Friday, October 28, 2011


At the moment I can't cope with any of my feminine-coded clothes or accessories. I can't even carry a purse. I can't hack anything coded feminine. Everything I wear, I have to question whether it's coded feminine. Everything I carry, I have to question whether it's coded feminine. My slouch as I walk down the street, my stance as I stand on the BART platform, my body position as I sit watching movies beside a friend: is it coded feminine?

All the time – all the time – I am thinking this, and it's doing my head in. I'm worried that it's a manifestation of internalized misogyny that's making me reject “girl stuff”. I'm frustrated that all the subtle coding in the world won't stop me from being read on first sight as female (until I can get my hands on a binder, anyway). I'm despairing at the knowledge that one big bearded guy wearing a skirt is doing more to shatter the patriarchy than I'm doing with every aspect of this obsession that's consuming my waking life, because “person read as male choosing things that are coded feminine” is a billion times more transgressive than “person read as female choosing things that are coded masculine”.

I hate that gender performativity has us being read as one of two options, when I want to be read as something else. I hate that I can't stop thinking about it, no matter what I'm doing. I hate that “male” and “female” are still seen as important categorical distinctions, even as I find them increasingly arbitrary and irrelevant.


I can't stop overthinking my new friendships. When somebody says or does a certain thing, I find myself thinking: This is what a friend does, right? This person is doing friend stuff with me and considers me a friend. How long until I say something so irreparably stupid that I ruin it forever? Or have I finally got this friendship thing figured out?

Without wanting to speak too soon, I think I have a couple of pretty great new friendships going here in California. I've been here just over two months, and there are definitely a few people who seem to regard me as a full-blown friend. It's weird, though, that, at a time when I'm doing better than I've ever done at the friendship game, my tics and stims and awkwardness in casual interactions have gotten significantly worse.

Like, I went to a burger place where I'd never been before. That should be a simple interaction if ever there was one: you order your food, the cashier tells you how much it costs, you pay, the cashier hands you your food. And yet it was excruciatingly awkward. I just couldn't seem to do it right. When faced with conversational awkwardness, some people start babbling, but I BSOD – just freeze right up and forget how to make words with my mouth.

Like, the other night (we'd been drinking), one of my new friends asked me, “What do you think will happen if you let go of your collar? Do you think you're going to float away?” Like, I was getting funny looks on BART yesterday because I couldn't stop stimming. Like, the other day someone unfamiliar with the guide to not touching jokingly grabbed me by the shirt, and thinking about it still gives me the heebie-jeebies.


Shit, I wish I could just switch off sometimes.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Hell: Still Not A Thing

Back in March, I weighed in on the Rob Bell hubbub that was then storming the Christian blogosphere. Half a year late to the party, commenter “everdox” has this to say:

Sadly Rob Bell has made an attempt to contend with the will of God, and recreate in his own mind, the will of man and not God. We do not understand God, therefore all questions of sorts such as: would an all loving God create an eternal hell? Are off limits.

[snip – proof-texts]

Furthermore, read the book of Jude. I pray that God will lead you to a clear understanding of what is happening. Universalism can disguise itself as love all it wants, but is quite possibly the most cunning system satan himself has ever cooked up. Universalism opens the door to living life outside of the ten commandments amongst everything else Jesus talked about, because of the simple fact that we will all be saved.

This is clearly not the case.

[half a dozen more proof-texts]

My go-to blogger on this topic, Mr John Shore, rebuts these arguments more eloquently than I ever could:

“God Can Love Me; God Can Send Me To Hell. But He Can't Do Both.”

What Francis Chan (And His Ilk) Get So Terribly Wrong About Hell

(please read this one, everdox) Is God's Justice Different Than Ours? Hell, No.

So I'm not going to argue from logic and rhetoric and theology why I think everdox is wrong (though I will say, their first paragraph is awfully sad. Questions are off limits? What a tragically, crushingly restrictive response to human inquiry and intellectual activity. Spinoza's doing somersaults in his grave). I'm just going to explain why I, personally, psychologically, cannot possibly believe in hell (hell in the fire-and-brimstone-eternal-torment sense, that is, not the hell of self-awareness). It boils down to this:

Either I'm going to hell, or nobody is.

I've been living inside this head for twenty-wev years. I know exactly how terrible of a person I am. I know that I am totally self-obsessed, that I'm a hypocrite whose actions aren't in line with my beliefs, that I kind of have a soft spot for “Party in the USA”. If the universe is a merit-based operation, then I'ma burn, baby, burn.

“Exactly,” says the Christian right. “You deserve to burn, but because of God's grace you won't.” (Well, they say that until they learn that I'm an unrepentant gay-sex-haver, but since I am now happily and maybe permanently single we can get past that.)

