Malta Just Showed Us What Our Gender Identity Laws Should Be

Babies have a reason to celebrate!

Celebration time for babies!!

Malta has just become the world’s leader in intersex rights, and perhaps in trans rights as well. From Feminist Newswire:

Malta’s parliament just passed new legislation that allows self-determination of gender (with a simple process to legally change gender), and outlaws unnecessary surgery on intersex babies. This bill makes Malta the first country to ban unnecessary surgery on intersex infants. […]

“To say that this Act is a groundbreaking human rights milestone is almost an understatement,” said Paulo Corte-Real, co-chair of the European branch of the International Lesbian and Gay Association. “It provides an inspirational benchmark for other European countries that need to improve their own LGBTI equality standards.”[…]

Maltese officials and medical professionals are now working to come up with guidelines to make sure all surgeries done on infants are medically necessary and not “driven by social factors without the consent of the minor.”

The law also legally mandates a vastly simplified process for legally changing one’s gender:

The new law also allows people to change their gender identity on documents by simply filing an affidavit with a notary, which ends the requirement for surgery in order to legally identify as a gender other than the one assigned at birth. The process of changing one’s gender in the system, under the new bill, won’t take more than 30 days.

The devil is in the details – for instance, would non-government entities, like banks, be legally required to acknowledge this change? – but this sounds like a big step forward.

Hida Viloria, chairperson of Intersex International, is obviously pleased about this legislation, but still has some criticism:

I’ve read the policy several times, and honestly the only shortcoming with the legislation itself that the OII-USA has is that the terminology still puts the impetus on the intersex child to refuse these surgeries. It’s worded that they must be postponed until the child is old enough to consent.

I tell people: Imagine if we wrote about reparative therapies for homosexuals in that way. The similar phrase would be: Reparative electroshock therapies for homosexual youth must be postponed until those individuals are old enough to give consent. It’s easier to notice, when you think about it with a different population group that’s less stigmatized today, that the statement implies that these procedures will happen. In that way, it doesn’t entirely refute prejudiced perspectives against intersex traits and intersex people needing to be fixed in some way.

That is the one general limit of the Malta legislation. […] It says, until the child is old enough to give consent. You could have cases where the parents are pressuring the child. I would prefer something that says, unless the child requests such procedures. However, even that, how easy would it be to lie in court that, yes, the child requested this, but changed their mind later, for example.

So legislation can only do so much. But [Malta] is a fantastic victory for the community.

The entire interview is interesting, and includes Viloria discussing how Intersex politics can advance in the USA (she says the US Intersex community needs to form a closer alliance with LGBT communities).

UPDATE: Grace just pointed out this (sadly very relevant) news from Colorado this week: Transgender birth certificate bill crashes against anti-gay lobby | The Colorado Independent.

Posted in Transsexual and Transgender related issues | Leave a comment  

Men Should Call Themselves Feminists, But They Shouldn’t Start Fights About It In Other Feminists’ Spaces


In my opinion it’s okay for men to call themselves feminists. More than okay, I think it’s beneficial. And I call myself a feminist. Feminist men on “Alas” are welcome to call themselves feminists. In my (anecdotal) experience, most feminists welcome men calling ourselves “feminist,” as long as we’re being sincere.

BUT… There are some spaces, mostly radfem spaces, where it’s largely agreed that only women should call themselves “feminist” while men should call themselves “pro-feminist.”

For men to enter such spaces and start arguments about “can’t men be feminists” is harmful. It’s distracting from more important issues, and it confirms the stereotype among some radical feminists that men in feminist spaces insist on being the center of conversation.

