Religion at Pride and Conflicting Access Needs

The relationship between sexual orientation is complex, conflicted, and messy as hell.  At most Pride parades, you’ll run into both religious queer people marching with their churches and assholes with megaphones using God as an excuse to browbeat people.

There’s a good Twitter conversation here about the role of straight, religious allies: https://twitter.com/foodtruckpastor/status/878775871175368704

I did like that other people were suggesting the same thing I mentioned here, the idea that Christian allies can help by distracting the haters quietly and politely and getting them to put their megaphones down.

But @IrishAtheist pointed out that an awful lot of LGBTQ people are victims of spiritual abuse and don’t want to be anybody’s mission field, no matter how affirming they are.

It’s complicated because religion can either be a huge positive or a huge negative, depending on your own experiences. At my first Pride, one of the things that was the most meaningful for me was seeing a big rainbow flag on the church near where the parade started, and all the affirming church groups marching.

But I’m a little unusual as ex-fundamentalists go, having never experienced direct spiritual abuse. I absorbed a lot of toxic and harmful theology, but I attended those churches on my own, rather than being taken to church by my parents. That made walking away from fundamentalism, if not easy, at least a lot less complicated, and it meant I never really considered walking away from Christianity all together.

But queer atheists and agnostics are a minority in multiple ways, and too much religious expression can make them feel unwelcome, particularly if they’ve experienced spiritual abuse about their orientation.

For talking about this issue, I really like The Unit of Caring‘s concept of competing access needs, which I found out about from Brute Reason. Here’s the basic idea as the Unit of Caring explains it:

Or (and here’s the example I am scared to share) I’m gay. And sometimes I wonder, ‘would the world be a better place if gay people didn’t exist?’ Telling me ‘wtf is wrong with you’ is really not helpful for enabling me to work through that question. And if I ask it in my campus LGBT center, or on tumblr, it is likely that my need to have that conversation is going to have a big painful collision with someone else’s need not to hear questions like that entertained seriously.

I need people who will think about my question and give me honest answers, to the best of their ability. I won’t be able to get over this question until someone reaches out to me with a genuine spirit of respect and curiosity so we can talk about the answer.

On the other hand, the needs of other people to not be around serious conversations about whether they deserve to exist is really valid and really important. There should be safe spaces where my question is prohibited. There should be lots and lots of spaces where my question is prohibited, actually. Everyone in the world should have access to spaces where my question is prohibited.

But if my question is prohibited everywhere – if it is a universal norm that no decent human being will have a conversation with me about this – then it will keep lurking in the back of my head, unanswered. Or, even worse, I’ll turn for answers to the people who are willing to ignore this universal norm, the people who don’t care about being regarded as decent human beings, and I’ll internalize the things they are saying because no one else is in that space countering them.

And if a ‘safe space for asking really weird hypothetical questions without being judged’ exists, I can go there and ask, and people will take me seriously and I’ll know that they’re trying to give honest answers.

People can have valid and completely incompatible needs. It doesn’t make either person bad or wrong for having those needs. It doesn’t even mean they can’t be friends or should never interact; it just means that they need *separate* places to have those needs met.

My need to have my identity as a bi Christian affirmed and supported is real and valid. So is the need of LGBTQ victims of spiritual abuse to have queer-friendly spaces where they won’t have *anything* religious pushed on them. We’re not going to get those needs met in the same spaces, but that’s okay. Ideally, a large city’s Pride would have multiple events with multiple different focuses.  Maybe there’s a queer atheist/agnostic/secular humanist meet-up, and there’s also a queer interfaith religious ceremony, and those things are nowhere near each other.

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Engaging with the fundies at Pride?

Last year’s Baltimore Pride was my first Pride event.  As I’ve mentioned before, it was *awesome.* Also as I’ve mentioned before, I was, shall we say, emotionally unprepared for the fundamentalist jerk-weasels with the bullhorns, and may have overreacted a small bit to their presence. (That is, I got into a shouting match about how God is love and they’re the ones who need to go read their Bibles.)  This was less than helpful, both because it stressed me right the hell out and because it kept them lingering at our part of the parade, rather than moving on to bother someone else.

It occurred to me afterwards that an absolutely wonderful thing allies could do to show their support would be to divert and distract these folks. Not by yelling at them or making a big scene, but just by quietly asking them some questions. Basically play the role of someone who’s interested in what they have to say, and see if you can get them to engage with you, one on one, quietly.  Because every minute they spend looking up some passage in Leviticus for you and answering your oh-so-sincere questions is a minute they’re not yelling hellfire and damnation at someone who’s hurt by it.

