Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Stop advocating for prison rape

***TW: Frank discussions of sexual violence***

When discussing cases of sexual violence and rapists, quite often I will hear (or read) some variation on the remark, "I hope they get raped in prison."

There are several reasons I am 100% against rape being used as a punishment or corrective tool against abusers.

Firstly, I don't believe anyone deserves sexual violence. Anyone. Name any abhorrent person who has committed the rankest of atrocities and I still do not and will not believe they are deserving of sexual violence. Punishment and removal from society so that they cannot inflict any more harm, definitely. But I do not believe there is any circumstance under which a perpetrator of sexual violence or any other crime should be sexually assaulted.

Secondly, I do not believe that if we determine that only specifically a tiny selection of extra-horrendous crimes deserve to be punishable by rape, that only the criminals who committed those specific crimes will be punished with rape. I feel that is a slippery slope that just helps to exacerbate the problem of using corrective rape for a broad variety of perceived transgressions to put people in their "place".

Third, and perhaps most importantly, who do people think about as committing those rapes? Who are they sanctioning to use rape as a weapon with their approval? Are they sanctioning prisoners who have already been convicted of rape to rape others? How does that help in their potential rehabilitation before being released back into the public? Are they saying that prisoners who have not raped should be the ones to commit the assault? On a practical, functional level, how would that work? To require someone to rape another person is to enact sexual assault against the both of them, because rape and sexual assault also includes coercion and envelopment/ forcing someone to penetrate another person. And, again, most of these inmates would be released back into the public in the future - what kind of counseling or rehabilitation would the state be providing to these inmates that were forced into being state-sanctioned torturers?

For someone who is a guard in a prison that uses rape as a punishment, what would their level of involvement be? Would they have to bring the two (or more) prisoners together? Would they be in charge of subduing the prisoner who was supposed to be raped? Or would it be a more passive involvement, where if they heard someone calling for help they had to ignore the cries and go about their rounds? How would they keep track of the people who were supposed to be raped, and those not?

Now, if the person they expect to carry out the assault is not another prisoner, then it must be one of the guards or other personnel at the prison. The Stanford Prison Experiment is just one case that shows how unequal levels of power in prison environments can create extremely toxic and abusive cultures where escalating levels of violence are used by those in power. Taking an environment that is already fraught with the potential for abuses by those who are being paid and held responsible for the health and safety of the inmates, and adding torture as a legally-sanctioned method of punishment will only escalate the physical and psychological harm for every single inmate held there. Remember - not only murderers and rapists go to prison. Everything from not paying your taxes to being caught with low levels of recreational drugs for personal use can potentially land someone in jail, with the heaviest burden on POC.

Also consider that if it is the guards who are carrying out, facilitating, or just allowing these rapes as a part of their jobs, they go home at the end of the day. They are still members of our communities. How will having rape being a big part of their job description change them? Will they develop PTSD from the stress of having to commit these horrific acts? Or, if they don't develop stress disorders, have we just created new dangers to our communities that can hide behind a position of authority while taking these crimes home with them?

In order for those convicted rapists to "get their comeuppance", someone has to be the one to carry out those acts. And for the number of times I come across those comments, that would account for a very large number of someones. These consequences would in no way be confined to the prison, but would then leak back into our communities through those connected in every way to the legal system, both directly and by proxy. If you catch someone shoplifting, are you going to report them to teach them a lesson, or be afraid that if you do and they go to jail, they will be punished with a far more severe crime being committed against them? If someone is on trial for having committed rape, their sentence would then include rape as a part of their state-sanctioned punishment. Would jury members be even less likely to want to convict than they are now, knowing the stakes if they're wrong?

Some may say, "You broke the law, you get what you deserve." What about those falsely convicted folks? Are they just more collateral damage in this game of eye for an eye?

Perhaps the person who made the remark about prison rape was just joking and had not given any kind of consideration to the practicalities of state-sanctioned sexual violence. Rape jokes are not funny. Prison rape jokes are not funny. Jokes about "don't drop the soap" that make light of male on male sexual violence aren't funny. They normalize sexual violence, silence survivors, trivialize the effects of sexual violence, and they foster the idea that there are different classes of rapes that are not only amusing but not worth holding the rapist accountable for. None of which do anything to dissuade rape and only encourage sexual predators to continue unabated.

Can we agree, now, to stop using that as our lazy go-to response?

Monday, 21 April 2014

Ignorant does not mean unbiased

I am proud to announce that I have been hired to host a lecture next week on the technological advances of holograms. I have no idea how they work and I suspect they're created through a combination of magic and wishful thinking.

How does this make me qualified to speak on the topic? It makes me the perfect person to speak at length on holograms, because I'm coming at them from a totally unbiased, and therefore more truthful and pure perspective. If I were some sort of techno-scientician who was immersed in hologrammography, then I would only be able to regurgitate the approved propaganda that's been created by the hologrammists who, as we all know, are only interested in the continuation of hologrammism. Whereas I, not being affiliated with or sponsored by these hologrammists, can speak the pure, unadulterated truthishness of what I believe makes holograms not only real but most likely the cure for stubbed toes.

