On May 14th, I wrote a post for the Bilerico Project on why I don’t support pardoning Alan Turing. I’m reposting it here, along with the same argument in video form, because I’m working on going all multimedia.
Note: in the video below I mistakenly say that Alan Turing’s OBE was from King George the IV, when it was in fact George the VI. Sorry.
Let Alan Turing’s Conviction For Homosexuality Stand
A bill has been introduced in the UK House of Lords which would issue a statuary pardon for WWII hero and father of modern computing Alan Turing. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Dr. Turing, allow me to provide a few highlights on his life and importance:
Dr. Alan Turing was a computer scientist and cryptanalyst whose work on decrypting German codes during the war earned him induction as an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE), and contributed significantly to Allied successes. Much of his work during and after the WWII helped established the groundwork on which modern computing has been built. In 1952 he pleaded guilty to the charge of homosexuality, resulting in the loss of his security clearance, and court-ordered chemical sterilization via estrogen injections, which Dr. Turing had accepted in lieu of a prison term. His death via cyanide poising in 1954 is widely believed to have been a suicide, although there remain some questions on that point.
On the surface, pardoning Alan Turing would seem to be a no-brainer. He made critical contributions to saving Allied lives during the war, played a key role in bringing about the modern information age, and was convicted of a crime that hasn’t existed in England and Wales since 1962, although the rest of the UK was slower to come around.
But in my view a pardon would do a disservice not only to Dr. Turing’s memory, but also to the LGBT community.
As distasteful as modern sensibilities may find Alan Turing’s trial, conviction, and chemical castration; his experiences at the hands of the law are a vital part, not only of his history, but of the history of the struggle for LGBT equality. While Dr. Turing may not have been alone in being tried and/or convicted of homosexuality during that period of time, he was, even in life, a renowned scientist and war hero. The fact that even someone who had been awarded the OBE by King George VI himself, could be subjected to a loss of livelihood and physical/psychological torture, is powerful proof of the discrimination gay people have been forced to endure in Western nations within living memory.
In 2009 the British Prime Minister issued an apology on behalf of the British government for the treatment Alan Turing received. This was an overdue and wholly right move to address a historical wrong.
But being dead, pardoning Alan Turing does nothing for the man himself; he is widely known today and his work remains highly influential and respected. Moreover, despite having plead guilty to the crime of homosexuality on his lawyer’s advice, Dr. Turning did not see his homosexuality as a source of shame, and is said to have felt no remorse for his “crime.” A pardon could be seen as a way of saying that his conviction was in error, and it was not. Regardless of its fairness, the law made homosexual conduct illegal, and Alan Turing most assuredly “practiced” homosexuality. Pardoning Dr. Turing distances us and future generations from that distasteful truth.
Having already apologized, government of the UK should not now be allowed to retroactively attempt to ameliorate the wrong done to Dr. Turing. Today, whenever people learn of his life and work, they come face to face with the reality that little more than sixty years ago, being gay was a crime punishable by prison or mutilation, in what today is considered one of the more forward thinking nations of the world on human rights. It would be a betrayal of history, and of one of our community’s most visible and important martyrs, to water down that hard truth.
1: a psychoneurosis marked by emotional excitability and disturbances of the psychic, sensory, vasomotor, and visceral functions
2: behavior exhibiting overwhelming or unmanageable fear or emotional excess
-- Merriam-Webster Online (http://east.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/)
The biggest lesson that most people learn in dealing with Loki, is that even if you lie constantly to other people, He will not allow you to lie to yourself.
Recently on Facebook some friends were passing around a quote by comedian Ellen DeGeneres who was responding to the charge that same-sex marriage will “threaten” heterosexual marriages. Ellen quipped:
“Portia and I have been married for 4 years and they have been the happiest of my life. And in those 4 years, I don’t think we hurt anyone else’s marriage. I asked all of my neighbors and they say they’re fine...”
My ten year old son Jesse had big plans Easter morning. He had set his alarm for 6 am. His desire to rise early was not to go searching for the Easter basket the mystical bunny was likely to have left him, it was to make French toast as a surprise for me, his dad.
That special pleasing Dad bond is an important one for many young boys.
"There is no such thing as speech that is free. You must pay for everything that you say."
-- Marine Corps Staff Sergeant Sykes, Jarhead
I am about to pay for my words.
This piece will likely make me very unpopular, because I am going to talk about a very large, nasty elephant in the Polytheist room. A very large, nasty elephant that a lot of people aren't wanting to address with sincerity, much less with any intention of doing something about it.
This is in response to Del's post. It is amazing, Del's post.
This reminds me of a lot of recent issues. Honestly, they're things I won't do, but the fact that they're TEMPTING to do, just because of the online community proves what is wrong with it. It proves what Del says.
I'm new. Bloody 8 months new born polytheist. People I know personally have been in this for 15+ years.
We Can Learn A Lot From Things That Annoy Us, Or What I Figured Out About The Proliferation Of Loki's Wives Online
I can't lie: some of us old, crotchety spirit workers and godspouses find a lot of the blogs from new Loki's wives kind of annoying.
It's not a nice or kind thing to say, but it's true. I find myself in at least three or four conversations a week where someone - a Lokean, a Godspouse, a Spirit Worker, or just some random person with too much time on their hands, reading Tumblr - comes to me to gripe, ask mean questions about, or even just to point and laugh at some Loki's Spouses' blog.
I have been working with my Ancestors pretty closely going on about four years now. In that time a pair of ancient Ancestors, one a Disir, a powerful female Ancestors, and the other a Vater (German word meaning 'father' which I use in place of 'alfar' which can also mean 'elf') have come forward to guide me in my Work.
The suicide of this couple should be blamed squarely on the immigration laws of the United States that specifically excludes gay spouses
By Melanie Nathan, March 11, 2013.
Wilfried Knight may be remembered as yet another adult industry porn star who happened to commit suicide; but there is much more and so that is not the reason we should remember him or how he died.
Don’t you just love it when people pull this little analogy out when the topic of transgender children comes up? “Hell, I wanted to be an astronaut when I grew up, so this is the same thing. He has boy chromosomes, so he’s a boy. That is a FACT!” Yeah, I’ll get to the chromosome thing in a later post because that requires a little more thought to declare it bunk and I’m tired this morning.
A discussion on Facebook inspired this post. Someone felt that the term "godphone" was misleading, and a little disrespectful, and called for people to stop using it. I can see what their point is, but I want to write a bit about where the term came from, what it originally meant, and why I don't think I'll stop using it (although I may temper how often I use it, and with whom).
This is two essays in one. My partner and clansbrother Del and I decided to take on this heady topic together, as we have both similar and differing views on the subject. We have each been ridiculed, attacked, and disparaged because we use this title for ourselves, and it was one such letter I received that inspired this post. The first half are Del’s thoughts, followed by my own. Understand that any questions or comments you make to this version will be answered by me; if you wish to hear more from Del on the subject, you’ll have to go to his version at Sex, Gods, and Rock Stars to get his answers.
Del, from Sex, Gods, and Rock Stars, says:
“The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don’t just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary.”
–James D. Nicoll
“Shaman” is a hotly contested word in the Pagan and New Age communities. Honestly, when I first started getting the inkling that it was a word I was going to use someday, I avoided it heavily. Even now, it’s not usually the first word I use to describe the way my service to community manifests – I try to use the less controversial “spirit worker”, or “pastoral care counselor”, or “ritual facilitator” and sometimes “ordeal master”, although the last one isn’t without its own controversy. But use it I do, and I frequently get pushback from those who find it to be some form of cultural appropriation.
Raven Kaldera tends to sum up his use of the word by simply stating that the Gods told him to use it, so use it he does. I won’t take that tack – although in some sense it is true – because my thoughts on the matter are more nuanced and complicated than that. Like I said, I resisted the title for a long time, but then I came to a place of compromise on it.
First of all, I am aware that the word describes a very specific spiritual and cultural role in Northern Asia. Sources tend to attribute it as a Siberian word, but other cultures in the area had similar sounding words that described generally the same thing. There is some argument made that there is also a Sanskrit word, saman, which means “chant”, which could be part of its heritage.
Some people like to make the argument that “shaman” is a Native American word, but in a literal sense this is incorrect – there are no documented Tribal languages that use a word that sounds anything like “shaman” to describe medicine men or other spiritual leaders. The way the word became connected to Tribal spirituality is from English and American anthropologists, who lumped any person living in tribal culture whose primary role to their community was to work with spirits or as a spiritual healer. But it is not, at its core, a Tribal word at all.
