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The Women’s March On Montpelier

An estimated 15-20 thousand people descended on Montpelier, VT to march on the Vermont State House on the 21st of January, 2017, to rally for women’s rights, gender equality, and LGBTQ rights in opposition to the vapid and vile rhetoric of Donald Trump, his supporters, and his presidency. I was there with one fist in the air and a camera in my other.

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A Response To ‘On Discovery’ by Maxine Hong Kingston

   On Discovery detailed a forceful and brutal transformation from man to woman in an older Chinese style. In this piece, an over-confident male explorer discovers the Land of Women. He is captured by the women, imprisoned, and subjected to physical modifications to become a woman. Over time, he accepts this change and it becomes his gender identity. Through this short tale, author Maxine Hong Kingston is relating how gender is developed over time into one’s identity, and representing a way in which oppression has been used to maintain a gender power dynamic.

The way in which Tang Ao adapted to his newly forced gender identity was through conditioning. It was framed in a way which was more condensed and drastic than the conditioning one experiences in society. Through media and our respective prevailing cultures, the characteristics which define men and women are ingrained into the developing mind. Cultural norms do not leave much room for one to diverge from these paths. When Tang initially arrived at the Land of Women, he paid no mind to the threat of being captured. “The women immediately captured him, not on guard against ladies” (Kingston, 12). This reflected both his conception of his masculinity and of his captors’ femininity. He assumed that, rather than being captured, he was on his way to the fulfillment of a sexual fantasy. “…if he had had male companions, he would’ve winked over his shoulder” (Kingston, 12).

I recall, just a handful of years ago, thinking the notion of gender as a spectrum or as something which diverges from sex in meaning was silly. It wasn’t until, in a discussion on the subject when I was prompted that my understanding of gender was misguided, that I began to explore the topic more deeply. I read literature on gender dysphoria, talked to friends in the LGBT community, and explored my own gender as an aspect of myself separate from my sex. I came to learn a great deal more on a personal level even more recently when a close friend came out as discovering her gender dysphoria and began transitioning to a woman.

I’ve always framed my gender in the context of my sex. This has been the framework of how that tale has woven itself over the years. Removing the gender-sex tie and framing the gender aspect to the development of my own identity told a new and interesting story to myself. While there were no great hidden changes waiting for me to take a fresh perspective of myself, I do feel I’ve come to understand my personal identity more fundamentally since.

I think that Kingston used the brutal methods of Chinese culture (like foot binding) to shock the reader to attention. This approach is contrary to Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, where it is suggested that guiding one to a more enlightened idea should be done gradually, rather than abruptly, as that may cause one to instead more strongly oppose the idea, preferring their original understanding. “‘And suppose once more, that he is reluctantly dragged up a steep and rugged ascent, and held fast until he’s forced into the presence of the sun himself, is he not likely to be pained and irritated? When he approaches the light his eyes will be dazzled, and he will not be able to see anything at all of what are now called realities.’ ‘Not all in a moment,’ he said. ‘He will require to grow accustomed to the sight of the upper world’” (Plato, para. 10).  However, the process Kingston placed Tang through also brings to light the brutal standards that existed in the culture she adapted. Femininity was firmly established in these practices through extreme body modification and painfully rigorous protocol. We saw similar, though less extreme, treatments of women in Victorian England through corsets. I recall an episode of WBUR’s OnPoint with Tom Ashbrook recently where Victorian life was discussed with British historian Ruth Goodman, and a portion of the show mentioned corsets and the ideas surrounding them. They purported that women did not have sufficient muscle to properly hold her abdominal organs, being the weaker sex. This myth perpetuated itself, however, as prolonged corset use weakened those very muscles (Ashbrook, 9:38). Even short of these extreme examples, the gender roles are laid out before us from birth and it isn’t until later, if we are lucky, that we discover our genders are not ordained by our sex, but by the identities we develop. “If being a woman is one cultural interpretation of being female, and if that interpretation is in no way necessitated by being female, then it appears that the female body is the arbitrary locus of the gender ‘woman’, and there is no reason to preclude the possibility of that body becoming the locus of other constructions of gender” (Butler, 35). In this way, Butler stripped away an appeal to nature logical fallacy and laid out developed gender in clear and precise logical reasoning.

