Seventh Day!

Time for my mom’s proud moment!

i got an email from her a few days ago (Which is a little bit of a proud moment itself: she is stubbornly technophobic. But nonetheless she has learned to handle email and texts and her smartphone, and is starting to get into webinars and such.).

The subject line read: My knitting goes worldwide.

My mother knits. Constantly. She’s knitted me hats, scarves, sweaters, and a Harry Potter cape. But this? This is when she hit the big time.

D450276D-D4F9-40DD-901A-87643A478211

That’s right. My mom made those giant blue-footed Booby feet. And she hit the big time.

Pirate!

So, hey, here’s a thing.

The Adventures of Damnation Kane, Volume II

That is my new book.

The Adventures of Damnation Kane, Volume II is now complete.

I will be in a booth at the Tucson Festival of Books on March 14 and 15, ready to sign and sell copies, if anyone will be in town.

If you will not be in town, the book will be available online.

 

Hope to see you in two weeks.

 

(By the way, if you haven’t bought and read my first book, I would highly recommend it. It’s available here:)

The Adventures of Damnation Kane, Volume I

Brave New World Aftermath: Can’t we all just get along?

Image result for brave new world

Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World  is a classic dystopian novel.

In which everyone is happy.

It’s quite wonderfully insidious; usually a dystopian novel shows us a world where no one is happy, and challenges us to find a way to imagine happiness in it: in 1984, everyone suffers all the time, until Winston Smith tries to find a way to, well, live, laugh, and love; the jackboots of Big Brother and the Thought Police stomp that dream out of him. In Fahrenheit 451, the people are committing suicide and killing each other, while screaming at their television sets and cringing away from their devilish firemen; but when Clarisse McClellan tries to think for herself, she is vanished (and probably killed), and when Guy Montag wants to read books instead of burning them, he is arrested and forced to murder his former friend and then run for his life. In The Handmaid’s Tale, happiness is not the thing; purity is. Nobody gives a shit about happiness, and so that’s exactly what they get: shit happiness.

But in Brave New World, when John the Savage wants to be different from the people of the Brave New World, he demands the right to be sad and miserable and angry. And then he is chased out of society, because everyone there is happy, and no one has the freedom to frown, so to speak. Really, no one has the freedom to be alone, which is probably the more disturbing part; that is a common thread in all four books, and I think in all dystopias; everyone is watched, all the time, and it’s horrifying.

I should point out here that we are also watched all the time, and it’s no less horrifying for being real; but there is still some difference for us: the government has the ability to watch us all the time, but they don’t actually care about what 99% of us do.  And while our friends and neighbors are in our business every day, it’s usually because we put our business on social media, or on the grapevine. We still, generally speaking, have the option of privacy. Corporations building data profiles of us are involved in every second of our day that they can be, and that’s probably the most ominous; but really, they just want to sell us shit, so while it’s creepy that the Facebook ads reflect what we were just thinking or talking about, it’s nothing more than something to scroll past. At some point the corporations will realize that they can create markets for their products by screwing with us; that’s when it will get bad. It’s also incredibly dangerous that the data collected on each of us could very easily be turned over to the government (I was going to write “seized by,” but really, what corporation would ever say no to Uncle Sam come looking for intel? They can still sell things to people under NSA surveillance, after all. Maybe rotate some ads for firearms or “Don’t Tread On Me” flags into their feeds.), because the government is certainly willing to screw with us; but as of this moment, to quote the Doors, “They got the guns, but we got the numbers,” and so these tools are not yet  effective. Certainly something to watch out for.

But in the Brave New World, the people don’t have to watch out, they don’t have to suspect their government: they are happy. All of them. All the time. The Big Speech — another common thread through all these books, and perhaps in some form in all dystopian novels, as every dystopian novel has a message to give, and an important one, so the authors don’t want to take a chance on us missing it — given by World Controller Mustapha Mond (Huxley was a brilliant writer, but really, his names are lame. The use of Communist/Socialist names — Marx, “Lenina,” Trotsky — is annoyingly on the nose, and while it’s kinda clever that Mustapha in Arabic means “chosen” or “selected,” the fact that “Mond” means “world” and Mond controls the world… well.) at the end of the novel explains why the society of Brave New World chose happiness and stability over freedom and progress: because there was a terrible war, and afterwards, people wanted to be safe. So they chose to create a stable, safe society, and the only way to do that was to make everyone happy, all the time — or rather, maybe the goal was to achieve happiness for everyone, and the only way to do that was to make sure society was stable, was safe, was static. Every aspect controlled, nothing left to chance.

