Posts filed under ‘Concepts & Definitions’

Humanist, Naturalist and other Definitions

I’m not interested in jumping into any religious debates currently, but I thought I’d shed some light by trying to sort out some definitions.

Atheist– There is/are no god(s)  Theoretically could believe in an afterlife, magic, divination or other non-scientific proven things.

Agnostic– Knowledge of god(s) is unknowable- many people use it in the sense of “I’m not sure” or “I don’t care” which would be an Apatheist. More about the a/gnostic & a/theists axes here.

Skeptic– person who uses critical thinking, reason, and logic, though they may not be consistent in how they apply these tools! Could include religious people but communities of skeptics typically don’t. Skeptics originally were a school of Greek philosophy

Freethinker/Freethought– one who thinks freely, especially in matters of religion and philosophy- originally this was used for Deists and people who questioned the doctrine of the Trinity, but has been mostly taken over by nontheists.

“None”– demographic rather than a self-identifier, person who has no institutional religious affiliation. This could include some Pagans.

Spiritual But Not Religious– many “nones” describe themselves as such, many Pagans do so as well, though I find the assumptions behind the division of “spirituality” with “religion” to be rather tiresome, I think we should listen SBNRs define this for themselves individually rather than just writing them off as flaky, which many mainstream religious folks and atheists alike often do.

Nontheist– includes atheists, agnostics. Depending on how you want to define things, a pantheist, deist, animist or ancestor venerator (with no deities) could also be nontheists. This isn’t typically a self-identifier, but I use “nontheistic pagans” as a broad term for pagan-identified folks who are less deity-focused. (If I ever get someone’s identity/label/tradition wrong please let me know)

Humanism– philosophy or life-stance that focuses on human needs, this life, a positive view of the body and the world, humans making the effort to improve themselves and the world, reason, critical thinking and the scientific method. Typically a humanist is at least agnostic or not focused on questions of the existence of gods, spirits and the afterlife.

An older definition of humanism (pre Humanist Manifesto) that is still used particularly in educational settings, is of Renaissance humanism, belief in the value of individual freedom of expression, education in the humanities, exploration of what it means to be human. This is the sense that I might use it for myself, but it requires so much explaining and disclaiming that I don’t usually bother!

Secular Humanist– pretty much the same as the first definition of humanism.

Religious Humanist– Humanists who want to have rituals, celebrations of rites of passage and/or the seasons, possibly buildings/organizational structures similar to churches, and sometimes humanist celebrants and chaplains who officiate at ceremonies or provide ethical or spiritual counseling. Religious humanists can be found in Unitarian Universalism, the Ethical Society/Ethical Culture, Sunday Assemblies, Jewish humanist groups, and various forms of Paganism, Buddhism- Secular Buddhism, Nontheist Friends (Quakers) and various people who attend church services because they like the community/music/etc. even if they aren’t sure how much of it they believe in.

Religious Naturalism– viewing the Earth, universe in a reverential manner, as a mystery, way of seeking meaning, based in scientific inquiry. This may be the “new” religious humanism. Spiritual Naturalism is another version.

Anti-theist– one opposed to belief/worship of God(s), who wants to convince religious people to leave religion behind. Please note that not all atheist activists, even those who actively criticize religion are necessarily anti-theists. Often it’s hard to tell though since they typically conflate all religion with fundamentalist Christianity and Islam. I would typically exclude these guys from humanism, whether secular or religious, since they treat most humans with such disdain. Interestingly, I’ve mostly seen this used pejoratively, but I’m starting to see people self-identify with it. Another person I know uses it as “I believe gods exist, but I want nothing to do with them!”.

Pantheism– seeing God/the Divine as the same as the Universe/nature

Universal Pantheist Society-includes pantheists, panentheists, cosmotheists, religious naturalists etc.

World Pantheist Movement– scientific/natural pantheism, broke off from the UPS and is now larger

Panentheism– sees God/the Divine as both pervading and transcending the Universe

Secularism– Not the Same as Atheism! In an United States context it can mean separation of church and state- state secularism. A secularist may advocate for the rights of nonreligious people, and ending forms of religious privilege, dissuade religious influence over political decision-making and public discourse- they can be religious or non-religious on a personal level. Christian fundamentalists/evangelicals in the United States often claim that advocacy for separation of church and state and loss of Christian privilege is “creeping secularism/secular humanism” and is an erosion of their religious freedom. Seriously, for years I didn’t know secular humanists were a real group of people, because they just sounded like Jerry Falwell’s imaginary bogeymen!

