BroadSnark

Thoughts on politics, religion, violence, inequality, social control, change, and random other things from an autonomous, analytical, adopted, abolitionist, anarchist who likes the letter A
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Hijacking the Sharing Economy

July 21, 2014 By: Mel Category: Change, Inequality

Forbes cover of Airbnb CEOThere have been a slew of articles lately about how services like Airbnb and Lyft signal the “rise of the sharing economy.” Forbes says it is “unstoppable” and includes a cover that asks “Who wants to be a billionaire?” The Wall Street Journal profiles Airbnb’s founder as a young upstart who is rocking the boat of all those stodgy hotel chains. The economist wants cities and their pesky worrywarts to get out of the way.

Maybe the most interesting piece was in Wired. Wired thinks that this “sharing economy” has gotten people to trust each other. After all, as one Lyft driver said “It’s not just some person off the street.” These people have Facebook accounts and credit cards. They have online ratings. It isn’t like they are picking up hitchhikers (god forbid) or a person so poor they don’t have a MasterCard (gasp). These people must be o.k. right? You won’t be picking up anyone sketchy like John Waters.

And then there is this

Lyft cofounder John Zimmer goes so far as to liken it to time he spent on the Oglala Sioux reservation in Pine Ridge, South Dakota. “Their sense of community, of connection to each other and to their land, made me feel more happy and alive than I’ve ever felt before,” he says. “I think people are craving real human interaction—it’s like an instinct. We now have the opportunity to use technology to help us get there.”

You know what. People are craving real human interaction, but a ride that you pay somebody for is not that. Is Zimmer claiming that the connection to the land he romanticizes was brought about by fee for service car rides? Am I really supposed to listen to some millionaire wax nostalgic about time spent on a reservation with the lowest life expectancy in the country and teen suicide rates 150% higher than the U.S. national average

Kevin Roose’s response to Wired was that The Sharing Economy Isn’t About Trust, It’s About Desperation. Roose is right that the economy sucks, but I would hardly call the people profiled in the articles above “desperate.” If you have a luxury car or a house in San Francisco to rent out and you think you are desperate, you lead a very sheltered life.

In The Case Against Sharing, Susie Cagle describes how someone at a conference of these sharing economy climbers actually had the nerve to quote Audre Lorde. But when labor researcher Veena Dubal told them that rideshare companies contribute to a culture of precarious work and are therefore hurting workers, the reaction from these sharers was less than generous.

These companies are just exploiting our desire for connection and co-opting the real sharing and solidarity economies. Renting is not sharing. A business model that makes a couple of people billionaires and chases thousands of out of a city through gentrification on overdrive is not an economic model that should be romanticized. And there is absolutely nothing new about an economy based on sharing. It is a hell of a lot older than the economy we have now.

Gift economies are ancient. Workers started talking about workplace democracy since they started experiencing the workplace. Mutual aid societies have been essential survival tools for people all over the world. What are interesting and front page worthy are not the billionaire stories. What we should be paying attention to is the growth of the solidarity or social economy.

When artists start a co-op bed and breakfast in New York so that they can survive as artists, that is attention worthy. So is a time bank in Maine or a free store in Baltimore. What about hundreds of people gathering in Jackson to talk about “cooperative restaurants, child and elder care coops, cooperative grocery stores, cooperative factories, farms and more, all collectively owned and democratically managed by the same workers who deliver the service and create the value.”

Don’t be distracted by these “sharing” businesses that make a lot of money for their founders and a little bit of money for the relatively well off. Their new economy is the same as the old one. It leaves most people out in the cold – literally. The real sharing economy isn’t making anyone a billionaire. The real sharing economy means genuine relationships, workplace democracy, and social justice.

On Love, Life, Cocaine, and Impossible Monday Morning Questions

September 24, 2012 By: Mel Category: Misc

Scarface cocaine scene

Somehow my last post on mental illness ended up in a Facebook discussion about love. Well, I know how it happened. My friend asked if love was a mental illness and informed me that cocaine and love release the same chemicals in the brain.

This is an intense question for a hungover Monday morning, but what the hell.

