August 21, 2015

The Golden Rule, in advocacy and otherwise

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 12:49 pm by chavisory

The Golden Rule isn’t a uniquely Christian stricture. It occurs in a lot of different faith systems and philosophies, in a lot of similar phrasings and formats.

There’s the Silver Rule (Do not do unto others what you would not have them do unto you).

There’s the Platinum Rule (Treat others the way they want to be treated).

But I think the golden rule has a corollary I’ve never heard articulated before. I’m not sure what to call it, but it’s this:

Do unto others as you would have them do unto someone else.

The immediate context of this is that, in the past few years that I’ve been blogging, I’ve run into a lot of argument that some really nasty, callous, and frankly, counterproductive, modes of engagement regarding issues of social justice are justified based on all kinds of factors that have kind of blown my mind and not in a good way.

But I see these patterns play out in much broader ways, as well.

There is a way in which I think people tend to reenact the things that get done to them, and the ways they get treated. Because, unless they just have zero self-worth, the things that people learn are okay for others to do to them, they’re very likely going to naturally interpret to be alright for them to do to others. Because that’s how “the way you treat people” has been modeled to them.

Who then are they going to inflict that behavior on in turn?

You have no control over that. And it could be someone a good deal more vulnerable than themselves.

Unless someone manages to recognize their own treatment as wrong and explicitly, deliberately, continually decides not to repeat it against other people. Which is seriously hard to do when you have no direct counterexamples of what decent behavior is.

So for instance, a thing I hear a lot is a parent saying that their kid is aggressive to others for no apparent reason—pulling hair, grabbing, biting, hitting, etc.

A thing I have to wonder, particularly regarding disabled kids—Is someone else doing effectively the same things to them? Particularly someone more powerful, in a position of authority, under the guise of legitimacy? Under the guise of therapy or education? Are they in a situation in which their own bodily integrity or autonomy can be violated at will by another person and it’s perfectly allowable? Where they can be touched or have their body controlled without their consent, where teachers or therapists can do all manner of aggressive, invasive, unfair things to get or keep their attention?

Then you’ve got a hard case to make if you’re trying to teach a kid “You have no right to do this to someone else. But other people do have a right to do it to you.”

And really, is that a case you want to be making?

The thing is, it’s not just that the ways we treat other people will be the ways they treat us right back. It’s that the ways we treat others, including—probably especially—children, will be the ways that they go treat someone else entirely.

Here’s a story. Once when I was a kid, we had some friends of my parents over for dinner one night. They had a daughter a little bit younger than me. And we’d been told that she was afraid of big dogs, so our big, friendly yellow lab was shut up in a bedroom while we were all outside.

And at one point, I took it upon myself to show her that dogs weren’t really anything to be scared of, and went and got the dog, put her on her leash, and brought her outside.

Total screaming, crying mayhem ensued, of course. It was a shitty thing to do even if I was trying to be helpful. Why would I even think to do such a thing?

Well, because that’s how everyone around me treated me, day and night. Day in and day out. Things I was afraid of or physically uncomfortable with were things I just needed to be forced into. Or compelled to force myself into. Or berated or shamed or even tricked or double-crossed into—all by people with undeniably good intentions. All by people who were totally convinced they were helping.

Why on earth would I think it wasn’t okay to do the same thing to someone else? When adults did the same thing to me all the time and no one objected, and my objections meant nothing?

And maybe it seems like a leap, but I truly think this has application to the kids of civility and respect that I actually believe are important in advocacy, in debate, in difficult conversations and in the ways we treat people generally, even when they’re in the wrong.

Here is something I see over and over in online arguments. If you just keep an opponent talking for long enough, they will tell you exactly what their issue or mental block is with understanding a concept, or giving up a prejudice, or admitting that something being done to another group of people isn’t fair and shouldn’t be condoned. Quit insulting them and just keep them answering questions about their logic holes, and they will take you right to the bottom of their objection sooner or later.

And the frequency with which it turns out that they feel they’re being held to a double standard is pretty stunning—that they feel that something is being demanded of them that isn’t being asked of other people around them, or of another group of people towards whom they’re being asked to change their behavior or thinking. If they’re getting told that it’s not cool to treat other people in the same way that it’s always been acceptable for them to be treated (or still is), and they may have come to terms with that treatment in order to preserve their self-worth, or in order not to believe that someone they care about has hurt them, or because they are justifiably proud of their own accomplishments in the face of unfairness or deprivation…if they’ve had it inculcated that this treatment is acceptable towards them, they’re not just suddenly going to believe that it’s not acceptable towards somebody else.