The giant downside of course, is that you’ve taught them that yelling hate gets them the kind of attention they want. And they will, of course, spin the story such that you were a person suffering from same-sex attraction, conned by the liberal media, who they rescued from the flames of hell. But, then, lying liars who lie will claim that they used to be gay and God fixed them, or whatever they need to claim to try to convince people that their hate is a holy cause. So, I’d be wary of saying things that agree with them or sound like you’re convinced by their cherry-picked passages.

This is just an idea I’m tossing around in my head.  It seems like it might be worth attempting, to make Pride events a little safer for people who’ve come out of (or are still in) oppressive religious environments and just need one day to be who they are. I’m not sure if giving the haters even that much validation is a good thing, though.

LGBTQ Fat PRIDE!

For the first time ever, my local area had a Pride march!  We had a small rally with three speakers who represented a range of ages and experiences, and then we marched a short loop.  I carried the bi pride flag, which made me ridiculously happy.  We had at least 50 or 60 people, a pretty good turnout for the first year, especially when a lot of people went up to Capital Pride instead.

After the ugly reception that a prior Pride event had gotten (people felt the need to tear down flyers and to put up anti-LGBT religious signs in their cars near the event), I was worried we’d be catching some kind of flak from the religious haters.  Particularly as motivated as they were to cause a stink about library sex ed because (gasp!) the teacher was queer.  But, there was no pushback that I saw.

For me, the best moment was when one of the speakers, a genderqueer teen, talked about the depression he’d* gone through as a kid. He mentioned how part of accepting himself was accepting being fat as a good thing and reclaiming that word.  I applauded, he pointed at me and grinned, and it turned into a round of applause.  I was really happy to be able to kick off an outpouring of support for a fat teen, that yes, it is okay to be fat, your body is awesome, and you are awesome.

*He was introduced by someone who knows him personally using he/him pronouns, but he didn’t actually say those were his pronouns. I’m going with he/him/his based on the info I have. So, awesome genderqueer teen, if you happen to be reading this and you go, “Wow, that’s me…but those aren’t my pronouns!” please let me know & I’ll make corrections.

You don’t get to talk about abortion unless…

Okay, new rule.  All the dudes who want to enforce pregnancy on anyone who can’t prove to their satisfaction that they were raped or that the pregnancy will kill them need to meet the following qualifications:

  1. Blood and Organ Donor: You must donate blood every time you are eligible. Not once or twice a year or when it’s convenient. Every single time you’re eligible. You’re off the hook if the Red Cross won’t actually take your blood, but fear of needles, passing out, or throwing up aren’t an excuse. Likewise, you must be registered as a bone marrow donor and donate marrow whenever needed. You must also give a kidney to anybody who needs one if you’re a match. If an embryo has the right to use someone else’s body for nine months to sustain its life, then sick people in hospitals absolutely have the right to your blood, your bone marrow, and any organs you have multiples of.
  2. Sex: You must never in your life have had sex that could get another person pregnant without confirming with that person that they actually wish to become pregnant. Since all birth control has a failure rate, that includes protected sex, unless one or both of you has been permanently sterilized.
  3. Charitable Giving: You must actually contribute 5-10% of your income to help people in poverty. If you’re a member of a religious organization, only the portion of your contributions that actually serve that purpose count.  If you tithe 10% and your church spends 30% of its budget on benevolence, then you’re at 3% and still have at least 2 to go.
  4. Social Safety Net: You must actually support a society in which everyone has food, shelter, clothing, and medical care. If you vote Republican, that’s pretty much an auto-disqualifier.
  5. Dependable Friend: If a friend or family member who is pregnant or has an infant needs anything from you at any time, no matter how expensive, annoying, or inconvenient, you have to help. Sister wants you to skip the football game and babysit for free?  You’re on the hook.

You might argue that this is all terribly unfair, and who am I to dictate how you live your life. What right do I, a total stranger who knows nothing about you, have to decide how much you can tolerate, the nature of your intimate relationships, and what parts of your life and your very body you have to give up?  You’re right.  I don’t have any.  You’re an autonomous human who gets to decide what you can handle, how you want to live, and what obligations you’ll submit to.  But, and this is the key point—So. Is. Every. Pregnant. Person.

If you’re trying to make a problem worse, I have trouble believing you when you say you’re solving it.

The New York Times recently published an op-ed arguing that all economic problems with abortion can be solved with private charity. It should be obvious to anyone paying attention how false that is.  It’s nice that, in the course of lying to you about breast cancer and depression and withholding your test results, a crisis pregnancy center might also hook you up with a low-cost car or help you with utility bills. But that only scratches the surface of the economic issues–everything from life-long medical costs from pregnancy complications to lower earning potential as someone with a kid to take care of. Crisis pregnancy centers frequently stop helping women as soon as they can’t obtain a legal abortion.  They’re certainly not going to help with daycare costs when the kid you didn’t abort is five, or help you out with the cost of insulin for the next twenty years if gestational diabetes never goes away.