  On Discovery effectively drives home a crucial point on gender identities, perceptions, and oppression. Kingston wraps into one succinct experience tropes of weaker sex concepts, gender oppression, undeniably brutal practices, and the development of identity. If I am interpreting Kingston correctly, I can be found in full agreement with her.

 

References

Ashbrook, Tom. “How To Live Like A Victorian, Right Now.” On Point with Tom Ashbrook. 26 Jan. 2015. Web. 1 Feb. 2015. <http://onpoint.wbur.org/2015/01/26/how-to-be-a-victorian>.

Butler, Judith. “Sex and Gender in Simone de Beavoir’s Second Sex.” Yale French Studies No. 72, Simone de Beauvoir: Witness to a Century (1986): p. 35. Web. 16 Jan. 2015. <http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/2930225>

Kingston, Maxine Hong. “On Discovery.” Inquiry: Questioning, Reading, Writing. 2nd ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson, 2004. 12-14. Print.

Plato. “The Republic.” The Internet Classics Archive. MIT. Web. 1 Feb. 2015. <http://classics.mit.edu/Plato/republic.8.vii.html>.

The 100 Day Decline: Trump’s Plans

In November, NPR published an article outlining Donald Trump’s initial plans for his first 100 days in office. A few things stuck out to me.

oompa

Congressional term limits provides absolutely no guarantee of a better congress, in fact it deincentivises it. What incentivises congressional performance is the threat of losing one’s position to someone else (you know, like that free market principle the right likes to tout). Afraid of career politicians? Tell people in their district/state to vote for someone else. Like a representative or senator who has served their limit? Too bad! It is nonsensical and only sounds good as rhetoric.

For every new federal regulation, two federal regulations must be eliminated? That’s asinine. It asks to play numbers on regulation rather than allowing the quality/efficacy to be the determining factor in the existence of the regulation.

The removal of fossil fuel production restrictions is going to take a fat dump on our country. “Clean” coal is a joke and the removal of funds to climate change programs betrays a severe, severe idiocy and ignorance to blatantly clear science (as does his pick for EPA transition).

School Choice And Education Opportunity Act is going to perpetuate the education problem. Eliminating a national educational standard ensures the dumb states stay dumb, poor quality districts stay poor, and privately owned scam schools thrive.

I suspect the Affordable Childcare and Eldercare Act sounds better than it is. The likelihood is that it creates these incentives while removing things like the childcare subsidy which is literally the only reason many working parents are even able to go to work.

Not only is the wall not actually going to stop illegal immigrants from coming in, it’s also going to be a massive burden on the taxpayer both in construction and in those proposed prison terms (which in some cases may even incentivise repeat offense for those three hots and a cot). No, Mexico is not going to pay for it. Anyone who believes they will is severely impaired.

It is interesting to me that the Clean Up Corruption In Washington Act has no specifics listed on said ethics reforms for “draining the swamp,” but I suppose we’ll see.

Don’t expect to see a number of these plans actually go into action, though. Many of them are opposed by both sides of the aisle in both branches of congress.

 

Straight Pride, White Pride

I have long expounded the point that pride in something that is an accident of birth (nation, state, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, hair color, anatomical attributes, and so on) is ridiculous. I love that I am a straight white cis-male American from the northeast and I love my anatomy, my ethnic heritage, and myself, but I don’t take pride in any of those things. I take pride in my accomplishments, the struggles I’ve overcome, things I’ve created, skills I’ve developed, and knowledge I’ve acquired.

So why do I think gay pride, black pride, and the like, are acceptable slogans while straight pride and white pride become subject to my pride=accomplishment criticism? To sum it up: the accomplishment of self-love. There should be some leeway given to marginalized populations using the word pride for something they didn’t accomplish, because sometimes just getting by as a member of a marginalized population is an accomplishment. Black pride? Society assumes you’re a criminal but you manage to love yourself despite that pressure? Black pride. Gay pride? Huge swaths of the population think you’re an abomination and deserve damnation and want to deny you basic rights, but you still manage to love yourself despite that pressure. Gay pride.