Posted in Feminism, sexism, etc, Men and masculinity | 48 Comments  

Thinking about Barbara Walters’ Interview with Vili and Mary Kay Letourneau Fualaau

Heidi Gutman—ABC/Getty Images

I’m giving two readings over the next few weeks, one on April 21st at the Risk of Discovery Reading Series, and the other on May 2nd as part of the New Masculinities Festival 2015. The details are below, but I’ve been giving a lot of thought to what these events mean to me and I’d like to share some of that with you. April is both National Poetry Month and Sexual Assault Awareness Month, a convergence that—as you know if you’ve been reading my posts—fits well with the grant I received from the Queens Council on the Arts to complete my second book of poems, Words for What Those Men Have Done. At the April 21st reading, I will preview some of the poems from this manuscript, and the reading itself will serve as a preview of the larger, more interactive presentation that I will give on a date to be scheduled in September or October. One of my goals with this project is for there to be a conversation in my community about what it means to be a male survivor of sexual violence, and since poetry is one way for people to feel what it’s like to feel something they themselves have not experienced firsthand, I hope this reading helps to make that conversation possible.

The importance of having this conversation was brought home to me yet again by the interview Barbara Walters did this past Friday with Vili and Mary Kay Letourneau Fualaau. In 1997, when she was 34 and Vili was her 13-year-old student, Mary Kay Letourneau was arrested and convicted of child rape, ultimately serving seven-and-a-half years in prison, where she gave birth to the couple’s two, now-teenaged daughters. I did not see the interview itself, but when I read the coverage it received, especially, but not only, in the pieces that appeared in the lead-up to the broadcast, I was very disturbed. Simply put, much of it seemed to use the couple’s marriage and children to normalize the rape for which Mary Kay was rightfully convicted and to present their story as an against-all-odds tale of happily-ever-after in which the only villain was the society that tried to keep them apart. To be clear, it’s not that the coverage fails to mention Mary Kay’s prison term or that she is a registered sex offender. Those are historical facts it is impossible to deny. Rather, those facts seem to be presented more as obstacles the couple had to overcome than as the legal consequences of a sexual violation, a rhetorical move that almost makes the violation itself disappear.

In Time, for example, K. C. Blumm phrases it this way:

The 53-year-old [Mary Kay] – who spent 89 months in prison for child rape as a result of her relationship with her then-student Vili Fualaau in 1996 – is looking forward to celebrating her 10th wedding anniversary with Fualaau next month and admitted that as the date approaches she’s been looking back on the events that shaped her life. (Emphasis mine.)

I cannot think of another instance in which the words rape (much less child rape) and relationship would be used almost as synonyms, as if, when Letourneau, then in her early to mid-thirties “embarked on a sexual relationship” with her barely pubescent twelve-year-old middle school student—again, that’s Blumm’s phrasing—the problem was a matter of legal definitions, not the abuse of authority and trust. The language Blumm uses, however, fits very neatly our traditional narratives of manhood and masculinity, in which a boy who is initiated into sex by an older woman is considered “lucky” to have met her. More to the point, in popular perception anyway, that “luck” precludes any claim he might make not to have wanted the experience or that he was in any way harmed by it. To be a man, in this narrative, is to embrace that kind of “luck;” to suggest it wasn’t “luck” to begin with is to suggest that its recipient is not really a man.

Vili Fualaau, of course, was not a man when the woman who is now his wife violated him; he was a child, which is why we undertstand her to have raped him by definition. I get it, though. The fact that he is no longer a child, that he chose to marry the woman who violated him, that they have been married for ten years, and that they are raising two children to boot makes it hard to know just how to talk about not only who he was when Mary Kay victimized him, but also what the consequences for him actually were. After all, in spite of whatever may have been true back then, they have made a life together now, and—in the absence of any evidence to the contrary—it really isn’t anyone’s place to suggest that this life is somehow tainted or “less than” because of their history. Nonetheless, it is telling that Vili’s struggle with alcoholism and depression—“I’m surprised I’m still alive today,” he says. “I went through a really dark time”—is also implicitly presented as an obstacle he had to overcome, not as a possible consequence of the way she violated him; and since overcoming obstacles is traditionally what men do to prove themselves, this way of presenting what he says about himself also fits the traditional narrative.

