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Apparently Anderson Cooper came out as homosexual recently.

I usually get my news through blogs and the Daily Show and don't even own a TV, so most of the time what I hear about Mr. Cooper or any mainstream newsman is secondhand. Occasionally I've caught a piece by him when I'm on vacation somewhere or in a public place like a waiting room or airport. So while I'm not that familiar with him, he and Brian Williams have always struck me as some of the more dependable and interesting TV journalists out there. And the most reliable.

This coming out doesn't change that. I'm a straight, white woman rounding thirty. If I were lesbian, I'd still be a white woman rounding thirty. I'd still be, you know, me - and I'm sure my experiences and so my personality would change if I was part of that minority, but that would only change some things. Not everything.

The article I linked to above gave some details but also looks at whether this will change his reporting. And here's where it gets interesting.

The title is Does coming out change Anderson Cooper’s reporting?, but the first line asks Do you feel differently now about Anderson Cooper’s reporting? At first glance, these are two very different things, and they are, but when I stopped and thought about it the distinction got a bit muddier. It reminded me of a line I read somewhere a few weeks ago, about how in the sciences belief changes nothing (the sun still sits in the sky even if I believe it doesn't) but in the social sciences it can change quite a lot. People who believe they are free act free-er, and ditto for other perceptions.

Mad About you illustrate this really well. In this clip Paul and Jamie are on retreat at a resort, where they tell too many tall tales. Jamie explains the situation with another lie: that Paul is really mentally ill (without letting Paul in on the fib). Hilarity ensues:

Read more... )

Since a journalist needs to be perceived as unbiased to be effective in that role, the mere fact that he's perceived as biased in some area (like sexual politics) will affect the kind of stories he's able to tell and have really heard. I know in situations where some part of my identity isn't known by the person I'm talking to, I can push the envelope a bit more than I would otherwise (I can actually be more philosophical because I won't be written off with "of course she'd say that, she's a philosopher." And sub in Southerner, Christian, academic, liberal, Trekkie, whatever you like.)

This is a sad thing because he's the same man he was before this news, and no one had any reason to doubt his objectivity then. Kind of reminds me of the reaction to the news that Dumbledore was gay, which we only learned after the books were published. The sad thing is that I am, like I said, a straight white rounding-thirty woman and all of those things carry biases I have to try to overcome. No one calls me on that or shapes their impressions unless those biases aren't overcome in a rather radical way, because my biases are the norm. (As far as I can tell, so are Mr. Cooper's.) That fact strikes me as unjust.

In any event, I'm really proud of one of my favorite mainstream journalists for having integrity here. It's hard to put yourslef out there sometimes and I think his courage should be commended.

(Originally posted at LJ.)
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Tim Kurek (a Christian author I follow over on FB) has a new book coming out. As he describes it:

In January 2009 I entered the closet a straight man and came out to my friends and family as a gay. I lived with the label for an entire year. After my life as I knew it had quickly unraveled into nothing, I began building a new one. I became a barista at a gay café. I played in a LGBT softball league. I protested in New York City with a group of gay activists that I had encountered years before while I studied Liberty University. And I even participated in a marriage equality event with the son on Jim and Tammy Faye, Jay Bakker. For a year I immersed myself, completely and utterly, in the small gay scene of Nashville, Tennessee, and experienced firsthand the agony of being isolated, repressed, and alone.

My book is the result of that year and it tells the story of the men and women that challenged, and ultimately changed my life’s path. It is a book about faith, and a book about doubt. But mostly it is a book about people, and how the men and women I’d always been taught to shun ended up saving my life.

He emphasizes that he is not writing about the gay experience, since (as he's not really gay) that's not a topic he feels competent to address. Rather, it's about a rather extreme exercise in empathy: a Christian trying to exorcise his inner-Pharisee, as it were, and to live with what many LGBT Christians live with "for real."

He's asking the same questions that spurred my own "evolution" on homosexuality, and changed me from someone who thought the Bible taught homosexuality was immoral to being convinced of the opposite. While I didn't go so far as Tim did (not nearly that brave, unfortunately!) I found myself asking questions like the ones that motivated his project. If I was gay, could I come out to my family and friends? Could I still be a Christian? What made any love I felt for another man better or more worthy of support than the love a gay friend of mine felt for his boyfriend? These on top of the obvious political problems of denying equal legal protections to anyone, based on a religious belief. It was this striving for empathy that really changed my position on homosexuality, and though this was private in my case - I lived with "what if's" rather than dealing with peoples' very real reactions to my actually coming out - I can definitely see the appeal of Tim's project.

Tim has a trailer out for the book...

Read more... )

... and he is accepting donations to help pay for a publicist and final book editing. Even if you decide not to donate (which I plan to, and encourage - this really is an interesting story that needs to be told), I hope you'll check out the trailer and think about the experiences he describes. It'll be four minutes well spent. The book comes out October 11.

(Originally posted at LJ; please comment there.)
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  I had two experiences. First, I went shopping and finished off my teaching wardrobe - several pairs of black linenslacks, white blouses, and a light-weight blazer jacket. All from women's stores, but the style is always a bit tom-boyish. As am I; my voice has always been low-pitched and I've always favored short hair, jeans + tees, and no make-up. 

Item the second: While on the train, I read a really interesting article from the New York Magazine about transgendered children: "S/he." It's well worth the read but longish, so here's the gist. Many transgendered people realize their cis-gender (the one assigned at birth by their parents and society; usually the biological gender). This being New York, you had some reasonably progressive parents trying to make sense of this and support the kids. It's a nice glimpse into transphobia even at that level (one parent's response I found particularly interesting was from a dad who didn't want to suggest to the child there was anything wrong with being a girl, and so he was at first hesitant to get on board with his cis-female son's identifying as male.)

But there's more to it than that. Say your kid tells you at the tender age of five that "she" wants to be treated as a he - that he really believes he is a boy, despite being anatomically female. That may be more-or-less feasible at five (setting aside transphobia the kid may have to deal with), but what about at thirteen? Because while Marcia may answer to Mark and dress and act and play as a boy, but there's still estrogen flowing through his body - meaning that puberty will come quickly, and with it the breasts and the menstruation. It would be traumatic. The problem is, doctors suggest the transgendered not start taking artificial hormones until they're at least sixteen. That's years of being trapped in a body that feels less and less like yours, with all that carries with it regarding social interaction and expectations. And we thought gay bullying was bad. I mean, it is, but this? :-S

So to address the situation, some parents have turned to what's called puberty-blockers - drugs that keep a body from going through puberty, until the child is old enough to start hormone treatment and go through puberty as their chosen gender. (The kid can also go through puberty as his or her cis-gender, simply by stopping the puberty blockers.) But it's a tough call. Several of the parents refer to it as "playing God" or think it marks transgenderism off as a disease (which most LGBT allies, myself included, wholeheartedly deny). 