Wave your flags. I’m not going to spit straight pride or white pride back at you, no matter how much I love myself. I’m going to say black pride and gay pride along with you because I am proud of you for surviving and for pushing back at the current flowing against you to love yourself.

I Am White, Hear Me Bore

I am white. My ancestry is Germanic, French Norman, Irish, and Italian (with a hint of Algonquin). Though the Irish were not considered white until fairly recently, there’s no question my pasty-hued kin are as white as it gets. It’s worth noting as well that Italians also were not considered white until recently[4]. The very infirm definition of the term ‘white’, in regards to race, alone proves its ineptitude at classification. Despite that, I am unquestionably a modern white male.

Being white comes with a number of stereotypes, much like any other race. I fancy myself a risk taker. (Whether or not that is a conceit is up for debate.) I enjoy camping in black bear country and would not entirely oppose the idea of getting into a fight with one. I have, at times, imbibed an excess of alcohol. I enjoy underdressing in the winter. I definitely am far from being an adept dancer. I cannot jump very high at all. I have great grammar. I am generally friendly and have been told I am informational. I listen to NPR. I do have a Netflix subscription. I own an apple corer[3].

I have questioned whether or not I have benefitted from white privilege. My own choice of sub-culture and introverted manner seems to have eroded what privilege may have been afforded me by my skin tone. I can only speculate my challenges would have been greater had this internal self grown up in a different skin. In younger days, I did not realize my male privilege, however. In my late teens and early twenties, I thought absolutely nothing of being able to walk around at any hour of the night or early morning. Why could not a woman do this as well? Why would she have reserve about the notion? My imposing six-foot-one male frame kept me well in the dark on this.

I did not think much of race early in life. Growing up in rural Vermont, I looked like everyone most else; most everyone else looked like me. My divisions from my peers were strictly social and sub-cultural. Through television shows such as Good Times, In Living Colour, Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, The Jeffersons, Sanford and Son, A Different World, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and Family Matters, and hip hop culture on MTV (Public Enemy was my primary source for black issues in America, and I still maintain it was one of the best for conveying that message), I was aware of other races. They were represented in a way I viewed as positive. However, until 6th grade, I do not recall having ever met someone who was not white.

In 1995, a Connecticut gang known as The Los Solidos (TSO) attempted to take root in my hometown[1]. While this attempt was ultimately thwarted, the process, an ensuing local cultural shift, and the later influx of other smaller gangs from NY began to build a different set of experiences for me related to other races. This experience set, being founded in real life and not entertainment, began to dominate my perspective. The influx generated a feeling I can only now, with starkly honest retrospect, call racism. It is not that I ever felt that anyone of any race was inherently better or worse than anyone of any other race, but that my experiences were creating a predominantly negative expectation. In hindsight, I wonder if this kind of visual-action association is hardwired in our brains. If we see someone of our tribe bitten by a rattlesnake and die, we associate the action and result with the visual pattern on the back of the snake. In the future, we expect the same result from a snake bearing that pattern. I hypothesize that this is an evolutionary byproduct which festers unless we are either raised against it or must learn to reprogram ourselves against it. While I never acted upon nor advocated such racial sentiments, I cannot deny that I harbored them. It was not until several years later, after living in a less homogeneous setting and really stepping back to think about race and culture, that I began to deprogram these expectations and embrace the complexity of the underlying elements behind these concepts.

I am not entirely certain how my race shapes who I am now. I can trace aspects of my personality back into the typically white portions of my youth. However, I try to focus more on defining and exploring who I am now with disregard to race and nation. I admire the way in which Liu describes trying not to let race define who he was growing up[2]. Racial stereotypes may describe a significant portion of who I am, but who I am I view singularly.

1. Foster, Rick. “How One Small Town Faced down Gangs.” The Sun Chronicle,
18 Feb. 2008. Web. 7 Feb. 2015. < http://www.thesunchronicle.com/news/
how-one-small-town-faced-down-gangs/article_8c8d79f5-2051-5b24-aef1-32dd811931e4.html >.