I think it’s instructive to imagine how differently the media might have covered this interview if, leaving all other details of the story the same, instead of Mary Kay and Vili, we were talking about “Martin” and “Vivian.” Would the narrative have been framed the same way? I doubt it. Even for myself, when I do this thought experiment in my own head, I am struck by how much more readily available to me are the language and patterns of thought that foreground the abusive nature of my hypothetical “Martin’s” sexual contact with “Vivian.” Looked at through the lens of the traditional masculinity and manhood narrative, this makes sense. Men in that narrative are supposed to be the actors when it comes to sex, the ones who are always trying to get it, for whom “getting it” is a requirement of being who we are, and of whom my hypothetical Martin, therefore—again, within this narrative—is an example of a guy who needs to learn some self-control. The narrative, in other words, makes it easy to peg him as a perpetrator, since he’s doing what men are “supposed to be doing.” He’s just overstepping the bounds within which he’s supposed to be doing it.

Culturally, and despite what the law says, our investment in this narrative makes it hard for us to understand female perpetrators like Mary Kay Letourneau as perpetrators, perhaps especially when they abuse boys and men, which in turn can make it difficult to keep in focus the idea that what Mary Kay did to Vili when he was 12 or 13 is essentially no different from incidents of the sexual abuse of boys that everyone agrees is abuse, i.e., when there is violence or overt coercion or when, as in my case, the person trying to “initiate” me was a man. (You can read a partial telling of my story here.) Indeed, it’s worth taking a look at the website Female Sex Offenders if you’re interested in exploring this idea further. It’s crucal to remember, however, that no matter what the law says, this skewed perception of female perpetrators is not going to change until our fundamental understanding of what it means to be a man changes, until we have a narrative of manhood and masculinity that recognizes not just men’s vulnerability and uncertainty, sexual and otherwise, but also our variability—the idea that there is no single correct way to be a man.

That’s why I am very excited about participating in the New Masculinities Festival, one purpose of which is to produce new narratives masculinity and manhood. The festival will take place on May 2nd at the Clemente Soto Velez Cultural Center in Manhattan. I don’t yet have full information for the event, but here’s the promotional video for last year’s festival:


Here’s the information for the two events:

April 21st

  • Venue: QED Astoria
  • When:  6:30 – 8:30 PM (Facebook event page)
  • Where: 27-16 23rd Avenue, Astoria NY 11105
  • Details: A writing workshop and open mic will presede my reading.

May 2nd

  • Venue: New Masculinities Festival 2015
  • When:  TBA
  • Where: Clemente Soto Velez Cultural Center, 107 Suffolk Street, New York NY 10002
  • Details: More details to be announced soon.
Posted in Gender and the Body, Men and masculinity, Rape, intimate violence, & related issues | 18 Comments  

Lurid Yet Statistically Rare Stories, and, Ronald Reagan’s Cadillac Welfare Queen

Ozy writes:

“can we just all collectively rise above our animal natures and be better people and not signal boost lurid yet statistically rare stories that fuck with everyone’s availability heuristics, particularly when these stories are about the evil of the Hated Enemy”

I very, very much agree with this.

I’m not saying I’ve been perfect in this regard. Far from it. But I think Ozy is right.

This isn’t either adding to or disagreeing with what Ozy said, just an anecdote. When I was a kid, there was a lot of argument about a woman who – Ronald Reagan, then running for the Presidency, claimed – was collecting so much welfare (using 80 different fake names) that she wore furs and owned a brand-new Cadillac. Liberals, including my family, believed that Reagan made this woman up, or at most was vastly exaggerating a more mundane story.

So I was surprised to find out, a few days ago, that Reagan was understating the truth all those decades ago. (The link leads to a very long but also fascinating story.) The woman he was talking about, Linda Taylor,1 really existed, and in fact had around 150 aliases, and was not only a welfare cheat on an enormous scale but also a serial kidnapper of small children (!) and almost certainly a serial murderer (! ! !).

Which goes to support Ozy’s point, I think: This woman, while real, was an extraordinary and perhaps unique villain, and to use her in stump speeches as representative of flaws in the welfare system doesn’t truly advance anyone’s understanding of what’s wrong with welfare or how to improve it.

  1. One of her many, many names. []
Posted in Civility & norms of discourse, etc. | 42 Comments  

“Our Man in Tehran” – A Really Interesting Series from The New York Times

The New York Times is running a really interesting series on its website called Our Man in Tehran (the link will take you to episode one). Thomas Erdbrink, the paper’s bureau chief in Tehran has made seven brief videos meant to capture aspects of ordinary people’s live in Iran that we have not usually been able to see in the media here. This video is from the second episode, “The Martyr’s Daughter.” I’ve pasted in her “character dossier” below the video.