November 17, 2015 at 7:11 am 6 comments

Umoja- Unity

The first of the Nguzo Saba (7 Principles) of Kwanzaa is Umoja, Unity. The central black candle on the kinara is lit, representing all Black people around the world.  Umoja is about finding commonality and empathy among the diverse cultures and peoples of Africa and the African/Black Diaspora.

The Umoja, unity cup is used to pour libations as offerings to the ancestors. Now that is certainly a tradition I recognize- it is common not only in traditional African cultures, but in European and Asian spiritual traditions as well. I would recommend find a cup or chalice that is of good quality, that is either neutral looking or has African decorative motifs. Using a family heirloom that can serve as a vessel would also be suitable. For the libations, use water or fruit juice. If your ancestry is only African simply by virtue of being human, honor historic or more recently deceased people of African descent, and another suggestion is you can honor Mitochondrial Eve, a woman who lived in or near Ethiopia about 200,000 years ago that biologists say all current humans are descended from.

Here in the Twin Cities, we have many immigrants from Ethiopia, Somalia, Liberia, Ghana and other lands, people from Jamaica, Haiti and other countries in the Caribbean as well as folks whose families came to this continent longer ago than some of my ancestors did. Since their connection to Africa is rather distant, and it’s hard to tell which nations they are descended from (though modern DNA tests make that somewhat easier) many prefer to call themselves Black or Black American rather than African-American.

My father, a former NAACP activist, fastidiously uses the label African-American, but after attending a mostly African-American high school, it seems like an out-of-place white liberal affectation than an authentic identity. Immigrants from various lands identify with the country they are from- often even more so the nation (tribe) since the borders drawn up by colonial European powers completely disregarded cultural territories. So with this cultural gap in experience between the long-time American-dwelling descendants of slaves and more recent refugees and seekers of economic opportunity- do they have anything more in common than any other group of native-born and non-native-born Americans? I can’t really say, since I belong to neither group.

But part of my interest in Kwanzaa is due to also being a member of a diasporan people- the Irish and the Scottish, or the Celtic peoples more broadly. Though I have not yet traveled back to the Isles, I suspect my experience will be in some respects similar to the lady in the article above writing of her travels to Kenya- a feeling of home-coming, yet feeling like that sense of belonging should be there more than it actually is. I know Europeans and people of many other lands often roll their eyes at visiting Americans and Canadians who proudly recite a list of fractions of ethnic ancestry that they claim- a quarter Greek, an eighth Norwegian, another quarter Scottish. They don’t care- we’re just Americans! Upon hearing that we crumple, wondering what we can claim as our own. Whether kidnapped and sold as slaves, dumped as the unwanted poor and colonized bastards of Europe, indentured servant, sharecropper or factory worker alike, now we awkwardly apologize for our presence come each Columbus Day or stubbornly insist on a  fable of melting pots and rugged individualism.

I think when a diasporan and a native son or daughter can both find humility in themselves and admit that their experiences and perceptions of their culture are not the only valid ones, and that they are open to other ways of seeing, hearing, tasting, worshiping, singing and dancing, then we will find Umoja.

December 30, 2014 at 12:07 am Leave a comment

Women-Only Space Does Not Mean Safe Space

I am really sick of the assumption by *some* feminists that women-only space is necessarily safe space. To begin with, I don’t want to have anything to do with all the transphobic crap that usually surrounds it, and furthermore even as a cis woman I don’t feel really welcome in the Girls Only Club. If these folks are so insistent on their narrow definition of womanhood, I’m sure at some point I’ll violate their pre-conceived notions. Too straight or too queer, too butch or too femme. Too something. I’m fine with participating in “anyone who IDs as a woman is welcome” spaces, but I do not go into them with the assumption that they’re automatically safer than spaces with men. 

I was never really a part of your “sisterhood” or “shared girlhood“, so save your cutesy speeches about sleepover parties and announcing when you got your period to your friends. I was That Weird Kid. I did have friends, growing up, but as I grew into puberty being a girl became less about having fun on my own terms- dressing up, having tea parties- as well as catching bugs and playing in the mud- and more about a list of obligations and rules that I had to follow. A few of these things I learned from my mother, who is a feminist herself and not inclined to push me into forms of femininity that weren’t my thing. But most of them were proclaimed and enforced with bullying, shaming, staring and shunning by other girls. In junior high, I got bored with all the fuss over makeup, clothes, diets, boys (really is anyone impressed by junior high boys?) and dances. I retreated to my books. Same with high school. Boys, for most part ignored me, but girls obsessively enforced “the rules”. 

