Wednesday, April 8, 2009

End the Lies - 2 for 2

The HRC has a solid rebuttal to the 3 claims in the National Organization for Marriage's scare campaign hitting the east coast airways this week titled "End the Lies". It's worth a read.

I would like to draw particular attention to the Second concern highlighted in the ad, and bring up an alternate Second case decided in court about the same subject for the same defendant (on the same day!) that absolutely proves that this ad is an outright lie. The second concern in the ad states:
"I am part of a New Jersey church group punished by the government because we cannot support same-sex marriage."
As the HRC rebuttal explains, this actor is describing the case of Harriet Bernstein and Luisa Paster against the Ocean Grove New Jersey Methodist pavilion which was rented out for public use for any-denominational weddings, civil ceremonies, and other non-religious public events, including civil war re-enactments, and the Methodist owners of this tax-exempt public space denied their application on religious grounds. When Bernstein and Paster were denied permission to rent the public space for their civil commitment ceremony, they took legal action.

The legal concern immediately caused the OC Methodist group to change their policies and withdraw the pavillion from Public space.

A few days later, a different lesbian couple, Janice Moore and Emily Sonnessa, applied also to use the same space for a commitment ceremony and were denied, and they also took their case to court.

Bernstein and Paster's case was decided in their favor, because the space had been provided tax-exempt status as a Public Accomodation. Moore-Sonnessa, on the other hand, was decided for the OC Methodist church, because a private religious organization cannot be forced to offer private accomodations. Lots more details about these cases on Leonard Link's wonderful blog.

There you have it. Two wholly different cases about the same space, owned by the same defendants, over the identical topic of space for lesbian civil unions only a couple of days apart, but absolutely proving that the claim in the ad is a lie. Churches are absolutely not "Punished by the Government" for believing the way they do. They simply cannot claim to be Public Acommodations and get special Tax Exempt status without following non-discrimination law. If they want to stay private and follow their own rules, they can discriminate at will.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Peaceful thoughts after Proposition 8

In the aftermath of the 2008 elections, I and many of my friends and coworkers have been stunned, saddened, and definitely angered by Proposition 8 passing. It's an incredibly divisive issue, and we are so passionate about it - on both Pro and Anti sides. Many of my close friends are Married/Partnered Queer couples of many flavours and I am *staunchly* supportive of this and their families. I stay embedded in very liberal and mostly Queer communities, as I really enjoy the contact and familiarity and our common grounds, and I love showing that I am part of their lives.

I was present in British Columbia when canadian federal law passed the Gay Marriage approval for the entire country, I've seen many european countries follow suit, I've watched how things have turned out in MA and CA, and complacently assumed that I would see this spread rapidly through the US as the fundies were proven wrong, and that the feared hellfire & damnation and "damage to traditional marriage" are not the aftermath of gay marriage, just a long litany of bad bridesmaid dresses and the Chicken Dance. I assumed California would defend its position with ease, and I was wrong. 3 states passed anti-gay marriage or partnership propositions, and AK banned gay adoption. The voice of Conservative America has spoken emphatically.

With proposition 8 passing before our unbelieving eyes, I've found myself agreeing with angry twitters and blog posts from my friends, and then today I was humbled by a great post from Wil Wheaton which I've dubbed "Quaker Wil", and I was reminded of my own humanity, my own tendencies to anger, and my promise to always work to bring people together, not to exacerbate the divide. We must have empathy and understanding and kindness to solve this problem, not angry confrontation. The people who passed Proposition 8 are not our Enemy, they are our family, our neighbors, our co-workers, our employers, and our friends. I didn't speak up when my friends called it "Proposition Hate", and that was wrong of me. This was not passed because of hatred, or bigotry. My neighbours are not evil people. They may be ignorant, and swayed by voices motivated by questionable perspectives, but they are good people, and worthy of my respect. I must listen to their perspective, with honesty and humility.