You can join the event page to get ticket information and contribute to my speaking costs here:

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

MRAs don't care about men.

I was going to just press "Publish" and let that title stand alone. After all, there's really not much else to be said about it. If the Men's Rights Activists were really, sincerely invested in caring for men and improving their lives, they would do something proactive like, say, holding fundraising drives to establish intimate partner violence shelters for men, and/or promoting and advocating expansion of services for male survivors of sexual violence, and/or working with organizations like OCAP to address male homelessness.

You don't have to operate under a feminist banner to effect positive change in your community and to make things happen. But, golly, you do have to actually put in a lot of hours, and your own blood, sweat, tears, and money to really move mountains.

Arguing on the internet can be productive and useful, considering that you are most likely interacting with other humans on the other end, but that's not the end of it. Not by a long shot.

You want people to take you seriously, MRAs? How about you show us that you actually give a crap about helping your fellow dudes by actually doing something to help them.

Are there any MRA campaigns you're aware of that are doing tangible, productive things for your community? Please let me know so I can put my support behind them.

(Spoiler alert: if your evidence of their activity is one of their poster campaigns, I will laugh you off of the internet. Trolling IRL is not activism)

Saturday, 5 April 2014

The "Friend Zone" is bullshit

Ah, yes. The "Friend Zone". That term folks use to insult the people who are friends with them and don't see fit to give them access to their squidgy bits. 

I get it. You spend a lot of time with someone as a friend, you develop a strong bond with them, and then you want to take the relationship "to the next level". Or maybe you started out with an attraction to them and with the intention of eventually dating them.

You're cool. You're suave. You listen to them and make them feel valued and heard and loved. Then, you finally build up the confidence to ask them out and BLAMMO - rejection.

I'm not gonna lie, it sucks when you have feelings for someone and they don't reciprocate them. It's not a pleasant experience and you're bound to have some feels about it. That's ok. Feel bad for a bit, talk to other friends about it and vent, write poetry, etc, to help you deal with those feelings.

But don't go into the "Friend Zoning" bullshit. That's gross and doesn't help you or them and, guaranteed, won't change their mind and make them realize you're a "catch".

What it boils down to is this: you are allowed to be honest about your feelings with the people you're close to. If you are romantically interested in someone, you are allowed to tell them. There's a risk, sure, there's also a risk if you don't. If they don't reciprocate those feelings, you're allowed to be disappointed. You're even allowed to decide that you don't want to be friends with them if you can't be in a romantic relationship with them. Heck, maybe they are purposely stringing you along and toying with your emotions. That happens, and you're allowed to not like it or put up with it.

Now, here's where I think a lot of people (not just guys, even though that entitlement does come up a lot when discussing guys putting gals into The Girlfriend Zone) get confuzzled: you can harbour these disappointments. The line gets crossed when you cannot get past that. When you cannot fathom that someone you put so much time and attention and energy into dared not return those feelings. When you start to get angry with them for having standards that you apparently haven't met. When you use "Friend Zone" as a term to disparage them for not "giving you a chance."

And this is the most important point of this whole post - no one has to give anyone else "a chance" to date them. The only thing we have control over is our bodies, and each person has 100% say as to who is going to have access to their body. In a dating context, it's fair to say that most partners want to date someone in order to be physically intimate with them (asexuals definitely exist, but I've never seen anyone who identifies as asexual accuse the object of their affections of putting them in "The Friend Zone" - feel free to correct me if I'm wrong). No one owes you that or "a chance" at that, no matter if you're just looking to hold hands, looking for a kiss, or looking for some naked Jello wrestling.

To bring it home, let's talk about your rights and obligations to the people who are interested in you. You can turn someone down for any reason at all. They have bad breath, they don't like the bands you like, they're allergic to cats, they're left-handed, you don't get squishy feelings when you're around them - literally any reason at all. Your reasons for not wanting to be romantically involved with someone don't have to "make sense". I promise you, they don't. You don't have to be able to verbalize your reasons for not wanting to be with them. Not wanting to be with them is 100% enough. "No" is absolutely a complete sentence.

Understanding that you have these rights to who you let close to you, apply that now to everyone else in the world. If they say they're not interested in dating you, that's all the reason they need. Maybe that will someday change but, it's been my experience, if you continue the friendship with the sole intention of changing their mind then you will lose them as a friend as well. They'll get sick of your pestering, passive-aggressive Fall Out Boy bullshit and they'll stop returning your messages and work on prying you out of their lives. If you still want to be friends, you've gotta reign that shit in. Maybe after you tell them your romantic feelings they'll decide they don't feel comfortable being friends with you, either. That's a risk. That happens.