“That's fine,” I say. “We're on the same page re: grace. I suck, but God's merciful. Fantastic. Here's my problem: why me? If God picks and chooses who gets saved, why the hell would God pick a douchebag like me? Why does God's grace apply to me but not to my best non-Christian friend, who is a demonstrably superior human to me in every measurable way?”

“Um,” says the Christian right. “Mysterious ways... beyond our comprehension... faith not works... can we talk some more about how gay sex is totally icky?”

You see, I can accept the part where all people miss the mark. (That's what sin, hamartia, actually is – missing the mark, falling short, failing to measure up.) I can accept the part where God, in mercy and grace, forgives us even though we don't deserve it. I cannot accept the part where God arbitrarily dispenses that mercy and grace according to whim, saving some of the mark-missers and condemning others just for the lulz. God is vast, ineffable, beyond human comprehension; but that doesn't mean that God is a capricious tyrant whose justice is diametrically opposed to human logic and ethics.

I mean, have you ever heard anyone argue for the existence of hell who thought they were going there? People who want hell to exist want it for other people. That right there should be ringing all your alarm bells. The traditional doctrine of hell is self-righteousness crystallized.

It must be nice to have the self-confidence to say things like, “Hell exists but I'm not going there.” Unfortunately I carry with me a constant awareness of my own crapness, so for me it's more like, “If hell exists I am definitely going there.” Since the salvific action of Jesus Christ assures me that I am not going there, hell ipso facto does not exist. Quod erat demonstrandum, verbum sapienti sat est, nunc est bibendum.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

A Guide To Not Touching

America generally is a much more touchy-feely place than Britain, and progressive seminary in the East Bay Area might be the touchy-feeliest place of all. This makes me super-uncomfortable, so I've thrown together a brief Guide To Not Touching for my new friends. Bookmark this page, and if you see me and feel inclined to get touchy-feely, consult this guide first.

  1. No unsolicited hugs. Whether we're in church, doing something specifically hippy-dippy, or we just happen to bump into each other, don't hug me. You're great and stuff – this doesn't mean I don't like you – but wanton hugging is weird for me. You don't French all the friends you run into; I don't hug all mine.

  2. No sneaking up. If you're approaching from outside my field of vision, or if I'm really absorbed in something and haven't noticed you, speak to me. Don't clap a hand on my shoulder. It freaks me out and I have to fight the urge to punch you.

  3. No friendly poking or prodding. I get that some people like to poke their friends in the rib, or punch them lightly on the arm, but that's not a friendly thing for me. I find it aggressive and it sets me on edge. Personal bubble, okay?

  4. NO TOUCHING MY FACE OR NECK. Ever. Under any circumstances at all. My hitting you is a reflex reaction to your touching my face or neck; you've been forewarned, and I admit no liability.

  5. No rubbing my stomach. This means you, Tyler.

  6. Ask. If you want to hug me, ask first. Give me space to refuse, and don't be offended if I do. I do like hugs, but they're quite an intimate thing for me and I don't want them every day. On a very special day, I might be up for hugs. Under ordinary circumstances, “Go Team Venture!” is an appropriate level of physical contact for me. If I'm feeling extra twitchy and anxious, I'll want nothing more than a nice distance-keeping Vulcan salute.

I know it seems strange to you physical people, but this is my deal. If it helps, think of me as a brain in a jar – it's what we'll all be in a few years anyway.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Walking Dead Season 2: Why I Won't Be Watching

It’s no secret that I love zombie movies. Not just the stone-cold classics of the genre, or even the flawed-but-interesting – I’ve gotten entertainment of some kind from the absolute dregs of zombiedom, your Hard Rock Zombies and your Nudist Colony of the Dead; the very words “zombie movie” guarantee my unconditional interest. So I was excited last year when I heard that AMC was bringing long-running comic book series The Walking Dead to the small screen. The wonderful World War Z proved that zombies can be artistically and commercially successful in book form; surely this would do the same for TV. A digestible six-episode first season? Directed by Frank “Shawshank” Darabont? On the network that gave us Breaking Bad? BRING IT ON.

I really, really hated it.

My biggest issue with The Walking Dead season one is that it was boring as shit. Maybe it's my fault for being too well-versed in prior incarnations of the living dead, but nothing about the plot or situation was new to me. I'm not asking zombie filmmakers to reinvent the wheel; just do one little thing I haven't seen before. If you're not doing anything new or interesting with your zombies, then do something new and interesting with the setting or the characters. Unfortunately, TWD failed on this front as well. The show was all about your standard boring white cis dude and his boring white heteronormative family, and because all the zombie stuff was so tedious I had nothing to distract me from the steaming garbage pile of sexism and racism that accompanied it.

Okay, so white dudes have these two totally beloved tropes of theirs, which I call “sleight-of-hand sexism” and “slight-of-hand racism”. Here's how it works.