I must admit that sometimes love and cocaine benders are strikingly similar. Amazing highs. Horrible crashes. Always wanting more. Knowing if you don’t stop you will fuck up your life for sure. And yet you keep going.

That might seem mental, but it depends on what you think love is supposed to be.

Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within. I use the word “love” here not merely in a personal sense but as a state of being, or a state of grace- not in the infantile American sense of being made happy but in the tough and universal sense of quest and daring and growth – James Baldwin

I think what Baldwin meant by “the infantile American sense” is that most Americans define love as, not just being happy, but being safe. It is the kind of love that people want to give to children, doing cartwheels through fields of flowers with not a care in the world. People crave a sense of security and calm, a refuge. Maybe that is why so many people marry someone like their parents and try to recreate their childhood life, or the childhood they wish they had.

And when intense emotions end up bringing anything but calm, security, and happiness people don’t know what to do with themselves.

We all need a refuge sometimes. But a refuge is a place to hide. You can’t hide forever. Security is mostly an illusion. Spending your life seeking security has awful consequences. That infantile American definition of love may actually explain a lot about our foreign policy.

If love is quest, daring, and growth then it isn’t about safety – at least not just. It is also about risk. Calm and turbulence. Highs and lows. Permanence and change. Pain and pleasure. Struggle and surrender. It is fucking things up and starting over again. It is whatever experiences you need to have. In short – LIFE.

And love doesn’t just apply to “romantic” or sexual relationships. In fact, it doesn’t need to apply to relationships at all. As much as we learn from our relationships with other people, even the most casual ones, we learn so much more on our own. And that is also a kind of love.

So no, T. I don’t think love is a mental illness. If anything, avoiding love/life in all its extremes might actually be the mental illness. But next time you should really ask me this kind of question on a Friday. Or when I’m drunk. Or both.

Communication. Understanding. Action.

July 23, 2012 By: Mel Category: Change

One of my most deeply held beliefs is that people shouldn’t just jump into things without spending a lot of time understanding the situation. And that goes a bazillion times more when we are talking about the actions of activists who are working on issues that affect others more than themselves.

Perfect understanding is impossible. We can’t be paralyzed by our lack of it. But if you find yourself imagining how the most affected people might feel, pondering how to get them involved, or fretting about why those who were involved are not any longer…

For fuck’s sake! Stop what you are doing!

Yet, as deeply as I believe that, I found myself caught in rescue mode, providing life support for a group that no longer had any of the things that drew me to it to begin with. I’m ashamed that I didn’t see it sooner.

I’m still processing all the things that went wrong, but it is clear to me that we tried to skip right to the action part and neglected to build the communication and understanding that would have made it work. It’s always a difficult balancing act. The problems are so huge and so urgent that they just scream for action. And it is working with people that builds the kinds of relationships where communication, understanding and trust become possible. That pull towards a certain kind of action is hard to fight.

But we really need to fight it. Doing something is not always better than doing nothing. And building relationships is not nothing. In fact, it is the core of what we need to do – an almost impossible task when so many of us have been brought up isolated, segregated, mistrustful, and socially retarded.

In short, I fucked up and I am sorry. I’m particularly sorry to those people who have been waiting for me to fulfill commitments I made and then dropped because I was trying to rescue something that I shouldn’t have been.

Live and learn.

Revolution in the Echo Chamber

April 09, 2012 By: Mel Category: Change

Organizing for radical change means building relationships and networks. It is natural that we start building with the ones we already have. We don’t need to start from scratch. And connections built on years of shared experiences are probably going to be stronger than ones based just on philosophical beliefs or political aims.

The thing is, in a world that is so divided by gender, age, race, religion, class, culture, geography, and so many other things; our networks are often filled with people very much like us.

Sometimes that’s o.k. I don’t think it is a huge tragedy that a punk collective is mostly white dudes. And sometimes homogeneity is absolutely essential. An organization of people returning from prison is going to reflect who is targeted for criminalization. A day laborer collective is going to be made up of day laborers. If those kinds of organizations are run by a bunch of people who don’t have those experiences, then they are guaranteed to turn into a shit show.

But if you are trying to do something bigger, you can’t be in an echo chamber.