Reading all this, I felt an immense sympathy for anyone going through this. Even with supportive parents, it strikes me as an enormously tough needle for a seven-year-old to thread. And given that most parents probably aren't supportive - either through their own beliefs or simply being a bit mystified by it all - I can only imagine what that's like. By the experience of transgender children as it's explained here resonated deep within me. I'm not transgender, but I'm enough of a tomboy that I never felt drawn to many of the traditional teenage things - dating, dances, and the like. I liked being one of the boys and was most comfortable where gender simply didn't matter. More to the point, I'm all too familiar with the no man's land between different groups. With religion/atheism in particular but other issues as well, where it sometimes felt like I could never be my whole self with anyone - like I always had to fashion my identity. This isn't a criticism of the people I grew up around, or the people at my church who I always seem to be too liberal or too traditionalist to truly fit in with (depending on the group), or my secular humanist friends who try to make sense of why an intelligent person would continue to claim a religious label. But sometimes it feels like, on an issue of great importance to me, I can't fully "be myself" - either because I don't know who I am or because I'm not brave enough to put myself out there, but in either case it's a true mind-warp at times.

None of this makes me transgendered. But I think it makes me particularly sympathetic to people who have a hard time getting who they really are "seen" by others. And maybe in my case the blindness of other folks is all in my head. But whatever the reason, my heart just breaks for these kids having to navigate this world and maybe feeling like even their own parents don't really see them for who they really are. That's hard.  

(Originally posted on LJ; please comment there.)
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Over at FB a friend posted a link:

We all remember conscience clauses for a while ago; basically there's a new law in Kansas that sets up something similar for doctors and pharmacists. They can refuse to write or fill a prescription that "they 'reasonably believe' might result in the termination of a pregnancy."

Last night I got a call from my doctor, saying to call immediately - at home if necessary. Now, I'm fine. A biopsy of a cyst I had removed showed an infection, and the doc was out of the office the next day. He just needed me to start a special antibiotic. But for the hour it took me to get in touch with him, I was convinced it was something serious. Think cancer. And I knew I had dinky student insurance, so if it was something serious I wasn't sure if I would have to pay for it myself. I'm still shaken up from the whole experience emotionally, even though I'm fine physically and much better than I was yesterday. The thing is, I get how scary it is to not have control over your medical care. To have to trust in someone else's help to get the treatment you feel like you need - I don't know that it matters whether we're talking about your back or your uterus.

So I feel really bad that I'm not more empathetic here. I should be. I think I'm just worn out with all the talk over contraception coverage and access lately; it all seems unreal and remote, somehow. So what really got me was the "reasonable belief" thing. If we read that literally, it seems like it could actually help the situation, because - going by the dictionary definition of reason - you'd need a fact for why such-and-such a drug is likely to actually terminate a pregnancy. Now, maybe we can split hairs over whether a pregnancy just means having a conceived fetus inside you or whether it also requires that fetus is part of you (i.e. it's implanted). And maybe you can say that some emergency contraception prevents implantation (so a conceived fetus is essentially killed, or at least denied what it needs to live).

But there are many other pills that don't work that way. As you guys have explained to me on this very blog, there's some BC you can take after sex that prevents fertilization. That keeps the pregnancy from ever happening in the first place, even if you want to say pregnant means "there's a fertilized egg inside me."

But is that what the lawmakers mean? From past conversations I know this isn't how many people will read "reasonable." (I'm speaking generally, about students and fellow adults I've seen use the word time and time again - not necessarily the Kansas lawmakers.) The word reasonable literally means having evidence, having facts; but I suspect for a lot of people this will be read as "having followers." So if a certain % thinks the morning-after pill terminates a pregnancy, then that pill can be denied to women who want it. Facts be damned.

Which is a scary state of affairs, indeed.
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My last exam is graded (well, except for the one student who has to make up the exam next week), and while I still have some research due for my advisor, I can breathe a bit at last. So I want to go back to a point I just mentioned at the end of my last post. Namely: if you vote against gay marriage, does that mean you're just a homophobe? The story-line is pretty standard: Gay marriage won't destroy straight marriage since straight men aren't going to suddenly leave their wives or anything; the only impact it has is letting homosexuals marry; so if you're against gay marriage you must be homophobic. Is it really that simple?

I don't think so. Now, I'm actually in favor of the state having one status (civil unions, marriage, whatever – I'm not picky about the label) open to both homosexuals and heterosexuals. As a Christian, I actually think Christian churches should open up the marriage sacrament to gay couples as well, but that's a totally different topic. But I also get why some people think of marriage is for straight couples only. And it has next to nothing to do with homosexuality, let alone homophobia.

Read more... )

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I was going to leave well-enough alone over the North Carolina amendment. It was really hard to think of "my" state doing this, and like many people I felt a bit of shock and almost mourning over the law's passage. For a day or two I'd see talk of organizing boycotts against NC and graphics painting Tarheels as uneducated and rednecks. But then President Obama made his announcement and the focus shifted away from NC (sort of), so as I said, I was just going to back away from this topic.

I still see wisps of NC-bashing every now and then, though. Case in point is Leonard Pitts's latest column, where he referred to NC's amendment as "one state's atavistic backwardness" and "the stubborn intransigence of those who desperately need to wake up and smell the 21st century." So maybe it's best to write another post on the topic. Because, really, I'm not sure NC did too badly here.

To be clear: I'm not defending the constitutional amendment. I think it's a badly-written amendment and a bad policy position, and also that it's needlessly hateful toward homosexuals since gay marriage was already illegal in the state. But I also think that, first, the bill didn't pass as solidly as it seems like at first glance, and second, that people might have a first-flush opposition to gay marriage in NC without that meaning they hate gays. I'll explain why in a minute. This wasn't NC's finest hour, but I don't think it's nearly as bad as some people seem to be implying it is. So let me take some of the various charges I've seen floating around one by one and try to explain why.

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Tonight North Carolina voted to make it not only illegal but also unconstitutional for two adults to build a legally-recognized family unit, simply because those adults are the same gender. It's a bit odd - I haven't lived in NC since 2006, but I still feel like a Tarheel at heart, and NC news tends to hit me harder than NY news does. For me, this amendment isn't academic, it isn't general - it is a slap in the face to all affected, no matter the remove.

I have my own history with a good friend from my undergrad days who happened to be gay. And I remember the way he was impacted by homophobia he experienced. It breaks my heart to think of the gay, lesbian, whatever kid who's sitting in his college dorm room hearing that his state doesn't think whatever love he might find should be protected by law. The one consolation I have is that this kid, if he's been following the news all along, might have seen that many people in his state didn't feel this way. But I know how news media works. All those clergymen who signed the petition saying they opposed the amendment are dwarfed by that shameful Billy Graham ad )

This amendment process is offensive and insensitive to a minority group. It's also harmful to families with heterosexual parents but that aren't bound by parents. As has been pointed out many times, it makes it harder to deal with domestic violence, child welfare and any other range of things that affect stable but unmarried couples. But things like this are really and truly discouraging because they point to how little value we place on rational argument in this society. The bottom line is, in an amendment ratification process like this the best argument doesn't become law. Direct democracy like this doesn't give any weight to how well-considered your reasoning is. Are you voting because you have thought things through and one way or the other decided on a position, or are you voting out of fear or on a whim? The votes add up the same.

Also, it should not need to be said, but in case it does: not everything is up for a vote. I can't speak to legal rights - I heard somewhere that some Supreme Court marriage is a right, but I don't recall the details - but philosophically, the ability to form a family unit and receive legal protection of the same is a right. Sometimes the state has a good reason to keep two people from marrying, like with incest or pedophilia where consent is iffy, but there's just not a reason here. (As a side note, it actually amused me to no end that if we're looking for a biblical definition of marriage, polygamy probably comes closer to the mark than the one man, one woman formula. But that's neither here nor there.)

