November 9th, 2012


conga-rats to Maryland on marriage equality

Originally published at Faith Seeking Understanding. You can comment here or there.

On Tuesday, Maryland passed a establishing gay marriage. Other states, too, but Maryland’s vote affected me more than most. I worked one summer in the Virginia suburbs of DC an I ell in love with Silver Springs, a city on the Maryland side of that city. I’ve also visited Baltimore a few times in the last several years. That’s not enough to make me a local, but it does make Maryland feel much closer to my heart than any of the states considering marriage equality. And I’m so proud of them – that in this first group of states where voters extended marriage rights to homosexual couples, Maryland was part of it all.

Dawn Felagund wrote two lovely posts (here and here) talking about how this ballot initiative affects her personally. Do go read them – her posts are touching and heart-felt and well-written to boot. Since she handled that angle better than I could, and since she’s more directly affected in any case, I thought I’d take a slightly different tack. So in honor of Maryland and all the other states that made this first leap forward, I want to lay out three major reasons why I’m in favor of this referendum, and one reason I’m not.

1. Because marriage equality is equality for me, too. In most states, the government is willing to say that the love between a man and a woman is somehow more worthy of recognition than the love between two men or two women. The only wan this makes any sense at all to me is if you think men are so different from women that a relationship where you didn’t have these two different things involved falls short of a heterosexual relationship, which does have that variety. I am thankful to Maryland for saying if I loved a woman, that love would be just as worthy of respect.

This is a good thing. Obviously.

2. Because this particular bill is good for religion and for government. If you read the text of the bill (linked above) it clearly states that this referendum only establishes civil gay marriage – clergy cannot be penalized for refusing to do religious gay marriages, and churches aren’t required to rent out their sanctuaries. Now, as it happens I actually think (Christian) churches should marry gay couples, but that’s a completely different issue than the one under debate here. This referendum does a very good job making clear that (in its own language) “that each religious faith has exclusive control over its own theological doctrine regarding who may marry within that faith.”

Put another way: civil marriage is not religious marriage. The government has no business telling the church how to administer its sacrament, and vice versa. This is a lesson worth learning, and I think the text of the bill does a great job of making this point. This is a government function sharing the same name as a church function (necessary, since that’s the word used to describe governmental recognition of male/female couples). But this is what philosophers call homonymy: two distinct concepts using the same name. Churches and synagogues also marry people, but no one thinks a Christian marriage involves breaking a glass just because that’s part of the Jewish ritual.

3. Because of People like Joe. As an undergrad, my best friend was gay and he was bullied relentlessly by some people in the Baptist Student Association. I won’t go into the details because some stories aren’t mine to share. But I suspect most people know someone like Joe, hopefully with less drastic stories than his. Legalizing gay marriage won’t prevent all the harassment, of course, but it will make some people think of LGBT people as normal – the kind of folks who might get married, might even have kids (either their biological children from before they came out, or adopted children in many states). Bullies thrive on alienation, so the more LGBT people are seen as being like everyone else, the harder it is to put people through that.

Really, I can’t emphasize this point enough. Actual gay kids are growing up thinking there’s something about them they can’t change and that society just won’t recognize it. And aside from perception, actual gay adults don’t get survivorship benefits, the right to legally be your child’s guardian, hospital visitation rights, all kinds of things. I know gay graduate students who can’t work in most American states because they would not have the legal rights to keep their families together. When you don’t have these laws, you hurt real people.

As for the one reason I’m not a favor of this referendum? Simple. This isn’t the kind of thing that should be up for a majority vote. I’m being a bit facetious here, I know, but it really does bother me. I mean, the standard critique is that judges and not citizens have been the ones offering up marriage equality, but that’s just the way it should be. This isn’t something that needs to be bestowed on LGBT people; it’s much too fundamental for that.


In other news:

1. my new computer desktop (yayz for the polar bears)

2. a fascinating, and thought-provoking electoral map showing how misleading the red/blue divide can be at times


linguistic memery

Originally published at Faith Seeking Understanding. You can comment here or there.

H/t Dawn Felagund via pandemonium_213. The questions:

The questions:

1. Your name and/or username:

2. Where you’re from: (As specific or as generalized as you wish, depending on your level of comfort)

3. The following words: aunt, roof, route, wash, oil, theater, iron, salmon, caramel, fire, water, sure, data, ruin, crayon, toilet, New Orleans, pecan, both, again, probably, spitting image, Alabama, lawyer, coupon, mayonnaise, syrup, pajamas, caught, orange, coffee, direction, naturally, aluminum and herbs.

4. What is it called when you throw toilet paper on a house?

5. What is the bubbly carbonated drink called?

6. What do you call gym shoes?

7. What do you say to address a group of people?

8. What do you call the kind of spider that has an oval-shaped body and extremely long legs?

9. What do you call your grandparents?

10. What do you call the wheeled contraption in which you carry groceries at the supermarket?

11. What do you call it when rain falls while the sun is shining?

12. What is the thing you change the TV channel with?

And my answers:

Online recording software >>


studies in anonymity – Violentacrez, racist election tweets, and fandom

Originally published at Faith Seeking Understanding. You can comment here or there.