2. Liu, Eric. “Notes of a Native Speaker.” Inquiry: Questioning, Reading, Writing, Second Edition. Ed.
Lynn Z. Bloom, Edward M. White, with Shane Borrowman. Upper Saddle River,
NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2004. 66-76. Print.

3. Quora. “What Are Some of the Stereotypes of White People in America That Nonwhite People Have?.”
          Quora. 30 Jan. 2014. Web. 7 Feb. 2015.< http://www.quora.com/
What-are-some-of-the-stereotypes-of-white-people-in-America-that-nonwhite-people-have >.

4. Wohl, Anthony S. “Racism and Anti-Irish Prejudice in Victorian England.”
Racism and Anti-Irish Prejudice in Victorian England. Victorian Web, 1990.
Web. 7 Feb. 2015. < http://www.victorianweb.org/history/race/Racism.html >.

Right Is Another Word For Privilege

There is no such thing as a universal right, in any inherent sense. There is no right to anything in the workings of the universe. It is simply cause and effect. Every right we have is a mutually agreed upon (I use that loosely) privilege. We define rights. We define a right as a contrast against a wrong which we seek to prevent by establishing tenets. While Thomas Jefferson was well-intentioned in the Declaration of Independence when he wrote, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,” he was inherently incorrect on one point: people are not endowed by any natural force (which I think is a rather good secular interpretation of a loaded religious term like “Creator” in a public document) with any unalienable rights. We, the people, bestow those privileges which we have decided are ethically affordable to each person.

In our western society, we progress toward a certain set of rights. Despite regressive opposition, the direction in which these established rights progress is clear. Throughout recorded history, the questions over each right have been debated and discussed as ethical points.

To me, the key seems to be in limited individualism. Each person should have afforded them a basic set of individual freedoms, but not to stretch so far as to cause harm or significant hindrance to the whole. Through this, an objective end of advancing our societies and species can be facilitated. Rights are deeply subjective, but I think this is the closest we can bring an objective standard into play.

I do not think that cultural traditions, while in many respects are beautiful and key to necessary identity diversity, can trump a logical basic set of individual freedom. Any cultural protocol, tenet, or tradition which oppresses an individual (with exception to where the individual is seeking freedom which would harm or significantly hinder the whole, as in a freedom to discriminate on basis of ethnicity, socio-economic status, sexual orientation and/or identification, &c.) cannot stand on its own and must be cast aside. I’ve said it many times before, and it is distinctly relevant now, that ideas neither have nor should receive rights. Ideas are to be challenged and questioned. Cultural traditions are analogous to ideas in this regard. When Abraham Lincoln spoke his Gettysburg Address, and he said, “Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure,” he was directly referencing the clash of these very cultural harms against an ideal of human rights that the US Civil War represented. On the flip side of this, if a cultural tradition does not intrude on the basic individual rights of anyone, then there is no reason to hinder or do away with it. Those benign traditions are healthy for humanity to preserve.

A Response To The Open Letter To Gov. Shumlin

Yesterday, I received a response to my Open Letter To Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin. It’s worded like a form response, which makes me think the impression I got of this program was not unique. So, what do you think? News failure or flip flop from response?

Governor Peter Shumlin <governorvt@state.vt.us>

Dear Scott,

Thank you for sharing your concerns and for your support. The new initiative is just one avenue we are pursuing for job growth, and it is targeted at both in state and out of state individuals. In fact, we are using our college and professional networks to advertise it, as well as our tourism and marketing campaign. The press release for this initiative made clear it was meant for both in state and out of staters who are job seeking, though I recognize news stories did not make that clear. The website promoted is our Department of Labor new job search tool. I will be aware of your concerns going forward and work to make this point clear.

When I became Governor, I made it my priority to grow our economy and create well-paying job opportunities for Vermonters. Please be assured, I have not given up on this effort. I have fought for a number of initiatives, such as including expanding broadband and cellular infrastructure, investing in renewable energy and green technology, focusing on education and training, and supporting small businesses.