I know I've quoted this passage here before, but on nights like this, I have to go back to Dr. King. He wrote in the Birmingham letter:

Read more... )

Laws like this are a kind of segregation. And they make me sick.

One other thing: I know a lot of people will say that this is an instance of religion needing to stay out of politics. One thing I have seen over these last few weeks, though, is that religious people have been among the most active in challenging stereotypes and unchallenged beliefs some people have. The backward pastors encouraging parents to beat their limp-wristed children get all the attention, of course, but then you also have pastors like this guy:

Read more... )

I'm not convinced that this had much to do with religion, and to the extent it did, I'd suspect it was more religion used as a crutch for hatred and us-vs-them mentality.

Enough of that, though. And enough of these high-brow words. Tonight, I just wanted anyone hurt by this amendment (in any way) to know how sorry I am. It's not right, it's not just, and you don't deserve that pain.

(Originally posted at LJ; please comment there.)
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Yesterday I mentioned that even back in high school I was a fledgling pacifist. That reminded me of a story I meant to share a while ago, which is only tangentially connected to pacifism. I thought of it when birth control first became a political issue but wanted to check with my friend (who the story concerns) before relating it. Then once she got back to me I forgot about it and never quite got around to relating it.

Anyway. When I was an undergrad at UNC-Greensboro, I had a flatmate who I'll call P. (at her request), who was raised by her grandmother. P.'s grandmother was by all accounts a good guardian but was also Catholic in a rather traditional way. P.'s health insurance was of course through her grandmother, so P. couldn't get any kind of hormonal birth control without her grandmother's consent. Somewhere along the line, P. had also picked up the idea that condoms weren't very effective even when you used them correctly. She had a long-term boyfriend and didn't particularly want to be a virgin but was very scared of getting pregnant.

Around that time, P. was diagnosed with ovarian cysts and was given a prescription for birth control pills. However, P.'s grandmother insists they call them "hormonal therapy" and that she keep the pills in an old standard prescription-pill bottle rather than the distinctive birth control container. Rather than feeling like she was sick, P. treated this diagnosis as great news: she now had the green light to have sex safely. Her grandmother eventually found out, but relying on something her priest had told her decades earlier during the Vietnam War was actually okay with it. I'm talking about the principle of double-effect; essentially, if you predict an action will have two consequences and you're only doing it because of the first result, the second consequence doesn't really count against you. (This is the theory that lets you drop a bomb on a terrorist, even though you know the schoolchildren who are also inside will likely be killed.)

Something about this amused me to no end. Not the sex per se; at that point in time I believed that pretty much all sex outside of marriage was immoral. (I was a bit prudish at the time.) But the mental contortions both P. and her grandmother went through over all this. Ah, theology!

(For the record, both P., her boyfriend, and her grandmother are perfectly nice people. The first two ended up getting married, as it happens, but not until after college and pregnancy had nothing to do with that decision. They are expecting their first child in August, though. Thanks to her for letting me share this story, and I wish them all the happiness in the world.)

(Originally posted to LJ; please comment there.)
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  (Written for the March 2012 synchroblog; links TBA.)

I have a secret: for years now, I've wished I was eligible for the selective service.

In my country, at the age of eighteen all the guys have to register for the military draft. They don't actually have to serve, and chances are negligible that they'll be called up, since (for all our wars) America has been an all-volunteer army since I believe Vietnam. But ever since I've figured out how committed of a pacifist I am, I've wanted the ability to declare to God, country, and the world at large that there wasn't anyone representin me in this war, either.

I want to be clear about something: I respect what our veterans are trying to do. I nod at them out of respect when I see them on campus, and I've gotten in the habit of picking up pastries every week or two for my veteran neighbor, as a small token of gratitude. I also would gladly pay any tax asked of me to improve their safety while in service and their recovery once they leave. It's the generals and the contractors I have a beef with. I don't think our current wars are just, and given our track record of judicial process for people accused of war crimes and quasi-legal neverending wars, I think it will be a long time before I'd find an actual war I could support. And that's my point. I want the right to register as a conscientious objector to document this fact. Because I am not expected to fight, someone else "covers" me by default, so I get no say in the matter.

It's not just that theoretical point that bothers me, though. At the tender age of seventeen, I was a registered Republican and generally supported the idea of bringing democracy to the world, but I also wasn't sure now I felt about killing someone for that cause or any other, and so I asked my history teacher what were my options if I was morally opposed to war. He told me that I wasn't required to register for the draft, and when I asked why he explained that "Uncle Sam" didn't want to take mothers away from their children, or put children in homes with a mum suffering from PTSD. I'm now a few months shy of thirty years old, still happily single and happily child-free, in a doctoral program that I hope will lead to a professorship. In the meantime I am happy with my hobbies, my volunteer work, my church, and my friends both online and offline. I am living the life of the mind in a truly vibrant city, and it's a good life - just not the one my high school teacher thought I was destined for.

I thought about all this when I heard someone use the phrase "war on women" for the umpteenth time in a newspaper editorial this morning. Again, let me be clear: I think preventive birth control is a good thing, and I think subsidized or insurance-covered birth control is an even bett thing because it vies lower-class women the same liberties I have to manage their sexuality and its consequences. But every time I hear that phrase I bristle just a little bit (and sometimes quite a lot), because it carries with it the suggestion that as a woman I am defined by the bits of anatomy between my legs. It also suggests that if I personally didn't think of fertility like a disease, I would not be included in the collective of womanhood that was under attack. I've been on the receiving end of people telling me what it means to be a real woman, to feel comfortable with that. 

Given that this is a SynchroBlog post, I feel a strong pull to somehow tie this back to my religion. I could cite the many different roles women serve throughout the Bible, from Miriam to Esther to Mary Magdalene, and those stories are relevant. The problem is, they're part of a fabric that stretches beyond any one religious or literary tradition. I could just as easily point to Eowyn and B'Elanna Torres and Brenda Leigh Johnson and all the other strong women of literature. They weren't all shieldmaidens, either. Often as not, womanhood is as varied as human nature (as well it should be!). Our battle-cries need to reflect that.

(Originally posted to LJ; please comment there.)
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I had a Thought on the bus today. It may be complete rubbish, but I'm hoping not.

If you've been watching the news you've heard about Rush Limbaugh's calling a Georgetown law student a slut (Daily Show commentary) for wanting health care coverage of contraception. I'm not diving into the larger issue here, but I have been thinking about the thought process behind Mr. Limbaugh's comments. And as I said, I have a Thought. Essentially, it's this: for many men sex is a verb whereas for women it's a noun. Specifically it's me, or at least part of me. As a woman I am a slut or a virgin or (in some circles) something in between; but whatever I do or don't do with sex, it becomes a part of who I am. Guys on the other hand get to have sex, but it's not really their identity, it's just something they do.

This makes perfect sense given how birth control and the results of failed birth control work.A guy gets to purchase a condom as a one-time deal, put it on, and have sex. The most common form of female birth control is a pill you have to take on a daily basis whether or not you are having sex or not. If you get pregnant in many social circles and classes fatherhood is still very much optional; motherhood is inevitable. And, again depending on the social class, women with kids are much likely to become mothers that work rather than workers first and mothers second, as opposed to the men involved.

