How many trans men are there in the world?

How I run “All transmen know each other” on Facebook: with transparency, liberally, and without pity for trolls of any gender identity.

How I run “All transmen know each other” on Facebook: with transparency, liberally, and without pity for trolls of any gender identity.

There are about 35 million transmen in the world. I base this figure on the very rough estimates that, of all the people in the world:

  • One in two are assigned female at birth,
  • One in ten are somewhere on the LGBT spectrum, and,
  • Of those on the spectrum, one in ten are trans.
The Facebook group I created in 2011, “All transmen know each other,” has recently reached the ten thousand-member mark.

Figures for the transgender population vary: Gary Gates says that about 0.3% of the adult US population identifies as transgender, or three times as many as I’ve estimated. Extending Gates’ work to the current global population of over 7 billion, and presuming half of trans people are assigned female at birth, there are potentially over a billion a hundred million trans men in the world. (Thanks to Ian of the group for catching my mathematical error.)

The Facebook group I created in 2011, “All transmen know each other,” has recently reached the ten thousand-member mark. That’s nowhere near the millions or billions of trans men who might possibly be alive today, but still makes “All transmen” one of the largest FTM groups on Facebook. I have a theory on why my Facebook group is so popular: the administrative rules foster community, and are simple to enact and replicate.

I made some decisions when I created the group that I have held a firm position on, over the years. The group would be public. This makes it easier for Facebook users to find us, and it makes people accountable for what they do in the group. The membership would not be limited by personal identity. Trying to police the gender identities of people online goes against not only my ethics, but common sense. And since the premise was that we all know one another, or aren’t far removed, we might know one another through other people who aren’t trans men: via mutual friends, lovers, allies, trans and queer people. The group would be about trans men and our experiences, but we would not be the only ones allowed in.

My plan was to create a space that was mostly wild: just focused enough to be worth joining, and moderated enough to be worth participating in. I delete the spam, ban the trolls, defuse escalating tempers, and remind members of the rules of the group, but mostly, I let discussions run their course. I’m cautiously optimistic, based on this experiment, that public, identity-based groups with simple “don’t be a jerk” rules for participation have a future in social media.

The tweaks I made to the rules, early on, were intended to reduce negativity and increase clarity of the group’s vision. It was not a group that would become whatever the current vocal minority said they wanted, and up for debate each time a new vision became popular. It would not become closed (in the Facebook sense, of non-members being unable to see our discussions) or exclusive to trans men. Bullying people for using the “wrong” words or displaying the “wrong” feelings (having expressed, for instance, a sexual preference for trans men) would not be permitted. The limits of my power are as admin of this one Facebook group, so I don’t allow fights that begin elsewhere to erupt on the page. No screencaps of text or IM conversations that identify anyone other than the person posting are permitted in the group.

There are literally hundreds of groups on Facebook for trans men: stealth men and public speakers on the subject, breastfeeding men, newly transitioning men, senior men, men of color, gay and bisexual transmen, survivors of abuse, open groups, closed groups, you name it. If “All transmen” isn’t for you, and none of the other groups are, either, it takes about three and a half minutes to create your own group and find out whether your vision for the perfect trans group on FB works as well as you think it should.

The group is not staffed 24/7, no one has taken responsibility for members in crisis, and despite every member’s efforts, sometimes bad posts make it into the group and hang around for a while before they’re deleted. Despite the caveats that the group is not a support group, and not a “safe space,” “All transmen know each other” provides a reasonably secure online environment for trans men to come out and find community, support, and resources. The group is active enough that nearly any query gets not just one but several useful and timely responses. It’s full of engaged members who retain group memory: to refer new members to other resources, and demonstrate the kind of clear communication and healthy boundaries the group set out to embody.

There are certain questions that new members ask repeatedly. “How do I begin transition?” “How do I have the coming out talk with my parents?” “Who is a good surgeon in my area, and do they take my health insurance?” I answer when I’m qualified and have the time, encourage those I wish I could do more to help, if only to bump his post back up near the top so that someone else might see it and answer. The question that seems to elicit the most annoyance from other “All transmen”  members is, “Do I pass?” However, it’s not the kind of question that one n00b can ask for everyone else’s reference, so everyone that needs to ask it, will have to do so for himself.

There are several categories of posts that I don’t enjoy, but neither do I delete them. The “Do I pass?” posts are one. Another category that is unpopular, but permitted, is the “Go Fund Me” post. I’ve rarely seen a “contribute to my transition fund” request that courteously explained the exceptional reason why those of us already paying for our own transitions should pay for someone else’s, as well. The campaigns are often created by people so new to their own transitions that they’re asking for tens of thousands of dollars for procedures they haven’t researched, much less are ready to undergo. Some of them haven’t even come out to anyone, yet. There are no hard rules of transition, but moving out of your childhood bedroom and/or coming out to your parents typically precedes phalloplasty. I know, it’s not fair. It’s also not my fault.