And like the quote above states, lots of English words are taken from other languages and used in similar contexts as the original language used them. Words like kindergarden, pastrami, phoenix, and even batman come from other languages, but when people use them in everyday conversation we don’t accuse them of stealing from German, French, or Russian. The word shaman has a similar history – anthropologists learned of shamans and shamanic practice from the Northern Asian area, including the word for said, and began applying it to similar persons and techniques from other places.
But I know that doesn’t sate the detractors of the word. Just because a word has been subsumed by our motley tongue doesn’t mean that someone claiming it, no matter the context, is not a form of subtle cultural appropriation. I do feel there is an intrinsic difference in some English-speaking people who use the word, and this may be where the accusation of cultural appropriation comes from.
Where I agree with those who take umbrage with the use of the word are people who use it to describe practices that either mimic or directly descend from other cultures. There are a lot of (mostly white) people who offer “Native American Sweat Lodge experiences” or “Native healing ceremonies” who use the title “Shaman” to describe their role in these rituals. It can be practically impossible at this point to discern which ones have actually studied and learned not only the original rites, but the culture from which they come from; and those who’ve attended a few classes or rituals and decided there was money to made in creating similar experiences for (mostly white) people who don’t know any better.
I also agree that there are some people who claim the title “shaman” specifically to make money from hapless seekers who have a general sense of the English meaning of the word. As an active person in Pagan community, who sometimes rubs elbows with New Agers, I’ve met these sorts of folks. They live pretty average, middle class lives; but when it’s showtime, they put on Tribal looking clothing and bring out the drums. I’ve attended some of their “rituals.”
It’s usually the unintended association with those sorts of grifters that makes me reticent to use the word for myself. But a few things happened in my life that made me come to terms with the word as it relates to my personal practices and the services I offer my community.
First and foremost, I was not the first person to use the word in reference to myself. It’s hard for me to remember the specific timeline, but there was a time where people started either asking me if I was a shaman, or telling other people I was. Around the same time, I had clients who referred to me as “their shaman”. I will be honest – at first, I cringed. I associated the word with the ne’er do wells who put on their spiritual selves to make money, rather than those who lived and breathed a life focused on spiritual service, both to the Spirits/Gods and to the people. But sometimes a ball starts rolling down a hill, and you can either start the arduous journey of pushing it back up, or go for the ride.
Around the same time, I had become pretty active in the clique of East Coast spirit workers of which Raven Kaldera is a member; as he uses the word for himself, others started to assume that I did, too.
Finally, I underwent a spiritual journey to ask the Gods I serve if this was something I should actively try to change or accept. It was an odd experience, because I got several answers from different Gods and Spirits I have worked with or for. The first collective answer I felt strongly was that I had to use a word of the language of my people – English – so using a word like Gothi or Hougan would make little sense. Also, because I serve Gods from various parts of the world, choosing a word from one specific tradition would be confusing for those who sought me out to work outside of that paradigm. Although I sometimes identify as a “Northern Tradition Pagan”, I’ve made it abundantly clear through my writing that I work for many Gods who are not Norse in origin.
Secondly, They were clear that I had to use a word that the people I was here to serve would understand. Using a word I made up for myself, or something that wasn’t as easily comprehended, would end up alienating potential clients. One of my strengths is that I can move between different traditions and be of service to people who have relationships with a wide variety of Holy Ones. Along the same lines, if I chose a word like “priest”, it could be seen as misleading, since “priests” tend to be dedicated to a single cause – either serving a specific Deity, or a specific congregation/community.
The job description for “shaman” has, admittedly, become watered down over time, but the core of it still remains – I am a person who is attuned to the Spirit World, who has learned and cultivated ways to communicate and work with the residents therein, and who uses that ability to help those who seek me out because of those talents. There is also a delineation that has been made between “spirit workers”, who are people who do work for Spirits (on Earth and in the Beyond) – some of which serve clients, but some of which have very solitary practices – and “shamans”, who have undergone some traumatic life event (typically dying, but some recognize going completely mad and other traumas that radically change your life in a way you can’t change back) and have been rebuilt by the Spirits/Gods in some way that make them better suited for the Work.
The other differentiation I have seen between “spirit workers” and “shamans” is that spirit work can be a part-time endeavor – you can have a relatively normal life, a spouse and family, a career that isn’t rooted in spirituality – whereas most shamans I respect have lives that are controlled and dictated by their service. This doesn’t mean that shamans can’t have other sources of income, but the difference that I’ve witnessed is that whereas spirit workers can sometimes delay or ignore a request from Spirit or a client, shamans rarely can, especially if that client was sent by a God I have oathed to.
It would be dishonest if I didn’t admit that part of the reason I think Those I Serve chose that title for me is specifically because it’s controversial. It’s not like in every other aspect I’m an average Joe – almost every aspect of my life is seeped in some form of controversial identity. I’m queer, I’m trans* identified, I’m kinky and live in a 24/7 power dynamic, I have a radical appearance and lots of body modifications, etc. It’s part of my job to provoke, to make people think about their assumptions, to teach by example that people can choose to live their truth, even if they fear that truth might alienate people they care about.
Like I said in my essay about detractors (link), I’ve actually gained clients from people who have tried to besmirch me for my use of the word shaman; it’s piqued people’s curiosity about what terrible, awful things I do and they end up contacting me for something I do in my work as shaman. So in a way, I’m okay with open discussion about whether or not I’m a cultural appropriator or not. In fact, I enjoy that every so often when I read things that challenge the usage of that word by Americans or other English speakers, it makes me reassess my own usage of the word and make sure that I’m being true to myself, and not just being lazy by using some shorthand or convenient word rather than something that better describes what I do. As a person who also heavily identifies as a trickster, it would be anithetical to my nature to get angry when people question anything I do, even if they aren’t the politest when they do it.
In the end, my use of the word ‘shaman’ is like any other title in the Pagan community (like High Priestess, Elder, Magician, Spirit Worker, Occultist, Pantheist, etc); my usage will only continue if I live up to the qualifications to it over time. No one takes a self-appointed “Priestess” who does nothing for community and does not do actual service to a God/dess; if I ever shirk my Work (which I don’t think is an actual option for me, but that’s another post entirely) then people will stop calling me that, and eventually it will cause me more agita than it’s worth. But in the meantime, it’s the word on my Cosmic Shingle, and I have to do my best to live up to it.
Winter, from Notes From A Barking Shaman, says:
Del has already done a thorough job of breaking down the issue with the cultural appropriation argument against the word “shaman.” While I don’t feel compelled to expand on his analysis, I do want to make it clear that I agree with it. The argument can be made that the use of “shaman” is cultural appropriation from the Siberian peoples it is originally attributed to. But then you would have to take the issue up with the Native Americans and other now-English-speaking cultures who use it as well. I doubt many folk would be eager to explore that particular territory out of a drive for linguistic purity.
Moving on: I will be completely honest, as a self-descriptor “shaman” is a word that I’m deeply conflicted about.
I believe that for every person who hears the word “shaman” and thinks of one who serves as an intermediary with the spirit world, and perhaps helps guide others in their own search for knowledge and connection beyond the mundane, there’s going to be someone who hears “charlatan,” or “scam artist” or just thinks “but… you’re white.”
Why then would I use it?
Simple, it’s the word my Patron tells me to use, at least to refer to specific parts of my Work.
Which isn’t to say that’s the end of my relationship with the word. I’ve been a “shaman” for many years, and over time there are things I have learned about this word, at least in regards to how I relate to it.
When my Lady first informed me that I would be taking a prolonged break from my magical studies and Work, to undergo an extensive process of transformation in order to become a shaman, I was certainly not thrilled. Up to that point the study and practice of magic had been the primary focus of my work for Her, and one of two primary focuses in my life. Moreover, I knew that the process involved would seriously suck, if I survived it.
My own shamanic death/rebirth cycle was comprised of four major ordeals over the course of two years, each one of which could potentially have resulted in my physical death if it had gone less than perfectly. This was accompanied by a worsening of my physical and mental health over the course of that time. I came out the other side as one who is never fully in the mundane world or the Otherworld(s), not wholly alive, but certainly not a shade either.
Many years on I’m still exploring what it means to be a shaman in service of the Mistress of the Forest Fire, and discovering what my shamanic work fully entails, especially as I finally start the process of incorporating my magic and my shamanism.
Perhaps the first thing I learned about this word is that it’s very loaded, not only in interpersonal interactions, but in the eyes of the Universe and the gods. Declaring oneself a shaman can open doors and bring connections to the spirits that had not been there before. There are areas of spirit work where working under the title of “shaman” gives me different privileges and access than I have as a servant of the gods, or as a magician. This is especially true in my work the Dead.
Of course, simply declaring oneself a shaman doesn’t make you one (and like Del, I was not the first person to use that word to describe myself). Laying claim to a title that isn’t yours can have consequences, and perhaps the most destructive I’ve seen is the declaration that one is a shaman leading to one’s wyrd becoming tied to that path, even if that was not the desired outcome.