I don't want to attribute too much credence to Rush. But this line of thought is consistent with how I've heard many (but by no means all) guys I know use the language. They get laid; they aren't sexual or promiscuous, that's the way we talk about women.

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 I actually saw this one coming a mile away:

What the 'After-Birth Abortion' and 'Personhood' Debates Have in Common

A few weeks back I wrote about a journal article proposing that infanticides just after birth should have the same legal status as abortions just before. Meaning that they should be legal if the mother's welfare was at risk, and not even called infanticides. I find this claim preposterous, and I tried my best to explain why. Basically, I think there's a big distinction between legal status and moral status.

ChristianityToday, a major online and print magazine in the evangelical (not necessarily conservative, not necessarily fundamentalist, but just evangelical) publishing world made the above post in one of their associated blogs. Basically, the argument goes, this whole debate over infanticide comes from the recognition that there's no recognizable distinction between a fetus and an infant, meaning we should give  all the rights of an infant to a fetus. Think the personhood bills you've seen put out in U.S. states like Mississippi and Colorado.

The problem here is that the concepts of "fetus" and "born human" (to say nothing of human and person generally) are really not so simple, and we're using them like they are. I tend to think the whole abortion debate would be much, much easier if we thought about what we meant by a fetus. I'll grant that a fetus a minute before birth has more in common with an infant one minute after birth, than it does with a fetus one minute after conception. I'll even grant that some of the ways these three things are similar and different are morally relevant. All that proves, though, is that a fetus is a distinction where the members in it don't all have the same moral status.

There are a lot of big philosophical words floating around in there, so let me try to make this simpler. I'll give you that it's morally wrong to kill a fetus one minute before it's born. (Allowing the usual exceptions for self-defense, etc.) That doesn't mean it should be morally wrong to kill any fetus. And, just for the record, it doesn't actually mean it should be illegal to kill a fetus one minute before birth. The law's a blunt instrument and may not be up to the task of splitting that moral hair. It just means that not all fetuses are in the same position, morally speaking.

While we're on the concept of distinctions, it's worth looking at one more: human vs. person. On one definition, it's quite obvious that a newly-fertilized zygote is human. So is an amputated leg or fingernail clippings. Human here just means "has human DNA" or "has human cellular structure." But a doctor who amputates a leg to save the patient doesn't have to go through a hospital board inquiry, and I didn't have to explain to the police why I cut my nails last night. There's another definition of "human," which philosophers both prefer to call "person" to avoid speciesism and to avoid the confusion of using human in more than two ways. Persons are members of the moral community, things that have rights and responsibilities. Some philosophers use  the ability to feel pain; more common is the sentience idea, or the ability to act on something other than just instinct. But when a scientist or a bioethicist talks about a fetus being human, they don't usually mean it in the personhood case.

So to sum up:

  1. Yes, fetuses are (genetically) human.
  2. No, not all fetuses are humans/persons in the moral sense.
  3. The solution is not to call a zygote a person – it is to recognize that fetuses exist along a continuum, and while some may reasonably be called a person, not all can.
  4. So: drop this drive to call a zygote a person. It's not helping.

I am actually as dismayed by this journal article's claim as anyone else. The solution, though, isn't to double down and insist all fetuses are people. It's to recognize the very real difference between a zygote smaller than the period at the end of this sentence, and an eight-month old human baby that could survive on its own outside the womb.

It also wouldn't hurt to distinguish between a late-term fetus's right to life, and the mother of a late-term fetus's obligation to preserve that life. She may have such an obligation based on her past actions of not terminating the pregnancy, not using appropriate birth control, etc. (depending on the situation – this is a big if), but it's not all about a "right to life." There are other concerns that play out here, and the dueling claims in this situation are complicated. You don't do anyone any good by pretending this is a simple issue.

(Originally posted at LJ; please comment there.)
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 When I read something that takes what I believe and carries it to its natural conclusion (or what seems like that), I find it very upsetting – almost violent. That happened today, when I saw a moderate-conservative friend on FB commenting on an article:

Ethicists Argue in Favor of 'After-Birth Abortions' as Newborns 'Are Not Persons'

Now, there are lots of things that made me skeptical about the post. When I loaded the article it had an ad for Goldline and Glenn Beck TV. An issue that seemed mostly secular ethics was listed under "Faith." The first two columnists listed on their contributors page are Glenn Beck and Rick Santorum. And so on. But the article certainly isn't raving. If anything, it seemed remarkably matter-of-fact given the subject matter. Apparently some university-affiliated ethicists down in Australia are advocating for a legal right to what they call "after-abortion," and what the rest of us (including me) call infanticide or just plain old murder.

The thing is, there's a lot in that basic argument that's similar to some things I've argued in the past. I don't believe a zygote produced from a human sperm and a human egg is a full-fledged person. And I don't think the fetus magically acquires the traits that make us human in one fell swoop when its head passes out of the mother's womb. Its moral status the moment before it is born is more or less its status just after it's birth. But I stop way before we get to the point suggested this article suggests those Aussie ethicists take it to, so I thought I'd try to work through why. This may only end up being interesting to me. :-)

First, the false start: that a law outlawing infanticide doesn't actually say you should kill your children, but just that it should be an individual choice. I know pro-choice people (myself included) tend to talk about giving people the right to choose an abortion even when we believe it's the wrong choice. I think there's something to be said for letting people make their own choice – and making everything illegal takes away possibilities of doing the right thing for the right reason. But as Michael Sandel put it in his very well-done book Justice, this in itself is a moral position and rests on the assumption that people can reasonably disagree over whether the fetus is a person. I would never say e.g. that people should have the right to decide whether to kill their eight-year-old child. Or even their one-minute-old child.

But I do think there's a legitimate difference the Blaze author is skipping past. There are real moral differences between a newly-fertilized ovum and a fetus about to be born. I can't necessarily point to a specific day when it is a person and before it wasn't. This is one of the things that drive me crazy about the abortion debate: as if just because I can't point to a hard dividing point, that means there's no difference between the extremes. (Evolution tells us there are all kinds of intermediate states between a chimpanzee and homo sapiens, so perhaps in some case you would struggle to know whether one of the linking individuals between the two groups, but no one would mistake one for the other.)

I am willing to accept the very real possibility that a fetus is sentient or even rational at some point in its development, and so would be a person. This was actually portrayed very well in the last Twilight movie, where Edward senses Renesme's thoughts before she is born and suddenly she seems real to him and worthy of moral consideration. As it happens, I think the law is ill-equipped to handle that distinction, but I'm thinking about the issue more from a morality standpoint anyway. Even before then, there can be reasons – good reasons – why it's wrong to kill a non-human animal. It's just not murder.

There's also another distinction that the Aussie ethicists totally overlooked if they're being fairly reported. I have no hard evidence that the Blaze is taking them out of context, but do consider the source. Also, this is so basic that if they're university-affiliated philosophers I'd be very surprised, since this is a rather significant and well-known distinction. It's that simply because you have a moral right to an abortion, it doesn't mean you have a moral right to kill the fetus. You have a right to keep it from using your body, and it may be a scientific fact that without those nutrients it will die, but that doesn't give you the right to cut its throat or shoot it if somehow it survived being separated from your body. So the mother could maybe say she didn't want to care for the child after giving birth to it, and she could surrender it to the state or someone else.

