Tag Archives: queer

Sister Mine, by Nalo Hopkinson

sister-mine

  • Genre
    • Urban Fantasy, Afro-Caribbean Fantasy
  • Plot summary
    • Makeda deals with family drama, an ailing father, and growing up. It’s a little harder to do all that when your father is a disgraced nature spirit, your twin sister is a demi-goddess, and you’re the token mundane in an extremely magical family.
  • Character empathy rating
    • The characters in this are not only empathetic, but extremely likable. Makeda in particular has an individuality that I look for in all my favorite books. So often I’ll like every character in a book except the protagonist, who is just paper. Makeda is a snarky, impulsive, pig headed hot mess who reminds me of some of my best friends, and I want to go have a coffee and craft store friends date with her.
  • Tone: What’s it Like to Read This Book?
    • Fun! Even though things get serious and you will worry for the characters (the last few chapters will fly by), this book feels like an extroverted childhood friend; wild and bouncy yet deeply comfortable.
    • It’s also completely original. There wasn’t a single page where I felt like I was following something that could appear in any other urban fantasy novel, which is such a relief. I love the genre in theory, but, like much of fantasy writing, it can get mired in cliche and formula, when it should showcase human imagination at it’s wildest. 
    • And while it’s light and fun, it’s not shallow. The characters have rich inner lives, and when the scenes turn towards ancient magic, it really does feel like you’re seeing something just beyond normal human ken. Makeda’s arc is well constructed, and the end of her story left me thinking, in the best way.
  • Other Shiny Stuff
    • Jimi Hendrix’s guitar is a character. He’s great
    • Also features Death as a favorite, if somewhat stiff uncle
    • A child medium scene where the kid was actually written. Half the time even kids in realistic fiction don’t feel at all like real kids, so I’ve come to peace with the fact that fantasy-novel magical kids are going to talk like tiny Yodas. Then Nalo Hopkinson comes along and completely nails a normal child who happens to channel the voices of the most eldrich gods.
    • A nursing home that has to deal with constant invasions of deer and raccoons because it’s the personification of the primal life force in there, and he kind of can’t help calling nature to his side.
    • Bisexual representation! Nalo Hopkinson is really good in general if you’re looking for some good queer fantasy
  • Content Warnings
    • There’s some consensual incest that isn’t nearly as off-putting as it sounds. Like, you know how, in classic myths, half the gods are technically married to their siblings and then cheat on them with sexy horses and stuff? This book… plays with how that would play out in a modern era. It doesn’t sound like it should work, but it totally does.
  • Quotes
    • “Beauty and ingenuity beat perfection hands down, every time.”
    • “I’m going to check the world’s best source for spawning new urban legends, the Internet. What, you thought I couldn’t even type? The Web is just another threshold between one world and another.”
    • “When your elders are millennia-old demigods, you’d best take the injunction to respect your elders seriously.”
    • “Why? Because I played god with you? Baby girl, that’s what I do. And not lightly, either.” He thought about that for a second. “Well, yes, sometimes lightly. You know what they say about all work and no play.”

Book Review: Ash, by Malinda Lo

ash

What it’s about: Ash is born to a fairy-believing mother and a skeptical father, in a land where fairy tales are warnings. When her parents die and she is left with a cruel stepmother, Ash finds her broken heart pulling her to the fairies’ world. If she follows it, she might never come back.

A retelling of Cinderella, with a sapphic love interest.

Praise: This book was captivating. The fairies are constructed to have a genuinely otherworldly feel. Lots of authors try that, and most don’t succeed nearly as well as Malinda Lo does here. The worldbuilding worked very well, as did the characterization of all the characters, especially the main one. I loved the romance. I loved the suspense. I loved the way the story unfurled slowly, but didn’t drag for even a paragraph.

Criticism: It’s a fairly loose Cinderella adaptation. The conclusion departs from the fairy tale a lot, and I did find that a little disappointing when I realized there wouldn’t be a shoe scene. But I got over that fairly quickly. The ending was still beautiful and satisfying in its own right, and when I closed the book I was extremely happy.

Recommended? It’s Cinderella with lesbians. Of course I recommend it!

An Open Letter to Mattea: Love and Truth and the Survivor’s Bias

Hello again Mattea,

As promised, here’s a full post’s worth of a response to your comment on my Screwtape Letters review. Sorry for the delay; I’ve been a bit preoccupied with the political situation. In my post I took apart Lewis’ explanation of why sex outside of marriage is condemned, and I noted that I’ve never heard another good reason for why sex is bad, or bad outside of that specific context. You gave your explanation, and it makes sense from your perspective, but it doesn’t really contain anything that’s convincing to somebody who doesn’t already believe in, not only Jesus, but your specific interpretation of Jesus, love, and purity.

Hopefully you can see that yourself, and I don’t have to spell out why; if you’d like a fuller explanation let me know in the comments. That doesn’t really bother me because you also said you won’t tell somebody else how to live their life. As I said in that chapter, if you have made a person decision to remain a virgin until marriage, based on your understanding of your own religion, I have no problem whatsoever with that. I don’t think you’re a loser or missing out, as you seemed to think I might. Props to you for living life your own way; my only issue is with people who let their religion dictate somebody else’s sex life. Since that’s not you, we have no problem.

The part I really want to respond to starts here.

“But as a Christian, I have a deep desire to see the lives around me experience the same joy and love and peace that I have in Jesus.”

You were homeschooled, I was homeschooled, you mentioned you’re twenty-one and you have been a Christian your whole life (or at least you’ve been Christian 21 years and you are a college student, correct me if I jumped to the wrong conclusion there). I can relate to that. I was only a little younger than you when I left the faith. So much of what you said resonated with my memories of how I used to think, and particularly with my ideas of what the world outside was like. Because my access to that world was very limited, I had a lot of misconceptions about life from somebody else’s perspective.

You were willing to be very personal about your experiences and perspectives, so what I really want to do isn’t argue, so much as share what life has been like for me, growing up the way you did and then seeing another side.

For example, you said, “whenever I hear people’s stories about how they left the church, they [didn’t] believe God exists, or [they] ‘fell away.'” I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of the survivor’s bias. The classic example is WWII planes, where they tried to determine structural weaknesses in bombers by analyzing the bullet holes in aircraft that returned from missions. But however much they reinforced those areas, the number of planes shot down never changed, until they realized their mistake. They were looking at the bullet holes in the planes that survived. This gave them no information about why planes fell down.

In the church, you hear conversion stories, or stories about falling away and returning to the fold. Ministers and evangelists often assume these stories are typical of people’s experiences in the secular world, but they aren’t representative at all. And, for the record, atheist activists also make this mistake. They hear stories of former believers who had traumatic, toxic experiences, and assume that is representative of all believers. Again, it’s not that simple. This is why I don’t proselytize anymore. I want everyone in the world to be happy, loved and fulfilled; I don’t presume the journey there will look the same for everyone.

