Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Post-Wedding Industrial Reflections

I got married earlier this summer and it was lovely.  I wasn't a great sport about the planning process (and had great fun mocking all of the wedding-industrial pitfalls we encountered), but it was great.  For the most part, all of our my wife's careful planning went off just as we'd envisioned.  Still, there are always a few things that pop up right at crunch time that you realize you didn't think all the way through.  You can add these to the list I started earlier this year...

We kind of had flowers after all  
So, this falls into the category of not thinking things all the way through.  After our initial hullabaloo about not wanting cut flowers at the wedding, we started brainstorming about what else we could put at the center or the tables.  We came up with the brilliant (we thought) idea to fill mason jars with different veggies.  We felt very warm and fuzzy about this idea for many weeks.  We bought the jars.  We bought some rustic, twiney-looking ribbon to decorate the jars.  We talked about putting candles around the jars.  We talked about what vegetables should go in the jars.  We forgot to talk about what to do with the vegetables afterwards.  Our wedding was in Ohio.  We live in DC.  Neither of our parents live in the city where we had our celebration.  Most of our friends and family were from out of town as well.  Unless we were going to just waste a whole bunch of random vegetables, our idea was sunk.  We already had a purple theme going, so ended up having the (actually) brilliant idea to use lavender instead of veggies.  After being talked out of a plan to go to a lavender farm and harvest our flowers myself, I ordered some dried lavender bunches from a lovely old man who has a farm somewhere in Washington or Oregon (those two states blur together in my brain.  I seriously can't tell you the difference).  Thing is, you apparently need to notify folks when an order is for a wedding.  Or a set deadline of any kind.  A few days before we were set to leave for Ohio, our lavender had still not arrived.  I called the farm.  The sweet old man said "Ah, yes, I marked that order as shipped, but we had some problems that day and nobody made it to the post office."  Problems?  A whole slew of them apparently.  He described to me a perfect storm of bad weather, flat tire on the pick-up truck and somebody quitting their job all on the day our lavender bunches were supposed to be mailed.  Wonderful fellow that he was, he sense my distress and asked me if this was for a wedding.  I said it was.  He ended up overnighting us another box of lavender for free.  As luck would have it, both boxes arrived the same day.  On that note, if anyone needs any dried lavender, um, let me know.

Follow up on the name game...  
A friend recently asked me for advice on this, which motivated me to write about it.  This is another item in the "not thought all the way through" bucket. I think I've mentioned before that I typically go by a different arrangement of my birth name than the one I grew up with, though my parents and family still call me by my given name.  Which means I have two names, kind of.  Prior to the wedding, I had some anxiety about this - I couldn't decide which name to use on invitations, for gift registries, at the ceremony...  We ultimately went with what my partner and I were both most comfortable with, which is the name I use now.  I was worried my family would be confused.  As it turns out, it wasn't much of an issue at all and nobody really batted an eye.  Most of my family members are friends with me on Facebook where I use my "common use" and not my given name, so they knew who people meant when they called me "Sumner."  What I didn't think of pretty much until zero hour, was friends who had never known me by my given name.  It suddenly occurred to me that people would be using my given name - I assumed my dad would make a toast, for instance, and call me "Lindsay" and folks would think he was nuts, or talking about the wrong person, or something.  We had always planned to put a little note in the program explaining the name thing (that I am called by two names and that both are fine), but we had imagined it more for the benefit of family.  It turned out, I think, to be more for the benefit of friends.  Go figure.


Saturday, July 20, 2013

Respect Trans

The DC Office of Human Rights has a campaign to improve general understanding of gender and gender identity, and in turn, the lives of trans and gender non-conforming folks.  You can find out more here:

Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Cost of Racism

Trayvon Martin's killer, George Zimmerman has been found not guilty of murder.  He was not convicted of manslaughter, either.  In fact, despite having shot and killed a person after an incident initiated by Zimmerman himself, the state of Florida did not convict him of any crime.

There has been a lot of talk about whether Martin and Zimmerman engaged in a scuffle or fist fight prior to the shooting.  About whether or not Martin hit Zimmerman or whether or not Martin had pinned Zimmerman to the ground prior to Zimmerman firing his weapon.  About whether it was Martin or Zimmerman who was heard calling for help.  The problem is, none of that is the point.  None of that is the story.

At its core, this is a story about an unarmed teenage boy traveling on foot who was followed and then approached by an adult male who was not only driving a vehicle, but was packing a weapon.  Let me repeat that because it may take a moment to really comprehend the gravity of such words: This is a story about an armed adult who confronted and killed a child walking alone at night.  

