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Death and Social Media

Not too long ago, my Facebook feed was suddenly peppered with vague posts about the death of somebody who was part of a broader (but quite small) community of which I am a member. People refused to post the name of the person who died.

I was immediately filled with fear and anxiety that I was out of the loop on the death of somebody I might know and care about. It had happened to me with Sparkly (learned about her on Facebook, by accident), and I had been the person filling in people who were out of the loop on Donovan (learned he was in a coma when I was, without warning, added to a Facebook group to discuss it). And what I learned from both of those tragic events is that:

1. It totally sucks to learn these things via Facebook;
2. Learning these things via Facebook is inevitable;
3. Nobody, nobody should be out of the loop when somebody in a close-knit community is seriously injured, near death, or dead;
4. We need to take a serious look at how we handle tragedy on social media.

In the most recent circumstances, a small but very visible and active group within the larger grieving community seemed to think that not naming names would protect privacy, even as they posted details about his death that were far more invasive than his identity. This group was also inclined to criticize those asking for more information. When my very dear friend Rachel, who has lived through more brutal loss than the vast majority of the people I know, finally demanded that people name names, another friend commented, “If you are frustrated by not being in the in club over grieving with us, consider yourself lucky.”

Now, I understand that grief totally kills our communication skills. And this is why not a single one of us called him out on this comment. However, the essence of that comment should be addressed, because Rachel was not the only person who was essentially accused of being a vulture for asking.

I think we need to start with the assumption that nobody actually wants to be in that club. Nobody. If you really think somebody wants to be in that club, it’s time to do some unfriending and maybe look into a temporary restraining order. Okay? So let’s start with that foundational premise. Nobody wants to be in that club. If people are going to glom on for drama, that will become readily apparent, and they will not be anybody’s problem but their own.

I think we should continue with the general awareness that people die. I know, it’s something nobody really wants to think about, which makes all of these discussions about death much more difficult. Rachel’s response to the accusation of wanting to be in the mourner’s club nailed my reaction to this series of vaguebook posts: “Our community is very high risk, and I have lost more friends than I have digits to suicide, drugs, and motorcycle accidents. I found out in a million different ways. Because of this, fear strikes my heart EVERY TIME I hear ‘motorcycle casualty on the 880′ or any time [people] are posting about some unnamed tragedy.”

Marisa filled it out: “I’ve known too many quick-and-deads to ever, ever think that ‘if I knew them, I would know.’ I found out last week about a dear friend…via Facebook. But at least names were named. [...]Creating this kind of stress and anxiety in this incredibly high risk group is rude. It’s not telling anyone how to grieve; it’s asking for basic consideration.”

I’m not sure I know more than a tiny handful of people who have not been affected by tragedy and/or sudden death. Hell, just in case you think I am being insensitive, I have been struggling with depression and suicide ideation since I was a child. To top that off, I ride a motorcycle. In reality I–or any of us–could die any day. Every day. So many of my friends are similar: they suffer from extreme depression, are risk takers, get into accidents, and some of them have died. We are high-risk. With regard to the death of loved ones, I have not always been in the immediate loop. Nor would I expect even my closest friends to be in the event of my injury or death. Too many breaks in communication can happen. So assuming:

A. that everybody who should know does know is wrong.

B. that not naming names has no effect on those who didn’t know the individual is wrong.

C. that people who ask for the identity of the deceased are just social media vultures is—you guessed it—wrong.

I think we also need to think about how we handle information. Talking about a death in the community, not naming names, but offering other extremely private details is kinda like creating a really screwed up guessing game and it protects nobody’s privacy, ultimately.

For the record, when people understandably don’t want to guess, calling them vultures for asking for information is going to result in some ruffled feathers, especially when you have given just enough information to create the need to ask for more. You are hurting. I get it, and I have been there. I am so very, very sorry for your loss. But freaking out a bunch of your friends and then slapping them down when they ask for information is not the way to handle it. As my friend Normal pointed out in an analog example, “I don’t go to Lucky 13 and yell ‘one of us died and I feel sad!’ and then walk off to the bathroom without expecting a lot of follow-up upsetness.”

fat amyNorm gets a gif for that, because she nailed it.

