Free Acts of Kindness

There was this vet who wrote a blog post about fixing up a homeless women’s sick dog but then TOTALLY RUINED my emotional voyerism with excessive displays of modesty.

“I don’t take any credit. And I honestly do not write this story to look like some kind of a hero.”

“It’s easy to puff your chest out when you do something difficult. But this wasn’t difficult.”

“Please don’t leave any comments. Like it if you want, and share it.”

Woah – that’s mighty defensive for a kind deed. What was he so worried about? That all of us selfish, self centered people would feel shamed by our indulgent lifestyles to which he wanted to reassure us “Don’t worry! USUALLY I’m just as selfish as you, this was really a small thing – I’ll go back to eating my slave chocolate later tonight.” (Eating slave chocolate is one of my own vices.)

Thing is, we’re all hardened, selfish little creatures at our core – or maybe it’s just me. Anyway, people who are really able to hold others in the same esteem with which they hold themselves are rare, but we’re going to need more people like that to fix the ways that the world is broken. So, what do those of us do who aren’t there yet?

In about ten minutes, I’m going to go walk out in the street and implicitly tell about ten homeless people that their starvation is less important than my coffee. And, what I will feel most for them is contempt, some level of guilt for my own selfishness. Why do they have to be homeless right outside where I live? Why can’t just one morning go by when I can go get my coffee in peace?

On some level, I think my mistake is not that I am selfish, but that I am able to view their wellbeing as separate from my own. Still, despite my logical perception of the problem, I can’t un-belive my separateness. Not yet, anyhow.

Is it right to give a homeless person a dollar? Jury’s still out, but I know I tend to feel better when I give them one. The reasons I tend not to are often social. I will never give money out if I’m with another person because I’m usually worried they will see me as weak (unless it’s one of my very close friends.)

We have a culture which causes us to be less charitable, which causes people like the vet to feel defensive when they open up about the kind things they do. But, what if it was just ok to brag? What if we allowed that?

Then, the exchange would be different. It would be more like,

“I want to give, but I still struggle with wanting to impress people. By listening to me brag about my charity, you help me be more charitable, so thank you.”

Why YOU HAVE to Celebrate Valentine’s Day

Or to protest it – same thing. Unless, of course, you have genuinely forgotten about it. But, if February 14th comes about, and you have at least one thought “oh, today is Valentine’s day” it’s too late. Now, you have to celebrate it.

Maybe it’s something small, like you look at yourself in the mirror and say “Today is a today to appreciate love, and I appreciate how much I love myself!” Maybe it’s something big, like paint bombing a Hallmark store. The one thing you cannot do is ignore it.

BUT WAIT! Maybe it wasn’t your fault, maybe your sappy coworker gave you one of those little boxes full of those chalky hearts, and blasted Valentine cheer into your brain completely against your will. It doesn’t matter, the damage has been done! You have to respond to it. You are not separate from your surroundings, if the world celebrates Valentine’s day, you do too. It’s like wearing clothes – you cannot be neutral on the topic, because *everyone* is wearing clothes. Either you wear clothes and implicitly support the status quo, or you don’t wear them and make a statement (a commonly executed option in San Francisco.) You can’t say, “Yeah, I’m fairly neutral on the topic of clothes-wearing, so this morning I figured why bother?” The repercussions you will face when you go out in society will demand you take a side.

Similarly, you can “ignore” Valentine’s day, but you will keep getting reminders of it. It will keep needling itself into your brain. And, why do some people choose not to celebrate it anyway? People who choose not to wear clothes generally *don’t like* clothes. Similarly, people who don’t celebrate Valentine’s day tend to *not like* Valentine’s day. Which is fine, but OWN it. Give your coworkers cards with little black hearts on them, with the note “love is dead” on the inside.

Otherwise, you risk being like me on my birthday. I was like, “Yeah, I don’t really care about birthdays. Age is just a number, etc.” and planned to do nothing. But, when the day came around and I felt alone and unloved, and called up my good friend and was like “OH MY GOD CELEBRATE MY BIRTHDAY WITH ME” and she was all “It’s cool, come over and I’ll bake you a cake.”

Anyway, in the sake of full disclosure, this whole post came up because my girlfriend told me she usually “did nothing” for Valentine’s day. I was like, “You have watched every lesbian romantic comedy in the world at least 10 times, and probably 80% of all straight ones. How do you not celebrate Valentine’s day?”

