Suicide Isn’t Pretty, Much Less an Appropriate Marketing Strategy

[Trigger warning for discussion of suicidality]

The porn company named “suicide girls” puts me in a fit of nausea every time I hear it.  And they’re not the only trigger: tumblr is rife with photos of thin, fragile-looking women lying on train tracks; Hot Topic sells fingerless “cutter” gloves. Judging by what you’re liable to be sold (be it products or beauty standards), it almost seems like the last thing you would expect suicide to entail is a removal from society.

Tragically, one of the biggest tip-offs that you are dealing with a marginalized minority is when you realize that the minority’s rates of suicide are disproportionately high. It’s a terrifying, terrifying thing to realize that, for some people, this world is a very inhospitable place. This whole re-fashioning of suicide-related imagery as desirable is really just a way for the immature to divorce the possibility of suicide from its ramifications. Death is cute now! We don’t even have to worry about our own feelings and those of our peers! Nothing bad can happen because even the word used to describe something bad that could happen is now just an unoriginal artistic statement!!

When I volunteered for a suicide hotline, we used to get a couple prank calls every month. They were always from a group of teenagers, and they usually started off with some ridiculous, obviously false story like “everybody hates me because I’m an evil racist.” And, honestly? I don’t think the prank callers are evil people who are deliberately tying up phone lines that would be better used communicating with people in crisis. I think the problem is that those teenagers just weren’t ready to understand that suicide is an all-too-common and all-too-immediate problem for kids much like themselves. (Possibly kids exactly like themselves; who’s to say that they weren’t so threatened by the idea of suicide in part because they found it a little appealing?)

Of course, this juvenile attitude towards suicide makes it all that much harder for suicidal people to get the help they need. We–as a culture–need to replace our discomfort and eagerness to ignore the issue with determination to confront the societal ills that drive many people to kill themselves. Not because of aphorisms like “suicide is wrong/selfish” but because any living conditions that are capable of convincing a group of people that they’d rather be dead are not acceptable. We need to be able to do better.

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Thoughts on Vanilla Privilege

It exists, basically.

I’m kind of surprised that this is a contentious issue all of a sudden (or at least, among my circle of people on the internet). One of the “reasons” being spread around for the nonexistance of vanilla privilege is the fact that it can be mitigated by being queer or trans* (or sometimes a POC). Which is a weird argument because A LOT of privilege can be mitigated by other sources of oppression. That’s the whole point of the fucking kyriarchy. A middle-class fat person still has economic privilege, even though they might not be able to get the same quality of healthcare their thin, middle-class counterparts have (because the fat person don’t have thin privilege). But their experience of marginalization doesn’t NEGATE their privilege on other axises. The same applies for a vanilla queer person who is *also* told that their sexuality is resultant from childhood trauma (and therefore illegitimate, natch >.<)

But mostly, I think the people who are throwing around those excuses and refusing to really consider what vanilla privilege looks like are being defensive.

Guys. Having privilege is not a sign of poor character or a refutation of the discrimination you *have* experienced. Please calm down and listen to people when they tell you about how hard it has been for them to escape a bad relationship/get nonjudgmental medical care/stay employed/relate to their vanilla friends/etc because of a systematic, cultural oppression that you just don’t face.

Also, when all of the mainstream portrayals of kink are inacted by people who aren’t out as kinky and used solely to give the scene/song/flat, non-recuring character more “grit”—that’s tokenization. Yes, some kinky people use that ONE way in which we are EVER acknowledged as a source of pride that, by necessity, implies that vanilla people are boring. Assholes will be assholes, but trying to re-frame a stereotype that actively hurts us doesn’t negate the systematic damage that the “kinky = weird and edgy; vanilla = totally normal” paradigm does to us.

(cross-posted on tumblr)

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Weezer and The Trivialized Plight of the Straight, White, Young, Abled, Cisgender, American, Male…Loser

[Please note: this entire post deals only with the “later” Weezer. I really don’t know how you would go about fitting “The Sweater Song” into this pattern or, moreover, why the fuck you would want to.]

I’m not saying you can’t be all of the things mentioned in this post’s title and still have a hard life. I know that most of my friends who fit the straight/white/man/middle-class/etc archetype (yup, all two of them) certainly have bigger issues than those of this music video’s protagonist. But why aren’t they being addressed? Is there a reason that popular bands like Weezer focus on overcoming middling social status  but not…college debt? A disproportionately low life expectancy? The lack of awareness around female-on-male abuse/rape? Those are big issues that no man–over-privileged or no–is immune to. So why the fuck does Weezer write song after song about mostly-male, mostly-White people who need only to grapple with the fact that they aren’t quite as far up the social hierarchy as they could be?

My theory is that a lot of Weezer’s music works on two levels: kyriarchally, it doesn’t overtly challenge much. Women are status symbols only, few people of color are featured,  and the adverse affects of systems like patriarchy (like defensive masculinity) are never challenged at the root. This aggressive conformity, somewhat unfortunately, is one of the reasons Weezer is so palatable to a mainstream audience.