We have all lost people. We are extremely aware of how truly fragile are the lives of our friends, family, and loved ones. And when somebody in a close-knit community feels the need to say that somebody who was a part of the community died, but not who it was, it does far more harm than good.

If you are going to withhold information out of respect to families and partners, consider withholding all of it and finding a more private forum for your initial response. In examples I have seen and heard of, some folks refused to name names publicly but explicitly offered to if contacted privately. It turns out I didn’t know the deceased, and I had the amazing and unfortunate privilege of getting to struggle with a feeling of intense relief even as I watched people I care about grieve.

I have read everything his friends have posted about him, and I have let those posts give substance to the person my friends have lost. This post is not about the fact that I don’t care; I do. This post is about the fact that people need to know, even if just to learn that their hearts won’t be breaking, this time. 

A Checkered Year

I suppose it’s time for my increasingly traditional annual retrospective. 

If 2013 were a cartoon animal, it would be the Cat in the Hat, balancing too much shit and ultimately failing. Oh, don’t get me wrong, many, many good things happened in 2013. 

  • I went to Puerto Vallarta, my first vacation in six years.
  • My friends generously helped me get Iago, my beloved motorcycle back on the road.
  • With some overlap, my friends also helped me raise significant funds for the organization for which I work.
  • I moved into a fantastic apartment in SF (with laundry AND a dishwasher AND hardwood floors AND natural light AND off-street parking).
  • I met Allie Brosh.
  • I got three raises (which add up to, in just a little over a year, a 29% raise from my first salary here).
  • Luke and Marisa got married.
  • Jay and Jenneviere got married.
  • What I am hoping is becoming a Christmas tradition of spending one of the most annoying days of the year with my friends Lisa, Matt, and Elaine.
  • I have met some new people and made some new friends, at least two of whom are definitely keepers (and one I just fucking love so much I gave her, as somebody pointed out when I mentioned the book signing, an original Allie Brosh drawing).
  • I beat my all time best bowling score. Which isn’t amazing, but I’m still pretty pleased with myself. (Current best: 157.)
  • I learned some new things about who I am and how my brain works that explains A LOT about me and is helping me to make sense of my life and who I am.

But 2013 also slipped on a gigantic pile of shit, twisted its ankle, and landed on its face in yet another gigantic pile of shit with its mouth wide fucking open, for me and for people I love.

Losing Sparkly Devil broke more hearts than mine, and I think some part of me is always going to be wondering when we are going to go get our next cocktail and talk about everything. I still make notes in my head for things I want to chat with her about. Apparently it’s going to be a while, so I should start writing them down.

  • I have watched my friends lose people, family members, partners to death, relationship failure, and drama. Broken hearts everywhere.
  • There are friends who have been too far away for me to give them the kind of support I wanted to give.
  • I am having to face the fact that my beloved constant companion, my purrbucket, my cuddly, affectionate, loving, and deeply annoying cat Thumper is officially old. He still looks great in a bowtie, though.

I don’t do the resolution thing, really. I know what I want to accomplish in the next year. I don’t know how I am going to do all of it, yet, but I’ll figure it out. 

Happy New Year.

The Ultimate Nightmare

I was seven years old when A Nightmare on Elm Street came out in 1984. For some reason my babysitter decided it would be fine for me to see it. Yeah, you should probably check in with the people babysitting your kids.

Two things have been true until tonight:

1. I have been fascinated by and have actively sought out horror movies ever since; and
2. I haven’t watched the original ANOES since (I saw the remake; it wasn’t awful).

Oh, let me clarify. I haven’t watched the original since…until tonight. I’m watching it now. Why not? I thought to myself as I chose how to celebrate my favorite holidayWhy not celebrate with the movie that entirely rewired my wee brain when I was a child? It’s possible that I’ll have the answer to that soon, but the movie is only just a few minutes in.

