August 17, 2017

Letter to my representative on H.R. 2796

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 1:16 am by chavisory

This is my letter, going in the mail tomorrow, to my congressional representative regarding H.R. 2796, the Civil Rights Uniformity Act of 2017, which you can view here.

Dear Representative Espaillat,

I’m writing to ask you to vote against, and take any action possible against, H.R. 2796, deceptively titled the Civil Rights Uniformity Act of 2017.

From what I understand, this bill was written specifically with the intent of excluding transgender people from protection under existing civil rights law.

While I am not transgender, this represents quite literally a matter of life and liberty for trans people I know and love–a matter of access to employment, housing, and public life.

Furthermore, in this bill’s reliance on a poor understanding of the science of sex and gender–biological sex is extremely complex, and most individuals do not know or have any documentation of their “genetic sex”–it represents a potential invasion of privacy and serious access barrier to anyone at all who fails to conform to simplistic and repressive ideals of what a man or a woman should look like.

I thank you for your time and thoughtfulness on this issue.

August 12, 2017

Equality doesn’t feel like oppression.

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 7:31 pm by chavisory

There’s an expression that has become hugely accepted in lefty activist communities that goes

“When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.”

I wish we would retire it.  It’s always given me the heebie-jeebies and I had trouble verbalizing why for a long time. I’ve had parts of this post half-written for a while, but a cornerstone of my problem with it fell into place, unfortunately, this morning.

 

In the first place, I have never ever seen a good explanation of why it should be true.

I don’t feel safer or more secure at seeing fellow Americans abused and reasonlessly killed by police, or without safe water, or systematically denied educational opportunities, or having their voting rights suppressed, or disabled students of color funneled into prison.

Why should I?

Why should I feel oppressed at seeing fellow citizens treated fairly and equitably? Why? Why should I? Why should I feel oppressed at seeing people with different backgrounds than me well-represented in media? Or having a truly fair shot in the job market or decent housing or not having their children lead-poisoned by their drinking water?

There’s a presumption that achieving that would require taking anything from me that I consider worth having. And I don’t accept that as true.

Maybe you mistake what I value.

Nothing made me more furious when I was a kid than seeing other people treated unfairly and not being able to do anything about it. Nothing. I hated being treated that way and I hated seeing other people treated that way.

I don’t understand why I would look at it now and go “That’s fine.”

What’s true is that the sheer scale and pervasiveness of it has often been invisible to me for much of my own life.

Learning to see it doesn’t make me more okay with it. It makes me sad and rageful and overwhelmed at my own helplessness to just make it stop.

 

Furthermore, I do not trust people who tell me that they know better than me how I feel, how I will feel, or how I should feel.

People who are sure that they know better than I do what is going on in my head or in my experience of myself, that they have greater authority than me to tell me what that is, who won’t take no for an answer about it, have not been safe or trustworthy people.

I have very few actual triggers, and that is one of them. It has almost always been a prelude to escalating manipulation or a ploy to gain my compliance or an attempt to undermine my trust in my own intuition or agency.

It makes me suspect that what you’re actually setting up is a justification for making me feel oppressed or mistreated as an objective in itself, telling yourself that what you’re doing is necessary and okay, and that whatever anger or unpleasantness I feel will just be a natural consequence of “loss of privilege,” and not a reaction to anything you do.

When I see other people being mistreated and then get told “well this is a system that benefits you so you must agree with it,” I recognize that tactic, itself, as abusive and manipulative.

No, no I don’t have to agree with it.

 

This morning, as I was reading the coverage of the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville last night, I encountered this brilliant Twitter thread about how these straight, white, so-called Christian dudes brandishing tiki torches have not the slightest conception of what oppression really means.

And someone contributed that quote to the comments.

And it hit me.

It’s so coddling. I want them held more responsible than that, than just to say “oh this is just what it feels like to recognize your own loss of privilege.” You know what? People have more ability to question their own reflexive reactions than that. These are not toddlers with no ability to take perspective or adjust their sense of proportion.

“When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.”

No, it doesn’t.

No, these Nazi dingbats have no idea what oppression is like.

They have no idea what they are talking about. I will not validate their cluelessness and their false history and their rage at not being the only people who matter in the world like this.

I don’t think we should make their behavior understandable in this way. Plenty of other privileged white guys figure out how to come to terms with their loss of automatic dominance in the world without throwing Nazi rallies. I don’t think we should entrench the notion that this as just what it feels like when you see people who aren’t like you making marginal advances towards true equality.

Especially when these people have been explicitly encouraged with particular rhetoric to fear and resent and even take up arms against certain other groups of people, I think we should really hesitate to call their response just the natural emotional reaction to loss of privilege. I don’t want to give any cover to the idea that this is just what happens when people have to reexamine their place in the social order a little bit.