I can think of three main circumstances in which it is appropriate for an adult to approach an unattended child whom they do not know:
1) The child appears lost and is too young, or otherwise unable, to sort the situation out alone.
2) The child is in imminent physical danger.
3) The child's actions have the potential to place those in the vicinity in immediate bodily harm.

With a few possible exceptions, I can't think of any other reason why an adult would need to follow, speak to, or otherwise interact with a child or teenager they don't know, particularly in the manner that Zimmerman approached Martin.  Put yourself in Trayvon Martin's shoes.  You're seventeen years old, running an errand on foot at night.  It's dark out, but you don't see any reason not to be walking through the neighborhood on your own.  You notice an adult you don't know who seems to be following you in a car.  The further you walk, the more you're convinced this guy is definitely following you.  You might start feeling nervous, but convince yourself it's nothing and keep moving.  Maybe you pick up your pace.  The car keeps tailing you.  You're on a call with your friend and you tell them you think someone is following you and that you're going to get off the phone.  You hang up and the guy has gotten out of his car and is coming towards you.  You're angry, and probably anxious.  You ask why he's following you.  He asks what you're doing here.

When I was seven years old, my best friend and I were playing in my front yard.  We were approached by a strange man who asked us if we knew anyone named John.  Being little kids and eager to help and not sensing any danger, we said we didn't know anyone named John, but that we had a friend Jonathan who lived across the street.  The man left, but must have gone around the block because he came by again, from the same direction, this time to show us some pictures.  We didn't know anyone in them.  He came around the block a couple more times.  My friend and I were getting irritated with him because he kept interrupting our game, but we weren't particularly worried.  My parents were right inside and hers were just down the block.  But the last time the guy came around he said the magic words that set off all the stranger-danger alarm bells in our little second-grade heads.  He said he wanted us to meet him around the block at his car.  Thankfully, he walked away again and we ran directly into my house and told my parents, who called the police.

When Trayvon Martin was approached by George Zimmerman that night in February of 2012, he was seventeen, not seven, and likely very aware of the potential threat he was facing.  Martin was also a black male teenager, and had probably already experienced first-hand the realities of racial profiling - both by the police and by others around him.  I have no doubt that as soon as he became certain that Zimmerman was tailing him, alarm bells were going off loud and clear in Martin's head.  I have no doubt that he must have experienced an acute mix of emotions - fury, frustration, and fear.

Zimmerman and Martin may have fought.  Martin may have lashed out.  He might have indeed struck Zimmerman.  Given the situation - being a seventeen year old black male approached by a strange adult with a gun - no one should be surprised if that's the case.  Martin's options would have been pretty limited.  He could run or he could fight.  Either way, Zimmerman would still have a gun.  And a car.    

We don't know exactly what happened in the time between Zimmerman getting out of his car and the moment when Martin was shot.  But we do know what happened first and what happened last, and I frankly can't think of anything except racism that explains how an armed adult can confront an unarmed teenager, end up shooting and killing the child, and get away with it.  Those of us who had hoped for a guilty verdict spoke of "justice for Trayvon."  Truthfully, even if Zimmerman had been found guilty, there would still be no real justice for Trayvon.  He experienced the most egregious injustice there is - the senseless loss of his life.  But there might have been justice for all the kids that will follow him - we might have found comfort in knowing that this jury, and this system, would protect children and young people - all people - from assholes like Zimmerman.  I'm still processing everything that this verdict means, but I know what it means in terms of freedom - kids like Trayvon will have less of it going forward and guys like Zimmerman - grown men whose sense of masculinity and self-worth are found by "guarding" their neighborhoods with firearms - will have more.


Wednesday, July 10, 2013

A Social Justice Dictionary

Ableism - Discrimination or prejudice towards people who are differently-abled, such as those who use a wheelchair or cane to get around, or who experience a developmental or mental challenges.  Ableism often serves to isolate able-bodied people and people who experience physical and developmental challenges from one another.

Cis-gender - When a person's gender identity matches her/his/their perceived physical sex.

Civil Disobedience - A form of direct action, protest, or activism that directly challenges the status quo by breaking a rule or law, usually in a non-violent manner.  Civil disobedience is often used to prevent something unwanted from occurring, or to draw attention to an injustice by prompting the mass arrest of those participating in the action.  Civil disobedience has been used by social justice groups in the United States for many years.  Examples include lunch counter sit-ins to end segregation in the South, anti-war activists blocking traffic or railways to stop delivery of military equipment or to otherwise disrupt regular life, or people occupying buildings or urban space to preserve things like affordable housing.