Personally, I believe that the connection to traumatic transformation, although not necessarily around death, is a big part of what makes one a shaman. I’ve met shamans of madness as well as of death, and there can be a third, far rarer path of shamanism as well.
The process of going deep into another state of being, so much so that it completely consumes you, and then coming as far back as possible, leaves a person changed. Existing not in this world, but not in another either, is to me a major factor that distinguishes a shaman from other forms of spirit workers. My beliefs differ from Del’s in that I feel strongly that one can be a spirit worker 24/7 without being a shaman. Although not all spirit workers are 24/7 and I’m not convinced all shamans are either.
I should also note, that I believe it’s possible to be a “full time” spirit worker or shaman while also having a “day” job, particularly if said day job dovetails into one’s spirit work. The definition of a “full time” shaman or spirit worker is by its nature rather subjective after all.
I realize it is a digression, but here are some forms of spirit workers I’ve known. It is certainly possible for one person to be more than one, and not everyone who fits these titles are spirit workers per say.
In no particular order:
- Shaman (since we’re talking about it)
For me, “shaman” is a job, a sacred role, and one of several central facets of my identity. For all that, in some ways, I don’t consider being a shaman to be all that special. Within the framework I use to define “shaman,” it is rather rare, even among pagans, polytheists, and spirit workers. But in the end it is simply another way to serve the gods and the Universe, no better or worse than others.
I do believe that shamans do a particular form of important Work that few others can do. However, the same can be said of a mystic, bard, gods-spouse, or any other of a variety of spiritual roles and titles. It is also worth noting that many of those other roles and titles are in their unique way as controversial and emotionally loaded as “shaman” is.
As a demographic we are figuring all this stuff out as we go along. Together we are creating not only new ways to express faith and experience the divine, but on a more fundamental level exploring ways to conceptualize the nature of our individual and shared reality.
Words are one of the essential ways we define our existence, so it’s of no surprise that words like “shaman” become bound up in layers of intellectual and emotional meaning, with all the controversy that can entail.
In the end though it’s the word my patron deity says I use, so I use it. All my complex feelings and intellectual considerations around “shaman” will always come up short in the face of Her insistence. That’s the nature of our relationship, and I find myself surprisingly ok with that.
Note: This essay was originally posted on The Bilerico Project on 3/11/13
After two tries with two significantly different meds, it looks like SSRIs and I simply don’t get along when it comes to being able to motivate and think well enough to get work done. As a person with moderate Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, this is rather aggravating. My OCD waxes and wanes much like my Tourette, and has been worse in the last few months than it had been for quite a while. In mentioning this conundrum to several people over the last couple of weeks, I’ve noticed something interesting, and new to my own experience.
When I have raised the topic of having OCD (a common comorbidity with Tourette), multiple people have reacted with total dismissal, typically saying something to the effect of “well everyone is a little OCD.”
In the past, while I might occasionally have had to explain what OCD was, the average person was far more likely to be accepting of its existence than they were of my Tourette Syndrome. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder being easier for many people to comprehend than the involuntary movements and sounds found in TS was often an annoyance to me, being someone who’s tics were often far more disruptive than the symptoms of OCD were.
This sort of dismissal isn’t an entirely unfamiliar phenomena to me though. As the profile of Tourette Syndrome was raised in the public consciousness, particularly in the wake of HBO’s well-made documentary on the topic of youth with the disorder, I found myself being met with a new form of disbelief when I attempted to explain my symptoms. One woman summed up the Catch 22 of having a suddenly high-profile condition, when she angrily responded to my explanation of why I was barking like a small terrier with “yeah I watch TV too; shut the fuck up.”
Perhaps with cultural artifacts like USA Network’s multiple-award-winning series Monk, a related phenomena has occurred with OCD. Of course, unlike with TS there is some truth to the statement that many people have transient obsessions or compulsions, which I imagine makes it easier to dismiss in other people.
In this one respect, the situation is not unlike some of the resistance LGBT people encounter from people who can relate just a little bit to our experiences. After all, homosexual experimentation has traditionally been a common element of childhood, even among people who grow up to identify as heterosexual. Besides, it isn’t that unusual to hear straight people ruminate on who they’d “go gay for” once they’ve got some alcohol in their system.
It hardly seems a great stretch to imagine that a person’s related, but distinctly different experience from being gay or bisexual, could contribute to the widespread and generally erroneous belief that sexual orientation is a “lifestyle choice.”
Perhaps in the back of some people’s minds when the topic of gay and bisexual people comes up, they think back to those late nights during sleepovers with Jim/Jane, or that one reoccurring dream they had in high school that made them feel so funny. Because we naturally project our own experiences onto other people, and they are heterosexual (regardless of their youthful exploration), the idea that gay people have “chosen” to pursue relationships and sex with people of the same gender, is to them a logical conclusion.
This can equally apply to gender identity. Half the people I know at some point or another has wondered or fantasized about being another gender. Personally I went through a period as a child where I really wished I had a vagina because I thought it’d be awesome to be the receptive parter for sex (I was beyond thrilled to learn a few years later that a vagina was not a strict requirement), and I know plenty of straight men who played dress-up as children, and straight women who were tomboys. Of course, none of that is the same as having a gender identity different from that which you were assigned at birth.
But again, I can see how someone who doesn’t, and doesn’t want to understand what it means to be trans*, could look to their own casual experience of questioning or playing with gender, and falsely extrapolate their experience in a way that leads them to believe that trans* people are simply “confused.”
It is not my intent to excuse people who project their own experiences onto us to justify their opposition to LGBT equality.
Rather, I simply believe that by striving to put our own experiences aside sometimes and try to understand where other people are coming from, we can be more compassionate people, better advocates for equality, and of course, avoid being that asshole from time to time.
I do not own a drum.
Ok, that’s not really a fair statement. I actually own two very nice drums, they just don’t do me any good. Part of my plethora of neurological issues is an automaticity and fine-motor control delay that makes it impossible for me to maintain a drum beat. I start off fine, but the processing delay means that each strike of the drumhead takes place little bit later than it should, sending me out of rythm within a short time.
For most people, not being able to use a drum would be a tiny footnote in life. However, for someone who publicly identifies as a shaman (or more properly, a shaman-magician) and spirit worker, not using a drum is a bit like being an accountant who’s bad at math.
Of course, the drum issue is just one of a raft of ways in which my Work differs from the common archetype of what it looks like to be a shaman, spirit worker, or magician.
Tashrisketlin’s Lady and Her greater servant Var are strikingly worldly. This is hardly unique to Them by the way, there are quite a number of spirits and deities whose connection to our modern world is deep and powerful, sometimes more powerful than Their connections to the world of our ancestors. Because above all else I am Her servant, shaman-magician and spirit worker, my own Work is influenced by Her worldliness, as are all Her servants in Tashrisketlin to one degree or another.
My typical way of addressing/interacting with my Patron would be more at home on a drilling rig than in a house of worship. Lacking the ability to create music myself, I have an intimate working relationship with my digital music player. And I get legitimate spiritual fulfillment from working on antique machinery.
Because my magic, spirit work, and shamanism doesn’t look like that of many of my friends and colleagues, it is easy for me to get a bit “lost” in terms of what I’m supposed to be doing with my Work. This was an issue I addressed just a couple of weeks ago in my post “Adrift and Looking for a Clue.”
We talk a lot in the spirit work world about getting outside confirmation of our Unverified Personal Gnosis (UPG), and one way to accomplish that is to look at what other people are doing in their own practices. This is not a strategy that often brings success for me, in part because the circle of spirit workers I interact with has been a narrow one, and shrinking rather than growing.
Tashrisketlin has traditions, beliefs, and practices of our own. Unfortunately, rather than being proud of who we are as a Clan, and who I am as a magical and spiritual person, I’ve allowed myself to be, if not ashamed, certainly reticent to embrace our/my unique perspective and Work precisely because it didn’t “look” right. In this more than anything else, I feel that I’ve failed my Lady, my Clan, and myself.
It is desperately dangerous to look too deeply within oneself for direction. Down that road lies the hubris and madness that is a constant danger to people who do this kind of work. However, I’ve certainly gone too far down the opposite road, castigating myself into uselessness for not following a model that was never meant to be mine (or Tashriksetlin’s for that matter) to begin with.
Much of that desire springs from a need to be more “acceptable” in the eyes of other people, be them pagan or otherwise. As I mentioned in “Adrift…” my public spiritual and magical identity is a ceiling to how far I can take my professional work in the LGBT world, not to mention in my paying work (although in my current employment it’s actually an asset).