Changing those beliefs can take a lot of self-forgiveness and self-compassion. Telling someone that they’re unworthy of those things because of their demographic membership isn’t going to get you far, and it probably shouldn’t. It doesn’t shore up empathy for stigmatized or marginalized people just to be told that you deserve that bad treatment instead.

The point is that no one deserves it.

What I see so many of these arguments boil down to is, “But this exactly is how someone else treated people like me and it was okay then, so why is it not now for me to hold someone else to the same standard?”

Because, of course, it was never okay in the first place. It wasn’t okay when someone else did it to them, either. The golden rule, and its silent corollary, have the power to unravel these double standards. It’s not okay for you to treat people in certain ways, and it’s not okay for others to treat you badly, either.

If you’re trying to make an argument that “It’s not okay for you to treat others this way, but it is for me to treat you this way….”

People don’t tend to buy that, for very good reasons, unless they already have terrible self-worth or have been driven really far towards seeing themselves as un-people. (And that should not be what we’re aiming to accomplish.)

Which is one reason why it’s not true that the only serious harm you can do is down a power gradient on some singular axis of privilege. Privilege is practically never one-dimensional. People who are in fact vulnerable in some way that you’ve failed to see or consider are not likely to take well to assertions that their being attacked or insulted is justified on the basis of their disproportionate power. And I really don’t think they’re obligated to.

So whether you’re arguing that it’s okay to call someone an asshole or a piece of trash,

That it’s okay to force someone into a fearful situation,

To control their body, to assert your entitlement to their attention or compliance,

To insult or dehumanize someone. To tell them to go die. To decide that some group of people is okay to be prejudiced against. To mock their identity group for existing,

Based on their opinions even when they’re wrong and offensive, their skin color, their background, their disability, their sex or gender or sexuality, their privilege or your perception thereof…

Don’t be surprised when they internalize the message that the same behavior towards someone else is also acceptable.

And yes, there are people who can’t distinguish criticism of their positions from attacks on their personhood. Just because those people are going to get their panties in a twist whether you’re nice or not, does not make it meaningless how you have actually treated them as people. That some people will make those accusations practically no matter what, does not obligate you to make them true.

It’s not about sheltering the feelings of oppressors, or not challenging members of privileged groups in their perspective and assumptions. It’s not even just about the damage you can inflict on a single person’s soul. It’s that you reinforce messages about how it’s okay to treat people, by how you treat people.

If the treatment of someone else that you’re justifying will force them into choosing between believing “It is okay to treat other people this way” or “I’m not really a person, at least not one who matters for anything” or “I deserve this because of some categorical generalization about a group that I belong to,” that’s a justification I would seriously question in any context.

We shouldn’t be constructing different hierarchies of who it’s okay to do shit to. We should be undermining values systems that say that anyone is acceptable to do shit to.

Whatever you’re thinking about inflicting on another person, consider:

Would I find it acceptable for someone else to treat me this way? Would I want this person to go treat someone else this way, if I have no say in who that might be? No? Then maybe you shouldn’t be running calculations to try to figure out if it’s okay to treat anyone that way. Maybe, probably, it’s just not.

Just changing the direction in which insults, abuse, and dehumanization flow isn’t going to change shit. Stopping it is.

August 11, 2015

Reading Log Revolt

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:49 am by chavisory



Originally posted on parentingthecore:

Parents and teachers of elementary school aged students, I have a confession to make:

I loathe the reading logs my daughter brings home.

So, just to be clear, the reading logs that return from my house, faithfully filled out each week or month — those reading logs are big fat lies.

My older daughter is now in fourth grade. Each year since kindergarten, she’s brought home some version of the nightly “reading log.” Depending on the year and teacher, it’s been as simple as writing down the name, the book, and the number of minutes read (initialed or signed by a parent, of course), or it’s been as involved as a reading response journal that requires her to summarize, or pick out key details, or connect the text to her own life, and to record the number of pages read, time spent reading, etc.

But each reading log comes with…

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July 9, 2015

This Morning No.4 – ‘Sleepyheads’

Posted in Uncategorized at 5:13 pm by chavisory

Originally posted on redstuffdan:


(All photographs artwork and other images in this blog are © copyright redstuffdan and cannot be reproduced without his written permission and consent – All rights reserved)

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July 2, 2015

The Shirt Factory

Posted in Explorations tagged , , , at 4:17 pm by chavisory

Out for a stroll between rehearsal and a show one night last week, I walked a bit further than I intended and wound up lost enough that I was starting to have doubts of finding my way back in time for my own call time.  (I did.)  Happily, though, I stumbled across a place I’d been wondering about, which I’d been seeing signs without directions for…and resolved to go back to explore on my day off.

