquely good, uniquely enlightened, or any more bizarre than yourself. We’ve all got too much work to do on ourselves to be worrying about everybody else.

Oh yeah, and stop mis-valuing yourself too. A small change will accomplish more than any big guilt-trip.

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How Dyadism Ruined the Best Moment at SexTalk

2013.February.12

Two weeks ago, Southwestern University hosted its annual Brown Symposium in Georgetown, Texas

– wait, let me highlight why this is interesting:

Last week, the oldest university in Texas hosted a symposium on sex, specifically how we communicate about sex.

And with a little help at home, I was able to attend. “SexTalk: A Symposium with Benefits,” was the most-attended Brown Symposium in memory, and the one most attended by Southwestern students. As easy as it would be to snark about how topics like “Discoveries of Inter-relationships in the Circumpolar North” or “The Music of Olivier Messiaen” should have been equally crowd-pleasing, I prefer to reflect on why this event was such a remarkable draw, for students and visitors alike. And that list starts with Dan Savage.

For the two of you who don’t already know (and even that’s probably inflating my readership a bit), Dan Savage is the nationally syndicated columnist behind Savage Love, a bawdy verbal romp that debuted with Seattle’s weekly, The Stranger, over twenty years ago. From the beginning, the column has centered on hetero people writing in for sex and relationship advice from Dan Savage, who dispenses information and insults with a wink and a “fuck you” toward the stereotype of the sassy gay friend. Along the way, he has sprinkled in political, queer, and non-monogamous content: he coined the term “monogamish” to describe committed partnerships that include threesomes or other sanctioned dalliances and even leads Google searches with readers’ namesake for former senator and presidential candidate Rick Santorum.

Many members of the audience were already fans of the column (as well as the podcast, which one friend has described as the only podcast she could listen to due to its superior production values). You know someone has attained iconic status when it feels awkward to only say the person’s first or last name. “Dan” sounds like a person, “Savage” sounds like a witness in a newspaper article, but “Dan Savage” is an entity. If you already knew about Dan Savage coming in, there’s a good chance his Q&A with a nervous SU graduate would only have confirmed what you already believed, good or bad (and depending on how far back you’d been reading). He took the stage second, after a sexologist/Unitarian Universalist minister‘s presentation on reconciling faith and sexuality, and framed himself as a gay nobody who just happened to become a champion of healthy sex and decision-making for all people. Savage Love, as he describes it, is written in the tone of a group of buddies who are sitting around being drunk and honest with one other (adding that his increasingly frequent appearances as commentator in mainstream news outlets are far less casual).

After the strained opener, the audience was invited to ask questions. They mostly furthered earlier topics (griping about our decidedly sex-negative governor, Rick Perry, for example). Then for the penultimate question, Eli took the mic.

(I should explain here that I know Eli… sort of… in that way that the Internet and huddled interdependence can make it difficult for sex-positive activists to NOT vaguely know one another in this state. I believe we were briefly Facebook friends due to some Austin project that never quite took off. If memory serves — and it may not — Eli identifies as genderqueer, but will accept “trans man” if a label is absolutely necessary; to be safe, I’ll tell this story using Eli’s conveniently short name instead of pronouns.)

Eli was the first questioner to be nervous, but also the first to ask anything controversial. In a rambly, somewhat accusatory tone, Eli braved the room to ask Dan Savage about certain patterns of insensitivity. The points were familiar to anyone who’s already seen sex-positive folks roll their eyes over Dan Savage: transphobia, bi-erasure, and general prejudice against queer identities that are far removed from his own (for the record, Dan Savage is a white, married cismale, quasi-monogamous, and the toppy-er partner). Dan Savage had briefly touched on this reputation already, but Eli’s question was far from moot; Eli even cited an earlier crack about a young lesbian having a Justin Bieber poster on her wall as an example of his disregard for effeminate men.

Dan Savage’s response was more rambly than I would have expected, but still calm and respectful toward Eli. He welcomed the concern and reiterated that Savage Love has the tone of a drunk group of friends at the root of its coarseness and its slang, but also its honesty. (Personally, I think Dan Savage’s detractors might be less critical if this were stated in the column’s header, but I’m sure there would be other drawbacks.) He talked a little about how much things have changed for him and the column over its life, but without many specifics. He rambled about his love of effeminate men (such as his husband), which got a lot of laughs but sounded just a little like, “My best friend is black, so I can’t be racist.”

Now, from this point forward, I must apologize for having an even fuzzier memory than usual, but two separate phenomena were taking shape. Positive debate has been on my mind a lot (and it’s no secret I’m skeptical of confrontational structures and dependent upon a minimal amount of affirmation in my activism), so I chose to focus not on the discussion between Eli and Dan Savage, but on the audience’s reaction to it.

We were in a large auditorium, with several hundred people on the floor and plenty more up on a balcony I couldn’t see over. Eli stood in a side aisle, about three-quarters back from the stage; most of the audience had to turn around to see Eli and did so politely at first. When Eli began to speak again, though, much of the crowd bristled.

Eli pressed further, a little more steady this time, saying something about hostility and dismissal toward trans issues. I felt that Eli’s concerns were better stated, but that the audience was less interested; either the crowd of Dan Savage fans felt Eli had already been rebuffed by Dan Savage’s mere awesomeness, or maybe Eli’s point was hitting too close to home. By the time Eli’s two or three sentences were complete, only a handful of people were still looking directly at Eli, and this is where I bristled. The vast majority of the audience had faced forward, literally turning their backs on Eli: half were looking toward Dan Savage on stage (many incredulous, as if to say “Can you believe this person? Don’t they know who you are?” and others just kind of staring blankly), and the rest looked at their feet, their notebooks, anywhere but back at Eli.

Dan Savage, too, got more articulate in his next response, especially regarding his treatment of trans issues. He assured the audience that over the more than two decades of the column, he has learned and grown with the help of critical readers. He also pointed out that he’s never relied solely on his own opinion and frequently brings in experts to check his work or even do it for him; sometimes they disagree with him, but he prints the full exchange anyway. He pointed out that he was tagging in Buck Angel and Kate Bornstein to comment on trans topics 15 years ago, long before anyone else had ever heard of them.

By this point, I think most of the audience members considered Dan Savage to have “won”, and there seemed to be more than a couple of smug smiles facing the front of the room. I detected that Eli and Eli’s allies (few in number, but easy to spot because they were still looking at Eli) were listening intently, and that some of their agitation had melted away. Unfortunately, everyone else was just waiting for the discomfort to pass like an argument over family dinner.

Dan Savage continued that, as an advice columnist, he must work with the questions he receives and that he sometimes eliminates relevant letters because they include language he knows will be too offensive. However, he emphasized, there are not always polite terms for sexual acts and identities that are bold and controversial to the mainstream. Using existing slang gives Dan Savage the freedom to talk to people where they live; as he eliminates slang from inclusion, he must sometimes also eliminate the perfectly reasonable discussions that could come from that slang. The direct consequence of this is that people who don’t know how to write about trans issues consciously enough to be included don’t get included at all, and fewer trans discussions take place than in the past.