Colorblindness - Colorblindness is a dominant cultural ideology in the post-Civil Rights era that denies the significance of race in our lives.  Some people point to the passage of the Civil Rights Act in the 1960s, the legal de-segregation of the South, and more recent events like Obama's election to the presidency as evidence that race no longer matters in the United States.  When people say things like "I don't see race," they are engaging in colorblindness.  This is problematic because both structural and inter-personal racism continue to be facts of life.  Colorblindness prevents us from being able to meaningfully engage the problem of racism and come up with real solutions.

Heteronormativity - The assumption, either systemic or personal, that all people are heterosexual.  Asking a male acquaintance about his wife, or a doctor asking a female patient how she's preventing pregnancy without finding out if her partner is male are examples of heteronormativity.  Queer folks are likely to encounter heteronormativity at work, school, at the grocery store, while walking down the street, while planning a wedding, at the doctor's office, on the phone with utility service providers, while looking to rent or purchase housing, and while traveling.

Inclusive Language - Use of language in a way that fully reflects a diversity of human experiences and the contributions of many kinds of people to society.  Examples of inclusive language include the use of "firefighter" or "mail carrier" instead of "fireman" or "mailman"; referring to children as "kids" rather than "boys and girls"; saying "parents" in place of "mom and dad"; the use of "spouse" as a general term for married partner rather than "husband" or "wife" and the use of gender neutral terms like "people," "folks," or "friends" in place of "ladies" or "you guys."  In the context of religion, inclusive language can also mean referring to god using a mix of female and male pronouns, or without gendered pronouns at all.

Intersectionality - The idea that people have multiple identities and thus intersecting experiences of oppression and marginalization.  For instance, African-American women may experience sexism differently than Caucasian women because black and white women have different experiences of racism and race privilege, and as a result, may have different experiences of being female.  Intersectionality is important to acknowledge because posing situations as "women" versus "blacks," for instance (as was frequently the case during the Democratic primary campaign between Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton in 2007 and 2008), serves to erase the experiences of women of color.

Labor Union - A labor union is a collective group of workers employed by the same company or organization who join together to improve or protect their working conditions, pay, and benefits.  This is also called democracy in the workplace.

LGBTIQQA - An acronym that stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, Queer, Questioning, and Allies.  This acronym is more frequently used in its shortened versions, typically LGBT or GLBT.  

Love - That which binds us and simultaneously propels us forward to seek peace, justice, and community.

Pansexuality -  Refers to attraction to individuals of any gender expression and/or physical sex.

Privilege - Un-earned advantages accrued to people in positions of relative power.  Common examples include white privilege, male privilege, cis-gender privilege and heterosexual privilege.  Peggy McIntosh's "Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack" is a standard read for those wishing to better understand white privilege.  Similar lists have been generated by others to illustrate the effects of male privilege, heterosexual privilege, and so on.  Like oppression, privileges can intersect.  For example, a queer male person of color will experience male privilege differently than a white, straight male (see above re: "Intersectionality").

Queer - A term used by some gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and gender non-conforming people to describe their sexual and social identity.  Some prefer "queer" over "gay" or "lesbian" because it is not tied to the gender binary.  "Queer" can refer to both sexual orientation and gender expression.  In the past, "queer" used as a derogatory term, but has since been reclaimed by many LGBT folks.

Reverse-racism - This is not actually a thing.  Racism is both inter-personal and structural and is intimately tied to power, privilege, and oppression.  All people are capable of bias and prejudice, but because white privilege still means that whites disproportionately hold political office, high-paying professions, college degrees, and personal wealth in the United States, prejudices held by whites towards people of color carry different meaning than prejudices held by people of color against whites.

Transgender - A person whose gender identity or expression differs from her/his/their perceived sex or sex assigned at birth.  Alternatively, a person who transcends gender boundaries.

Xenophobia - Fear or hatred towards people of different national origins or ethnicity than oneself.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Music Monday: Coyote Grace "Summertime"

A favorite summer-themed gender-bending tune from Coyote Grace for your Monday morning...

"Girls Like Me (Summertime)":

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Pledge Allegiance to Justice

Today as on every 4th of July, I pledge allegiance to the Civil Rights movement, to women's suffrage, to queer rights, and to organized labor. I pledge allegiance to Gabriel Prosser, Sojourner Truth, Mother Jones, Cesar Chavez, Martin Luther King, Fannie Lou Hamer, Malcolm X, Gloria Steinem, Leslie Feinberg and the multitudes of un-named fighters and sometimes, martyrs, for justice to whom we owe most of what we have today, and who give us inspiration to keep fighting for the rights and freedoms we are still denied. Whenever I hear the Star Spangled Banner, these are the people I think of.