Some time ago, Dawn Felagund made an interesting post about “outting” on the internet. Specifically she was writing about Violentacrez, a Reddit member who had (at the time Dawn wrote her article) recently been outted. Violentacrez is obviously not his real name, but some internet users had figured out who he was and revealed that real identity.

At first glance that sounds a bit iffy. Why not let Violentacrez enjoy his anonymity? For one thing, Violentacrez is one of the biggest trolls on the internet. As Dawn describes it,

The article tells the story of a troll on the social media site Reddit who established the site’s skeevy side, which led to its explosion in popularity, by setting up forums for such noble purposes as posting sexualized photos of underage girls, sharing stalker photos of women’s breasts and butts taken on the street (without the women’s knowledge, of course), and celebrating things like violence against women, racism, and Hitler. “I just like riling people up in my spare time,” says the troll, who posted under the handle Violentacrez.

Now, I’m a Tolkien fanfic writer. That means I take characters from the Tolkien books and Jackson movies and write new stories about them. Often I do quite heavy-duty philosophical work, such as (for example) the tension between faith and reason or the problem of evil. Sometimes it’s just character building or humor or fluff. I’ve also written about gender and sexuality and the way that plays out in a world where dynastic concerns are usually present. Sometimes I write about homosexuality, or the pressure a woman might face to be wedded, bedded, and properly bred. I’m also a grad student and that means in the near future I’ll be on the job market. While I’m not ashamed of anything I’ve written, it’s also not necessarily the first thing I want hiring committees to learn about me.

So I’m sensitive to the need for anonymity. There was a time when setting boundaries between what I wrote and did online and who could see it felt important. I’m sure there are other people who feel similarly. The internet is great at letting people talk about things they wouldn’t maybe feel comfortable talking about in their offline life. Sometimes it saves years of wasted life. (I’m thinking of the Slate story several months back, where Hasidic Jews used the internet to figure out they really did not want to be part of their community before leaving meant losing their children and jobs.) Sometimes it means a fuller, more authentic kind of life all around.

And sometimes it just means realizing you’re not as alone as you may initially believe – on this point I’m thinking of the way progressive Christian blogs helped me realize that I could be a Christian without having to agree on the Religious Right on cultural issues, or the way I have seen my atheist friends find community online. These are certainly good things, and many of them rely on anonymity, to a degree. Would I have been confident enough to admit I didn’t think homosexuality was per se sinful or abortion was murder, if that statement could turn up on an internet search? Probably not. But I’m definitely a better person for saying that than I would be otherwise, I think.

So what’s the difference? Why do I get my anonymity but VIolentacrez doesn’t? I think there’s a significant distinction at work here. The things I did and said anonymously weren’t immoral, just unpopular or socially awkward. Let’s say someone is a lesbian teen living in South Dakota. She wants to connect with other gay internet users, perhaps on advice or just for support from people who may have experienced similar discrimination. Maybe she just wants the reminder that other people are like her. I’m all in favor of her reaching out and finding a community, but I can also understand why she would want to do this without risking her family finding out she was gay through a Google search.

Violentacrez, on the other hand, isn’t just doing something that was frowned upon or would lead to awkward conversations with people. His actions were wrong. And it’s completely appropriate that they had real-world consequences. (I believe he lost his job, or at least had a hard talk with his employer?) Personally, I think the internet needs to find a better balance between anonymity and permanency. I mean, while I support the freedom anonymity is allowed, so much of the time people set up new accounts because they want to say hurtful, unproductive things they would never say otherwise. Just read the comments section of a blog entry or article at a major site. Just read YouTube comments sometime. Or don’t. Your psyche will probably thank you for it.

I was reminded of this by an interesting Jezebel story where teens made some pretty awful racist comments in the aftermath of Obama’s elections. Lots of people were doing that (see above comment re: comparative anonymity) but these kids used their real name. Since these kids also talked about their participation in high school athletics, Jezebel authors were able to contact the kids’ principals and asked them whether these comments jived with the schools’ ethos and policies on social media usage, and if not, why not?

I’m honestly not sure what to make of this one. On the one hand those comments were vile, and some of the kids are getting close to adulthood. I suspect that while they may actually have picked up some racist attitudes, the expression of those attitudes has more to do with immaturity than anything. It does seem a little petty to first get the kids in trouble and then publicly humiliate them on a major website. Since these kids are athletes and in some sense represent their school (and sign a contract saying they’ll act well all the time as part of that participation), the censoring of tweets doesn’t bother me so much. And this is certainly the kind of thing that is reprehensible for its own sake. But is this kind of outting okay?

My instinct is that outting people over racist comments made online is absolutely acceptable – but. In this particular case we’re talking about teenagers who have a relatively low profile (and weren’t, technically speaking, actually outted if their RL name was on their account). Because of that I think the better approach is to treat this as a teachable moment and actually help the kid realize that once you put something on the internet it’s there forever. Also, you know, confront the racism. It’s possible to respect someone, particularly an elected leader, without agreeing with him. I hated those ape cartoons of Bush Jr. when he was in office and I hate the racial undertones you see with Obama even more. If the kid really does believe these comments are true that needs addressing in the worst way. If he just thought he was being cool, that probably requires a talk or too as well.

What do you think? Where do you draw the line between normal fandom or other internet communities that actually use anonymity well, and people like Violentacrez? What are the dangers of anonymity, and how do we handle them?