The Shirt Factory is a charming, and weird, in the best way, multi-use space of artists’ studios, shops, and historical displays, converted from a closed shirtwaist factory in Glens Falls, NY.



Preserved and restored sewing machines line the hallways, some of which were built in the 1910’s and used continuously until the factory’s closing in 1996.


Flashbacks to my time spent working on a show about the Triangle factory fire…



The whole place is quiet, and creaky, and feels slightly removed from time, not to even mention the constraints on space, and light, and quiet that I’ve gotten so used to in the city, where they’re not non-existent, but they are so expensive and hard to find.  I’d like to live somewhere that places like this are more possible again someday.




I put a quarter into this machine just to see what was in it, and got a pin-back button with a shark’s tooth on it… outside this door…


I wonder what this is about….

June 19, 2015

On collecting labels

Posted in Marginalization tagged , , , , , at 2:43 pm by chavisory

The inspiration for this post emerged somewhat tangentially to an incident on Twitter several months ago, in which a pair of parent bloggers decided that publicly posting sensitive and humiliating information about their autistic teenager was a great thing to do for awareness. Plenty of other people wrote or responded to the inciting incident, so I don’t really feel the need to address it much further.

But something else happened in the aftermath that I actually do think deserves to be talked about more.  It’s not even really about autism or disability itself as much as it’s about language deprivation and identity and the denial of minority experiences as genuine.

In a comment on one of the early Facebook threads about this particular series of Twitter posts, I said to this couple, “You need to read up on what exposure anxiety is, and what its effects are.”  (Exposure anxiety isn’t even the central subject of this post, although I do recommend everyone to read about what it is.)

They said that they weren’t interested in anything I had to say. Nothing new. But a couple of other people were, and there was a conversation about what exposure anxiety is and why it matters. One friend said yes, that makes so much sense as to why the kids she teaches are often able to do some things but not others even though they seem closely related. One friend of a friend said “Holy cow, there’s a word for that?? That’s really a thing?!” and started a Facebook discussion herself about having been so glad to find this out.

And it was not very long at all before someone was accusing her in comments of “collecting labels.”

This is a really, really common accusation against people with a diagnosis of some kind. That we’re just “collecting labels,” “collecting diagnoses,” and “identifying too much with a diagnosis,” closely related to “using it as a crutch,” or in contrast to the ideal of someone who “doesn’t let their disability define them!”

But listen, people who make this accusation? People who don’t understand, because you’ve always just felt like a normal person?

You also go through life collecting labels. You also have a whole collection of terminology and shortcuts and vocabulary for thinking about how you work and things affect you.

The difference is, you grow up with a common language for common experiences with the people around you, for the most part. We don’t. We grow up often in a void of knowledge and vocabulary for how stuff works for people like us, and often deliberately deprived of it. (When parents decide to just never tell a kid about their disabilities? That’s what they’re doing.)

We try and try and try to make the language that we have available fit our experiences, trying to meld and forge and hammer language around experiences it wasn’t built for. Or we try to shoehorn our experiences into the language available.

It never, ever quite works, and the cognitive dissonance can tear you to shreds, or leave you feeling unreal in your own life, or like you’re kind of always walking through the world as a ghost.

Or you start making up your own language for things just to have a reference point if only to yourself. (In many instances, I’ve seen it turn out that different autistic people have come up with almost exactly the same language for a certain thing, almost or totally in isolation from each other. Or that even if I didn’t come up with the language, I’ll hear a phrase or piece of terminology and know exactly what it means, the first time I’ve ever heard it, because it describes so well, so intuitively, something that I’ve never been able to.)

I think you don’t actually do less label-collecting than we do, you just get to do it in a way that’s taken for granted as normal, from a much earlier age. I mean, unless you just don’t use descriptive phrases for the things in your life or the experiences you have in common with other people, or what your problems or weaknesses are, that help make sense of those things to you. Do you use any kind of shorthand language to describe your needs usefully to both yourself and others in a way that makes it more likely that you will be able to find some kind of solution or assistance?

That is what gets us told not to “use it as a crutch.”

Your right to learn how to apply language to your experiences is taken for granted, because your experiences are largely taken for granted as real. (The core belief, at the basis of most prejudice about disability, is that it is fake.)

Typically developing kids are widely regarded as having this right. Disabled kids, queer kids, kids who are atypical or exceptional in some other way, are not widely regarded as having this right.