After taking women’s studies classes in college, and observing how my experiences compare to other women, I’ve realized how much gender performance is part and parcel of faking being neurotypical. It’s suspected that women and girls are less often diagnosed with autism, or are labeled later in life because we are often better at passing as neurotypical, often by mimicking others, and just being quiet and withdrawn. My partner jokes that I have “male pattern autism”- I threw tantrums, I expressed loud opinions. My behavior was impossible to ignore, so I was labeled at fairly young age (at about 8 or 9) Anyway, I’ve gotten to the point that whenever I see a book or article, or hear a statement that “women think this way, communicate or develop this way” or whatever, I just think “That’s neurotypical women they’re talking about.” And most of the time whatever generalization was made doesn’t fit me very well, and may not even fit a lot of neurotypical women, but least of all me!

Now, I have indeed been bullied, harassed and sometimes abused by men but those experiences haven’t taught me that men, as a category of human beings are to be feared. I’m equally cautious with men and women in general social settings, though more cautious with men when walking down the street. 

So really, I ask you is really so much better for womanhood, girlhood, femininity or whatever to be defined and enforced by women rather than by men? I think the nastiest tool of the patriarchy is not the average man, but rather other women, even ones who call themselves feminists. We are our own worst enemy. I’m not letting off the men off the hook here, certainly they should be held accountable *as individuals* for their actions, but let’s not pretend we have this glorious utopian sisterhood. 

From transwomen and transmen, and cross-dressers and all manner of gender-diverse folks, I’ve learned that there are so many more options of who I can be as a human being, I feel more comfortable with being a woman in my own way *because of them* They are not in any way threatening to my identity as a woman. If they threaten yours, I think you’re the one who needs to work on having a healthy gender identity, one that’s based on being yourself rather than worrying about how other people identify.

August 29, 2014 at 1:29 am 2 comments

Looking at Pop Culture Paganism

After writing about how non-traditional deities and spirits may or may not fit within my concept of polytheism, I was curious to learn more about the ways it manifests. Plus as I confront the truth, that really I am not all that culturally Celtic, I need to ask the question what is my culture, and how might I draw from it? 

Myriad Ways of Pop Culture Paganism– Answers from Vanaheim blog-

Pop Culture Paganism may include any of the following:

(I’ve bolded items that I feel open to exploring)

  • Using words and phrases from pop culture in ritual (for instance, “So say we all” instead of “So mote it be”, calling the quarters using Hogwarts Houses, etc.)
  • Using a picture or other representation of a character to represent a traditional deity (ie. using a picture of Yue from CardCaptor Sakura to represent Mani or another moon god, in this case, it was because the character looked like how I pictured Mani)
  • Using fairy tales, Arthurian legends or participating in the Hail Columbia! project in ritual and/or magic (all of these examples are examples of popular culture that is very old being used by modern people)
  • Related to the first, but practicing pop culture magick (as in Taylor Ellwood’s book on the subject, Pop Culture Magick)
  • Creating tools based on pop culture artifacts for use in ritual and/or magick (designing a tarot spread based on a character in a book)
  • Participating in and creating religious organizations/ritual and/or a sacred calendar based on works of fiction (Church of All Worlds, Storm Constantine’s Grimoire Dehara)
  • Traditional deities using pop culture entities in order to communicate with followers
  • Seeing a pop culture entity as an aspect of a traditional deity
  • Working with pop culture entities as archetypes
  • Working with pop culture spirits as egregori or constructs
  • Honouring pop culture entities as deities and/or spirits in their own right (this includes from one’s own work, although some prefer the term “modern culture Paganism” for this practice (Jack of Dreams uses “fictional reconstructionism” for this)

This feels silly but also fun. I feel like I’m taking off the corset of reconstructionism, and I can finally breathe. One of the things I love about paganism is the role that imagination can play in our faith.  

Ideas to explore:

*Jack from English folklore, the Fool as archetype in general (I see Fool distinct from Trickster) Robin Hood (I see him as a folkloric cousin to Fionn Mac Cumhal)

*Finding depictions of deity in pop culture- either explicit or ones that I associate- one idea I saw suggested (in a Llewellyn Witches’ Calendar from the earlier 2000s that I haven’t been able to find since) was Brighid linked with Rosie the Riveter in her blacksmith aspect, and I also thought of Betty Crocker as the hearth aspect. Any ideas for the poet?