The ignorance of our previously nationalized racial bigotry was not solved by riots, but by reaching out to each other, getting past our fears and prejudices on *all* sides, and recognizing that we are all the same people, regardless of colour. It takes time and honesty and getting to know each other, and does NOT require assimilation, just understanding. We still have chinese culture, black culture, polish culture and italian culture all throughout every major city in the US. The same can happen with Heteronormative Conservative Culture and us Queer folk as well.

One of the many reasons that Prop8 passed was the common story that "gay domestic partnerships already give you the same legal rights as a marriage". This is patently false, and this is a discussion that you can have rationally, with dignity, in any circumstance with both proponents and opponents of this measure. People need to know the facts, and an honest discussion with the facts well in hand can be the answer. Americans with any sense of recent history will understand that "Separate but Equal" is not Equality, and we can have hundreds of thousands of real voices sharing the powerful truth. Be respectful, but be persistent, and direct. Share your truth, and that of your neighbours, your family, and your friends.

I suggest we start with the 1,138 rights that are federally mandated for Marriages that are not extended to Partnerships, if we ever travel domestically with our families. Share the real stories of your family and your friends, who have been or will be affected by these real laws. Having real citations for this is critical - millions of people truly believe otherwise and they need to face the indisputable truth about people they know, face-to-face. We have families being kept apart during medical emergencies, paying a "Queer Tax" by being unable to file jointly, unable to leave inheritance to their chosen Spouse, and thousands of other day-to-day realities that Married couples can understand. The truth can set us free.

More on this later.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Second Life is a Post-Gender environment

I've actually spent some of my life in some very progressive spaces, and I must say that some communities - extremely liberal college campuses (Antioch and Evergreen spring to mind), the Vancouver BC and San Francisco queer and "fetish" communities, and a few odd pockets here and there, have made the jump to what I would call "Post-Gender".
It's not to say that Gender isn't important in these spaces, it clearly is, mostly because we're sexual people, and because we have preferences about what genders we're attracted to and which we "associate" with. The big difference is that these environments run (mostly - we ARE made of individuals after all, and no utopia is universally perfect) without the assumptions of gender based on birth/physical characteristics. This is harder than you'd imagine in RL, but it is possible to take the time to talk, and listen, and pick up on the cues of someone's current Gender Identity rather than simply scanning some physical characteristics.
It's not unlike joining a roleplay community in SL, where the rules of exchange dictate that your RP character cannot automatically know anything about people whom you meet - including the person's name that's floating in glowing characters over their head. You have to engage and learn based on how they interchange with you.
In fact, it's a *lot* like SL RP in that way, because a person's identity can be just as fluid in RL, and you might be talking to Fae as Femme one day, and Butchy Fae the next day, even though it's the same person, or an Angel one day, and a Demon the next.

So the really interesting jump, to me, is that SL imposes a direct filter in your interactions - you're facing an Avatar, and not seeing the person's RL Gender, Race, Age, (dis)Ability, or other factors that normally in RL society provide the cues as to how we're "supposed" to treat them.

The beautiful thing about this filter is that it removes the tools of prejudice in immediate 1st-time interactions. If you cannot see someone's gender, race, age, or other factor during your 1st meeting, you must evaluate them based on the core person that they present, that is to say, the core person as that person defines it, not you the viewer. I call this core person their Identity, the one that they own and define as they choose, to differentiate from your preconceptions of it.

Some people find this filter, or even the concept of it, to be deeply offensive, because they're not "seeing the real person" - and precisely for this reason I point out that they don't need to know these preconcepts, they're striving to reach for their RL prejudices, and they need to learn to rise above them. Even though we politically and socially agree that prejudice in housing, employment, social organizations, healthcare is abhorrent, it clearly still happens constantly. This is because it's near-impossible for our society to overcome these assumptions we have about women, and racial minorities, and our older members, and "put them in their place". Feminism has been a strong and active force for half a century, but yet we've made no significant progress in salary equality in the past 20 years. Racism has too many clear examples to even begin the list.

