Open Thread and Link Farm: It’s The Great Pumpkin Edition


  1. Above: A poster for “It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” by scratchboard artist Nicolas Delort. More info about the poster (including alternate versions) here.
  2. A round-up of some well-reasoned, civil critiques of #GamerGate.
  3. And here’s another #GamerGate Link Roundup, this time from Brute Reason.
  4. ​We’re All Tired Of Gamergate
  5. At least 8 women in gaming have had to flee their homes due to threats.
  6. The Only Thing I Have To Say About Gamer Gate | Felicia Day
  7. Actress Felicia Day Opens Up About GamerGate Fears, Has Her Home Address Exposed Minutes Later
  8. Did you know that Disney, Pixar, Dreamworks, and others have been involved in a major wage theft scandal? The companies conspired to not compete for employees, so that wages would be artificially held down. The conspirators included George Lucas and Steve Jobs – people who clearly didn’t have enough money already. Assholes. Pando Daily has an archive of their stories on this subject.
  9. Occupational Licensing of Strippers Isn’t Just Unnecessary, It’s Dangerous – Hit & Run :
  10. The People’s Climate Change – Windypundit Shorter Windypundit: When right-wingers claim climate change doesn’t exist, that’s the fault of left-wingers for using left-wing rhetoric or advocating left-wing policies. The idea that right-wingers are responsible for their own choices and views is, it seems, inconceivable.
  11. Voter ID laws in Kansas and Tennessee dropped 2012 turnout by over 100,000 votes – The Washington Post
  12. EconoMonitor : Ed Dolan’s Econ Blog » Could We Afford a Universal Basic Income? (Part 2 of a Series)
  13. “Yes means yes” is about much more than rape – Vox
  14. In defense of John Grisham – The Washington Post
  15. What Happens When Hasidic Jews Go Secular — Science of Us
  16. Ursula K. Le Guin on Being a Man | Brain Pickings
  17. Immigrant Rights Groups: Obama Administration Runs ‘Deportation Mill’ in New Mexico
  18. Protests Greet Metropolitan Opera’s Premiere of ‘Klinghoffer’ – Appallingly, the protests have succeeded in getting the producers to cancel a planned nationwide broadcast on movie screens.
  19. Serena and Venus Williams Battle More Body-Shaming
  20. The common law tradition says that shopkeepers have no right to discriminate : Lawyers, Guns & Money
  21. New Research Exposes Myths About Voter Fraud
  22. Kurt Busiek Addresses the Misconceptions of the Marvel/Kirby Legal Dispute
  23. South Carolina prosecutor argues that “Stand Your Ground” law doesn’t apply for victims of domestic violence.
  24. ECHIDNE OF THE SNAKES: More Men Are Raped in US Than Women? Spoiler: No.
  25. To say: “we fought the war on poverty and lost” is to reveal your contempt for facts.
  26. You can fight City Hall (but if you take them to court, they get lawyers, too). A good post about the claim that a city is trying to take away the first amendment rights of Christian Churches by issuing a subpoena.
  27. Obama’s war on leaks – and on free speech – is unbelievable
  28. Whites are more supportive of voter ID laws when shown photos of black people voting – The Washington Post
  29. Poor kids who do everything right don’t do better than rich kids who do everything wrong – The Washington Post
  30. MRAs please take note: A comprehensive study of shipwrecks has shown that “Women have a distinct survival disadvantage compared with men.”
  31. Chart of the Week: Politicians Following, Not Leading on Same-Sex Marriage
  32. The evidence on travel bans for diseases like Ebola is clear: they don’t work
  33. Studies suggest the overwhelming motivation behind voter ID laws is hyper-partisanship, not racism.

Posted in Link farms | 7 Comments  

Please stop saying that judges in Texas and DC said there’s a free speech right to take upskirt shots

Laci Green, a feminist sex educator, produced this graphic:


Laci (whose work I’m generally a fan of) isn’t alone; a lot of blogs and news outlets have said – often in clickbaity headlines – that rulings in Texas and DC recognize a First Amendment right to take upskirt shots of non-consenting women.

That’s not what either judgement said. And it’s damaging when alarming but false stories like these spread.