*Using a story (from modern fiction, fairy tale, film etc) as a ritual narrative, psychological healing tool (particularly “Girls Underground” stories)

*Research local folklore/history (I’ve been talking about doing that for how long?)

Problems/Issues of Consideration:

*If it’s a live action TV show/movie, I have trouble mentally separating the character from the actor. Not as much of a problem with animation, unless it’s a celebrity voice actor whose character essentially embodies the celebrity. I was thinking about this in relation to Jareth, the Goblin King from Labyrinth, whom I’ve heard is popular with PCPs. Very cool character, easy to connect him up with older faerie lore, but yeah can’t separate him from David Bowie. 

*I’m more comfortable with older things that are out of copyright. It’s not so much concern for getting in trouble for infringement, though depending on what a person did (such as a public ritual) it could be a problem. It’s more that it’s something that exists primarily so some corporation can make money and it will change it as it sees fit.  So one’s personal vision will get screwed with. But with King Arthur & Robin Hood for example, people can do endless new creative things with, and there’s no one actor or depiction that necessarily sticks out in your mind in a way that’s distracting. 

*With stuff that is more recent, I’m more comfortable with things in books or static images than in TV/film. It’s easier to imagine it yourself rather than having the TV/movie version stuck in your head. 

Past posts that are related:

When the Gods Become Real,  Archetypes vs. “Real Gods” 

Snow Queen, Snow MaidenSpirits of WinterJack the English Trickster/Fool

August 15, 2014 at 3:42 am 11 comments

Cultural Appropriation Has Lost Its Meaning

Once upon a time, though maybe it was an imaginary time in my head- the term cultural appropriation meant something- even if there wasn’t one totally precise definition, basically it meant ripping off pieces of a historically colonized culture, taking them out of context and playing with them for fun and profit, and publicly misrepresenting the culture. Now I feel like the term is so carelessly thrown around that it has lost its meaning and as a result people don’t take it seriously.

I suspect part of the issue is that this discussion began more within an academic context and has filtered into the rest of society, including many people who don’t have a systemic understanding of oppression, racism, colonialism etc. Granted, there are definitely people within academia who don’t get it, and people outside of it, including folks with high school or even less education that do get it, and have a very sophisticated understanding of systemic oppression, because they’ve lived it! 

Cultural appropriation is still a real problem but it’s in danger of being obscured by being misunderstood any kind of cultural borrowing. Indians wearing business suits in Mumbai is not the same as non-Indians wearing saris. There are certainly examples that we can easily place in the cultural appropriation/exploitation box, like New Age cult leaders charging lots of money to participated in a Native American sweat lodge.

But for the most part I would suggest instead of accusing people of cultural appropriation, we practice mindful cultural borrowing, and ask questions of ourselves and others when we try out things from other cultures. To return to my earlier example-

Is it always wrong for a non-Indian to wear a sari? There are billions of different opinions on that! (Here’s one) Do you know any Indians who you can talk to about this? What connection do you have to Indian cultures? What do you know about issues surrounding being a woman in Indian or in the Indian diaspora? Is it a special kind of sari, designed for someone of a particular status, or for a ceremony? Are you wearing it as a Halloween costume? Is this your SCA or LARP or cosplay persona? Tomorrow when you wear other clothes, are you going to make fun of people with “foreign” sounding accents, customs, other religions as not “properly” American, modern, Western etc.? If an Indian woman wearing a sari came to your company to be interviewed, how would she be treated, compared to a similarly qualified woman wearing a more standard dress of a similar formality level?

Are you an ordinary person or are you Miley Cyrus or Katy Perry and the sari is part of a music video inspired by Bollywood, the idea that Hinduism is All About Tantra & Sex and random pieces of Thai and Cambodian culture thrown in, cuz Asian Culture is All One Thing, right?

So maybe wearing a non-Indian wearing a sari is OK in some contexts, or maybe not. It might depend on how you answered those questions. And ultimately, I’m not Indian so it’s not my job to judge that.

