Identity, shame, stigma, and intolerance

I have seen a great number of people in the past few years disavow being a part of a culture or community that they once enjoyed or identified with due to an influx of sexism, nationalism, or other intolerance. I feel like this is a mistake and will only serve to strengthen intolerance amongst the masses, and this is what I’d like to write about and discuss today.

Virtually every person alive on Earth has at least some groups with which they identify. This could be a certain interest or hobby, ranging from music to photography to hiking and beyond. This could be their gender, male, female, or other. This could be a favourite pastime, whether that is sports, video games, or visiting museums. This list could go on for paragraphs and paragraphs. There are the fanatical and obsessive – just search your favourite social media platform for “Game of Thrones” for some decent examples. There are the truly interested and passionate – one of my favourite examples of this is Lazy Game Reviews, a channel on YouTube with enjoyably thorough reviews of old games and computer systems. There are all kinds of people and all kinds of ways to enjoy being part of a group or having an identity that is shared with others. This is typically a very healthy and normal thing for us social creatures.

In the past few years, political discourse has moved towards the more extreme. This has pervaded everyday communication in a way that had not yet been seen in the Millennial generation. The Millennials, in my experience, are generally some of the most open-minded people; however, this leads to a darker side. Just as most Millennials are open-minded towards acceptance of so-called “non-traditional” lifestyles and viewpoints ranging from economics to sex to religion and beyond, some Millennials are open-minded towards violent rhetoric, nationalism, anarchy, and intolerance.

This has sent a great number of the first sort of Millennials running scared from groups and identities that they would otherwise enjoy, because they do not want to be seen as supportive of these views that they feel are regressive. Unfortunately, this may indeed backfire on the ones that want to see the regression stop; when the tolerant leave, the intolerant remain. Let us look at the Southern Poverty Law Center’s report on the horrific 2015 church massacre in Charleston, S.C. for an example. The summary: a young man who was raised to respect all people found a series of blogs and Web sites condemning a race, and was so moved by it that he committed a mass murder of that race. How did these blogs and Web sites, written specifically to influence young minds to become hateful and enraged to the point of violence, end up so highly ranked by a search engine?

One answer is that there are so many communities today overrun with people who legitimately believe in the hate and intolerance spread in such writings. This is in part due to the mass exodus of more tolerant people from those communities. As more people put shame and stigma on something as simple as playing video games – the media claims that video games somehow led sick and twisted Internet trolls to threaten rape and murder to women – less people want to admit to being gamers. This causes a vicious cycle, as the ones left stating they are gamers are the ones who are intolerant. This leads to a form of normalisation of the idea of intolerance amongst gamers; it’s no longer out of the ordinary to think that anyone who enjoys video games might also enjoy threatening or committing violence towards other groups in real life. Couple this with the fact that teenagers have loved, do love, and will continue to love playing video games. Teenagers also want desperately to fit in with groups, to feel a part of something bigger. If they feel that people who enjoy video games should also hate women, that is what they will begin to do.

This could apply to any number of groups. Many secular people in the United States look down at religious people as being “backwards” or “traditionalist”, when the truth of the matter is well over 60% of Catholics and Protestants support gay marriage and homosexuality. Many people view country music as regressive while attitudes, they are a-shifting. The stigma of being a gamer, or religious, or listening to country music comes not from any endemic intolerance, but from the tolerant people from these groups being too ashamed to admit their membership.

The most powerful statement that tolerant people can make in the groups they identify with is the very statement that they are tolerant and identify with said group. Don’t erase your group identities to avoid being identified as intolerant. Show your group identity and tolerance; say out loud that you respect all your fellow humans and enjoy what you enjoy. This is the true path towards acceptance and togetherness.

How trans-people are really people, like all of us

Having spent a considerable and unfortunate amount of time around bigoted people, I came to a rather interesting train of thought that I want to share widely.

Let me start by asking you a simple question: would you treat a woman differently based on whether or not she had an appendectomy performed? What about a man who was born with six toes; would it change your opinion of him whether or not he had it removed? For the vast majority of people, and even the bigoted crowd that inspired this train of thought, the answer would be a resounding no: who are we to judge someone based on a corrective procedure they had to repair a defect with their body?