So here’s my deconversion story, which I share not to convince you to leave Christianity, but just so you’ll know something of the data that you aren’t being exposed to.

My faith was built on three things. First was a model of how the world worked. It was extremely self-referential, but it still had its own internal logic. Everything held up, but every piece was dependent on every other piece. Second was a community of people who all lived according to the same framework. Third was a handful of experiences that seemed to confirm a few of those pieces, and, by extension, the entire framework.

Yes, I too had experiences that, at one point, I thought made my beliefs unassailable.  There was a time when I was walking to an acting class, and I felt extremely anxious. I prayed, and felt a presence standing beside me. There was a time when I was confirmed, and I felt like I was about to step out of my body and soar. I thought this must be the Holy Spirit alighting on me. There were many times when I spoke in tongues during church services, and there were times when someone came and delivered a message to me from God.

So, if I had experiences like this, why would I ever doubt? Well, for one thing, I learned about how people from other religions, ones I considered absolutely false or even inspired by demons, had similar experiences. I read scientific explanations for them; states of self-hypnosis, group mentalities, cold reading, altered consciousness inspired by social pressure, etc. Learning this was positively creepy, because once I knew it, I had three choices.

Number one; I could believe that, of all the religions and denominations out there, one was divine and the rest were inspired by Satan, who was mimicking God’s work. This was comforting as long as I assumed I was in the right one, but the more I thought about the mathematics of that, the more terrifying this idea was. After all, the false, Satan-inspired religions outnumbered the one true faith, and most people blindly follow whatever religion they were raised in. Statistically, what were the real odds that I had happened to be born into the one true religion? If I assumed Satan could mimic God, I could never be sure I was following good and not evil.

Number two; believe that God existed, but was not the exclusively Protestant Christian God I had been raised with. He was in, if not all religions, than most of them, and if you got some details about his life wrong he wouldn’t hold it against you, so long as your heart was in the right place. This seemed sensible, comforting, and deeply blasphemous. If I chose to believe this, I could never admit it to the Christians around me. They were the sort of people who genuinely believed Catholics and Mormons were going to hell; to propose that God might speak through Islam or Hinduism or even Wiccan was as good as abandoning our religion altogether.

Number three; believe the materialistic scientists were right. All of this was a consequence of a brain that was easily deceived by social pressure and my own expectations.

As I read more about the way these feelings of mine could be simulated by stage magicians and fake psychics, the last seemed more and more likely. Also, I noticed disturbing patterns in the way all my churches talked about evidence for the supernatural. If a story was hard to confirm, it was by far more compelling and fantastic than any that I could confirm. People had stories of a friend of a friend of a friend who was healed of cancer, or prayed a man back to live. But nobody I knew was ever healed. Oh, but that was fine! God and mysterious ways and plans and all that. Meanwhile, I had the evidence of the divinely inspired outbursts people had in church; prophecies and messages from God and speaking in tongues. Of course, a stranger walking in might say that these people were just improvising and believing they were inspired by God because of social pressure…

It was all right to have evidence for God, but nobody was allowed to talk about evidence against. If evidence lined up, it was repeated and celebrated. If it didn’t, it was dismissed on any excuse at all. This was problematic, because in my own personal life, I felt like God was letting me down.

Take that anxiety attack outside the acting class, for example. It was far from the worst I ever experienced. There were jobs I had to quit, events I had to miss, and days I spent unable to stop crying. Once I had an anxiety attack so bad I couldn’t move. I don’t remember how long, because I couldn’t even turn my head to look at a clock. I just lay on a couch, feeling like I was encased in a cement mold, crying in terror. None of those resulted in a comforting presence.

The explanation most consistent with Christianity was that God had sent me aid when I needed it but also gave me opportunities to grow on my own. But the truth is, I didn’t really need that acting class. I wanted it, but it didn’t change my life or create lasting friendships. The opportunities I missed because of anxiety attacks were more important than the one where God “saved” me.

Besides, what I really needed wasn’t a sense of an angel. I had a mental health problem, and I needed to see a doctor. I couldn’t drive because of my anxiety, and my parents were willfully blind to my condition. When I told my parents about the paralyzing attack, they said it was because I hadn’t eaten enough. They were obsessed with healthy diets, and that was their go-to explanation for any anxiety attack of mine. But I knew for a fact that I had eaten enough that day. I had been keeping track, and diet wasn’t helping. The experience taught me that my mind and my body could betray me, and my parents would not take it seriously. If God was there when I needed him most, why didn’t he tell my parents to take me to a doctor?

The explanation a scientist would give for all that, on the other hand, was that the anxiety outside the acting class was relatively mild because the circumstances weren’t overly triggering, and my disorder was less severe at that point. Because it was mild, I could fight it by envisioning a comforting image, which, because of my religious upbringing, I gave spiritual significance. Later, as my mental health deteriorated, I lost the ability to comfort myself. This makes more sense to me.

As I said, three things upheld my belief; models, experience and community. By now you have some understanding of how the experiences that once seemed ironclad evidence became flimsy excuses. Research also meant that I could see how other people understood the world differently. I could see other models that people had, and how in many ways they explained the world better than mine. What remained was community, and that scared me. Because the truth was, my place in the community was entirely dependent on my faith. I could not exist among my old friends and family as an unbeliever, as a person with an adjusted model.

Remember how I described that model? How circular and self-referential it was, and how it stood on its own but moving or removing a single piece would send the whole thing crashing down? I envied those with other models, because they were malleable. They could be shifted around, repainted, parts replaced, replacement parts replaced again, and the whole thing still stood. They could learn that a certain part didn’t work, and make it into something better. I loved truth. I was afraid of going to hell if I happened to be wrong. So I decided to let my beliefs fall apart, and see if I could build up something better.

This was not when I lost my faith. This was when I remained in the church, but debated people, questioned my ideas, and tried to reform myself. It was also when I made new friends, and it was then that I discovered something. I had been miserable all along.

This is another statement of yours that got me.

Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ – Philippians 3:8

I’m only “preaching” to you because I want you to have what I have. He really is everything.

I remember feeling that way. I remember believing that nothing in my life was good except the love of Christ, and I’m not even talking about my anxiety disorder. I’m talking about something I had been raised with since birth; the understanding the only thing of any worth was the love of Jesus Christ. In prayer and worship I meditated on this and believed. In those moments of worship I felt an overwhelming love that I lived on.