Sociopaths are a vanishingly small minority—about two percent of the population—but they exist in my community like they do in everyone else’s, and it only takes one to ruin an experience for thousands of people. More than ten years ago, I saw the death of a beloved transgender conference, due to the antisocial behavior of a few troublesome members of my community. These privileged children felt entitled to stick it to our host because their weekend got extended by a snowstorm that trapped every out-of-towner at the conference venue for an extra day. While most of us made the appropriate arrangements for an act of nature, because sucking up inconveniences is one of the pitfalls of travel, these people played “dine and dash” in the hotel restaurant, slept on couches and stairs in the lobby, and just to make sure their aggrieved message was clear, destroyed the frames on the artwork displayed in the hotel where the conference was held. There’s a metaphor there, for people who are angry at situations that were created by no one on Earth, and who lash out at whoever inspires their jealousy. The actions of a few selfish members of my tiny community destroyed an institution, one that has not been replaced in the years since. So I’ll be damned if I’m going to let some little trolls come fuck up my Facebook group.

Not everyone is welcome in “All transmen.” Almost every day, I let at least twenty new members in, and ban at least one person for breaking the rules. Most of them, I won’t shed a tear over: the ones who post ads for handbags (and much, much worse) are some of my least favorite people on the internet. I feel a little bit bad when I ban a trans man from “All transmen” for being abusive to the other members. I also know that people have to be able to get along, not be vicious, destructive, attention seeking, or cruel, no matter how they identify, or how hard their lives have been. I’d rather the group were only three-fifths transmen, and capture only a tiny fraction of all of the transmen on Earth, as long as the majority of the participating members are courteous and fair with one another, and keep the discussion on topic.

“All transmen” continues to grow at a steady rate, and host varied and thoughtful discussion, daily, on a variety of aspects of our lives. I believe there’s a lesson here for anyone trying to create community online: on how many rules are optimal, and which ones are indispensable. All transmen don’t know each other yet, and probably never will, but with patience and management, I now know ten thousand people who are holding a space open, online, for that dream to be realized.

 

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Time Enough at Last: The Liebster Awards

The last man on Earth

How do I define and elicit passion? A Q & A for the Liebster Awards.

Thank you, Sexually Fluid Frolicker, for nominating me for the Liebster Award. Your thoughtful blog has enriched the internet.

Here are the questions you posted, and my answers. Rules and my nominees follow.

  1. What wants & needs do you possess, as an individual, that you find difficult to satisfy without outside assistance? Every single one of them. As introverted as I am, I am still a social animal. I might think I’d be like that guy in the “Twilight Zone” episode who is so happy to be the last man on Earth, with a full library in front of him… until my glasses broke. Even for the pleasure of solitude and reading, I need a world full of people, past and present, to have written all those books, printed and distributed them, and built the library to put them in. Going further, I need people because I couldn’t have invented a language with which to code my thoughts, and without all of you, there wouldn’t be much to think about.
  2. How would you define gender & sexuality? Are they distinct concepts in your head, or do they coalesce into something else? Our genders intersect with our sexual desires in discrete categories like “bisexual man” that form parts of our identities. They’re still separate: being a man is still different from being a woman, even if we share tastes in sexual partners. In my imagination of the sexual encounter, there is still the “me” half of it to consider: who I am, what my body looks like, and how I want it to be touched. So how I embody bisexuality will be different from how someone of another gender does, just on that basis. And then we’re still different people….
  3. How would you define intimacy and sexual intimacy? How do these definitions relate to your gender & sexuality, as defined above? Intimacy is about sharing personal information that makes me vulnerable to the person I’m sharing it with. I take the risk for the chance of developing a rewarding connection with another person. Sexual intimacy is a subset. The people I want to be intimate with is a personal choice, with so many factors, that I would say it’s a part of my personality, who I choose to be intimate with and in what ways. I’m also married and polyamorous, so who I’m intimate with is in some ways proscribed or defined by these identities.
  4. How do you most like to begin and end significant and/or meaningful experiences and relationships? Any dominating themes? To start, my actions are guided by questions like, “Am I being open?”, “What is this person sharing with me?”, and “What else would I like to elicit from this person?” When considering the end, I will ask myself, “Are we still being open?”, “Am I getting intimate feedback?”, and “Does what I’m getting from this relationship please me?” That might just be a readjustment point, or it may signal the end of a relationship/experience. As a theme, I’m more hesitant to go to the party—to initiate intimacy—than to leave it when I’m no longer having fun.
  5. Where do you go when you are full of feeling? Have you ever let others join you in those spaces? It could be a physical space, or otherwise. Ideally, this is a time when I ground myself in my body. I want to be there for it. And when that is the case, then I’m able to share the experience with others. Its opposite is dissociation, which is an isolated place.
  6. What does time mean to you in relation to your life? Which do you prefer to put the most and/or least emphasis on: the past, present, or future? It’s about now.
  7. Define fun. Within the human experience, what would you identify as it’s opposite? Define that too. Fun is effort with a reward built into it. Drudgery is like Sisyphus without the cardio benefits or the Nietzschean contemplation.
  8. Define passion. Within the human experience, what would you identify as it’s opposite? Define that too. Passion equals engagement, having a personal stake in the outcome. Its opposite is disconnection: when it genuinely doesn’t matter what you do, because you can’t affect the outcome, or the outcome doesn’t affect you.
  9. Do you enjoy searching for connections between thoughts and ideas? Why/how or why not? Yes, I’m a very curious person.
  10. What qualifies as sexual contact for you? More specifically, when does contact, physical or otherwise, cease to be sexual for you? Sexual contact is intended to elicit sexual arousal, and pleasure. When action doesn’t carry that intent, then it’s not. I’m taking “sexual contact” to be a kind of action verb, but of course it’s reciprocal, and so two people might be in contact, but one might intend it to be sexual, and the other not share that intent, or not even register what they’re doing as “contact.” Also, the one intending to give pleasure through their actions may not be succeeding (though this does not negate its sexuality, IMHO).
  11. Do you prefer to “go with the flow” or “stick to your guns”? In other words, which takes precedence in your life: your perceptions or your judgments (respectively)? Perceptions are more important and more durable. It’s harder to reverse engineer my own judgments later, when I realize I was wrong. I make an effort to record my perceptions, but also my judgments, so I have both to refer to when I come back to them.