The result? A society where everyone is designed to be happy. Where the people are cloned, genetically and chemically modified, conditioned and trained from birth to have specific needs and specific wants and specific fears and specific aversions, all of that intended simply to make them happy with their life exactly as it is. They are built to do specific tasks in society, to enjoy simple things like sex, sports, and soma, the wonder euphoria drug that eliminates all chance negative emotions, and never to want to do or be anything other than exactly what they are.

And I read this, and I think: are they right?

Isn’t a happy, stable society better than one that has misery and suffering? Even if, as John the Savage (The one person in the society born to be a part of society, but not raised in it, so not controlled by it) argues — rightly, I think — that sorrow is necessary for tragedy, which is necessary for great art and great genius? Do we really need art and genius? It seems like a reasonable argument to say that most people would prefer to be happy, rather than great, and that happiness — contentment — seems much more likely to make us productive and useful members of society, and to ensure the continuation of the species. Aren’t those the goals?

Even if they aren’t, isn’t the loss of freedom worth the great benefit that the society actively seeks in the novel: the elimination of war? There is not a doubt in my mind that war is the greatest evil, the most abhorrent atrocity, that humanity has ever created or faced; what price should we be willing to pay to free us of it?

After reading this book — though it did genuinely give me pause and make me think twice, and then a couple more times after that — I think the answer is No. No, the price of safety and stability is not worth it. No, the goal is not simply happiness and contentment for all people at all times. Even, I think at least half of the time, if we achieved the end of war.

Because what makes war such an abomination is that it degrades our humanity. In addition to creating or multiplying every other horror we face — death, famine, pestilence, cruelty, greed, deception, hysteria, you name it and war is where you will find it more often and to a greater degree than anywhere else — war takes away everything that ennobles us. In the midst of famine, we can find unmatched ingenuity, and inconceivable endurance, and breathtaking altruism and generosity and self-sacrifice; in the midst of plague, we find kindness and grace and dignity in the midst of and because of the suffering; and so on, through all of it.

But war does quite the opposite. War makes kind people cruel, and healthy people sick, and civilized people into savages. War is the triumph of inhumanity over humanity.

But so is the Brave New World. Because whatever those people are, they are not human. Humans are not designed, and humans are not crafted and shaped like pottery on a wheel, and humans are not set into a groove out of which they will never skip. Humans cannot be perfectly ordered: we are chaos, we create chaos. It’s one of the reasons we are so good at war, because we are so very, very good at destroying things. Especially ourselves. We’re good at building — or else there wouldn’t be any targets for war to aim at — but we’re even better at burning it all down.

And that’s necessary. Because without destroying what is there now, you would never be able to build anything new. Creation implies destruction, but it is valuable  when destruction is for the purpose of creation, when it is part of a continuing cycle: whereas if we end destruction, and end creation too (The people in the book are not created as humans are, through the act of love and the processes of nature; they are built like machines, which is origination, but not, I would argue, creation — and I’m not even touching on the religious argument, which would be a much more poetic way to say the same thing), what we achieve is — stasis. The end of movement.

Death. And not a death that continues the circle of life, giving rise to something new to replace what is lost; here nothing is lost, and so nothing can replace it. Everything is just — still. Stopped. Perfectly motionless, without growth, without progress, without change. Which is no less dead than death itself. And while I will often argue that progress for the sake of progress is cancerous and absurd and deadly, I certainly wouldn’t prefer the final end of all progress.

Not even if it made me happy.

 

I do not think that this means we need to accept war. I still believe it is the extreme end, the Ultima Thule, of human malignancy; which means we can draw back from it, lessen it, even essentially eliminate it; though it is probably also true that some shadow, some residue, will always remain to harm and torment us. It is in our nature: not that we are made to war, but that we are made to try and reach and explore and find new ways to do things, and one of the ways to do things is to go to war; so even if we forgot it, we would rediscover it again, and again. Curiosity killed the cat, and we are forever curious. But just as more freedom and individuality is better than less, even if it is an imperfect freedom and individuality (which is what we have now), less war and more peace is better than the reverse. So I think there is a goal, and a way to achieve it, without also losing everything that we are.