What can you do to avoid being that asshole that complains about The Friend Zone? Find some hobbies. Listen to a Jagged Little Pill on repeat while throwing paint at a canvas. Make new friends. If you're surrounded by people who push you to keep trying and who use the term The Friend Zone unironically and frequently, maybe tell them to stop listening to Taylor Swift for a couple days and hide their copies of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (I'm looking at you, Xander).

the1janitor is wise and generally awesome and you should subscribe to his YouTube channel and share the love to him you've shared with me 

In summation, you are 100% justified in feeling upset and disappointed in being romantically rejected. If you choose to use that rejection to perpetuate this Friend Zone non-sense, then you deserve to be alone and are a bad person.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Genital mutilation isn't funny

Every once in a while there's a news story about someone (in all the cases I recall seeing to this point, a cis man) having their penis severed. It doesn't seem to matter what the context is or who did it or why. Universally it seems that as soon as the story hits the air, there are jokes and puns made about it. Many of us remember Sharon Osbourne's callous remarks on The View in 2011.

I don't find these situations humorous. At all. They are cases of amputation, mutilation and grievous bodily harm. This is physical abuse, and a heinous form of torture that I do not abide.

To some degree I get why people find it funny. On family shows, like America's Funniest Home Videos, half the clips seem to be of guy after guy somehow injuring his groin - whether it be from an errant football, a miscalculated skateboarding trick, or an overly enthusiastic dog. When you see these scenes played ad nauseum against a laugh-track, it's hard not to find yourself conditioned to accept that as harmless entertainment.

I also see a lot of people making the assumption that the victim had perpetrated rape and this is likely their just-desserts. In this most recent story, there is no real information on who the attacker is or their relation to the victim. All assumptions are based on "Man's penis attacked, therefore man must have done something to deserve it." I don't think I need to state all the ways that's fucked up. Having a penis does not make one a rapist, and having one's penis mutilated does not make one a rapist.

Let's say that there is a statistically large portion of these men who are guilty of having committed rape. I still do not support genital mutilation, in the same way I do not approve of rape or torture as a punishment. Not only from a pacifist point of view, but also because I feel encouraging this kind of revengeful violence does more harm to those "righteous" folks who carry it out and open the door to these kinds of acts being committed under an increasingly broad set of conditions, just as corrective rape is presently used.

Yes, yes, I know. I'm a real buzzkill. Gosh, if you can't joke about rape in front of me, and now I'm harshing on puns about genital mutilation, what is there left to joke about?

How about knock, knock jokes?

Knock, knock.
Who's there?
Orange who?
I honestly don't give a crap what you have left to joke about, rape and genital mutilation aren't funny.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Let's change the discourse on protecting men from false rape accusations

Safety advice against rape is more often than not given out aimed at women in cissupremecist binary language. When I am referring to "women" in this post, I mean all female-presenting persons who are at the receiving end of this advice. When I refer to "men", I mean all male-presenting persons who are traditionally overlooked in being taught this kind of safety advice.

Advocating that we hold both victims and rapists equally accountable for an assault when alcohol is involved is pretty well entrenched in our society's attitudes. It is part of the conflicting message that alcohol simultaneously makes rapists unaccountable for their own actions, while making victims responsible for the crimes committed against them.

Photo from SlutWalk Baltimore

It doesn't help to combat these kinds of victim-blaming messages, when they continue to come from prominent public figures, such as The Wall Street Journal editor, James Taranto. It also then comes as no surprise when comments appear on articles like these that look to muddy the waters of sexual violence by raising faux concerns about false rape accusations from women who have consensual drunken sex they "regret" the next day.

Tropes like "women get drunk and falsely accuse men of rape the next day" always seem to gloss over the fact that men are many times more likely to be sexually assaulted in their lifetimes than to be falsely accused of sexual assault.

I recommend that we change the discourse on alcohol and rape. Since women are so often given safety advice on how to avoid being victims of sexual violence, how about we try that same tactic with men?

If you are concerned about your friends being falsely accused of rape by going home with someone after a night of heavy drinking with the intention of having sex, then step in. Practice some bystander intervention on your buddy and get him to go home alone. Is his safety not more important than having risky sex? If he doesn't trust her enough to believe she won't falsely accuse him of rape, then be that sober voice that tells him not to go home with her.

Since it is entirely possible for men to be the victims of sexual violence in such a hookup, watch each others' backs for that, too. Help protect your bros by making safety plans before going out, talking about whether everyone's going home together, signals if they're getting too drunk and need to get sent home, how to tell if someone is being too forward and making them uncomfortable, and how you'll look out for one another. The toxic messages young men are fed about needing to engage in casual hookups and risky behaviour to prove their manliness can put them in danger. Talk to your guy friends about stuff like this before you head to the clubs.

This doesn't mean blaming men if they don't follow any or all of this advice and are sexually assaulted. At all. If your friend expresses disinterest or discomfort in a woman who is hitting on him, do not pressure him to hook up with her anyways. Do not make jokes at his expense if he tells you someone groped him in the club or that he's feeling creeped-out by someone. If he discloses that he last night when he was intoxicated someone had sex with him without his consent, that's rape. That's not "getting lucky". Respect your friends' boundaries and stick up for them. You'll surely want them to do the same for you.

There are a lot more resources being created of late to help men and boys talk about masculinity,what it means, and healthy ways to discover and establish their identities. Here are a few:

Do you have any other resources to recommend for men and boys and you'd like to share? Please leave them in the comments.