Let’s share a little history. The effect that this movie had on me, a kid who hadn’t even made it to the first grade yet, was striking. It terrified me. I did not yet have the ridiculously macabre and dark sense of humor I do now. I did not have the ability to recognize the sick sense of humor in the horror before me. I just saw Freddy Krueger.

freddyarms

You know the full story by now, but Freddy was a scary-as-fuck dead guy who could kill you in your dreams, and even preschool Whiskeypants knew that was Fucked. Up. Preschool Whiskeypants knew that waking up was hard sometimes. Preschool Whiskeypants had intense nightmares on a very regular basis and was pretty damn sure that it made absolute sense that your nightmares could kill you. 

I would spend the rest of my childhood trying to figure out how to sleep safely. While it wasn’t only because of ANOES (there was a host of other factors in my childhood that added to this), this movie hardwired me to believe that sleep left a person altogether too vulnerable. In fact, I think it was out of desperation for rest that my brain created its own coping mechanism: it turned Freddy Krueger into an ally. Freddy would show up in my nightmares and show me the way out. It was the only way my subconscious could work through my absolute terror of the character.

Rewatching A Nightmare on Elm Street right now is giving me a new appreciation for the movie, but the fear that 7-year-old Whiskeypants experienced is still there, 29 years later. It’s not a fear of the movie, with its nigh-hilarious special effects (Freddy has fluorescent green blood? Really?), baby Johnny Depp, and fascinating hairdos. It’s still the idea behind it that gets me. That makes me wonder how well I will sleep tonight.

I guess in some ways, 36-year-old Whiskeypants is still 7-year-old Whiskeypants.

Happy Halloween.

One, two...

One, two…

Sexy Halloween

YOU GUYS. Halloween is just around the corner! You know what THAT means: it’s time to scramble to put together the perfect Sexy [Whatever] costume. But what if all your friends are already going as Sexy Nurse, Sexy Nun, Sexy Cop, Sexy Zombie and Sexy Lisa Simpson? DO NOT WORRY. Everything is going to be okay, because my friends and I have pages and pages of ideas for you, courtesy of this lovely comic and an absolutely epic Facebook thread.

Are you ready for this?
If yes, click below (and click again) for embiggenation:

Sexy Halloween

Note: I love Halloween. I mean, really. I LOVE Halloween. The sheer amount of work and creativity that goes into this unholiday is mindblowing and I enjoy it immensely. So even if I didn’t have a host of other issues with the “Sexy [x]” Halloween costume, the sheer consistent laziness of it would irritate me.

Different Lenses

Not too long ago I was in Mexico, at a beautiful hotel with a beautiful view. And I took pictures, and posted various photos and experiences to Facebook. And I was told by more than one person to put my phone away and just enjoy my vacation.

My gut reaction, which I did not share with anybody but my girlfriend, was: “Fuck you for telling me how to enjoy my vacation.”

middle-finger-x-ray_large

I’ve been thinking about it since then. Sure, there are the workaholics who really should try to leave their work at home, who can’t stop themselves from responding to work emails, reading up for the next big meeting, doing final edits on memos, briefs, and other shit nobody should be doing on their vacation (on the other hand, work at a beach > work at an office, so it’s still an improvement). But I wasn’t doing any of that. I was merely doing something I find fun no matter where I am, and I can’t for the life of me figure out how posting pics and articles to Facebook was ruining my vacation.

It didn’t stop me from enjoying poolside cucumber margaritas. It didn’t stop me from spending hours on the balcony hammock, watching sunsets and pirate ships. It didn’t stop me from enjoying the ridiculously tasty food. It didn’t stop me from interacting with and talking to people.

I enjoy the shit out of social media. I love having platforms on which I can be my usual opinionated self and where people can quietly block me if they are tired of my voice. I love having a place where I can share my experiences, thoughts, pictures, blog posts, and found material with my friends. I don’t think of social media as some kind of addiction holding me back from experiencing life. I think of it as a place where I can show people I love what I am experiencing, how I am experiencing it, why I am experiencing it that way, etc. Before social media, and some of the people reading this may remember it, I did this via mass email. Without social media, I’d find another platform to do all these things. It’s just part of who I am, and being able to share what I share, how I share, and when I share it makes me happy and ultimately enhances my experience.