My previous post has been well-received, though I still second-guess myself and wonder if it’s too “Oh, poor me, rootless, guilt-ridden white American”. It does seem I’m not totally seeing eye-to-eye with my Anglo-Irish friend about these issues. I have pretty limited opportunities to speak with British, Irish and Scottish people directly and in person. Online communication is never quite the same. I admit, my connection to my Irish and Scottish heritage is tenuous at best, I do not really have any more “right” to it than any other human being raised outside of Irish or Scottish culture.  While I make an effort to learn about Irish and Scottish culture, and I study the Irish language, I do wonder if I’m trying to plant a seed in foreign soil where it might not thrive. When discussing Celtic cultures, I get reminded constantly by various people (Americans and Europeans alike) that I’ve never traveled to the British Isles. Thanks for the “you’re poor” reminder, it’s really helpful! I know people don’t “mean it that way”, then again I don’t mean whatever cluelessly classist, racially insensitive or arrogantly American-centric things I’m sure I have said on countless occasions, in spite of my attempts to educate myself. We all need to be patient with one another, and admit when we’re wrong.  I realize how hard this is!  

By the way, I recommend reading this conversation on Sharon Knight’s blog- Race & Cultural Preservation in Modern Paganism. It’s from a year ago, but it’s one of the most civil, but still genuinely insightful conversation on race relations in a Pagan context (but still relevant to the broader culture) I’ve seen on the Internet. Sharon expresses some views that I very much empathize with in my journey as white-privileged person and Xochiquetzal Duti Odinsdottir (rockin’ All-American name!) challenges her with some tough-love.  Folks with various types of privilege need to learn to accept the tough love when it’s given instead of being defensive. We want to hear that we’re the enlightened exception, but we’re not. We need to take responsibility, even if we aren’t personally responsible for all the Bad Things that whichever privileged group we belong to has done.

Acronyms: SCA- Society for Creative Anachronism- organization in which members create a fictional persona from the Renaissance era (mostly Europeans but there are growing number of non-European personae)

LARP: Live Action Role Playing

Cosplay- costume play, wearing a costume at a science fiction/fantasy/comic/anime convention or other fan event.

Resources about Cultural Appropriation/Borrowing in a UU context.

Articles from different viewpoints-

What Tiger Lily Can Teach Us About Cultural Appropriation– Very helpful advice from Kenzie Allen, an Oneida lady about how to respectfully borrow from other cultures.

Appropriate Cultural Appropriation– discussion of borrowers as “Invaders, Tourists and Guests” Reminds me of a talk a Hindu UU minister gave at my church in which he talked about the difference between being a Spiritual Pilgrim and a Spiritual Tourist. 

A politically incorrect opinion on cultural appropriation by eclectic Neo-Pagans by John Halstead

Hey, grievance mongers, lighten up on ‘cultural appropriation’ complaints– this does show how broadly C.A. is getting used but I think author is too dismissive of real problems

You can’t ‘steal’ a culture– some good points, but doesn’t seem to get that for example, white people have profited from Black people’s music while the same Black folks didn’t benefit. 

August 14, 2014 at 10:15 pm 5 comments

Inclusive Polytheism

So with various discussions of “devotional polytheism” vs. “immersive polytheism” going on, I find myself puzzled by what these terms mean and if I personally relate to them at all. Once again the Unitarian Universalist in me is saying “Who cares what someone’s theology is if they act like a jerk?”

Now I think theology does matter in helping us find others who have enough in common with us spiritually to create in-depth and meaningful worship. I do enjoy and find meaning & beauty in UU worship, but it’s more about sharing with others the sacredness of Life, the Universe and Everything than expressing devotion to specific divinities and spirits. From a polytheist/animist viewpoint, UUism’s strong point in the piety department is towards ancestors and heroes, particularly individuals important to UU history and various social justice movements. I believe this is an area that we can keep building on theologically and liturgically, in a way that is still very inclusive of UUs of different belief systems.

So here’s my idea of “inclusive polytheism”- by inclusive I do not mean anything goes, I do not want a lowest common denominator definition that paganism now has, I want a meaningful definition.