Second Life pushes us past these filters, and allows people to meet and talk, on truly level ground, for the first time in many ways. Let's not let our prejudices creep back into the equation. Hold firm that we are all strong people, regardless of our RL bodies, and let's show what new types of open, richly diverse, and stronger societies we can build if we truly are listening to each other's True Identity rather than the physical masks we're forced to wear.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

RBD - Plague of SL Bloggers

I've been reading up on my Violet Blue lately, and she reminded me of an associated topic. You've all heard of it, many of us have experienced it, the shame of our times: Rezbian Blog Death.
It has many causes, in my case over-commitment to work and never having time for inworld friends, besides drive-by Tweetings, mostly. I ended up having to pull out of my sim, due to lack of time to keep the community together, that was most disappointing.
But I'm back around, occasionally, and starting to get inspired about some more build ideas I have, combining some very simple AI, a few creative Av-makers, and an open Combat System, and one more secret ingredient to maybe have a constantly fun and challenging multiplayer game going on that can scale really well. We'll see.

Anyhow, I've got other plans bubbling for some more topical writing for this blog as well. I'm not done talking yet. So, wanted to say "Hello Again" for now. *mwah*

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Out, and Proud

My first SL wife and most fabulous best friend Tatsuko Hayashida, recently and publicly decided to out herself as bisexual, two-spirited, and TG, to all of her second life friends. She did so in a very novel method- a group IM to everyone on her friends list, and a change to her 1L profile to point this out, and to point to me and this blog. This may be a TG outing first. It's also IMHO a very brave and direct way, and one that is only possible in a social network system such as SL. I am proud of her for it, and for her.

Tats and I have known about each other since very early on, she was direct and honest with me right away, and I've had my TG Pride flag and tg identity declared on my 1st life profile tab since pretty much my 1st week in SL. She has always been the most amazing and beautiful woman, and has never failed to make me feel like the lady I am. Our love for each other was and always will be legendary. Tats is a very sensual woman, many of you know her from all the time she worked and managed at the Kitty aka Brew, and then on to found Anarchy. She is incredibly outgoing and I'm sure has a *massive* friendslist.

We had talked quite a bit about why I am so Out and direct- much of this has to do with lessons of Pride and community that I've learned over the past 10 yrs. It's about not being invisible any more. When we're invisible we're feared, misunderstood, ridiculed, and excluded from the communications and the community. If someone I get to know, knows directly and up-front, then they are likely to not only think "wait I have a friend like this... what would she think about this conversation?" but in fact help raise awareness overall. I can speak freely, and publicly, as a single member of a large and mostly silent community- but we're ending that.

We also talked about the problems and fears around being Out. The friends and family that we can lose, the misunderstandings and nuance and details that our friends and family suddenly have dropped in their laps. This is not an easy time for everyone, there's a lot of misunderstanding, partial-truths, and bad information out there. Not all of these tales end happily- some people just can't handle the truth.

Relationships grow and mature at faster paces in Second Life than they do in "1L". Case in fact: Only a few months after Tats and I decided to call it off between us, I actually officiated the wedding between Tats and her subsequent wife Amber (Peas). I learned to love them both and trust that they would be great together faster through SL than I would have otherwise. Likewise, relationships between avatars, while feeling the same intense emotional cycles, move through them faster and we learn understanding and new growth faster, simply due to the immersive situation that we use for our avatars and communication. We can express ourselves in multiple dimensions simultaneously, as well as absorb them multidimensionally as well. This has affected our friends' ability to adapt to new situations- they can absorb, react, interact, and gain better understanding *faster*. The addition of the web/blog media around us makes this immersion more thorough and efficient.

In the end, I'm proud of Tats, and so happy to have an out sister waving the flag with me. You, and all of our friends through the TRC, earn a major curtsey from me, and I hope to see a lot of us at Pride this year- let's show the grid that we're here, most of us are pretty queer, and most of all, we're Proud.