In the end, Dan Savage and Eli agreed that Eli could write in and encourage others to do the same. Now this wasn’t a perfect answer, but it was a good answer, and Eli and Eli’s allies were both heard and attentive; maybe I’m being idealistic here, but it seemed like the exchange closed on a mutually respectful note. I felt some of Dan’s answers were a tiny bit derailing, but then I also wondered if Eli might be spoiling for a fight instead of a discussion. I felt like neither was as articulate as they could have been, but they were both being honest and human and, despite the tension in the room, respectful. Most of the audience missed this moment of subtle peace, particularly those who had already decided Dan Savage had “won” (which he hadn’t). That the conversation ended so well was, to me, a testament to their both wanting not to win, but to find a stronger path forward. Everyone who was still paying attention really seemed to come together during this final point; unfortunately, that portion comprised only a fraction of the total audience. It served as a demonstration of how much tone matters and a reminder of how few of us have the courage to sit through awkward, non-competitive conversations — even when they take us someplace better.

I love this kind of dialogue just for existing. I guess it’s fitting that in the time since the Symposium, I’ve been mulling over this piece, by a prominent advocate for marriage equality who managed to befriend Dan Cathy of hate-nugget fame. Like the discussion between Dan Savage and Eli at Southwestern, it is a bit unfocused and inkblotty, allowing readers to reinforce preconceived notions about the parties involved. But agree or disagree, I don’t see a lot of credit going to people who stand up before their allies and say, “Hey, maybe we need a new perspective.”

Now, I’m not a journalist (repeat after me: “Blogging is not journalism.”), but if I were, I would have followed up the Dan Savage/Eli story with research. I would have talked to Eli over the lunch break or in a subsequent interview to find out whether Eli was happy with the exchange. I would have reached out to Dan Savage for comment. I would have obtained a video of the discussion so I could parse out every word. Perhaps I would have looked for other examples of hero worship getting in the way of good discussion or activists whose messages and methods weren’t always in obvious accordance. But I’m just a part-time writer on a nearly quixotic search for better questions and better communication.

It invigorates me to see people discuss an issue beyond some ideological “victory”, but three quarters of the room at Southwestern had no interest in such matters. When I found not so much as a tweet about the exchange, I started wondering if  there might be some conflict avoidance inherent in red-state progressivism. Since many of us (especially allies with little-to-no queer identity) band together in little bubbles, face-to-face activism is both rare and optional. It’s primarily online or in groups. We don’t have to change anyone’s minds, just sit safely at home, secure in the knowledge that we are right.

We tell one another boogeyman stories about how unsafe we are in this state, but we are given a lot of choices and we don’t choose what is difficult or unpopular nearly as often as we’d like to think. We tell ourselves it’s braver to leave what we know and go to liberal oases (Austin, Seattle, DC…) than to stay and live openly as peace-loving, radically inclusive, judgment-defeating neighbors and citizens. How many of us would call out a stranger for saying something offensive or untrue? How many of us leverage our privilege to challenge others where they live? I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with making choices to avoid conflict (I’ve made them myself), I just don’t want us to fool ourselves. Engaging the issues is not the same as engaging a person, and I suspect that’s a flaw in the system that everyone is happy to ignore. I want to out that this freedom to choose is a privilege, and that quietly choosing between pre-drawn sides reinforces not only the powers that be, but the structures that cycle that powers without transformation. Change still happens, but it is slow. Can we say we know for certain that participating in a movement is easier and more effective than engaging in dialogue with those who disagree with our worldview until we’ve actually tried? Can we say for sure that there even is a movement if we don’t all take such action?

When we approach any discussion looking for an automatic winner and loser, the question I have to ask is, “Why?” My theory: conflict avoidance so pervasive that we lose the ability to see dialogues at all, that we eventually only see debates. Better to be part of an unpopular throng than standing alone somewhere in the crossfire, I guess.

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It’s Not Impossible, It’s Just Texas

2013.January.25

WHAT

Last week, I reached out for something vague with a flurry of spontaneous tweets. I tried to make it poetic, and thoughtful, and concise, but the failed purpose was to articulate something missing in my activist/ish life and hope my friends and allies could point me in the right direction. Responses were mostly negative on the helpful scale, to the extent that responses like “I don’t know what you’re talking about” and simple cyber-hugs were graded at the high end of an sharp curve.

There were five posts in quick succession, plus an epilogue and a disgruntled follow-up, all posted to my Twitter (where my smattering of activist followers seemed to be inactive that day). The tweets then cross-posted to my private Facebook, where I had hoped to reach the several dozen friends who currently or have previously worked for nonprofit organizations, political campaigns, and other professional realms of activism (or at least the dozens more who advocate as volunteers, organizers, and educators on their own time) with one simple query:

“Where my idealists at?”

This was not the first time I had attempted the approach of, “Ask the Internet and it will come.” Except I wasn’t asking the whole Internet; I wasn’t even asking all 500 of my Facebook friends. Even omitting the various filters for me and Twitter, my posts could still only reach whatever friends happened to check their Facebook feeds around the time I posted. Activists or not, few of my friends (or anyone on Facebook) optimize Facebook’s feed options (subjecting them to a lot of irrelevant noise and shortening attention spans further), so even if they wanted to see it, who knows if they would have? If someone was busy at work that day, or sick, or forgot the phone they use to log in, or just needed a break from digital socializing on THAT DAY, there was little chance they would see it.

My approach was essentially aiming a shotgun at a hummingbird. Through a wall. And the hummingbird may or may not have been there in the first place.

It should surprise no one, then, that the tweets were ignored and the Facebook posts received the following array of responses: 7 “Likes”, 5 vaguely cynical comments, 4 vaguely sympathetic comments, 2 playful threats about my artistic license with grammar, 2 admissions that someone didn’t understand what I was after, 1 vaguely relevant joke, and 1 itemized derailment of the entire series (which helped trigger my disgruntled follow-up, 4 sympathetic comments, and conversations with both the grammarian and the derailer). Of these, the “I don’t understand” comments were actually the most helpful, because I realized that I couldn’t explain my posts any better — and that was the problem.

The posts failed to reach anyone who could recognize and answer the question I was trying to ask. Even I didn’t know what I sought, so how could I know if I was going about it the right way? Strangely (or perhaps not so strangely), even the most upsetting of these comments led to productive discussion and reconsideration, to the extent that I’m finally able to articulate what it is I seek and why it has been so difficult. From the angst of failure, a better question came to me: not “Where are the idealists?” but “Why am I so desperate to find them?”

WHERE

When I left my “First Real Job” in D.C., it was to return home. Texas is decidedly conservative, in politics and in culture — and these days pretty in-your-face about it (part of why I left in the first place). Yet there’s a camaraderie that comes easily here as outcasts band together in a hostile environment; it facilitates a simpler acceptance of other people, and I’d found myself missing that. While my time in D.C. had been professionally rewarding, it had also been incredibly lonely. Living closer to the mainstream, I somehow felt further away from finding community or chosen family (outside of working hours) than I’d felt in Texas. As my life drifted closer to “normal”, I came to feel ever-more conspicuous about the differences that remained; back home, outcasts had always been outcasts, whatever differences they carried.