I also recognize that there are events and actions that might be labeled war, but are not the horrors I’ve been describing; there are times when people have taken up arms to put an end to the horrors, when military intervention is the only way to save people. I don’t want to use the phrase “police action,” because Vietnam was a lie and the police as saviors is a fraught idea anyway; but there are times when force is both necessary and humanely applied. Someone who uses force to defend themselves or another from an attacking force has done nothing wrong. I don’t mean to either denigrate that, nor argue that even that should be (or could be) eliminated; that is the shadow and the residue of war that probably should remain — though ideally, since that sort of violence is triggered by the inhumane violence of dictatorship and oppression and vast chaotic upheavals, if we could end those, we wouldn’t need to send the Marines to intervene. But I’m not sure we could end those, either, because I think having the good and valuable tool of a defensive force can very quickly be turned to evil purposes (Which is why the Founding Fathers of this country pushed for a militia and abhorred the idea of a standing army — COUGH COUGH LOOKING AT YOU, MILITARY INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX), and then the solution becomes the problem. So it goes. We can’t close Pandora’s box.

So no. I don’t think we can live like the Brave New World. (And let me point out that, we discover, neither can they, not entirely, because there are people who don’t fit their molds, and who cause problems, and who are eventually exiled; Mustapha Mond is grateful that there are so many islands in the world to send misfit toys to — but that’s not a  solution, it’s just pretense.) I don’t think we can all just get along.

But I think we can get by. And get to be ourselves. And that’s probably better. Because that way we get to have art and beauty and truth — and that, I think, is really the point.

Shakespeare, as usual, (and as Huxley himself recognized) probably said it best:

O, wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in’t!

The Brave New World, for us, is wondrous because of the people in it; it is brave because it faces turmoil and tribulation and suffering; it is new because it moves through the cycle of destruction and creation. It lives, and it changes, and it grows. Like us.

In the book, the quote is used ironically. We have to make it true.

This Is Inappropriate

(Okay, the title’s a little clickbait-y. This is entirely appropriate. Promise.) This was a sample I wrote from a student’s suggestion of topic.

 

Why should the school care about what students wear? 

I’ve heard students argue about dress codes for as long as I’ve been a teacher. Honestly, they have terrible arguments: but not because they’re wrong. They have terrible arguments because they’re young and inexperienced with argument, and because their emotions often tend to overwhelm their reason – they get busted for wearing clothes they like, told the clothes they like and feel comfortable in are bad or inappropriate or in poor taste (And all too often, the arguments leveled against them by adults are direct insults – “Why would you wear that? Why would you think it was a good idea to wear that to school?”); of course they get upset, and of course that makes it hard to think clearly of logical reasons why the dress code is bad. That’s without even talking about the deeply troubling message of the dress code, especially when it is enforced against young women: your clothing is incorrect because it shows your body, and your body is inappropriate. Is unacceptable. Is wrong.

Enough is enough. I have been asked to take up this argument, and though I don’t necessarily have personal insight into the dress code – I myself was never busted for a dress code violation in school, even when I wore clothes with offensive messages on them, which I did for years; I have never been told as an adult that my clothing is inappropriate (other than when my friend laughed at me for wearing a white suit, saying I looked like Colonel Sanders. She wasn’t wrong, though.) – I do have logical reasons why the dress code is wrong. The first and most important is: because it upsets the students so much that they can’t think straight. 

Because it does that. That is not to say that students being upset is reason to let them break the rules, which I know is the immediate thought of those who believe in dress codes – probably including the words “snowflake” and “safe space” and maybe some aggressively angry references to people in the past being tougher and stronger and whatnot than kids today, and maybe even a muttered “Avocado toast!” – but it is something that should be considered: because this is a school, and these children are our students. The first (ostensible) reason for a dress code is to ensure that students can focus on their education; but if students are so upset by the dress code and the methods of its enforcement that they can’t, as I’ve said, think logically enough to argue against that dress code, can those students be expected to think clearly enough to learn? And if not, what exactly is the dress code supposed to accomplish? Are those reasons enough to ruin a child’s education, even for one day? Enough to harm that child’s self-image, to teach that child that she herself is inappropriate? 

First, let’s examine the idea that a dress code reduces distraction based on sexuality. That is, when girls wear revealing clothing to school, the boys are incapable of thinking about schoolwork, because all they will be capable of doing is ogling the girls in their revealing clothing. (To a far lesser extent the argument goes both ways: but dress codes are overwhelmingly focused, both in the specific restrictions and the enforcement, on female students post-puberty, because of the distraction of male students post-puberty. LGBTQ students are twice as likely to be the victims of sexual assault or harassment, but I don’t hear that in the arguments for the dress code.) I’ve heard the argument made that revealing clothing invites harassment from teenaged boys, as well, from which girls need to be protected. By disallowing the girls from wearing revealing clothing, thus keeping them safe from boys. (Which is why, currently, 58% of high school girls experience some form of sexual harassment [That number varies by study. A Harvard school of education study found that 87% of teenage girls suffer sexual harassment. Check the link.], and over 10% say they have been forced to have sex: because the dress code is working!)