There are a thousand crucial problems for feminists to be concerned with – the wage gap, the high prevalence of rape, revenge porn, the caregiving gap, sexual harassment, street harassment, attacks on reproductive rights, and I could go on and on. It doesn’t benefit feminism or women when feminists pass around mistaken information; on the contrary, it leads to energy and anger being misdirected.

The Texas judgement (pdf link) said that the law they overturned was unconstitutional because it was overbroad – that is, the law was so broadly written that it could apply to a bunch of constitutionally protected photos, rather than focusing narrowly on upskirt shots (for instance, the judge wrote “this statute could easily be applied to an entertainment reporter who takes a photograph of an attractive celebrity on a public street”). In fact, the ruling flat-out said that a narrow law banning upskirt shots would be constitutional:

We agree with the State that substantial privacy interests are invaded in an intolerable manner when a person is photographed without consent in a private place, such as the home, or with respect to an area of the person that is not exposed to the general public, such as up a skirt. [...]

The DC judgement wasn’t about upskirt shots; it was about under what circumstances cops have sufficient grounds to arrest someone for taking photos.The judge specifically noted that there was no evidence that the photographer the cops arrested was taking upskirt shots:

While the Government has repeatedly attempted to characterize this as an “upskirt” case, there is no evidence that the Defendant positioned his camera on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial or otherwise underneath individuals’ clothing in order to capture clothed or concealed portions of the body.

As far as I can tell, neither decision said that a creep sticking his camera under a skirt is protected by the First Amendment.

See also: Popehat and Outside the Beltway.

Posted in Free speech, censorship, copyright law, etc., Pornography | 24 Comments  

If Passengers Can’t Find The Lifejackets, Don’t Blame Cell Phones

If this Atlantic article by Polly Mosendz is representative, the case against allowing passengers to use electronic devices during takeoff and landing is incredibly weak. I was particular bugged by this argument:

George Hobica, an air-travel expert, explained that the flight attendants make their strongest point when it comes to safety. “If you asked 100 fliers about the demo, where their life vest is, they wouldn’t know. When the plane landed in the Hudson, people left without their life vest—of all planes to leave without your life vest! It is bad enough when people are reading their newspapers, and it is rude for one thing, but it is also dangerous,” he said. Cell phones just make their jobs even harder.

Unless we’re prepared to ban books, newspapers, small talk, magazines, and getting lost in our imaginations, banning cell phones will not cause passengers to pay attention during the demo or remember where the life vests are.

What would solve the problem – or at least, reduce it – is better communication and design. Instead of depending on a demo that they know many or most passengers aren’t absorbing, the airlines should find another way to let us know where the lifevests are – for instance, by pasting a picture showing the vest location on the back of every seat, so that passengers will unavoidably look at it hundreds of times every flight.

Posted in Whatever | 5 Comments  

On being better-liked after losing weight

An “Ask Polly” reader describes a conversation with her friend who lost 125 pounds dieting…

He then went into lawyer mode, showing me Facebook posts from his heavy days and now; the same clever Facebook status that had gotten 30 likes when he was overweight got over 100 now that he was thin. He then became upset, near tears even, and told me that the saddest part of losing weight was that people finally complimented him on qualities he’d always had.

Another reader, in Polly’s comments, echos the sentiment:

This one hit close to home – I lost a lot of weight in my 20s and it is a total and complete mindf*&k. Everyone starts paying attention to you, valuing you, and it’s really difficult to navigate without becoming incredibly shallow and choosing the wrong people because you have no idea who YOU really are anymore.

When I think about losing weight – and like nearly all fat people, my mind sometimes strays there even though I’m against trying to lose weight myself – this thought always bothers me. I’ve read enough studies - and seen enough life – to be convinced that I would probably be better liked, and treated better – not by my close friends, but by acquaintances and strangers and business associates – if I lost a lot of weight.

But I think that would in turn make me paranoid. How could I make new friends, for instance, if at the back of my head I’m wondering if they’ll drop me if I regain the weight (as most weight losers do)? Would I take every instance of nice treatment as an opportunity to think “if you saw me two years ago, you wouldn’t be being this nice?” It’s a creepy thought.


[Comment moderation note: Weight-loss advice will be deleted.]