Other blogs that I believe deserve Liebster Award recognition:

https://danceswithfat.wordpress.com
https://standup2p.wordpress.com
http://afroculinaria.com

Dear nominees: Here are my eleven questions for you.

  1. Pretend you’re at a conference where the usual identity labels are strongly discouraged, and instead, people are encouraged to find community based on labels that do not make reference to gender, race, religion, or any other social or political labels. Everyone gets a badge on which they can put some other kind of label that describes themselves. The idea is that, you will meet people you want to talk to, based on what they’ve written on their labels. What’s on yours?
  2. You’ve invited the one person from all of history you’d most like to have to dinner, and you’ve both just sat down and introduced yourself. Now a waiter has brought you one small tart (which is equally acceptable to both you) to split as an amuse bouche. Script the ensuing interaction between you and your guest in a way that demonstrates what you admire most about this person or why you want to meet them.
  3. What is your quest?
  4. What technology has become available in your lifetime that has most changed the course of your life?
  5. What institution of everyday life do you admire most, and why?
  6. Do you clean up as you cook, or clean everything up afterward?
  7. What was your favorite book when you were twenty, and how has your opinion of this book changed?
  8. How does concern for search engine rankings affect the way you write for your blog?
  9. If you could purchase and install deep knowledge of a subject into your brain (it’s perfectly safe!), what would it be and why?
  10. In what way would you say you are most privileged in relation to other people you know?
  11. Does the life of a “Doctor Who” companion appeal to you, and why or why not?

**Here are the Liebster Award rules for this round **

  1. Thank the person who nominated you by tagging their original post to yours.
  2. Answer 11 questions.
  3. Nominate other bloggers who deserve this award.
  4. Ask them 11 questions.
  5. Put these rules in your post.
  6. Inform the bloggers you have nominated.

Image credit: Hollywoodaholic.com

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A hundred years in Corleone

Historical-map-of-Sicily-bjs-1Appreciation develops on its own timetable, or not at all.

Before I got interested in genealogy, the subject I adored and rarely spoke of with my friends was weight lifting. There just didn’t seem to be much to say about it to people who don’t lift. In those years, I thought genealogy sounded boring. Then I was laid up with a back injury and started reading a lot of history, out of an interest in my own origins, and it led me to genealogy.

I still imagine the word “genealogy” sets off certain associations, as it once did for me, of people who enjoy playing bridge and golfing, who go to early bird dinners and read murder mysteries. I can tell when someone doesn’t already associate genealogy with thrilling discoveries and intellectual rigor, because they don’t have any questions about my research. I don’t want to be that guy who can’t talk about anything that’s not his fantasy football team, or Magic: The Gathering card collection, so I move on to a subject we can both talk about.

This is what I find so exciting about genealogy: the way it lets me turn patience and attention to detail into a greater understanding of a larger world.