She said she didn’t like feeling obligated to get gifts. I told her sorry, but she was obligated to get me flowers, but they could be cheap cuz I know she’s on a budget. (Hey, I hate to be shallow, but I’m not going to lie. If she’s shows up empty handed tonight, I’m probably going to be pissed.) Alternatively, she could have told me she wanted to protest it and we needed to think of a list of the 10 least romantic things we could do and I would have gone with it, unless it involved coprophagia. That would have been fine. But, a night of sitting around pretending like we both didn’t know it was Valentine’s day? NOT going to happen.

I suspect many people who “ignore” Valentine’s day are afraid they’re not loved. If they don’t get their hopes up for Valentine’s day, they won’t be disappointed – except, inevitably they will. If they really didn’t care, they wouldn’t need to make the conscious decision not to care.

The Stories We Comfort Ourselves With

I was reading Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism by Trungpa Chogam, and a passage of the book has been popping up in my mind ever since.

We would rather hoard and preserve the flavor and beauty of the experience so that, when bad times come, when we are depressed and down, we can bring that memory to mind in order to comfort ourselves, to tell ourselves that we have actually done something worthwhile.

I believe Chogam was talking about the way some people mentally cling to some of their more moving spiritual experiences (frankly, I don’t fully understand a lot of what he’s saying) but it stuck out to me because it seemed to be a more general applicable. Why do people post only their happiest memories on the internet? Why do people create this sanitized, beautified story about their lives? I had always found it somewhat offensive, even though I do it too. But, when I read that line, instead of feeling my normal annoyance at all the people who did this, I felt a sort of sadness – as if I were looking at a bird with with a broken wing trying to fly.

Apparently, the singer Amy Winehouse died alone of alcohol poisoning watching youtube videos of herself. Something about her death struck me as particularly iconic of our times, as if she had given a bolder expression of what so many of us do every day. It’s so easy to get caught in this loop, watching ourselves, and obsessing, trying to see how beautiful we are but never quite seeing it. I’d always thought facebook was a tool to show off to others, but I think actually it’s appeal is that it allows us to show off to ourselves.

When we are forced to see something difficult about ourselves, we can turn to these stories and say “see, this is who I am, the person in these photos!” But, we never actually believe it do we? Because if we did, we wouldn’t need the stories.

Girl’s Toys

I’ve been getting a bunch of articles on gender and toys like this on facebook:

And, you know, despite a lot of the PC and gender neutral phrasing, the takeaway sort of ends up being “we should be getting girls to play with boys toys.” Sure, sure, all the articles will pay lip service to “how boys should be allowed to play with dolls”, etc. But, at the end of the day, we usually see pictures of girls in the articles, not boys. We are usually talking about the negative effect these toyed gender divisions have on girls, not boys.

On an unrelated maybe related note, apparently people are far less empathetic today than they used to be.

So… in a world of reduced empathy, our number one priority is teaching our female children how to be engineers?

I remember when goldie blox was blasted all over the interwebs, to much acclaim.

These are toys aimed at girls to get them excited and into engineering.

But, do we really need more engineers? Why do we want female ones specifically? Why? Do we look at the pie chart of how many women there are in technical fields and say “zomg, this slice is too small! My OCD requires that the male, and female sections are exactly even!”

Wait! But Money! POWER! We need women to have these things just as much as men!

But why? Why do we need this? Our technology has enabled us to build drones that we fly into Afghanistan to kill people. Our technology has trapped us to our computers, desperately posting our lives to facebook to show off to our friends. Our technology has produced millions of useless, time wasting, computer games that we use to numb the permeating dissatisfaction and alienation we feel in our lives.

I don’t want women to become engineers. I want women to save the fucking world.

We are headed for a dark place. We already work longer hours, have fewer vacations, have less time for our loved ones than ever before. Adults have fewer close friendships than they did 20 years ago. Why do we want to send more women into this abyss? I want women to be there to help pull men *out* of it. I want wives to be telling their husbands “your e-commerce site isn’t as important as your son’s first words.” I want women to empathize with families in Iraq, and say “we cannot fight this way anymore, it is wrong.” And, I say this *as* a female engineer.