That love was like candy. It was an intense, blissful sensation that produced energetic highs, and then let me crash down. It did not build me up into a strong, resilient person, because to believe myself worthy of God’s love I had to degrade myself as sinful (the irony of that worldview; I was filth, and only by acknowledging it wholeheartedly could I allow myself to feel the high of a God who loved me despite my worthlessness). My soul, for lack of a better word, was emaciated, an anorexic surviving on tic-tacs and glue. When I left the church for the company of unbelievers, the love they offered me was not the empty, worldly thing that had been described to me. It was a rough, flawed love, not an idealized one, but it had the nourishing qualities of crusty bread, crunchy apples and thick stew. The ideas and love I was encountering were soup and bread and apples and milk. Being seen as the weird, curious, queer boy I was, and loved for it, put meat back on my bones.

After years of questioning, I realized that atheism made more sense to me than any of the religions out there. It was a pragmatic decision. I am perfectly comfortable sharing the world with people who have religious beliefs. I am also comfortable with the idea that I might one day encounter new evidence that might change my mind. In the meantime, I am growing, I am learning, and I am loved.

And that’s what I, in turn, want for you. I don’t care whether you find it in Christianity or Buddhism or some other religion or abandoning religion altogether. If you have it now, I am happy to hear it. If you don’t, don’t be afraid to go looking for it.

Sincerely,

Lane William Brown

Book Review: The Devourers by Indra Das

the-devourers

What it’s about: A professor meets a strange man who claims to be half werewolf, and learns the terrible story of his family.

Praise: Full disclosure – I’m a sucker for werewolves. They are by far my favorite of the classic monsters. Unfortunately, I don’t think the average movie or book uses them well. Werewolves don’t just scare. They explore nature, civilization, shifting identities and humanity itself. Unfortunately, ninety percent of werewolf stories feel more like the author wrote a vampire story, decided it wasn’t original enough, then hastily changed it. Still, when an author tries to do something properly werewolfy, the result is some of the best stories horror has to offer.

This book firmly belongs in that latter category. It makes you equal parts terrified, fascinated and in love with its subject. It is philosophical, but not the measured philosophy of lecture halls. It’s the trembling, awestruck philosophy of the mad hermit in the woods. It is gory, but not the sickening splatter of modern slasher. It’s the strangely elegant gore of Gothic horror.

On a less pretentious note, I loved the plot and the characters. The viewpoint characters all had beautifully distinct voices. It drives me mad when a story shifts between multiple first person POVs and I lose track of who is talking. I never had that problem with this book.

Also, on one more personal note, there are multiple non-stereotypical queer characters. I can’t say any more without spoilers, but I was happy and I think other LGBTQ readers will be too.

Criticism: For the first few chapters, when I wasn’t sure where this was going, it was a little slow. It was well worth pushing through, though. Once things came together, I didn’t want to put it down.

Also, content warning, this books contains violence, anthropophagy (I feel wrong calling it cannibalism given how the shapeshifters insist they aren’t human) and a rape scene. Even the latter, though, avoids the common pitfalls. In a book full of sexual imagery, it’s one of the few scenes devoid of eroticism. There’s no “well, it wasn’t really proper rape because….” Instead, the book insists that, despite how the attacker frames it, it was rape, because he did not give the victim the opportunity to consent. The victim is actually characterized as an interesting and sympathetic human being, not just a tool of the story. The scene is necessary to the plot, not just there to add drama or titillation. All other writers, take note.

Recommended? If intense, brutal and beautiful is up your alley, then yes, very much recommended.

An Open Letter to Gary Johnson, on Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, the GOP and LGBT Rights

Dear Gary Johnson,

Google, in it’s infinite algorithmic wisdom, has decided to throw an ad of yours my way, several times over the last few weeks. It can be summarized as, “vote for me, I supported gay marriage before Hillary Clinton did.” Initially I treated the way I treat most sidebar ads; I glanced then ignored. Then I found myself mildly irritated by it, and every time I saw it, I thought a little more about that irritation. And now here we are, with me ranting on the internet.

First of all, I looked up the date you came out to publically support gay marriage. I got December 1, 2011. Hillary Clinton supported civil unions but opposed marriage back in 2003, but changed to fully supporting equal marriage rights in March of 2013 (references in same link). So congratulations; you beat her by a full fifteen months. A baby went from lying in a crib to kind-of walking in the time it took for Hillary to catch up to your courageous public support of my love life.

Second, it doesn’t really bother me that Hillary Clinton played it safe back in the day. She’s been politically active for a long time, and her stances on numerous issues have evolved with the times. I’m okay with that, because I’m not naive. In her case, I’m especially inclined to forgive, because while she’ll bow and pander and obfuscate to get power, she then uses that power to do awesome stuff. She has fought hard for healthcare, environmentalism and women’s rights.

And no, it doesn’t bother me that you weren’t always openly pro-gay either.

That brings me to my third point. Your accomplishments, as far as LGBTQ rights go, consist of, well, saying you aren’t against them. The tide of public opinion on gay marriage turned quickly. You jumped into the water a year before Hillary Clinton did. But while you paddled in the shallows, she struck out swimming.

She even started working for us ever unpopular transgender people. As Secretary of State, she pushed through legislation that enabled trans people to get passports that affirmed their gender without jumping through medical hoops. Imagine life with an ID that can out you, that can expose you to violence. Imagine needing a surgery to get that ID changed, and needing a job to pay for the surgery, and being denied the job because your ID outs you as transgender. Long before I knew who was responsible, I knew a trans woman who carried her passport with her all the time. She carried it because she didn’t “pass” well, because she sometimes did get attacked, because the security of a gender affirming government-issued ID was something she needed daily. The passport bill is the kind of work Hillary is best at; small, not too glamorous, but with significant practical benefits for real human beings.

To this day, if you go to her plan on her website, you see trans issues explicitly spelled out. She will fight for our rights in bathrooms, as she will also fight gender conversion therapy, appoint Supreme Court Justices who will uphold our newly won marriage rights, and continue to vocally, openly support us.

I couldn’t find any evidence of your support for trans rights, or that you’ve even mentioned them. I don’t see what you say about conversion therapy. You are socially liberal, but fiscally conservative. When you pick the new Supreme Court Justice, which will be your priority? Do you already have a list of highly qualified judges who are your fellow libertarians? If you can’t get one, would you appoint someone who is socially and fiscally liberal? Or will your primary concern be appointing someone in favor of “small government” even when that means making the government too small to protect people like me?

Those are the questions that concern me, a person who has to live in this country while being queer. Not “who liked us before we were cool?”

Fourth, why the hell are you criticizing Hillary Clinton at all? She’s not the person I’m afraid of. I’m afraid of the party who, this year, reached new lows in their vehement opposition of LGBTQ rights. I’m scared of the people who are actively anti-gay marriage, not the one whose support of it is only three years old. I’m scared of the party that grins approvingly at conversion therapy and would refuse to let me adopt a child.

I’m scared of the fucking Republicans.

It’s possible you’ve got ads targeting the GOP and appealing to young, gay-friendly Republicans, and I just haven’t seen them because Google knows I’m not a Republican. It’s possible.