And I know that there are potential clients and students who are looking for a specific experience and aesthetic from a teacher, diviner, or shaman, that I can’t offer. Being someone with a tendency towards pessimism and depression, I’ve overly focused on those people, rather than the ones who’ve sought me out specifically because my perspective and skills are unlike those of anyone else I know who does this Work.
So over the next few months, I’ll be looking with new focus on just what I can and should be doing. And to start with I’ll be working hard to hear my gods without letting preconceptions clutter the signal.
Hey, if this shit was easy, anyone could do it.
Dealing with difficult people is part and parcel with having significant Tourette Syndrome. While the overwhelming majority of people ignore my tics, or at least pretend to, there are always going to be people who, for one reason or another, feel the need to have some sort of interaction around them. To be completely clear, this does not automatically make someone a jerk. There are good reasons why someone might need to address the subject of my tics with me, but how this is approached has an enormous impact on my perception, and perhaps that of the other people present, with regards to whether or not you are an asshole.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with Tourette Syndrome (TS), or whose knowledge doesn’t extend past corpolalia (the relatively uncommon “swearing tics” that the media is so very fond of), allow me a brief explanation to ensure that we’re all on the same page:
Tourette is a neurological condition that causes repeated involuntary movements and sounds, or “tics.” These can include sniffing, grunting, throat clearing, head jerking, facial grimacing, or just about anything else you can imagine. Both motor and vocal tics must be present (or have been within one year) for a diagnosis to be made, and the symptoms wax and wane without a great deal of discernible rhyme or reason. Over time, new tics can develop and old tics can fade away. I have a host of symptoms, from the largely unnoticeable, such as painful dystonic back and neck tics, to more obvious tics like head jerking, or the barking from whence my person website and blog take their names.
There are virtually no medications designed expressly for treating TS. There are a host of drugs that have anti-tic properties in addition to their original purpose, and for many Touretters medicine can reduce the severity and frequency of their symptoms. Relatively few people achieve full tic suppression through medication, and it is vitally important to strike a quality-of-life balance between the impact of the Tourette, and the impact of medication and side effects on one’s life. A very limited number of people have also had varying levels of success treating Tourette through the use of implanted electrodes in the brain, but the treatment is risky and relatively uncertain in outcome.
Nine out of ten people who choose to address the tics with me in public are jerks about it, saying things like “stop that,” “would you cut that out,” or my personal favorite: “can’t you see I’m on the phone.” Honestly, it’s a rare but awesome day when someone doesn’t assume that my neurological condition exists solely to screw up their day.
I’ve been astounded, especially as I’ve gotten older, by how many people continue to believe by default that a business traveler, fellow shopper, patient, etc, would make noises or twitch/squirm simply to annoy strangers around them. From my perspective, it comes across as rather narcissistic to imagine a total stranger would want to put out that much effort on the off chance that they might piss you off. Leaving aside the issue of why they’d consider pissing you off to be a goal in the first place.
Although as a rule I believe that I owe it to other people, and particularly my fellow Touretters, to take the high road in interpersonal conflicts around my symptoms; when people have been especially confrontational or verbally abusive, I’ve been known to retort with something along the lines of “do you really think this is my idea of a good time?”
Fortunately there’s a relatively simple tweak that can help prevent escalation and confrontation, not to mention defensiveness on my part: rather than instructing someone who may have Tourette, or another involuntary condition to cease their behavior, instead ask if the behavior in question is within their control.
This sounds like a tiny detail, but in reality that simple change in language can help effect a change of thought pattern. You’re mentally taking the situation out of the realm of something that is only impacting yourlife, and acknowledging that it may be an even bigger burden on the person with whom you’re talking. From my perspective, asking if rather than telling me to instantly takes you from being a potential threat to being a potential ally, which probably won’t have any impact on whether I can control my symptoms, but it sure makes my day a whole lot better.
That’s probably the number one thing you can do to not be an asshole to someone with Tourette, but for those of you looking for a bit more guidance, I’ve put together a handy list of dos and don’ts:
Note: all these examples are drawn from personal experience
- Yell at me to stop ticcing, particularly from a distance too far to make a conversational explanation plausible. Trust me, shouting “I have a neurological disorder” across a crowded store in response makes me feel bad, and you look bad.
- Call me names – I’ve heard them all and they weren’t all that clever the first dozen times
- Tell me how envious you are of me having Tourette because it seems so awesome. Even in my thirties I still get this frequently, and it’s pretty hard to get back out of the “asshole” box in my mind once you’ve said it to me.
- Call security/try to have me removed from a public place
- Hit me (yes, really)
- Inform me that I’m being rude
- Call my (not present) mother nasty names, my neurological condition has nothing to do with “not being raised right.”
- Mimic my tics back at me. I really thought this would end when I became an adult, but sadly no.
- Speak to my companion(s) as if I wasn’t there. This is a problem for just about anyone with a visible disability.
- Tell me that I’m bothering people. I promise, I know that, and already feel crappy and self conscious about it.
- Approach/address me in a conversational tone of voice
- Introduce yourself (especially if you’re in a position of authority)
- Give us the chance to have a polite interaction – I can tolerate a certain amount of ignorance or confrontation if it’s civil from the start, and you’ll feel like less of an ass when you find out that I have a medical condition if you didn’t lead from a place of rudeness or aggression.
- Acknowledge the tics from the outset, I know that they’re weird. Trying to work the conversation around to them circuitously comes across as duplicitous and smarmy (I’m looking at you TSA/airport security).
- Unless the symptoms are incredible noticeable or intrusive, just ignore them. Having it pointed out that one’s behavior is outside the norm can make someone feel really self-conscious, even if it’s not done in a mean way.
- And as I said before, ask me if my symptoms are controllable – “so I couldn’t help but notice that you’re barking, is that something you can control?”
I realize that as not only someone with Tourette, but someone with significantly noticeable symptoms, I’m a tiny minority among the people of the world. It’s not entirely reasonable to expect people to understand something completely out of their experience. But then, that’s why I thought this was an important post to write. One of the first questions I get asked when people find out I have Tourette, is how they should respond when they encounter someone in public who might have TS.
If you’re reading through this post thinking “well… duh,” just remember, everything I mentioned here is drawn from my own first-hand experience. We don’t always react to new situations the way we’d like to imagine we would.
There are days when I frankly have no clue whatsoever about what I’m doing.
Maybe I simply don’t have the right kind of faith, the right kind of relationship to deity, or maybe I’ve been delinquent on my payments and my god-phone has been shut off.
In the years since the dissolution of Asrik, Fire, and my partnership, I’ve frequently felt a lack of purpose or goal in my spiritual and magical work. Some of this was clearly driven by the faith-quake brought about by the complicated end of our relationship, (fun note: just as I was typing this sentence, REM’s “Loosing My Religion” came up on shuffle. Because subtlety isn’t really how my gods roll) although there was a lot more to it than that.
I spent a decade of my life working very hard in the pursuit of the aims that They had set me. First to become a dedicated and highly proficient magic and energy worker, and then to submit to, and persevere through the traumatic death and rebirth process that made me a shaman. Just before Asrik left, Fireheart and I both passed the final test to be consider Masters in our magical tradition (which is not the highest level of proficiency, but was a huge achievement). I came out the other side of my shamanic rebirth changed in ways that I’m still discovering, but confident that I had the tools and talents to begin working in earnest at the tasks the role entailed.
But then… nothing. Or so it seems at first blush.
Just over two years ago we were given a clear directive from the Lady and Var: keep our heads down
That’s it. All She had to say on the subject, just keep our heads down.
There has been little of the familiar Work that shaped the preceding decade in the long intervening months. The vrescht that Tashrisketin claims here in Gorham has little need of our attentions, and while it doesn’t offer us much in the way of power, it meets our basic needs. There was some excitement for a couple of months when we were given a challenging magical task, one suitable for two Vreschtik masters, but once it was completed to the best of our abilities with the resources available to us, silence reigned again.
I journeyed to the Underworld a month ago, to the boarders of Helheim (I am forbidden from entering any boarded land of the Dead without escort) to carry a message. It felt good and right, but then the job was done and again I had no Work to do. Moreover, I know that I was rusty. No journey to the Underworld is safe, but this one was more dangerous for than it should have been for someone who always has one foot (or hand) in Death.
For his part, Fire’s task at the moment is personal, and deeply bound up in his own journey of destructive rebirth, as the hormones he takes weekly remake his body, and in many ways his mind as well, in to new patterns of being.