It occurred to me that crisis pregnancy centers are, as far as I’m aware, the only charities working on an issue who are actively trying to make sure more people need their services. Every other organization at the front lines of addressing a problem at least encourages measures that would prevent the problems they address in the first place. Animal rescue groups hold free spay and neuter clinics and encourage people to get their pets fixed. Groups who help homeless people find places to stay are also often trying to address substance abuse, mental illness, and economic issues.  And you won’t see crisis hotlines for LGBT kids saying, “Sure, go ahead & reject your kids for being gay! We’ve got this covered.”

Crisis pregnancy centers, in contrast, actively oppose measures that would result in fewer unplanned pregnancies. The author of the NYT Op-Ed wrote an abstinence-only “sex ed” curriculum—the very kind that drives up teen pregnancy rates. Additionally, by trying to make abortion illegal, they’re looking to massively increase the number of people who need their assistance.

There were about 660,000 abortions reported to the CDC in 2013, and there are between 2300 and 3500 crisis pregnancy centers. Divided evenly, that’s a couple *hundred* additional people in need of help per clinic per year, without even counting the increased abortions if schools that are currently teaching medically accurate sex ed switch to abstinence only.

An American Independent article lists some statistics on the number of people seen by crisis pregnancy centers. According to the Family Research Council, approximately 230,000 ultrasounds were performed at a thousand centers, 230 per clinic.  Even if those centers only did ultrasounds for *half* of the pregnant people they see, providing services for the 650,000 people who currently have abortions would be a 50% increase.

Any other charity might panic at the idea of 50% more people needing their help.  Ask a homeless shelter to add 50% more beds or a cancer treatment center to see 50% more patients, and they’ll be frantically trying to figure out where the money, staff, and resources will come from. But a CPC’s apparent response is a shrug and a blithe “We got this.”  The op ed doesn’t mention any such numbers, or any concrete plans for how the author’s organization would handle such an increase, only the vague generalization that conservatives “must sacrifice their time and treasure to serve women in need”. It’s worth mentioning that this sacrifice of time and treasure is totally voluntary, with no guarantee it’ll actually happen if abortion rights disappear.

To me, that’s a pretty strong indication that CPCs aren’t looking to solve the economic problems associated with unplanned pregnancies as much as they’re trying to put a fig leaf over them. “See, women don’t need abortions! Crisis pregnancy centers will provide them with charity so they can take care of their babies.” Whether their help is sufficient for the actual needs of the pregnant person isn’t really their concern, as long as they prevent that person from having an abortion.

(Hat tip to @AnaMardoll for her thread on how disingenuous the idea that abortion isn’t an economic issue “because private charity” is)

AHCA BS

I was out at Steampunk World’s Fair all weekend, so this isn’t much of a post.  But I do want to say that if you live in one of the districts of any of the 217 Congresscritters who voted for the AHCA, please yell at them.  Send them letters, fill their voicemail, @ them on Twitter.  Don’t yell at their staffers, because they didn’t vote for the bill, but please, do your damnedest to make sure that not a single one of these people is ever elected for so much as dog-catcher again.

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/slacktivist/2017/05/04/no-theyre-not-going-see-coming/

People Get to Do Things They Might Regret

The Guardian is apparently a font of anti-trans articles and articles that can be used that way, between the mom insisting that her kid is a tomboy and is not trans (despite a previous article where the kid states that he’s a boy), the really harsh letter to a trans ex, and this article detailing the experience of a woman who started a transition to male and regretted it. The article in and of itself wasn’t anti-trans, but it was thrown at me as a supposed example of “children being sterilized because they’re confused about their gender.” (It’s not—she was 18 when she had surgery and while testosterone can affect fertility, she still has a chance to get pregnant.)

Before sharing my take on this article, I want to give some background from actual trans organizations on the subject of detransition and amplify the voices of trans people who have been there*:
http://transadvocate.com/transitioning-back-to-ones-assigned-sex-at-birth_n_9946.htm – An explanation from Trans Advocate about reasons people detransition, as well as statistics
http://web.archive.org/web/20080409023914/http://www.joanneherman.com/Trans_101_regret.html – The author of Transgender Explained for Those Who Are Not, a trans woman, writes about why people regret sex-reassignment surgery
https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/dispelling-the-myths-around-detransitioning – An interview with two trans women who were widely reported as detransitioning. (One had only paused; the other had decided to detransition due to social pressures but changed her mind again.)

