Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Politically Correct, or Particularly Conscientious?

While I would argue that teen magazines are typically a harmful influence on developing female minds, I admit to having read them as a girl who still grew up to buck the system.

Some of my favorite parts of those magazines were the silly little quizzes.  I don't remember most of them, of course, but there is one question from one particular quiz that has always stuck with me.  The question was, "What does 'PC' really stand for?"

The possible answers were politically correct, personal computer, and particularly conscientious.  I chose the last option.  That question had a lasting impact on the way I view speech.

Fast forward to today.  There is a meme going around on Facebook:

Text: "You find it offensive? I find it funny. That's why I'm happier than you."

That's just common sense, right?  It is easier to be happy when you don't care about how others feel.  But is that really what you want?

It's not about avoiding "offense," or about being politically correct.  It's not about censoring free speech.  It's about being particularly conscientious.  It's about being compassionate and considerate, and thinking about how your words might affect other people.  I'd rather rest easy knowing that I've treated others kindly than enjoy a cheap laugh at others' expense.

That said, there is a difference between harm and offensiveness, though they often overlap.  I think it's important to look at why something might be perceived as offensive.  Is it because it contains a swear word?  Is it because it has to do with sex?  Is it because it's blasphemous?  Is it because it promotes acceptance of harmless behavior that is against some people's religion?  Is it because it criticizes harmful behavior that is accepted by the mainstream?

Or is it because it's racist, sexist, classist, transphobic, homophobic/biphobic, ableist, speciesist, body-negative, objectifying, shaming, stigmatizing, triggering, etc.; or callously mocking other people's deeply-held religious beliefs?  Or is it just plain mean?

If it's in the second group, I think it's best to avoid saying it.  If not, it's probably okay.  But it's important to be open to hearing other viewpoints about it.  If someone tells you that your well-intended joke is indeed harmful, I think it's wise to reflect and consider whether they may have a point, and apologize if warranted.

Furthermore, the kind of happiness attained at others' expense is a shallow kind of happiness.  Research suggests that happiness attained from having a sense of purpose and helping others is the best for our well-being.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

A Conversation with Dan Choi, Part 3: Allies

And now, Part 3 of an interview that I conducted early last year....

Yeah, I know; it's a lot more than a little late. But better late than never, right?

What happened? Well, for starters, I procrastinated on doing the research to introduce Part 3. Then my computer broke, and it remained broken for a year or so. It's finally up and running, so I have access to my interview files now. I figured I might as well post the final part here, for anyone who happens to remember the first two parts and wants to read the conclusion to the interview.

In the time since I posted Part 1 and Part 2, Don't Ask, Don't Tell has been repealed. The repeal finally went into effect on September 20, 2011. Transgender soldiers still are not allowed to serve. Since attempts to declare DADT unconstitutional have so far failed, the policy can be reinstated by executive fiat in the future. You can read the full timeline of the rise and fall of Don't Ask, Don't Tell here.

In Part 1 of this interview, Lt. Choi discussed the importance of sacrifice in the struggle for civil rights. In Part 2, he explained the necessity of agitation in social justice movements. In Part 3, he talks about allies—and I surprise him with a revelation of my own.

These themes are still relevant now, after the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Much can be learned from Lt. Dan Choi, brilliant activist that he is.

We know that allies are indispensable for our movement. How can we get more allies involved in activism? How can we get them to understand that our struggle is relevant to them?

That question requires us to look at the process of how somebody becomes an ally. Luella, you can answer that very eloquently yourself. If you didn’t know gay people, if you weren’t personally in contact with somebody who is gay, I think it would be very difficult to jump into activism as a straight ally, or as somebody who would get involved or contribute in any way. I believe that deep down in the heart of everybody who is an activist—whether they’re gay, or straight, or trans, or whatever their identity—I believe that there is a personal motivation as to why. They saw somebody who was either injured, or insulted, or damaged—or even vindicated and empowered—and they knew the kinds of injustice that exist. Or they just have a personal fondness for somebody who made the opportunity available to them. But deep down, the very foundation and the root of why people have jumped into activism, and in this movement, is because they have a personal motivation, because somebody got them to think deeply about the issues.