Character Dossier: Najiyeh Allahdad

Date of birth: July 26, 1976

Hometown: Tehran

Education: B.A. in graphics from Alzahra University, 1999

Employment: Freelance designer, creating logos for companies

Life experience: I got married when I was 20. I have two sons. I have been fortunate in my life to have found a circle of friends and relatives who share my deep passion for helping others. We have formed a small charity group that finds people who need help, and we use our connections to gather help for them.

How do you describe yourself? I’m an Iranian Muslim who uses any opportunity to improve her country and who protects her country’s reputation in the world. I love life, and I love peace. I feel that what people have lost in this world is spirituality. I’ve devoted my life to trying to find this spirituality for myself first and then to help others enjoy it.

Are you active on the Internet? I am on Instagram. I also have WhatsApp and Viber. I am in touch with my friends through these social networks and speak my mind. Also, I get information and news through these networks.

What do you hope for the future? I am very hopeful and I believe that religion will play a more important role in people’s lives in the future, and the world will be saved by religion.

What are your hobbies? I’m active in charity efforts. Like Superman, I jump to find people who need help.

Have you traveled outside of Iran? Where? What did you think? I have traveled to India, China, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Malaysia, the United Arab Emirates, Italy, the United States and Syria. I found some Eastern countries like India and China to be very civilized, but they have not used their civilization to improve their daily lives. On the other hand, I found the Western countries to be detached from their histories and stepping into a new world that has an unclear future. Some Arab countries like Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. seemed too dependent on Western countries and would be nothing without help from the U.S. And a country like Iraq has always been hampered by circumstances throughout its history.

Posted in Iran, Islam | 1 Comment  

A letter from Robert. Which I received yesterday. Yesterday. I’m just sayin’.


(Or was it three days ago? Whatever.

As usual, I’ll wait a few days, and then I’ll forward comments from this thread to Robert.


March 23, 2015

Dear Barry:

Heyo. Thought I’d drop you a line using my spiffy new typewriter. America’s prisons, providing access to hundred-year old technology at only mildly criminal markup! My Facebook friends colluded to buy me this antique but valuable writing tool. It makes writing letters about a thousand times easier; wish I’d had it when I was working on the book.
Here, for the edification and updating of your readership at Alas!, is an update of my life status. (Well, it’s an update for you. By the time you get around to posting it, I presume it will be months out of date, he said, snippily.)

Dear Alas friends –

Greetings from Four Mile Correctional Center, which is soon to be no longer my home! I have been officially accepted into community corrections in Colorado Springs. Community corrections is essentially a transition program from prison to parole. I will reside in a jail-like facility (though less locked-down) but am free to leave the facility each day for work. I can also get passes from the facility so that I can (for example) go to the movies with friends or other wholesome activities.

After a few months at community corrections, I can transition to non-residential status, meaning that I still have to account for my whereabouts and activities, but can live independently and without immediate supervision. It is effectively parole, though with more rules and structure. (Which, let’s face it, I do need.)

I’m presently still at Four Mile, waiting for a bed to open up at the facility in the Springs. This could happen soon, but is more likely to be a couple of months. I am really hoping to be out before my birthday, which is in late June.

I want to thank everyone who has helped me while I’ve been in here, with financial assistance, with personal letters, and with good and worthwhile counsel. Being in prison is hardly something to be grateful for, but I am grateful for the life lessons that I’ve been forced to learn, and especially grateful for the kindness that you have all shown me. I look forward to reintegrating into society and trying in some small way to make amends for the harms I’ve caused with my selfish actions. Parole isn’t trivial but it’s a whole lot better than prison and I can’t wait.

Thank you all again.


PS – If Amp takes six weeks to post this, then tell him he’s a lazy dirty hippie. But I love him anyway.