The obvious answer to this problem – and it is so obvious that it has become a meme, an online trope – is to teach the boys not to harass the girls (Again, this goes both ways, as well, but people rarely focus on sexual harassment of male students. Assume I’m including that issue, as well. I am.), and to redirect the boys to their schoolwork, to train them to overcome their urges and focus on the task at hand. If school can’t even do that, what are we even doing? And if we can’t do that because it can’t be done, if teenaged boys are so inevitably focused on sexual thoughts that no power on this Earth could stop them from staring at girls and fantasizing, why would you ever think that a loose polo shirt and ill-fitting dress pants would do the trick? I’m not going to pretend that this argument is reasonable, because I refuse to accept the underlying claim that males cannot possibly overcome our urges, that we are all rapists at heart, barely held in check by terror of punishment; but the same clichés that give this argument its power contradict the idea of a dress code: if teenaged boys are so horny, thinking about sex every seven seconds, willing to do literally anything for the chance at sexual release, if, as movies describe it, “linoleum” or “a stiff breeze” are sufficient to put teenaged boys in the mood – what clothing choice could possibly stop that?

Is it possible that, instead, we should deal with the actual issue head on? Teach students, especially male students, about consent? About rape? About sexual harassment? Teach our students the truth about their pubescent hormones and their bodies?  Stop pretending that sexual urges are bad, but teach them that unwelcome sexual advances are bad, and are not excused by clothing choices? Is it possible that we should teach young people to control themselves, and to redirect their thoughts when they become problematic? Talk about it all honestly, so that we can address actual concerns, answer their questions, rather than try to shamefully cover up? As awkward as those conversations might be, I would have that conversation a thousand times before I would tell a female student to cover up because I can see her breasts.

Once we get past the question of sex-based distraction, the second most common argument for a dress code is even sillier: not because those who create and enforce dress codes have terrible goals, but entirely because the benefits are not worth the costs. The argument is that the dress code reflects a professional work environment; students will not be allowed to wear tank tops and miniskirts (or sagged jeans and wifebeaters) to work. Which I suppose is true (Except for my former student who wore a bikini to work, because she was Miss Teen California; and let’s not pretend that none of our students become models, or strippers, or dancers, or Hooters waitresses – or simply work at home, a trend that has grown enormously as telecommuting and gig work have become more popular; and working at home means you can wear literally nothing to work, every single day. Even if you have to teleconference, nobody sees if you’re not wearing any pants.) but here’s the thing: students aren’t at work. School is not work. You can tell because we don’t pay them. I am a firm believer in the idea that students work as hard at school as most people do at their jobs, and their compensation is the education and the opportunities they gain; but nonetheless, they are not professionals, and should not be held to professional standards. Simply because any professional can quit: and students cannot. Since we compel them to attend, they should be allowed more freedom than a professional would be – and letting them wear what they want seems a reasonable concession.

In terms of preparing them for their future: how much preparation does this habit actually require? Is it hard to figure out how to dress for a professional office? If it is, then kids are in trouble: because it’s not actually how they are required to dress for school. I’ve never been required to wear a uniform polo shirt – and I work in a high school. One with a uniform code: for students. But on the other hand, I never thought it would be okay to wear booty shorts and a mesh crop-top to work, so practice not wearing booty shorts and a mesh crop-top to school doesn’t seem necessary. If someone is confused about the appropriateness of their attire, then what is required is a conversation: not years and years at a school with a dress code. If we’re going to all this effort, and causing all of this discomfort to our students, in order to spare their future supervisors from having one potentially awkward conversation, we need to straighten out our priorities. Because school staff have years of awkward conversations, which can have serious effects on the students’ self-image, in order to spare one adult conversation. It’s simply not worth it. Thinking that it is, is silly.

We can ratchet the silliness up another notch with this next one: uniforms make the student body look and feel like they belong, like they are part of a unified team. It’s difficult to believe that actually works; I’ve worn the same outfit as another person before and somehow never thought of the close bond that was thus created. I’ve never hugged the other people wearing Doc Martens just because what they have on their feet resembles what I have on my feet. (If that worked, wouldn’t we all be bonding over the simple existence of socks? WOO! SOCKS! HUG IT OUT FOR SOCKS!) Maybe it’s because I never played a lot of sports, and it’s the sports uniform that makes a team come together; but I did play some sports, and I did have a team uniform: it didn’t make me feel like I belonged. Probably because the other kids on the team made fun of me. Even though we were all wearing the same uniform. Because I was bad at sports.