I’m reminded of a complaint that, if memory serves, came from the ridiculously talented Audrey Penven, that people too often tell photographers to stop taking pictures and just experience the moment. I’ve seen such comments before and I have always wondered why people cannot realize that, for some, being behind the camera is experiencing the moment. We all see and share with the world through different lenses, and some of us come equipped with extra.

2013-07-23 20.42.10Yeah. How can I ever appreciate this sunset if I take a second to click a button on my camera?
VACATION RUINED.

Now, here’s the thing: I don’t care what you think about the evils of social media. I don’t care if you think it’s a blemish on society, if you think it’s ruining our children, if you are tired of selfies and pictures of cats. I don’t care if Obama himself appointed you the Sheriff of Phoneville and the Minister of Social Media in one. I don’t care if you are the fucking King of Twitter. I don’t care if you see pictures of people on their phones and heave great big sighs of disappointment that tech has ruined EVERYTHING. I don’t care how many shitty smartphone-related anecdotes you have to share with me. I. Don’t. Fucking. Care.

I don’t care that you would choose to experience your vacation differently. I don’t care that you think vacations should = a lack of online connectivity. I do care if you decide that you are the expert on the Whiskeypants Experience and that you need to tell me what I should be doing to enjoy my life. I do care if you decide that you are the authority on when and how I can use my phone*. Because here’s some fair warning: if you do, I’m going to tell you to shut the fuck up. I’m going to tell you it’s none of your goddamn business. And I’m going to do it on Facebook, with hashtags, in all caps, just to make it even more fun for me.

Got it? Good. Have an A1 day.

*Note: This is about quiet, non-invasive use of phones, not the I’M GONNA TALK REALLY LOUDLY IN THIS PUBLIC SPACE LIKE A COMPLETE ASSHOLE use of phones that is just obnoxious to everybody.

!

I was reading this letter, which is full of very emphatic and violent hate for a neighborhood kid with autism, and I was simultaneously nauseated by what this awful, cowardly woman said and assumed and the sheer number of exclamation points she used to emphasize the hate she was spewing.

I could do one of my usual rants about the shittiness of this woman’s attitude and method of handling the situation, but I think the kid’s mother handled it just fine. So to the next point: I don’t know about you guys, but this is pretty much how my brain filters the use of exclamation points:

Click for Enlargination:

exclamation

*Soft drink is made with the venom of the Peruvian Flying Pike.

[Guest Post] OMG MY FRIEND IS TRANS WHAT DO I DO?

Substitute “friend” for: “co-worker”, “schoolmate”, “partner of someone you know”, or someone in the public eye. For example, Chelsea Manning.

If you don’t already know (maybe you live under a rock or are one of those people who reads snarky blogs and not the news), Chelsea Manning went public today regarding her identity, preferred pronoun, and new name (as reported accurately and sensitively by The Guardian, Rolling Stone, and of all places, MSNBC).

It’s pretty sad that other media outlets refuse, even while reporting on this story, to use the correct pronoun. Hint, it’s female pronouns: “she”, “her”, etc.

What’s playing out today in the media is, sadly, the same kind of thing that plays out at parties, work environments, or in social scenes. There’s always a few people who get it instantly, and a lot more who need to be educated, plus a sprinkling of haters who will willfully resist the truth or argue against. Why? Who knows. Maybe they’re angry that this person looks better in a skirt  or a suit than they do.

For the sake of this post, let’s assume most people are in the middle group. You’re a nice person, you want to do the right thing, and suddenly your friend is dating a trans person, or is a trans person, or maybe your kid is trans, or your kid’s friend. What’s the etiquette around what might be (to you) a new name or pronoun?

1. Names have power.

Perhaps you are happy with the name your parents gave you at birth. Perhaps you are happy with the gender and sexual identity presumed for you at birth. Go you. It doesn’t hurt you, your gender, or your sexuality to hold a space where other people can be accepted for who they are.

USE THEIR NEW NAME. ALWAYS.

It can be tough switching someone’s name in your mind. The more you use it, the easier it will become, I promise. A few months in and you won’t remember their old name, which will come in handy in other situations which I will get into a little further down this page.

2. Pronouns have power

USE THEIR NEW PRONOUN. Ignore how the New York Times has a perpetual inability to get this right in any article about a trans person. You should be reading The Guardian anyway. Practice also helps.