So I came back. The politics is still just as bad (probably worse), but I’ve found my community and my chosen family amid the outliers. The more uniform the culture here becomes, the easier it gets to identify, support, and ally with others who defy convention (and it doesn’t matter whether they defy it a little or a lot). It may be compared to a spirit of revolution, but I find it much subtler: for revolution, the first priority is to subvert the power system in place using any help you can get; you’re not yet worried about what power structure might replace it and therefor you don’t really screen your camarades (“The enemy of my enemy is my friend,” and all that). Here, we’re just banding together and doing what we can to survive, all the while educating ourselves and others on how the dominant narrative is not our only option.

In a relatively free society (and whine as we might, we participate in one of the free-est societies ever, even in Texas), if you can be diplomatic with folks who perpetuate the dominant culture but also successful at convening with those who don’t, you can sustain a pretty nice little desert oasis. I can pick my battles according to what I want to do (because it can’t all get done); I can take a break whenever I need (because victory is never as close as burnout); I can even be rebellious and popular at the same time!

The choice to remain a(n ideological) minority does carry drawbacks, of course. The political bell curve places my most “hippie-ish” peers somewhere in the neighborhood of California Republicans. Bias and scorn seep out from most every news source; outside of Austin, there’s hardly such a thing as a secondary political narrative (and Sam Houston forbid you should ever try to find a middle ground on any issue other than the two conveniently polarized “sides”.) Eventually, you lose the ability to keep political and social culture out of any conversation with your friend-allies, and then you have little else to draw from for civil discourse amid family and neighbors who do support the dominant narrative. When you  find sympathetic stories, any anecdote from Texas is far more likely to anger or depress you than to give you strength or hope. It’s enough to make anyone jaded, really.

Or, increasingly I fear, it’s enough to make EVERYONE jaded.

WHO

There are a lot of us fighting the good fights down here in our own little ways: computer programmers who raise LGBT awareness by living out and proud, single moms whose households incorporate deep environmental awareness, elder-care-givers who network casual activists to one another and wax philosophic about underlying truths discovered along the way. OK, you got me, that last one is me.

I’ve been keeping my eye on a certain elder in my life for the majority of the seven years I’ve been back here, but it’s only been a full-time arrangement for about 14 months. At this point in his progression, I spend a scattered couple of hours a day helping him with food, doctor appointments, medications, tech support, and socializing, and 20+ hours a day keeping myself occupied while listening for one of those needs to arise (you can find out more at #badideacare, though #occupyFree could also be clever). I spend a lot of time at or near my computer, and the tone of my day is often set by fellow Texans; our communal strength and reliance upon one another is sustained largely online because we are pretty spread out by geography, logistics, and focus. When Texas liberals and/or nonconformists have a bad day (which is often), there’s a good chance I hear about it early and often. My mood can, and does, often suffer. (Because I care, dammit! :P )

Most of this circumstance is not really new. What I have learned over the past fourteen months is that when I reach out, when I ask for something positive from my network of amateur activists, the vast majority of responses I get will be cynical, snarky, pedantic, derailing — in a word, counterproductive. I probably spend as much attention on how we work as on what we’re working toward, so every time an ally approaches an issue with sarcasm, aggressiveness, smugness, or general misanthropy, my bright optimism clouds just a little more.

I can’t call out a single incident or a single person for this, because it is more subtle and erosive than that. The hardest part of running this treadmill isn’t the lost political battles, it’s the lost rhetorical battles. Most of the negative comments I get — from my own allies, remember — don’t stop at foiling my grasps at positivity, they often imply that I am foolish for even asking. The brand of idealism I hold is not only so much rejected as a personal choice, it is regarded as downright impossible.

WHY

I might share their bleak outlook if I had not seen otherwise in D.C. The organization where I worked shut its doors in 2006 due to unrelated — but equally painful — realities, yet even during lean times that small org was a hub of positivity whose network stretched nationwide and beyond.

Before I was care-giving full time, I could still travel a couple times a year and (re-)connect with folks in Austin, Colorado, California, or D.C., drawing strength from the great works and great attitudes I found. Activists in more liberal regions (even those who are no more professional activists than the elder for whom I care) get stronger support from their communities, maintain larger professional networks, have more educational resources available, and are more likely operate with the luxury of designated workspaces that (however difficult it may be) can be left at work once in a while. These opportunities bring with them a greater capacity for all things positive and effective, which can then be shared with organizations and individuals who are less centrally located — if they can manage to connect. This was, in fact, a mission of the D.C. project where I dedicated most of my time. We would identify, celebrate, and support effective community leaders, then gather them to foster collaboration while a group of academics attempted to glean big lessons on leadership from their efforts. Along the way, smaller networks became connected to one another, and a larger movement toward social justice became feasible.

The org where I worked encouraged straightforward values for advocacy organizations via an acronym, THE RAMP: Transparency, Hope, Exchange, Respect, Affirmation, Modeling, Pragmatism. We talked about our values, we swapped insights with others, and we made sure positivity was part of our movement. All around us were other organizations — other networks — who were just as positive, just as supportive, whose lights shone just as bright. They spent more time talking about what they could do than what they couldn’t. They spent more time building each other up than tearing anyone down for being imperfect allies (or even opponents). They never let one another feel isolated.

Those networks demonstrated many things beyond the plausibility of an affirming approach, but the most important to me were these:

  • The power inherent in language and art rests in a clear message to a clear audience, not grammatical perfection. (See also.)
  • There is an ongoing exodus of non-conservatives to the U.S. coasts and it is reinforcing the red-state/blue-state polarization we decry.
  • In order to make a difference to a place, one must be grounded there.
  • No changemaker works alone.

These are, in fact, the other reasons I came back to Texas seven years ago. I cannot be cynical because I’ve seen positive activism done well, and I believe it can be done here (and not just in Austin).

HOW

My old org is gone, and that old network has changed over time, but I have come to believe that successful relationships depend on impact rather than longevity. About half of my colleagues from that time have left activism but continue to live out their values and positivity in new careers; the other half are still at it, building and connecting and shining away with awesome projects in liberal hubs and conscious, supportive families at home. Alas, those same careers and families usually keep them away from Facebook, and since they still maintain their local support networks, they have less at stake in maintaining strong ties with me than I do with them. I’ve been looking for positive connections to augment or replace them.

I haven’t been calling for all the idealists, I’ve been calling for my idealists: those whose work to become more inclusive and more positive never quite ends. I need to bring conscious positivity back into my life, and I’d like to acquire the skills to help others do the same. I need the positive news and clever toolkits and erudite inspiration — not just some cat meme or Mary Engelbreit aphorism, but accurate insights from people who know it because they’ve done it. I’m not looking to swing the pendulum to another extreme; I just want to connect with folks who find hope in their activism as often as not. (I’d surely settle for a third of the time… maybe a quarter.) And for now, just because I’m difficult (and nearly quixotic), I need to be able to do this pretty much entirely online (yes, the same realm that brought you trolling and such sentimental acronyms as “DIAF”).