Our protagonist is a white dude. He is not racist/sexist because he does not use the n-word or the b-word. Our antagonist is another white dude, but he is racist/sexist. You can tell because he uses the n-word and the b-word, and is cartoonishly over-the-top in his proclamations of the inferiority of women/POC. The women/POC are terrified by Overtly Racist/Sexist White Dude, but luckily our White Dude Messiah is on the scene to save them! Racism/sexism is denounced. White dudes feel good about themselves (because they would never use the n-word or the b-word, and therefore they are not racist/sexist). Everyone's happy.

Oh yeah, except the women/POC. You know, the people who have been denied agency? Who have to be rescued by the White Dude Messiah because they are so helpless in the face of oppression? Whose only role is to show how awesome the White Dude Messiah is, because he nobly rescues them from the other white dude?


In its second episode, TWD featured a textbook example of sleight-of-hand racism. In its fourth episode, there was a scene of sleight-of-hand sexism. Both of these scenes, intended to show us how totally not-racist and not-sexist the show is, serve only to accentuate (to those with the slightest understanding of systemic oppression) just how racist and sexist the show in fact is.

Where else is it sexist? Take the opening scene of episode four. Two women are having a conversation. It's not only horribly written (stilted and unrealistic), but it also fails the Bechdel test. It feels like a scene written by the kind of jerk-offs who say they just can’t write women characters (because they see them as women first, characters second).

Where else is it racist? Apart from throughout, what with the foregrounding of our unspeakably boring White Dude Messiah protagonist and the silencing of POC, I actually shouted at the screen in episode six: “OH, WAY TO KILL OFF YOUR ONLY WOC, SHOW.” Of course the show's only WOC was fridge stuffing. Why would I think she could be anything else, in a show written by and about white dudes?

Ultimately, the show's attitude toward people who aren't white dudes is encapsulated in the White Dude Messiah's words to another white dude in episode six: “Your wife didn’t have a choice. You do.”

Say it with me: because she's a woman!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

"Room" For Improvement

Last night I went to a movie theater in Oakland to see The Room. (If you're not familiar with The Room, well, this might not be the blog for you, but this might give you some idea.) I've seen it on the big screen before, in London, but this time was special: writer/director/producer/star Tommy Wiseau, the finest auteur of our time, was there in person. Getting to meet him, shake his hand, get his autograph, and have a photo taken with him is definitely one of the high points of my life to date.

A couple of things struck me about the audience for The Room. First, everyone was exactly the same age – members of the “are you being sarcastic, dude?” “I don't even know anymore” generation. Second, a lot of them were kind of douchey.

When Tommy took questions before the movie, most of the askers – a group, I note, comprised exclusively of dude-identified humans – were out to be as obnoxious as possible, trying to make themselves seem hi-larious. (The dude who suggested The Room 2 should be a zombie movie, so undead Johnny could tear Lisa apart? Bitch, please.) And when it came to the movie itself, things got even worse.

Maybe it's because the cult of The Room hasn't been around as long in the UK, so people are more joyful about it and less vicious, but when I saw it in London the audience riffing was a lot less mean-spirited. This time around, there was just so much vitriol directed at the character of Lisa. I myself am hardly immune to getting carried away in the excitement of audience participation and shouting something I regret a moment later, but the full 100 minutes of dudes hollering “slut” and “whore” was a bit much. There's a fine line between mocking the movie's misogyny (“because you're a woman!”) and actively participating in misogyny yourself, and these dudes were way over the line.

It's a funny thing about fandom: if you were a nerdy kid who liked a lot of music and books and movies and TV shows that the kids around you had never heard of, meeting a fellow fan of these things was incredibly exciting. “Wait, you know all the words to Tommy as well? INSTANT BFF!” There's still a part of me that wants to believe anyone that likes the things I like is a kindred spirit. Certainly I have had and do have some very deep and meaningful friendships based primarily on a shared enthusiasm for MST3K or the Coen brothers or Sharktopus or Ursula LeGuin. Hell, for me a necessary component of a good friendship is the frequent saying and hearing of the words, “You were right. [Venture Bros/Veronica Falls/Community/Margaret Atwood] is AWESOME.”

However, “douche” and “person that likes the things I like” are not mutually exclusive categories, and that's a hard lesson.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Dear "The Big Bang Theory": It's Over.

I hate you, The Big Bang Theory.

I've not always hated you. (I've always criticized you a lot, with good reason, but I've not always hated you.) A couple Decembers ago, when my relationship was falling apart and winter was doing its usual number on me, I marathoned your first three seasons. You've never been a good show as such, but you were an adequate guilty pleasure.

