Friday, July 29, 2011

Ask An Atheist

A few weeks ago someone posted an event on one of the local meetup groups for Ask An Atheist.  The idea was to get together at a park downtown and let people ask us questions.  Well, I went and met up with some friends, but we never did find the organizers, so we wandered for a while, wound up picking up other atheists who came to attend (we can smell our own), and because we weren't really prepared, we wound up adjourning to the local bar for drinks and conversation with one another.  I think that's what we atheists are just prone to do.

Anyway, the conversation was fun and we decided to it again some time, with better organization.  Well, tomorrow (Saturday, July 30) is it, and I guess I wound up being the organizer!  Stace wound up helping me create flyers with information on atheist resources to give out and a friend said he wound bring a table and some chairs.  We're meeting up tomorrow and we'll see what happens.

There are 20 people signed up and I don't know most of them.  I'm really not sure how this is going to go!  I love arguing with people, but I usually do it with people I know - I'm not actually very confrontational with strangers.  As much as I would like to tear people apart for their silly beliefs, I'm actually usually quite nice about it and don't actually get in their face.  I think fast on my feet, but there is just no way of knowing what we are going to get tomorrow.  Will we be ignored?  Will there be a fight?

I'm worried (even after I said last post that I would stop worrying so much!) about the reaction of the other atheists more than the public.  I've wanted to be a leader in the Denver community for a while now, and while I know a lot of people like me and and appreciate what I offer in the form of discussion and activism, I haven't really had the chance to lead before.  I wish I had more time this week to prepare, but work was crazy and there were a lot of distractions.  I don't want people to be bored or feel like it was run poorly.  But the commonly used analogy of organizing atheists being like herding cats will likely work in my favor - we are a pretty self-sufficient bunch and they probably don't need all that much leadership from me.

Either way, I'm pretty psyched about tomorrow!  I can't wait to see what happens and I'll have a full report by Sunday right here.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Split Concentration

I'm just finishing an amazing book called The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker and it's given me a lot to think about.  I know I'll be reading it again soon because I have not absorbed it all and it seems vitally important that I do.  While there have been a lot of important topics in the book, I've been struck by his late introduction to the concept of worry and anxiety and how it is different from fear.

Fear is a quick reaction to very real stimuli that may not be consciously acknowledged but which have been picked up on by the brain.  His point is to trust that instinct and act when it happens.  Much of the book made me worry that I wasn't being vigilant enough in my day to day life because damn, there are a lot of scary people out in the world!

But his finish actually suggested against becoming hyper-vigilant, or more exactly to become worried all the time. Worry and anxiety are useless distractions, obsessions of the conscious mind about things that improbable possibilities.  You have to stop worrying about everything so that you can hear the real fear messages your body will send you when appropriate.  Otherwise the signal will get lost in the noise of worry.  That makes a ton of sense to me -- worry is just a way to keep your mind busy and when you need those resources to survive, you find the bandwidth already taken up with useless crap.

I'm reminded (again!) of X-Men First Class and the scene where Erik pulls the barbell that Raven is working out with above her.  He chides her for wasting energy and concentration on maintaining her "human" form and points out "If you're using half your concentration to look normal, then you're only half paying attention to whatever else you're doing. Just pointing out something that could save your life." He then drops the barbell back on her and she returns to her real form to catch it before it hurts her.  I know it is just a movie, but I think it makes a great analogy of what happens when you waste your energy on things you don't need to do.

For a while now I've been trying to remove "I'm afraid that...", "I'm worried", and "I'm scared that..." from my vocabulary on stupid things like at work.  While I'm making predictions of what might happen if someone doesn't do x, y, or z, I'm not really afraid of any of the results, I just don't want them to happen. But like so many things, language is important and always casting ourselves as afraid, worried, or scared leaves us in those victim modes unnecessarily.  When you are a victim for too long, you grow accustomed to it, and then you wind up staying there when there is nothing really there.