As far as the author’s experience itself, she was dealt a really crappy hand, and I have an awful lot of sympathy. She transitioned very quickly after being suicidal as a teenager. She had no counseling at all and started hormones and had chest surgery at the age of 18. Her chest surgery was botched, leaving her with major scarring. So, that’s two huge instances of extremely poor medical treatment. The usual standard of care involves not only counseling, but a whole year of Real-Life Experience (RLE) living openly as their gender prior to any surgery. (Some doctors even require it before hormones.)

She’s also completely right that oppressive sexism makes women and girls feel broken when it’s society, not us, that has something wrong with it. And it’s much easier to try to change yourself than to fight against the forces of society that try to force you into compliance.

I think hers is a story that’s worth telling, because it underscores the importance of good counselling before making a life-altering medical decision, as well as the damaging effects of misogyny. Also, it’s a true story, and everybody deserves to have their experience heard and respected.

But. (There’s always a but.) The way I’ve seen it used is really harmful. This author’s experience is *not* the norm for trans people who undergo surgical transition. There’s usually tons of counseling and a requirement that the person live as their gender prior to surgery. If you want to use this article to say, “Some counseling should exist,” great, most trans people would agree with you. But if you want to use it to expand gatekeeping that already makes trans people’s life more difficult, or to argue that we shouldn’t acknowledge people’s gender when they tell us they’re trans, then not so much.

The idea that adult people need to be protected, at all costs, from doing anything they might regret is pretty infantilizing. People particularly freak out about sterilization, whether directly through surgery or indirectly in the cases where hormones make someone infertile. (They also tend to assume that the second is an automatic guarantee, which it is not.) And yet, a lot of those people, certainly the ones who consider themselves feminists, wouldn’t question a cis woman’s right to have her tubes tied if she doesn’t want children or doesn’t want more children. To expect a trans person to undergo more strenuous gatekeeping than a cis woman for a similar choice indicates that you don’t view them as adults who can make their own decisions. (That’s not to diminish the amount of gatekeeping women who want permanent sterilization *do* face, especially if they haven’t had kids at all.)

Everyone will make dozens of choices in their lives that they might regret. Medical ones tend to have the most gatekeeping, with consent forms and counseling, but everything from your choice of a college major to your choice of a spouse can change your life. And that’s just the decisions that you know are life-altering at the time. It’s pretty obvious when you’re standing up in church or the courthouse to say “I do” that this is a life-altering moment, but asking that person for their number or sitting down next to them in chem lab probably didn’t seem like a turning point. It’s hard to imagine a life where you can never make a choice you regret. Your choices would have to be so constrained by other people as to be completely meaningless.

There’s no way to stop people from making decisions they may later regret, nor should we try. The best we can do is make sure they have good options available to them and have the time and information to make the choice that’s right for them. It may turn out that what they thought was right for them at the time wasn’t, but they’re still the only person who can make that choice.

With kids, of course the ideal is that they never have to face major decisions they aren’t ready for, because they have loving parents and a network of school and community to shield them from that. Reality, of course, is not that simple. A pregnant fourteen-year-old can either give birth or have an abortion. If she gives birth, she can raise the baby herself or put them up for adoption. All of those are life-altering choices, and there’s no neutral option.

I don’t want to equate being a trans teen with being a pregnant teen because they’re very different life experiences (and some teens experience both), but in both cases, there are no neutral options. There’s a cost for a kid to live as their assigned at birth gender, and a cost for them to transition. Current medical best practices include puberty blockers, giving the kid time to think about the decision and keep all their options open. Then, if they decide to transition, there’s more counseling at each step. The intent is already to protect kids from having to make life-altering decisions before they’re ready, and to make sure that they and their parents have the necessary information and fully consider all medical decisions.

The one place where I truly disagree with the author of the Guardian piece is where she says transitioning “should be seen as the last resort.” I think the idea of transition as a last resort is harmful because it adds onto the standard of informed consent. It’s not enough that the patient be aware of all their options and have thoroughly considered their choice. Instead, they have to somehow prove that they’ve suffered “enough” or are at “enough” risk to be allowed to transition. Considering that the author herself was suicidal when she transitioned, the bar for “last resort” would have to be extraordinarily high to have prevented the transition that she came to regret. So how many suicidal trans people would be denied care and would die as a result? Obviously, she didn’t get appropriate medical care. She had no counseling, and her surgery was botched. So of course she wants stricter standards. But “last resort” swings too far in the other direction, and it doesn’t treat trans people as adults who get to make their own life decisions.

*Referring to gender gets a little messy when people detransition, but the basic principle is to respect how someone refers to themselves. The author of the Guardian piece is “she” because she states that she’s a woman, not a trans man. Likewise, the two women interviewed in the Vice article paused their transitions but identify themselves as women. (This would be the case regardless of what surgeries they have or don’t have, or what meds they take or don’t take.)