I could use any help that’s available. I want to connect with part-time activists who believe in affirmative approaches, especially in Texas and especially online, even if you’re no more sure how to do it than I am. I also welcome recommendations for positive outlets on Twitter or Facebook (I have a couple of groups there myself), educational resources on community building, amateur-friendly activists networks, and anyone who might know something about fostering a positive workspace for non-professionals. What else is out there?

I’d like to think I’ve continued to practice the values of THE RAMP in my efforts here, but Affirmation is by far the most elusive and the hardest to pay forward: I simply do not know how. I just need some reassurance that my values (both political and rhetorical) have a place in this state — that I have a place in this state — before the illusions of isolation and hopelessness become too strong.

Addendum: I swear I didn’t plan this, but as I’m posting this, two notable sex-positive conferences are scheduled for this weekend in my two backyards (online and off). Some of my favorite activists are gathering in Atlanta for Creating Change, an annual conference of queer activism; my participation in CC10 was the most affirming weekend I’ve had since returning to Texas. Then on Monday, some of my favorite people have arranged a day off for me so I can attend a Brown Symposium on sex-positivity (near Austin, of course). I can’t think of a better moment to ask again, “Where my idealists at?”. Both events should be thoroughly tweeted, so follow the conversations at #CC13, #creatingchange, #BrownSym2013, and #sextalkinTX. If sex-positivity isn’t your thing, watch this space and I’ll let you know what else I find as I find it.

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Sabbatical for This Poly Am-bad-ass-ador

2012.December.12

I have never cared so much about an identity or a community as I do about polyamory. When I could still travel, I would seek out connections with polyamours in other towns and states because I simply could not get enough of hearing the subtle differences, tracing the rich experiences, anticipating the surprise connections each community had to offer. It is where I learned not only to love my over-communication style, but to share it with others to the betterment of all. When you view communication as a calling in life (as I do), it’s hard not to feel validated by this environment.

The downside, however, is that when you see communication as a calling, you lose the ability to see connection as anything other than a means to that end. Every conversation is an opportunity to network, to develop new language and glean new knowledge. In nonprofit spheres, you’re supposed to be able to describe your work in an “elevator speech” so that you may advertise your work with every passing acquaintance; even though I haven’t been a paid activist in years, I approach everything in life like an activist, and any activist who doesn’t learn to unwind must confront the threat of burnout sooner or later.

This time last year, as I became a full-time caregiver to the most important person in my life, it was my intention to work even harder on the North Texas Poly community so that it could be my safest space; I wanted to help it flourish in the hopes that as my time and energy shifted more toward caregiving, the community would continue under its own power and possibly even support me when the going would get real tough. I occasionally draw hope that this plot has succeeded as I see newer members stepping up and being more clever, more thoughtful, more patient than I could have been. But most days, I’m afraid I’m too tired to care. My life as a caregiver is still pretty easy, with new responsibilities coming on much more gradually than I had originally anticipated. This means I still have a lot of time to give to my hobbies, my relationships, and my self-care. Unfortunately, I cannot shed the layer of alertness that I carry with me at all hours as a caregiver, and I don’t always realize just how stressed or tired I am. It was only a few days ago that I realized I no longer have any hobbies, just passions (like this community).

Between my facilitation activities and my almost-constant online activism, being a poly am-bad-ass-ador is starting to look more like a wage job than a career. As our community has continued to grow, there have been more logistics to keep up with, more heated arguments to de-escalate, and less time to just sit and celebrate something wonderful with my community. But since the community has never exactly asked me to take on so much, if I want that light-heartedness back, I have to figure it out for myself (and what a great microcosm for learning about poly relationships, eh?).

If poly am-bad-ass-adorism has become my job, then Facebook has become my workplace, and a drab one at that. I sometimes have to remind myself to post something fun so I don’t get de-friended by all the friends who skip over the poly and/or activism posts. Once in a while, I even remember to have some fun there myself, but it’s an exception rather than a rule. Some day, I hope to examine the culture of social networking and identify just what exactly we can all do about tone, accessibility, and patience, but — this is the kind of stuff that goes through my head full-time whenever I’m online, and geez I just need a break!

On a less cerebral level, this community is no longer supporting my all-important goal of self-care. I figure I’m in for several years of caregiving, with stressors and responsibilities increasing each year (like parenting but in reverse), so being able to keep going is critical and anything that doesn’t directly support that role MUST support my self-care. My life has gotten incredibly boring, and I cherish it. This community has offered me brilliant moments of insight, but the harder I depend on those moments, the rarer they come. Two of my three local partners have already left this community because they, themselves, felt weighed down by tension and shallow reflection. With their withdrawal, I have increasingly found myself attending community events looking to connect but ultimately wishing I just had a quiet night in with my chosen family instead. I love taking care of others, but at this time I find that taking care of my immediate loved ones meets this need without having to run out and be a poly superhero for everyone else’s relationships. Don’t get me wrong: I took that role on gladly, and I may do so again one day, but for now I’m going to focus on the hyper-local and hope that others will step up to support the community in my absence.

So what is a sabbatical, anyway? Well, it usually comes up in academia (though activists have them too). It basically means someone has been working very hard on everything they have to do and they’ve decided to take a break, work on what they WANT to do for a while, before they get completely burned out. In my case, I’ve committed to at least a month, probably longer. Starting somewhere between Solstice (December 21) and New Year’s Day, I intend to spend a full thirty days without checking in on the local community online or attending any poly events. Only after the initial thirty days ends will I consider whether to continue the sabbatical or return to the community. During that time, I will essentially ignore the community (I don’t feel ready to remove myself from the Facebook group, though I would understand if the other admins want me to rescind my  responsibilities there); events that I have heretofore organized will either be picked up by other folks or they will not happen. I may or may not read other poly resources, share stuff on my wall, or look for non-poly facilitation opportunities. If I receive private messages asking for advice, I will respond (though not urgently), but any community issues will be forwarded to other admins. I still have a couple of other projects that may keep me active on Facebook, but I suspect I will be using it differently as well. Until the sabbatical begins, I am available to discuss community matters in moderation.

I love this community. I have given a lot of thought and heart to see it thrive, and walking away will not be easy. But if this community, or I, can continue to thrive, we must know where it ends and where I begin… and vice versa. As always, I wish you all the strength you don’t know you have and all the patience you don’t know you need. Forget about me and go love more.

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Challenges to Slutwalk

2012.April.22

[I am currently consulting the organizers of Dallas Slutwalk 2012; the following is began as a response to a question about the challenges Slutwalks have faced.]

At our first organizer’s meeting, I shared some articles on criticisms from last year. I’d be happy to share links (I posted a few on the page), but they can be summarized thusly:

  1. Language: the choice to embrace “slut” is dividing feminists as to whether the Slutwalks subvert or reinforce sexist language. Moreover, it has conflated participants who (sometimes unknowingly) represent two purposes: denouncing victim-blaming through satire and proclaiming sexual autonomy in earnest.
  2. Race: the Slutwalks have largely been seen as an enterprise by white women; efforts at outreach to communities of color have frequently ignored the history of sexualized marginalization against women of color, who, accordingly, have a different relationship with the word “slut”.
  3. Message: owing in no small part to the idiosyncrasies above, the media has largely failed to convey an accurate or clear message of the Slutwalks, instead choosing to focus on these controversies or simply the spectacle of the events.