As Vermont is quickly becoming home to one of the most dynamic work environments in the country, it has never been more important to provide quality and affordable higher education opportunities for Vermont students. This is why I worked with the legislature this spring and passed the Vermont Strong Scholars program during this past legislative session. Under this program, any Vermont student who attends one of our colleges or university and takes a job in Vermont in a designated, growing field, will be reimbursed for his or her final year of tuition if he or she receives a bachelor’s degree, or his or her final semester if he or she receives an associate’s degree. Not only will this program make it easier for Vermonters to go to college, but will make it advantageous to remain in the state they love and contribute to our economy where we need them the most. Both this initiative and the flexible pathways education initiative last year will benefit Vermonters and help career readiness.

The Great Jobs in Vermont website is a great resource that can connect people with the jobs that are being created here every day. This website is geared towards those interested in having and keeping the high quality of life that comes with living in Vermont, and I urge all Vermonters who wish to work in Vermont to utilize its services. As mentioned above, it is one of the avenues we are using to promote the Department of Labor’s job search engine, which we rely on statewide for employment outreach.

Thanks again for reaching out to me. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if my office can be of assistance in the future.

Sincerely,

Peter Shumlin
Governor
109 State Street, Pavilion
Montpelier, Vermont 05609
802-828-3333

A Child Needs A Mother And A Father

This piece originally appeared on now-defunct news and column website LezGetReal.

A child needs a mother and a father. Children with a mother and a father statistically do better in life. This is the Conservative mantra on social family issues and it is irrefutably backed up by the data. It’s completely correct, as well. However, Conservative political groups fail to point out one key piece of how they’re presenting this information: mother and father are roles, not genders…

The core of these roles are a push and a pull. They build confidence and a sense of being loved. The mother pulls the child in, nurtures, protects the child, and coddles the child. The mother says, “No, that’s dangerous.” The father pushes the child out, toughens the child up, throws it into the world. The father says, “Oh, s/he’ll be fine.” Through this constant push and pull, the child grows up feeling cared for and confident to jump into life. Two men, two women, and every pairing in the beautiful spectrum between can embody these roles, even dividing the various aspects however works for them. The roles are the key to this dynamic of parenting, not the genders of the parents.

This is not to say that a single parent (which I am) cannot successfully raise a child on their lonesome. This is not to disparage people who were raised by one parent. A model system is not an only choice. Myself, I try my best to mix both elements of push and pull and to provide an example of both types of social interaction that my child will absorb and process in his way. This is merely to point out how Social Conservatives, when they bother to actually use data, twist evidence to suit their ideology. So, the next time an ideologue tells you that a child needs a mother and father, you can simultaneously agree and disagree, pointing out that their use of the evidence is simply a shallow skimming of the truth behind the complex dynamics of effective parenting.

An Open Letter To VT Gov. Peter Shumlin

Dear Governor Peter Shumlin,

I’ve lived in this beautiful state my entire life. I was born at Rutland Hospital (before it was re-dubbed RRMC). I attended Rutland schools (Dana Elementary, Northeast Elementary, Rutland Junior High School, and my class was the first to attend all four years at the new RHS). Aside from two years in Burlington, I’ve been here my whole life. I remember when the hard drugs swept through. I watched this city slide, its shine dampening in a faltering economy. I am one of the people fighting to bring it back. I haven’t given up hope and I chide those who slight it. But it is so hard to do that when good paying jobs flutter away in this employer’s market. I am not a social parasite nor a career welfare recipient. I want to go to work, earn my keep, and support my son.

We live in a beautiful state. All I see on social media are people complaining about taxes, the cost of living, “librull dems”, and so on. Yeah, the cost of living is high. Rents feel much higher than elsewhere. Yes, we sometimes have trouble attracting business because we tax them and insist on not allowing them to screw up our land. I think that’s a worthy trade off, considering the state of the land in more industry-friendly places. I have no qualms going to bat for Vermont to defend those policies. People who do not like that can go somewhere less ecologically sound. Vermont has a character we can be proud of.

