Tag Archives: internet

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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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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Go educate yourself (please!)

Image description: A shocked-looking cat perches on a chair, staring straight at the camera. Text reads: Concerned cat is just looking out for your best interests when she says that your tone might be alienating well-intentioned potential allies who just need a little polite education.

[Image via Tlönista in this comment thread at Flip Flopping Joy.]

One unfortunately common response to marginalized people saying that there’s a problem is the “Educate me NOW” demand from “well-intentioned allies” who totally mean well, but they just lack education on these issues and so just can’t understand what the fuss is all about.

I am using the following example not to appropriate from the awesome anti-racist work that Jessica Yee and the fabulous Racialicious crew (and countless bloggers around the web!) do on a daily basis, but rather for two specific reasons: 1.) I have already talked about my personal relationship with this oft-used derailing tactic rather extensively, and could probably talk about it ’til I’m blue in the face; 2.) anti-racist activism and disability activism are not completely separate, independent social justice strains — many of us who are involved in these activist projects are, in fact, fighting similar (though NOT completely analogous) battles. For me, claiming an identity as a feminist disability activist has entailed doing my best to fight racism and white privilege alongside fighting for disability rights. This is because disability and race intersect in many, many ways — sort of like how disability and gender, and race and gender, intersect. In other words, this is not just a disability issue, or a feminist issue,  or a trans* issue, or an anti-racist issue; it affects many of us in the social justice blogosphere, if in differing ways.

The “educate me now because I want to learn, marginalized person!” response played out, yet again, fairly recently in the comments to a post on Bitch authored by Indigenous activist and writer Jessica Yee. Jessica had written a post on white hipster/hippie appropriation of native dress and why it’s not only ridiculous, but racist. Makes sense, right? (If it doesn’t, you might be at the wrong blog. Or go read this. I don’t know.) Overall, this piece seems like it would fit right in on a website for a magazine that is dedicated to showcasing “feminist response[s] to pop culture.”

And then the comments started rolling in, and so did the “but you have a responsibility to educate people who mean well!” trope:

I’m sure this is in fact extremely annoying. However, you might consider that when people bring that up, they’re not saying, “Hey I’m just like you and I totally understand what you deal with,” they’re trying to make a connection and learn something. Ignorant people are a pain in the neck, but they’re mostly not trying to be ignorant on purpose.

I‘m merely suggesting that if this is a cause you deem worthy of championing, then you should have a prepared source of information for them—be it this blog, book titles, or documentaries. Encourage them to learn more about THEIR history and perhaps you’ll draw a new soldier to your army.

It seems somewhat contradictory to put stickers on your laptop that indicate a Mohawk heritage and then rudely dismiss a stranger who expresses an interest in your advertisement. Perhaps a better way to accomplish your agenda (whatever it is) would be to engage in polite and open-minded conversation with those who mistake your stickers for an invitation.

Thea Lim at Racialicious pretty much nailed it in her recent post on what went down, entitled “Some Basic Racist Ideas and some Rebuttals, & Why We Exist” (which I highly recommend that you read in full, by the way). An excerpt:

This kind of hey-let-me-help-you-achieve-your-goal-by-suggesting-you-be-more-radio-friendly response totally misunderstands (and appears disinterested) in the anti-racist project, because it assumes that anti-racism is all about convincing white people to be nice to people of colour.   In other words, it assumes that anti-racism revolves around white folks.  Like everything else in the world.

Anti-racism and people of colour organizing is not about being friendly, being appealing, or educating white folks. While individual anti-racist activists may take those tacks to achieve their goals, the point of anti-racism is to be for people of colour.

I completely agree with Thea here — and I believe something similar applies to disability activism. That is: Those of us with disabilities are not here to make abled people feel comfortable, to hold their hands as they have a Very Special Learning Experience (most often, it seems, at our expense), or to make them feel good about themselves. I, personally, don’t care how “good” your intentions are, or that you reallllllly wanna learn, or if you think I’m being mean by not dropping everything to educate you when you demand it.  While I definitely don’t want to speak for Jessica, Thea, or any of the Racialicious contributors — or for people of color who do anti-racist work — I suspect that they may feel similarly about white people who come into PoC, WoC or other anti-racist spaces and demand that whoever is doing the activist work must halt whatever discussion is going on and educate them, now, because they are good “liberal” white people and have such good intentions, and you PoC want white people like me as allies, right? And if you don’t drop everything and rush over to educate me, well, you’re just a big meanie who must not want my support after all (such “support” is often conditional, and based upon whether the marginalized person can make the non-marginalized feel comfortable at all times), or you just want an excuse to be racist toward white people! Or some other ridiculous thing.