Into this silence, elements of the mundane world have flowed in. I have a paying (part-time) job that I love, and which puts me in a position to help shape and provide for spiritual/magical opportunities for a couple of thousand people a year (not that all of them avail themselves of said opportunities, but they are there). I’ve also slowly established a strong voice and position for myself as a blogger in the queer/LGBT community, something that feels incredibly important to me on a personal and spiritual level, but again doesn’t look anything like the “real” work my spirit-worker colleagues do.
Our relationship with our gods doesn’t look like a lot of people’s. In the absence of Work to do, keeping our heads down, we’ve often felt abandoned by Them. It doesn’t help that in many ways the community of spirit-work colleagues we once looked to for reciprocal support has largely shattered into jagged splinters that will cut you if you get to close. Aside from that loss of camaraderie, a lot of the Work we’ve done over the years has come out our interactions with other people and their gods.
I had a meltdown this morning on the phone with my lover, fellow Clan member, and spirit-work colleague Del Tashlin. Fire lost his job yesterday, less than a week after he and I had gotten legally married, in part to provide for my health insurance needs. We’re facing more severe financial hardship than normal, and the physical, mundane things that make our lives feasible, like my glasses and his car are desperately in need of costly repairs. Some level of poverty has been our companion since our divorce from Asrik and the implosion of our failed design firm.
And the truth is that I fucking hate it.
The overwhelming majority of my fellow-spirit workers I’ve talked to feel that poverty and deprivation are essential elements of being servants of the divine. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not asking for a Porsche in the driveway, although I doubt I’d say “no,” but I would love to not have to worry about our card being declined at the supermarket check-out line. Or lie awake at night wondering what the hell we’ll do if Fire’s right front wheel bearing catastrophically fails at 65mph.
Yet, for all that these things feel counter-productive to my spiritual health, the argument I’ve been hearing is that those very stressors are what makes one a spiritual being. The idea is that if our lives lacked these sorts of trials, we’d be distant from deity. Without the need to pray to the gods every time we get into Fire’s battered Toyota, the gods would not feel like imminent presences in our lives.
Which brings us back to having no clue whatsoever about what I’m doing.
I don’t know if what I’m doing with my life is in anyway right or not. If the Lady told me tomorrow to give up blogging for the LGBT community I’d be crushed, and something blossoming in me that I didn’t know existed before would die. But of course I’d do it, that’s the nature of being a godslave. Likewise, I’ve devoted a large amount of time and energy over the last several months to relearning my craft as a photographer, one of my first deep passions. I believe that I can serve Them through my art, although I’m not sure how, and photography just isn’t a medium we think of when the topic of sacred art comes up. If we have to sell off my camera gear to keep the lights on we will. But I find it hard to believe that doing so will make me a more spiritual person.
It’s very tempting to say:
My/our Work has never been conventional. Our relationship to our gods doesn’t look like other people’s. How we serve, and what They value in us has always been a bit different. Which isn’t to say that we’ve haven’t drifted a bit, but in general we’re where we’re on the path we’re supposed to be.
But because that is so tempting, it also is hard to accept. For all that we’re in a really rough spot at the moment, and I’m personally having some additional issues that I’m struggling with, there are a lot of ways in which we’re in a really good place in our lives. The idea that we’re clearly screwing up because our lives aren’t total shit is very hard for me to wrestle with. Which, it has been pointed out, may be the whole damn point of our current situation.
I’ll own up to this: there are clear ways in which I’ve let some of my Work slide. I know that there are some hard and scary things that I’ve not done in my Work because they are hard and scary. Baphomet has asked some things of me that I don’t know if it’s within me to do, and there is a final physical mark of my shamanic transformation that I’ve not gotten because it is so terrifying to me. Which is no excuse, particularly for an Ordeal Path shaman. But pushing through those deeply human places is one place where the power in Ordeal comes from.
There’s no way to talk about my failings without acknowledging that I’ve not had the level of public presence in my magical and spiritual capacities that They require of me. This is in part because of the potential damage it could do to other parts of my career (BAD WINTY – this is a great way to loose those parts of my life for good), but also in part because what I see in the broader pagan and polytheistic communities saddens and sickens me. The Lady hasn’t quite given us leave yet to stop keeping our heads down (though we have a timeline), and I don’t know that one can be involved in modern pagan discourse without stepping right into the line of fire.
It’s funny, in the thirty five minutes it’s taken me to write this post, a lot of my perspective on what I had to say has changed.
I opened this document in part to write about the fact that I/we weren’t doing any Work and felt completely adrift. But as I typed, it became more and more evident to me that at least some of what we’ve been doing could be construed as Work of a sort, even if it looks different from what we might typically picture a shaman or magician doing.
As to the poverty question though, I just don’t know. I have deep respect for the value of asceticism, and believe it or not, there are ways that I work to incorporate those values in my own life and practices. However, the idea that one can best achieve a state of union with the divine through constant fear that the precarious infrastructure of daily life could come crashing down at the slightest nudge doesn’t ring true for my own spiritual self. Of course, that could just be my privileged upbringing speaking.
Likewise, while it’s possible that I could make a case to the government for getting on permanent disability, that has never felt like what I was supposed to do. Continued engagement of some (certainly unconventional) form of interaction with the working world and currents of monetary exchange feel like how I’m supposed to be living and practicing my faith and power. Again though, I perhaps lack the distance to see if that’s the ghosts of my upbringing or the tides of Wyrd speaking to my heart.
See early comment about my god-phone not getting such great reception I guess.
This post originally ran on Bilerico.com on 12/30/12
As a sex & BDSM educator I spend a lot of time talking about sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Over time, I’ve noticed that how we talk about some STIs can be deeply problematic, and in ways that have serious consequences for public health.
Before I dig into that topic though, I’d like you to stop for a moment and try to guess what the most common illness transmitted by sexual activity is.
If you guessed Gonorrhea you’re not in the ballpark.
HSV1 & 2? You’re getting closer, but still not there.
HIV? Go to the back of the class.
No, the most common STI by a long shot would have to be the Rhinovirus, also known as the cause of the common cold.
Before you call “bullshit,” take a mental step back from the cultural box we usually put sexually transmitted illnesses in. Instead, think about the kinds of erotic encounters you personally enjoy (assuming that you enjoy erotic activity). Surely you can see how easy it is to catch a cold from a lover. In fact, I’d wager that the majority of you have at some point contracted or infected someone else with a Rhinovirus during a night of romance or lovemaking.
However, I’ll also wager that you didn’t think of the cold as an STI, which only goes to show that there’s something off in how we think about sexually transmitted infections.
That isn’t to say that you wouldn’t have every right to be mightily pissed off if a lover knowingly had sex with you without disclosing that they were getting over the flu.
It’s hardly news that in the LGBT community, and especially among gay men, there’s a ton of baggage when it comes to STIs. A lot of that has to do with the AIDS crisis of course. At the same time however, LGBT people also have a long history of being identified by society as sick, damaged or dangerous to the general public, a perception that the AIDS crisis unfortunately fed into perfectly. After all, before AIDS there was GRID, and frankly in the back of many people’s minds, in and out of the LGBT community, the stigma of GRID never really went away. Our enemies have not been quiet in their belief that HIV/AIDS is our “punishment” for being queer/LGBT, a belief that some of us struggle to put aside even after years or decades of living authentic gay lives.
Keeping that baggage in mind, I believe that there are two distinct, yet interconnected issues we as a community must work through.
First and foremost, we have to uncouple shame from the medical reality of contracting a sexually transmitted infection. This shame can spring from many places, including internalized homophobia, puritanical views of sex, and even the feeling of having “failed” at remaining STI negative. I recognize that this view is not universal within our community. After all, some people reason, if contracting an STI is seen as a shameful thing, surely that would encourage safe practices.
I’d argue instead however, that the air of shame around the topic of STIs can make reasonable conversations around risk and prevention more difficult than they should be. I cannot count how many young people I’ve talked to who’ve chosen to have unprotected sex out of a fear that their partner(s) would be offended by the (perceived) implications inherent in wanting to use protection. Likewise, all to often I hear variations on “I wouldn’t be involved with one of those sorts of people,” as an explanation for why protection or precautions simply aren’t necessary. When we build up a mythical image of the “kind” of person who contracts a sexually transmitted infection, it becomes easy to believe that the only precaution we need is to avoid being intimate with the “wrong” type.
Of course this cultural meme causes terrible harm to people who do have some form of STI. Even the language our community tends to use: “clean” for someone who is STI negative, with the implied antonym of “dirty” for someone who is positive, can be incredibly destructive. Moreover, we don’t tend to impose these same sorts of moral filters onto other illnesses, contagious or otherwise.
Which brings me to the second issue I wanted to address.
Due in no small part to a pervasive shame around the whole topic of STIs; rumors, misconceptions, and assumptions about the risks and spectrum of sexually transmitted infections remain rampant in and out of the LGBT community. Here is a short list of myths I find myself addressing at least four or five times a month:
- The idea that sero-discordant people cannot safely have sex.