I remember at my first job, I would go on walks and cry in the bushes. This is where my feminism had led me? To a barren cube in a company full of single morbidly obese men? If I became like them, unhealthy, and unhappy, this would be a success? Because I was one of the few women who “could” do it? It is not enough for women to emulate men, because men have seriously fucked up this world. If we are trying to copy this, the materialism, the selfishness, I can only conclude that most women really lack faith in their own abilities. You think our daughters should aspire to be just as successful as men? As the wall street bankers who stole billions from the working class? As the internet billionaires who are contributing to increasing the income disparity, and pushing down the living standard for the everyone else? These men have failed to be even decent HUMANS, and this is how you want your daughters to turn out? Does money really mean that much?

I think what women really need is respect. Respect for raising kids, for being nurses, for being teachers, for caring. The people who devote their time and energy to taking care of other people, either the young, the old? Those are the ones we should be idolizing. What toys did they play with as a kid?

And, for whatever it’s worth, I was pink-barbie-cabbage patch kidded up to the max as a kid, and I still ended up an engineer. Just, hopefully, one with a perspective on larger society.


I’m More Afraid to Come Out to Gay People than Straight People

Specifically, lesbians. I’m more afraid to come out as bisexual to lesbians than to straight people.

I should note that I live in San Francisco – if I lived in bumblefuck homophobiaville, the story would probably be different. But, here in San Francisco, the land of the gays and politically correct, straight people are way easier to deal with than lesbians. When I come out to a straight person, they will usually say nothing. Sometimes they will talk about how great it it gay marriage passed, (or, back in the day, they’d talk about how they thought gay marriage *should* pass) to indicate how OK they were with it. Sometimes, if I casually mention my girlfriend, they will get this facial expression which I’ve interpreted to mean “I am trying as hard as possible to project that I am totally fine with your having a girlfriend.” It’s a little awkward, but sort of charming. I realize that they’re trying to tell me they accept me, without being unhip enough to project that being queer is a big deal.

On the other hand, I dread mentioning ex boyfriends to lesbians. Usually, gay women meet me in a gay context and assume I am also gay. When I’ve casually mentioned a male ex of mine, I’ve gotten responses like “Oh my god, what?” to which I’m awkwardly like “Uh – yeah, I’m bisexual.”

Check out this video:

I get that people have preferences, but what’s amazing to me is how entitled lesbians seem to feel to be outspoken about it. If you didn’t date black people, would you be willing to have a recording of yourself saying that published to the internet? I imagine most people who secretly felt that would probably keep it quietly to themselves. Of course, sexuality is different from race – but the majority of gay people argue that it wasn’t a choice for them. It’s generally polite not to rail on people for things they can’t help, which would seem to apply to bisexuality in this case.

Even with people who aren’t this outspoken, when I mention to a woman that I’m bisexual, it’s usually a “bad” thing. I’m sure to mention it to any woman I go out with on the first date because I expect it to be a possible reason she wouldn’t want to stay with  me. Conversely, when I date men, I’ll usually bring up that I’m bisexual whenever because I’ve never had a man get upset about it. Sometimes, I’ll get a “zomg, that’s so hot can I watch?” which is irritating, but a lot more welcome than the lesbian “that’s a shame.”

To be fair, not all lesbians are like this (my girlfriend, being one obvious exception.) In fact, possibly even *most* lesbians aren’t like this but enough of them are that make me wonder what is going on with it?

I asked my girlfriend for her take on it.

Me: Why do some lesbians not like bisexuals?

Her: Maybe because they’re insecure about it

Me: Insecure about what?

Her: I don’t know – like how I get insecure cuz you slept with guys.

Me: Why does that make you insecure?

Her: Cuz you slept with them before me.

Me: Why would that matter?

Her: I don’t know, cuz they have something I can’t give you.

Me: Like what?

Her: I don’t know.

Me: Like dick?

Her: *giggles* yeah.

Me: Why do you think I want dick?

Her:  I don’t know.

The cultural power of the dick is pretty impressive. I was hanging out with one of my more dude/bro friends the other day, and he was inquiring that had it really been two years since I’d had “the D” and didn’t I miss it? (“The D” was clearly capitalized, given his tone of voice.) I responded that what I missed about men was nothing so specific – it was more a male “energy” or something. I miss parts of all my lovers when they’re gone because everyone is unique, but that’s just a part of dating. What I miss about men as a whole doesn’t feel terribly different from that.