I posted a comment in my last Things You Might Have Missed about the amount of white dudes in ZNets new International Organization for a Participatory Society. I was going to leave it at that and never think about the organization again. But someone tweeted me that I should tell people about it because “more diverse membership is essential.”

Yes. If their aim is worldwide revolution – if they claim to be “anti-sexist” and “anti-racist” and “bottom-up” – then they should have a membership that actually reflects the world. When they got together and saw that their limited network didn’t get close to bringing in even a teeny sampling of perspectives, they should have Stopped Right There. Because they are clearly not ready for the project they are trying to take on.

This isn’t just about “diversity” as some feel good, warm fuzzy bullshit. It is that each of us has experienced the world in a very different way. And if you are trying to do something on the scope of worldwide revolution, you better damn well make sure that you are hearing and speaking to as many different experiences as possible right from the start.

It does not matter how many books they read or how much internal work they have done to combat their inner racist or inner sexist. It is next to impossible to create an organization that will reflect or attract people who they don’t really understand. It isn’t just that I look at all those dudes and roll my eyes. It is that their limited experiences do not give them the tools to create something that is going to make me want to join them.

That would be fine if they wanted to start a punk collective or Kropotkin reading group. It isn’t fine for this.

This isn’t the first time I have criticized organizations for this kind of thing. Invariably, there is somebody who tells me that I should jump in and make it better. So I shouldn’t be surprised that I was asked to publicize this project so that they can get more diversity.

Not going to happen.

I don’t believe something that starts off fundamentally wrong can be fixed so easily, probably not at all. More importantly, I am sooooooo tired of people asking for those of us who are not white dudes to spend all our precious time fighting through their organizations. How come you think you get to sit around planning the revolution, but my time is supposed to be spent making your shit more “diverse?”

That isn’t how I am going to spend my time. I’m going to be here working through my own limitations and privilege. I’m going to work on strengthening the networks I have and building relationships across all those divides. Maybe someday, with enough patience and humility, I might be able to think about taking on something with the kind of grandiose goals that IOPS has.

Any of you who want to step out of the echo chamber and join me are more than welcome.

Sex, Age, Consent, and Power

January 05, 2012 By: Mel Category: Inequality, Sex, Violence

Mel at SixteenJust after I turned sixteen, I met this guy who would end up being my boyfriend for about a year. He was twenty-two. He didn’t think I was that young at first. I never lied to him, mind you. He just didn’t ask me the night we met. I regularly passed for older in clubs, buying cigarettes, whatever. That’s me at sixteen in the pic. I have a bag full of snacks, several packs of cigs, and a jug of rum. (Clearly, my hobbies haven’t changed much. Except I mostly drink vodka now.)

By about a year and a half after that pic was taken I will have been kicked out of school, kicked out of my house, working two jobs, and taking care of myself. Which is to say that I wasn’t a particularly young sixteen. And my boyfriend wasn’t a particularly old twenty-two. He was just coasting, living with his brother, and figuring out what to do since a motorcycle accident ended his army gig.

I was not the only one of my friends who dated guys quite a bit older than them. In fact, I’m having a hard time remembering people any of us dated who weren’t quite a bit older than we were. Some of my friends were passing as 21 when they were 15. If they had dated guys their age, they would have looked like pedophiles.

Not surprisingly, my parents were not pleased with my choice of boyfriend. My father found his phone number one day and called him. To this day I do not know exactly what he said. My boyfriend, ironically, was always trying to get me to repair the relationship with my parents. Whatever my father said to him was something that he thought would have set me off. So I can only assume that my father threatened him. He moved to Chicago soon after.

Now you may be thinking that my parents were just worried for my well-being. They weren’t monsters. I’m sure they were concerned. But I am also sure that they did not think for one minute that I was being taken advantage of. While most kid’s parents were always on the lookout for “the bad influence” (including my parents when it came to my sister), my parents knew that I was too strong-willed for that. The year before they said to me, “We know nobody makes you do anything you don’t want to do.” True then. True now.

So when I read about people being prosecuted for statutory rape, or just vilified for having relationships with people much younger than they are, I take a personal interest. My first reaction is often, “I wonder what the supposed victim has to say about all this.” Lately, I’ve come across a ton of stories that involve people with big age differences.