I mean, I was always troubled by your broadness, your reliance on lazy stereotypes, and your tendency to invite the audience to laugh at your characters rather than with them. (NERDS LIKE TYPICALLY NERDY PURSUITS! AHAHAHA!) But I put up with all that for the same reason my queer sisters suffered through five seasons of The L Word: when mainstream representations of people like yourself are so rare, you take whatever crumbs you can get. And also because Sheldon was awesome.

(Remember when Sheldon was awesome?)

Last year, though, you were in serious decline. The twin headlights in the darkness of season four were Mayim Bialik and Melissa Rauch, both criminally underserved as Penny's friends Amy and Bernadette. And now you've completely lost the plot.

You've always kind of mocked your characters, but it used to be in an affectionate way; now it's just outright contempt. It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia this ain't – you're not a dark, edgy show about horrible people doing horrible things; you're a fluffy three-camera sitcom for mindless entertainment, and You're Doing It Wrong.

Look at How I Met Your Mother. It's always been better than you, of course, but the comparison stands because it too is a show well past its prime, coasting on its six prior seasons of audience goodwill. (Again, not like Always Sunny, whose seventh season is completely killing it and, if it continues like this, might just be the best thing to happen to television ever.) HIMYM has gotten lazy and is spinning its wheels, but – ideological problems aside – is still a pleasant, unchallenging watch, because it doesn't hate its characters.

You seem determined to make your viewers hate all your central characters. You've stripped them of every non-loathsome characteristic, reducing them to cartoonish bundles of broad tics, unfunny running gags, and unbelievable interactions.

And you're just so fucking offensive.

I've put up with so goddamn much of your shit. For four seasons I've overlooked your dumb gender essentialist stereotypes, your constant racism, your sneering at nerd culture; and I just can't take it anymore. The four episodes of season five that have aired so far turn the racism and slut-shaming up to eleven, but it's the most recent episode that was the final straw for me. It was so irredeemably loathsome on every level that I no longer feel even the slightest pang of regret in saying:

Fuck you, The Big Bang Theory. I hate you and will never watch you again.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Nerd Theology II: Response to a Response

Victoria of Gaudete Theology wrote a critique of my post Nerd Theology. I'm thrilled to respond, both because the back-and-forth makes me feel like a ~*real academic*~ and because dialogue is essential to any meaningful exercise in process theology (which “Nerd Theology” most certainly is).

“In this tent we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling.”
2 Corinthians 5:2

“[In Heaven] there will be no animal body to weigh down the soul in its process of corruption; there will be a spiritual body with no cravings, a body subdued in every part to the will.”
Augustine, City of God XIX.17

There are two major frustrations I have with human physical reality as we currently know it:

  1. That the human body is so limited. I can't number the times I've wished for a second pair of arms. Or stalk eyes. Or the ability to fly. Or – the most frustrating aspect of being human – the ability to function without needing to waste a third of my life sleeping. (As brilliant and important a field as it is, I don't want to get into disability theory just now; all I'll say is: read The Chrysalids, and don't accept the popular conception of the non-disabled body as normative, whole, and ideal.)

  2. That the human body limits understanding. One of the earliest lessons you absorb with your baby formula is “don't get strung up by the way I look, don't judge a book by its cover” (N.B. If as a small child you absorbed the lesson in exactly this formulation, you are probably a much more awesome person than I am). But grounding my essential personhood in the particular physical body with which I am currently lumbered is doing exactly that. When you look at me and judge me to be a woman, you're reducing my personhood to a socioculturally constructed identity. Everyone, of course, makes these judgments all the time, every day, because we have no way of connecting mind-to-mind, personhood-to-personhood, and really understanding one another.

This is where God comes into it. Victoria points out that the incarnation collapsed the one true dualism of Creator and created; for Christians, this collapsing is perennial because of the Holy Spirit, the aspect of the Creator God that is now a part of us. This universal Spirit makes us one body – it connects us, mind-to-mind, personhood-to-personhood – but in our current physical reality we have no way of truly concretely experiencing this connection. The point of a transhumanist, biotechnological theology is to seek real and tangible ways of exploring our unity in the Spirit.

She's right, of course, to point out that I risk succumbing to Cartesian dualism. (Oh, irony – in seeking to avoid one form of dualism, I get sucked into another.) I suppose her point is that, whatever issues I personally may have with it, our experience as humans unquestionably encompasses the physical realm. I suppose my point is that I believe our experience of the physical realm could and will be radically different without the loss of our humanity.

And I do think the resurrection supports this belief. Jesus' post-resurrection body retains what is awesome about having a physical body (and I do recognize that some things about it are awesome; just because I'm so often uncomfortable in my own skin doesn't mean I don't enjoy good food and hot baths and hugs from those I love), while adding a number of upgrades and bugfixes. Teleportation? Yes please! Ability to pass through matter? Bring it on! The resurrected Christ is arguably the first post-human.