Which brings us to another potential reason for a dress code, or more specifically for a uniform code: if students wear uniforms, then none of them can make fun of other students for what they are wearing. There is, I admit, some truth to that; because students do mock each other for their dress, particularly along socioeconomic class lines. But I cannot imagine that identical uniforms will overcome those class distinctions: the rich kids will still have, and will notice and comment on, their better hair and skin and makeup and accessories; even if every kid had a bag over their head, kids would still know who was rich and who was poor, and there would still be conflict.

This is what is wrong with all of the arguments for a dress code, or for a uniform code: they all treat the symptoms, and not the actual problem. If students are being distracted by sexy thoughts about their peers, the issue is the distraction and the sexy thoughts; not what the peers are wearing. If students mock each other for their clothes, the answer is not to change their clothes; it is to change their attitudes and their behavior. If we want students to feel like they are part of a team, that they are in a place where they belong, then by God let us make them feel like they are a part of the school community: let us treat them as equals, not as underlings. If we want them to feel like they belong, then please, let us treat them as if they have a right to be on the school campus, as if this is a place that they can feel comfortable: let them wear whatever they want to wear. 

Then if one of them shows up in a Speedo, we can have that one awkward conversation. 

I was going to do it anyway…

Here we go: time for teaching argument again. I had my students write a sample essay, so I could see how well they argue already and what they need to learn; while they were writing, I was writing.

This one was my choice of topic.

 

Is there any value in teaching argument?

The cynical part of me says no, because my students either know how to argue or they don’t, and going through my class doesn’t seem a terribly good way to get them to understand what argument is or how to craft a good argument. I’ve taught argument for twenty years now, and still people make the same mistakes and have the same wrong conceptions of what argument is. They still yell at each other; they still try for insults, mockery, and Gotchas as a way to “win” an argument. They still think that everyone has the right to their opinion, no matter how absurd, unfounded, or even dangerous that opinion may be; and they don’t think that a person should have to support their opinion, because they don’t think people should question each others’ opinions. Mainly because they don’t want me or someone like me to question their opinion, because they can’t support their opinions: they can yell about them.

But if I judged what topics should be taught by how well my students absorb them, then honestly, I wouldn’t teach anything; because no matter what I teach, or how I teach it, some of my students don’t get it. I could give the same description, or a similar one, for any topic I present to my class, any skill I try to instill in them. Sometimes they go out knowing only as much as they knew coming in. 

But that’s not entirely true. First because the topics in English class (and probably every class, but this is the one I know) are not discrete and mutually exclusive; reading narratives and writing essays and analyzing setting and character and especially plot are all skills that will serve the students well if they ever decide to participate in a serious argument. Speaking and listening, and writing and reading, are generally useful skills, and they all encourage growth in each other; and while my students may not all master argument, they do all improve in some way in my class, and any area of improvement is at least somewhat valuable in every other area. (This is also why I don’t like standards based grading, but that’s a different argument.)

Secondly, it is impossible to say what effect I have on my students in the long term. I know for a fact, because I have been told this by former students, that my class, for any of a myriad reasons, had a significant impact on them, often in ways they did not expect and I could not predict, often years after they moved on to another teacher or another school. So do my students learn better argument from me even if they don’t show tangible improvement while we are working on the unit? I hope, and think, yes. 

So my answer would be: yes. There is value in teaching argument. The impacts may be invisible, they may be far in the future; they may even be tangential, as argument skills may be improved by some other part of the class, or other skills may be improved by the work on argument. The important factor is this: argument itself is important. People in our world need to know how to argue. They need to know how to clearly define their subject and their claim, they need to know how to find and build support for their opinions, they need to know how to listen to, analyze, question, and address alternative viewpoints. They need to know that opinions are not inherently equal in value, nor sacrosanct, just because an individual (who is equal in value to all other individuals) holds that opinion, and they need to know how to dislodge someone from a dangerous or wrong opinion, both for their own convenience and for the greater good. They need to know how to recognize when an argument is lost and should be given up. They need to know how to deal with being wrong, and having someone else prove it to you.

We need these skills in our society. I don’t know for sure that our country is falling apart, or rather being blasted apart, by partisan intransigence and rancor; but I know, for sure, that our inability to argue rationally is making everything in our democracy worse: less sure, more troubled, more irrational and therefore dangerous. And when democracy fails, then some form of tyranny is the inevitable result. And we don’t want that: not even if the tyrant is on our side.