- The belief that if someone contracts or develops symptoms of HSV1 or HSV2 it means that they have been promiscuous, unsafe, and duplicitous.
- Even more disturbing: the belief that HSV posses a serious and potentially life-threatening/ending risk to an otherwise healthy person.
- All sexually transmitted infections are incurable.
- One can’t contract a sexually transmitted infection if it’s their first time being sexually active.
- Condoms are ineffective at preventing the spread of HIV (thank George W. Bush and his friends for this one)
- Receptive anal sex is the only way to contract HIV
- HIV is only transmitted through homosexual sex (yes, people still really believe this)
- For the sake of brevity, I’ll leaving out all the BDSM-related STI myths that I also encounter, but they are extensive
I’ve come to realize that as part of the Challenger generation, I was born into a narrow window during which there was good information and a will to educate youth about HIV, but before the doctrine of abstinence-only-education become pervasive.
This, combined with coming out young, while HIV was only really beginning to be tamed by modern drug cocktails, gave me advantages over the generations that followed mine both in terms of knowledge and particularly in openness of dialog. Of course, talking about sex for a living doesn’t hurt either.
Many young people have only the barest knowledge of HIV, and none at all of other STIs. In the lack of proper knowledge, half-truths and assumptions get taken as fact, as they always have.
For instance, as far as I can tell, the belief that HSV can kill an otherwise healthy person exists solely because the virus is often transmitted sexually, and people have been taught that sex kills. This rather than being provided with detailed information on the spectrum of risk and how to have a healthy sexual life as safely as possible.
Of course, nothing I’m saying here is new. But therein lies the issue facing our community: we’ve been having these conversations for so long, it’s hard to imagine that we still need to.
The fact that we do should be a sign that we’re doing something wrong.
Please don’t imagine that I’m suggesting that we take a laissez-faire attitude towards STIs or safe sex. The reality is that sexually transmitted infections range from the annoying to the seriously life-threatening, and with the growth of anti-biotic resistant strains of familiar illnesses, our level of care and concern should only be increasing.
At the same time, the risk of contracting an illness cannot continue to be a wedge with which an attitude of shame around our sexual desires are driven home. For very understandable reasons, the HIV/AIDS crisis fostered an element of sexual puritanism within the gay community that does not universally serve us well. After all, sexual promiscuity and adventurism is a natural facet of the human condition. We must find better ways to educate people about STI realities, and engage in productive dialogs about informed and risk-aware sexual behavior.
To get there though, we first have to shift how we think about and discuss sexually transmitted infections back foremost into the medical realm, hence the earlier thought exercise around the Rhinovirus.
There should be no more shame in contracting HSV, HPV, HIV, Gonorrhea, etc, than there is in any other preventable medical condition. I’m not saying we should remove the concept of personal responsibility, but when a smoker develops lung cancer we don’t call them dirty; and when a skier breaks their arm we may tsk at them, after all skiing carries the risk of injury, but we don’t assail their character, tell them they deserved what happened, or imply that their skiing injury reflects poorly on their worth as a person.
Especially not if we’re out on the slopes every weekend too.
note: this originally appeared as the opening essay for Bilerico.com’s What You Need To Know on 12/21/12, but is probably better suited to NFABS.
Due to a common misunderstanding of the Mayan’s concept of the nature of existence, there’s a rather tongue in cheek meme that says the world is due to end today. As I’m writing the What You Need To Know at 1am EST, I’m pretty confident that there will still be people around it when it posts at 10am. And again, the end of the world isn’t what the Mayans predicted, if you’re inclined to worry about one particular Mesoamerican people’s calendar over any others.
That said, our world certainly is being transformed at a remarkable rate. In the words of celebrated sci-fi/fantasy author Catherynne M. Valente, I’m a “Challenger.” That is, I belong to the short and somewhat overlooked age cohort that is pre-Millennial, but post-Generation X, defined by Ms. Valente as those of us who watched the Challenger disaster unfold live in our elementary school or early middle school classrooms.
Every generation since the dawn of Industrial Revolution has seen radical change in their lifetimes of course. My own great grandfather was born in the era of the horse and buggy, but died after seeing humans leave footprints on another planet. Things are no different for the Challengers.
The most visible changes in our world of course have been information oriented. I was ten when ARPANET was officially decommissioned and commercial ISPs began piping internet and World Wide Web access into people’s homes. I don’t have hard figures, but I’d be surprised if any but a few of the most powerful computers on earth when I was born could rival the computing power most of us carry in our pockets today. And for better or worse, the connected nature of the internet age has created a global community with both the good and bad characteristics of a small town or village.
I also grew up from the fourth grade on with the specter of global warming (now global climate change) hanging over my head. My peers and I were told time and time again of the consequences that would come to pass if the threat posed by global warming to the planet wasn’t addressed. Challengers, and the generation after us, grew up with the knowledge that the planet was sick, and we came to realize that older folk didn’t have all that much in the way of will or resources to do a lot about it. We’ve watched in mounting horror as climatological changes that as children we were told our children or grandchildren might see in their lifetimes, have come to pass already or are predicted well within our own.
At the same time, there have been positive changes too. I first learned of the AIDS crisis as a boy at my great-aunt’s house for Thanksgiving, where on the TV I heard a news report about Ryan White. My mother, a teacher, was simultaneously outraged at the unfairness of his treatment, and sympathetic to the scared parents of his peers who were trying to protect their children from an unfamiliar and terrifying illness.
But while HIV/AIDS is still with us, we’ve managed to chain it and remove much of its destructive power (at least in the wealthy first world). HIV/AIDS is not unlike Fenrir in the Norse cosmology, it took all our cunning and know-how to mitigate its destructive power, though even bound it still poses a danger. And should it outsmart us someday, the consequences could be beyond dire.
Along the way, the crucible of the AIDS crisis helped force the creation the modern LGBT civil rights movement. Just as advances in computer and communication technology over the last thirty years has been inconceivably fast, the changes in freedom, rights, and our place in society as queer/LGBT people is staggering.
Part of the reason that the conservative right in America, and other nations, fight against our equal place in society so doggedly, is that they aren’t entirely wrong about what’s happening to society. The world they knew is vanishing. Some of that is because their world was always an illusion, a mutually agreed upon suspension of disbelief in which white middle class Christians pretended their experience was universal, and in exchange for being somewhat left alone, everyone else tried not to upset the balance of their imaginings.
But beyond that, our culture and understanding of the world has changed, as it pretty much continually has for the last two hundred years or so. Change can be terrifying. The End Of The World, at least if you’re deeply invested in your world remaining exactly how it’s always been.
So in that, maybe the prognostications of the Mayans (or what people think of that way) are correct. The world is ending today after all, but only because it is perpetually ending and being made anew. Perhaps now more so than ever.
This post originally ran on The Bilerico Project on 12/14/12
I suppose people consider me something of a gun nut, and I’ve written on here before about firearms ownership and the LGBT community, which is why I felt it was important to write this post. You probably won’t hear from most “gun nuts” or 2nd Amendment groups today, and when you do, there’s a decent chance they’ll have something incredibly insensitive an unproductive to say.
This is a problem.
The tragedy today in Connecticut is incomprehensible to me as a human being, as it probably should be to anyone with a soul. What I do know is that it wouldn’t have happened the way it did if guns were harder to acquire in the United States, which likely isn’t what the firearm advocacy groups are going to say today.
I know that many on the right and left might find it hypocritical of me to say that as a law-abiding gun owner, I don’t particularly wish to give up my 2nd Amendment rights, while also saying that we need more regulation of firearms and far greater penalties for violating gun laws. And like it or not, at some point, we as a nation will have to delve into the Pandora’s Box of mental illness and access to deadly weapons.
The reality is that in many but not all countries where guns are far harder to get, these sorts of tragedies just don’t happen with the clockwork-like regularity with which they do in the United States. Although they do happen, as we learned in Norway last year.
At the same time, we also can’t let ourselves get solely bound up in a debate around guns, when we need to be looking at the much larger question of what causes these terrible things to happen. It’s far easier to make this a sterile discussion of policy and law, or to sling mud at our ideological opposites, than it is to try to look for sense in the midst of a senseless nightmare. While there can be no doubt or debate that guns make it easier for madmen to take dozens of lives, focusing solely on the gun part of the equation is a distraction from looking at the bigger issue, that stories like these point to where we’ve failed as a society.
I spoke to my mother today, an educator for nearly four decades. She told me that a common refrain she hears is that we should have police officers in every school in America. Yet, there doesn’t seem to be any will to have a meaningful discussion of how terribly that very idea reflects on who and what we’ve become as a nation. We want easy solutions so we can go back to our ordinary lives in comfort, but both the issue of guns and the far broader issue of why these situations are happening, require more depth than that.