They made choices here.

It’s not just inevitable.

Unless the freedom to bully and oppress others was the only freedom you held dear in the first place.

July 17, 2017

Allies and alienation

Posted in Marginalization, Uncategorized tagged , , at 3:29 pm by chavisory

The last few years, I’ve spent a lot of time baffled and confused about many of the ways that activist communities talk to and about allies.

Until I realized that what “ally” means now…isn’t really what it meant, or what I took it to mean, when I was younger.

Around 10-15 years ago, in the contexts in which I was involved, “ally” had more of a connotation—or at least, I thought it did—of people or communities who were similarly marginalized making common cause, out of recognition that the prejudices against us worked similarly and had similar effects and implications, and that no one was truly free while anyone was not.

When I started having more contact with communities of activists again a few years ago, I was very shocked, for a while, to hear allies consistently spoken of with such disdain because that wasn’t my experience of the concept at all. I don’t know when things changed and “ally” came to mean something rather different.

Finally I started to suspect that this difference in experience as to the concept of allies may underlie a lot of miscommunication and strife, at least in part…

I see things like this, and I think…we may be talking about different things.

allies

Because when one group of people says “don’t alienate allies,” they mean,

Don’t show any anger or resentment that might be difficult or unpalatable to clueless privileged people. Don’t be abrasive. Don’t raise your voice. Be unfailingly non-confrontational at all times. Never tell me I’m wrong.

And people who claim the identity of “ally,” but behave like that, exist. They do.

But when another group of people says “don’t alienate allies,” they mean,

Don’t perpetrate the same forms of mistreatment, psychological abuse, and bigotry against other vulnerable people as both of you have already been injured by. Don’t recycle those very same dynamics into your own communities and belief structures. You can only hurt and alienate people that way who are already hurt and alienated.

 

I am not an ally*, but yes, I am alienated.

I mean, of course, you shouldn’t be able to alienate allies from their beliefs or support for your cause by not being nice enough because deeply-held beliefs about human rights shouldn’t be based on whether or not an arbitrary group of people is nice enough to you. It should be a matter of right and wrong. If a position on the human rights of a group of people is that easily shaken, it’s not a conviction, it’s just expedient.

So no, you should be able to alienate allies from their positions by not being “nice enough.”

But you can absolutely alienate people from wanting anything to do with you by being addicted to cruelty, by celebrating hatred, by re-enacting highly recognizable patterns of emotional abuse and coercion, by pursuing an agenda of upsetting people for the sheer sake of it, and by an alarming dedication to ends-justify-the-means reasoning.

These are the things that have alienated me from communities that I, at least in theory, belong to. I’ve been alienated by being told that other people know better than me what I think and what I feel and that I need to simply accept that. I’ve been alienated by demands not to use my own critical thinking or judgment or conscience, or to lie about my own life because that would make it more convenient to someone else’s politics. I’ve been alienated by gossip and smear campaigns and hypocrisy. I’ve been alienated by unwillingness to distinguish between missteps and malice and by embrace of the social control tactics of evangelical fundamentalism and outright abuser logic (“the fact that you’re defensive means you’re wrong so just admit it and apologize”).

I’ve been alienated by rules for allies that I can neither follow, nor expect anyone else to, not as an ally but as a human.

If I see women saying they hate men or that men are trash (and garnering social media accolades for it), that doesn’t make me any less dedicated to the equal rights of women. It just makes me profoundly sad. Because I thought we were supposed to be the people who didn’t devalue people for their gender or their bodies. I thought we were the people who didn’t celebrate hatred.

So when I hear you say those things, it doesn’t make me less committed to justice, it just makes me think your values are crap.

These are not issues of niceness to me, but of ethics and integrity and core values.

I don’t actually think I’m a particularly nice person and “niceness” doesn’t mean a whole lot to me. But civility does. Kindness does. Intellectual honesty does. Ethical consistency does. Freedom of conscience and of self-reflection does.

My values are not shaken. But yes, I am alienated.

So I can only imagine how people on the outside, looking at how we treat people and wondering whether they dare wade into engaging seriously with activism or issues of social justice, may feel.

I’m not “worried” about alienating “allies.” I know that the way we treat people has consequences.

I do not believe that the fact of fighting back against oppression, of being angry, of calling injustice what it is, makes us “just as bad” as our oppressors, but I am worried about how we undermine our own supposed values, when our communities turn out to be very, very willing to engage in the exact same modes of abuse and anti-individualism and authoritarian thinking as our oppressors. I think that what we are and are not willing to do matters.

I don’t believe that our rightful anger is hatred, but I see actual hatred being valorized and yes, I worry.

I am not worried about people who only want to be “allies” if it gets them enough brownie points; I am worried about vulnerable people seeking a social justice-oriented community and being told that the price of admission to being a decent person is to accept being treated appallingly.

