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Thursday, June 22, 2017

Blogaround

The four religions. (Google search box, someone has typed "how do i convert to" and Google offers 4 autocomplete options: judaism, islam, catholicism, and pdf.) Image source.
1. The Confederate flag largely disappeared after the Civil War. The fight against civil rights brought it back. (posted June 12)

2. Philando Castile Was a Role Model to Hundreds of Kids, Colleagues Say (posted 2016)

3. "Are you sure you should eat that?" (posted June 15) "Last time I had some, I scraped all the frosting off because I think it tastes bad. But you know what I was worried about? Having someone think I was scraping it off to try to make the cake 'healthier.' That’s a thing I’ve been complimented for doing in the past because I’m assumed to be 'counting my calories.'"

4. John Piper’s Best Tweets (posted June 15) This is a masterpiece.

5. Wonder Woman: When Gods Come of Age (posted June 5) "Among other things what this film is saying is that gods, like the people who create them, evolve over time."

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

"America Never Was America To Me"

Protesters holding signs and a flag that says "Black Lives Matter." Image source.
So the police officer who killed Philando Castile was found not guilty, and ... I don't know what to say. How could this happen?

Growing up white in the US, I always heard people say "we live in the greatest country on earth" and how we have "freedom" unlike other countries, that the US was founded on "equality", the idea that all of us are "created equal", and we have "rights", "innocent until proven guilty", "no cruel and unusual punishment", "rights of the accused", etc.

Yeah, none of that is true.

The US has NEVER had "equality." The founders talked a lot of talk about "all men are created equal", but they had slaves. In school I learned that thank goodness Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr fixed those racism problems and now we are all equal- but it's not true.

People say "he didn't obey the police officer's instructions" or "the cop thought he was reaching for a gun" as if that makes everything okay- is that really the kind of world you want to live in? You think a world where not following directions carries the death penalty is just completely fine, move along, nothing to see here? You think if a police officer has a feeling like someone is reaching for a gun, then it's totally fine to kill them, even if that feeling turned out to have no basis in reality? No, when white people make these kinds of excuses, what they're really saying is, "well I know it won't happen to me, so I don't really care, but I need to give some kind of excuse to blame the victim and justify my not-caring." (Please note, though, the similarity between "he wasn't 100% calm and polite and following instructions, therefore he deserved to be killed" and "all people deserve to go to hell for their sins- no matter how small those sins are.")

And white people bring up stuff about "he was on drugs" or "he was a suspect in a robbery"- like, what happened to all those lofty ideals about "innocent until proven guilty" and "America is the greatest country on earth"? So if a police officer suspects that someone committed a crime, they can totally kill them and it's FINE? Since when? You really want to live in a world where that's totally FINE?

There's never been "justice for all" in the United States. There's never been "equality." As Langston Hughes said, "America never was America to me." Instead, we have white supremacy. We have racism built into the system at all levels. And it's deadly.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Blogaround

A snow leopard holding its tail in its mouth. Image source.
1. Common Christian Miracles, Explained and Translated. (posted June 4) "It’s the most amazing thing to me that the people who make this particular claim don’t wonder who lost that money or why their need was obviously so much greater than the need of the person who their god stole from." Very good article about genres of "miracle" stories that Christians claim happened to them.

2. James Comey and the Predator in Chief (posted June 8) "The victim of sexual harassment is constantly haunted by the idea that she said or did something that gave her persecutor encouragement."

3. Harry Potter Theory: Why is Ravenclaw's Mascot an Eagle?! (posted June 13)

4. Shanghai Pride 2016 Here's a post I wrote last year about what Pride month is like here in Shanghai. (Note that this was written before I started identifying as queer.)

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

3 Reasons I Need To Identify As Ace

Ace flag with a pirate-style skull and the words "Asexual Pirates are not interested in your booty." Image source.
I'm asexual, but also straight. And engaged to a man. And I do have sex with him. So, someone might ask, what's the point of identifying as asexual? Like why does it matter? Society will see me as heterosexual, and I'm not celibate anyway, so ... so what?