To send Robert a letter through the mail, use this address:

Robert Luty Hayes, Jr. 165970
FMCC Unit E – Four Mile Correctional Center
P.O. Box 300
Cańon City CO, 81215-0300

If you’d rather send him an email, you can go to and enter Robert’s state (Colorado) and his DOC Number – 165970 – into the search fields. (Sometimes I’ve had to do this twice before it worked). Then you can use your debit card to send him an “email” (he’ll actually get it in the form of a print-out) or to send him money, or both. The cost of sending email is not expensive, it’s actually similar to the cost of postage. If you contact Robert via Jpay, be sure to give him your mailing address – he can’t use Jpay, so the only means he has for writing back to you is to send you mail through the post office.

Posted in Bob Behind Bars, Prisons and Justice and Police | 10 Comments  

#SavingChase: Judge Orders Mom Arrested For Violating Agreement To Have Her 4-Year-Old Son Circumcised


From the Florida Sun Sentinel (if that link is paywall blocked, try this indirect link).

Despite the threat of being jailed Tuesday, a West Boynton mother hid with her 4-year-old son in a domestic violence shelter, the latest twist in a widely reported court fight to stop the boy’s planned circumcision.

But Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Jeffrey Dana Gillen still signed a warrant for Heather Hironimus’ arrest, refusing requests from her lawyers to first consider a mental health exam of the boy and appointing an independent guardian to speak on the child’s behalf in court. […]

On Friday, Gillen declared the mom in contempt of court for violating an order enforcing a 2012 parenting plan, which makes the dad responsible for arranging the circumcision. The mom and dad did not marry either before or after the boy’s birth on Oct. 31, 2010.[…]

“I will allow her to avoid incarceration or get out of jail if she signs the consent to the procedure,” [Judge] Gillen said Friday.

The judge found the mom had willfully violated the plan she signed when the boy was 1. The judge also said Hironimus had committed a “direct, contemptuous violation” of court orders by continuing to team with circumcision opposition groups — called “intactivists” — that have “plastered” the child’s photos and name “all over the Internet.” […]

The father says the boy has a condition called phimosis, which prevents retraction of the foreskin, but the mother has said there is no such diagnosis.

The American Academy of Pediatrics says the benefits of newborn male circumcision are lower risks of urinary tract infections; getting penile cancer; and acquiring HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

Judge Gillen mentioned these benefits in court last week, and called the procedure “very, very safe.”

My goodness – so much to unpack here.

1) In essence, what the court is doing is enforcing a shared child custody agreement. From the Judge’s perspective, ordering the mom to comply with an agreement to go along with the circumcision of her son is no different from ordering the mom to comply with an agreement to give up custody on alternate weekends. If someone continuously refuses to comply with a court-enforced agreement, being thrown in jail is a widely-accepted last-ditch method for courts to force compliance.

2) This story is news because it involves involuntary circumcision. But really, this sort of thing is bound to come up in a society in which involuntary circumcision of boys is a legal and normal thing. In other words, the problem isn’t this judge or this court case; it’s that circumcision of underage boys is considered normal parenting in our society.1

3) Nonetheless, I think Judge Gillen has made the wrong decision. A four year old is not a one year old, and forcing a four year old to have an unwanted circumcision is taking a big, and needless, chance of creating long-term trauma.2

4) Mary Elizabeth Williams, writing about this case in Salon several months ago, made a good point:

Ultimately, though, it seems pretty obvious that what we have here is a mother who feels strongly that her son should not be circumcised, and a father whose commitment to having his son undergo the procedure was so casual he put it off until the kid was almost four years old. Yes, a contract was signed. But were it a true priority the circumcision would have been done a long time ago. And at a certain point, it’s fair to reassess and understand that a preschooler is not a baby, and that compassionate parenting means erring on the side of being as minimally invasive as possible.

5) James Smith, in the comments at Reason, argues (I think persuasively, but of course I’m no lawyer) that this is technically not a matter of contract law, but of Family Court law. So if that sort of technicality interests you, go over to Reason and search for Smith’s comments.

6) The father’s argument that the circumcision is medically necessary doesn’t seem persuasive to me (there are alternative treatments for phimosis), and I suspect didn’t matter much to the Court. (That is, I think the Judge would have made the same decision, based on enforcing the parenting plan, regardless of the claim of medical necessity.)