My personal goal for this year’s walk is to make sure more attention is paid to these challenges before and during the walk, as well as to encourage and help organize follow-up events that will allow supporters to dig deeper into all issues raised.

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A Revolution without Enmity

2011.September.29

The first step to a successful revolution is destroy all competing revolutionaries.
– Carolina in “Jehovah Made this Whole Joint for You” by The New Radicals

Lest you think I’m abandoning my non-violent stance, let me assure you the above quote is from a satirical song — though it only features a slight error. I might prefer, instead, “The first step to a successful revolution is destroy all revolutionary competition.” There’s a lot to be said for eliminating enemies from one’s life, but that doesn’t have to mean eliminating the people whom you consider enemies. If you can do so without bloodshed or “mysterious disappearances”, so much the better. Well, let me clarify with another song lyric:

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace…

– “Imagine” by John Lennon

I hope we all know that John Lennon wasn’t encouraging unity through decimation of enemies (after all, Hero was still a few decades away…). Lennon wanted us to think about a world without any concept of enmity. Not non-violence, but post-violence. What constructs in our society would become obsolete if our institutions were no longer built around competing for resources and/or validation that “we” are right/best/most/etc.?

Yeah, and if a frog had wings, it wouldn’t bump its ass when it hopped. — Cassandra in Wayne’s World

The great thing about a rhetorical questions is rarely the answer to that question, but rather the tangents that it inspires. We will likely never know what a society without governments or religions would look like, but what steps could we take in that direction? Could we develop more cohesive economies? More tolerant governments? Less global conflict?

And the best question of all: If so, how?

There’s a brilliant piece in the New York Times this week that identifies a rising trend of such questions being asked of more and more countries. The article, by Nicholas Kulish, connects what began as the Arab Spring to ongoing protests and political actions from India to England and even Wall Street. Many of the protesters aren’t attached to specific demands or dogmas; they are questioning the structure of elected power itself and convening to develop better ideas. What I love most about Kulish’s article is that it highlights the vagueness of these demonstrations and frames it as potent, effective, maybe even a GOOD thing. (If I ramble too long about the article, you won’t click the link, so I’m moving on…)

Kulish goes on to trace the timing of current economic woes across the West back to the fall of Communism. For two decades, no construct has threatened Western lifestyles in quite the manner of a true nemesis like Communism. No matter how much the U.S. government and media alarm us with threats of terrorism, slow economic growth, global climate change, same-sex marriage, de-criminalized marijuana, a Black president, a female president, a conservative president, or progressive tax brackets, none of these horrors posits the same heft as an entire nation with a radically different way of life who is itching for an excuse to prove they’re right. (For the record, I’m not here to take sides in the Cold War, but to examine the lingering effects of its very structure.)

You want big news, you have to have big fights. A superhero needs a supervillain, and thanks to you we’ve got none left.
– Vic Weems, superhero publicist, in Mystery Men

What happens to a heroic superpowered entity with no supervillains to fight? Do they get bored and have to look for fights, puffing up weaker threats to match those of bygone scourges? Even if they do, there’s still a lot of free time leftover, an expensive secret lair collecting dust, and a reputation of power and goodness to maintain. Any hero who out-lives zir usefulness could easily turn up as pathetic as a rock star who out-lives their talent. No matter how good they are, without some goal, some target, some constant stimulus, can they ever be as good as they were?

Ideally, what superpowers should do is take that free time to look within, figure out how to make the good better in new ways — I don’t know, seek enlightenment or cure cancer or some crap like that. If they don’t find a new challenge, their internal idiosyncrasies will snowball until introspection becomes necessary — indeed, maybe this is what is happening today on Wall Street. But can you imagine Superman taking up yoga and bumming around Europe to find himself? Great superheros are structured to be defenders, but there is no need of defenders without conflict. They’re like weather vanes without wind, and much of our culture exists purely in relation (or is it retaliation?) to some other aspect of it. Our very government was founded on the concept of checks and balances because no individual or group could be trusted all the time. Our culture doesn’t know what to do without conflict, but it is our thirst for drama that necessitates each conflict measure greater than the last (even Beowulf leveled up!). Have you ever noticed how many action films focus on threats from WITHIN? After the Cold War, you couldn’t get a viable spy movie plot without some (usually former-Cold-War) operative going rogue. Action films went from being about the Iron Curtain to idle hands. Our culture is structured, for better and worse, toward the existence of good guys and bad guys and their inevitable clash.

Without equally potent bad guys, the U.S. and its allies seem destined to either become bad guys or lose their hero statuses altogether.

Do you know what the scariest thing is? To not know your place in this world, to not know why you’re here.
– Elijah Price in Unbreakable, just before declaring himself a supervillain

Most people don’t choose to become supervillains, so could we stand to lose the hero status? Since we’re looking at comic book ideas anyway, let’s look at comic books literally. “Truth, justice, and the American way!” Superheroes are often stand-ins for government. They fill in governmental lapses to fight crime, rally patriotism, and keep life simple. But comic readers have known for decades that heroes cannot remain simple, steadfast, and unambiguous forever. For every supervillain-to-beat-all-supervillains, a good comic has to include a plot involving lost powers, a turncoat ally, or some devastating moral quandary. Create a character devoted to specific rules and those rules must eventually be challenged, subverted, nuanced. It’s just good drama. Eventually, however, unending drama gets so contrived that the comic makers themselves lose track and decide to start over.

I hope that America’s time of reinvention has come. At heart, I think we’ve got the right idea: our foundations are sound, and here the institution of democracy is not so much in question as is its execution. We’re a lazy democracy, so we need to either shape up or accept that our practices just aren’t going to match our ideals. Personally? I’d like to see some new ideas around democracy. Let’s try eliminating political parties, holding instant runoff elections, implementing a Fair Tax, or taxing campaign treasuries to pay for schools. I mean, if we can reboot such an institution as Superman, why not democracy?

We’ve won all the competitions. There’s no one left to prove our might to, so let’s get on with expanding our wisdom more enthusiastically and sharing our compassion more generously.

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Notes from the Road: Church vs. Church

2011.February.1

Imagine my surprise when my friends in Denver invited me to attend the local Goth club. Not the invitation itself, but the destination: a Goth club called “The Church”. That’s funny, we have one of those in Dallas, too.

So, of course I have to write a comparison and contrast. It’s pretty much required of we suckers who got English degrees (cc: Princeton from Avenue Q).

Now, I’m not going to declare one or the other to be the definitive Church experience (especially since the Dallas Church freely admits to being “inspired” by another club in Miami), nor am I going to delve into a hundred years of city records to parse out the venues’ minute histories, but I think a quick look could be revealing.

Commonalities

Aside from the obvious (name, resonant playlists, sustained devotion to a dying faction of freakdom), both Churches host primarily on Sunday nights, with a smattering of special events on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. Both have big stages, lights and videos, and excellent sound systems primed to pump the acerbic basslines of industrial and a thousand offshoots directly into your cardiac muscles. They laugh in the faces of high school segregation by hosting 80s music in special rooms. Each has been around for over a decade and are facing upstart competitors on alternate nights (Dallas has Cafe Excuses’ Panoptikon, Denver has The Shelter), and while the old guards reign the old venues in both towns, the newer clubs have been more successful in drawing newer, younger regulars (more on that later).