I don’t work at drawing people into my passion. Several inner voices rise up to remind me that my interest  is not popular among people who share my identity politics, to whisper that of course, other people do not find it inherently intriguing to squint at the baptismal records of people long dead. One voice insinuates that I’m a miser, a jealous hoarder of delicious details. I’m ashamed of being intensely interested in my far off and deceased relations, when I don’t even send birthday cards to my living family members.

Another, more doubtful voice suggests that maybe it is because it’s a solitary pursuit, and one I need no help getting excited about, that I do not bother trying to sell my friends on genealogy. There are forums where it doesn’t matter that we don’t share other common interests: we can still share this thing of ours and find genuine appreciation of our efforts. Relatives and paisan’ have found me through the profiles I publish and update online. Like any other interest or fandom, it seems that appreciation develops on its own timetable, or not at all.

This is what I find so exciting about genealogy: the way it lets me turn patience and attention to detail into a greater understanding of a larger world. I’m building up a body of knowledge about Corleone, about this town at a crossroads of civilization and the people who lived there, during a turbulent time in history. I’m creating a coherent narrative of how I got here. It’s not unlike knitting, writing a novel, or for that matter, brickmasonry: another one of the skills of my ancestors. They’re about painstaking precision, putting in the time, thinking about the engineering of the thing in advance of the work, because it is so slow. It’s meant to make something enduring and beautiful, and the way it’s done is with craft and care. There’s a reason genealogy and knitting are associated with our grandmothers, why brickmasonry still remains in the popular imagination as a noble art, long after we stopped paying anyone a noble salary to do it. Knitting wasn’t just a hobby, it was how we survived the winters.

Every time I stumble upon a close relative, or a tantalizing anecdote, I get a jolt. They are the bright bricks, unearthed randomly and placed where they can be seen. I’ll slog through pages of the death records of infants, for the genuine excitement and pleasure at finding what I think of as a “good” death: an elderly person who has married, who I know from my research has seen children grow to adulthood, marry, and have children of their own. Someone prepared for death: who has received last rites, and died in their own bed.

The sudden deaths are harder to fathom. I rarely see what I found earlier this month, which were the murders of three people, one of whom remained unidentified, in the spring of 1890. I found a fourth victim in the December of that year.

Of the two identified in the spring, I knew them both: who their parents were, whether they’d married. I have written about their lives. To find them murdered in the night, and this fact plainly stated in the Church records—records that, for the most part, tend not to judge, but to state only certain facts and not others—was unprecedented. The Church’s records will say how old people were at death, whether they ever married, who their parents were, who gave them last rites, where they were buried. I’ve found one suicide, in decades of Church death records. I’ve found one man who refused last rites: only the one. I’ve found the records of my own family going back nine generations; deaths at all ages, generally without explanation; of the murders, the suicide, the hundreds who died the summer of cholera, in 1837, and the records of countless, countless infants: left in the wheel house to be raised by others, dead in infancy, named after dead siblings. Some families have six, seven children, and lose every one. I have trouble fathoming such grief. No one I know today lives with that much loss, so closely.

Most recently, I’m following a priest through a walking tour of the city as it existed in 1811. It’s a document called the “stato delle anime,” the “state of the soul,” a Church census of households and individuals. The headings he’s jotted down throughout are the directions he takes as he goes: “out the Strada Grande,” “in front of the mill,” “under the castle,” “as one exits the courtyard.” He works his way in and out of alleys, called “vanellas,” a cousin who still lives in Sicily tells me, and which the priest numbers in lieu of names. He names the people who live in them, gives their ages and relationships. It’s given new, literal, dimension to my understanding of the people who once lived in Corleone.

Would you like to read more about my family in Corleone? I’m very active on WikiTree, an open source genealogy website. My profile is here, a page about my direct ancestors is here, and a page on my research methodology (potentially helpful to other amateur genealogists who are interested in Corleone, Sicily) is here.

 

Image credit: Wikipedia

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Sasha Blue

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The streets were dark and Sasha remarked that he’d always found the electric blue of a car’s dashboard “brights” indicator to be an especially beautiful one.

A friend died this year, too far away for me to get to the funeral. He had a chronic condition that I knew would contribute to his early death, but I was still taken by surprise to hear he’d been found unconscious in his home. Sasha never recovered. He died in the hospital about a week later.

When I was in my early twenties, Sasha was my closest friend. He was there when I was figuring out so many things about myself. Sasha was clever, sarcastic, smart, and graceful, making him welcome wherever he went. And because I was his trusted friend, he let me cross some of the boundaries in his life: between the straight world of Tampa and the semi-secret world of gay bars and dance parties, between the youthful university culture where we met, and the eighty and ninety year old ballroom dance students Sasha taught. Perhaps most importantly, he told me once that it is necessary to sort out what one desires from what one wants to be. It wasn’t more than a few months later that I began to transition from female to male.