Okay, now here’s a similar and still simple question: would you treat a woman differently based on whether or not she had her penis removed?

“Stop,” I hear some of you calling. “That is a completely separate subject,” you ration. Why?

What makes the correction of a birth defect involving sex organs any different from correcting birth defects or ailments with any other organ? Are we, as a culture and society, so hyperfocused on sexuality that we can’t accept some people have congenital genital defects?

I have begun to wonder why trans equality and trans rights are even being discussed or even exist; that is like stating we need kidney failure equality or diabetic rights. They are all life-long conditions, involve a part of the body being defective, and often require surgery. What is so offensive, so different, so awful about a person having incorrect sex organs? The fault lies with those people who ‘other’ people who suffer from transsexuality, labelling them and saying they are different or somehow less of a person due to a birth defect.

There have been numerous studies that have proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the brain can develop independently of primary sex organs, and that the brain can and does sometimes end up with the wiring of the gender opposite that with which a person is born. It is not a “mental disorder” in that there is no psychological problem; the brain is that of a man or woman, in a woman or man’s body. Why should it matter what organs they have?

You can argue that reproduction is a factor, and you may even be right for a few years; but there are numerous research programmes being done as you read this to find a way to reproduction for people with all manner of reproductive organ troubles. Transsexuality is a subset of that; but some women are born without ovaries, some men are born with undescended testes, and so on. Why should we treat people who were born with the wrong set of organs any different from people born with any other problem?

The way I see it, the labelling itself – the fact that people who have this “condition” are considered a different kind of person – is the problem. It is a medical disorder akin to spina bifida or cleft palette, not a label or category of people. I would be hard-pressed to find anyone who would discriminate against a person for having cleft palette; after all, it isn’t their fault, they were born that way. Why should we treat transsexuals any differently?

To a final point, some may also claim that you must have the surgery performed to count as a “true” transsexual. This belief is wrong for a number of reasons. In the same way some people cannot have cleft palette corrected – their body may not be capable of undergoing surgery; they may be allergic to anaesthesia; they may not be able to afford the cost of surgery; and in some communities where healthcare is not readily accessible, they may not even know that a treatment even exists. The same factors can apply to a man with a vagina or a woman with a penis. Some of these people are still able to use hormonal therapy (also known as HRT) to correct at least some of their attributes to more correctly fit with their gender and feel better, while others are unable to obtain even that small amount of help. Instead of ostracising them, we should be embracing them. We must begin to acknowledge that we as a society should be caring for those who have real, physical ailments instead of antagonising them.

After all, wouldn’t you want compassion if you had a birth defect? What about a birth defect that perhaps even persisted in to adulthood or even beyond? Open your heart and mind, and show your fellow people dignity and respect.

 

Time moves too quickly

In memoriam of Telsa Gwynne. Continue reading Time moves too quickly

I have many things to blog about and ideas in my queue – a few half-written drafts and one almost finished final copy. But none of that is important right now.

I’m incredibly late in finding this out, perhaps a side-effect of spending the last two months of my life packing to move to a much better, happier place than where I live now. It was reason enough to drop off of some of the places I frequent, I thought, because it’s not like the same people won’t be there when I have finished my move.

But I’ve just learned that Telsa Gwynne has died. Possibly not a whole lot of people who read my blog will know her, but she was quite active in the open-source community when I was growing up. I loved to read her “diary entries“, what today we would call a blog. It was during a re-read of her diary last year that I became inspired to create this blog, and indeed, my musing posts are basically my own version of it. It is directly as a result of her writing that this blog exists, and that I have been able to help others whether it be in FreeBSD, Gentoo, Python, or elsewhere. I am grateful to her and I am quite sorry that I never was able to tell her about it. I had considered it, at one time, but felt it would be silly, especially since I am not very well known yet outside of some FreeBSD circles. Who am I to bother someone whom I greatly respect, with a silly story of a small blog? Regret does not begin to express the emotions I feel from not telling her anyway.

Fare thee well, Telsa. I did not know you personally, but your writing style would betray that in my heart and mind, and those of many like me. You may have been removed from the open source communities you were once a large part of, but your legacy lives on, and will always live on. Your perseverance inspired me. And I give all of my deepest condolences to your family and friends, who will surely miss you more than I ever could.