However, most of Weezer’s songs do speak of some sort of resistance and strength. Less commercially successful songs like “The Good Life (2004)” are more progressive in terms of gender roles, age, and–to a certain extent–classism (in so far as the music video highlights the monotony of one young woman’s job as a pizza delivery girl). But characters like her are never allowed to overcome their adversity. Most of Weezer’s popular songs highlight some sort of struggle by which a maligned protagonist gains strength and, very often, learns to abandon his oppressors. Of course, that charade seems a whole fucking lot less impressive when (as is the case for “Perfect Situation,” shown at the start of this post) the “oppressor” is a female band member and the abandonment leads to fronting a popular band, which is a needlessly privileged position.

But I still think that “Perfect Situation” and other–admittedly pathetic and contrived–narratives of a barely-downtrodden hero who learns to reject the vapid-bitch-who-doesn’t-go-for-nice-guys-like-him can be inspiring to radically-minded people of all genders. Because, in the end, there are very few success stories wherein the leading character finds fulfillment by outright rejecting the system that previously made them so miserable. The conclusion made by the (grossly constructed, to this feminist’s mind) protagonist to ignore the catty girl musician and move the fuck on with his life is shockingly similar to my own decision to stop dressing solely to look good for other people, stop engaging in conversations I didn’t want to be part of, stop deferring to my less-qualified-but-more-male peers and just live my life. Hopefully, any encouragement to think outside of the game you will always lose (be it attracting a beautiful girl or, you know, some actual oppression) will push others to do the same.

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On Being “Batshit Insane” and the Anatomy of a Slur

[If you are easily triggered by racist, ableist, or homophobic slurs you may want to skip this one.]

I was recently trying to write something on tumblr about this one radfem I know and love. It started out as an explanation of how oppression creates a false scarcity, pitting oppressed people against each other instead of the system by which they are marginalized. But it did, at some point, become necessary to mention that the radfem in question believed all sex between men and women to be rape. That is, I joked, absolutely batshit insane.

And then I stopped. As a person with PTSD, as a person with an anxiety disorder, with depression, as a person who used to be legitimately agoraphobic, I am arguably the most insane person I’ve met. So why is it that I attached a word commonly used to describe my own condition to someone’s fucking ridiculous theory? I am certainly not making any un-nuanced generalizations about male-female intercourse. In fact, I’m being a lot more cogent on this subject than she was, so why is it that I insult her by comparing her own theory to myself?

That’s just how slurs work. They can be applied to almost anyone, but they always reference a specific group of marginalized people.

This presents a weird sort of disconnect by which people (read: bigots) sometimes try to justify their usage of words like fag or n—. “But he wasn’t gay!” they protest, “and White people can be n–s too!” That right there is some steaming bullshit. Because the truth is that if slurs were really as disconnected from their original meanings as the people who use them would have you believe, they would look very different.

Non-oppressive insults that have etymological origins in a slur are not immediately recognizable as such. If I told you that you were “bad,” you would most likely have to reach for a dictionary before making any connection between the word “bad” and being intersex. So while “bad” did evolve from the Old English word for “hermaphrodite,” bæddel, it certainly doesn’t have that association now. The ordinary English speaker would not make any connection between the word “bad” itself and people with ambiguous genitals. Tell me that Black people are separated from the n-word to a similar extent. Just fucking try.

The other way you can tell that a slur is still a slur, and not a generally acceptable insult, is that the slur will denote specific stereotypes associated with the people it’s based off of. You can call a straight girl a dyke, sure, but the function of that isn’t to shame her for an inherent quality, it’s to compare her to a queer woman (and thereby make her ashamed). This is because “dyke” invokes all sorts of qualities our culture associates with female queerness: gender-nonconformity, “non-normal” sexuality, aggression, lack of “befitting” sexual interest in men, etc. For a straight woman, being called a dyke is offensive because she *is* attracted to men, and because of systematic homophobia she knows that our culture values her heterosexuality. So she feels devalued when someone calls her a dyke after she’s turned him down sexually, for example. This doesn’t do her nearly the same amount of damage that it does an actual queer woman, who is devalued do to an unchangeable facet of her personhood whenever she is called a dyke.

And that, I think, is why it’s so important to reserve the reclamation of a slur for the group of people that specific slur (in and of itself) refers to, regardless of who has been called what. Because it’s actually a shorter order. Instead of applying the word randomly, we can just focus on robbing it of its negative connotation, while keeping the functional definition (“dyke = queer woman,” for example) intact.

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“Being Bisexual Means That You’re Only Attracted to Two Genders. Bi Means Two. Two Genders.”

Oh, blogosphere, when are we ever going to convince each other that etymology does not, in fact, determine meaning? On the one side, you have queer-hating dipshits talking about how they couldn’t possibly be homophobic…because they aren’t afraid of gay people.  And then on the other, we have well-meaning activists who really truly believe (correctly) that gender is not just a male/female dichotomy and are trying to adjust their language accordingly.

Unfortunately, no one told these people how language works. And moreover, no one told them that it is unacceptable to re-define other people’s identities. Telling me that, as a bisexual person, I am either attracted to two genders exclusively (e.g. men and women, but not genderqueer people) or flat out lying about who I am isn’t just intelletually lazy, it’s oppressive.