Although I do see an awful lot of pro-Trump ads these days though. So Google is letting Trump, Clinton and you being anti-Clinton through, but not you calling out Republicans on the most anti-LGBTQ platform yet? Yeah, that’s definitely more likely than you calling out the kettle and ignoring the pot.

What the hell, man?

All this together makes me think that, honestly, you don’t give a shit about people like me. You don’t see our rights as worthy of real time and action. But you’re happy to take credit for liking us, even if that means stealing votes for somebody who will actually make us a priority.

I think you can see why I’m a bit pissed.

Adam and Ronan

Raven Cycle spoilers ahead, but only for the Ronan/Adam subplot.

Maggie Stiefvater is rapidly climbing my list of favorite authors, and the conclusion of the Raven Cycle only solidified that. I was extremely nervous but completely satisfied; in fact I think The Raven King is my favorite in the series. I don’t want to ruin anything for those who haven’t read it yet, so for those who haven’t, I’ll only say that it’s a modern quest with beautifully broken protagonists, and one of the best fantasy series I’ve ever read. The first book is Raven Boys. Go get it.

There is a lot to praise, but there was one small aspect that stood out to me. In the end of the second book, The Dream Thieves, we find out that one protagonist, Ronan, is gay. We also learn he is in love with another protagonist, Adam. Up to this point, we’ve believed Adam is straight. That is, he briefly dated one of the female characters, and of the many things torturing him, doubts about his sexuality isn’t on the list. Maggie Stiefvater likes torturing her characters, so I was sure this wasn’t going to end well.

And yet, Adam realizes he wants to be with Ronan. This realization doesn’t come with a lot of anguish over how this shreds up his whole concept of who he is. Nobody dissects whether Adam is gay or bi or just gay for Ronan. He just falls in love with Ronan. The central issue isn’t their sexuality, but the fact that both are very damaged human beings, and there’s this question of whether they will help each other heal, or break each other further.

It’s not a coming out story. It’s just a love story.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Coming out  love stories are awesome. I love them. But I do get frustrated at the single story effect on gay romances. They’re always sad and anguished and full of this questioning of your fundamental identity. Many queer people have one story in their life that is like that, but some don’t, and even among those who do, it’s rarely the only love story they will live. Sometimes we just have regular romances, like straight people.

For once, I don’t really have a grand point to make. I’m just so pleased to see a gay romance that broke the mold, and also Ronan and Adam are fucking perfect.

LGBT or Gender Dysphoria; the DSM Controversy

I have noticed a pattern in my own blogging; I don’t tend to jump on issues that are currently major controversies. Striking while the iron is hot is hard for me to do when everyone else is trying to hammer away at the same lump. I don’t like the chaos of a lot of other voices, and I’m wary of the way my own prejudices towards or against the people arguing might obscure my ability to make up my own mind. One of my greatest fears is falling into the trap of believing what I believe because it conforms to the beliefs of people I like. I would rather wait until the iron has cooled, after the other smiths have wandered away, and examine what remains. If I think there’s some work left to be done, then I’ll reheat the iron myself and see if I can hammer out something in peace. It might not be the right thing, but at least I feel like I have space to think while I’m working.

Now that I have entirely exhausted that metaphor, let me resurrect a controversy from a year ago; the DSM’s continuing classification of transsexuality as a medical disorder in the DSM-5, albeit with the new name Gender Dysphoria and a new description of the diagnosis. This article by the Huffington Post covers it well, but in brief, the new diagnosis is almost universally regarded as an improvement, but the mere presence of transsexuality in a medical text is resented. At this time nobody is fighting too hard to entirely remove it, because without it trans people could not get insurance coverage, leaving transition out of the reach of the majority of trans people. Still, it is tolerated with a good deal of grumbling.

The association of being trans and being disordered goes back to the days when homosexuality was also considered a mental illness. Being transgender was considered an extension of homosexuality; the misconception that there is no difference between an extremely effeminate gay man or extremely butch lesbian still exists. It naturally follows, then that once the L, G, and B were no longer considered medical issues, the T should also cease to be a diagnosable condition.

Or does it? For one thing, as I just argued, the whole association between being gay and being trans was flawed to begin with. I identify as a man, but I am also attracted to men. My place in that acronym as a G is independent of my place as a T. Therefore, just because homosexuality is no longer a medical condition, that does not necessarily mean gender dysphoria needs to be removed from the DSM. Furthermore, there is a reason that homosexuality has been removed from the DSM while transsexuality hasn’t. Gay and bisexual people don’t need any therapy to live a productive, fulfilling life. They just need social acceptance. If society fully accepted trans people, if I no longer felt that I needed medical assistance to pass as male to protect myself in bathrooms and on the streets, would I still want hormones and surgery? Yes. Even concealed by binders, my chest bothers me. Surgery will heal me of that. Having taken testosterone makes me feel good when I look in a mirror. I used to feel dissociated from the person I saw. Now I actually see myself. Quite apart from any social issues, having a body that misaligned with my feelings about my identity caused me daily stress. Having a body that feels more like mine gives me daily relief. Medicine objectively helped me.

Now, I can think of three different problems with considering trans people disabled. First, many trans people love their bodies, love their place in the queer community, and don’t want to be pathologized. Second, having a disability is highly stigmatized, and trans people have enough irrational prejudices to deal with without adding ableism to the mix. Third, there’s a fear that consenting to be labelled with a diagnosis will ultimately take power away from trans people to determine their own medication. Not every surgery or hormone is the best choice for every trans person, and worse, there’s the fear that someday, someone might invent a drug to stop trans people from being trans, a pill that would make every trans person’s mental gender align with the gender they were assigned based on their biology. These are all legitimate issues, but I have come to believe they are not sufficient to justify a crusade to remove transsexuality from the DSM.

The first is a case of personal identification. Many trans people don’t feel remotely disabled. Some don’t even desire any medical alteration, either because they identify outside of the gender binary entirely, or because, for whatever reason, they feel male or female enough without the intervention of hormones or surgeries. That is completely fine. If I have learned anything from the social justice community, it’s that there is no battle more doomed to failure than the fight to make people identify as something that that doesn’t feel right to them, just because the identity they currently have is inconvenient for your particular social mission. It’s also a cruel battle. I want a world where everybody respects everybody’s identity, provided that identity is not motivating them to violate somebody else’s safety or consent (I only bring this up in anticipation of an asshole who says, “what if somebody identifies as a serial killer or a rapist?” Go fuck yourself, hypothetical troll).

