Friday, February 5, 2016

Bi Any Means Podcast #37: #FaithfullyLGBT with Eliel Cruz

My guest for today is Eliel Cruz. He’s a freelance writer who writes about bisexuality, faith, and social justice. He has written for a number of websites, including Mic, The Advocate, and Religious News Service, among others. Today we’re gonna talk about his backstory and the work he does.


Thursday, February 4, 2016

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Gender Roles, Patriarchy, And Why We Can't Have Civil Debates

According to my friend Paul Sating, I’m actually not a social justice warrior. As he recently explained on The Q Podcast, a social justice warrior is someone who refuses to have conversations with people they disagree with. I, on the other hand, do a pretty good job talking about feminism, racial justice, LGBTQ rights, and social justice in a calm and collect manner, according to Sating. While I’m honored that he appreciates the work I do, it took me a long time to develop my communication skills. Even now that I’m known as “the rational queer humanist,” people still test my patience.

The exchange made me wonder: Is there a reason why some people argue online like it’s a back alley bare knuckled fight instead of having an actual conversation?

This happens a lot among skeptics and freethinkers online. Mention the words “feminism,” “identity politics,” and “social justice” in an atheist space online and World War III is guaranteed to break out. While feminism does have its flaws (e.g. White Feminists talking over ex-Muslim women), I’ve seen many atheists freak out as if feminism was just as bad as religion (which is ridiculous because feminist theory isn’t based on a single book). The worst part is when I try to calmly explain why they’re mistaken I’m the one who gets shut down. I don’t mind people disagreeing with me. In fact, I want to people disagree with me because I might be wrong. But I’m not going to consider a different opinion if the other person is coming at me like he wants to rough me up in some back alley (metaphorically speaking, of course).

So why can’t we talk like adults? Could it be . . . gender roles?

In her senior thesis paper, Claremont McKenna student Karima Merchant writes about the various studies that illustrate the different ways men and women communicate (not sure how it applies to nonbinary/genderqueer people, though). According to her research, academic studies show that “while women use communication as a tool to enhance social connections and create relationships, men use language to exert dominance and achieve tangible outcomes.” Studies also show, according to Merchant’s research, men emphasize independence in social settings while women are more socially oriented.

But why is that? Is it nature or nurture? According to Merchant’s research, it’s more of the latter. She writes:

Socially constructed gender stereotypes are learned and engrained in our minds at a very young age. By age four, children have a clear understanding of appropriate attributes of their gender and strive to abide by these existing roles (Eddleston, Veiga, & Powell, 2003). These stereotypes are facilitated by one’s surrounding environment: their family, friends, school, and the media are all persuasive factors in influencing individuals to conform to their stereotype causing them to strive for consistency between their biological sex and what is expected of them (Eddleston, Veiga, & Powell, 2003). These stereotypes of roles that are exposed to an individual during their childhood and adolescent years are reinforced through socialization throughout their lives (Welbourne, 2005). They have the ability to influence an individual’s behaviors and characteristics in adulthood, including their interpersonal and leadership style (Eagly, Johnson-Schmidt, & Van Engen, 2003).

We live in a society that views masculinity and femininity as a dichotomy of reason vs. emotion, hardness vs. softness, and, ultimately, strength vs. weakness. Masculinity represents noble characteristics such as being stoic, rational, and strong, while femininity represents negative characteristics such as being dramatic, overly emotional, and weak. As Simone de Beauvoir famously put it, the definition of being a woman has more to do with being everything a man isn’t rather than how women define themselves. That, as my friend Shiri Eisner explains, is another manifestation of patriarchy.

So how can we better communicate with each other? I think feminist psychologist Carol Gilligan might give us a clue.

In her 1982 book In a Different Voice, Gilligan wrote that through her studies, men tend to rely on logic and justice when it comes to ethics, while women tend to focus on care and compassion. That’s not to say one is better than the other, but that care ethics are just as valid as logic and justice. So what does this have to do with communication? Well, to quote the adorable little Mexican girl from the commercial, why not both? Why not frame our conversations using both logic and compassion? Why not approach conversations not as boxing matches, but as conversations between human beings are just trying to figure all this crazy shit out? Why not present facts and reason in a way that focuses on relationships instead of victory?

We live in a fucked up world full of complexities and nuance, and we’re not making it any better by shouting at each other. We need to talk about these things in a way that focuses on building understand and relationships rather than tearing each other apart. Only then can we find solutions to problems.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Friday, January 22, 2016

Bi Any Means Podcast #35: Race, Feminism, and Humanism with Sikivu Hutchinson

My guest for today is Dr. Sikivu Hutchinson. She’s the author of many books, including Moral CombatGodless Americana, and the new novel White Nights, Black Paradise, which is a fictional account of the Jonestown massacre. She also contributes to the blog Black Skeptics, which can be found on FreethoughtBlogs. Today we’re gonna talk about her life, her books, and her work.


Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Notes Towards An Intersectional Humanism

Last week, Ashley F. Miller wrote about the lack of racial diversity among the seven scheduled keynote speakers at this year’s Reason Rally. Out of the seven, only one, Cara Santa Maria—who is part Puerto Rican—is of color, which is strange because the 2012 rally included Hemant Mehta and Jamila Bey. I don’t have a full list of events for this year’s rally, so perhaps there will be other speakers, and hopefully they will be of color. However, this brings up something that I hear a lot of critics say about the atheist movement, and that it’s mostly a white, straight, cisgender, male thing.

Last year my friend Sincere Kirabo interviewed Sikivu Hutchinson for his blog about the lack of black representation in the atheist community. According to Hutchinson:

Simply put, secular white folk have the luxury and the privilege to focus exclusively on [creationism and prayer in public school] because they do not have to worry about being criminalized, policed and dehumanized by a regime of mass incarceration which begins in elementary school for African American children. Black children are the most suspended, expelled and incarcerated youth population in the U.S. and this fact shapes their limited access to and long term prospects for a college education, professional jobs and housing . . .The only way I could see an atheist of African descent becoming a mainstream commodity like Dawkins or Harris is if they espoused similar views, i.e., views which are not threatening to the existing patriarchal capitalist white power structure. Truly critical black intellectuals are reviled by the dominant culture and politically radical or progressive atheist black thinkers would be perceived as doubly traitorous/dangerous.

The solution to this lack of representation, according to Hutchinson, is intersectionality, which she defines as “respecting and validating the full nexus of difference that makes up our identities, experiences and world views.” Some skeptics, like Peter Boghossian, dismiss the term “intersectional,” saying that it’s just something a “morally motivated ideologue” would say “to sound intelligent.” However, intersectionality can help us see systems of injustice that extend beyond our limited peripheral visions.

In Adrienne Rich’s essay “Notes toward a Politics of Location”, she talks about how her limited peripheral vision had been shaped by her identities:

I was born in the white section of a hospital which separated black and white women in labor and black and white babies in the nursery, just as it separated black and white bodies in its morgue. I was defined as white before I was defined as female. The politics of location. Even to being with my body I have to say that from the outset that body had more than one identity. When I was carried out of the hospital into the world, I was viewed and treated as female, but also viewed and treated as white—by both black and white people. I was located by color and sex as surely as a Black child was located by color and sex-though the implications of white identity were mystified by the presumption that white people are the center of the universe. To locate myself in my body means more than understanding what it has meant to me to have a vulva and clitoris and uterus and breasts. It means recognizing this white skin, the places it has taken me, the places it has not let me go.

She goes on to explain how she has faced oppression as a woman, but has also inadvertently participated in the oppression of women of color. She concludes her essay by challenging white feminists to look beyond their peripheral visions to explore black feminist and social theorists. “To shrink from or dismiss that challenge,” she writes, “can only isolate white feminism from the other great movements for self-determination and justice within and against which women define ourselves.”

As atheists, we all face similar discrimination. We’re less likely to be hired for child care services, less likely to be elected president, and least desired to be potential sons- or daughters-in law. We face discrimination in child custody hearings, the Boy Scouts, and volunteer organizations. I even know a few public school teachers who are afraid to be openly secular because they live in the heart of the Bible Belt and might lose their jobs. However, those of us who belong to other marginalized groups—women, people of color, LGBT people, disabled people, etc.—face even more discrimination than those who are white, cisgender, straight, able-bodied, and male.

Let’s use an example, shall we? Kirabo and I share similar experiences being marginalized as atheists, but in terms of race, gender, and sexuality, we couldn’t be any more different. He is a black, straight, cisgender man. I’m a white, bisexual, genderqueer person. Kirabo will never know what it’s like to be afraid to hold his lover’s hand in public without being harassed. I will never know what it’s like to be followed around in a store. He will never have that moment of panic trying to decide which public bathroom to use. I will never have that moment of panic about possibly becoming another statistic when a cop pulls me over for speeding. We both know this, and we work together for each other’s liberation.

As the third Humanist Manifesto states, we humanists “are concerned for the well being of all, are committed to diversity, and respect those of differing yet humane views.” This, I believe, includes a more intersectional approach to humanism where we, as Audre Lorde famously said, “recognize, accept, and celebrate” our differences, and work together for each other’s liberation.