I find that a bit iffy, actually, given that the mother's had nine months to decide whether she wants the child, but I can see a few exceptions – like if she had carried it to term with the express intent of giving the child up for adoption, or if there were some new circumstances she hadn't planned on (like a birth defect where she wasn't prepared to raise the child). But this idea that it might be cruel to the mother for her to know her child is out there somewhere doesn't hold up for me. Lots of things are cruel, and we usually accept that as long as they aren't intentionally cruel. Life just stinks sometimes, whether as a consequence of our own choice or something done to us. Society can do what it can to mitigate the suffering (perhaps keeping the mother's identity a secret from the child if that's what she wants, or placing the child with parents in a different part of the country to minimize the chances mother and child will meet up.

But only up to a point. Certainly not up to the point of killing another person. I don't know enough about obstetrics or early pediatrics to say for sure this child is rational or for sure this child is sentient from the very second it leaves the womb. But it's well on its way, and it at least has the potential for those traits – a nervous system, for instance. The mother never had the right to kill the fetus, but even if she did, I'd say she had less and less of a claim to that right as the fetus/child approached personhood.

By the way, National Catholic Register, when you wrote:

The second we allow ourselves to become the arbiters of who is human and who isn't, this is the calamitous yet inevitable end. Once you say all human life is not sacred, the rest is just drawing random lines in the sand.

You're breaking your own standard in the space of two sentences. If you're saying anything with human genetic material is a human, that is a definition of human. And when you're excluding acts like biopsying (living, genetically human) cancerous cells from your definition of murder, you're also excluding some genetically-human, living organisms from the classification of humanity. We all do philosophy; some of us are just more explicit about this fact than others.

All said, I think those ethicists are either misreported or went too far (and how). That doesn't make my position that life doesn't begin at conception wrong, though.

(Originally posted at LJ; please Comment there.)

fidesquaerens: (Default)
Whatever else the recent blowup over the ACA contraception mandate might have shown, it's that Americans need a better epistemology. The news story has interested me on many levels and will probably pop up in blog posts from time to time. But one philosophical idea kept seeming to float to the forefront, at least in my mind as I read the different news stories. Namely, that the people participating in this debate seemed to be using concepts in very different ways. They weren't even consistent within the different sides.

This becomes clearer if you think about different groups. There was a lot of talk in left-leaning circles about "the 98%" – a statistic that 98% of sexually active Catholic women had used contraception at least once, and that a high number (I think in the neighborhood of 70-80%) used it regularly or were currently using it. The implication was that this meant Catholicism no longer had a major problem with birth control. I previously argued that religious institutions like the RCC don't operate like unions or PACs, where all you need for a position change is a new consensus view. The RCC, like all religious institutions represents its tradition, not the current view of all its members; and the members get to vote by agreeing to be a part of it or not.

So it's in the church's best interest to make its positions relevant to its members, through education and dialogue. I may not agree with the position (in point of fact I don't), but it's not my opinion – or any Catholic parishioner (which I'm not), or the majority opinion of those parishioners – that decides here. Here, what it means to be a Catholic is controlled by those people charged with interpreting and guarding Catholic tradition. The bishops and the rest of the Catholic hierarchy.

The liberals have it wrong here. I say this as a liberal! But on this particular point, they're off base.

Interestingly, they're also wrong on a related issue but for exactly the opposite reason. This one came up in the context of hearings on this same mandate. There was a bit of a brouhaha over the fact that there weren't any women on the first panel that appeared before the committee, and specifically that one witness who had been denied contraception by her Catholic employer that she needed for non-reproductive reasons wasn't allowed to testify. The charge of "Where were the women?" was pronounced immediately by Nancy Pelosi and soon went viral. I wasn't convinced even at first, because this particular hearing was over whether the mandate posed a challenge to religious freedom, and the woman they wanted to testify didn't have any comment on that particular issue. Do I wish the various religious groups had highlighted some of their female leaders (which do exist)? Yes, if only to drive home the point that religion is not all male-dominated, and that the lashback was tempered by an awareness of the reality women live. But the proposed witness was none of these things, and so I didn't feel excluded on those grounds.

It's what came next where things got really interesting. See, as it turns out there was a woman on the second panel that testified before the hearing (two in fact), but they didn't testify in favor of the mandate. So the idea that no women had testified was revamped a bit to say no women had testified for women. This irked me in the same way that the line that anti-abortion access laws are somehow a war against women. I don't like those laws, I find them insulting in their insinuation that women's decisions couldn't possibly be well-reasoned and I think some of them (like the recent narrow miss down in Virginia) are awful assaults on women and turn the doctor-patient relation on its head.

But I don't think attacks on them are a war on women, because lots of women do resent having reproduction labeled as an illness. Women tend to be among the most ardent pro-lifers, and they probably see abortion as an assault not only on a child but also on their way of life. I don't agree with them, but it is disenfranchising to them to suggest that unless you hold a certain view, you are not speaking for women or you're not a real women. Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann are women, and as much as I hate what they stand for on nearly every issue, they represent the viewpoints of many women.

The difference here is that "women" are not an institution like a church is. So here, you can't say you are protecting the institution of womanhood. If you were talking about a specific institution organized along gender lines (NOW, for instance) then, yes, we have a right to say that such-and-such a legislation is anti-NOW or against the interests of NOW. But the larger issue that a legislation is anti-woman? That only makes sense if you think of women as a monolithic group. We aren't that, and again the Democratic party is on the wrong end of it to suggest we are.

I've made my feelings on this mandate clear in recent posts, but that doesn't mean I can't recognize sloppy sentiments when I see them. Ironically, the left-leaning blogosphere is contradicting itself when saying on the one hand the RCC must take every member's position into account with no regard for history when determining the RCC's position, and then on the other hand that "women's issues" should only be decided by the "right" kind of women. Ironic that they get it wrong in both cases, really.

(Originally posted at LJ; please comment there.)
fidesquaerens: (Default)

I’ve been following two news stories fairly closely these last few weeks. These are the kinds of things that you probably wouldn’t hear about unless you followed news and political opinion sites, though I think they do have health impacts, in this case on women’s health.

First, Komen for the Cure pledged to stop funding mammograms through Planned Parenthood because PP was under active investigation and because PP only did breast exams and referred people out for mammograms. There is much about Komen’s actions that seemed fishy to me, especially the being-under-investigation thing, since Komen has donated to other organizations similarly under investigation since imposing the rule, and has only stopped funding PP. And it was frustrating, as always, to see so much misinformation about PP out there.

But those topics are being hashed out elsewhere, I’m sure. What really piqued my interest was an aspect almost no one was talking about: In the short time Komen cut its ties with PP, lots of evangelicals donated to Komen and said they just couldn’t bring themselves to donate to them while they were PP-allied.  One example – and I’ve seen several these last few days – is Lifeway’s refusal to sale Breast Caner-awareness Bibles in their store. Lifeway is a Christian publishing-house operated by the Southern Baptist Church, and they had printed and pledged to sell a pink-covered Bible. They had planned to donate at least $25,000 and $1 per Bible sold (so whichever was higher), and they do seem to be living with their pledge to donate the $25,000 to PP.