I am not typically one to join in the mindless “omg shummy ruining vermont omg derp librulls derp” comment bandwagon often seen on social media. I’ve even gone so far as to mock them using the ‘ThanksObama’ meme as #thanksshummy. In fact, despite a couple differences of opinion (really? The GMO labeling bill? Way to make Vermont look like science-ignorant bandwagon jumpers-on… but whatever), I’ve consistently voted for and defended you. But seriously, this call for out of state workers is completely the wrong thing to do. How about spending some focus on getting local workers up to the needed skill levels? We aren’t short on people looking for work! We aren’t short on skilled workers. We aren’t short on people who could become those needed workers. I’ve been in web and IT for 15 years, but right now I’m a minimum wage employee delivering meals to seniors, barely scraping by as a single parent of a special needs child on 3squaresVT, Medicaid, and subsidized housing. I understand we have a population loss problem, but perhaps it would be better to address why young people leave rather than cull from the outside. When I think about people from out of state having a direct line advantage over me to jobs I may be qualified for, not only does it boil my blood but it breaks my spirit. It truly breaks my spirit and my heart to fight for this state and have it discard me for someone elsewhere.

I ask you, I implore you, Gov. Shumlin, do not give up on Vermonters. We deserve better than that. We deserve a chance.

A Rational Argument for Legalizing Prostitution

This piece originally appeared on the now-defunct news and opinion website LezGetReal.

The answer to eliminating the negative activities we commonly link to Prostitution is legalization and regulation. When transformed into a legal industry, problems such as sex slavery, human trafficking, related assaults, and pimp abuse will decline sharply. These harmful occurrences associated with Prostitution are products of the industry being entirely within the realm of organized crime and black market influences, not inherent to the work itself. To solve the problems associated with Prostitution, we must legalize Prostitution.

Human trafficking, sex slavery, and abuse are horrific things. Because of this reality, the question keeps being posed: “How do we stop Prostitution?” The question is invalid. Even asking this falsely assumes prostitution is immutably linked to human trafficking and sex slavery. The question misses the point entirely. What we really should be asking is how do we stop human trafficking and sex slavery? The answer is blindingly simple: legalize prostitution.

When you create legitimate, above board business in a market rife with underground drawbacks, the risk-benefit ratio of the consumer puts the less-than-above board businesses out of business. All purchasing decisions are made on a function of: “I want this thing, but it will cost this much of my resources and present these risks. Is it worth it?” The options are weighed and a buying decision is made. With no legal options, the person looking to pay for sex has only black market choices. The black market conducts its business the way it does because it can. As a legal industry, prostitution will benefit from health care, legal protections, worker unions, and a change in the control dynamic. An entire new sector of tax revenue will emerge in an estimated 14.6 billion dollar1 industry. Suddenly, sex workers will benefit from more than adequate health care, protection from abusive bosses and customers, and gain the ability to be selective of clientele. The flood of money away from the black market and into a regulated environment will defund operations that cater to human trafficking, forced, and underage business. If a safe and legal alternative is provided, the appeal of the black market drops away and its business withers.

Workers in a black market industry, like prostitution, benefit from no health care or legal protections. One can imagine that health care is something crucial to workers in the sex industry. Legalizing and regulating prostitution will, as with any other industry, bring it into the light of modern health & safety regulations including: regular check ups, regular disease screening, and vaccination. Making this a legit industry would benefit the workers immeasurably.

Prohibition always fails. Look at marijuana prohibition, alcohol prohibition, and even internet piracy. Sandvine recently released an extensive study2 showing how bit torrent traffic plummets in an area when Netflix makes their streaming service available in that area. How many people die from running moonshine now? The vast majority of people will almost always patronize a venue which provides safe and legal products and services for which there is a demand when that safe and legal option exists. This is why prohibition will always fail. Alcohol prohibition had no success in curbing alcohol consumption. Marijuana use is at its highest. Internet piracy thrives where content is not available to purchase legally.When you have demand, attempting to make a market illegal will not curb that market, but simply drive it underground. Provide a legal means of obtaining a service or good and the consumer will take that less risky route. Make prostitution legal and sex slavery will quickly evaporate.