Here are 3 reasons:

1. To find people who have similar experiences

Having the word "asexual" allows me to search for and find information that relates to my experiences and feelings. I can find other people who are ace, talk to them or read about their experiences, and it's really helpful to know that there are people who have gone through the same things I have.

Also, the vocabulary I've learned from the ace community has been extremely helpful in understanding my own feelings. Different types of attraction- sexual attraction, romantic attraction, sensual attraction, aesthetic attraction. Sex drive and arousal are actually separate from sexual attraction. A romantic orientation and sexual orientation that don't match. Without this language, my understanding of my own feelings would be a nebulous cloud of "well I'm really really attracted to boys, and Hendrix in particular, everything about him is great, his body is great and I love to touch him, but ......... why is sex so weird?"

2. It grants legitimacy to my "naive" questions about sex

I have a lot of questions about sex, and I feel weird asking them because people will be like "you're joking, right?" For example, I heard that, for people in regular-land rather than purity-land, it's normal to have sex sometime around the third date. Is that true? I mean, even if you tell me a statistic and it's true, I need more of an answer than that because it just does not make sense to me at all. Why would people have sex after just dating for that short amount of time? And what about casual sex, where, apparently, people are going to bars and finding a stranger to have sex with just once? Is that a real thing or just a stereotype used for fearmongering about how "immoral" our culture is? And even if you tell me "yes it is a real thing," that's not good enough, I still don't get it. I'm not judging at all, if you want to have casual sex with people, go right ahead, but I just cannot fathom why. Like what is the thought process there? Not judging at all, I am really genuinely curious.

(Other "naive" questions include: Why do people watch porn? I mean, like... what's the point, I watched a little and I was so confused. On sitcoms where some character has like 4 sexual partners in 1 year, that's like, not realistic, right? That's just one of those things where they make it more dramatic for TV, right? Like would anyone in real life actually have that many sexual partners? And when people say they want sex, do they realize that sex means stimulating one's genitals with another person? They want that?)

I have so many "naive" questions, and without the asexual label, I feel really weird asking them- like people won't treat them as serious questions. People will think I'm pretending to be clueless as a joke, or to make some kind of point, or... something? But if I first inform them that asexuality exists, it's like "proof" that I really am this clueless, I really am asking as a 100% serious question. ("I grew up in purity culture" probably also works, if you're not ace but you are still totally clueless.)

In general, when people talk about sex, there's a lot of euphemisms and "if you know what I mean" and giggling, and for real, I don't know what they mean.

And on that note, this is THE MOST USEFUL sex-ed material I have EVER seen: An Asexual's Guide To ... It doesn't use any euphemisms or jokes which assume that we all already understand what sex is or why it's pleasurable. It explicitly and directly tells you what things are. Seriously. Cannot recommend it enough.

3. To improve our sex life

[content note: in this section I talk about me and my partner having sex. maybe TMI]

A few months after Hendrix and I started having sex, I thought to myself, "wait, isn't this supposed to be, uhh, pleasurable?" The biggest immediate benefit of sex was that it completely freed me from the fear I had internalized because of purity culture. Years and years of believing that premarital sex was THE DIRTIEST SIN and it would RUIN MY LIFE, and then even after I decided I don't believe it's a sin, I was still terrified. I'm so glad we started having sex and I found out it's not some kind of life-destroying big-huge-deal. But. After a few months, I realized, "oh hey, but isn't this also supposed to be pleasurable, like, in and of itself?"

Anyway, I ended up talking to 3 different doctors about this problem. (Why does it hurt? Why do I basically just like it because I'm in love with Hendrix and any activity I do with him makes me happy, but I don't feel pleasure specifically from the act of sex itself?) None of them were that helpful. They all told me "just relax" and other equally vague and useless bits of advice.

But when I found information about asexuality online, it all made sense. That's the answer, that's why sex is so difficult for me. It's because most people have this thing called sexual attraction, and I don't. And I love Hendrix and I want to have sex with him- if I didn't know these facts about my own orientation, it would be so much more confusing and difficult.