For me personally, the willingness that I “should” have to help well-meaning folks learn is also an energy issue. I am a person with disabilities, several of which I have written about at length on this website — and one of which is a pain condition subject to flare-ups. Thus, I have to manage my time and energy extremely carefully. Having to explain basic concepts over and over again to strangers on the internet because they’ve deigned to tell me that they “want” to learn — and some of whom may think, by extension, that they are somehow entitled to my time and energy — takes work. Writing takes work; additionally, a lot of bloggers do the blogging and responding to comments thing for free, on their own time.

And sometimes, those of us with conditions that intersect with our ability to do this work end up burnt out, frustrated, or we lose our patience. Though these end results are often nothing personal, they might read like it, and we end up paying the price energy-wise only to have that person who realllllly wanted to learn petultantly respond with something like, “You must not want to educate me, then, if you’re not up to answering all of my questions!” and leaving in a huff. But they reallllly want to learn. . . that is, if someone else does the brunt of the work for them and/or gives them good-ally cookies for just wanting to be educated about all this social justice stuff. Merely wanting is not enough; you have to actually follow through for your good intentions to matter.

There is, thankfully, a solution to this problem: those people who say, or comment, that they realllly want to learn must take responsibility for their own learning. There are several ways that this can be accomplished, among them lurking on blogs for a while before one starts commenting, reading a site’s archives (and most sites have them!), picking up a book (or two), reading articles online or off. Certainly, there are a lot of things that are privileged about this assertion; of course, not everyone has the time to read about social justice, lurk on blogs, or take similar steps. But what is also privileged is the putting the responsibility for your own 101-type education onto someone else — someone who might not have all of the energy, time and patience that you might.

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Balancing Act

[Cross-posted from my Tumblr, which features a lot of things--like, for example, pictures of puppies and YouTube videos of Tori Amos--other than blog posts. Edited for clarity and bizarre sentence syntax, and expanded a little bit. Please try to follow the comments policy.]

This is probably going to sound scattered and weird and nonsensical in parts (I am supertired and tried to take a nap earlier, which did not happen). I would not be surprised if I lost some readers over this. I may regret posting this later. However: It’s important, and it is worth noting that this post is not meant to address one person or group of people in particular, because there have been, actually, several fairly recent incidents (again, spoiler alert, SEVERAL!) that have inspired this post.

I have a major Thing with being told that I am excluding other people, letting them down, and/or not taking them and their needs into consideration enough, both because I know from experience what it is like to be actively excluded in a painful, gross manner (thank you, mainstream U.S. feminism!) and because I have some Personal Issues with codependency (which used to be a hell of a lot worse). And yes, telling people that that they are being exclusionary/inconsiderate can be very useful at times, so my point is not to say that you should never tell anyone that they are excluding you (I mean, look at what happened with the Evelyn Evelyn thing in part because of my inability to shut up and my general verbosity!). And I know it’s going to sound like I am making it All About Me, which I do not want to do, but there are times when you have to put things on the table to make them clear, or at least intelligible. Or something. I don’t talk about my history of major codependency issues very publicly, mostly because I am concerned that a.) it will sound whiny or like I am trying to excuse the times that I have screwed up (of which there have been MANY, by the way, and since I am not perfect, these times will continue!) or b.) showing more vulnerability than I have in the past will just give trolls more ammo.

I just don’t know how to balance my own need for a “safe space” as a disabled woman on the internet with demands that I cover x issue, that I need to work more on y,  people saying that I am not focusing on the right things, or not working hard enough or jumping high and gleefully enough through some rather arbitrary hoops that have been put up, or that I am excluding people. But sometimes there are comments that I do not let through because they make me feel…just off, or they make my pulse go up a notch (is that a trigger sign?). This is not anyone’s fault, of course. I am inclined to blame myself and say stop it, you are being oversensitive. And feedback is something that I find useful. But I have spent years of my life doing many, many things and taking the shit for other people without also considering myself or taking care of myself, and it did not get me much other than chronic pain (I don’t know for a fact that my pain has been caused by this alone, but I’m pretty sure it was a contributing factor).