My argument against the first issue is not that trans people as individuals can’t have legitimate reasons for feeling they don’t belong into the category “disabled.” My argument is that in the world of disability activism, there is precedent for that. Much of my experience with disability comes from studying ASL for four years to work as an interpreter. This education focused on the culture as well as the language, and I had many d/Deaf friends, and even dated a deaf guy for a little while. The whole reason for that funny lowercase/uppercase split I did is that some people consider themselves disabled (like the guy I dated, who was lowercase deaf), and some people consider themselves part of a linguistic minority (and capitalize Deaf to show their pride in their identification). For those who live in predominately signing communities, the objective reality is that their experience is more like that of a linguistic minority than that of a disabled person. I don’t see why the trans community can’t accommodate the same sort of variable identification. For some individuals, “has gender dysphoria” describes how they feel about their bodies and their place in society; they are men or women who had to overcome a physical problem to live the lives they needed to. For others, an identification as queer works best, and many combine both.

The second one has a pragmatic logic, but on a moral level it bothers me. The argument is ultimately is at best accommodating ableism, and at worst actively ableist. Look at this quote I found on Yahoo answers, by someone who was delivering a Trans 101 that was otherwise very balanced and well informed;

“However, many (most?) folks who qualify for this diagnosis [Gender Identity Disorder] dislike the term. That is because being born transsexual or being transgender is NOT a disorder, they are natural variants. However, because of the stigma applied in the past it was labelled as such. Modern research over the last 25 years has more or less proven that people are in fact born this way.”

She is saying that trans people are unlike disabled people because they are natural and born that way. Well, many if not most disabled people are born that way, and in what objective sense are they unnatural? Disabilities often arise from genetic inheritance or mutations, which are entirely natural processes. And, once again, we are not different in the sense that we don’t sometimes need medical intervention to live our lives. She isn’t using natural in any objective sense, but in the same sense that a cultivated rose is “natural” but a two-headed snake is “unnatural.” She’s really just saying that being transgender is good and nice and fine but being disabled is bad and yucky. I’m not okay with that.

The third issue is actually one where disabled and transgendered people are actually natural allies. Whether it’s cochlear implants for d/Deafness or Ritalin for ADHD or SSRIs or prosthetics vs wheelchairs, disabled people are constantly faced with the issue of people believing that a particular cure is either something every person with condition X must have, or that it’s something unnatural and if you take it you are betraying the great movement of condition X positivity. The reality, for practically every cure that does not actually prevent premature death, is that there are pros and cons, side effects and new opportunities, and what is a good choice for one person may be a poor choice for another with the same condition. In nearly every disability 101 I have encountered, a key issue has been the right to self-determine treatment based on your individual needs. The sentiment that certain cures would take something away from who you are as a person is not uncommon. Deaf people, people with autism, some artists with manageable mood disorders are just a few examples, and again for every example there is someone else who would give anything to have been born without their disability. Similarly, some trans people would jump at the chance to be cis, while others, like myself, feel like being trans is part of who they are, and that losing it wouldn’t be an improvement, just changing who they are to make other people comfortable.

This is a massive article because I am trying to condense so many complex issues into one piece. As it is I feel I will need follow-ups and clarifications, and on that note if you have some objection to what I have said please leave a comment, so I can clarify or educate myself as needed. Ultimately, my point is this; the aim of trans activism is to convince people to accept our rights to self-determine our identities and our bodies, without scorn or alienation from people who find us distasteful for bigoted reasons that have nothing to do with our own well-being. This is a primary goal of many disabled activists as well; for non-life threatening conditions that have treatment options, this is often the primary goal. So rather than alienate ourselves from them, why not ally ourselves with them?

Hi, I’m Lane William Brown. I have been diagnosed with gender dysphoria. I  am really okay with that.

Rereading the Screwtape Letters as an Atheist; Part Thirteen

For several chapters now, Lewis and I have danced around the topic of Christian sexual morality. He says one thing that makes me cringe and brace myself for the topic. Then, instead of diving into it, he uses it as a springboard into something else entirely, and I am both relieved and disappointed. Relieved, because right now sex is arguably the most divisive issue when it comes to the battle between conservative Christians and everyone else and putting off the dive into that shitshow was okay by me. Disappointed, because I do care about the topic, and I think it’s important to say my piece on it. Now, in Chapter Eighteen, he finally gives me to chance to talk about what I think of the controversy.

“The Enemy’s demand on humans takes the form of a dilemma; either complete abstinence or unmitigated monogamy.”

Now, let me make one thing clear. If you personally are A. a virgin, B. a monogamously married person, or C. someone who is holding off on sex until marriage, nothing I am about to say is directed against you. In my ideal world, I would fold this chapter in with the ones on prayer and communion, because they are just about Christians doing Christian things. In the world I actually live in, the right wingers have put considerable effort into directly imposing their sexual mores onto people who do not share those convictions, using not only bullying but also legislation to ensure people who try to live their own lives are not left in peace. They ban gay marriage and poly marriage and create legal barriers to getting insurance to cover birth control. They make it as difficult as possible for teenagers to get real medical information in their sex ed, in an attempt to control their sexuality, despite studies showing that doesn’t stop teenagers from having sex so much as make the sex they do have much more risky. And then they have the audacity to accuse us of forcing our agenda down their throats. I don’t have any problems with somebody making the personal decision to not have sex, or not have sex outside of particular circumstances, but in this case I will speak against the logic and mores Lewis lays out, not because I want to convince anybody to abandon them, but because I want people to see how these are not mores that need to be encoded into our laws and imposed on the private lives of citizens.

I have been to a number of churches and heard many pastors, reverends, youth leaders and ordinary Christian adults speak on why they believe sex outside of marriage is so bad, and there really isn’t that much variation in their reasoning. Mostly they are either of the belief that sex is inherently evil, and only in the context of marriage is it sanctioned as a necessary evil, or they believe that it is inherently good, but it is intended only to produce loving relationships within marriages. Lewis is part of the latter group, and he elaborates on that reasoning in a way that I don’t think many conservative Christians would disagree with.

“The whole philosophy of Hell rests on recognition of the axiom that one thing is not another thing, and, specially, that one self is not another self. My good is my good and your good is yours. What one gains another loses… Now the Enemy’s philosophy is nothing more nor less than one continued attempt to evade this very obvious truth. He aims at a contradiction. Things are to be many, yet somehow also one. The good of one self is to be the good of another. This impossibility He calls Love… His real motive for fixing on sex as the method of reproduction among humans is only too apparent from the use he has made of it. Sex might have been, from our point of view, quite innocent. It might have been merely one more mode in which a stronger self preyed upon a weaker – as it is, indeed, among spiders where the bride concludes her nuptials by eating her groom. But in the humans the Enemy has gratuitously associated affection between the parties with sexual desire. He has also made the offspring dependent on the parents and given the parents an impulse to support it – thus producing the Family, which is like the organism, only worse; for the members are more distinct, yet also united in a more conscious and responsible way. The whole thing, in fact, turns out to be simply one more device for dragging in Love.”