The Scene…

Dallas’ Church is dark, loud, and successfully moody. Housed in a former trolley repair shop and dinner theater, every surface across four rooms is black and/or velvety – unless it’s metallic, like the club’s famous and fingerprint-y stripper pole. Equally important are the two wood-planked patios, which offer respite from the crowd for smoker and non-smoker alike. (I’ve heard rumors that Joan Jett & the Blackhearts shot the video for “I Love Rock & Roll” here; I’ve watched it a half-dozen times and I’m more inclined to believe it was shot at Gilley’s or somewhere in Deep Ellum – if in Dallas at all.)

Dancing is the main attraction; regulars go to the uppermost platforms (see above re: stripper pole) to show off, the stage to meet people, and the pit to move. And yet everything about this Church is built on a foundational control of visibility; you come to watch, to be watched, or to disappear entirely (if this last part makes no sense, you have probably never experienced the bittersweet individuality of being too beautiful, too hideous, or too bodily-modified to blend in anywhere but a Goth club). Newbies and voyeurs linger along the outer railing, or in the cushy chairs behind. Each patron of the Dallas Church gets to decide for zirself whether to be a wallflower or a spectacle, and there is no expectation that either choice is a lifetime commitment. To emphasize this freedom all the more, the main room has an upstairs balcony with a full view of the stage and dancefloor and just enough lighting for the bouncers to make sure no one is actually having sex on the decadent velvet armchairs.

An outlying fixture through the death and gentrified rebirth of Deep Ellum, The Church (Dallas) recently celebrated its 15th anniversary. This Church rewards loyalty and is rewarded in kind. Regulars can buy dogtags that earn the wearer free admission on Thursday nights (when the Goth angle is downplayed and the music and looks focus more on hard industrial) and discounts to other events, and for many Church-goers, the question is never whether one will return, but when.

The first thing you notice about Denver’s Church is – holy guyliner, Gothman! – it’s located in an actual, honest-to-weirdness, goddamned stone-and-mortar church!

I’ll let that soak in.

Legend has it that the Saint Mark’s Parish Church was an active parish until a priest committed suicide there (I don’t want to meet the Goth whose pants don’t cream at the thought of shuffling steel-toes across such un-hallowed grounds). And while the temptation is probably there to revamp the building (dig a moat, put in more ornate crosses, and paint it black), the exterior is pretty much untouched from its days as a house of God (it will remain that way, thanks to the church’s 1975 placement on the National Register of Historic Places). It is only at night – when club lights escape through the stained glass and thuddy basslines demand your attention – that its true, nefarious purpose is apparent.

Once inside, it’s hard to just think of Denver’s Church as a club. Every detail seems to remind one of the importance of one’s environment, and with good reason. It’s a club in a fucking church. Unfortunately, the crowd on the night I visited was too small to justify opening the main room – the big, church-iest hall, where once were pews and hymnals and Easter pageants and big metal collection plates – but that big empty space was just visible enough to further enhance the atmosphere, like it was a forbidden hallway to some dark lord’s throne room and only the most malevolent dark minions were allowed.

You could spend an entire night examining the little nooks and crannies, gasping at the Goth-y-ness of it all, and walk away satisfied at the end of your night. On a quiet night like the one I attended, hell, that might be the best idea. Without a lot of people to watch, one can be forgiven for walking the walls for deeper and deeper appreciation, until you finally decided to touch each brick tenderly and ask how it feels to be a mindfuck.

So What About the Congregation…

While I know of no holy suicides at Dallas’ Church, plenty of messed up people and events have passed through on their way to oblivion – and I mean that in the best way possible. My first time, a regular showed me around; she’d had to pick WHICH Gothic outfit to wear, and everyone knew her by her profile name on the Church’s website. That summer night back in ’05, even the rooftop patio was crowded, and I felt overwhelmed and underdressed by all of the costumes and the flaunting – oh, the flaunting! Of skin! Of personality! Of deviance! Of rubber and leather and metal (or cheap approximations thereof)!

The legendary Sunday night freakshows managed to convene dark horse DIYers, up-and-coming fetish models and photographers, mischievous barely-legals who worked last-minute Wal-Mart lingerie purchases like they were stomping a Parisian catwalk, and lurkers of all ages who redrew the line between creepy and sexy before Edward Cullen was a gleam in Stephanie Meyer’s eye. Innocent that I was at the time, my personal Virgil had to drag me into the women’s room to show me how unimportant was gender here – thanks to the cadre of drag queens, transvestites, and royal genderfucks who held court there.

It was all so fucking hot. And while the best days of Dallas’ Church were behind it before I’d ever set foot inside, it is still the place to go for events that belong in Dallas (but not anywhere visible in Dallas). The Church regularly hosts open fetish parties ranging from latex fashion shows to baby’s first spanking bench; concerts featuring industrial anti-heroes of Europe, the mid-’90s, and, well, the late ’90s; and old-guard reunions for early loyalists who want to break out the trip pants and the steel corset to scare off some errant frat-boys or tell out-of-towners about the good ol’ days.

Denver’s Church offered a superficially similar experience: I danced a bit, I stepped out on the smokers’ patio for a phone call, I had a drink and went to the restroom… but it just never quite got to feeling like a club. Amplified, it could have felt like anything from a loud Christian youth lock-in to a stealth rave, but everyone was just too damned chill. People were sexy, perhaps even sexier than in Dallas, but they were not as sexual. I couldn’t help thinking of when Denver DJ Fetish Dolly came to Panoptikon (Dallas’ other Goth club) few years back: she wore fabulous latex that did all the work, played good (not great) music, and flirted across the dance floor without the slightest indication of what she might do if someone were to flirt back. I wondered then what she would have thought of the ladies room at Dallas’ Church; these days I wonder how she’d fair at the hands of one of Dallas’ expert sadists.

And while the Denver folks probably had more square yards of black textile than a Dallas crowd twice as large, that was as deep as the Goth went. No one was particularly lascivious. No one was creepy. There weren’t huge groups to join or avoid. I didn’t feel like a voyeur, here; I felt like a 16-year-old attending my first Teen Night, trying not to be disappointed that THIS was what all the fuss had been all about.

Worshipping Online

That Goth communities have endured this long is, in large part, thanks to the concurrent development of online networking, and few businesses of leisure have ever milked that opportunity as brilliantly as Dallas’ Church. Since before there was Facebook, or even MySpace, The (Dallas) Church’s three websites offered a community where DFW’s lost young adults could grow from bad poets to bad dancers to bad-asses who, at long last, know the strength of numbers – the strength of belonging – and also might happen to make their own leather goods.

The homepage boosts information, events, and highlights content from sister sites. For visitors of all stripes who go to see or be seen, there’s The Church Pictures, which posts pictures from special events and other nights. Dallas’ Church has long capitalized on their voyeuristic allure by welcoming professional photographers and local models at every event, stamping their pics for credited sharing, and encouraging Church-goes to share their own. Before the advent of Facebook, hard-core fiends went to The Church Boards, a third website where even the most sporadic visitor could feel like a regular  (socializing is easier to manage typing to a screen than shouting into the darkness).