Let’s start with this guy. A twenty-two year old man was friended on Facebook by someone pretending to be a fourteen-year-old girl in order to get information about the guy’s brother. He arranged to meet the fake fourteen-year-old for sex. The police were waiting for him. He’s going to jail for three years. Now, even though I suspect the guy is probably a cretin, I still don’t think he should be going to jail. I’m not cool with prison, but especially not sending someone to prison for a crime they wanted to commit. And we can’t even judge the maturity of the “victim” since there wasn’t any.

What about this woman? She was a high school teacher. She had sex with one of her soon-to-be-former students on prom night. He was a week away from his eighteenth birthday. She is going to spend five years in prison for that. Are we really saying that the boy had no free will? A week later he would have been eligible to enlist in the military. That is just mindbogglingly outrageous to me.

Then there is this woman. She had sex with three of her daughter’s tween friends and is now facing eighty years behind bars. I think what this woman did was wrong, not least because her daughter is going to need some serious therapy. This woman needs some therapy too. But eighty years behind bars? And when you compare that with say, the police officers who were acquitted of rape charges in New York…

That is not to say I don’t get seriously repulsed by some of the stories I read. Why would a forty-nine-year-old man be getting a thirteen-year-old fucked up so that he could grope her? What kind of fifty-two-year-old would be trying to get with a fourteen-year-old? What about thirty-four and thirteen? And I have no words for this cop who molested an eight-year-old autistic girl.

When exactly does someone cross over from being a child, incapable of consent, to an almost adult with possibly poor judgment but the ability to make decisions for themselves? For me, the pivotal age was fourteen. Everything changed for me that year. For other people it will have been different.

Clearly, a bigger age difference matters. But it matters less and less as people get older. We might raise an eyebrow at the celebrity couples with huge age differences, but we don’t generally assume that they are criminal. We might think they are damaged. We might think they are immature, having a crisis, in denial about their age, or incapable of having a healthy relationship. But I would hope that we wouldn’t come to definitive conclusions based on a picture and a couple birth dates.

I’m thirty-eight and can hardly imagine being attracted to a twenty-year-old, much less a tween. But my inability to comprehend how someone my age would do that hasn’t erased the clear memory of how powerless and angry I was at being dismissed and coerced as a teen. My parents abused their power to force me into not doing something they didn’t want me to do. To me, it is essentially no different than parents who force their teen daughters into marrying someone they don’t want to marry.

What this really comes down to is power and consent. In some situations, there is a power imbalance regardless of age. A teacher has power over a student. A cop has power over pretty much everyone. A boss has power over their employee. A guard has power over their prisoner.  As someone who believes that the ideal is for all relationships to be relationships of equals, I think we should be aiming to get rid of power imbalances. Instead, we usually end up restricting relationships in order to preserve positions of power. That seems a little back assward.

But we also have to confront the fact that things like age and physical strength also involve imbalances of power. And imbalances of power make consent a very tricky thing. Sadly, as I’ve written about before, most of us are pretty bad at consent in even the best of situations. Which means there are no easy answers. But people don’t like ambiguity, especially when it comes to sex or young people.

So I guess my question to you all is – How do we prevent abuses of power, both by the kinds of adults who molest children and by the kind of adults who dis-empower and coerce young people?

The Friendship Binary

December 15, 2011 By: Mel Category: Misc

My friend Graham sent me the below video where a guy goes around asking people if men and women can be just friends. All the guys he asks say they cannot. All the girls he asks say they can, but then admit that they think their guy friends would hook up with them if they had the opportunity. So the dude who produced the video claims that he has proven that men and women cannot be friends.

Dear Graham – my friend who I do not think wants to hook up with me –  my requested response is below the video.

The first problem with the whole premise is the assumption that all people are straight. Lots of my guy friends are gay and most certainly have no interest in having sex with me. Or as my friend Lance gasped when someone told us we were a cute couple, “OMG! That’s my sister!”