Posted in Fat, fat and more fat | 26 Comments  

A Conversation with Sahar Amer, Author of ‘What is Veiling?’ « Transcultural Islam Research Network

On the Transcultural Islam Research Network, an interview with Sahar Amer, whose book, What Is Veiling?was published by The University of North Carolina Press in September of this year. I found this passage particularly interesting:

CR: Throughout your extensive research on the topic, have you found that veiling is more a product of religious and cultural circumstances or personal choice?

SA: I would say that veiling is a product of all of the above, and many other reasons as well. Veiling is due to a variety of reasons, including social, political, cultural, and economic, as well as personal and spiritual ones. While some women indeed must wear the veil because it is imposed upon them by a society with a conservative reading of Islamic traditions, others wear it proudly out of deep piety and conviction that it is an Islamic prescription. Yet other women wear the veil as a political assertion of their national identity, or as an expression of their disappointment in the failure of Arab nationalism and of the postcolonial world, as a tool of resistance to Euro-American stereotypes and policies towards Muslims, or as a means of declaring their opposition to the commodification of women’s bodies in Euro-American societies. Still others wear it for socio-economic reasons, either because it allows them to forego the expense of new clothes and a hairdresser, or because it gives them the confidence to go out in public, hold jobs, and become financially independent in a society only recently accustomed to having women mingle alongside men in public and work spaces. Perhaps the most important thing to understand about veiling is that there is not and has never been one singular reason for wearing hijab that one can consider valid for all peoples or all times or all societies. Variation is truly the norm.

I have rarely read, listened to, or been part of a discussion of veiling that does not assume the simplistic, single-minded template of the “imposed veil” (whether that imposition is governmental, as in Iran, familial or communal) and its corresponding and ostensibly by-definition oppression of women as the only one in which discussion of veiling can be meaningful.


Posted in Islam | 12 Comments  

Why “Affirmative Consent” Laws Are Needed

[Warning: This post contains descriptions of, and discussion of, rape.]

In comments, a new comment-writer named “Ben” presented “three very strong objections to the California affirmative consent law.” Before I respond to Ben in a future post, I want to make it clear what Affirmative Consent laws do, and what problem they are intended to address.

I don’t think that this law is going to, by itself, create huge changes. “Affirmative Consent” laws – also called “yes means yes laws” – aren’t revolutionary; they’re a fairly minor change to existing laws, which have been moving in the direction of being consent-based for many years.

I’m not expecting California’s Affirmative Consent law to bring a big upswing in colleges punishing rapists, and I’m not expecting a huge drop in rape prevalence on California campuses. Rape prevalence has many factors, and no piece of legislation can create huge change. Changing the law is an important step, but it is only one step, not a whole marathon.

Let’s get a few common misconceptions out of the way, while we’re at it: The law is gender-neutral, at least in language (whether some of the people applying it will be sexist is another matter).1 The law doesn’t require explicit verbal permission at every stage of activity. The law does not say that men are automatically guilty if accused.

So what does Calfornia’s Affirmative Consent law say? The whole text is here, but I think this is the most important bit (emphasis mine):

“Affirmative consent” means affirmative, conscious, and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity. It is the responsibility of each person involved in the sexual activity to ensure that he or she has the affirmative consent of the other or others to engage in the sexual activity. Lack of protest or resistance does not mean consent, nor does silence mean consent. Affirmative consent must be ongoing throughout a sexual activity and can be revoked at any time. The existence of a dating relationship between the persons involved, or the fact of past sexual relations between them, should never by itself be assumed to be an indicator of consent.

So what kind of case could this law apply to? Consider Lisa Sendrow’s rape,2 which George Will discussed – or, really, dismissed – in the Washington Post in June:

Consider the supposed campus epidemic of rape, a.k.a. “sexual assault.” Herewith, a Philadelphia magazine report about Swarthmore College, where in 2013 a student “was in her room with a guy with whom she’d been hooking up for three months”:

“They’d now decided — mutually, she thought — just to be friends. When he ended up falling asleep on her bed, she changed into pajamas and climbed in next to him. Soon, he was putting his arm around her and taking off her clothes. ‘I basically said, “No, I don’t want to have sex with you.” And then he said, “OK, that’s fine” and stopped. . . . And then he started again a few minutes later, taking off my panties, taking off his boxers. I just kind of laid there and didn’t do anything — I had already said no. I was just tired and wanted to go to bed. I let him finish. I pulled my panties back on and went to sleep.’”