I worry about who we become when we accept that.

That’s what worries me.

That’s why I’m alienated.

*Yes, of course I believe in working to understand intersectionality and standing against injustice and battling oppression in all its forms, but the designation has acquired too many terms and conditions that I can’t consent to, so I will not use it for myself.

July 7, 2017

Because Medicaid is Investment in Freedom

Posted in Uncategorized at 1:21 am by chavisory

Hi everyone–I’m having a wild summer with not so much time for writing; I’ll be back very soon, but in the meantime, this is an absolute must-read post by Cal Montgomery about what Medicaid means to the lives and freedom of disabled people, and why we must defend it.

Watch Well

People are asking why disabled people are suddenly protesting. It’s not new. The disability rights movement grew out of other movements of people labelled “unable” so it’s hard to date its beginning, but it was well underway at least by the Congress of Milan nearly 140 years ago, when hearing people decided that to be equal you needed to speak and to understand speech and set about stamping out Deaf language and culture.  Although a great many Deaf people reject the label “disabled” that many other groups accept and even take pride in, their critique of “ability” is echoed by every other strand of the movement.

But I’ll tell you why disabled people are protesting right now.  It’s because Medicaid is an investment in freedom.

Filmmaker and activist Dominick Evans said this morning, “I am terrified of the health care bill…. I don’t want to die. I don’t want to…

View original post 2,640 more words

May 18, 2017

Love one another.

Posted in City life, Uncategorized tagged at 2:39 pm by chavisory

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[Image description:  Sidewalk chalk art reads “Love one another.  #HHNY” in pink, blue, and orange block lettering.]

April 17, 2017

Wandering cloud

Posted in City life, Uncategorized tagged , , , at 7:09 pm by chavisory

FullSizeRender 5Easter evening in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, for a friend’s birthday.

April 11, 2017

Dear rally organizers,

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 6:55 pm by chavisory

We need to talk.

Last week, I attended the Rally to Save the Arts in front of City Hall in NYC.

It was a really lovely rally in a lot of ways.  I’d been feeling not great the night before and considered not going, but David Byrne was supposed to speak.  I couldn’t miss that.  It was a gorgeous, sunny day outside, I met up with a friend waiting in line to get in, and I got to wear my “Noncompliance is a social skill” t-shirt.  The crowd was not large, but not bad for the middle of a week day, and there was even a little marching band, complete with drums and fifes, that showed up.

The memorial statue of Nathan Hale looked out over it all.

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We were all gathered on the City Hall steps flanking the podium where city council members and union representatives spoke.

And no one there could hear a damn thing.

There was no amplification for the assembled crowd.  There was a whole bouquet of microphones, but they seemed to only be there to feed sound to the television cameras–there was absolutely no amplification for those of us there in person.

We cheered and clapped when it seemed like we were supposed to.  Somebody tried to get a chant going, but no one could hear well enough to pick it up.  Somebody tried to start a sing-a-long of “Over the Rainbow,” but no one could hear well enough to follow and it fizzled out.

I stood less than 20 feet from David Byrne, but I did not get to hear him speak.

It was particularly, painfully ironic given that this was a Rally to Save the Arts.  At least half the people in the crowd, which included stage managers, musicians, and sound engineers, could probably have set up a sound system for them.

You absolutely need to consult a professional to set up appropriate amplification at your event.  Particularly when we’re talking about the importance of support for the arts, respect for the arts, and how Arts = Jobs (at least, I presume so, but I couldn’t really hear), it’s really…telling, when it’s obvious that you didn’t think to hire one to make sure your event goes the way it’s supposed to.  It’s also a matter of respect for your audience and rally participants.  We took time out of our days, we took off work, we made signs, we went waaaaay downtown.  Which is fine!  Everybody wants to do our part right now.  If it’s important that a lot of bodies show up for the TV cameras, you can say that!  But when we cannot so much as hear what’s going on at an event we came out to support, it kind of looks like you just see us as props.

This is 100% avoidable.

The other thing that happens is somebody did set up a sound system, but super obviously didn’t soundcheck, or doesn’t know how to prevent things like popping and feedback, leading to scenes like the Rally for Planned Parenthood in Washington Square Park earlier this winter, where virtually every time somebody moved on stage, I wound up huddled on the ground clutching my ears in pain while the people I was with asked if I was okay.  Yes, I have more-than-typical hearing for neurological reasons, but I also work in the performing arts, I attend rock concerts on a semi-regular basis without any problem, and I know this is not inevitable.

There are people who do this professionally.  Please find one.  Make sure the message  you worked so hard at crafting can actually be heard.