So can straight women be friends with gay men? Can lesbians be friends with straight men? Do bisexual people not get to have any friends? And WTF do we even begin to talk about with people who identify as genderqueer. I mean if you don’t pick a gender our whole world may fall apart here.

Secondly, how are we defining “just friends?” Maybe some of the women who said that men and women can be friends are defining friendship differently. Why does sexual attraction, or even having sex, have to move you out of the friend category? As it turns out, there are a whole lot of different kinds of friends with benefits relationships out there.

Perhaps what the women mean is that they can have a relationship with someone, even including sex, that does not include romantic love or thoughts of weddings and white picket fences. Or perhaps those women aren’t sleeping with their friends but would be if they didn’t grow up in a place where people wear purity rings. Maybe they are sleeping with them and just don’t want to admit it because of all the baggage that comes with open acknowledgement of having sex with people you don’t want to marry.

And what about age? The Harold and Maude scenario isn’t exactly an everyday occurrence. Actually, any kind of relationship across generations seems to be kind of unusual. But they do occur. And I can attest to the fact that the dynamic is a lot different when you are friends with someone who is old enough to be your grandfather or young enough to be your kid.

I think most, maybe all, friendships involve attraction. That includes the friendships that mostly straight people have with people of their own gender. That doesn’t mean I want to have sex with all my girlfriends, hot as you all are. Then again, we women are more likely to admit to being gay or bisexual and are apparently turned on by a much wider range of things than you dudes are. As Mary Roach wrote in Bonk,

A series of studies by Meredith Chivers and colleagues at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto showed that men are more discriminating than women when it comes to how they respond to pornographic images. Women, both gay and straight, will show immediate genital arousal…in response to films of sexual activity, regardless of who is engaging in it – male, female, gay, straight, good hair or bad. Men, contrary to stereotype, tend to respond in a limited manner; they are aroused only by footage that fits their sexual orientation and interests…To test the limits of the phenomenon, Chivers gamely ran a follow-up study in which men and women viewed, in addition to the usual gamut of human sexual scenarios, footage of bonobos mating. Here again, the women’s genitals responded – though not as strongly as they did to images of human beings – and the men’s did not.

Uh oh. Guess no friendships for any of us. Possibly no pets either.

Where does this bullshit come from? It comes from a strict gender binary. It comes from thinking sexuality is rigid rather than a spectrum that can change over time. It comes from a very narrow range of relationship options, where women are only supposed to have sex with people they love and all relationships are supposed to end in monogamous marriage.

It comes from too many dudes who don’t see women as human beings, or as one charming commenter on the YouTube video put it,

there’s this girl who wanted to be “just friends with” me, meaning no sex…i told her “hell no” my friendship comes with certain sexual requirements…either that or take the highway girl…point being, a straight male can’t be just friends, even with a semi good-looking chick, so long as she has a hole to dip it into

I think its pretty clear that if you see women as “a hole to dip into,” then you probably can’t be friends with them. Thankfully, not all guys are as douchey as you.

The video focused on presumably single, young people. But the bfriend had a similar conversation to this at his work a while back. Of all the coupled people, only the non-heterosexual and him thought that men and women could be friends. Mostly, there was a lot of “my husband would never let me be friends with a man” blah blah blah.

What is that about? Do people think that love equals possession? Do men think they are conquistadors and their dick is a flag? Do women think their men are just walking hard ons who have to be kept in the house? Is everyone so insecure? If your relationship is so fragile that a friendship can break it, you already had problems.

My bfriend has a lot of women friends. One of the things I love most about him is that he actually likes women. He doesn’t just like to have sex with women. He likes to hang out with us. I wouldn’t trade that for anything. I wouldn’t be with him if he couldn’t be friends with women. That doesn’t mean there haven’t been one or two occasions where I might have had a twinge of jealousy. But that was my insecurities, not his behavior.

Let me just end by saying that life is about relationships. It is one thing to make the very reasonable decision that you want to have a monogamous, sexual relationship. But if you cut the person you supposedly love off from having even non-sexual relationships with at least half the population, then you cut them off from life. And if you really think that sexual attraction means you can’t be friends, you are cheating yourself and probably lying to yourself about how attracted you are to the friends you have now – of whatever gender.

Am I a Rapist?