Six weeks later, the woman reported that she had been raped. Now the Obama administration is riding to the rescue of “sexual assault” victims.

Will thinks it’s ridiculous to call this “rape” – so ridiculous that he doesn’t even need to explain why. But we can guess that her lack of resistance, and the fact that she had voluntarily had sex with this guy in the past, figured into Will’s analysis.

Although Will’s column was controversial, many agreed with it. For example, Cathy Young, a national columnist who often writes about rape issues, tweeted:

She said no, the guy (her former steady hookup) made another move a few minutes later, she went along with it. Apparently b/c she was “tired” or something like that. Sorry, calling this rape is insulting to real victims.

Cathy is explicit – he was “her former steady hookup,” and Lisa “went along with it” (lack of resistance), therefore it wasn’t rape. Never mind that Lisa said “no” – in the minds of Cathy, and George Will, and the millions of Americans with similar views, it’s not enough to say “no.” Lisa didn’t say no enough. Lisa didn’t resist enough. Lisa just lay there, and in many people’s minds that’s as good as consent right there.

Implicit in Cathy and Will’s analysis is that it should be legal to presume consent exists until all possibility of consent is eliminated beyond all doubt. But that belief would make a huge number of rapes – of sex without consent – legal. That’s not what any of us should want.

Lisa Sendrow did not consent, and has been very clear that she did not consent. What happened to Lisa Sendrow was rape, if sex without consent is rape. But many people believe it’s not rape if the victim “went along with it,” or if it’s a “former steady hookup,” or if she let him into her dorm room. And, unfortunately, many college administrators share Cathy and Will’s terrible views.

That is why this law is necessary. So that when someone with an experience like Lisa Sendrow’s goes to her college administration and says she or he was raped, she or he won’t be told it wasn’t rape because the rapist was a former hookup, or because she or he didn’t resist. Or, if she is told that, at least the law will be clearly on her side, not the college’s.

Lisa’s story isn’t uncommon. Boys in particular, in the United States, learn that the way to get consent is to wear girls down. This is a direct result of beliefs like George Will’s – the belief that pestering a girl or woman until she just gives up resisting can’t be rape. Mallery Ortberg gets at why this view is dangerous and encourages rape:

One of the dangers, I think, of depending on passive consent — the idea that all conditions are Go unless you are met with a swift, stern “NO MEANS NO” or a slap to the face — is that it conditions sexual aggressors (particularly men) to ignore or deflect or attempt to wear down perfectly clear rejections. As long as a No is plausibly deniable, it isn’t really a No; and if she didn’t really say No then you can’t possibly have done anything wrong.

In my very highly-rated, wealthy Connecticut high school – and in the pricey summer camps I went to during the summers – guys traded tips on getting laid. I know a lot of people hate this term, but a lot of what we told each other is best described as rape culture 101. One of the most popular strategies – at least, to talk about – was to take a girl for a drive and then pretend to run out of gas in some lonely spot. I’m not in high school any longer, but I would assume some guys still trade similar strategies today. What “strategies” like this teach boys is that the way to have sex is to put a girl in a situation in which she can be pestered until she finally stops saying “no” or resisting. I’m sure for most of us it was just talk; I’m also sure that a few did more than talk. This was not considered rape by any of us.