The broader issues of society go far beyond the scope of this post, but I do want to take a moment and talk about guns.
There needs to be an acknowledgment from the pro-gun community that there is something about our firearms laws and practices in this country that simply isn’t working. Moreover, people on the conservative right who argue for greater firearms access, even beyond the point of reason (such as the gun show loophole), while simultaneously favoring severe cuts to the social safety net, including the funding of programs that provide physical and mental health care for disadvantaged Americans, need be be called out for the conflict of their positions. You don’t get to say “it should be easier to get a gun” and “people don’t need mental health care.” Finally, the fact that the pro-gun position and argument in America is deeply rooted in issues of race and class privilege, needs to be talked about and addressed by advocates of responsible firearms ownership, rather than just opponents.
At the same time, those on the Left who see a story like today’s and think that things will be all better if guns are taken away from everyone except the police and military, have to start looking beyond simple solutions to what is clearly a complex social problem. Remaining fixated on gun prohibition as the only acceptable outcome distracts from the possibility of real, constructive change. People opposed to gun ownership also need to understand that there are many good people in America who own guns for recreation, sport, or personal protection. Many, if not most of us, are open to a meaningful dialog around how we can work together through legislation and public education to help make guns safer for everyone. However, the all-too common rhetoric that paints all gun owners with the same brush as mass murders makes cooperation and compromise seem impossible.
I wish I had a good conclusion to this post, but I don’t. My abilities as a writer are not up to the task of talking about the shooting today in language that truly does justice to the scope of what has happened, and after many abortive attempts, I’ve decided not to try.
All I can do is ask that we all acknowledge that there are complex issues involved here, and little to be gained by looking for one-size-fits-all solutions. Whether we are advocates for or against gun ownership, we owe it to the victims not only of this tragedy and ones past, but also to potential victims of the future, to have a meaningful dialog and work together for real and lasting change.
Christianist hate-monger Bryan Fischer, continues to insist that gay exorcisms work.
This really pisses me off on three levels -
First, as a gay/queer/GSRM person, the idea that who and how I love is something that needs to be forcibly driven out of a person is deeply offensive. Many of these ‘exorcisms’ are nothing more than brutal psychological and sometimes physical abuse, couched in a religious framework, and structured to encourage mental disassociation in a way not unlike some forms of CIA brainwashing.
Secondly, as I’ve discussed on NFABS many times before, my own religious/spiritual tradition includes the concepts of spirit/deity possession, and possessory work as part of spiritual practice.
Now obviously my cosmology is not anymore universal or ‘correct’ than Bryan Fischer’s or anyone else’s. But it bothers me to see sexual orientation treated as something external, or even as an independent entity that can be driven out. Even many of the right wing Christian groups that practice gay ‘exorcisms’ aren’t arguing that one’s sexual orientation or gender identity is an external force or consciousness, despite appropriating the trappings of possessory practice in the service of their bigotry.
The vast majority of traditions that incorporate the concept of possessory experience have the idea of something external coming into a person (usually invited), and then being asked or made to leave again after a period of time. This is radically different from an exorcism intended to excise a part of oneself. So based on my own exposure to these sorts of traditions and practices, I find the whole concept ‘gay exorcisms’ angering on a spiritual/religious level as well.
Finally, as a sexuality educator and advocate for healthy, active sex lives for all (save asexual people of course), there is the very real fact that what ‘ex-gay’ practices, including ‘exorcisms,’ are really doing is encouraging people to exorcise their desire.
The reality is that there are virtual no ‘ex-gays’ who’ve changed their sexual orientation (if there are any at all), but there are certainly some people who’ve managed to cut themselves off from their sexual selves (see point one about disassociation and brainwashing). If these programs were bodily castrating LGBT people there’d be swift condemnation from across the nation, and around the globe. But encouraging or forcing people to mentally and emotionally castrate themselves? That gets a pass as religious freedom.
You don’t have to be queer, do possessory work, or be a sexual advocate to be distressed by the idea of gay ‘exorcisms,’ but put all those together and you wind up with a perfect storm of opposition to the practice.
After spending the past week in fabulous San Francisco CA, I’m winging my way across the Rocky Mountains returning to dreary Portland Maine. The company I work for, Odyssey Events LLC, just hosted their first West Coast sex & BDSM conference, after a decade of only doing events in Maryland and DC. Making it all happen took months of hard work, but the event was a spectacular success, exceeding the expectations of everyone who had a hand in its planning, and execution.
In addition to being the event’s national talent coordinator, scheduling coordinator, and production assistant, I kept busy through the weekend: teaching three classes, co-leading opening ritual, and acting as a secondary event photographer.
I should have had an awesome, if busy time, reveling in the realization of a difficult vision. But on top of all of those things, I also spent the entire event desperately working to suppress the symptoms of my Tourette Syndrome.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the condition, or whose knowledge doesn’t extend past corpolalia (the relatively uncommon “swearing tics” that the media is so very fond of), allow me a brief moment to explain:
Tourette is a neurological condition that causes repeated involuntary movements and sounds, or “tics.” These can include sniffing, grunting, throat clearing, head jerking, facial grimacing, or just about anything else you can imagine. Both motor and vocal tics must be present (or have been within one year) for a diagnosis to be made, and the symptoms wax and wane over time without a great deal of rhyme or reason. Over time, new tics can develop and old tics can fade away. I have a host of symptoms, from the largely unnoticeable, such as painful dystonic back and neck tics, to more obvious tics like head jerking and the barking from whence my website and blog take their names.
Just as symptoms vary from person to person and moment to moment, so does a limited ability to suppress those tics for periods of time. The problem with suppressing is that it often takes a great deal of mental energy, making it difficult to maintain focus on other things. Suppressing like this also typically makes the tics far worse later, once someone has passed the limits of how much they can suppress, or are in a situation where they can stop doing so. In my case, I can manage my vocal tics for short periods of time, but doing so makes my painful back tics worse, tires me out faster, and means that I’m constantly devoting a considerable amount of focus and attention simply on the effort of not vocally ticcing.
Why then make the effort? Put simply, I hate being invisible.
I often say, and only half in jest, that growing up with Tourette Syndrome taught me how to be a social entity. After all, I’ll point out, it’s hard to be a wallflower when you’re standing in the corner barking like a small terrier.
But in reality, particularly in sexually charged or queer environments, the rather noticeable consequences of my atypical neurological wiring has the effect of rendering me virtually invisible as a person possessed of sexual agency in the minds of the people around me.
This is hardly unique to my experience as a Touretter of course. Many people who present outwardly as having a disability find that they are automatically classified as a non-sexual being in the minds of those around them and even those whom they interact with on a regular basis. Nor is this phenomena remotely confined to the rather specialized world of kink and BDSM events.
Among gay and queer men, my condition is often seen simply as a burden too far out there to be bothered with as a prospective partner. There is a regrettable stigma in being LGBT in our culture, and in part out of that stigma has grown the pursuit of a nebulous idea of “perfection” in our sexual and romantic partners. As if to say “yes I’m in a same-gender relationship, but wouldn’t you be too if you could have him/her/hir on your arm?”
Equally significant though, the media engines of Gay Inc. have worked hard to present an image of what it means to be LGB(t) in America: attractive, upper middle class, white, monogamous, and most importantly, “normal.” Even if I ticked all those boxes save the last, which I don’t, being perceived as “normal” hasn’t been on the table for me since my tics became significantly noticeable nineteen years ago.
It’s tempting I know, to say that I’m not giving people credit, that given a chance, many people would be happy to engage with me as a sexual and romantic entity despite the Tourette. We want to believe that faced with this sort of situation we’d be guided by our better angels and look past something as simple as some barking or twitching.
But we don’t, and while that’s sad, it’s also very human. As “proof” I can offer this utterly unscientific experiment I ran over the course of a couple of years:
When I remove any mention of the Tourette from my online dating profiles, without making any other fundamental changes, I get responses to messages I send out, and get unsolicited messages in my inbox with some regularity. Put the Tourette back, and the well goes abruptly dry. It doesn’t really matter how vague or specific I get, or even if I take pains to note that I don’t have coprolalia. If I’m out about the Tourette, I get nowhere.
Nor does the strategy of getting to know someone over the web and building a connection before disclosing my condition prove remotely viable. Once the TS is out in the open, potential play or romantic partners disengage to seek out partners whose neurotransmitters fire in a more conventional way.
While rejection always sucks, I vastly prefer the passive rejection of an unreturned note or a note never sent, over building a connection with someone only to have them turn tail and run when they find out about the Tourette. This is why after much experimentation, I settled on leaving the disclosure in place in my social media and dating-site profiles.