Don’t believe me? Then let’s argue about it.

 

Invisible People

I don’t think about trans people.

That’s a confession, and it’s not a comfortable one. Because I should think about trans people; I should consider them, and try to understand them; and because I want to be an ally, I should do better at remembering them and their needs when I write about topics that touch on gender.

I’m hoping that writing this now, and posting it, will help me to keep trans people in my thoughts, will remind me to look over what I write about gender and sexism and men and women with a thoughtful eye; because shame is a powerful motivator. Considering what trans people have to go through in our society, I think the least I can do is feel shame about my past behavior and mindset.

I don’t have too much shame: I’ve never mocked a cis male for being feminine or a cis female for being masculine (For those of you who do not know — and I’m adding this because I was confused when I first encountered the term — “cis” is short for “cissexual” or “cisgender,” and it means someone whose gender identity matches the sex they were assigned at birth. It’s the opposite of transsexual or transgender. Read this.), never used “sissy” or “tomboy” as any kind of insult, never confused transvestites for transsexuals — never really thought that men in drag were funny, and so I didn’t laugh at bros in high school when they put on wigs and skirts and fake breasts for Halloween or pep rallies. I have never intentionally misused pronouns, nor thought that trans people were perverts, nor argued that anyone should use any specific bathroom (My ideal bathroom situation is and always has been single-occupancy bathrooms. I do not understand why it has to be one room with many people sharing a private function, when it could be a row of cubicles, each with their own toilet and sink and mirror and locking door.). I feel shame because I want two things: I want to give people who are transgender the respect they deserve as my fellow human beings, and because they are also an oppressed minority, I want to be an ally and fight for their equal rights and just treatment. I am always willing to do the second one, though I will also confess I am sometimes awkward or uncomfortable in the actual process of it; but because I don’t do the first well enough, I’m not good enough at the second.

Let me explain.

I know transgender people. Of course I do: so do you. Estimates of trans prevalence vary wildly, mostly because of the stigma attached to being trans, which keeps people from being open about who they are, and complicates the process of data collection as well; but this study shows that somewhere around 1 in 11,000 people seek either surgical or hormonal therapy; in surveys of self-assessed gender identity, the prevalence of transgender was around 1 in 300. That’s a huge difference, and just looking at the Wikipedia page shows that the prevalence of trans people has varied wildly over time and in different places — and Wikipedia only reports a half-dozen surveys in four countries. My point is both that being transgender is not uncommon, and also that our society has made it so complicated that everything about being trans is incredibly opaque: who is trans, what it means to be trans, how we should talk about (or if we should talk about) gender identity — everything.

The solution to this, of course, is to talk about it. And while there’s obviously a certain irony and disingenuousness in me, as a straight white cis male, opening up the conversation (Because what the fuck do I know about being trans?), it’s equally obvious that I risk nothing in so doing: I’m not going to be judged, not going to suffer bigotry, not going to lose my job or friends or family, or my life, by talking about this; and that means it is incumbent on me to do it, on whatever scale and with whatever platform I have available to use for that conversation. So here we are.

Why is it incumbent on me? Why is this any of my business? Because this is my world, this is my society, as much as it is anyone else’s; and the purpose of society is to enable the members of that society to live in the world. That’s why people are social animals: because grouping together and cooperating improves our survival. We need other people, not only to survive, but also for our well-being as individuals. Society enables us to do that, to cooperate with and socialize with other people, and for it to work, all of us need to contribute to that, to help accomplish that purpose. Think of it like this: when someone doesn’t fit into society, there is friction; that friction affects not just the person who doesn’t fit, but everyone they come into contact with — and that means it is in all of our best interests to try to smooth the way for everyone in our society, to reduce the friction. For everyone. Since the friction goes both ways, the solution, the conversation, can start from either side, and it’s easier for it to start with me; thus, for society’s sake, as well as for my own, I should be the one to do it.

And, of course, because I have empathy, and because trans people have to struggle and suffer; and I would like to make that struggle easier and that suffering less, just because they are people. That’s enough reason to try. Even if it is awkward.

I don’t want to come off as a savior: I do not think I have very much to contribute to this discussion. I don’t know very much. But as a teacher, my job is (ideally) just to start conversations; I see my job as a blogger the same way. When I can get a group of students to read a story and start talking about it, I don’t need to know very much about the story: the students, in talking about it, will find their way to the best answer they could possibly have — one they create themselves. My job then is only to make sure that their answer comes from the story, from the source, and not from something someone made up or brought from outside; and to ensure that everyone has a chance to offer their input and hear everyone else’s ideas.  I see this the same way, and so I’m going to treat this conversation the same way I treat a subject in my class: I will talk about what I know, what little that is, and try to express the value and importance of the topic; and then I will open it up to discussion. (I recognize that this blog is not a terribly great place to discuss anything, as the comment function is awkward; I’m fine with the conversation continuing between people away from this website, or even just inside someone’s head. But if you have anything you want to say here, you are invited to do so.)