The TV show It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia captured this attitude perfectly:

Dennis: What do you mean, what do we need a mattress for? Why do you think we just spent all that money on a boat? The whole purpose of buying the boat in the first place was to get the ladies all nice and tipsy topside so we can take them to a nice comfortable place below deck, and, you know, they can’t refuse. Because of the implication.
Mac: Oh, uh, OK. You had me going there for the first part. The second half kind of threw me.
Dennis: Dude, dude, think about it. She’s out in the middle of nowhere with some dude she barely knows, she looks around, what does she see, nothing but open ocean. (Imitating female voice) “Oh, there’s nowhere for me to run. What am I going to do? Say no?”
Mac: OK. That seems really dark.
Dennis: Nah, it’s not dark. You’re misunderstanding me, bro.
Mac: I think I am.
Dennis: Yeah, you are. Because if the girl said no, the answer, obviously, is no. But the thing is she’s not gonna say no. She would never say no. Because of the implication.
Mac: Now, you’ve said that word “implication” a couple of times, what implication?
Dennis: The implication that things might go wrong for her if she refuses to sleep with me. You know, not that things are gonna go wrong for her, but she’s thinking that they will.
Mac: But it sounds like she doesn’t want to have sex with you.
Dennis: Why aren’t you understanding this?

This “implication” kind of rape – which is virtually never considered rape by the rapist – is commonplace. Find a vulnerable person, get her or him into a situation where it might be difficult to say “no,” and then persist until the victim becomes worn down and stops resisting.3

Sophia Katz, a young Canadian writer, wrote an essay describing how Stephen Tully Dierks,4 an editor she had exchanged emails with, invited her to stay with him in New York City. It was her first visit to New York, and she didn’t know anyone there, and she didn’t have many resources. The first night she managed to fend Dierks off. The second night he wore her resistance down:

That evening we were in his room sitting on his bed, and he began kissing me again. I felt unsure of how to proceed. I had no interest in making out with him or having sex with him, but had a feeling that it would ‘turn into an ordeal’ if I rejected him. I had never been in a situation where I was living with someone for a period of time who wanted to have sex with me, that I didn’t want to have sex with. I knew I had nowhere else to stay, and if I upset him that I might be forced to leave. We continued kissing and I felt like vomiting. He took off my clothes and I felt like wrapping myself in one million layers of plastic. He seemed to be ‘preparing’ to have sex with me, and I imagined becoming invisible. Suddenly I heard the lock on the apartment door click, and all four of his roommates entered.

“Wait, Stan we can’t. Everyone just got home; they will definitely hear,” I said, hoping this was a way out.

“No they won’t. It’s fine. Let’s keep going.”

“No, I think they will. I really don’t want to if your roommates are home. We really shouldn’t.”

“No, it’s fine. We should. We should. Let’s keep going.”

“Stan, please can we just do this later. Your walls are really thin.” I felt tears welling up in my eyes and tried to dissolve them. I didn’t want to do it later. I didn’t want to do it ever. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I wanted to leave, but I was trapped with him in his tiny, dimly lit room.

“No, we should keep going. Let’s keep going.”

He got on top of me. I began to relinquish control.

Was that rape? I sure think so. Was it legally rape? It’s ambiguous. She said no, again and again – but then she stopped resisting.

This is an ambiguous area in the law, and arguably a loophole in our current sexual assault law, and in our cultural idea of what constitutes rape. If you can just get her or him to stop resisting, if you wear her or him down, then you can have sex without consent and pretend it isn’t rape.

Shutting that loophole is what Affirmative Consent is about. Shutting the loophole legally, and – as one among many steps – shutting it culturally. It is part of the larger “yes means yes” movement to make people understand that merely because someone doesn’t resist (or did resist, but stopped) doesn’t mean they’ve consented.

It’s also important to realize that many people – but especially young guys who don’t know much about sex – have absorbed the cultural (and legal) message that lack of resistance equals consent. As long as this attitude is prevalent, committing rape doesn’t require being as overtly venal as the character from “The Implication.” It merely means being able to lie to yourself a little in pursuit of sex; being willing to ignore the signs of fear or freezing up or displeasure because they haven’t actually said “no,” or they did say “no” but that was several minutes ago. The British psychiatrist Nina Burrowes, who studies and writes about sexual assault, describes in this video (start at 5:03) how many rapists genuinely don’t think of themselves as rapists or want to be rapists. For these cases, making it clear, legally and culturally, that lack of resistance isn’t consent could actually rescue some people from committing rape – a benefit for both them and their victims.5

Is the law perfect? No, of course not. No matter what the law says, many rapes will be unprosecutable. That’s just the way it is; not all crimes can be proven. But that’s true of any imaginable rape law, not something unique to Affirmative Consent.

