Category Archives: disability

Beyond Human: The Heaven’s Gate Cult, Transhumanism, and Me

A selfie with one of the Heaven’s Gate (post-mass suicide) photos, as shown in John R. Hall’s excellent 2000 study on new religious movements, Apocalypse Observed.

[Originally published on Disability Intersections on  March 21, 2014.]

Heaven’s Gate was an American UFO religious Millenarian group based in San Diego, California, founded in the early 1970s and led by Marshall Applewhite (1931–1997) and Bonnie Nettles (1927–1985). On March 26, 1997, police discovered the bodies of 39 members of the group who had committed mass suicide in order to reach what they believed was an alien space craft following the Comet Hale–Bopp, which was then at its brightest.

–From Wikipedia’s entry on Heaven’s Gate (content warning on link for description of suicide and photos)

I’ve been fascinated with the Heaven’s Gate cult ever since I saw–as an 11 year-old–a huge photograph of the members’ dead bodies, apparently peacefully posed on bunkbeds,  on the front page of my local paper, under the rather alarmist headline (and all-caps) headline HOUSE OF HORROR. As I picked up bits and pieces of information on the group that the news media breathlessly reported throughout April and May of 1997, I began to wonder if the “house of horror” headline was overblown; yes, these folks had committed mass suicide, but they had also found people to whom they could relate and live with peacefully (albeit in a fringe religious group). Was that so horrifying? To most people–and to the media–it seemed like the answer was a resounding yes.

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raindrops

rainisapain[Description: Two-panel line drawing of a rainstorm. In the first panel, text on top reads "Other people see rain..."; the accompanying illustration shows a happy person wearing a raincoat and saying "Good thing I have my raincoat!" The second panel has top text as well, which reads "I see rain...", and this panel's illustration shows the cartoonist standing in the same rainstorm, with knives of varying sizes replacing raindrops. The cartoonist's speech bubble reads "SHIT" as straight lines on both of her shoulders signify intense pain.]

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Quick update: My work, elsewhere

Hi, readers! I know I’ve been neglecting ye olde blog (and hopefully I will start to do better on the whole “updating it regularly” thing soon!), but I wanted to draw your attention to a couple of things in which I have been involved lately:

Last week, I wrote a guest post for Tiger Beatdown on Lars von Trier’s 2009 film Antichrist, and how it relates to the pop cultural depiction (or lack thereof) of depression and pain, women and emotion, plus the unintended backlash that the expectation of “strong lady characters” has wrought. Go and join the discussion if you feel so inclined. Content warning for discussions of some graphic violence that the film depicts.

s.e. smith and I recently wrote an article (on disability culture on the internets and online feminism, naturally) for the latest print issue of Bitch Magazine, which is currently available for purchase or download. I also did the illustrations, which is kind of (read: EXTREMELY) exciting for me. We were interviewed at length by Kjerstin for the Bitch Radio podcast as well. Hooray!

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Self-Perception vs. Reality

[Description: Four-panel cartoon; first panel is labeled "Self-Perception and features a line drawing of Annaham happily gobbling pills while excitedly saying "PILLS!"; the other three panels come under a heading that reads "Reality." The second panel features Annaham grasping a bottle of pills in one hand and a single pill in the other; a thought bubble reads, "If I take this for pain, does that mean I'm an addict?" The third panel depicts Annaham with a worried/pained look on her face, plus a thought bubble that reads "OH FUCK." The fourth panel pictures Annaham lying on the ground in obvious pain as tears flow from her eyes. A thought bubble reads, "If I take pills, I will become addicted. WILLPOWER." The text at the bottom right of this image reads "5 minutes later."]

Variation on a theme. Click for a higher-quality version; I’m not sure why WordPress shows the image as horribly pixelated and I can’t seem to fix it.

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Makeup post: Urban Decay 24/7 Eyeshadow Pencils

[Description: Photo of four eyeshadow pencils of various colors.]

I need to take a moment to rave about Urban Decay’s 24/7 Shadow Pencils ($20 US) and how fantastic they are. These are basically eyeshadows in pencil form, and I’ve found them extremely useful, but perhaps not for the reasons you’d imagine.

As most readers of this blog know, I have moderate to severe chronic pain and fatigue issues due to fibromyalgia. Cosmetics, for me, are usually not an “everyday” thing (save for lipgloss or lipstick, because those take about 15 seconds to apply if I’m not doing anything fancy) because of the time that it takes me to do a “nice” makeup job. More often than not, the time it takes for me to do “nice” makeup translates into lost energy and/or more pain. Pain due to repetitive motion is one of those things that is outside the realm of most abled peoples’ experience, but on my bad days, putting cosmetics on–and screwing it up, and more often than not having to start all over again–can be physically painful. And yes, some people may be thinking, “Yeah, RIGHT, putting on eyeshadow can’t be that painful!” For me, though, it can be, and I’m sure a lot of people with fibro would say something similar. Just try putting on makeup when your arm feels like it’s been weighted down with a huge piece of iron. After a certain point, it just doesn’t feel worth it anymore, particularly if you’re in a lot of pain and yet you keep making mistakes with makeup application because you are in pain. Parts of it seem very chicken/egg.