7) I don’t like the judge ordering the parties not to speak about the case publicly, because that goes against free speech. (So good on the mother for refusing to comply with that order). There are cases where gag orders are necessary (for instance, in a case involving the identity of informants whose lives could be endangered), but I don’t see why this case is one. UPDATE: As Mythago points out in the comments, I misunderstood what was going on.

8) Some parents have protested Judge Gillen’s decision by posting photos of their small kids holding up protest signs: “The irony — of people arguing that boys shouldn’t be circumcised until they can consent yet using their own toddlers to make points in social media campaigns — was not lost on some commenters.” But I agree with Ophelia Benson, who says that the equivalence doesn’t hold water.

9) I’m skeptical that it will do any good, but there’s a petition to sign here.

  1. I say “of children” because I have no objection to a grown-up choosing to have a circumcision for themselves. []
  2. Some anti-circumcision activists would argue that all circumcision is a kind of long-term trauma, but – even though I oppose child circumcision – I can’t say I find my own infant circumcision to have been lastingly traumatic. []
Posted in Free speech, censorship, copyright law, etc., In the news, Sexism hurts men | 11 Comments  

Link Farm and Open Thread: Enacted Rules Edition


  1. This is why there are things we don’t say about race (even when they are true) | Joseph Harker | Comment is free | The Guardian Really excellent take-down of some very common racist arguments, such as the risible claim that the Rotherham rapes were allowed to take place because police are afraid of enforcing laws on minorities. (Via).
  2. After a few months of hiatus, A Feminist Challenging Transphobia has returned to active blogging. Huzzah!
  3. Alito Joins Court Majority to Protect Pregnant Workers From Discrimination (I think G&W posted about this case in comments.)
  4. Ex-Prosecutor Apologizes to Wrongfully Convicted Glenn Ford After 30 Years on Death Row — The Atlantic “I end with the hope that providence will have more mercy for me than I showed Glenn Ford. But, I am also sobered by the realization that I certainly am not deserving of it.”
  5. ‘To the man who has been taking my Wall Street Journal’ | Berkeleyside And be sure to read the followup article as well.
  6. Courageous Trans Teen Stands Up For Her Bathroom Rights And Finds Community Support.
  7. French Mailman Spends 33 Years Building Epic Palace From Pebbles Collected On His 18-Mile Mail Route | Bored Panda
  8. Call-Centring to Dispose of Sealions. This cracked me up.
  9. How to utterly ruin the game “20 Questions.” – Ozy
  10. How drug testing could actually reduce racial disparities in the workplace – Vox
  11. France Says New Roofs Must Be Covered In Plants Or Solar Panels | ThinkProgress Sounds like a potentially excellent idea, although I imagine some problems could be created by the regulations making new buildings more expensive to construct, although this could be mitigated by a tax deduction for spending on new eco-roofs.
  12. A conservative judge’s devastating take on why voter ID laws are evil – LA Times It’s Judge Posner, unsurprisingly. His entire dissent can be read here (pdf link).
  13. Unplanned pregnancies cost taxpayers $21 billion each year – The Washington Post
  14. How to save Star Trek: Make it the True Detective of science fiction – Vox This sounds like a wonderful idea, but I doubt they’d do it with Star Trek. I’d love to see a “anthology” sci-fi TV show, though, exploring a consistent science fiction universe from different perspectives each season.
  15. Closing the TV-Guest Gender Gap — The Atlantic A fascinating article about the enormous effort involved in creating a 50/50 gender split of guests on a talk show.
  16. A Note on Call-Out Culture – Briarpatch Magazine
  17. The Supreme Court is about to tackle online threats for the first time | The Verge
  18. “Continuous rules” and “Immediate rules” in role playing games. An interesting analysis of RPG rules by game designer Ben Lehman, who sometimes comments here at “Alas.” (Although I think “Enacted rules” would have been a better term than “Immediate rules.”)
  19. Sweeping ‘New Motor Voter’ bill clears Oregon Legislature on partisan vote | So from now on, anyone who gets a driver’s license in Oregon will, by default, be registered to vote at the same time (or when they turn 18), unless they actively opt out. Republicans are against this, although I’m unclear on what the rationalization is this time.
  20. It’s 2050 And Feminism Has Finally Won
  21. The adult sympathies of The Breakfast Club / The Dissolve
  22. ‘The Birth of a Nation’: The racist movie everyone should watch – The Washington Post A good illustration of how racism in art is not just a moral flaw, but an artistic flaw.
  23. A $10,169 blood test is everything wrong with American health care – Vox Total market failure.
  24. Prison and White People « The Hooded Utilitarian How white people given unjustly long sentences are victims of anti-black racism.
  25. Do You Have to Be Japanese to Make Manga? (with images, tweets) · debaoki · Storify
  26. The Benevolent Stalker. An interesting slash terrifying post by a stalker explaining how what he does is benevolent and not like the thing those evil bad stalkers do. After getting a lot of horrified responses, he quit stalking the woman, got psychological help, and wrote two follow-up posts: A Re-Evaluation of Romance and Stalking Seminar. What I find most fascinating is the way he created an imaginary reality for himself to live in.
  27. Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers asks on her Facebook for people to post their Obamacare horror stories, and thousands of people (including me) responded with personal stories of how Obamacare has helped them.
  28. Decades of human waste have made Mount Everest a ‘fecal time bomb’ – The Washington Post
  29. Slender Man defendants: Trying 12-year-olds as adults is illogical and barbaric.
  30. Some Speculation About the Google Truth Machine – Windypundit
  31. Woman held in psychiatric ward after (correctly) saying Obama follows her on Twitter
  32. “Organisers of a national disability conference in Melbourne have come under fire after a speaker had to be carried onto the stage because it was not wheelchair accessible.” It’s even worse than that sounds.
  33. Is it time to stop reading books by white men? Good review essay. (This and the prior two links via Skepchick.)
  34. Shtetl-Optimized » Blog Archive » “Could a Quantum Computer Have Subjective Experience?” I found this very interesting, although there were parts of it I couldn’t fully follow. When I started reading it I was confused over what the words “decoherence” and “classical” mean in this context, and I found that reading this lecture through the end of the section entitled “Story #1″ clarified those terms enormously.
  35. Fair Process, Not Criminal Process, Is the Right Way to Address Campus Sexual Assault