Sasha was color blind. Color blindness of the most common sorts, like Sasha’s red-green version, mean that some colors are difficult to distinguish, not that there is no color at all. One night, I was riding home in Sasha’s car with two of our friends in the back seat. The streets were dark and Sasha remarked that he’d always found the electric blue of a car’s dashboard “brights” indicator to be an especially beautiful one. He wondered if we saw the same shade of blue he did. He might have also wondered if it stood out for him more than it did for us, because he had fewer beautiful colors in his visible spectrum.

Sasha had a way of being “on,” entertaining but not permeable. This was a different kind of remark, one that invited us in. We all craned our necks to see the shade of blue that Sasha found so captivating. And we agreed that it was, indeed, a beautiful shade of blue. I’ve wondered at times why this moment stuck with me, what it said about Sasha or about me. It is the one that came back to me most clearly, in the days after his death.

For the years that we were friends and roommates, Sasha let me tag along with him to the ballrooms where he gave dance lessons, to Denny’s to smoke cigarettes and drink coffee while we studied, and to the bars where he sang karaoke and danced and tried to score. I’d roam the dark rooms as if searching for someone. In the small country western bar where we threw darts with Sasha’s straight friends, drank Budweiser, and sang, I relearned how to be on stage, close enough to make eye contact, so near to the speakers that I couldn’t hear the sound of my unamplified voice and had to trust my experience in hitting the notes and what it felt like to vibrate at that frequency. Sometimes I failed to polite applause. But sometimes, it was like flying.

My transition put a wall between Sasha and me. Sasha, who studied gender performance and whose books were the first I read on the subject of transgenderism, thought I was making the wrong choice: that I was confusing what I wanted with what I wanted to be. My new identity felt fragile but real and worth protecting, so I pulled away from my closest friend, began making new friends who understood and respected my identity. I dressed more conservatively as a man than I had as a woman. My voice began to change and the songs didn’t come as easily, dropped out of my repertoire as the highest notes escaped my range.

It’s been years, now, since I’ve sang in public. After Sasha died I thought about going out again and giving it a try, to remember him, but it isn’t the same. I’m out of practice and too self conscious to sing anywhere except when I’m in the car alone. I haven’t had my own automobile in more than ten years. When I need to go somewhere, I borrow my husband’s car, and if I’m driving home late at night from wherever I’ve been, sometimes I will sing to keep myself awake. And sometimes, if I’m on winding country roads and put on my brights, the periwinkle glow of the icon on the dash will transport me to my twenties, the streets of Tampa, riding in the passenger seat of Sasha’s car.

Image credit: johnthoward1961/Flickr

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If America’s #1 Dad Couldn’t Save His Son with a Whupping, None of Our Kids Are Safe

 

Bill Cosby

Choosing not to hit my son is one decision I’ve never regretted.

With domestic violence so prominently in the news recently, in predictable sequence have come outrage and backlash. After it was made public that the NFL had known about the video of Ray Rice punching his fiancee unconscious in a casino hotel elevator, and then behaving coolly afterward, my friends on Facebook expressed righteous anger, first directed at the perpetrator and those who would cover up such violence. But then came the more complicated responses: the scorn for Janay Palmer, who expressed regret for events leading to her own assault, and who married the man who treated her so remorselessly. There were even defenses mounted for Ray Rice, saying that Palmer must have brought on such actions, that she had struck first and had it coming.

When the second scandal hit, of another NFL player, Adrian Peterson, beating his four year old child with a switch cut from a tree, the cycle of abuse coverage went through the same cycle of anger, shock, disbelief, bargaining, and shame. This time, among the defenses of his behavior was that loving African-American parents not only commonly beat their children with switches as a form of discipline, but that this is good and necessary. Necessary, according to one person with whom I’ve had this conversation, because Black children, especially Black boys, need to be harshly disciplined, or risk bringing upon themselves the wrath of a racist society.

***

I’m a white man, from what I think of as a fairly typical working class white American family. My sister and I would get spanked, and have other corporal forms of discipline imposed upon us. I decided not to spank my own son, and to raise him differently in other regards: to value difference, to be empathetic, to know that I was a real person, and so was he. I think I did, not great, but okay. Some of my choices as a parent were wrong, and some have been cause of long introspection and deep shame. The choice not to hit him is not one that I regret.

When I was a kid on Long Island in the early Eighties, my family’s principal bonding experience was watching TV together. My sister and I would sprawl on the white shag carpeting in front of the big console television in the living room, and we would all laugh together at “All in the Family,” “M*A*S*H”, “The Muppet Show,” and other prime time programming, especially on Sunday nights.