My major objection to the California law is that it doesn’t provide enough protections to the accused student; for instance, she or he should have a protected right to have an advocate and adviser present at all hearings, the right to consult a lawyer, the right to have a representative question witnesses. She or he should, in short, have guarantees of due process. However, this means that California law should be amended to guarantee due process for accused students (all accused students, not just those accused of rape); it doesn’t mean that Affirmative Consent itself is a bad idea.

Okay, now that I’ve explained the need I think this law is addressing, in my next post I’ll actually reply to Ben.

  1. Actually, let me just say straight out: Some of the people applying the law will be sexist, just as some people applying the previous law were sexist. This includes some college administrators who aren’t concerned enough with protecting accused male students’ rights, and who aren’t willing to recognize rape of male students as a problem. This is a serious problem – but the solution is to address the sexism, not to oppose Affirmative Consent. Repealing this law won’t make the sexism go away. []
  2. Lisa Sendrow has chosen to publicly discuss her rape under her own name, in order to better help other rape victims. More information here. []
  3. The cartoonist Uli Lust, in her in her autobiography, depicts herself as a young girl hitchhiking across Italy – and man after man rapes her using this strategy. As one especially blatant man told Uli, “We are far away from any village in the mountains. It is dark and cold outside, and it is raining. You can choose, either we have sex together, or you leave this house right now and sleep on the stones.” []
  4. One of Dierks’ roommates has supported Sophia Katz’s account, and another woman has come forward with an account of being raped by Dierks almost identical to Katz’s. Dierks, it should be noted, didn’t deny Sophia’s story but said that he thought she had consented. Predictably, some people have criticized Sophia Katz’s actions and blamed her for her rape. []
  5. I’m not saying this is the case for ALL rapists. I suspect some readers will respond as if I’ve said that all rapists just misunderstand what’s going on, and if we could only explain rape clearly they’d stop raping. Clearly that’s not the case. But if there are marginal rapists whose behavior could, in fact, be influenced by making it clear that lack of resistance doesn’t equal consent, then making that marginal change is a reasonable thing to do. []
Posted in Rape, intimate violence, & related issues | 214 Comments  

Cartoon: Trans Bills


Thanks to Grace, who was super helpful in writing this cartoon, and also suggested the word avalanche in panel 3. :-)


This cartoon features two characters: A woman in a striped skirt and a black sleeveless shirt, and a stereotypical businessman carrying a little briefcase.

Panel 1
WOMAN: I’m ready to be true to myself and transition… I’m a woman!
MAN: (Handing her a small piece of paper) Okay! Here you are!

Panel 2
WOMAN: What’s this?
MAN: It’s a bill for changing your name and gender on your birth certificate.
WOMAN: That’s not so bad.

Panel 3
The man isn’t shown in this panel, but from his direction, a flood of little bills shoots at the woman. The man’s dialog fills so much space in this panel that it looks like the woman is in danger of being buried under it.
MAN: And a bill for surgery. And a bill for a legal name change. And a bill for hormone treatment. And a bill for a new passport. And an electrolysis bill. And the bill for updating your social security info. And a bill for yet another surgery, which you’ll need to take months off from work to recover from. And bills for a new wardrobe. And voice lessons. And…

Panel 4 (last panel)
The woman looks shellshocked as she holds a huge armload of bills. The man holds out yet another slip of paper to her.
WOMAN: I didn’t realize my true self was so deeply in debt…
MAN: Oh, look a note from your boss! It turns out that firing people for being trans is still legal.

Tiny “kicker” panel inset in panel 4
MAN: And did you know about the wage gap?
WOMAN: Please stop talking.

Posted in Cartooning & comics, Transsexual and Transgender related issues | 4 Comments  

First Approximations

Fantastic Leaf-tailed Gecko / Satanic Leaf-tailed Gecko

I once saw a good friend of mine by chance in line at a restaurant.  He was facing away, but I know him well, and I was confident from his height, the color of his hair, the set of his shoulders, his clothing style, that it was him.  I walked over and was about to say, “Hey, Tom!  What are you doing here?” when he turned to look at something out the window and I saw that it was not my friend after all.  I’d had excellent reason to suppose that he was Tom, but once I had more evidence I knew better.