And so, in the end, it’s still required for us just to come out of the closet. For gay people, coming out of the closet is the most powerful thing, and the most accessible element to everybody, because essentially, it costs nothing but the fetters of having to lie, and shedding the kind of imprisonment that has been bothering you; that’s the only thing you lose. It’s accessible to everybody, and then, the people who hear it—it doesn’t just end there, because you’re a straight ally, and you’re doing—

Actually—speaking of coming out—I guess you were under the impression that I’m straight, but I’m actually bi.

Oh, okay. I didn’t realize that. Well, now you just told me.


I just assumed, because you were talking about your boyfriend.

Well, that’s one of the problems with bisexual erasure. But that’s a whole other topic.

Yeah, well, now you’re educating me, which is—that is evidence right there. Any time that we are able to be bolder in our truth, it certainly empowers ourselves, but it empowers other people, as well. And one of the many important things to realize with the movement as a whole is that not everybody is going to have the wherewithal to make the sacrifices that are necessary. And I understand completely that there are some who might find it very unpalatable—unimaginable—to be involved, and to make those sacrifices. I do not look down on them.

However, we have all recognized and acknowledged the importance of the very act of stepping up and searing into the consciousness—not only of the people that need to be convinced, but of the people within our own community—that there are people within our family, our community, that this means so much to their personal journeys and lives that they are willing to step up to this level. And it needs to be a very clear message that resonates with every gay person. We’ve done this, and we’re going to continue doing this. We need you to be involved, as well. What will you do? Everybody has something that they can contribute.

And I’m not just going to think in the linear sense of, okay, well, the civil disobedience only, and most pointedly, is about getting this one Defense Authorization Bill. It’s obvious it does more than that. And the larger journey and the effort for me—and what gives me the most hope and inspiration—is when I hear that other people who have no desire to do anything with the military, they see these things, and they see what our group of people is doing, and our group is continuing to grow. That has inspired other people to come out of the closet, to have courage and faith that since these people are being true to themselves—these people that are no longer going to lie anymore—they could also have strength.

So, to think so narrowly that the only ramifications of this civil disobedience are this law, or the realm of politics, is absolutely shortsighted. There is something of a clear message that deeply resonated with a lot of people throughout the entire community, and that’s why you see so many people who have nothing to do with the military, or who never want anybody to be in the military, who try to be part of it, and to be strengthened and emboldened by the actions of others. If that’s all that we’ve achieved with this, it’s probably one of the most important things that can result out of it. And obviously, it is tied to the legislative goals, and it is tied to the political goals, and that, too, is an important thing, but what needs to deeply resonate is the very important element of our civil disobedience that it is also a message within our own community.

Lieutenant Choi, thank you for your courage, leadership, and personal sacrifice, and thank you very much for speaking with me today.

No problem, Luella.

This interview has been edited for readability. Many thanks to Colin Murphy and Adam Shriver for their advice and assistance with editing. If you’d like to get involved in grassroots LGBT activism in St. Louis, please visit You can find info on grassroots organizing for LGBT equality wherever you are at And please join the movement for economic equality for all Americans, the 99% movement of Occupy Wall Street and other local occupations like Occupy St. Louis.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

You Might Be a Rape Supporter If....

This list is a work in progress. It is my response to a blog post that has been circulating around the internet, titled, "A Man Is a Rape-Supporter If...."

Though I agree with some of the items on that list, and understand that the author meant "rape supporter" in the sense that people who buy clothing made in sweatshops support child labor, I believe that in defining rape supporters so broadly and indicting an entire gender, the post does more harm than good. For one thing, people who actually condone rape (and there are more of them than one would like to believe) will likely feel smug and justified in their beliefs after reading such a post.

Thus, I offer my own list of indications that one might be a rape supporter. It is not an exhaustive list. I do not have full knowledge or understanding of all of the issues brought up herein. Based on what I do know and understand at this point in time, I consider myself somewhere in between the anti-porn/anti-prostitution and the sex-positive feminists. If you disagree with any of the items on this list, or if there's another item you think that I ought to include, I am open to suggestions.

You Might Be a Rape Supporter If....

You have ever committed rape by the current legal definition.

You have ever talked someone into having sex with you when they initially expressed (verbally or nonverbally) discomfort with the idea.

You have ever touched another person's breasts or genitals without their permission or clear signs of approval.