As an aside, I’ve found in talking to many of the trans* people in my life that there are some clear parallels to be drawn between my own experience as a Touretter and the trans* experience, especially but not exclusively as it relates to dating and sexual agency. While as a rule most of the trans* people in my life reject the idea of trans* identity as a “medical condition,” and I certainly wouldn’t call being trans* a “disability, one could likely replace “Tourette” and “TS” in the preceding couple of paragraphs with “trans* history/identity” and have a painfully familiar storyline to many people.
Despite all the issues inherent in being seen as a Touretter, suppressing my tics at Surrender was hardly a rousing success as a strategy. With part of my attention perpetually diverted to managing the tics, I found it hard to fully engage with the people around me, and I know that I was a bit off my game during opening ritual and my urethral sounding class if nothing else.
On a related note, while I’ve achieved a satisfying level of professional success in my field, although I certainly have goals and dreams as-yet-unrealized, I have doubts as to whether I could I have gotten where I am now, had my entry into this world not coincided with a combination of a strong waning phase and a couple of years where my primary tics were not as socially intrusive as the barking (which has been an on-again/off-again companion for nearly nineteen years). After all, as I’ve discussed before, my much of my work is fundamentally related to sex work.
But beneath all the issues of dating and career opportunities, closets are not, and have never been places where I feel comfortable. When I did consider pursuing play at Surrender, or even just a deeper intellectual/emotional connection with someone, I found myself hyper conscious of the fact that I was not presenting them with my authentic self.
Speaking only for myself, Tourette Syndrome is part of my fundamental makeup, and without its overarching influence, my life would surely look radically different than it does today. It’s not hyperbole to say that there’s no way to really know me without understanding the TS and how it has and continues to effect who I am and how I move through my life.
I’d love to say that I’m going to resolve to be more open and positive about the Tourette, or that I won’t repeat this exact same pattern come Dark Odyssey Winter Fire in February. But the reality is that I honestly don’t know.
That’s the Siren’s song of the closet after all.
Note: this is an adaptation and expansion of a post of mine that originally appeared at Bilerico.com on 11/2/12. I’ve made quite a lot of additions that would not have been suitable for the Bilerico audience
The word “Surrender” has been on my mind a lot lately. Firstly I suppose, because it’s the name of Dark Odyssey’s newest event, which is coming up in scarcely a week, so I’ve been saying it an awful lot lately. But also, because “surrender” is something I’ve not been getting enough of in my life lately.
That may seem a bit strange as sentiments go. The whole idea of surrendering is very much not something that we are taught in modern American culture to embrace. Above all, our society embraces and rewards strength, supremacy, and yes: dominance.
Certainly I live a life where those are required assets for survival. Foremost there’s my disability, which is at times highly visible, socially problematic, and requires me to be a strong advocate for myself – often with quite hostile strangers. Then there’s my career as a public speaker, BDSM educator, and as programing coordinator/assistant producer for a BDSM event company. Sexual and relationship dynamics aside, that work requires one to be the embodiment of assertive and in control. As a spirit worker, pagan, and magician, I’m seen by people as a spiritual authority, and while submission to my gods is understood to an extent within the community, there are also expectation of mastery that can seem to many to be absolutely intertwined with an aura of strength and invulnerability. And finally, there’s my work as an LGBT/GSRM advocate, activist, and blogger, where if you show even a moment’s vulnerability, the wolves of intolerance, both from without and within the community, will descend and tear you apart.
In my personal erotic/romantic life, I’ve long identified as a “switch.” That is, someone who enjoys the exploration of dynamics of dominance and/or sadism, as well as those of submission and/or masochism. However, for many years I’ve been unable to find partners and opportunities in which to give free rein to my submissive and masochistic desires.
My aforementioned roles in the BDSM community surely have played a part in those troubles. Of the people who express an erotic or kinky interest in me, the overwhelming majority see me more as a set of skills that they can learn or enjoy, rather than as a holistic person made up of needs and wants. I don’t want to come across as complaining though, it’s a known part of the job I do, and I accept that. More often than not it still leads to mutually enjoyable experiences as well.
The people who have expressed an interest in topping me over the last few years have tended to do so in ways that made me deeply uncomfortable. Several potential play partners have expressed a reluctance to honor my hard limits, with one person saying
come on, I could be the guy who made Wintersong Tashlin ‘red,’ how could I pass that up?
For the record, it’s not hard at all to make me call ‘red,’ (a standard dungeon safe-word), I have a list of clear hard limits, and I am also not nearly as hard a masochist as I am brutal in my sadism.
But not bottoming for BDSM play has been about far more than not wanting to interfere with people’s perception of my “image,” or the difficulty finding suitable play partners. After all, some of the kinksters I have the most respect for are very public about their own submission, including my boss at Dark Odyssey, and people like fellow BDSM educator Mollena Williams.
What I have come to realize is that for all that I talk frequently in my education work, and deeply believe in. the inherent equality of submissives and dominants, somewhere along the line I internalized those societal messages I mentioned a few paragraphs ago. I fell into the trap of believing that to be “strong” I had to maintain constant control in my mundane, spiritual, and professional life. That it was somehow a mark of failure or weakness to allow myself to let go and surrender to the other side of my nature.
And then, last weekend, something remarkable happened. For the first time in years, I permitted myself to relinquish control and indulge the submissive/masochistic side of my desires. I’ve been heavily overworking myself between the push to get everything ready for Dark Odyssey Surrender, an Oct/Nov touring schedule that somehow got insanely full, trying to remain active as an editor and blogger for Bilerico.com, and some complicated issues in my family and spiritual lives.
In a fine hotel room, where I was staying for a conference on gender and sexuality, two truly fabulous men that I’m lucky to have in my life spent a good number of hours beating, pinching, biting, and in other ways tormenting my body, in a way that let my mind be free in a way that I desperately needed. I didn’t go into the situation expecting things to go there, but I was with people who I could trust, and to be honest, I simply didn’t have the emotional resources in that time and space to be a good top. I needed to not be “on,” to be vulnerable, which isn’t something I feel I can be with anyone in my life right now (the topic for another post I suppose).
Of course now is the point where I suppose that I need to specify that yes there were safewords between us, and in the few occasions where I needed to use my “slow down” command it was instantly respected. Likewise, when I said that I had legitimately had enough, the scene ended.
But while it lasted, I was totally consumed with both the sensations in my body, and the consensual illusion of having my life under someone else’s control for a while, yet having that person be someone who didn’t want anything from me, unlike the Lady, Var, or the other gods and spirits I work with in a submissive context.
I could totally forget about planning a huge event in a new city, being a professional BDSM educator, my spirit work, or even the convoluted and anxiety-inducing twists and turns of the 2012 election season. It was glorious, intimate, and amazingly restful, even if parts of my body are still sore nearly a week later. Given how stressful my life has been of late, it’s not hyperbole to say that this scene happened right when I needed it to, in order keep going without a serious breakdown.
Now, obviously BDSM is not for everyone! That I personally found deep meaning in the experience I’ve described doesn’t mean that I think getting consensually beaten is a universal cure-all for the pressures of our lives. But, in a roundabout way, it is.
I believe that we all need to find our “thing,” some part of ourselves that we can surrender to for a while. Maybe it’s being beaten hard by two hot Boston queer boys. But then again, maybe it’s a hobby, a form of entertainment, a deeply held desire to try something different – perhaps even something out of character. It could be something you think you should have outgrown, or something you feel too young for. You could be held back by the pressing needs of your life, fear, or concerns over how people might react, or something else entirely.
Whatever it is, I encourage you to find and embrace that part of yourself. Surrender to your need to escape the everyday realities of your existence, and let yourself go for a short while. An important way to respect yourself is by acknowledging and respecting all your needs, even those that make you a bit uncomfortable.
We can’t be “on” all the time, and if we’re going to be effective when we are, we have to have the down periods too. That’s the only way to keep fighting on in whatever struggles and roles your life is throwing at you.
My humanity is up by nine points in Turtle Country, according to the latest Washington Post poll on the referendum that would extend the right of civil marriage to same-sex couples. The poll of likely voters shows that 52% intend to vote yes on Question 6, while 43% say they don't have a homophobic bone in their bodies but are pretty sure the Lord God Almighty thinks that…
Originally written February, 2012
Today I'm celebrating sixth months of foreskin restoration, if you want to call a passing thought a celebration. But yeah, 6 months into the big stretch and I'm happy to report things are going well.
In a bitter-sweet sort of way, I've achieved semi-consistent accumulation of smegma resulting in the head of my penis becoming smoother and having a healthier colour than before.