December 24, 2010 By: Mel Category: Sex

I don’t want to talk about the Assange rape charges. There are more than enough people doing that already. But I would like to talk about something that Jaclyn Friedman said during her debate with Naomi Wolf on Democracy Now. Friedman essentially said that a sleeping/unconscious person cannot consent to sex and therefore it is rape. Always.

I paused the video.  The bfriend and I looked at each other and said, huh? He’s woken me up like that before. I’ve woken him up like that before. We never discussed doing it.  Does that make me a rape victim? Does it make me a rapist?

Blanket statements, the kind where people give no gray area whatsoever, usually bother me, because few things in life are that clear. And this was a blanket statement that made me into a rapist. At first, I must admit, I was inclined to roll my eyes and dismiss her.

But I just kept thinking about it.

I do not believe that consenting to one thing means consenting to everything else. I don’t believe in implied consent. That’s like those asshats who think marital rape is impossible.  It’s possible and all too frequent.

Now, I could say that I just knew it would be o.k. The bfriend and I have been together for more than 14 years. There are some things that we don’t really have to talk about anymore.

But that would be a bullshit answer. It’s a bullshit answer because there were other times before the bfriend, where I wouldn’t be able to say that. It’s a bullshit answer because it brings us back to the marital rape issue.  And it’s a bullshit answer because, if I have learned anything over the years, it is that false assumptions often precede relationship misery.

Besides, how can we really be sure that our assumptions are based on knowledge of the individual and not some social norm or gender essentialism?  It must be o.k.  Guys always want to have sex, right?  I mean when a woman decides not to have sex because she doesn’t want to risk pregnancy or STDs or just doesn’t think she is ready, that’s expected.  But a guy who turns it down, he must be some kind of freak.  So I can just assume, right?

The truth is that we should have talked about it.  We should have talked about a lot of things, right from the beginning, that we didn’t.

Last month, I came across a couple checklists of sexual activities – one on Scarleteen and one on the Beautiful Kind.  Even just going through the Scarleteen one, you know the one meant for teens, the bfriend and I ended up talking about things that had never come up in fourteen years.  And that is just sad.

Most of us have this Hollywoodized idea of sex.  It is always heterosexual.  All sexual activities end with male to female penetration.  The hottest sex is spontaneous.  When it is right, the other person is just going to know (magically) what you want.  There is no need to talk about it.  Just kiss, blow, fuck, done.

That is why you get guys who think that there is some point of no return where a woman cannot say no anymore.  That is why you have scenarios like this.

Her account to police, which Assange disputes, stated that he began stroking her leg as they drank tea, before he pulled off her clothes and snapped a necklace that she was wearing. According to her statement she “tried to put on some articles of clothing as it was going too quickly and uncomfortably but Assange ripped them off again”. Miss A told police that she didn’t want to go any further “but that it was too late to stop Assange as she had gone along with it so far”, and so she allowed him to undress her.

Really?  He undressed you and therefore it was too late to stop?  You had to go to the end?  Where is the end exactly?  Does he now have carte blanche to hog tie you, ball gag you, and whip you until you bleed?  Cause, for some people, that is where that undressing is going.

For responsible people in the BDSM community, it is a no-brainer to discuss what is o.k. and not o.k. beforehand.  There are parameters set.  There are safe words decided upon.  But for most people, it is all based on assumptions.  And those assumptions lead not just to rape, but to really bad sex.

I so wish that I had those checklists twenty-two years ago when I started having sex.  That is not because I was doing things I didn’t want to do, but because I would have done a lot more shit a lot sooner.  And I could have avoided a lot of mediocre sex.

People make fun of the idea that you should get an o.k. every step of the way.  Can I touch you here? How about there?  This o.k.?  Let’s draw up a contract and have it notarized.  But it seems ridiculous mostly because we are so horrible at talking about sex and because we make so many assumptions about it.  We should talk to our partners, future partners, and our kids about sex.  And we should talk about the entire pantheon of activities, not just assume that everyone is a vanilla, heterosexual couple.