And I knew that the person had never been Tom.  He did not go from being Tom to being not-Tom.  He was never Tom.

When I was a child, my Grandpa sometimes let me help him in his wood shop.  On one occasion, he told me to get him a piece of white oak.  I went and got a piece.  It felt good, to be helping my Grandpa, and I loved the smell of the sawdust and the wood stains.  When I handed him the wood, he smiled and explained that I had brought him white pine.  I had remembered him describing some of the wood in his storage area as “white” something, and had made a mistake.  He showed me how light it was, and how he could mark it with his fingernail, and he explained that it rotted easily, while white oak was dense and much harder, and reluctant to rot.

And I understood, even as a child, that the piece of wood I had brought him had never been white oak.  It did not go from being white oak to being white pine.  It was white pine all along.

Where I grew up, there were lizards which we called “bluebelly lizards”.  On top, they were a rough mottled sandy color, but their bellies were a light shade of blue.  If you were quick enough, and the day was cold enough, you could catch them and then hold them upside-down and look at their bellies.  And if you did, sometimes they froze in place.  They pretended to be dead.  If you didn’t see them before they feared your proximity, you would not know that they were alive.  But if you let them go, they flipped over and ran away.  I later learned that they are not unique; many lizards play dead, as a survival strategy.  Though I didn’t understand it in these terms at the time, I now know that they’re just pretending to be dead because past evidence1 has shown them that their chance of survival is better if they seem dead than if they seem alive.  So they play dead, because they don’t want to actually die.

And I knew, even as a child, that they had never been dead.  They did not go from being dead to being alive.  They were alive the whole time.

There was no shame in any of these “mistakes.”  They were reasonable conclusions, based on imperfect knowledge, incomplete evidence.  They were first approximations.  They all turned out to be erroneous, but that’s in the nature of first approximations; if they were always right, we could call them final conclusions.

I once met a woman who looked like a man.  She apparently had a man’s body, under her man’s clothes.  She had what sounded like a man’s voice.  She had facial hair.  But after awhile she transitioned to live openly as herself.  Her transition was difficult and expensive and awkward, and it was probably difficult for people to understand why on earth she would go through all that.  But I understood. She was doing what she had to do to live whole.  I understood that she was a woman.

And I knew that she had never been a man.  She did not go from being a man to being a woman.  She was a woman the whole time.2


  1. in the aggregate result of millions of generations of evolution []
  2. “…from the standpoint of people who reject the gender they were assigned at birth, transition and its related activities can be seen as taking what has been inside and bringing it out into the world for others to experience. The brain is ordered, it is simply that the brain’s orderliness is obscured for others by the screen of our bodies. …transition isn’t changing so much as revealing.”
    —Diana Powe, retired police officer, trans woman []
  3. I am indebted to Barry Deutsch, who suggested many edits, and made this a much better piece than it would have been. []
Posted in Transsexual and Transgender related issues | 22 Comments  

I’ll be in Salt Lake City tonight and tomorrow

I’ll be in Salt Lake City for the Utah Humanities Book Festival tonight (Friday) and tomorrow. If you’re an “Alas” reader who’d like to have dinner with me tonight or breakfast on Saturday, please get in touch (via barry dot deutsch at gmail dot com ).

Posted in About the Bloggers | Leave a comment  

Violent Rape Threats Are An Infringement On Free Speech

Bellechere, a professional costumer and popular cosplayer, has posted that she won’t be attending New York Comic Con, despite having a pass.

A man who didn’t like me saying that I cosplay for myself, not for other people, threatened extreme physical violence against me if I went to NYCC. He even went so far as to brag about his SO being in the NYPD, so he’d ‘get away with it’. My local authorities shrugged and told me there was nothing they could do (even though I tracked down the man’s name and home address). The NYPD gave me a run-around on the phone that resulted in nothing but wasted time. ReedPop refused to answer any concerned emails I sent them. So, while I don’t want to back down and let a bully win, I’m not exactly wanting to be knocked out and raped (his threats) either.

In an update, Bellechere reports that ReedPop (the company that runs NYCC) finally got in touch with Bellechere after Bellchere’s post – apparently they are saying that her previous emails (sent through their online “contact us” form) were not received.