Lewis cares a lot about logic. He fundamentally believes that faith is not only religious, but also rational, and whenever possible he justifies his assertions with tight syllogistic reasoning. Despite this love of logic, if you look carefully at the above, he says nothing about marriage or monogamy or virginity. On the next page, he will skip right to the assertion that once two people have slept together they must be married monogamously forever, seemingly completely oblivious to the fact that he, with all his concern for logic, never gave any reason why that would be so.

If anything, he gives an excellent argument for promiscuity. He is literally saying that sex is physically associated with love, that God is love and that God desires us all to be lovingly united. The conclusion that we should all unite in a planet-wide orgy to bring the kingdom of heaven down to Earth follows more logically from his premises than the conclusion he actually reaches.

And, in fact, his line of reasoning is not too far from my reason for being very sex positive. While, depending on context, sex isn’t always loving, it is often an expression of love, in the sense of “I want to do a thing with you that makes us both feel happy and connected and good.” The fact that I had sex in the context of relationships that ended doesn’t negate the fact that it was an act of love. It’s entirely possible to have a short term relationship where you really care about each other, and then you find you aren’t compatible in the long run and the most loving thing you can do is walk away. While that relationship existed, it was loving and good, and the sex was part of that. If God is supposed to be all about love, why is that condemned? I have still never heard a good reason articulated.
There are times when mores found in religion are also encoded in our laws. We can generally agree that killing other people should be avoided. Thievery is also generally frowned upon. These things are legally prosecuted because they are actually objectively bad things for society. You can explain why they are bad without resorting to religion. When it comes to things that some religions condemn, but that can’t be logically proven to be good or bad without religion, a nation that takes separation of church and state seriously will not make the religion into law. They will allow people to decide to follow what their faith dictates if they so desire, but they will not give members of that religion the power to impose their beliefs on those who do not share them. That is why Lewis’ failure to logically articulate his belief matters today. If this is the best he can do, that has some obvious implications for what our laws are currently doing wrong.

Next Lewis has Screwtape go into marriages, happy and otherwise, and why being in love is a big fat trap of the devil. I have more to say on that, but because this is already a full blog post’s worth of thoughts, I feel forced to break this chapter up into two parts. It seems appropriate, really, given that Lewis himself could not reasonably connect point A with point B. I apologize for any grumpiness that may have come across in this post, but have I mentioned that I’d really like to get married in Virginia someday?

My Response to the Lady Who Thinks All Marriages are Between Traditional Straight Couples, Part 2; the Nitpicker’s Edition

As I said previously, this is directly a response to this blog. Part one had my overview with what was wrong with what she said, so now it’s time to break Kimes’ advice down point by point, because I am nothing if not thorough in my overthinking.

“1.  Have a hot meal ready for your man when he gets home from work. Let’s face it, I’m a busy woman, and I don’t always have time to cook. But if I don’t think I’ll have the time that night, I’ll have my cook prepare something, or I will pick something up.”

There are two issues with this advice. First, she assumes that a hot meal is going to mean the same thing to everyone as it does to herself and her husband. Second, she assumes everyone has the capacity to have a hot meal every night. It’s almost hilarious how she casually mentions her cook, like “oh, you don’t have one? You should go talk to your friends at the yacht club; they’re bound to have a good recommendation.” Meanwhile, on planet Teacher’s Salary, we find spouses who can live with leftover lasange tonight.

Probably the best advice I have ever heard for any kind of close relationship, friend, family or significant other, is to first out what makes the other person feel loved. Don’t rely on the cliched “nice things.” Those are for the coworkers who you don’t know that well but who you need to do something nice for because it’s their birthday/retirement/their mother just died. If you’re in a close, personal relationship with someone, you should be basing your nice things on what works for the relationship between the two of you. For some people, a warm meal ready is the nicest gesture possible. Other people don’t care if it’s PBJ on paper plates tonight, so long as the two of you can snuggle on the couch and watch How I Met Your Mother on the Netflix account.

Hot on the heels of that advice is that one of the first steps in taking care of others is taking care of yourself. I don’t care how nice the meal is, I want to have it with someone who is happy and healthy, not someone stressed out by the pressure of working two jobs while still rushing home to cook three courses and clean up, every single day. That will absolutely break a marriage, especially if the work starts to be taken for granted and the cook feels unappreciated for their effort. I’m glad Dr. Kimes and her husband found a gesture of love that works for everyone. For everyone else out there; find your own. Don’t feel like you need to do what someone else is doing to have a successful relationship.

“2. Don’t be a prude in the bedroom. Of course, I am not encouraging you to go out and have a threesome, BUT keep an open mind to the new things that your husband wants to try. Don’t be so quick to say “no.” Take pleasure in pleasing your man. And please try not to ever go to sleep angry.”

Oh god, no. Okay, there is the seed of a good thought in this idea. For a lot of people, opening up and trying new things in the bedroom is a great way to stay connected and happy. Sex is awesome and you and your partner should enjoy it without worrying about what outsiders might think of it. That said, sexual boundaries are also very personal. I know someone who is intellectually accepting of kink and alternative sexualities, but has also had some bad experiences and anything but the vanilla-est of vanilla sex can be emotionally triggering for her. There’s enough out there about how women have a duty to please their men, and it’s a really gross kind of pressure to put on anyone. Bottom line, nobody should make you feel like you should try a type of sex you aren’t comfortable trying. Sometimes couples split because their desires and libidos are mismatched in those areas, and that’s okay.

Also, it bothers me how the first thing she says is that of course you shouldn’t go have a threesome. Why not? Assuming it’s consensual and everyone is using appropriate protection, what business is it of hers to decide that’s the line you shouldn’t cross? It’s like she’s saying, “ignore society’s narrow ideas about what is and isn’t okay for a consenting couple to do in bed; follow mine instead!”

“3. Don’t be a nag. You don’t always have to have response. As women, we like to give our opinions, often times, unwarranted. It’s OK to not have a comment. Pick and choose your battles if it’s not that important…let it go!  Your husband does not want to hear your opinion 24/7, especially when using a loud, high-pitched tone (that some of us like to use).”

There are times in a relationship when you have to let it go. Everybody has lots of opinions and nobody can get their way one hundred percent of the time. So long as you both feel like the big things are being handled in a mutually satisfying way, you don’t have to worry about losing some of the smaller battles.

There, was that so hard to say? Notice how I phrased it in a way that made it sound like this was advice that anyone of any gender could follow, and that both people in a relationship have a responsibility to follow it? When you phrase it like it’s an issue of women having stupid little issues that bother men, you reinforce the outdated idea that women like to whine over tiny little issues. And often they do, because they are human beings and human beings like to complain. Whining just means complaining while possessing a high-pitched voice. Characterizing women specifically as the nags just encourages men to either not take the women in their lives seriously, or to just give in because “women, amirite? Can’t reason with them, and you’ll never hear the end of it until they get their way.” Which is ironic, because as a trans man who has seen both sides, a lot of the time the nagging attitude I saw in women came from the feeling that the men in their lives didn’t take them seriously unless they nagged.