That said, even though I’m not rolling my eyes at Friedman’s statement anymore, am I a rapist?  I understand that hard and fast rules make it easier to prosecute crimes.  Even though I would like to see prisons go the way of the rack, I realize that we cannot just let people get away with committing that kind of violence.  But consistency is not justice.  In fact, it can often be the opposite of justice.

When I was sixteen, my boyfriend was twenty-two.  By Florida law, that was rape.  But I was a willing participant.  I was not victimized by my boyfriend.  Do you know what would have made me feel victimized?  It would have made me feel victimized if somebody had prosecuted my boyfriend for rape.

And it happens.  Because well intentioned people want to keep grown-ups from having sex with seven year olds, some poor seventeen year old kid in Georgia got a ten year prison sentence for getting a blow job at a party.   There are people who are permanently on sexual predator lists for statutory rape.  And let’s not even get into the general disaster that is mandatory minimum sentencing.  Consistency is not always a good thing.

We are all suffering from some serious societal sexual dysfunction.  And we should be calling it out.  But, as unpleasant as it may be, we still need to leave some room for ambiguities.  Because by Friedman’s definition, I’m a rapist.  But the bfriend has now given me explicit permission to view his morning wood as an open invitation.  And I don’t think the state should be able to prosecute me for that.

Little Conversations

July 07, 2009 By: Mel Category: Change

Little Conversations by Concrete Blonde was something of an anthem for me growing up.

The little conversations
On me are very rough
They leave me all in pieces
You know there’s never time enough
Like a book with missing pages
Like a story incomplete
Like a painting left unfinished
It feels like not enough to eat.

I was never able to do small talk. Part of me envied the people who were. The other part of me dismissed it as shallow and pointless. How could people be talking about sitcoms and celebrities when there was tragedy all over the world?

As I’ve gotten older, having meaningful conversations has become both easier and more difficult. They are easier because I know more now and because I am more open to other points of view. They are harder because the farther I have gotten from home and childhood, the more other points of view I have encountered.

As an adult, serious conversations have a lot more minefields and potential for the kind of conflict that costs. If you offend someone you go to school with, you just stop talking to each other. If you offend someone you work with, you could have a very miserable working experience.

Some subjects, like racism, are particularly difficult to talk about. Attorney General Eric Holder was right, we are cowards when it comes to talking about race. But we have some reason to be wary. Mistrust is high. And if you look on the comments section of any website dealing with race, you will probably see why.

That’s where the little conversations come in. Talking about sitcoms and celebrities gives you the chance to build a relationship. Next thing you know you’re talking about your family or bitching about your boss. All these little conversations allow you to get to know a person and build some trust.

And any conversation that builds trust, builds bridges, and builds relationships is meaningful.

The Significance of ‘Blood Relations’

June 18, 2009 By: Mel Category: Inequality

I was listening to a podcast a bit ago when one of the guests said something about her “blood,” meaning her family. Every time I hear people talk about their family or ethnic group as their blood, it makes me cringe.

As someone who was adopted, I can tell you unequivocally that blood does not mean a thing. There are plenty of biological parents out there who have not done anything for their children. There are plenty of lovers out there whose bond is stronger than the bonds they have with their biological family, whether they had lifelong relationships with that family or not.

And truly, it’s a bit insensitive to speak in terms that make the relationship between this country’s 1.6 million adopted children and their parents seem less connected and less real.

Another thing I find truly offensive about talk of “blood” is where the talk stems from. Using the word blood to refer to relationships started in the middle ages. Talk of blood was talk of inheritance, aristocracy, and hereditary privilege.

As Benedict Anderson points out in Imagined Communities, Europeans believed that a persons stature in life was related to their blood. They brought these ideas of aristocracy and supremacy to all the lands they colonized.

European ideas about blood continue to saturate the minds of people in this country. Many people still believe in the one-drop rule, the blood of an African being so powerful that the tiniest amount makes them black (and inferior).

And talk of blood to denote family is a culturally centric notion of family. Many cultures have defined family as only those connected through the mother. Some trace lineage by the father. In some groups, children belong to everyone.

I know there are people whose only close relationships are biologically related to them. So I can understand how they might believe biology is the source of that bond. But it would be nice if people took a step back and thought about what they are really saying.