We tend to be much older by the time this starts happening for us in a meaningful way, or by the time the crazy patchwork of scattered fragments of information starts looking like a coherent understanding of why everything is different for us.

Of course we’re thrilled when we start encountering explanations for our experiences that are more accurate, and useful, than stupid, lazy, rude, psycho, freak, immature, dumbass, selfish, stuck-up, incompetent….

Because for as much as some people have a problem with us collecting labels, they don’t seem to have such an issue with giving them to us. It’s almost like their problem isn’t with people having labels, it’s with their own inability to accept that any experience of the world is genuinely different than their own and warrants different methods of coping.

Or that for once they aren’t in control of what other people get called or whether our experiences are taken seriously.

I mean, try picking one thing about yourself, one thing you know intimately from long-term personal acquaintance, either positive or negative or just important, that’s really important to your ability to understand yourself and make sense of how the world works for you. Try imagining that you don’t know any words for that thing, and you never have. And then you find some.

In that moment—spoiler alert—you feel like the richest person on earth. You’re rendered speechless with astonishment, or you want to whoop with the thrill of recognition.

And then someone comes along and goes “Ugh, you’re just collecting labels.”

May 7, 2015

Sleepy birb

Posted in City life tagged , at 4:22 pm by chavisory

It is well-established by now that my apartment has, let’s just say, wildlife issues.

When I kept hearing scratching coming from behind my curtain while watching Grimm, I kept trying to convince myself it was just the wind scraping something against the metal window frame or curtain rod.


[Image is of a gray pigeon nestled between the window frame and my quilts.]

But it was this sleepy guy.

I gently convinced him that maybe the outer windowsill would be just as good.

May 6, 2015

Snow is gone

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 1:24 am by chavisory


Finally.  This was one of those winters I was starting to suspect would never actually end.

(Magnolias in Fort Greene, Brooklyn)

April 30, 2015

When schools hate it when kids read

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 6:14 pm by chavisory


[Image is of the character Gaston, from the Disney film Beauty and the Beast, known for his dislike of girls like Belle reading books, and Belle, whose book he has stolen.]

I used to write more about educational issues than I have been for the past couple of years. Partly due to the fact that as I’ve known more of my own friends who have become teachers, and more parents especially of kids with complex educational needs, my feelings have moderated a bit. So many people are doing the best they can with not enough time or money. Perhaps I’d been too strident. I was actually wondering recently if I might more or less give up the topic. Maybe I was a little bit crazy.

Well, the New York Times has come to the rescue with this story of school districts that require students who opt out (or whose parents have opted them out) of New York’s state assessment tests to sit at their desks and do nothing while their classmates take the exams.

With sadness, I conclude that I was not crazy.

The article details that while many districts have relented to parental pressure and allow test-refusing students to either do other work, read quietly, or go to the library, some are sticking to policies of prohibiting them from doing anything but sitting and staring.

“We were not going to reward them by having them do something that other students may perceive as either fun or more interesting than taking the assessment,” says one superintendent.

Either fun or more interesting than taking the assessment, as in doing other assigned homework or reading a book quietly.

I’m just going to throw this out there, school administrators: If you sound like a villain from a Roald Dahl book, you should possibly reconsider your life choices.

Funnily enough, when this story came to my attention, I’d just been telling a friend the story of how my middle school assistant principal had tried to disallow me from reading at lunch.

It actually started with A., a new student that year, who was sitting at a table behind me quietly reading a book one day, when I overheard her being told to put it away by Assistant Principal Jones. A. complied and didn’t say anything else about it, though I asked her later if what I thought just happened really just happened, and she said yeah, she thought it was really odd, too.

Already a lot of things about the way things were done in this school felt stupid, mean, and unfair to me, but this was above and beyond. Not long afterward, having a book I was eager to finish, and not so much trying to be deliberately snarky but definitely curious as to whether I’d draw the same reaction, brought my book to lunch.

Sure enough, Mr. Jones was along shortly to tell me that I needed to “put that away, young lady.”

It wasn’t a school library book, it was mine, so the objection couldn’t have been that food would get spilled and ruin it, or that I was reading and not eating, because I’d eaten and had my empty lunch cooler to prove it.

And this doubly didn’t make any sense, because Mr. Jones was also the person who, every other day or so, was selecting for punishment whole entire classes of sixth and seventh graders for supposedly being too loud. If we were reading, we weren’t talking, so shouldn’t he be thankful for our not contributing to the noise?

In telling Sparrow the story, I finally figured it out.