Challenging rape jokes is a safety measure.

Trigger warning for rape apology, victim-blaming and rape jokes in the links leading off of this post.

This weekend there will be another protest in Spokane, WA over a bar giving a drink a name that amounts to a rape joke - Date Grape Kool-Aid. There has been a lot of media attention about it that has covered the ins and outs of what's happened on the side of the protesters and the business, so I'm going to focus on my personal reasoning for supporting the protests and boycott.

I've seen a lot of comments supporting the bar's naming of the drink, minimizing the offensiveness of it and stating that "It's. Just. The. Name. Of. A. Drink." They often go on to tell boycotters that they should be expending their energies on more pressing issues, and that a rape joke or drink name have never harmed anyone.

The reason I so consistently and vehemently oppose rape jokes, including this drink name, is because it's a part of my personal safety arsenal. It's part of me asserting and protecting my boundaries and ensuring I surround myself only with people that I can trust and who will have my back. Since rapists don't wear name tags and aren't accompanied by fog machines and suspenseful music, each of us has to make decisions on who they deem to be more-safe-than-not. It's never going to be 100% accurate, but it's really the best we can do.

If I surround myself with people who joke about date rape and sexual violence against women, how can I tell when the jokes should be setting off alarm bells? If I let people be so flippant about rape around me without challenging them on it, how do I know how they really feel about it or if they'll protect me? How can I tell when they're joking and when they're being serious, when so much of our own truths come out when we're smiling or laughing? Remember the kid who was videotaped laughing about the "dead girl" being raped in Steubenville?

In the context of a bar not only naming a drink after a rape joke, but unwaveringly insisting on making rape jokes and minimizing the offense and hurt caused by them, that sends up huge red flags. That tells me that this is not a safe place for women, because if I'm not assaulted by the owner, there is an increased risk of other sexual predators choosing that location as hunting grounds because of the atmosphere that is being actively fostered to support them. That's the thing about rapists - they also have internet access, not being confined to wifi deadzones under bridges, and they hear when people are giving them a social license to operate.

Now, I'm not saying the owner specifically is a rapist. I have no proof, no rumours, nothing to base that on. That's the thing about rapists and their stubborn refusal to wear those name tags. My point is that the owner himself has set off my personal red flags by being so insistent that his clients approve of and support his rape jokes, that it would fly in the face of every ounce of self-preservation I have to enter that club. And it would feel irresponsible not to pass on those gut feelings to others, just as we are expected to tell each other to avoid "bad neighbourhoods" or "dark alleys".

In line with my previous post about personal safety tips, how does accepting and encouraging rape jokes parse with telling women it's up to them to ensure they don't get raped? The short answer is, it doesn't. Could it be that women are only allowed to protect their boundaries against sexual violence up until it inconveniences someone? Up until it takes away someone's fun? Up until women become downers because, gosh, do they always have to think about rape, even though we tell them constantly in big and small ways not to get raped and that they always have to be on guard against rape?

This then is my safety advice for people of all gender expressions, because we know women are not the only victims of sexual violence: Don't tell rape jokes. If you flippantly make fun of rape survivors, it makes it difficult to know if the people you keep around you will have your back if you are attacked. Similarly, if someone takes offense to the reasonable request that they not make light of rape and degrade victims, at least not around you, keep an eye on them. If they cannot respect such a simple boundary, that's a red flag.

If the people you associate with, or the places you go, insist that you be hypervigilant about stranger-in-the-bushes rapists all while demanding you let your guard down to the people who actively test your boundaries around rape, this is unsafe. It's ok to listen to your gut and put your foot down and not put up with it. It may be socially awkward, but that's the game that rapists play best - making sure you're the one who has to be apologetic even though they're the ones who are disrespecting and acting aggressively towards you.

In the end, it's up to all of us to decide how we protect ourselves and what makes sense in our personal safety arsenal. This makes the most sense to me, and is one of the few pieces of safety advice that I would advocate across the board to everyone.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Safety advice: Let's be real and honest about it for a minute

Safety advice against rape is more often than not given out aimed at women in cissupremecist binary language. When I am referring to "women and girls" in this post, I mean all female-presenting persons who are at the receiving end of this advice. The advice given will always vary to some degree for different folks living in different areas of the world; this post is more specifically reacting to recent and ongoing Canadian and American stories.

From the time we are old enough to crawl around, we're taught various ways to protect ourselves. It starts off as "Don't put that in your mouth", "Don't crawl face-first down the stairs", and "Don't stick your hand in the dog's mouth." When we're learning everything for the first time, we need these specific pieces of information to help us survive long enough to be able to be left on our own for any extended period of time.

As girls get older, the advice changes and tends to become more broad and vague in an effort to protect us from stranger danger and the mythical rapist in the bushes. This advice can be helpful, but often it is not nearly specific enough to do us any good.

A great first step would be to teach people that they are more likely to be assaulted by someone they know and trust. But, for the sake of this post, let's focus on the advice women are given in relation to stranger-rape.