Re: FBI. Friends of mine (cosplayers who have had similar threats/stalker issues) who have tried to involve the FBI regarding online threats/harassment have had extremely little luck in being taken seriously. For one friend it took over a year to get a simple restraining order. I dealt with a lot of anxiety when this was happening, and I didn’t have the time or energy to be put through another fruitless run-around. Needless to say, I’m extremely jaded regarding the justice system.

~ That said, ‘justice’ dealt by the people (ex: ‘outing’ the man by releasing name and address) is something I’ve been dissuaded from. When I approached the authorities regarding this, they told me not to rally people against this person, or I could be charged with organized harassment.

[...]We live in a world where ‘she was asking for it’ is still used as an excuse to sexual assault when a woman is wearing tight/revealing clothing. You know that if something happened to me, while wearing one of my costumes, that’s exactly what people would say. The blame would be placed on me, for what I was wearing, rather than on the assailant.

I don’t know Bellechere, but what she’s gone through should make everyone in comics culture furious. I hate this shit, because it’s horrible that bullies win, because misogyny sucks, and also because as a comics professional I want the comics community to be so much better than this.

In the past, when I’ve gotten into arguments about threats like those against Bellechere, I’ve been told that they shouldn’t be subject to legal penalty because free speech. There is a reasonable concern about the possibility of government overreach, although that concern can be overstated.

But the most relevant free speech issue here is that Bellechere’s right to free speech. Somehow, people rarely seem as concerned about Bellechere’s free speech as they are about the free speech of the people making the threats. Bellechere has effectively lost her right to free speech when she’s chased away from public events by rape threats that our legal system refuses to address. Let’s begin protecting free speech by addressing Bellechere’s lost right to free speech.

That the FBI and the NYC Police apparently refuse to take rape threats against a woman delivered over the internet seriously is no surprise, but it is appalling, disgusting, and misogynistic as hell. They should be ashamed. ReedPop, who runs NYCC, should be ashamed, embarrassed, apologetic, and falling all over themselves to explain how they’re going to fix this so Bellechere can safely attend next year’s NYCC. (To their credit – and the credit of the feminist website The Mary Sue, which has been pushing NYCC on this issue – their website now sports a clear anti-harassment policy, and they’ve put up signs like this one at NYCC. But how vigorously they address the threats against Bellechere is one way we’ll know how seriously they’re taking their new policy.)

The comics community doesn’t have to belong to the sexual harassers and the dirtbags who make threats. It should belong to professionals who love comics and want it to be a place for all our fans, girls and women included. It should belong to fans, including fans like Bellechere, who show their love for the stories and characters by bringing their own creativity to cons. And it should belong to kids like my nieces Sydney (10) and Maddox (8), who love cosplaying at conventions and are big fans of well-known cosplayers like Bellechere. I hope they’ll continue being fans and cosplayers as they get older – and I damn sure hope that they never get threatened the way Bellechere’s been threatened.

The US already has laws against “true threats” which make it a felony to make a threat of violence that a reasonable person could take seriously. But our legal system refuses to take “true threats” delivered via the internet seriously. That must change. The person who threatened Bellechere should be arrested, should be enjoined with threat of prison from ever again contacting Bellechere or being within 500 feet of her, and very possibly should spend time in prison (or perhaps a halfway house or some form of mandated therapy). Until that can happen, Bellechere and others who are threatened will not have full access to their free speech. And that is the most pressing free speech issue here.

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Some recommended reading regarding misogynistic threats on the internet:

Trouble at the Koolaid Point — Serious Pony (Very long but worth reading). (If you’re not familiar with the context for this one, you can read the author’s – Kathy Sierra’s – Wikipedia entry.)

The Next Civil Rights Issue: Why Women Aren’t Welcome on the Internet – Pacific Standard: The Science of Society

Let’s Be Real: Online Harassment Isn’t ‘Virtual’ For Women

When Misogynist Trolls Make Journalism Miserable for Women – Conor Friedersdorf – The Atlantic

Posted in Cartooning & comics, Feminism, sexism, etc, Free speech, censorship, copyright law, etc., Rape, intimate violence, & related issues | 24 Comments