My parents, sister, and I watched “Bill Cosby: Himself” on HBO when it first aired, in 1983 or ‘84. Cosby’s live show was a clear departure from our  family’s usual fare, the production bare, and revealing. His standup routine was delivered in a period brown suit on an empty stage, a conference chair and a microphone his only props. Cosby covered several taboos in succession: drug use, religion, childbirth, parenting. And he did it all without going “blue,” enabling my sister and I to stay through the whole performance. There’s a whole bit about how he and his wife would deliver nightly beatings to their five children, announcing it like an arena sport. My sister and I laughed at this along with our parents.

We all loved Cosby after that, and became devotees of his new sitcom. The Huxtables were well-to-do, squeaky clean role models of modern American family life, a version of the Cosbys, themselves. Whether Dr. and Mrs. Huxtable spanked their TV family was never addressed. I wouldn’t have chanced to wonder. That Bill Cosby had managed to bring a Black family into my father’s living room was miraculous. Even Archie Bunker types like my father were getting Cosby sweaters for Christmas and Father’s Day, in 1985, and growing to identify with him. My family, who regularly identified themselves with Archie Bunker et familia, now invited Dr. Huxtable’s family into our living room on Thursday nights.

The actor who played the Huxtables’ teenage son, Theo, on “The Cosby Show,” Malcolm Jamal-Warner, was serious “Tiger Beat” material.  The model for TV’s Theo Huxtable was Ennis William Cosby, Bill and Camille Cosby’s only son. He was killed in 1997 in a robbery on the side of the highway at night, while changing a car tire.

Ennis wasn’t alone that night. He called a friend, who came and watched from her car while he changed his tire. Someone came up and knocked on her window and caused her to move her car a short distance. When she looked up again, Ennis was dead.

Ennis Cosby did all the things I’d want my son to do, in that situation. Be self sufficient, and value your life. Move off the side of the road, fix the flat, don’t be alone in the dark. Ennis’ father was America’s Number One Dad. Ennis had dyslexia, and his parents sent him to the schools with the best LD programs they could find. The foundation named after him is for kids with learning disabilities. If the most perfect parents, giving their son every opportunity and tool that he needs to succeed, can’t keep him safe from a racist thug with a gun, then what can possibly keep any of our kids safe?

The answer is, nothing. We can do the best jobs we are able, even the best jobs possible, and yet we can’t control the whole world. Every day, millions of parents have to watch their precious children, whom they love, walk out the door into the unknown, and just… hope they’ve done enough to bring them home safely. What knowledge, what parenting act, what faith or magic, can possibly be momentous enough for this task? I imagine the fear that Bill and Camille probably felt for their son every single day, that someone would take their beautiful child’s life, because that unknown future assailant would not see their child as beautiful.

 

***

 

When I was a child, I was beautiful, but no one let me know that. Other kids told me that I was funny looking. From a young age, I told my classmates that I was from outer space, that my parents were not my real parents. I knew I was weird. I eventually stopped telling lies and tried to figure out the truths of why I was so different, what it was about me that isolated me, even in my own small family. It would take me a long time. Meanwhile, others volunteered their own answers to my question. Their taunts varied, leaving me only with the impression that there was something wrong with me that even others had a hard time pinning down.

One afternoon I came home from school and called my mother at work. I was sobbing and she was flustered. I never called her at work. “Let me call you back,” she said hastily, and hung up.

I’d gotten gum in my hair on the school bus. Someone had put it there. My hair was long and thick. I would have to cut the gum out. It would not make much of a difference, but I was defeated, anyway. This wasn’t the worst bullying incident. Yet for some reason, I called my mother. I only ever turned to her when there was no where else left to turn.

She called me back after a few minutes. “You bring this on yourself by being different, you know.” Her advice went on in that vein, not for long. Then she hung up.

I cut the gum out of my hair and didn’t mention it again.

When I hear the stories about Janay Palmer and Adrian Peterson’s son, I feel sorry for them, because they are being told that they deserve to be abused. And some people believe it’s true. The arguments for it include, this was done to me and I turned out fine and, if I don’t do this to my own kids, they will draw fire, however unjustly. But this is what happened to me and I’m not fine. Not only can’t you protect your kids by beating them, but hitting them begins teaching kids the lesson early that some people are allowed to hit other people, that there are natural hierarchies, with violence flowing down to the bottom. It sets them up for the next lesson, the one my mother stated so baldly on the phone that afternoon. It sets them up to take responsibility for their own victimization.

There are few subjects less divisive than how to parent. We all want to think that in such important areas of our lives as how we treat one another, the loved one and the stranger, that we are making the right choices. A new generation of progressive American parents is challenging bullying, even permitting the diversity of transgender children to flourish.

The conservative countervailing forces regard the couple, and the family, as small sovereign nations, places where we each must make our own laws in accordance with our own values, and be free to make the difficult choices of how to be good people, how to stay alive, and how to raise our children to be good, free, and safe, as well. None of us are perfect at it, even the ones with college degrees, TV shows, and worldwide recognition. It leaves us vulnerable to criticisms that go to the heart of who we are: our values, our children.