Enter the UD 24/7 pencils. One or two swipes of the pencil is all it takes, and the actual shadow component of the pencil is large enough that it’ll cover your entire lid (downside: can lead to some imprecision). Granted, these aren’t going to completely prevent pain from repetitive motion, but the one or two swipes and you’re done thing is a huge improvement over having to apply eyeshadow primer, then apply shadow with a brush, then do it again if you screw up, then clean the brush(es) after you use them, et cetera. I haven’t tried blending these yet (and once I do, I’ll write about the results), but I will probably end up getting a few of these because they are awesome. I have the one in Sin (a very shimmery pink champagne/beige shade), and would like to try Barracuda (black with silver shimmer), Delinquent (shimmery eggplant purple), and Mercury (gunmetal gray). If you have chemical sensitivity issues, I am not sure if these would be appropriate given the list of ingredients (scroll down the page for ingredient lists; each pencil may contain different pigments and such).

In short, these things are awesome, and I highly recommend that you give them a go, if you’re so inclined.

[A slightly different version of this post appeared on my Tumblr.]

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Blast From the Past: The Secret (and how much I loathe it)

[Introductory note: This was originally published on my old blog on March 10, 2007; because I am nothing if not a complete and total buzzkill, I think it's worth re-archiving here, particularly since "new age" thought has a pretty strong foothold in Western--and particularly North American--culture. This sort of magical thinking still has a strong grip in many folks' consciousness, even given the recent economic downturn; maybe I'm just naive, but I find the fact that some people can still be all ~*POSITIVE THINKING*~ and/or YOU GET BACK WHAT YOU PUT OUT even amidst widespread economic chaos and a brutal job market extremely surprising, and pretty sad.

Then again, realistic thinking has never been America's strong suit, particularly amongst the privileged classes. The following post has been slightly edited for clarity. I have since written quite a bit on "positive thinking" as a means of social control, mostly at FWD: The Negative Side of Positive Thinking; Book Review: Bright-Sided; Just. For more information about precisely how harmful "positive thinking" can be when taken to the extreme, I highly recommend this blog post by Dr. David Gorski at Science-Based Medicine, which covers the Kim Tinkham case in detail (content warning for discussion of cancer).]

I just watched the latest and supposedly “greatest” in the self-help/marketing peoples’ insecurities back to them market, The Secret.

I sort of want that 90 minutes back. Now, before people start jumping on me and calling me negative, skeptical, bitchy, et cetera, let me assure you: I am, indeed, all three of those things. I tried to watch The Secret with an open mind. I really, truly did. But, I have to say, besides some of the stuff about visualization*–which I have thought of as a powerful tool for a while, and, at times, it has absolutely worked for me–I simply was unable to get on The Secret bandwagon.

I don’t know what it was that made me so hostile to the entire thing. Was it the overproduced “dramatic” re-enactments, some of which look very familiar to even a casual viewer of the History Channel? Was it “Dr.” Joe Vitale, Metaphysician,** who contends that ALL of the bad circumstances in your life come to you because of, well, you and your horrible, horrible negative thoughts? Was it Lisa Nichols, who was one of four women interviewed (out of 16-17 people) and one of two people of color interviewed? (She seemed to be the most sincere out of all of the “Teachers” interviewed, which endeared her to me quite a bit.) Was it the many shots of people from Other Lands, smiling and laughing, and getting fawned over by the “Teachers” due to their “natural” ability to Make Do With What They Have? Was it the completely oxymoronic focus on using The Secret to gain material things, money and houses (focused on after the many shots of our friends from other lands)? Was it the bizarre assumption that everyone watching the video wants the same damn things? Eeeek!

Then I reread this fantastic article, which outlines some of the problems with The Secret, and how Oprah, unfortunately, has basically adopted it as her credo and is trying to get her viewers to do the same. If it works for her, great. However, one thing that has bothered me about Oprah’s unquestioning acceptance of The Secret is this: It reinforces the great American trope of pulling oneself up by one’s bootstraps. AKA: If Oprah/some disadvantaged person has become successful, then you can, too! All you have to do is think positive thoughts!

There is, of course, a lot more to it than that. I’m all for thinking good thoughts, but it is the denial of reality and various systems of oppression that make this position worse. Racism, for example, is one thing that is consistently denied as to its very existence. I have news for you, folks: Racism still very much exists. I can certainly create a non-racist America in my own mind (and let me tell you, it is awesome), but to see it in front of me is going to take some major societal changes. And it’s the same with sexism. And homophobia. And ableism, and classism, and all of that other fun stuff. “Creating your own reality” only goes so far–eventually, you will run into a structure that is bigger than you, and oftentimes, these structures are oppressive and hurtful to many people. I’m sorry if that sounds “negative,” but it is true for a lot of us. Not many people can conveniently ignore these structures in order to “think positive.”

Bad things are going to happen. Bad feelings happen. That is part of life. One of the Noble Truths of Buddhism, after all, says that life is full of suffering. Of course it is, even though it is also full of Great Things. To deny this is to deny an actual, authentic life. And I have to say, I feel sorry for anyone who shies away from feeling the full spectrum of emotions because they think that “negative thoughts will attract bad things,” (one of the claims espoused in The Secret). Yes, negative thoughts suck. They make us feel bad. But trying to be aggressively “happy” is not only potentially dangerous, it’s Pollyanna-esque and annoying.

[*Visualization, however, is one tool that I really, really like, mostly because it forces me to use my imagination and is quite fun. It's nothing new, however; various self-help gurus have been promoting this tool for years. Even if it doesn't work, it's still fun, and, unlike some of the professional bullies who harangue you for an hour and a half in The Secret, it (most likely) won't make you feel bad about yourself.]

**I kid you not; this was listed as his actual professional title during the video. When I grow up, I wanna be a Metaphysician!

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