Personally, there are some ways I try to keep myself safe from stranger rape. I don't know a single woman who doesn't have her own personal list of tips and tricks.

I tell people where I'm going (where possible). I used to keep my cell phone charged just in case so I can call someone if I need help, but now I can't afford my own mobile.

When walking alone at night, I hunch my shoulders and do my "masculine" walk - basically how my wife walks, not swaying the hips at all, very "mannish". I walk quickly and with purpose.

I teeter between being hypervigilant and purposely tuning people out to ignore street harassers, depending on time of day, how many people are around, and based on my instincts.

When I go to my car alone, I check the backseats (and trunk if it's an SUV) and then lock the doors when I get in. I don't hold my keys between my fingers because I know that can cause more trauma to my hand than to an attacker. I just hold them in my hand, ready to go.

That's just the stuff I can think of that I do consciously. Does any of it work? I have no idea. It could be as effective as wearing a Anti-Rape Charm Bracelet. I haven't been attacked while using those safety measures, so they bracelet could well be working. More likely, I haven't encountered any rapists, but I do what I do to feel safer and that will just have to be enough.

What *don't* I do? Avoid stairwells, alleys, and elevators. I've gotta get from point-a to point-b, so I determine in the moment which makes more sense. I can't go everywhere with an escort, I can't avoid all sketchy areas of town or alleys, because often those are my actual destinations. And, especially during the shorter winter days, I can't avoid being out alone after dark.

Plus, when it is -40 out, the faster route can be the safest if it means I'm exposed to the elements for a shorter period of time and less likely to get hypothermia or frostbite. Living in Canada, avoiding rape isn't the only aspect of our personal safety I have to look out for.

What would I like people to pass on as safety advice? Trust your instincts. Don't let politeness and social convention keep you beholden to someone who is setting off your alarm bells. You're allowed to decide you don't want to be near someone and exercise your boundaries, even if you can't verbalize the reason or they may think your reaction is "rude".

I've branched out and asked others for their personal safety tips to see what they personally do, and what they recommend.

Sophie, a sexual rights activist and educator with The Eastern Washington Sex Workers Outreach Project, uses the following advice when training sex workers to take precautions while working:

*Firstly, I teach people that if they can, have a smartphone with GPS capabilities. Being familiar with Google Maps can help a person become aware of the area around them that is farther than they can see. I advise them to check the areas they plan to be around on google maps.

*If a person is going to be out by themselves or alone with a stranger, I advise them to take a picture of the vehicles they are using, with the identification plate, when possible, before entering the vehicle and then send those pictures to a friend. It may seem strange, but it does help them become easier to locate, if anything happens.

*Use cell phone locator apps. Where's My Droid? and the iPhone equivalent not only help you find your phone in case you misplaced it, they can also be used as tools to help your friends find you. Make sure that two or more of your close and trustworthy friends have the password to activate your phone locator. That way, if you are in danger and can't send them details about your location, they are able to find your cell phone using the GPS locator, and, hopefully, you. An alternative to this is the locator services offered by some cell phone companies.

*Before joining someone (for example, on a date), text some friends to tell them where you are and where you will be. Check in with friends before and after any dates or meetings.

*Use the Circle of 6 App, developed to assist in case of an emergency.

*Staying in well-lit environments when you're out at night isn't necessarily going to help a person who has to pass through dark areas, simply because that's where they have to go. More practical advice is to stay in well-lit areas, if possible, and to carry a flashlight. Carry the flashlight and your keys in your hands.

*Know what kinds of public service buildings are around you, if possible. You can use Google Maps for this, too. Just look around for places like police stations, 24 hour stores or restaurants. Knowing where they are can help you if you ever have to get away from someone fast.

In a general sense for passing along safety advice for others, making vague recommendations about women needing to "be safe" and "use common sense" isn't helpful. Concrete, actionable advice is helpful.

In terms of concrete, that would be letting women know where and when any specific attacks have been taking place, and some descriptors of the attacker. This will give women the tools to be able to avoid those areas if they can or to be looking for people who fit that particular description.

Actionable would be teaching people about bystander intervention, to empower and educate the public on intervening if they see something suspicious or a potential crime in progress. Actionable would be the police helping neighbourhoods set up watches and patrols to monitor at-risk areas, or to help set up better lighting in these "darkened alleys", or to hold public education workshops about sexual violence to help stop it before people perpetrate it (e.g. - that attacking and groping women isn't a "joke" and is an unlawful offense).

Non-concrete is telling people to "stay safe", or "avoid bad neighbourhoods". Everyone wants to be safe and people live in "bad neighbourhoods", and "bad" is entirely subjective and passed on by word of mouth, not published on Google Maps.

Non-actionable is telling women to always travel in groups and not after dark and never through "dark alleys". We don't get money from the government to pay for 24/7 escorts, to ensure we only have to work during daylight hours, to ensure we only live in "good" neighbourhoods, or to ensure that our travel routes never include "dark alleys". These don't speak to our realities, and it's insulting to tell us that avoiding rape is as easy as wishing ourselves into better lives where obeying those commands are an option.