I think that bi-phobia is really a form of misogyny. The stereotype about bi men is they’re really gay, the stereotype about bi women is they’re really straight. The unifying theme is that people have a hard time believing someone who was attracted to both genders would choose to be with a woman. But, I don’t have trouble believing it because I love being with my girlfriend and I choose to be with her every day.

Femininity Depends on Masculinity Depends on Femininity

I often find lesbian culture to be an interesting place to look at masculinity, because you can isolate being “masculine” from being “male.”

Here’s an interesting thing that happens (or, is part of the gay cultural narrative anyway.) There exist masculine identified lesbians who only want to give sexual pleasure (usually, to feminine identified lesbians.) “Stone butch” is generally what it’s called, and here’s an article by someone who identifies as such. The phrase “stone femme” seems to usually indicate a desire to only receive sexual pleasure. The concept of a feminine person who receives her pleasure from *giving others* pleasure is very unusual.

There are several ways that seem usual for femininity to manifest:

– Recipient of pleasure

– Giver of pleasure for reasons other than sexual gratification (love, fairness, mental imbalance etc.)

– Giver of pain (this is the usual manifestation of female “dominance”)

Conversely, a feminine woman who *enjoys* giving her partner pleasure seems to find herself squarely in the cultural narrative as “slut.” Sure, many things can make someone a “slut” – but, the idea of a horny woman who goes over and blows some guy and heads out? That sounds like exactly like the type of stuff someone would would get the “s” label – usually with the implication there was something “wrong” with that woman. (Clearly, she has daddy issues, is just trying to please a man, etc.) Incidentally, I’m fairly sure many men hire *male* escorts so they can blow the escort – it’s totally cool for gay dudes to be into putting out, just cuz they like putting out.

At first, I had trouble reconciling the idea of “stone butch” with straight masculinity. Straight male masculinity seems very involved with male pleasure, while stone butches clearly are not into receiving physical pleasure. However, what they do both have in common, is the feminine party is supposed to be receiving pleasure from the masculine party. A lot of straight male phobias (am I big enough? can I last long enough?) seem to stem directly from the conflation of “masculinity” with “ability to please a woman.”

Conversely, the narrative of men who like to receive is very difficult. There’s a concept of a man as “rapist,” who will force sex on a woman against her will (so he is clearly not concerned with her pleasure in that case) but there he is still the active party.

One case of male passivity and female action is in the case of BDSM relationships. However, there the woman is usually giving *pain* to the male party, and not pleasure. Another thing I’d like to note is that there are a lot of submissive men who want to be “feminized” – i.e. to be dressed up in feminine clothing. I’ve dated a few guys like that myself, and part of what I think it is is that there’s not an easy way to square “being masculine” with “being receptive” or “being desired” so many of them skip the “being masculine” part in their fantasies.

Ultimately, feminine sexual agency for the pleasure of *another* person still seems troublesome for our society. Many feminists (male and female) seem to identify “sexual reciprocity” as “both parties receive as much pleasure.” However, it’s also sort of “known” that women are harder to bring to orgasm than men.

There’s almost become a new type of chivalry, where a man appreciates he’s going to be doing most of the sexual “work” – an idea which is reflected in areas of lesbian society that mirror traditional gender roles where “butch” lesbians (in theory) provide pleasure to “femme” ones. But, this leaves feminine women who enjoy giving pleasure out in the cold.

It may also be a way of maintaining traditional masculinity over femininity power dynamics. Power generally falls to the person giving the pleasure, the receiver is dependent on the giver. The fact that one of the more comfortable ways a woman can be “dominant” is to “give pain” is to deny her some of the power she’d have if she gave only pleasure. (Fewer people enjoy receiving “pain” than “pleasure,” so she becomes more dependent on her submissive partner than a fellatio expert would be.)

The tying trait, in all of these, seems to be creating structures for the feminine person to become dependent on the masculine person. And yet, femininity stands more clearly *alone* than masculinity does (Dresses? Feminine! Pants? Masculine?). If masculinity is explored by needing a feminine person to please, in a deep sense, masculinity is dependent on femininity. (I’d like to take a moment here to note that masculine gay men are often great at projecting their masculinity probably because they *don’t* rely on femininity to define their masculinity. Few straight men feel comfortable projecting a masculine sexuality to that degree.) This masculine dependence, however, is very uncomfortable for many masculine people – and I am inclined to think it’s a big cultural force for sexism in our society, but I have a client meeting and gotta wrap this post up so that’s a topic for another day.