Wednesday, May 16, 2007

What does being Transgender in Second Life Mean?

Transgender is such an overloaded term, and interpreted by many people in so many different ways, that it's worth an investment of time to explain what I mean by the term "Transgender in Second Life".
First, let us examine what wikipedia has to say on the topic. "Transgender is the state of one's "gender identity" (self-identification as male, female, both or neither) not matching one's "assigned gender" (identification by others as male or female based on physical/genetic sex). Transgender does not imply any specific form of sexual orientation" (Bold and Italic highlights added by myself)
To clarify - Gender Identity "describes the gender with which a person identifies (i.e, whether one perceives oneself to be a man, a woman, or describes oneself in some less conventional way)".
Put simply, to feel or express oneself *in any way* - dress, mannerisms, up through physical body modifications, other than what is expected by society based on one's birth gender, is Transgender. Transgender is an inclusive term that covers a very broad set of subcategories, from Crossdressers, Transvestites, Drag Queens, Genderqueer, Transsexual, and a million shades of grey in between. It is not a term reserved solely for people who have such strong needs to change their body that they go through Hormone Replacement Therapy and Sexual Reassignment Surgery.

Note: expressing oneself as Transgender *in any way* in our First Lives takes incredible bravery, or desperation, or both. Generally, only someone who cannot live without it will go through it, because of the massive public revulsion, ignorance, fear, and hatred associated with this massively misunderstood category of people. Transgender people are regularly disowned from their families or had their children removed from their homes, fired from their jobs, refused housing, refused medical treatment, physically abused, and tortured and killed with no notice or care from the public or authorities. The struggles for basic Human Rights, much less acceptance and understanding, have not progressed very far even in these supposedly very liberal times. In the United States, only 10 states include language inclusive of Gender Identity in Hate Crimes legislation. Only 5 States include Gender Identity in anti-discrimination legislation. Because of this, an incredible majority of people who are driven to express themselves as another gender are forced to completely hide their needs or desires for fear of any and all of these repercussions. We are usually referred to as imposters or posers or liars. In the best case, we are ridiculed and made the subject of humiliating and dehumanizing jokes. In the worst cases, we are killed and tossed aside by an uncaring public.

Enter Second Life. Suddenly, an incredibly high number of people who otherwise would never consider expressing themselves as the opposite gender suddenly have been provided a safe, anonymous, healthy way to meet this desire- or in many cases- need, that they never would have otherwise safely had. Now, with the entrance of voice, and now identity verification, the potential for public exposure and outing of one's Second Life gender identity (freely self-chosen) and having it associated with one's "assigned gender" (society's expectations of us) becomes an incredibly high risk. For anyone that is frightened by this, or would choose to hide closeted again, or lie and feel ashamed again, this is not a joke or a subject to be taken lightly. Families, careers, and lives are at stake here.

Because of the negative connotations of the Transgender term, the vast majority of people that I would include in my definition of TGs in SL would absolutely deny that they are part of that category- and that is their perogative, as Gender Identity is *SELF* chosen. And absolutely NO ONE ELSE can define for you whether you are "really transgender" or not- the very thought is ludicrous, as there is no test for transgenderism, and no one can actually read your mind and know your heart's hidden desires. I would simply point out that these are real people expressing themselves in real ways with real (though digital) identities that are critically important to them, and that the Transgender definition and community certainly includes all of them, if they so choose. One does not have to actually physically crossdress, or be public about your feelings, or go through the costs and perils of transsexualism to be a part of this community.

If you or someone you know or love is facing this fear, there are groups of us out here looking out for you and will happily join you in solidarity and support. You can continue to enjoy your Second Life in anonymous privacy and still join private support organizations and gain understanding and a willing ear - and when needed, a shoulder to cry on. There is a HUGE diversity in this community, and all of us have different stories and background. The vast majority of the TG community that I know is completely closeted in First Life and would never even consider admitting their desires or needs- for precisely the reasons I outlined above. I and my friends understand this, and I aim to be public enough to have more people understand and end the humiliation and abuse, and to continue to help all of you.