He didn’t like us reading because then we were proof that he was just picking tables randomly to punish without a care in the world for whether we’d actually done anything wrong. If we were reading…we were obviously innocent of being part of the discipline or noise problems, and he wasn’t thankful at all because that undermined his excuse-making ability for the bullying and scapegoating he enjoyed. Collective punishment of whole classes was common, and treatment of everyone as guilty was justified because “we can’t always tell who the troublemakers are and aren’t,” but now that was demonstrably not true. And this development was not appreciated.

I know this sounds like childish reasoning, but if that wasn’t what was behind it, somebody else solve this for me, because I haven’t come up with a better answer in nearly 20 years.

(Long story short: Our gifted teacher was enlisted to protest to the principal, and before long there were about five of us participating in defiance, and he actually kept fighting the issue, like we went through two or three rounds of this, but eventually our right to read at lunch without further harassment was established.)

Is it self-evident enough that when school faculty would rather kids actually do nothing than read or be tempted by having to see another kid reading, that something is extremely wrong? I mean I’m just inarticulate at the logic that if they can’t control how you use your time, you won’t be allowed to use it at all…but not disbelieving.

Because the effect isn’t only to not make refusing the tests look attractive, it’s to prevent any kid from showing that they can and will use their educational time more constructively.  And they can’t be allowed to generate any evidence that their time is being ill-used, that they know it, and that they do know how to do better with it.

It’s almost like the people implementing these policies are more interested in safeguarding their own ability to see their students as the problem. Their interests aren’t served by their students’ taking an opportunity to prove that they aren’t the problem, by reading on their own initiative.

Now where have I seen that before?

(I know, I know…somewhere down the line it all comes back to funding. School districts ultimately need kids to take these tests for reasons of funding and school quality rankings.

I humbly submit, though, that when growing percentages of students are saying No, this is not a good use of our time and we’d like to be educated as people, not test scores, that maybe schools should try standing up for their students.)

In point of contrast, my senior year of high school, some new set of standardized tests was introduced for which we were a test group for the state of Missouri, and for some reason that made sense at the time, they had half the class take it in the fall, and half in the spring. This left half of us with nothing to do for four hours a day, for two full weeks. They put us in a spare classroom with only the typing teacher to keep an eye on us, but otherwise left us alone, to do whatever we wanted as long as we could do it in that room and without being heard too far down the hall.

People did homework, or just talked while sitting on the combination desk-chairs in contortions not normally allowed, and I have a vague memory of some Hangman getting played on the blackboard. I finished reading Les Misérables and started and finished The Three Musketeers and I think also some Kurt Vonnegut.

And as much as part of me decried the waste of time that we were required to be there when no one cared what we did, part of me was actually pretty overloaded with AP classes and happy enough for a chance just to read a book which has turned out to have stayed with me in a lot of ways besides being how I passed the time while stuck in a room so half my classmates could take a test run of a test.

I remember The Three Musketeers. I don’t remember one single thing about that test. It’s an absolute blank in my memory.

I’m not making this stuff up, and I wish I were. I don’t actually enjoy being obsessively critical of the American educational system more than anything in the world, but it just keeps going to inane lengths to show that it doesn’t really love it when kids independently demonstrate, like, enjoyment of literacy, or ability to act in their own best interests.

I think it might not be a coincidence that those are things we’re supposed to believe that kids don’t have.

If I can boil anything down from this, maybe something like “If school officials can’t fucking stand the sight of a child reading…there is something else going on, and it’s probably nothing good.”

April 22, 2015

Early spring hike

Posted in City life, Explorations tagged , , at 12:07 am by chavisory

Our weather has been really nasty for a long time, I have had almost no break time over the course of the winter, and my apartment building has been under renovation so I’ve also been in construction noise hell.  I took advantage of a recent day off with halfway decent weather earlier this month to walk 12 miles or so.

old putnam trail 1

The Old Putnam trail in Van Cortland Park turns into the South County trail in Westchester County.  It follows the route of what was the Old Putnam Railroad from Putnam County to NYC.

railroad electric pole

leaving nyc

That’s the end of New York City right there.

south county trail

electric pole 2

Sadly, this route is marred by traffic noise for quite a bit of it, but a few sections are really beautiful and quiet.

I made it to somewhere called Grey Oaks, NY before I was really hungry and starting to figure I should probably make it back to NYC before dark….I also forgot how hard paved trails are on the feet.

Heart tree

April 19, 2015

Life under construction III

Posted in City life at 7:15 pm by chavisory


We got a kitchen wall back.

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