Even advice like "take self-defense classes" ignores some pretty important factors about our lives. 1) Not all self-defense classes are created equal. Goodness knows if the one someone chooses will help or just siphon their money. 2) Not everyone has the time or money to attend these. See above about women not getting extra living expenses to cover these kinds of costs or to make more hours in the day to attend. 3) Not everyone is able-bodied enough for these classes. 4) It's naive to imagine that people who attack strangers on the street never check out these self-defense classes to see what is being taught, or that they're not practiced in hand-to-hand combat. Can these classes help some women under some circumstances? Sure, I'm certain they can. But they're not a magic bullet that should be sold as sure-fire rape prevention.

Women have had these safety tips drilled into us from before we were allowed to go to the corner store on our own. It's important to listen to us when we are telling you what isn't working in keeping us safe so that we can pass along better safety advice. It's not enough to lazily regurgitate stuff that's been told forever. Listen to women on this matter.

If you have any more tips to add, please leave them in the comments below.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Don't call this "offensive"

Originally printed in the online version of Bancroft This Week on Sept. 27, 2013

The issue at hand is not and has never been that the sign was "offensive". There are many offensive things out there, from people farting in line at the grocery store, to not holding a door open when one's hands are full, to calling someone an idiot for dousing their steak in ketchup. 

The issue with the sign and with other overt shows of homophobia and heterosupremacy is that it reminds queers that we are vulnerable to violence. It reminds us that there are people in the room who do not see us as human, and who could potentially be prepared to cause us bodily harm. It sends a panic through us that causes us to rethink every word and action we've taken since walking in the room - were we holding hands? Did I call my partner sweetie or baby? Did we reveal any information about where we live or work that could lead them to assault or harass us there? 

We then are in a mode of hyper-vigilance until we can safely exit - is that person getting up to use the bathroom or assault me? Is anyone eye-balling us and giving us aggressive stares? If we stay quiet can we hear their conversations to catch any hints they may be preparing to harm us? And as we leave, quickly and with smiles to make ourselves look benign and unthreatening, we wonder if anyone is going to follow us out, or follow us home, or take note of our vehicle make/ model/ and license plate so they can find us later and hurt us or vandalize our property.

Those thoughts and concerns have nothing to do with "offence". I would relish an offensive sign over those visceral reactions. One of the most frustrating things is that we cannot tell if the people who put up signs like that, or the people they surround themselves with, will ever commit violence against us. There is no surefire way for us to tell apart those who will silently judge us from the ones who are ready for a physical confrontation. The best we can do is try to get support from our community in the hopes that surrounding ourselves with people who love us and will stand up for us will be enough to deter an attack. Sometimes it will, sometimes it won't.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

The argument is lop-sided

Originally printed in the online version of Bancroft This Week on Sept. 27, 2013

As the conversations keep going here and elsewhere in the world about homophobia, tolerance, and striking a balance between forcing either view on people, I can't help but notice that both sides are being treated as equal. On the face of it, you may say that it's simply a case of personal preference and that everyone is entitled to their opinions because that's what equality and democracy are about.

But that's under the assumption that both sides hold equal weight and consequence.

If both sides were truly equal, the conversations would be more along the lines of:
Adam and Eve Supporters: "Heterosexuals are better."
Adam and Steve Supporters: "No, homosexuals are better."

As it stands, that's not the argument. That's not the lines we're drawing in the sand. The teeter-totters don't have equal weight on both ends, because the conversations are to the effect of:
Adam and Steve Supporters: "We are human beings who are deserving of being treated with compassion and dignity and the protections of the law. We just want to raise our families and live our lives as our heterosexual counterparts are able to do. We don't want any special status, we just want the ability to enjoy all the privileges you are able to take for granted without considering what life would be like without them."
Adam and Eve Supporters: "No. You are not fully human and cannot walk down the street holding your partners hand or I will remind you of your lower status to keep you in check."

That is not an equally weighted argument. Both sides are not benign. 

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Get over it

Originally printed in the online version of Bancroft This Week on Sept. 15, 2013

I've been hearing and seeing those comments a lot as of late.

"Get over it. Stop talking about it. Why are you flogging a dead horse? Just move on already."

And I agree. Get over your discomfort of having some of the ugly bigotry of your town being brought to light. Stop talking about your feelings of annoyance, because your annoyance is fleeting and not worth you raising your blood pressure over. Stop flogging the dead horse of how "great" and "progressive" this town is; if it's as great as what you say then it can easily withstand a brush with constructive criticism. Just move on already, and get past your hang-ups over addressing and dealing with problems out in the open.

When I see someone post a comment saying, "It's not that big of a deal! Just get over it!" I have to wonder what their investment is in shutting down the conversation. It's big enough of a deal for you to tell people to shut up. If it weren't that big of a deal, then you'd have no interest in the result either way and the topic itself wouldn't bother you.

If the now-infamous clipping weren't a big deal, why did it stay up for a decade? If it weren't a big deal, why wasn't it removed with a shrug and replaced with a Garfield comic? If it weren't a big deal, why would anyone stand up for the restaurant owners' decision to post it and keep it up? If it weren't a big deal, why are you still reading and getting mad at me stating it's not a big deal?