Likewise I have a lot to do with my life and I'm tired of wasting it worrying about improbable things and in so doing making myself ironically more vulnerable to real threats.  So I'm trying to catch myself when I am worrying on things and letting them go.  I'm hopeful that the extra time and energy I get back from not spending them wastefully will allow me to do and accomplish more.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Gay as a choice

A few weeks ago I joined a group of new friends on their podcast, Amateur Skeptics.  It's been a lot of fun and there have been many interesting discussions.  I'm psyched to be accepted as a regular member.

In our last episode, #38 Atheists for Humanity, we got in a discussion about a lesbian couple who had a child together and then one became a Christian and went straight, taking their daughter and fleeing to Nicaragua so that girl would not grow up exposed to a deviant life style.  The original article is interesting enough and demonstrates the standard bigotry shown by religious people (yes, I'm making this a blanket statement - deal with it), but that is not what I want to talk about here.

In the discussion I believe it was Bryan who said something like "this religious bigotry will go on until people finally accept that being gay is not a choice."  I had some words about that which I wanted to elaborate on.

First I want to say, I don't believe it is a choice.  I don't think I could manage to be entirely straight any more than a straight person could manage to choose to be gay.  I enjoy Dan Savage's recent focus on slamming back at "choicers" by suggesting that if homosexuality is a choice to prove it right there by sucking his dick.  While funny and poignant, I think his argument is flawed and stil great.

My point is a bit different -- while I don't think it is a choice, I don't really care whether or not it is a choice.  Although I'm all for science, I'm not sure how comfortable I am with a Gattaca-esque understanding of the human genome so that we can one day point to a gene that made you gay.  As much as I reject the notion that "God made me this way" as an excuse to be gay, I don't feel like it would be really helpful to show that "my DNA made me this way".  Besides the inevitability of a eugenics convenient excuse for the religious to reverse their position on abortion, I just don't like the direction this goes in.

Much like I despise the new term for intersex being Disorder of Sex Development (DSD) (more on this hate will eventually show on it's own post), the idea of identifying and justifying being gay because it is some naturally occurring genetic flaw seems to miss the point for me.  Being gay is no an unfortunate disease or condition.  It is not comparable to being born blind or deaf.  Likewise anyone convinced to not be a homophobic bigot simply because someone proves I can't help it is both an idiot and an asshole.  I know we're not supposed to ever turn down allies, but seriously, fuck anyone who comes over from the dark side because of a silly reason such as this.

And besides, I think our bigots will change their tune just like they always do -- they'll simply rephrase their bigotry and hate to accommodate this new information.  For being idiots who dismiss Darwin, they have proven themselves adept at evolving to maintain their status quo of dispicability.

I think homosexuals should not be discriminated against because there is no reason for the prejudice, that simple.  I shouldn't have to have a scientific excuse or be unable to change in order for people to not be assholes.  Again, I don't think it is a choice, but even if scientific proof one day declares with certainty that there is no gay gene and for some reason we are all choosing this because we enjoy being second class citizens, nothing will have actually changed.  We deserve to be real citizens right now - the "it's not a choice" argument is simply a distraction from the real issue.  Anyone who implies or is convinced that they shouldn't be a bigoted hater if only the science could prove that the gays didn't choose to be a sinner and that they would change their mind and feel bad for someone so afflicted is simultaneous lying to you, themselves, and are an abject fucktard.  Dismiss them and refuse to even argue such stupidity with them.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Beautiful People

So I went to see X-Men First Class last night at our favorite cheap theater and enjoyed it even more the second time.  It's a fun movie, great action, great special effects, etc. but what struck me this time around was the very well done conflict around Xavier's biases and bigotry.


As especially shown through his relationship with Raven, Xavier was awesome about mutant rights, believing everyone to be special and worthy of safety and acceptance.  But he also had a major problem with mutants who looked different.  As Raven points out, Xavier's mutant abilities are invisible and easily hid, while hers mark her as very different unless she goes to great pains to hide it.  I loved when Erik points out that if she is spending any energy hiding herself, then that is energy that can not go to defending herself.  Raven leaves Xavier at the end to go to Erik, and I don't think Xavier can even blame her - he knows how he has failed her and that she would be better off with someone who truly accepts her.