Here’s my major point: There is more than one way to be a feminist. There is more than one way to be a PWD. In one area of my life, I am attempting to (though not succeeding?) help make a space for as many people as possible while also doing my best. I know that neither intent nor effort “excuse” in any way what actually comes out or happens. There’s got to be a method that respects the many disabilities and the many feminisms out there without placing an unfair burden on any of the parties involved. I don’t know what that method is. Things will collide. Misunderstandings will occur. I am not adverse to this, but what I am adverse to are insinuations that I am not working hard enough, or that I am letting our community down (please remember, I am just one person!), among other things.

Other major point: You don’t know. There are a lot of things that I do not talk about on my blog, for various reasons (including, ya know, privacy reasons). There are a lot of things that you don’t know. There are a lot of facets of my experience that you cannot or do not see.

I am working. You might not just be able to see it, or I may not choose to give you all of the details.

I am listening. Maybe a little too hard.

I am trying to take other peoples’ needs into consideration and work things out, more than they will ever know.

And it’s fucking trite and cliched to say this, but: I am a person, too.

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Blast From the Past: This is Not My Type of Feminism

[Important note: New feature! "Blast From the Past" will feature past posts from my old blog that I think are worthy of inclusion on this one, mostly because I like 'em. This post is from May 2009, so it's a bit old in blog-time, but I think most of the points made are still (sadly) relevant. I've changed some of the wording for clarification purposes.]

There are days when I question whether feminism, as a whole, is welcoming to people like me. Or to people who are not exactly like me, but are still part of groups that have historically been ignored, erased, marginalized, or plundered by mainstream feminism.

This absolute trainwreck of a “discussion”–on mental illness–happened over two weeks ago at Feministe, and I’m still thinking about it. Many (though not all) of the comments on that post are horrific displays of ableist tripe.

I do not understand why some find it so haaaaaard to grasp that disability and ableism are feminist issues, or that disability rights and the rights of people of all genders are connected; I find it equally difficult to understand why some are so dedicated to holding on to the last vestiges of their privilege, even as they give lip service to things like “inclusion” and “diversity.” Neither term holds meaning when used by a certain type “good” mainstream liberal/feminist/et al to describe just how awesome and progressive they themselves are; oftentimes, these words are used to make those in the mainstream feel better about themselves, their privilege(s), and their biases–some of which they just cannot let go.

Again and again, I see comments in several places online that suggest that disabled and other marginalized people, and their experiences, are only good for two things: enabling the “growth and development” of mainstream feminists, and providing abstract (at least to those who have that privilege) discussion fodder that allows various “concerned” fems to do their thing without questioning their own privilege. Both of these have the effect of depoliticizing any radical potential that those who are NOT het white cis upper-middle class able-bodied mentally “healthy” feminists may bring to the table. In a way, it’s kind of like using the ideas of radical women of colorwithout referencing where these ideas come from!–to make a point about your wedding, of all things.

It fucking hurts.

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For your consideration

When I blogged about Evelyn Evelyn for FWD over a month ago — critiquing it from a feminist disability perspective — I got all manner of off-topic reactions, including derails, a bunch of abled people showing up to tell me how things really are and/or spewing their privilege all over the place, and death threats.

When Amanda Palmer got blogged about on Jezebel.com a few days ago, she got an interview with the New York Times…about feminism. She referred to this on Twitter as “life/lemonade!”

So, what sort of lemonade am I supposed to make from death threats? Or from Palmer herself recently making the very existence of disabled feminists into a joke on Australian television?

For the record, I have yet to be contacted by any mainstream press outlet regarding my views on feminism, and my contact info is easily available. I am pretty sure that these same press outlets have yet to contact Lauredhel or Sparkymonster, both of whom have eloquently critiqued some of the less savory things that Palmer has treated us to in recent weeks.

And: cue comments here telling me that I shouldn’t be so invested in getting press or furthering my own goals or anything. Obviously, that’s for famous people only, not feminists with disabilities who don’t get paid for raising these issues (and then get heaped with abusive comments for even speaking up). I’ve spent a vast amount of time thinking and writing about this stuff — and disability feminism, too — but, of course, it’s just a hobby, whereas Palmer has a job creating art, and why aren’t I spending my time on more important disability issues?

Because all of this has affected me in a manner that is deeply fucking personal, that’s why. I am not going to apologize for finally wanting to consider my own bottom line in all of this, particularly when I’ve given so much of my time and energy to this “internet controversy” — only to get hit with what is, quite frankly, a bunch of bigoted crap.

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