If you take cultural relativism to its extreme, any practice is acceptable, as long as it has a stated purpose and is accepted and perpetuated in a society. Female circumcision, child brides, even the deplorable practice of slavery, upon which America was built, can be defended and has been: that it is Biblically sanctioned, that it was “necessary” to economic development, that it was “less severe” in the North, that it “brought heathens to Christ,” or that ”it happened here, and we’re okay now.” Opposition to change is a conservative impulse, and not all conservative trends are bad, even to a flaming radical. Without doing things the way we always have, every morning would have to begin with a negotiation of terms that we would otherwise regard as settled: which side of the road to drive on, what language to conduct business in, whether we still have employment and on what terms. Some institutions are worth keeping, but leaving open to modification, as needed.

We still speak English every day, but we let new words slip in, and new ways of saying things. We still have laws, but we don’t pillory or publicly hang people, any more. And while many parts of this nation were founded on specific religious principles, or on slavery, or piracy, or genocide, these are no longer values we embrace as American. And we did this through the radical act of enlarging who we saw as fully human and worthy of being treated as an equal to ourselves, from a “We the People” that did not include me or most of my neighbors, to one that does. Even the Constitution, our nation’s Bible, is not immutable. Today’s “We” still doesn’t include everyone it could, and its breadth is constantly being contested. I would say it’s in our nature to contest it, has been all along. The reason we had to fight the Civil War was because we could not sustain the courage of our convictions at Lexington. The reason we had to fight the Civil Rights Struggle of the 1960s was because neither war was fully over. Perhaps the Puritans were right to identify themselves with Israel, who wrestles with angels.

I don’t have all the answers to how we’re going to win the war on racism, or how to actualize the emancipation of children from the petty tyrannies of their parents. I am no more an authority on parenting than average, perhaps less so. Maybe the family is an oppressive structure that cannot help but recapitulate abusive power structures, or perhaps it can be reformed, a tool instead of a cage, and made just. In either case, change to the family unit will only happen incrementally. Yet it’s undoubtedly changing.

Image credit: fuzzcat/Flickr

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Because Ferguson

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The “Because X” meme from social media becomes news

“12 Things White People Can Do Now Because Ferguson” makes use of the “Because X” meme in a way that is effective, for the same reason we should notice when it’s being used.Source: http://0.tqn.com/d/webtrends/1/L/T/E/-/-/yolo.jpg

 First of all, “Because Science,” “Because Reasons,” and “Because Ferguson” work. Who needs prepositional phrases, when you can just say “because”?

 What is left out of these constructions is the argument, either because the reasons are boring, well known, or even unknown to the listener. The most important part of the equation is replaced with bluster. Writing “12 Things White People Can Do Now Because Ferguson” sounds cooler and more relatable than the alternatives that would more clearly define the relationship between white readers and the violence of institutionalized racism.Source: http://www.quickmeme.com/img/28/28f0d7244f31c441536aa4fe63be54c187c8920cb591fdbeddfc68ebfabe99f7.jpg

 Part of this headline’s effectiveness is the list format: as a former editor of a website, I can tell you that the numbers back me up on this: people do love themselves a list. We like the way it feels, like we can check these off as if they were on a “honey do” list, and have accomplished something. And while I don’t work for Google and don’t know exactly how their search algorithms work, the first headline is more direct and I believe, more likely to rise to the top of search results than the latter.

Source: http://treasure.diylol.com/uploads/post/image/174453/resized_philosoraptor-meme-generator-circular-logic-is-the-best-logic-because-it-is-circular-fa4a24.jpg“Because X” can be used to back up either side of a well-known conundrum. Perhaps what makes the “because” of the matter so boring as to be usefully elided, is our sense of familiarity with both sides of the argument. Those who agree that cookies are delicious, and those who believe cookies are evil temptations, can both laugh at “Because Reasons” as a justification for eating some cookies.

 Anyone who is invested in an issue, from “stand your ground” to teaching “intelligent design” alongside evolution, has an image of the other side that will fit onto a “Because X” meme. And since memes are distillations of inside jokes, they are a powerful shorthand for people who have politics in common. Chances are, the people on your Facebook page almost all “get it” if you post a meme like this, because you’ve probably already “hid” or stopped following the people you once knew online, who consistently demonstrated that they did not see the situation from the same perspective as you.

Source: http://www.funnyjunk.com/funny_pictures/1964098/BecauseIt’s the well-known effect of the echo chamber, which Facebook (and other social media, like Twitter, Pinterest, and Tubmlr) makes easy to create, and allows for selective exposure to the values you share. Follow who you like: people who post the stories and ideas that make sense to you, and with which you enjoy grappling or just nodding along to. Most people have a limit for the amount of grappling they’re willing to do in a day, so they find sources of content they trust: friends who will reliably post heartwarming videos of pitbulls playing with babies, well-composed pictures of organic food, and think pieces they already agree with. We already know enough about what a shitty state the world is in, thanks.