March 28, 2017

Restoration

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 12:51 am by chavisory

Got to see something incredibly cool this past week.  I’ve been working on a staged reading of a new musical that did a presentation up in Binghamton/Johnson City, NY, at the Schorr Family Firehouse Stage.  Next door is the Goodwill Theatre, which will eventually, when restored, be part of a four-venue performing arts complex.  Our technical director was kind enough to take us on a guided tour.

It was a vaudeville house before it became a movie theater, one of the first in the country to show X-rated films before abandonment in the 1970’s or early ’80’s.

IMG_2216View of the stage from back of the house.  The un-amplified sound from the stage is almost unbelievable.

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Domed ceiling.

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Fly space.

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Old note from the stage manager!

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View from stage.

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Second floor passageway to balcony seating and restrooms.

I feel incredibly privileged to get to do the job I do a lot of the time, but especially when I get to have experiences like this.

March 16, 2017

Coping with the world–yeah, we get it.

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 1:58 am by chavisory

{This post references the comments made here.}

Once, when I was still a stage management intern, I was assistant stage managing a show on which I was having a lot of trouble and just generally felt like I couldn’t keep up. Some of the reasons why I was having such a hard time under those particular circumstances are much more clear to me in retrospect, and some are honestly still a mystery. There were blind spots and skill deficits on my part involved. There were certain ways in which I was ill-prepared that both were and weren’t my fault. There were other factors at play that didn’t originate with me at all. But it certainly wasn’t that I was just being lazy or not trying or didn’t care enough.

I was having a talk about it with the production stage manager one day—I could see well enough even then that she was overwhelmed and unhappy herself—about why I was having so much difficulty doing the job she expected from me, and she said to me something along the lines of:

“You know, you’re going to have to take jobs sometimes that you don’t love just to pay the bills.”

I have possibly never wanted to hit someone in the face so badly as I did right then.

Not just because that was so not the issue. Not just because she was displaying no comprehension at all of how hard I was trying but just hitting some kind of internal brick wall that I couldn’t fully comprehend. Although both of those things were true.

But because… doing what I had to do just to get by, pushing myself into things that I didn’t really want to do because I didn’t think I had a choice… had been my whole entire fucking life for almost as long as I could even remember.

She said it the same way that people had always tended to say painfully obvious things about my own life to me as if they were concepts I’d just never been presented with before:

“Emily, you have to understand that not everyone is like you.”

“Emily, you’re going to have to learn to work with people different from you.”

“Emily, you have to realize that not everyone can do what you do.”

With all due respect: No shit, Sherlock.

I was rather overly familiar with the concept that I was going to have to do things I didn’t love to get by. I’d done a lot of jobs I didn’t love, and I would do a lot more. I’d done a lot of things that were hard and unpleasant and violating just to prove I could or would do anything I had to do. I had done awful things to myself.

And she had decided I was just being snotty and spoiled instead, when actually she just had no idea.

The way I felt in that moment—that violently sinking, helpless, unspeakably sad feeling of hearing your whole life erased in a single instant, in a single arrogant comment, and knowing that nothing you can say to defend yourself will matter—is about the same way I feel when we write intricately and agonizingly about both the internal and external obstacles we face as autistic people, about the injustice and damage of being erased from our own lives, about our rights and choices being made contingent on how well we can just pretend not to be disabled, and someone says something like

“It’s about ability to cope in the world.”

Let me ask you something.

What on earth makes you think that we don’t know that our ability to cope in the world is at issue here?

Literally everything and everyone tells us, without ceasing, that our disabilities are going to affect our ability to be successful, and that we’re just making things harder for ourselves by being different, and that “you have to be able to cope with the world!”

We didn’t just not think of that.

We didn’t just not notice.

We get told every day how much our inability to cope with the world is a problem.

We get told every day how much the things we can’t do are a problem.

We get told every day how we’ll “never be able to make it in the real world if you can’t [whatever arbitrary thing is the issue today].” That “the world isn’t going to change for you.”

We know.

We notice that everything is harder for us.

We notice that we can’t do things that other people take for granted.

We notice that you look down on us for this.

We notice that we have far fewer chances to succeed, and that we have our choices and autonomy constrained because of other people’s estimation of our ability to cope with the world.

We notice when people decide that it’s their place to make things as hard and unfair for us as they think they should be, and the excuse is always that it’s about our ability to cope with the world.

We are the ones who bear all the consequences of what it becomes okay to do to us in the name of our “ability to cope with the world.”  Like deciding that you’re justified in whatever it takes to make us successful in the world in the ways you think we should be …and if that means making us as normal as you can figure out how to, then so be it.

People treat us this way all the time, and we notice.

We get it. We get it like you cannot even fathom.

February 20, 2017

Through the trees

Posted in My neighborhood, Uncategorized tagged , , at 12:54 pm by chavisory

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