But they also had never distributed the Bibles to stores. As Lifeway’s President explains it: “There’s nothing wrong with the Bibles. We just have no business being in even a perceived relationship with Planned Parenthood.” So donating to a group that donates to a group that does abortions is so wrong, you’d rather not stand by that group publicly. Because $1 per Bible is small potatoes, really. (And I have majorly mixed feelings about letting people “give” in ways that donates the company more than the charity.) But the exposure, the statement that we will stand beside you, is an important one. And the fact that evangelical organizations – and individual evangelicals – are willing to donate to Komen but only if it’s not two or three steps removed from abortions is pretty frustrating, actually.

Let me put it simply. I respect Christians’ right to oppose abortions. In some case I think it’s morally wrong; in other cases not, mostly depending on the development of the fetus. I also respect the Christian’s right to do with her charity $$$ what she wants. (So long as it really is charity; it’s different if we’re talking about something everyone should have access to, and I’d put cancer screenings in that category.) But we need a little consistency here. Back during the Bush years, evangelicals were happy to take other peoples’ tax $$$ through faith-based initiatives and funnel them to distinctly ideological groups. The test was, is the work being paid for a legitimate government function? Poverty relief, social services, disaster services, etc. Even medical research. Here many Christians are balking to the idea that their $$$ should go to a group whose ideology they disagree with, but that performs a service they’ve shown they would support if not for the ideology. It’s only fair.

I’ve already blogged about news story #2. Basically the RCC doesn’t want to pay for health insurance that covers contraception, because this would force the Church to either not offer medical insurance or else pay for something they didn’t approve of morally. Interestingly, it’s not a stance that the majority of Catholics actually hold. Back in April 2011, a survey found that about 98% of Catholic Americans used contraception at some point, and 70% used it currently. I suppose you could make a somewhat-reasonable point that if Catholics didn’t use birth control as a group it didn’t make sense to lump them in with people that did use birth control – essentially forcing them to buy something they didn’t need. It’s only semi-reasonable because insurance should force people to buy what they don’t need yet, since that’s how risk pools work – otherwise you’d just have the sick people in the group, and you wouldn’t have much of an insurance policy against illnesses you can’t afford.

But that’s not even what’s going on here. The Catholic hierarchy – single men all – are deciding based on ideology what women and families should do to manage their reproduction. It isn’t that Catholics don’t want insurance; it’s that the Catholic Church disagrees with it and is opposed to paying for it. And really, the RCC is no more a person than corporations are.

That’s the similarity I see between these stories, and that’s the detail that’s stuck in my throat. In both cases, you have women with a real need and because of a group affiliation, people stop from filling that need when either they would like to help if not for what it says about their group identity (“I’m an abortion-enabler, not an Evangelical”) or else they should provide it (because it’s the company’s right to provide health insurance and the individual’s right to make decisions on how to use that insurance).

That seems twisted to me. Whatever other lessons we should learn from these stories, I'd say rejecting that mentality should be at the top of the list.

fidesquaerens: (Default)
This is disgusting:

Not the article but the phenomenon. Basically, in a small town in Minnesota (Sen. Bachmann's district actually), they've had a collection of I think nine suicides by high school and middle school kids. Many but not all were LGBT, and it started around the same time the school board barred teachers from promoting homosexuality through the sex ed curriculum. (That included presenting homosexuality as an acceptable "lifestyle.") Because the curriculum was so unclear, teachers were afraid to admit they were homosexual or teach about the role LGBT people had played in history. Or, you know, stop the students who taunted their perceived-as-LGBT classmates, chasing them down the hall and calling them faggot or dyke. I find those words offensive to type; imagine being thirteen an having your peers call you that in full view of a teacher, who does nothing.

There is a real sense of the-inmates-have-taken-over-the-asylum here. Some parts of the story don't quite track for me, like why teachers waited so long to take a stand. Or why the board met with an LGBT activist without having their story straight, if they needed a story. Or why the students were simultaneously traumatized by the deaths but simultaneously went on teasing them until yet more died. But I think denial can explain a lot, as can the inherently messy and illogical nature of all suicides, especially where it's kids we're talking about.

What really shook me (aside from the physical details of the suicide; they're not excessively graphic, but definitely triggery for someone with my history) was the reaction of the local "family values" advocates:

Asked on a radio program whether the anti-gay agenda of her ilk bore any responsibility for the bullying and suicides, Barb Anderson, co-author of the original "No Homo Promo," held fast to her principles, blaming pro-gay groups for the tragedies. She explained that such "child corruption" agencies allow "quote-unquote gay kids" to wrongly feel legitimized. "And then these kids are locked into a lifestyle with their choices limited, and many times this can be disastrous to them as they get into the behavior which leads to disease and death," Anderson said.

Let's assume just for the moment that she's right, that homosexuality actually does lead to a shorter lifespan. Say there's a higher prevalence of AIDS and other diseases, that social pressures lead to self-destructive behaviors. I don't believe that, but let's just say for arguments. In these cases it wasn't AIDS or "limited choices" or anything else that killed these kids.

It was hate.

And that hate can be traced back to the bullying and alienation that the policy not to mention LGBT issues and individuals in the curriculum pointed back to. Some of the suicidees were thirteen. I can't imagine Samantha had even heard of ACTUP, the GLF, or whatever their modern analogs are. But she knew the hate she dealt with every day. If the person who put this policy in place cannot feel empathy for her and thinks the only proper response is to blame her "kind," then Ms. Anderson is missing something big about being a human. Kids are dead. I'm not so naive to think it's all her fault because, as I said, suicide is complicated. But teachers who stood by while this harassing happened time and again and district policies that made it difficult to do anything else had more of a role in this dynamic than any "gay agenda."

Honestly, stuff like this makes me ashamed to be a Christian. I've read enough of my Bible to know these folks aren't practicing the real deal, and I've known enough Christians to know they're not all this. But if I was a high school kid in Anoka, MN, I think I could be forgiven from praying the bumper-sticker's prayer: Lord, save us from your followers.



Originally posted at LJ; please comment there.
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I've been following the debate over health care mandates, freedom of conscience, and religious exemptions pretty closely. It's really very interesting and (for me at least) very personal.

For those of you who aren't American or, you know, have lives to live that don't involve watching the news, the new health care bill basically requires everyone to carry insurance. If you can't afford it, you get a tax-paid subsidy to help out; if you refuse, you pay a penalty to cover the cost of health care if you get sick. The problem is that many companies only offer very minimal coverage – either really high deductibles (the amount you have to pay before insurance kicks in) or low caps (after which you're responsible for the bills). So to help with that problem, Congress said that each eligible plan – meaning, the plans that will let you avoid the penalty – have to provide a certain level of coverage in several defined areas.

And one of those areas was reproductive health for women. Anyone familiar with American politics and the *erm* heightened interest anything to do with sex seems to draw.