Posted in Link farms | 245 Comments  

Being a Survivor of Sexual Violence is a Way of Knowing The World – 2

When I started counseling to come to terms with the fact that I am a survivor of childhood sexual violence, one of the first questions my therapist asked me after I sat down in his office was, “On a scale of one to ten, how angry would you say you are?”

“Probably seven or eight,” I answered.

“Try eleven,” he said, and I knew without even thinking about it that he was right. Then he asked me if I worked out. “Yes,” I said.

“You look it,” was his matter-of-fact response, but his next question surprised me. “Do you know why I’m not scared to be alone with you in this very small room, even though you’re big enough to hurt me in a serious way?”

I looked around his office. It was very small. “No,” I answered.

“Because I don’t think you’re crazy,” he said, and I don’t know precisely why, but something in his body language, the tone of his voice, the way he looked at me when he spoke, something communicated to me that I could believe him. Not that I needed anyone to tell me I wasn’t crazy–I was already sure of that–but it mattered a lot to me that I could believe him when he said he didn’t think I was. It wasn’t simply that I felt I could trust him. It was also, and perhaps more importantly, that I understood he trusted me, and that feeling did more than just give me permission to say the things I needed to say for my therapy to begin and to be successful. It helped me see myself as authorized to do so—in the sense that I knew he took me to be, and so I could begin to see myself as, the authority on my own experience.

It took a long time before I felt like I could claim that authority publicly as a writer. Yes, I’d written and published the poems in The Silence of Men, and, yes, the promotional copy announced to the world that I was a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, but I never publicly connected my identity as a survivor to my identity as a writer until 2008, when I was interviewed by The Jackson Heights Poetry Festival (JHPF).