It's because we understand these represent much bigger discussions and issues. It's because we know that ink on paper is not the point; it's the message underneath it that has weight and that matters and that actually affects people and their morality and their lives.

If we're honest with ourselves and each other, it's because the LGBT community still has battles to fight to be seen as equals and allowed to be visible in their home communities. That's not just a Bancroft problem; it's an everywhere problem. We just happen to be having the conversation here, where we live. Get over it.

Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Toodleoo, 2013

2013, you are on your last legs. And although some really cool things happened this year (got married, that's nothing to sneeze at <3 ), it will be a relief to leave you behind. Adios, jerkface!

It seems that 2013 was tough on a lot of people. I'm not sure if it was the disappointment of the world not ending on Dec 21, 2012 and that we were all unprepared for an entire year following. But, yeah, that's definitely it.

I don't even care to do a year-in-review. Just, like, Google it, you know? I just want to leave all that unsaid and undisturbed and move along.

Now, 2014, I don't want to put any undue pressure on you. There have been other good years, like 2012. 2012 was a pretty gosh-darned good year for my wife and I. We were both making good money, I had an amazing birthday party that year, we moved in with one of our best friends which was a great time for all of us. I mean, it was certainly more stable for us than when we first moved to the Toronto gaybourhood in 2011, or that wild and unpredictable year of 2010 when we lived in St. John's, Newfoundland.

Yeah, no pressure, 2014. You don't have to be another 2012. You will make your own path and bring new challenges and successes.

On the topic of challenges, now seems the time to come up with my annual resolutions! Yay!

  • First and foremost, I want to continue fostering kittens. This has been such a positive experience for us, that we are gonna keep this going.
  • Write more. Both blogging and fiction writing. Last year was such a creative block, but now a lot of the crap that was uber-stressing me have been alleviated, so I want to make writing a priority.
  • Save money and pay off debts. Between no major events coming up (knock on wood) and the habits we've learned from being desperately broke, I think we've got a much better shot this year at getting ahead financially. Yeah, I know, this has been on my list every year. But, like, you know. I'm a grown up and stuff.
  • Get our IT toys in order. I've got a few broken laptops and phones around. I want to get off my duff and fix them so we can use them. I've already ordered a few cheap chargers from eBay, i just have to find my extra laptop hard drive and order a couple screens, and maybe pay for a couple Macbook repairs if I can save up for them.
  • Make more crafts. I have all the supplies, so I'd like to make it a priority to do something with them.
  • Spend money to promote the piercing biz. In many cases you've gotta spend money to make money, and come spring I want to be in a good position to promote the piercing biz to take advantage of the summer population explosion.

And I think that's a good place to start from. It's going to be a tough year because I'll be travelling for work during the weeks at least until the spring, but if we save up and I spend my downtime on stuff that makes me happy, it should be pretty positive.

Good luck to everyone and your goals, whether they be teeny or ambitious as all get-out. Happy end of 2013!


After posting this morning, I since checked my mail and found this letter waiting for me:

Touche, 2013, touche. But, in 7 hours you'll have fucked off and I'll still be here *knocks on wood*. You may have gotten one last dig in, but I will have the last laugh.

*bitterly drinks some cider as I look longingly at my two empty bottles of rhubarb wine a lovely friend had sent me out of the goodness of her good, kind heart*

Sunday, 29 December 2013

The healing power of kittens

I think that fostering kittens is the best thing that we could have done for ourselves this winter.

Since the beginning of November, we've taken in 15 kittens and found forever homes for 11 of them. The newest litter of 4 just came to us yesterday and I'm sitting in our spare room, getting them used to me and trying to build their trust.

The foster program we're going through pays for their vet bills, food and litter, so there's no upfront costs to us (vital while we're getting our finances in order). All we have to do is love them, care for them, and help socialize them before they go off to their new homes. We've increased our adoption success rate by posting millions of adorable pictures of them on social media and putting up ads on Kijiji.

The love we're getting back from these kittens and the pride from rehoming so many of them has done wonders for our self-confidence and stress levels. We had such a rough fall with financial issues and homophobia, that we were really shaken. (Although the finances are getting right back on track - more proof of our privilege of being broke but not poor).

If any of my readers have the space and health and time (and inclination, for that matter) to foster animals, I highly recommend it. It's not a magic cureall, and there certainly is the heartbreak of letting go and of sometimes losing animals whose health is fragile. But, gosh, it can be so rewarding.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

December BLURST, amirite?

Just a little update to assure my readers that I'm not homeless or living on my mom's couch. My wife and I are fortunate enough to have family that have helped us through the budgetary black holes these past few months while waiting for our luck to turn around. And that it has - my wife has landed 2 part-time jobs she'll be starting this week, and we have a new roommate to help us cover rent.

Thanks for the private words of comfort and good will. They meant a lot and helped smooth over some of the rougher parts of the past month and a half.