I don’t think I can even impress upon y’all how incredibly grossed out it makes me to witness conversations in which none of the major players are bisexual, but everyone is tripping the fuck over themselves to define the word “bisexual” to their satisfaction. To be honest, it feels like I’ve just walked into a room where a bunch of straight girls are trying to determine who “counts” as a lesbian, and whose identity is a total farce.

So here’s the deal: anyone who identifies as bisexual is bisexual. Full stop. And if you don’t want to identify as bisexual? Congratulations! You don’t have to! But please, if you’re going to decide that you’d rather be pansexual than bi, don’t back it up with “bi means two genders and I’m attracted to *every* gender.” Because there are bisexual people who are also attracted to every gender, and they don’t appreciate you errasing them to make yourself look more legitimate. Non-monosexual people often feel like they need to justify their non-monosexual identity, but the way to solve that problem is to combat monosexism, not turn on one another to prove that one of us is somehow “correct” in their identity.

Here are the reasons why I identify as bisexual:

  • Because it was the first term I heard that could reasonably describe people like me.
  • Because it represents a community that I am part of.
  • Because more people understand the word “bisexual” than they do “pansexual” or “polysexual.”
  • Because I’ve decided that it fits.
  • Because I’m attracted to two exact genders and that’s the only way Kinsey Hope will allow me to keep this label.

The word “bisexual” originated in 1824, when it was used to describe things that had both male and female genitals. And it has since evolved. It’s not like the word “bisexual” was made up at a conference of queer SJ people and just happens to be widely misused. So when you try to take me back to the 1800s to teach me a lesson in etymology in order to convince me that you have a better label for what I am than I do, what you really should really be saying is this: “being bisexual means that you have two pairs of genitals. Bi means two, sex means genitals. Two genitals”

Or, better yet, you should just not be saying anything at all.

[A similar version of this essay appeared here on my tumblr]

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Reasons the “Feminists Fuck Better” Catch-Phrase Makes Me Queasy

1. It’s making a false equivalence. A lot of people explain “feminists fuck better” by saying that feminists practice good consent. Which, sure, is a prerequisite for being good in bed. But not every self-proclaimed feminist is as interested in consent as they should be, and not everyone who *is* committed to an equitable model of consent identifies as a feminist.

2. It’s irrelevant. WE DIDN’T BECOME FEMINISTS SO THAT YOUR EXPERIENCE OF FUCKING US WOULD BE MORE ENJOYABLE. Holy fucking shit.

3. It erases asexual feminists. And celibate feminists. And other feminists who have no interest in fucking or being evaluated on their sexual performance.

4. It’s…gross. Sex isn’t gross, but shaming non-feminists by declaring that they, by necessity, fuck “worse” is. And so is making bullshit justifications for your political beliefs.

Cross posted here

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“Maxie Allen” by Gwendolyn Brooks

Maxie Allen always taught her
Stipendiary little daughter
To thank her Lord and lucky star
For eye that let her see so far,
For throat enabling her to eat
Her Quaker Oats and Ceram-of-Wheat,
For tongue to tantrum for the penny,
For ear to hear the haven’t-any,
For arm to toss, for let to chance,
For heart to hanker for romance.

Sweet Annie tried to teach her mother
There was somewhat of something other.
And whether it was veils and God
And whistling ghosts to go unshod
Across the broad and bitter sod,
Or fleet love stopping at her foot
And giving her its never-root
To put into her pocket-book,
Or just a deep and human look,
She did not know; but tried to tell.

Her mother thought at her full well,
In inner voice not like a bell
(Which though not social has a ring
Akin to wrought bedevilling)
But like an oceanic thing:

What do you guess I am?
You’ve lots of jacks and strawberry jam.
And you don’t have to go to bed, I remark,
With two dill pickles in the dark,
Nor prop what hardly calls you honey
And gives you only a little money.

Without doubt, this is one of my favorite poems. I like, especially, how the nursery-school-like  rhyme scheme is aided by complex, nuanced words like “stipendiary.” The whole point, I think, is to show how simplicity is forced on childhood by adults like Maxie, who creates this very corporeal narrative for her daughter to follow. Meanwhile, the truth (or something?) that Annie’s searching for is much more advanced, though not unconcerned with specifics like “two dill pickles” as they relate to her position in life as a whole.

ETA: This poem is also very gendered, though I ignored it in my original comment. Specifically, Brooks juxtaposes overly-simplistic and saccharine references to Annie’s gender (“little daughter,” “sweet Annie”) against the complexity of her situation (“stipendiary,” “tried to teach her mother”). This method, much like the one discussed above, mocks the oversimplification of young females’ experiences. The title of the poem, “Maxie Allen,” is as intentional as that of the section it is found in, “The Childhood and the Girlhood.” Annie’s age and gender play huge parts in her experience (having her “heart to hanker for romance” explained so pedantically, for example). But it is also clear that this unsophisticated construction is not dependent on Annie’s capabilities but rather her mother’s–and by extension, her society’s–unassailable doctrine on how children should be raised.

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