Much of what I said about being a survivor and its connection to my writing got edited out of the final video, but what they kept in does get to the core of the matter. Writing poetry was not just how I found my voice; it was how I proved to myself that I had a voice, that what I said in that voice was real and deserving of an audience, even if the only person in that audience was me. I do regret using the word cliche to describe the idea that abusers steal their victims’ voices, but I did so because in the circles where I spend most of my time–and I realize that I am very fortunate in this–the truth of that idea is taken for granted, and so it is sometimes given a kind of short-shrift as well-intentioned people move past it to address deeper and perhaps less obviously visible issues.

In reality, of course, the vast majority of survivors do not live in such circles, which makes it all the more important for those of us who are able to speak out to do so. By way of example, about a year after JHPF first posted this interview to their now-defunct YouTube channel, a former student of mine sent me an email. She’d found the video while browsing the web for poetry-related information and watching it had inspired her to share two pieces of information that she had shared with no one else: first, that someone had sodomized her a few year earlier and that she’d been dealing with it by trying to pretend it had never happened and, second, that she suspected her ex-husband of molesting their three-year-old daughter when the girl was in his house. I responded in all the ways you might expect, urging her to seek therapy for herself and to do what she needed to determine whether or not her suspicions about her ex-husband were true. I don’t remember that I ever heard from her again, however, so I have no idea what the outcome was.

What I do know is that if I hadn’t told the truth about myself in the JHPF interview, my student might never have spoken up in the first place, abandoning herself to who knows how many more years of shame and silence and, if her ex-husband was indeed molesting their daughter, surrendering her child into the hands of an abuser. Hearing my voice, in other words, helped her find hers, and there is absolutely nothing cliche about that. Simply to end there, however, would be to leave unacknowledged the fact–which you cannot know from watching the video–that none of the questions I was asked in that interview addressed the relationship between my work as a poet and who I am as a survivor. I insisted on making that connection because it has become increasingly important to me to speak out about who I am even in contexts where sexual abuse is not the agreed upon topic of conversation.

A few years after the JHPF interview, I did the same thing in the more extended interview Melissa Studdard did with me for Tiferet Talk.

I remember debating with myself about whether or not it would be “too much” to turn what was supposed to be a conversation about my work as a poet into a platform to speak about myself as a survivor, but in the end I asked myself, How could I not? Being a survivor is always already a part of my daily life. It informs who I am as a teacher, a lover, a father, a husband, a friend; it shapes the way I understand politics, the economy, my workplace, the movies I watch, the books I read, and, obviously, the poems and essays I write. Equally to the point, because I am a survivor, the daily lives of the people who are part of my life are also always already touched by the violations I experienced–or, more precisely, by the consequences and repercussions of those violations. To pretend otherwise, to behave as if I exist as a survivor, as if people only need to engage with me as a survivor, in those spaces specifically set aside to make survivors visible–such as conferences, seminars, talk show episodes, and so on–would be to accept someone else’s definition of where and when and even why my experience can and should have meaning. It would be to surrender precisely the authority to which my therapist’s question helped me lay claim.

That, I simply refuse to do.


Posted in Rape, intimate violence, & related issues | Leave a comment  

Kevin Moore On Starbucks “Race Together”

My friend Kevin Moore draws and writes:


I love the expressions Kevin drew, especially in panel 4.

This reminded me of the discussion in comments here, where a few posters were (rightly) concerned that Starbucks employees aren’t paid enough to make this part of their job.

Kevin comments:

Two hashtag campaigns launched last week on Twitter (where else?) addressing the topic of race. With #racetogether, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz thought it would be a neat idea to use coffee and his low wage workers to “start a conversation” that neither worker nor customer would ever want, regardless of their respective positions. As I write this I learn that Starbucks has abandoned the project, either recognizing it as a failure of good intentions or as a success in meme-driven marketing. “So long as they spell my name right” publicity, as it were.

The other campaign, #whitegenocide came about this weekend as almost a response to Starbucks invitation to converse about race — and thereby demonstrating exactly why no one wants to touch the subject in a commercial transaction. These trolls get enough attention on Twitter. And while I hate to give them anymore, as a source of friction in a cartoon, as a way to lampoon the kinds of absurd white victimization claims made by bigots afraid of any kind of inclusion of minorities — well, the meme was hard to resist.

Posted in In the news, Race, racism and related issues | 17 Comments