There will always be irrational, immature people of all genders who can’t keep their needs in perspective relative to the needs of others. Try to be one of the ones who grew out of it, and try to avoid the individuals who did not grow out of it. Don’t pretend gender determines anything but the pronouns of the person doing the complaining.

“4. Show him your appreciation. You can catch more bees with honey than you can with vinegar. Be kind, and polite to your husband, and he will reciprocate. Show him that you are thankful for all that he does. Make your words soft and sweet. You won’t be disappointed with the results you’ll get.”

This advice isn’t bad, but it’s also annoyingly vague. How do you show appreciation? How are you kind and polite and thankful? The vagueness could be a feature rather than a bug, if she talked about how every couple develops a unique way of showing appreciation over time, whether it is leaving notes for each other or a quick “can you get the trash for me?” “sure” “you rock,” and maybe had some suggestions for how to find the best way to show appreciation (I’m thinking it would start with “comm-” and end with “-unication”). As it sits, it’s just fluffy aphorisms with a heavy salting of cliche. It bothers me that she doesn’t have actual suggestions here, but she has a very definite idea of which gender is being thankful and which one is receiving the thanks.

But other than that, yes, appreciation is good. Do that thing.

“5. Follow his lead. You married your husband for a reason, right? Hopefully you trust him enough to make the important decisions in your household. Again, don’t go with things that are immoral, or wrong, but definitely always remember to make him feel like he wears the pants.”

You married your wife for a reason, right? Hopefully you trust her enough to make the important decisions in your household. Just let her make all the calls, and trust they will be in your best interest as well. Remember, women like to feel like they wear the pants in the household.

Just because you trust someone, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t need for discussion and joint decision making. That said, some people do have personality types that are naturally inclined to strong leadership roles, or supporting roles. For people who happen to be a natural supporter in a relationship with a natural leader, this is great advice. In fact, in any relationship there is likely to be one person who is a little more dominant than the other. The trouble is when you tack those leader/supporter roles into people based solely on their gender. I’ve known women who would be more suited to the leader role, men who would be more suited to supporting roles. Furthermore, what works when one person is a happy leader and the other is a happy follower might not work if you have a leader and a slightly more assertive leader, or a follower and someone who is more comfortable holding the reins but doesn’t want to micromanage. Power is a reality of relationships, so talk about what kind of dynamic makes everyone happiest, and don’t assume that testosterone or estrogen alone are going to decide the issue.

“6. Your career does NOT come first. I have a super busy schedule, especially now that I am a cast member on Bravo’s “Married to Medicine.” However, when I get home from work, I turn my phone off. I am there to get my kids off the bus. Family time is very important to me. I cherish those moments.”

I was going to go into a rant about how it’s so unfair that it’s always the wife who has to make this sacrifice and not the husband, but come to think of it, this is actually one of the few tips where she doesn’t say it. Maybe her husband does hold himself to the same standard. I’m tempted to assume he doesn’t, because of the tone of the rest of the tips, but it would still be an assumption. So good for her; for once she just talked about something she does as a person without being all gender role-y about it.

I also think she’s mostly right. People don’t talk about holding down a family to provide for their jobs, after all. Careers are an important part of life and what you leave behind you, but if you’ve taken on the responsibility of children they had better be a big priority. They are also one of the biggest things you will leave behind you when you’ve gone, so get them right.

Of course, there may be circumstances when your job trumps your children, like when you’re president of the United States and someone kidnapped your kids to blackmail you into starting a nuclear war. If that every happens, I highly recommend that you immediately resign and let it be the vice president’s problem. If you neglect to do this, you are probably in a Michael Bay movie and have nothing to worry about.

7. Look sexy for him. It is so important to look good for your man. Know what your man likes, and what he thinks is attractive. I realized recently that this is MOST important! Try to keep yourself in shape and put together.”

And we are back to the gender double standard. See if you can spot it.

When I started dating my boyfriend, I started trimming some of my body hair, because that was more attractive to him. Often I shower before I see him because I like to smell nice around him. If he told me there was a shirt he thought looked good on me I would wear it around him more often. All of these are small things. They make me feel attractive around him, and they don’t make me feel any less like myself, so I am happy to do them.

If, on the other hand, he thought the nerdy T-shirts I wear were childish and pressured me to get rid of them, that would suck. I wear them because they make me feel comfy and Lane-ish. If he thought I should lose weight, when I’m already on the small side, that would suck even more. How we look is a huge part of our sense of self, taking care of our bodies is part of nurturing that sense of identity. There is  a line between looking nice for a partner and changing yourself for a partner.

She says she’s recently realized looking sexy is the most important thing, with capital letters and everything, which makes me worry about her husband’s priorities. I don’t know her or her husband, so I don’t know what was going on that made her say that. Maybe it’s entirely social pressure that has nothing to do with what her husband actually thinks of her appearance. In any case, whenever I’ve been in love with someone, he cannot look bad to me. However he looks, he is handsome, because it’s his face, right there, being all him-ish. If fulfilling this “MOST important” item is something that actually requires a lot of deviation from how you would want to look anyway, you should really question whether you are with somebody who loves the real you.

“8. Let him know it’s OK for him to be stressed. Because he is the man and is expected to take on a lot of things and it can sometimes get stressful for him. Men aren’t always good at expressing themselves when they are stressed or depressed. Let him know that it’s OK to feel that way, and make yourself emotionally available.”

Good advice. Let’s apply it to wives and girlfriends and friends and siblings and parents and coworkers and bosses and people who look like they’re having a bad day on the street. Except maybe that last one would be creepy. I dunno, some people can pull it off. I’ve had people approach me randomly on the street and say something along the lines of, “You look like you’re having a bad day. Hang in there.” It’s made me feel good, even if I was mostly okay. I wish they taught classes on how to be able to go up to random people and say nice things to them. If everybody could do that, all of us with our stressful lives would just have random people coming up to us all the time and giving hugs and the world would be full of hugs all the time and everything would be awesome.

Where was I? Oh yes, this is good advice, except for the weird sexist spin she puts on it. Husbands get “appreciate him” and “let him know it’s okay to be stressed.” Women get “don’t be a nag.” There’s something terribly unbalanced about that.

“9. Marry someone you genuinely admire and find east (sic) to respect. When you admire the man you chose to marry, it doesn’t feel like a chore when you’re accommodating him. It will be something you want to do. You’ll want to give him the respect he deserves.”

Actually, I think everybody should marry someone they genuinely dislike and find difficult to respect. It’s all a part of my evil gay agenda to destroy traditional marriage and bring on the international communist plot.