Although The Boards appear to have fallen, the Facebook page is active, updated, and well-administered. Dallas’ Church has always stayed at the forefront of online social networking, luring newcomers via MySpace, Facebook, and even Twitter, while avoiding niche sites like Foursquare and LinkedIn that are, frankly, irrelevant. Somehow, the club rarely panders too hard, yet it maintains a strong online profile. And while most of the Dallas fetish community might not be in regular attendance, they do follow the local Church on Fetlife and can attend kink-themed events without embarrassment or irony. (An opposite cross-over posture is maintained by Dallas’ thriving fetish model community, most of whom are only kinky when the camera is on but know better than to bite the hand that feeds them.)

As for Denver’s Church… um, they have a Facebook, I think? One that, despite having three times as many fans as the Dallas page (ooo, dems is fightin’ words!), exhibits only a minimal online presence. Seriously, I did an online search for “Church Goth club”. Out of the first 10 links, 6 are for Dallas, 2 are for Denver (none of them an official homepage), 1 is for yet another “Church” in Ohio, and the last is to SecondLife. Need I go on? No wonder there was no sense of community…

Deviation from Deviance

Despite its infamy, Dallas’ Church has experienced a steady decline in attendance for about as long as I’ve been old enough to attend. The O.G. scene (Original Goths, or at least “original” within my lifetime) got older and had to move on when work got tiring, babysitters wouldn’t work Sunday nights, and the clothes at Hot Topic just didn’t seem to fit any longer (sometimes figuratively, sometimes horizontally). It didn’t help that Deep Ellum was crashing and burning under the willful oversight of late ’90s and early ’00s City Hall.

But the thing about anachronistic subcultures: eventually, they simply fade away. It is a credit to the fetish, burlesque, and even steampunk aftershocks that Dallas’ Church still gets its two nights a week; Friday and Saturday nights, the building is known as The Lizard Lounge, a decidedly non-alternative club predating (and technically operating) The Church and catering to kids who would have gone Greek if they hadn’t gone to community college. The more The Church loses its infamy, the more these heretical brats show up on the wrong night, degrading the once-proud costumes of black, royal purple, and red wine with just a few too many white polo shirts and (Goth forbid!) ballcaps.

In Denver, I didn’t have to step into the swank (and empty) cigar lounge and eye the (brilliantly idiosyncratic) sushi bar on ground level to suspect the same thing might be happening there. But I suspect these quirks make sense to folks in Denver, and there are definitely some upsides. The Church in Denver is only ever The Church; there are no aliases, no frat nights, no Invasions of School Girls that I can tell (all fishnets aside, Dallas, there’s nothing Gothic about plaid skirts when their invasion is timed perfectly with Spring Break). Denver’s Church gets concerts in the great hall that stretch the boundaries of “Gothic/industrial” to include even rap; this probably says less about Denver’s Goth community than it does about Denver’s entire population, which is generally more laid back, homogeneous, and Caucasian than is Dallas’.

The fact of the matter is, Denver’s Church has everything it needs to throw a good party – namely, a smaller prevalence of white ballcaps.

In Summary (A Slow Night…)

I wish I’d had more than one brief night to draw from in writing about Denver, but little things tell a lot. The setting is incomparable, but that can only go so far. I get the sense there’s room for more interesting people – and therefor more potential for a resurgence – in Denver. Dallas appears to have the better crowd, but the well of black gold is nearly exhausted, and their absence just makes slow nights more painful. A slow night in Denver would probably just mean more room to dance and a better chance of hearing your friends, while a slow night in Dallas could mean a run-in with a drunk rich kid or a decidedly underwhelming visual adventure.

What I’d really like to see is a Goth-exchange program; just once, let’s take a busload of Dallas freaks up and invade Denver’s Church for the greatest night Goth America has ever seen.

And then, when we get home, let’s all bury the NIN T-shirts, give leather back to the S&M community, and start creating some new ways to access the darkness of it all so the up-and-coming moody teenagers have something to aspire toward that is more original, authentic, and revolutionary than sparkly vampires and girls who only make out with girls when their boyfriends are watching.

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10 Points Marginally Related to Universal Healthcare

2010.November.10

[Contributor Post by johncleonard]

#1) TARP isn’t going to cost the taxpayers a lot of money in the end. Almost all the money given out is getting paid back and all we’re going to end up being on the hook for as taxpayers is the administrative cost of the program. This is not the huge source of debt/spending that we’ve been led to believe.

#2) The stimulus spending isn’t a good idea. However, again, it’s not going to cost as much in the long-haul as we’ve been led to believe. Every job it saves is taxable income that the government doesn’t lose. No, it’s not going to be cost-effective in any measurable way, but a lot of the infrastructure projects that are able to go forward because of it are sorely needed. Who wants to have to wonder every time they cross a bridge whether it’s going to collapse before they can get to the other side? Things like that are savings that can’t be measured, and that’s exactly why some of these projects have never gotten off the ground — if you can’t show how it pays for itself, the people don’t want to pay for it.

#3) America can’t afford to NOT have some form of Universal Healthcare. The healthcare and insurance industries are slowly choking off the rest of the economy. Who cares if you make $200K a year if you pay $190K a year to your insurance/docs, and believe me, that’s where things are headed if these companies aren’t reigned in, and I mean tightly. Taxes are already a drop in the bucket compared to what a lot of people pay for insurance alone, let alone their out-of-pocket medical expenses. Even if we go with socialized medicine and everyone’s taxes double because of it, most of the middle-class will be far better off than they are today in their cost/benefit ratio (and the poor will be protected, as well).

#4) A lot of people like to say that healthcare reform is about the government being able to control the people. Personally, I don’t see a single industrialized country that uses it that way. I also don’t see where socialized medicine has negatively affected the economy in the U.K., France, Netherlands, any of the Scandinavian countries, or anywhere else, for that matter. Where socialism gets dangerous to the economy is when the government tries to control all means of production and to plan an economy without the flexibility to change when the times change. Even the most ambitious socialists in the U.S. don’t think we should take things in that direction — at least not if they’re smart; it’s a direction that’s been proven NOT to work.

#5) If we eliminated every bit of government spending outside of the military and defense budgets, we’d save a whopping 15% of the total expenditures of our government. Not a single one of these Tea Party or even the oldschool conservatives is going to suggest we cut defense or military spending, even if we weren’t involved in two “wars”.

#6) Eliminating the “War on Drugs” could pay for healthcare for every individual in the U.S.. The way the insurance companies drive up premiums is by using a divide and conquer strategy. Premiums are based off risk amortization on what’s called a “pool”. The smaller the pool, the fewer people there are to foot the bulk of the risk, and thus higher premiums. One option that’s far short of socialization is to force insurance companies to consider the entire population as the “risk pool” when they calculate premiums for ANYONE. Another option would be to outlaw for-profit healthcare providers (the logic for this is simple: people’s health is too valuable a resource for this country to trust it to people who aren’t concerned with care before profits).