Even before the law passed, it was on record that no taxpayer money could go to fund abortions. I wasn't crazy about that decision, but at the time I accepted as the price of doing business. Personally the thought of people with money deciding what medically-necessary health procedures I should have access to (yes, even if they're footing the bill) really bothers me. This is basically because I recognize that yes, capitalism is great at encouraging innovation and hard work and all that, but it really and truly sucks at distributing resources in a fair way. I think that middle- and upper-class people are generally overpaid, meaning that we should give up our money to fill the actual needs of the poor. I see this as a moral duty, and I don't think I should get to say how that money is actually used. So I don't think I should be able to tell a poor woman she can't have an abortion or buy a soda out of their food stamp money (another personal bugabear, brought to you courtesy of Mayor Bloomberg) or whatever, any more than I should be able to tell a rich or middle-class person. But whatever. As I said, with the abortion provision, I do think the ends justified the means there, even if I wasn't totally comfortable with it.

Now the government is trying to work out just what insurances should have to cover. One of those areas, as I mentioned above, is reproductive health. Basically, the government wants to force all health insurance plans to cover health insurance – including plans paid for in part by employers who have traditionally opposed birth control, like the Roman Catholic Church. There are conscience clause exceptions, which basically let people whose jobs are suitably religious in nature (think pastors and priests) buy insurance plans that don't cover birth control. Sometimes the groups oppose birth control on principle, like the Catholics whose natural law ethics condemn any ejaculation that doesn't have the goal of procreation. Other times there's a concern that the some of the birth controls can act as abortifacients, opening up a back door to taxpayer-funded abortions. Still others, usually conservative Protestants, point to the connection between birth control and extramarital sex and don't want to subsidize promiscuity.

But whatever the reason, these groups don't want to limit the conscience clause to clergy and church employees. The conscience exception wouldn't apply to people whose work wasn't devoted to religious ends. Like social workers and nurses employed by Catholic charities, for instance. And plans for students at religious universities would have to cover birth control.

This is where it gets personal for me, because I am a graduate student on stipend at attend a Jesuit (Catholic) university, and I was very much surprised to discover that my health insurance (purchased through my school) doesn't cover birth control or really anything reproduction-related besides OB-GYN exams. I'm not a member of the Roman Catholic Church, nor do I think I accepted a "Catholic" ethic because I decided to study and teach here. Jesuits just happen to produce the best scholars in my corner of philosophy. As it happens, I don't need birth control because I'm not sexually active, and I actually think most premarital sex is immoral for various reason. But that's my decision, based on my moral choice. And for the majority of the culture that disagrees with me, that's there moral choice, too. To be perfectly honest, I really resent the idea that some group I never joined up with should decide what kind of health choices I'm able to access.

(To be clear: this "joined up" idea can be hard to nail down. If you were born into a church and your whole family belonged, staying on the church rosters could just be inertia at work. Or maybe you joined because you agreed with most of the beliefs but not this one. Or maybe you took a job at a Catholic hospital or teaching Spanish at an evangelical high school because it was the only or best opening in your area. None of these should take away your access to medical procedures. But this is doubly so for college students, given how little emphasis students put on the school's ideology when choosing to go there.)

This, right here, is why the whole idea of relying on charity for basic needs doesn't work. The Catholic Church (and the other groups taking similar stances) are saying it's an affront to their freedom of conscience if they have to pay for my birth control (if I decided I wanted it). I would maybe be okay with that (maybe) if not for the refrain I keep hearing in politics. We're told that government is inefficient, that it's wrong to make people give up their money to support people who didn't earn it. That Americans are the most generous nation and to just let people hold on to their money so they can donate it willingly. But many, many charities have religious ideologies. Those that don't tend to have their own ideologies, and many attach requirements to people using their money. That doesn't sit right with me.

Think about an analogy. Say someone proposes we slash the budget for Section 8 housing. [for Non-Americans: government $$$ paid to private landlords, to provide lower-income housing for the poor] This is in exchange for a taxcut, with the assumption people will turn around and donate that money to private charities working in their local area. Only those charities have their own ideology, as most do. Say a certain charity has a strong ideological position against smoking. (Perhaps it's Mormon-backed, whose church considers tobacco use a sin; perhaps the group's founder just lost a favorite uncle to emphysema and hates smoking.) I can't help thinking low-income people would be less free under this system than the current one.

I guess it all comes down to this for me: you can only use those rights you have the power to exercise. I'm all for personal responsibility and saying that if you have enough money to meet your needs if you were smart about it and you squander it, that you're responsible for. Maybe those people need to suffer, or maybe there's room for honest-to-goodness charity there. But if someone isn't making enough to have a basic standard of living, if they're trying to find a job and can't or if the jobs available pay too little, that's not what charity's for. They need public funds – yes, taken from my tax $$$ – and it's really not up to me how they spend it. That's justice.

Your thoughts?

Originally posted at LJ; please comment there.
fidesquaerens: (Default)
HuffPo has an interesting story about Domaine Javier, a transgender student who was recently expelled from a Baptist-affiliated university:

24-year-old Domaine Javier, who has identified as female since she was a toddler, said California Baptist University officials told her she was expelled for falsely claiming on her application form that she is female. Letters sent to Javier from university officials say she was expelled for "committing or attempting to engage in fraud, or concealing identity" in university judicial processes.

"I didn't do anything wrong," Javier, who was to be a transfer student from Riverside City College (RCC) and had initially been awarded a $3,500 academic scholarship, is quoted as saying. "They said, 'On your application form you put 'female.' And I was like, 'Yeah, that's how I see myself.'" Javier will now return to RCC but cannot enter the nursing program until next fall. "This totally ruined my career path," she added.

Javier said she appeared on an April episode of "True Life" entitled "I'm Passing as Someone I'm Not" in an effort to raise awareness on transgender issues. "I am a girl trapped in a guy's body," Javier said on the show, which also showed a segment of her on a date with a man who cut off the relationship after she told him she is transgender.

I don't know what to think about this, personally. I'm sympathetic - frankly, I can't imagine what she was supposed to do. I mean, if she has applied as a male and showed up in a female body that would have caused an even bigger problem I think. If only administratively. I mean, imagine being assigned a roommate who didn't look like the gender you were matched with.

In a technical sense, I can see CBU's point. If she wasn't legally female, then I suspect she did lie on her application - no matter how she "saw" herself. I wonder if she would have gotten in and received the scholarship if she was perceived as male. (I honestly don't know, but given the career it doesn't seem impossible.) So there's a concern that she got preferential treatment that wasn't warranted, and also I can see there being a larger policy that anyone who uses anything other than his or her legal name gets into disciplinary issues. Because that can be how a lot of people hide their identity. I can see why a blanket policy like that would make sense.

The thing with this situation is, though, it's hard to read the thing that innocently. This is the Baptist church, and they're not exactly known for being LGBT-affirming. I suspect that if I used my middle name rather than my first name, because that was the name I'd used since childhood in conversation and what I saw as mine, well, I can't see myself being kicked out.

Interestingly: not that DADT ever works, but with the transgendered it really doesn't work. You can't show up without being perceived one way, and if your legal and appearance gender don't match, you run into problems. So a part of me wants to allow CBU its theology (however much I disagree with it), I just don't see how a student like Domaine could ever play within their rules without completely changing who she is.
fidesquaerens: (Star Trek)

I may have always been certifiable, but I am now proud to admit that I am now certified! I finished up Fordham's two-part training to join their LGBT ally network. I have long been a supporter of their work and I'd actually reached out to them for help on teaching philosophical concepts related to philosophy in a way that was more inclusive. I sometimes have to be offensive to jar people out of their assumptions - but I like for my offensiveness to be planned rather than accidental!