Now I know this is just a movie, but the strength of the X-Men in movies and in comics has always been its easy connection and analogy of mutation with other minority groups.  Growing up as a big fan of the comic, this association was always very apparent and poignant to me and makes for good analogy and life lessons.  Xavier's is obviously biased towards mutants who look normal and can fit in.  He tells Moira at the end of the movie that anonymity will be their first line of defense.

Xavier has the idea that the beautiful people - the ones who can remain invisible so no one knows about their mutation are somehow better.  You get the impression from his treatment of Raven that he thinks those whose mutations are obvious should be spending their time trying to fit in, regardless of how it makes them feel.  I see this in other places too - especially the intersex world.

There are cliques and groups that seem based around the pretty people - the ones that fit in and give the impression of effortless in their acceptance and normality.  They look normal, so it is more tragic that they suffer the indignity of being different.  The public can get behind the pretty girl who looks 100% apple pie girl next door and even inside the community there is a not-very-subtle focus on these people to the exclusion of others.  Those who "look intersex" are marginalized, ignored, and simply not treated the same way.  They are more grudgingly accepted into the group, but are not considered role models or are looked up to, no matter what they actually do for the movement.

I think all minority groups probably suffer through this - I think no matter how low you find yourself on the food chain, there is a natural tendency to still want to throw someone else under the bus in order to elevate yourself.  There is a "hey, accept us - we are just like you!" vibe that goes through and those who don't look the part are more likely to be tossed out.  This is often subtle, but it happens all the time.  I see it in group dynamics where for example three people are interviewed and tell their story about being intersex, and the only one people talk about or remember is the pretty one - the others are forgotten even though they were just as brave as the pretty girl.

The GBLT movement will often sacrifice the T's in order to get what they want.  While a case can be made that it's all for the greater good, when you look at the lines these tend to break across, there is often the straight-acting, good-looking, you-wouldn't-know-if-they-hadn't-told-you contingent who gets what they want faster than everyone else.

Finally, there is the shame that everyone (myself included) wants to be one of the beautiful people.  And to bring it back, even in the movie, Raven spends most of her time in one acceptable form, quite beautiful and easy to fit in.  In the end, she discards this image for who she really is and accepts the hand of the person who truly accepted her all along.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


My goal is at least one blog post a day for the next 60 days.  I'll take something I've read and comment and share my thoughts.

LAPH Riot is my new email address and name. LAPH is an acronym for Lesbian Atheist Progressive Hermaphrodite - a fun combination of four things that are major definers of my life.

L - I'm a lesbian. I came out in 1999 when I was 28 years old after knowing deep down that I was a lesbian since college.  I missed out on a lot of fun I think coming out so late, but better late than never.  I've been in a committed relationship for coming up on 5 years.
A - I'm an atheist.  I've always been interested in religion but was always outside it, thinking "do they really believe this shit?"  I don't think I've ever really believed and it is only recently that I've found a community and a purpose behind embracing my atheism.  I think it is an important part of my identity and it is important for more people to fess up to the fact that even if it makes you feel good, belief in god and woo is detrimental to life.
P - I'm a progressive.  I'd love to be a liberal or a Democrat, but you just have to hate the political parties and what they stand for, or more accurately fail to stand for.  I think progressive fits me better - I think the world is getting better and better, with more freedom and equality as society evolves from our base instincts.  There's far more to do, but I am glad I live now rather than at any previous time, and although there are plenty of un-evolved troglodytes out there, I look forward to a bright future.
H - I'm a hermaphrodite.  Well, technically a pseudo-hermaphrodite and more commonly called intersexed.  I have a condition called Partial Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (PAIS) and the short story is I am a woman who has XY chromosomes, some different physical characteristics and what I like to believe is a somewhat unique point of view.

And Riot - well, I thought it went together well with the LAPH/Laugh word play and I love the old school term for a good wild time or someone who is consistently challenging or witty. It's my blog so I get to pretend I'm witty.

I want to use this blog to explore ideas and thoughts I have about these subjects and anything else that strikes me as important.  I hope people enjoy what I write and I hope to get some feedback too.  Thanks!

You just gotta laugh...