  • Functional ritual polytheism– treating gods or spirits as individual beings in ritual & prayer
  • Expectation of reverence & respect for deities and spirits by ritual participants (if not literal belief) thus balancing obligations of guest & host
  • Soft agnosticism (gods might exist, leaning toward belief/treat them ritually like they exist even if belief is uncertain), polydeism– many gods that are less directly involved in the world and straight up polytheism, primarily philosophical polytheism and primarily magical polytheism as parts of a theological spectrum/cluster
  • Animism, a belief in many spirits (or that everything has a spirit)
  • Whether service to the Gods is “more important”, less or equally important to helping fellow humans is up to the individual, and has no bearing on whether they are a “true” polytheist
  • Reconstructionism is a methodology, not an end to itself. Not all polytheists are reconstructionists.
  • Inclusion of syncretism, eclecticism and following more than one tradition. Practicing blending & mixing of religions is like playing with a chemistry set: sometimes it blends together well. Sometimes explosions happen.
  • Patron and godspouse relationships happen but are not a requirement, people who have more intense relationships with deities/spirits are not necessarily “better” or “more spiritual” than others, they just have a more specialized path/role. Same with being a temple/cult priest/ess. If you don’t recognize them as being a Real Legit Thing within your tradition, cool. It’s not your tradition.
  • Nontraditional deities/spirits (that people may have channeled, created, discovered in popular culture/history/legend/their imaginations) happen in polytheism. However, Tinkerbell/American Gods theology (if I believe it, it exists/has power if I stop believing, it doesn’t) is bad polytheistic theology.
  • Archetypes, eregores and magical “thought constructs” might be Things in your path, but they are not gods.
  • People with polytheistic theologies/practices may or may not primarily identify as polytheists. They may prefer calling themselves Pagans, Heathens, Witches, Wiccans or other more specific terms.
  • Polytheists do not all adhere to any one political ideology or party, apart from most likely, supporting religious freedom and impartiality towards a variety of religions and non-religious people. (As for separation of church & state- this may very by country)
  • Question: is a “polytheist community” one in which participants primarily identify themselves as polytheists, or people who happen to be polytheistic, regardless of self-identification? 

Notes: the reverence & respect portion is an opinion I came to after reading this interview by Jason Mankey with Amy B., an atheist pagan who says she does ritual (as a priestess!) for “entertainment purposes”. Understandably, many Pagans and polytheists were offended, and other humanistic pagans like John Halstead were “horrified”. The second portion was inspired by writings on PSVL’s blog about hospitality in ritual. Can’t find the post!

The statement about theological diversity, is I think much more reflective of the reality of ancient polytheism than the way some have promoted polytheism in modern times. Some people in both ancient and modern times were/are more focused on the pursuit of philosophy, ethics, truth and knowledge, others focus more on magical practice and occult knowledge, and may do so while still being legitimate polytheists, though they likely won’t call themselves devotional polytheists, or use the term polytheist much at all.

I’ve also seen several people assert that they consider serving the Gods to be higher priority than helping other humans. As a humanist and a polytheist, I don’t take that position (it seems a false dichotomy!), but I do consider it one of many ways of being a polytheist. I can see there being a place in community for a small number of individuals whose primary calling is serving the Gods/Spirits directly. However for most of “serving the Gods” is going to be part of a long to-do list!

August 12, 2014 at 12:36 am 7 comments

Thou Shalt Accept Every Identity as Valid

Minds Are Like Parachutes: They Only Function When Open

Don’t Open Your Mind So Wide That Your Brain Falls Out.

Look, I like to think of myself as a very open-minded person. Partly because I kind of need to be, or I’d be a giant hypocrite.  But there’s a certain point where in following those two personal mottoes listed above, I have to shut my mind before my brain falls out. I don’t follow the Sacred Internet Social Justice Community Commandment that Every Identity is Valid.

I’d heard about the phenomenon of “transabled” people who identify as having a disability that they don’t have. They’ve been around for years- known as “Wannabes”  but now have come out of the woodwork more by riding on the coattails of the transgender movement. I wasn’t too worried about it, because I thought that one thing the disparate disability communities were united on was against this nonsense.

Then I just saw an article about blindness being commented upon by a “transblind” person, posted on Lydia Brown’s autism blog. This disturbed me, because Lydia is a really awesome autistic writer and activist, and her voice is pretty prominent.

I commented – “I am confused by this- I’m severely near-sighted (as in I have to be very careful where I put my glasses or I’ll have to grope for them) I could be considered “legally blind” but with my glasses I am fully sighted. Is this the sort of reason someone might identify as “transblind”? In that case I could understand, though I wouldn’t call myself that. I don’t have the experiences that blind people have. From what I understand there are some non-disabled people mainly on Tumblr that identify as “transdisabled”. I’m surprised you’re promoting this viewpoint, Lydia. Would you think appropriate for a non-autistic person to call themselves “transautistic”? I am concerned about disrespect for both transgender and disabled communities.”