#7) There is a whole lot of “fuck you, I’ve got mine” going around in the U.S. right now. People forget that there were people there when they were struggling to lend a helping hand, or that they received benefits or, with even more irony, forget that their Social Security and Medicare benefits come from the government already. People are not just uninformed, they are being willfully misinformed. It’s my opinion that someone (Rupert Murdoch for starters, and we can go on and on from there) should be held responsible for that. Journalism is an art where objectivity is sacrosanct, and the companies that try and turn a profit on “news” are all guilty of letting their “sales” get in the way of their integrity. MSNBC, FOX News, CNN, all of them. There are still good journalists out there, and when you find one, they’re usually hanging onto their jobs by the skin of their teeth. It’s very difficult in the current market for people with the sort of integrity that the title of “journalist” implies to keep both their integrity and their jobs. This is why we have things like the “March to Restore Sanity/Fear” — it was as much about drawing attention to the media twisting things, slanting things, and dividing the people so it’s easier for the corporations to remain in power (make no mistake, the corporations “own” the majority of senators and representatives on both sides of the aisle) as it was about any sort of partisan statement.

#8) Debt. Debt. Debt. Borrow your way to prosperity has been the American anthem for a long time now. It’s finally starting to bite us in the ass, and it’s going to be painful to work our way out of it. Does that mean we should sacrifice the future and security of the republic to do so? I think that would be a terrible mistake.

#9) The Free Market tautology. I hear a lot of people talking out there who think that the Market is some god-like force that can fix anything. God, however, is also a tautology. You’re free to believe in either, of course, but expecting the Market to solve something that it has already failed miserably to solve is (in my opinion) one of the truest marks of idiocy. In the U.S., the government has a track-record of stepping in and providing essential services that the market fails to provide — this is true of roads, police, fire, water, sewer, flood planning, food for the hungry, retirement, medical care for the elderly, medical care for small children, and many other areas as well. In the modern world, the health of the populace is as much a matter of infrastructure as roads, bridges, the power grid, fire and police protection, water, sewers, and so on and so forth. Like I’ve said elsewhere, Universal Healthcare should be looked at in the same way a sanitation law would be viewed. Sure, we wouldn’t need such things if everyone was honest, considerate, and rational, but that’s not the world we live in. Those aren’t the people that share it with us. We share this world with a lot of fuckwads that care a lot more about when they’re going to buy their next new Bugatti than whether or not they’re not trampling on someone else’s rights to do it.

#10) I want to see the U.S. spend as much on education as it does the military. Education is where all these problems started, and where they could all end if we as a people are committed to providing each other with an actual education, instead of providing a glorified babysitter that’s primarily designed to churn out complacent workers. We’ve seen where that leads, and now it’s time that we realize that our collective complacency is what’s put us in this position. It’s also what makes it difficult to face the actual work that would have to happen in order to accomplish this. But if we don’t, this country is going the way of the Romans, and we will have failed every Patriot that has ever given their life, their liberty, or their sanity for this nation.

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My Third-World Mouth

2010.August.31

By the time I had dental insurance, a little money saved for non-emergency medical care, and a stain on my teeth that upset me enough to do something about it, I was 23 and living in Washington, D.C. I found a dentist just up the street from my K Street nonprofit, booked an appointment and acted like it was any other medical check-up when I went. When I sat in the big chair for the hygienist, she asked me how long it had been since I’d been to a dentist. “Never,” I said, “this is my first time.”

She cocked back and opened her eyes wide. “Were you raised in a third world country?” she flapped. If I hadn’t been at a low point in my Texan pride, if I hadn’t gone to D.C. in part to escape the increasingly regressive politics here, if I hadn’t been so focused on how I wasn’t measuring up to the D.C. lifestyle and my entire life up to that point was the problem, I might have been offended on behalf of my home state. Of course, there was an even deeper pride that managed to mutter an appropriate response…

“Couldn’t afford it.” And with that, I allowed it to be implied that the American working class, or at least my portion of it, constituted a third-world country.

Prove me wrong?

I mean, I can do the research as well as anybody, but there’s also something to be said of experience; there were a lot more perfect teeth in at college and where I was working in D.C. than there had been on the eastside of Fort Worth. My mom didn’t get dental coverage until I was well into my teens, and by then we just weren’t into the habit. In fact, even today, I’m pretty sure my mom’s still using a bridge that is older than I am.

After the hygienist finished insulting me, she was surprised to find that my teeth were in remarkable shape. They were crooked, they needed a good cleaning, and I definitely shouldn’t have been flossing more, but after 23 years, I had nary a cavity. Not even one. (Guess all that dental instruction in elementary school did help.) Since I’d fallen so far behind and did have something to learn (oh, so the brush is supposed to get at the gums, not avoid them…), I got the regular check-ups for the remainder of my D.C. career.

I never feared dentists, like you hear so much about. I don’t particularly enjoy getting drilled or scraped or any of that nonsense, but the expense and the bother were the only things worth justifying.
Six months after a rather rough cleaning, I came up with my first and second cavities. I had made it 23 years, but 18 months and some aggressive cleanings later, there they were. Maybe it was just my working class suspicion of anything that seems remotely luxurious (by which I mean “optional”, something with which I’m sure most middle- and upper-class Americans would still take issue), but I had no restraint in flippantly declaring that dentists cause cavities from that point on. I still don’t fear them, but it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say I have trouble trusting them.

But who wants crooked teeth? They had kept me from modeling in college, you know (that and bad posture — chiropractors constitute a luxury, too, you know; you should see my brother’s spine after the number of car accidents he’s been in…). I only allowed the dentist to refer me to an orthodontist after he scared me with enough stories about cross-bite and how bad crooked teeth could be for long-term dental care. I couldn’t care less about having prettier teeth (as long as I was brushing regularly, they looked fine to me), but healthier… well, it would save me more trips to the dentist down the road. So I did two and a half years on Invisalign, and most of my teeth are pretty now. I no longer have the cross-bite, but neither can I close my jaw all the way.

Orthodontic coverage in most dental plans stops at 18, so the fact that I had no children meant that I had ortho coverage in name only. I had to lean on family to pay for the rest, because while I had outstanding benefits, I was still just starting out salary-wise.

My wisdom teeth were late bloomers, arriving mostly around the same time as my braces. We worked around them with the Invisalign, but the orthodontist told me again and again I should have them out. They’re superfluous; they’ll get in the way; they might not grow in correctly. The pain was a little uncomfortable, but they grew in on their own (in their own sweet time). They were a little hard to reach with the brush, but I thought I did alright.

When I moved back to Texas, my income became much lower and more sporadic, and benefits non-existent. Since my teeth were doing much better, I skimped on adding dental to my expensive individual health plan. I finally got around to adding it again about four years later, and it’s still taken me months to make the time to go in.

Ugh, I don’t ever want to see those pictures of my wisdom teeth again. Turns out my brush really couldn’t reach them, and five years really was too long to go without a cleaning…

So this afternoon, they’re coming out, all four of them (although only two are problematic at the moment). The office manager convinced me this was the best way to go because I could save money on the anesthesia.

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