Still, I hadn't been able to attend the trainings because of scheduling. That problem is now solved. I was really impressed with the training, actually. The two-session format gave plenty of time for reflection about what we were discussing. I felt I could openly say things that weren't homophobic but were not exactly warm-and-fuzzy, like the fact that when a friend came out to me I felt I had been lied to (even though I recognized I hadn't been, and why the friend didn't come out right away). I felt like I could admit that even in a room full of LGBT-affirming individuals. Maybe I just am incapable of shading the truth, but I like to see it had more to do with good conversation.

I also was impressed with how the whole event was infused with cura personalis, the Jesuit philosophy that we are educating and caring for the whole individual. It's hard to nail down exactly why I got that impression; but I just had a real sense that they were balancing my school's catholic identity and all that implied about sexual ethics, with a true concern for the students as individuals and a drive to help them develop into adults, psychologically and sexually as well as intellectually.
fidesquaerens: (sexuality)
One can do worse with your interwebz time than watch Colbert, so I thought I'd share a clip. I saw it through my friend Dan's blog, incidentally, and I'm glad I didn't miss it.

Read more... )

I was kind of taken back by some comments in the View clip. As I said over at Dan's blog:

What surprises me about all of this most was the way the people on the View acted like being gay is a choice no one would make. It’s one thing to say no one chooses to be gay because, well, IT’S NOT A CHOICE; but do we really think (say) the African-American community would be okay if we asked who in their right mind would choose to be African-American? Yes, there is discrimination (for both groups) but there is also unique value in that identity (again, for both groups).

The video got me thinking, though, about the nature of choice. Because I saw Moneyball last night (great movie, btw), geekdom is on my mind. So I'd like to ask a related question. Is being a geek, really a choice?

I understand choice to mean that what you were going to do is not pre-determined by things you have no control over. This is a major argument some philosophers put forward against free will: since future events are all controlled by past events which can't be changed and laws of nature which likewise can't be changed, what room is there for personal responsibility and choice? That seems to be what most people mean when they talk about homosexuality being a choice; though I'm open to corrections, of course.

A person might choose to write fanfic or join SCA in the same way they might choose to take ballet lessons. There's no lack of choice there, nothing forcing you to act one way or the other. Certainly I don't think this guy was forced to show his inner geek to the world like he did:

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So acts of geekdom seem pretty much like free choices to me. But what about the underlying geeky character? It seems in a certain way this might be like having a family history of heart disease. You have better-than-normal odds given a certain set of genetically-determined traits (a desire to be different, an aesthetic sense that draws you to normally-ostracized art genres, an inexplicable liking for twelve-sided dice, even just a generally shy nature or high intelligence that pulls you to spend time alone). And like with the history of heart disease, if you "feed" yourself a certain way you're more likely to develop the full condition. The philosopher's argument I mentioned above would seem to say you're not in control of the fact that you had those experiences - they were controlled by other events in the past and by universal laws, etc.

But I'm going to be thoroughly unphilosophical and say that part of what it means to be rational (i.e. a human) is that we are not completely governed by our impulses. I have the choice to date the soccer player who parties on the weekend or the AV vice president who spends the same time teaching himself Klingon. (And five galleons if you can guess which one I would choose!) That choice is setting me on a path to socialize in a certain way, I am essentially opting for one set of likely experiences over another. Which does have the potential to change my currency.

So I guess my answer is that geekdom is a choice, at least up to a point. But I'd love other peoples' thoughts. What do you think, on this or the larger homosexuality issue?
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I saw a very interesting article in the Times today. Not a new article, I had saved it to read later through my RSS reader a while ago, but it is still very pertinent. If anything, it's only improved with age.

How Clergy Helped a Same-Sex Marriage Law Pass by Samuel Freedman

I don't expect everyone to care what clergymen are saying. And I don't expect every religious person to agree with what they're saying. But even so, as a religious person, I found it very gratifying to read how so many clergymen were fighting for a cause I had to "grow into." It does me good, personally.

I wasn't always in favor of gay marriage; or of homosexuality full stop, as up until the last three or four years I believed the Bible condemned homsoexuality unequivocally. I thought that the purpose of marriage was to procreate, and that other purposes were somehow selfish or at least centred on the self rather than on the good that could come out of sex in the proper context. To become a co-creator with God seemed holy, and at one time I thought of homosexuality as drawing people away from that. I actually thought being gay was some sort of a curse - not a moral fault because I didn't think you deserved it, but still something that kept a person from reaching their creative abilities. That made sense, once upon a time.

Years of experience, in particular experiencing my good friends who tried to be both homosexual (or bisexual, in one case) and still maintain their Christian identities, challenged that idea. It's called growth, and it's a good thing, though of course it's uncomfortable at times. People like Rvd. Sweringen encouraged me to see things differently. They actually probably helped me hold on to my own Christian identity because I have never been one to sacrifice facts to preconceptions. I can't (I've tried!) and when I encountered clergy like her that reminded me that the view I grew up with wasn't the only option available to Christians - well, it helped me grow again. I think it made me a better Christian and a better person generally, because it led me to better define my views and my beliefs.

So I am proud of her and those like her. Quite aside from my personal gratitude, I like to think that these people are shaping the face of Christianity, and would do more if there were more of them, if the media made them more visible, etc. The other option seems to be the Anne Rice approach, which I understand all too well but really don't agree with. it just lets the other side define too much of what it means to be a member of a particular religion.

I did find it a bit odd that clergy would be involved in this particular legal battle. As I understand it, gay marriage is usually presented as not really the business of religious folks. And while the article makes the case that it doesn't have to be that way, I still think that clergy's involvement is a bit... odd in a way I can't quite explain. Clergy - and religious folk generally - do have a lot of work to do on sexuality, but it's not really about whether the state should recognize same-sex marriages. It's about where those non-heterosexual couples fit into the picture of love, marriage, children, and sexuality as religions paint the picture. I've always thought it was a shame that so many gay-affirming religious folk didn't challenge the idea, that marriage before God was for straight folks only.

We can only hope that people like Rvd. Sweringen continue to bring their courage to their churches as well as the public square. Personally, I'm ready for that great conversation. More than ready, actually!


A word on the new hobbit-hole:

Thanks to [personal profile] tree_and_leaf for the invite code. I appreciate it!

Over at LJ, I have experienced a sharp uptick in the amount of spam. There are other factors, too; really, it was just time for a move. I will still probably be reading mostly at LJ because that is where most of my friends spend time, but I am looking forward to breaking in a new DW blog. From now on I will probably post here and would appreciate it if people would comment here. We will try it for a few weeks and see how that goes.

LJ folks can comment without signing up for a new account. Two options:

  1. Dreamwidth lets you post using your LJ username, through the magic of something called openID. Read about it here and just use your current LJ account to comment here.
  2. Also, feel free to use the "anonymous" comment feature. I appreciate a name I recognize, but that can be typed at the end of the comment if you don't have an account and can't figure out how to use open ID.

FB users, I don't think you can comment using that account. But you are more than free to comment over at FB, or to leave a signed anonymous comment here.


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August 2012

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