3. What if I screw it up?

You’re gonna screw it up. We’ve all screwed this up. Correct yourself and move on. It’s as simple as that. Don’t make a big deal out of it. Know that your trans friend noticed. Yes, we notice every, single time someone does this. The more you bring it up, the worse you look.

If you feel the need to apologize for messing this up, especially if you do it in public, make a private apology to your friend or the person whom you wronged. Own your mistake, don’t tell them it’s their fault because “you’re confusing.” It isn’t their fault, it’s yours. Do the right thing and apologize, in private, and with honesty.

4. How to avoid screwing it up?

If you, for whatever reason, simply cannot get this person’s pronoun correct, then refer to them by their name until your mental reframing of them is more complete. Take a moment and look at this person, really see them, not your impression of them, not your past idea of who they are. At the risk of getting into the land of ‘woo’, look at their essence and be open to being flexible. This person has come a long way; your job is to support them and accept them.

Imagine if every time someone looked at you, they saw you with that horrible haircut you had in Jr. High or High School. No, it’s not the same as gender, but the mental timestamp is just as out of date. Flush your mental browser cache and enjoy your friend’s new look.

Avoid doing that thing where you go out of your way to use their new pronoun more frequently than is necessary. That’s kind of the same as when white people talk about their ‘black friend’.

5. How to be an ally to a trans person?

Do not gossip or share personal information. This means: do not tell other people that this person is trans, their former pronoun, or their former name. To anyone. Even with people you know also share this information. Do you want people talking about your tummy tuck or abortion at a cocktail party to a group of fascinated strangers or co-workers? Didn’t think so.

When someone trusts you (and it is a trust) with their truth, your one response should be to honor that trust by not betraying it.

Before you get angry that I’ve equated a hormonal or surgical transition with something to be ashamed of, know this. Some trans people are very open in regard to discussing their transition. Some trans people use hormones or surgery, others do not. There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to transition. Transition is a personal procedure and should be kept private.

People are also comfortable discussing their abortions, the births of their children (in gruesome detail which I like to hear because I like gross stuff), or their colonoscopy. These are highly personal stories and should be shared only by the person who experienced them. That isn’t about being politically correct—that’s just good manners. Don’t be rude and co-opt someone else’s good party story. If other people are gossiping, shut them down. If they gossip about your friend, chances are they’re also gossiping about you.

Do not ask if they are planning to get/have gotten surgery.

Just. Don’t. Think about it. Unless you are their surgeon, it’s none of your business what’s going on down there.

Educate yourself on trans issues.

There are a ton of articles similar to this online, (many of them better written) as well as many, many books on the subject of being trans, partnering with trans people, and the human rights issues faces by trans people. Some of them have contrasting information. Be informed. Read. Use your critical analysis skills and stay compassionate.

Trans teenagers, and adults for that matter, are far more likely to attempt suicide or use drugs/alcohol. This is not because all us trans people are So Messed Up. This is because the world treats trans people unfairly. Transgendered people are more likely to be unemployed or face discrimination on the job. Health insurance companies do their damnedest to deny trans people access to transition-related services, including mental health services, which have been proven time and time again to improve people’s quality of life, personal safety, and economic security. Trans people often lose the support of family and friends and must constantly fight for recognition that their transition is real, necessary, and meaningful.

Never use the word ‘Tranny’

Just. Don’t.

6. As a final note: 

Since the default standard mainstream dialogue around trans people is to treat them like the punchline to a joke, I can see why uninformed people might interpret it that way. This is a good opportunity for people surprised by the news to consider how their mental awareness of trans issues is shaped by representations in the media. Compare the coverage, consider how respectful writers and reporters are of names and pronouns. 

[Whiskeynote: Don't run from your confusion, your curiosity, your ignorance and your discomfort. Embrace it. Ask questions—mindfully. Read up. Think critically. It can only make the world better for our trans friends, family members, lovers, and even people we have never met.]

Guest blogger T is trans and queer identified, currently owned by two cats, lives in San Francisco, and will occasionally write blog posts if nagged by close friends.
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