Source: http://www.quickmeme.com/img/92/9213857421bf8f4b1e2825f89cc95e5381a04a750c819fea21ec202dfca5adb9.jpgBalance is necessary, between bringing in new information and getting it to fit into one’s existing worldview. If the new info is too disparate, and constantly challenges the structure of one’s world view, it actually prevents growth of the individual. To be healthy, fully actualized people, we have to have firm roots as well as to reach for the stars. We need to be strong enough to withstand attacks on our values, but not so stiff that we do not alter our stance in response to new data. At the same time, without reassurance that everything we know is not total bullshit, that at least some of it is solid, there is no ground from which to evaluate contrary or novel ideas.

Source: http://www.funnyjunk.com/Loki/funny-pictures/5080869/31#31

 Having to find our own balance makes reading the news less secure than is ideal. There are still institutions, newspapers and magazines with trusted reputations. But more and more of the news we receive comes to us from—and is filtered by—social media. The job in society of news coverage is transferring from a small number of publishers, to a blogosphere of individuals. The work of determining what is trustworthy, traditionally performed by the publisher, has become the responsibility of the reader. At the same time, the “cloud” of your friends, in combination with social media, have taken over the job of filtering what is newsworthy. What would you do if IMDb and Snopes both disappeared?

Source: http://www.funnyjunk.com/boom/funny-pictures/4855343/8#8

 We’ve had to become more savvy, and yet we still get tripped up. When was the last time someone on your friends list got taken in by a fake news story? For me, it was this morning.

 I say all this like I know it, but this past week I had another lesson in how unreliable my Facebook friends feed is as a news source. I’ve been ignoring news alerts in my email inbox, heading straight for the pitbull videos and Upworthy links. Between the algorithms that Facebook uses, and what my friends post, I learned about Robin Williams’ death before I discovered what was happening in Ferguson, MO. A celebrity suicide trumps the police killing an unarmed teenager and then brutalizing the protesters. Facebook is more invested in my short-term happiness than in my growth as an individual. Likewise, content providers who just want 100,000 people to “Like” their pages right now, so they can make $1,000 in ad revenues.

Source: http://i3.kym-cdn.com/photos/images/original/000/156/686/why-mr2-meme-generator-why-open-door-while-too-much-wheel-spin-because-race-car-06b268.jpg

 Old media wasn’t perfect, either. There have always been broadsheets, pamphlets, and mullet wrappers, Page Six girls and puff pieces. I can be just as critical of my news sources whether they come from the Fifth Estate or the Fourth.

 

When bloggers get purposely vague by using constructions that remove the argument, whether because precisely describing what has happened is too boring, too wordy, or just not cool, man, then writers will have finally placed the last burden of journalism on the readers. Because news is not just what has happened, it’s also why it happened, and why it’s important. It’s not just today’s story, but the total reporting on a subject over the longer term. Those relationships and priorities are woven into what we write: from the headline and the lede to the prepositional phrases we choose to describe nuanced relationships among people and events.

Source: http://cdn.theatlantic.com/newsroom/img/posts/BecauseReasons.jpg

 Readers, having already sought out our own sources of news online and sustained them with our attention, must now come up with the very news itself, out of all of the op-eds, anonymous reports, blogging heads, and “fair and balanced” news outlets that are the remnants of journalism. The internet has set us free to read and believe what we like, but with freedom comes responsibility. We have to take responsibility for the content that we choose to consume, and how it affects us, and not rely on any one tool, whether it’s a newspaper or a news feed, to make those decisions for us.

Because reasons.

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“Heartbreak and Detox” Is Now Available for $0.99

torn heart

“Heartbreak and Detox” is now available as a Kindle eBook.

You can now read my short memoir of trans masculine identity, love, and pain management, “Heartbreak and Detox,” on Kindle. The story originally reviewed in “Manning Up:  Transsexual Men on Finding Brotherhood, Family, and Themselves,” is now available through Amazon for just $0.99.

Heartbreak and Detox, Kindle Edition

Kate Bartolotta, author of “Heart Medicine” writes:

Justin Cascio’s “Heartbreak and Detox” reminds us that bullying doesn’t necessarily end with childhood, and love—even when it looks complicated on the outside—is often quite simple. …Cascio’s story offers a bittersweet look at the lifelong search for intimacy that transcends gender and orientation, and like many other stories, never truly ends.

Read “Heartbreak and Detox” now.

Cover art courtesy of Neal Fowler/Flickr

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