To spread the good fortune, we've started fostering kittens. We got in a crew of 4 of them two weeks ago, and yesterday all of them got their forever homes!

Now we have a whole new crew of 4 male kittens that are all grey. I'm working on telling them apart, but I'm confident that will come with time (or sweaters. Very likely sweaters).

Um, that is, if you'll allow it. Sir. *gulp*

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

How to Get Debt-Free in 30 Days or Less!

Read the title as sarcasm. Bitter, biting, bitterly biting sarcasm.

To start off, I'm broke, not poor. I think that's an important distinction to start off with, because I come from a lot of privilege (raised upper-middle class, have 2 college diplomas, solid work experience, have family and friends who can help if I'm absolutely desperate, etc). The points I'm going to address definitely can effect poor folks as well, but I don't want to pretend I have it the worst off in the world or that I fully understand poverty from anyplace but a safe distance. So read this as someone who has been well off enough to have tasted the good life, and who can conceivably get there again at some point. Don't send me donations, just let me vent.

I'm in a spot where, money-wise, we're pretty much fucked in the short term. One cell phone has been disconnected, my payments on back-taxes are bouncing, we're behind on our vehicle payments, insurance is coming out next week and I don't know if we can cover it, we don't have propane or wood for the winter that is fast-approaching and no funds to rectify that because I'm the only one of us who has been able to land a job, which is minimum-wage and can't go more than 40 hours a week. And our roommate has to move out because of events beyond their control, so rent is about to go up unless we can find someone else to move in.

Long story short - we're panicked about money. So I've been doing what so many people do in my position, and turning to the Google for some sort of inspiring article that will give me a lightbulb moment and chase away the clouds as the sun comes out.

It's times like now that I feel like I will blow up the internet if I see one more article on budgeting that replays these tired, ineffectual tropes:

1. Spend less

Wow. Just. I wish. I mean, I've been there. I have credit card debt from 5 years ago when I separated from my ex-husband and then went on a spending binge to make up for all the times I'd felt trapped. But that hasn't been the case for at least a couple years. No, I'm at the point where I'm looking at my bank account and wondering if I should pay for gas or, no wait, there's only $20 until Friday and I need to get to work, so gas it is. If I make it to Thursday on the gas I have now, maybe $10 for gas and $10 for wine, because an extra $10 isn't going to make a dent in any of my bills. At all.

2. Brown bag your lunches and no more Starbucks

I have jars of peanut butter and jam at work with loaves of bread I got on sale. Which I had to wait until my second paycheque to get, so for my first couple weeks at work my boss fed me, otherwise I wouldn't eat until I got home for supper. And the coffee I have, I made at home with grounds I took from my sister's house because she's got a Kurig, now. Don't fucking talk to me about Starbucks.

3. Cut out the extra expenditures.

I can't even pay for Netflix because my credit cards are maxed out, and I only get a mobile phone, home phone and DSL because it is paid for by my employer. We don't have firewood. I assure you, I don't have any "extras" to cut out.

4. Cut up your credit cards and live on cash only.

You know what I like to do when I have paid my credit cards enough so that I can put anything on them at all? I get Netflix. Maybe I'll celebrate with an $8 bottle of wine. But goodness knows I won't see the other end of that fairy tale until 2014 if I'm lucky.

5. Get a debt consolidation loan.

One of my favourite tv shows is Til Debt Do Us Part. I've been watching it forever, and long before I went on my post-separation spending binge. My wife and I even applied to be on their show and had been in contact with them, but just narrowly missed the casting window. So believe me when I tell you that I will burn everything you have ever loved if you ever say to my face that I should "just" apply for one. I have been declined a half-dozen times because, shocker, I don't have great credit. You know, from the credit cards I've maxed out and want help paying off through a lower-interest-than-24.99% loan.

6. Make more money

In Toronto, this was not bad advice (for me, specifically). I have the skills and experience there to make a sincerely decent wage with benefits. Where we're living now, that really is not meaningful advice. My wife hasn't gotten a single call-back for all the resumes she's been handing in for the past 2 months, and she has not just been emailing them out like many folks are able to get away with in areas with better economies. I work for a small business owner who often doesn't even make enough to pay their own bills, so a raise is really not happening. This is the reality of working in small communities that rely on seasonal tourism after the summer is over.

What do I really want? I want some financial articles that speak to the experience of folks who aren't making $100,000 a year who can pay off their debts in a year on their salary alone if they feel like cooking at home instead of dining out every night. I want banks and financial institutions to say, "Hey, you know what? You're right. We do keep telling people to get debt consolidation loans, so we'll work with you so these payments are actually manageable and you can conceivably pay them off without declaring bankruptcy." I want some recognition from all those fanciful articles that this is a tight spot that those trite words won't fix if I just "think positive". I want recognition that some economies are really seriously fucked and the people in them are pretty fucked and that there are no easy ways out for them, if any out at all.

What am I going to do about it? Well, I'm starting by calling bullshit on those articles, and by airing my dirty laundry to see if others can relate.

After that? Who knows. We'll see if I have any awe-inspiring insights to share other than, "It's all bullshit." Wish me luck.