So here’s what I know. I know that being transgender (And also being genderqueer and genderfluid, which are terms that attempt to encapsulate the middle ground in between cis and trans) in today’s society is hard. It’s hard to get people to treat you the way you wish to be treated. It’s hard to get people to understand who you are and the way you wish to be treated, not least because you have to be the one to explain, over and over and over again, to literally every person you interact with, how you want to be treated. Imagine that: imagine if every single time you introduced yourself, the other person disagreed with you. Thought you were wrong. Was confused and wanted an explanation, or even an argument. “Why do you have a boy’s name? You’re a girl.” “No, I’m trans.” Imagine having that or a similar exchange every single time you met someone. Imagine having to justify something as simple as your name. To justify it: imagine someone who just met you telling you your name is wrong. It may be hard to imagine this — though people who use nicknames or names other than their legal names have some inkling of it — because most of us don’t have to argue for the way we want to be treated in terms of common courtesy; I don’t have to fight to get people to call me what I want to be called.

Imagine if, every time you met someone or talked to them, they started thinking about your genitalia. You know? You tell them that your name is X, when they think your name should be Y because of your voice or your size or your body shape, and they frown and look down at your pelvis, or your chest. And they look hard. And they think about it. Maybe they ask you about it. Even if they’re trying to be understanding, and they ask you about what you have, or what your plans are for what you have. You know how many people have asked me directly about my genitalia? As if they have a right to know the answer? As if this is a conversation that anyone can have in casual polite company? You know how many: almost certainly the same number of people who have asked you about yours. Zero.

And when there’s stigma attached, all of this is infinitely worse. Like the bullshit about gender identity and perverts in bathrooms. Look: being transgender is hard. It’s dangerous. People judge and hate and mistreat and attack you for it. The idea that someone would claim to be transgender for the express purpose of finding victims to rape or molest is so far beyond absurd that it should not even have a place in this conversation. Why does anyone even think this? Do you imagine it’s hard for rapists to find victims? Do you think that child molesters can’t find children to molest? Do you think that grown adult men need to go into women’s restrooms in order to rape or molest someone? Are you insane? Women get raped and children get molested every day, and not by trans people in bathrooms.

But because people still talk about being transgender like it’s a pathway to easier sexual assault, it makes it that much harder to be trans, because now not only do you have to argue for your name and your basic courtesy, you have to convince people that you’re not a rapist or a child molester. Imagine having to basically announce, out loud, that you are not a rapist every time you walk into a public bathroom. White cis men like me get all pissy when someone accuses us of being rapists, claiming that the mere accusation smears all men (#NotAllMen); but first, not only do we not have to prove to people around us that we aren’t rapists on a regular basis — we are also the freaking rapists. Straight cis men are far more likely to be sexual predators than are trans people. Orders of magnitude more likely. Yet we can walk into public restrooms without people raising an eyebrow.

I’m not even going to talk about the jokes and memes, generally from conservatives, about people “choosing” to “identify” as absurd things in order to get preferential treatment. All I’m going to say is: try it. You think people would identify as trans, or as anything other than what people see them as, just to receive special treatment? Try it. Try something easy: walk into your church and identify as Muslim, or atheist. Walk into your sports bar and claim to like a different team, or even just a different sport. Tell your family you’re going to change your name. See how much special treatment you get. See how freaking easy it is to disagree with what society thinks you should be. See what it’s like to have to argue just to be yourself.

That’s my experience. I know someone who is both transgender, and gay; his love life is therefore complicated. And I thought, when I learned this about him, “Man, it would be so much easier for him if he could just give up being trans, because then he (as a cis woman, which he is not) would have a much easier time finding guys to date.” And of course it would be easier. He wouldn’t have to convince everyone to use the name and pronouns he prefers; they’d just do it, just act as if his name is a given, an assumed truth, rather than a source of argument. He wouldn’t get strange looks, and awkward questions, and accusations and arguments, whenever he wants to use a restroom. He wouldn’t have to dread introducing himself  — or hearing his name called on the roll at school, remember that? Remember the kid with the unpronounceable name, who had to either deal with the substitute/first day teacher struggling with their name, or had to predict where in the roll their name would appear and just shout out “Present!” when the teacher frowned and squinted at the list? Imagine the shit you would get if your name was easy to pronounce, but was associated with a different gender? Or if your name on the roll, on your driver’s license, on your legal documentation, was not the name you wanted to use, and the name you wanted to use would start an argument? He has conservative family members, too, who give him unending shit about his gender identity, and he would be able to dispose of all of that, if he were cis. And sure, if it matters, he would be able to date more guys, because there are more straight men than homosexual men, and so the pool would be larger if he were a straight cis woman.