After that I noticed, that indeed at the bottom of Lydia’s blog was a long list of identities that she states support and inclusion for, and “transabled” was one of them. I respected her choice, even if I was disappointed by it, it had already been made, and it was her blog.

A little more on the broader phenomenon:

Why “Transabled” Is Bull

Responding to Attacks on Disabled from Transabled, Devotees, BIID

Pretending You’re Oppressed: the New Internet Fad

Dear Demi-Sexual, Trans Abled, Trans Ethnic, Trans Fat and Other Fakers

(I do take exception to the demisexual part- will discuss below)

“This is what happens when discussion of oppression gets divorced from discussion of the power structures and status quo preserving practices that generate the oppression. Once you eliminate discussion of which groups hold power, you can transform any incidence of feeling alienated into an identity. Therefore socially empowered groups are feel free to appropriate the struggles of the people they dominate by focusing on any and all passing similarities between them rather than on actual exchanges of power.”- Comment on Womanist Musings, Jamie Laplain

Western industrialized societies are very individualistic- this makes it very hard for us to think about oppression and domination in systemic ways. Hence all the emphasis on privilege checklists and people writing mini-biographies about how they experience privilege. Then it all focuses on guilt and blame, and avoiding guilt and blame, shifting it onto someone else, another oppressor, without truly critiquing the system and coming up with constructive ways of transforming it. Instead people accuse each of not being aware enough of their privileges and are lectured that their good intentions are never enough. To be a Real Activist, you have to be familiar with an ever-changing list of terminology, and the words included and how they are defined and who can use them seems to vary by individual opinion. So you’d better get it right the first time!

Granted, there is apparently a real (if rare) disorder called Body Integrity Identity Disorder that causes people to feel as if limbs or other parts of their bodies are not really part of their bodies. If untreated, some of them try to injure themselves. These people definitely need help, and I don’t want to stigmatize them if they have a real disorder. But we should not use this as a reason to accept the entire “transabled” identity category. We need to take our society’s distorted ideas about disability, the body and sexuality into account.  I will also say that we all deserve the right to have some healthy skepticism towards the psychiatric establishment. They have made many mistakes in the past and they will continue to do so, especially considering their relationship with Big Pharma.

I am concerned that on the one hand, we are aiding and abetting people with untreated mental disorders.  It also infuriates me to see people using wheelchairs when they don’t need them, while other people who need wheelchairs or other adaptive equipment can’t afford them.  We have fought long and hard to demonstrate that people with disabilities merit equal treatment and public accommodations, and we still have a long road ahead of us on that. But we constantly get questioned “Do you really need that accommodation, or that adaptive equipment?” You can do this or that if you just tried harder, we are told. We always seem to be too disabled, or not disabled enough to be “worth” helping.

I’m also concerned that the influence of academia, and the constant search for unique research topics may have conveniently given an open platform for transabled folks into the disability studies field. Postmodern theorists with a thing for “constructed” identities would just lap this up.

Maybe some of these transabled folks have a special empathy for us. Maybe they’re curious about us. Maybe they didn’t get to know us enough when we were kids, because we were separated from them and so they became fascinated. If that is the case, I would ask them to grateful for all things your body and mind can do. And I would invite them to embrace their non-disabled bodies and minds and realize that they are still beautiful and unique, I shouldn’t have to tell them that since society tells them that everyday, but hey extra affirmation, why not. And I would further invite them to join as allies in the fight for disability rights. Because most of us, will at some point in our lives become disabled- hence the term “Temporarily Able Bodied”.

Afterword

Now, I will take exception to the inclusion of demisexuals in this list of “faker” identities. A demi-sexual is a person who is only sexually attracted to people with whom they have a deep emotional connection, they are not (or rarely) sexually attracted to strangers and brief acquaintances. I know about this as I’ve been reading about asexuality, and demisexuality is considered part of the broader definition of the asexual spectrum. If this concept helps some people make sense of their sexuality and helps them great. The biggest problem demisexuals and asexuals face is simply invisibility. Society doesn’t realize they exist, and some of them grow up being confused when they don’t have the feelings that other people around them do. The main way these folks are being oppressed is when they are pressured into romantic/sexual behavior that they do not want to engage in. This is a problem for people of all sexualities and genders, and I really don’t think that the GLBTQ+++ communities need to worry about asexual folks “stealing their movement thunder” so to speak.

August 6, 2014 at 12:45 am 4 comments

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