Thursday, March 1, 2007

The Crisis of Voice

Well I knew it would be coming, though I didn't expect it so soon. SecondLife is going to support voice chat, like did some time ago. I wasn't sure what I thought of the idea at first. SLFountain wonders what it means to transgenders in world. I asked one of my dearest friends last night how she felt about it, and her one word answer "Terrified" woke me up. Terror- a feeling I've understood well over the years.
The public typically find the situation amusing - Erbo Evans, an intelligent and progressive scripter who I admire off-handedly remarks "but all those guys playing as female avatars must be quaking in their boots (or stiletto heels, as appropriate :-) )" With all due respect, Erbo, it's a little worse than quaking.

In the CNet article about the voice feature, my friend Noche, editor of Pixel Pulse magazine, "is concerned that some people are not ready to divulge their real-life gender"- and that is very much the truth. The impacts to outing ourselves are massive, and the constant feeling of rejection from a non-understanding public eventually wears the most positive of us down.

For many of us - the TGs in Second Life - it really does mean an end to an era, where we can truly immerse ourselves in our chosen gender expression, and it feels natural and our entire avatar *is* our entire expression of ourselves in this new world. Now if we choose not to participate in voice, we are cutting ourselveLinks off from communication, and we'll be percieved as hiding something (again), and the shame can settle back in - and with it the depression, and with the depression...

Jan, a Transsexual resident replies to the Linden Blog that:
"This announcement is the beginning of the end for me and i’m scared…
For a fleeting moment i knew happiness. Now…..Goodbye SL and as i cant see a way out….possibly goodbye RL"
Here is another TG frightened by this move in the comments of the same post.

The internalization and shame of 1st Life transgender expression are literally killing us. Human Rights Office reports "the rate of attempted suicide among transgender youth is estimated at 50 per cent" . You find suicide all throughout our tg culture- it's especially visible with our youth. In the 8 years since I came out "In RL" I have seen 1st-hand the rate of depression and further suicide attempts in adults, should we survive our attempts in our youth. Because of my very "out" and public profile for my avatar I have been contacted privately by many many transgenders in SL and I can say with confidence that it saves lives. I know dozens of people for whom it has been a literal lifeline- myself included.

Being outed as a transgender person also raises fear and even hatred from a non-understanding public- we know this well, thank you very much, CoolKama. November 20th each year we remember those transgenders that have been violently murdered thanks to that hatred. This is also terrifying. Will you hate me so much that you'll track me down and kill me because I dare be public and out and proud? That I have embraced SL and within it I have found a Better Life?

So what can we do about this crisis- those of us who are transgendered, and all of the people around us who do love and support us? Many things. Encourage your friends to understand this as well.

We can support each other and continue a lot of the immersive Second Life experience we've known and loved on non-voice sims. Certainly on my roleplay sim- which is grandfathered at the old tier level - will not be paying extra to add a feature that separates our communication, and detracts from the immersion. Ask your island sim-owning friends to also keep their land voice-free. Renters and buyers in the islands, ask your simowners to keep your land voice-free as well. If they disagree, vote with your feet and move. I do predict that voice-free will be a *feature* that is valuable for a large contingent of residents. Ordinal, as always, has a wonderful and positive way to express her concerns about voice, and is positive about *not* using it.
We can reach out to and support each other. Join the Transgender Resource Center group and come to the open houses and support meetings. Yes, we do have many "friends and family of" members as well who help and support and love us who join. (SLURL to the TRC) Pay attention to each other- make sure your friends are okay, and if you're one of us who suffers from depression, make sure you're getting effective help.
Also, windows users can certainly use voice filter software that is *somewhat* effective. Several packages that I have looked into actually seem fairly promising, including AV Voice Changer and MorphVox Pro, but I do hear mixed reviews of the success of these products, and unfortunately cannot find anything for Mac. Any suggestions from readers welcome!

To be continued...