And that is what showed me that I’m an idiot, and so is everyone else who thinks that being trans is a choice. There is no situation where it would be easier to be transgender. None. There is nothing about being transgender that is easy.

That’s how you know it isn’t a choice.

And that’s why we, as a society, need to recognize and ease the struggle that transgender people deal with every day. Because they, as people, have every single struggle that all people already have (Money/bills/job/housing/health/family/age/fulfillment/trauma), and they have another one, a constant, trying, sometimes brutal fight with themselves, with the world, with everything. And they have no easy choice in the matter: they can deny who they are, or they can fight to have everyone else stop denying who they are. Neither one is easy, and neither one is harmless.

Think about that.

Now discuss.

I mean, it’s kinda new.

New Year, New Me. Right?

Not really, though.

Nothing much changed for me in 2019. I’m still married to the same perfect woman, who still enchants me with every breath and every glance; I’m still pet-parent to the same two dogs, the same tortoise, and the same (occasionally obnoxious) cockatiel; I’m still teaching at the same school — which means I have many of the same students — and still writing, still working on the same time-traveling Irish pirate story, still not writing enough and still mad at myself about it.

I’m still upset about the state of the world, still ambivalent about what I should be doing about it beyond what I already do.

And of course, I still hate Trump.

There are some changes. My wife has made big changes, which of course affect me, mainly by making me proud: I am enormously, heart-shakingly proud of her strength, I am proud of her incredible talent and imagination, I am proud of the world that it has continued to become more aware of how amazing my wife is — and it is finally starting to reward her for her never-ceasing efforts.

We moved into a new house, which is smaller and cheaper than the last; it’s been nice to ease the financial burden, and it’s showed us how much room we actually need (More than this place, less than the last), and that, after seven residences in the last six years, we would really like to set down roots and own a home again. Though I am wary of the potential coming economic crash: last time, we bought a house just before the economy burst into flames; I’d like to be a little more careful and intentional this time. So maybe that’s new.

I did manage to sell my books, though still not to a publisher nor an agent; I sold them directly, at the Tucson Festival of Books. Not the vision of authorial success I once had, but nonetheless: standing behind a table and talking to people about my book, and watching them agree to buy it and hand over money, was an extraordinary feeling, one I hope to repeat this year. And I did start sending out queries again, because my wife has shown me, as she always does, that artists don’t give up. Ever.

I was a better friend this past year than I have been in a long time; I grew closer to the people whose company I enjoy and whose support I rely on, and I’m happy about that.

And, of course, I’m one year closer to dying, whenever that may happen; but I still don’t care. Death comes for all of us, and I see no reason to spend any time watching it come. I hope, and I try to behave so that I will welcome it when it comes and pass away with no regrets; but if that doesn’t happen, if it comes too quickly or I have done the wrong things, still I would rather have lived than not have lived at all; still I am happy and grateful for the time I have had, the memories I have created (and even the ones I have forgotten), the people I have known, and the deeds I have done.

 

I don’t have wisdom to share: if anything, this year has taught me more than most years about how naive and ignorant I still am. I am writing this on a whim, and trying to decide if I should continue whimming on this blog for this coming year. I dunno. It’s good for me to write, but I have to write the third book in my pirate trilogy, and I want to get it done ASAP, because I have several more ideas I want to pursue — but first, I have to finish a story, something I still struggle with. I have no idea if this blog is good for people to read. I  hope so. I hope this is a good thing. I intend to continue doing the same good things into this next year, hopefully make some good changes, hopefully continue to learn and grow.

One thing is for damn sure: I’m going to put in time and effort to make sure that Donald Trump is voted out of office in November. So I warn you now, this blog will likely become much more political over the coming eleven months. It will probably get agitating to those who read this regularly, but I don’t care (No, I do care: and I’m sorry. But also, I’m going to do it anyway.). We all need to be agitated, because the alternative is complacent: and that’s how we got into this mess in the first place.

 

I wish you all, and myself, a wonderful new year, full of hopes and fulfillments. Let’s make this one a good one.