Again, this isn’t bad advice, as far as it goes. But where is the advice about how to bring up your issues diplomatically and maturely? I get the sense that she thinks if you marry a good enough guy, you can just let him take the lead in everything and not have to bring up your own issues ever. You won’t have any issues because he will read your mind, and all of your problems are stupid little whiny woman problems anyways so you should just live with them. She says pick someone you admire and respect so you can accommodate him. I say pick someone you admire and respect because odds are that’s someone you can have a healthy respectful conversation with and you can both accommodate each other really maturely.

“10. Get a support system. Surround yourself with people who are like you, or people who support your lifestyle. There is nothing worse than a friend who doesn’t agree with your lifestyle trying to give you advice. There is nothing wrong with being a submissive wife, and your closest friends should be people who aren’t judging you for it!”

Absolutely right. Being surrounded by a world that judges you for who you are really sucks. And I’ll be honest, I have met women who feel judged for their femininity by the feminist mainstream, and I feel for them. See my boxes analogy at the end of part one.

In the end, though, it’s kind of annoying getting that advice from someone whose big point of controversy is that she lets her husband run the household. Last weekend, I visited my boyfriend, who is working every weekend this month in Philly. As I said goodbye to him on Sunday in the hotel lobby, I didn’t give him a kiss. I wanted to so badly, and I think it would have been safe to, but he’s fairly cautious and I would never do anything that made him feel uncomfortable or unsafe. Instead I hugged him and kissed his shoulder, where nobody else could see. Unless Kimes is married to a white guy and they got together back in the sixties, I don’t think she has any idea what that’s like. I don’t want people to sneer at her for having a relationship that makes her happy, but I’d have a lot more sympathy if I got a sense that she had respect for queer marriages or straight couples who don’t want a patriarchal structure to their relationship.

How to Give Good Advice; My Response to the Lady Who Thinks All Marriages are Between Traditional Straight Couples, Part 1

I’ve been working on taking a look at the blogs of people who read my own work, and this one from The Editor’s Journal intrigued me. It’s a very neutral reposting of the matrimonial tips of someone named Dr. Heavenly Kimes. The intent of the post is less to criticize her directly and more to start a conversation in the comments. The tips are fairly provocative, in that they assume a traditional, patriarchal structure is the ideal marriage. This is one of those rare times where I’ve fully enjoyed reading the comment section. Reactions varied, but on the whole they were thoughtful and respectfully phrased, even if they were fairly vehement and opposed at times.

My own response was too lengthy to be a comment. I had something to say about every one of the tips Kimes gave, because all of them were their own mixture of good and bad. There was at least the grain of a good thought in all of them, but phrased in such a way that following it verbatim would be likely be a terrible for many couples. Now, the fact that she is apparently in a husband-is-the-head-of-the-family marriage doesn’t bother me. If that’s what makes her happy, it’s her right to live that way. What bothers me is her assumption that what makes her happy will make everyone else happy; that her relationship is the kind everyone else should have. Her advice doesn’t read like she thoughtfully looked at what made her marriage work and which elements can be generalized for just about anyone. It looks like she slapped down a list of things that happened to work for her and called it a day.

For an analogy, let’s pretend that I found a great way for me to get over writer’s block was to have a beer while I write my first draft. It makes a certain amount of sense; alcohol helps many people relax and stop overthinking, so it might shut up that annoying, overly critical inner editor, at least until I’m ready for a rewrite. All that is fine. However, if I were to put “have a beer while you write” up on the internet, say as item four on my list of top ten ways to beat writer’s block, that would be a problem. My decision may have been informed by the fact that I am  not an alcoholic and don’t have any other health issues that would make a drink a day an issue, but that’s not something I can assume about all my readers. Medical issues aside, for some writers it really is important to write a great first draft, so they need their heads clear to do their best writing the first time around. For some people, alcohol can make them feel more anxious or depressed, so it might make their writer’s block worse. Of course, whether my readers actually follow my advice or not is up to them, but it would still be fair to judge the advice I just gave as bad. When I was trying to decide what to do for myself, the only standard was whether or not it worked for me. When I started giving advice, now a new set of standards apply. If my suggestion would have adverse effects on a substantial number of the people I’m advising, that is practically the definition of bad advice.

That’s not to say that I can’t draw on my experience to give advice; I just need to phrase it in a way that is likely to be actually helpful for the audience at large. For example; “If there’s an inner editor who won’t shut up, find things you can physically do to help distract yourself from it. I like to have a beer while I write. For other people, going to another setting helps them focus. Some people take a walk and talk into a recorder, and then transcribe their thoughts later. Some people even like having some music or the TV on in the background.” Now the advice is better. I’ve given a good guideline, and some concrete examples of how to apply it. For some readers none of the suggestions will work, and that’s okay. Where a single inapplicable suggestion is unhelpful, a series can still provide material from which the reader can begin to brainstorm.

The other issue I have with her tips is that many of them play into sexist double standards. That issue could have disappeared if she had prefaced her article with something like; “I’m a straight woman in a traditional the-man-is-the-head-of-the-family relationship, and we both like it that way. It might not work as well for everybody, but if you are the same way, or think you might want to be, here’s what has worked for us.” The issue with sexism is that it forces gender roles onto people who don’t want them, or under circumstances they don’t want. For people who happen to be fairly traditionally masculine men or feminine women, it is all right to still be that way. You are not betraying the whole of feminism by staying home and cooking for your family. I know masculine men and feminine men, tomboys and girly women, trans people and cis people and people who zig zag over the gender lines like a crayon in the hand of a two year old. My goal is not to take people out of one set of boxes and put them into another. It’s to demolish the boxes, and if some people drift over to space that happened to once be encompassed by a box, that’s fine. So long as it is an open space, rather than a crammed corner full of miserable people who didn’t want to be there, I say mission accomplished.

In a boxless world, I might be able to read Kimes’ presuming good intentions and say no harm done. As someone who doesn’t fit in the boxes, however, I can attest that we are not in a boxless world. We are in a world where the boxes have gotten badly dented and often there is a hole you can escape out of. There is still a lot of social pressure to stay in the box, and within that context, I can’t help reading her advice as a part of that pressure, whether she intended it that way or not. This is the other issue with the thoughtlessness of her advice. In my made up example, there isn’t a lot of social pressure to be a drink-while-you-draft writer. If you read it and know drinking that much would be bad for you, that can make it fairly easy to ignore. For a married woman struggling to build a good career for herself, hearing for the twelve thousandth time that no husband wants a wife who puts her career first, the effect is different. There probably is some harm done. So even though I will acknowledge several places where Kimes has makings of a good point, on the whole her approach is badly flawed.

Coming up next; a blow by blow analysis of all her points, because overthinking is fun!