You have ever gotten someone drunk in the hope that they would then agree to have sex with you.

You believe that teenaged boys who are raped by their attractive female high school teachers have really just "scored" and deserve high-fives rather than protection.

You believe that children who are sexually abused by adults are provocative or "asking for it."

You believe that women who dress in sexually appealing ways are asking to be raped.

You've described a client who was sexually abused by their current or former psychotherapist as having had "an affair" with their therapist, or you believe that the abuse was okay because the client "consented" to sex with the therapist.

You believe that it's impossible to rape a prostitute or other sex worker.

You believe that it's impossible to rape a man, or that men are lucky to be raped by attractive women.

You believe that anyone wants to be raped.

You believe that lesbians and bisexual women need to be raped in order to turn them straight.

You support transphobic laws and policies that push transgender people into the sex trade.

You've asked someone who was sexually assaulted or coerced into sex if they "learned their lesson," or told them to behave differently in the future to avoid being victimized.

You knowingly frequent strip clubs that look the other way when strippers are assaulted or mistreated by customers.

You knowingly purchase pornography that was produced under exploitative conditions.

You have knowingly paid for sex with someone who was forced or coerced into prostitution.

You regularly tell or laugh at rape jokes, and don't speak up when you hear others telling them.*

* Being afraid to speak up is one thing, but actually thinking that rape jokes are funny is quite another.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Spambots Are Evil

Okay, I'm not sure what to do with this blog.  I just deleted 22 spam comments from the previous post.  Blogger's anti-spam software doesn't seem to be doing a very good job.  I had to turn on comment moderation, because every new post on this blog gets a number of spam comments.  The CAPTCHA doesn't work.

I don't think that anyone really reads this blog, anyway, unless I share a post on Facebook.  I haven't really done much to promote it.  And I've been more likely to post to the St. Louis Activist Hub ever since I became a contributor there.

So maybe I should just get rid of this blog, and move the important posts to a new location.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Brief Update (Long Time, No Blog)

It's Mental Health Month.  So I will share that I have been depressed.  I have been told that I ought to write more, but I've been suffering from writer's block.

Some time ago, in fact, I was fortunate enough to conduct an interview with a major well-known DADT activist.  What have I done with that interview?  Roughly transcribed it, and not much else.  Fortunately, a fellow local activist blogger has agreed to help me get the interview into a readable form.  The news may have changed since the interview took place, but I still think it's worth putting out there.

So stay tuned for that interview.  We'll be posting it on the Activist Hub.  I'm also going to try to get my thoughts together for an official Mental Health Month post.  (ETA: Part 1 and Part 2 of my interview with Lt. Dan Choi are now online!)

In the meantime, check out this article in The Huffington Post.  Today is National Children's Mental Health Awareness Day.  Rosalynn Carter quotes the late Dr. Julius Richmond as having said, "Every day that we do not intervene with effective programs, we are losing remarkable human potential. And every child whose potential is wasted is an incredible loss to the nation."

I couldn't have put it better myself.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Act now to save ENDA!

Bad news: ENDA has been shelved. Congress is putting off voting on ENDA (the Employment Non-Discrimination Act) until the beginning of 2010 -- when election-year pressures will make it harder than ever to get this important legislation passed.

It is now more urgent than ever to call and write your senators and representatives to demand that they pass ENDA now.

(Read more at the St. Louis Activist Hub.)

Thursday, December 3, 2009

March Against Violence

Last weekend at the St. Louis nightclub the Complex, three young men were approached by four men from another bar who called them "f-----s" and then attacked them because they're gay.

Also last weekend, a woman who uses a wheelchair was raped and robbed by two men near a gas station in Ladue.

In response to these vicious crimes, local activists in the LGBT community have organized a candlelight vigil, march and rally to be held Friday, Dec. 4, at 7 p.m. along Manchester Ave. Speakers at the rally will include Sen. McCaskill, the Mayor's office, Rep. Clay, the NAACP and others.

(Read more at the St. Louis Activist Hub.)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Rally at the St. Louis Cathedral Basilica

Catholic Action Network, the Holy Families Committee, and Show Me No Hate are organizing a rally to be held at the steps of the St. Louis Cathedral Basilica on Sunday, November 29.

(Read more at the St. Louis Activist Hub.)