And this paragraph is going to be explicit [NSFW], but I'm going to write it because this is the secret I've discovered that has improved our sex life SO MUCH. Like, I'm just going to go ahead and say this explicitly because NOBODY EVER SAID IT TO ME EXPLICITLY AND THAT'S WHY I'VE HAD SO MUCH TROUBLE: So if you want to do penis-in-vagina sex, the important thing is that first the vagina has to open. Like, in regular life, it's not very open and so it would be incredibly painful to try to push something in. As it turns out, when people use the term "arousal", they are referring to when the vagina becomes more wet and open (or, if you have a penis, "arousal" means getting an erection). (I think? Correct me if I'm wrong on the vocabulary. As I said, I'm kind of clueless.) Furthermore, when people talk about "foreplay", what they mean is doing things to get the body aroused. See, before, I assumed "foreplay" meant "kissing and touching each other in pleasurable ways before you have sex." But it turns out it's more than that- if you're going to do penis-in-vagina sex, the foreplay NEEDS TO accomplish the task of getting the vagina to open. I had NO IDEA. Really. I thought foreplay was just about feeling good and maybe making yourself *want* sex (in an emotional sense)- I had absolutely no idea it was also supposed to include tangible genital-related bodily reactions. And that if it doesn't, then penis-in-vagina sex will be painful or maybe even impossible. LIKE THIS IS A BIG HUGE DEAL, NOT SOMETHING YOU CAN JUST SKIP or be like "eh I guess we've done enough of that, what comes next?" Like seriously, before you try to put a penis in, use your fingers and check if the vagina is open or not. Because usually it's NOT. It's only open if you're aroused enough. Sooooo anyway I figured out that if I use a sexy toy and stimulate the clit before we start actually having sex, and get an orgasm that way, it will make the vagina open and wet. And then we can put a penis in way easier. I don't know if that falls under the category of "foreplay" or not, because it's pretty much just me doing it, not my partner, but WOWWWWW that has helped our sex life SO MUCH. (Also: Use lots of lube.)

But anyway. The point is, if I didn't identify as asexual, I would have no answers to the question of "Why is sex so difficult for me? Why do I feel like I don't *get* sex?" I want to have a good sexual relationship with Hendrix, and having this information about asexuality is a necessary starting point.

-----

I need the term "asexual." Even though I'm straight, even though I do have sex. Without the language and concepts I've learned from the asexual community, everything would be so much more confusing. And it would be way more difficult to have a good sexual relationship with my partner.

Monday, June 12, 2017

My Chinese Marriage License

A pair of 结婚证 [jiéhūn zhèng]- marriage licenses. Image source.
So we did it~ we got our marriage licenses. Woo very exciting, but I'm not counting us as really married yet, because we haven't had the wedding yet. We just chose to do the legal part of getting married in China instead of the US, because of visas and paperwork and legal things.

I'm not going to go around telling our American wedding guests that we're already legally married, because they might think it means our wedding isn't a "real" wedding. Come on. The US goverment, with its laws about visas and green cards, does not have the power to make our wedding any less "real." Even though we're already legally married, I decided for me it doesn't count as married married until the wedding.

In China, actually, getting legally married is always a totally separate event from the wedding itself. Typically a couple will get their marriage license a few months before the wedding. For this reason, "wedding" isn't really the exactly right translation of "婚礼 [hūnlǐ]". Every dictionary will tell you that "wedding" is "婚礼 [hūnlǐ]" and "婚礼 [hūnlǐ]" is "wedding", but, not really. If we're coming from the context of American culture, we understand the word "wedding" to mean "a big celebration where people become legally married" and there really is no such thing in China. You become legally married, and you have the big celebration (婚礼 [hūnlǐ]), but not on the same day. But that doesn't make it any less of a "real" wedding, and it doesn't make our wedding any less real.

[Related: Getting Engaged Isn’t Exactly a Thing in China]

Here's what we had to do to get our marriage license:

First of all, we had to get a photo taken. It was pretty much the same style as a passport photo, except with two people, and the background is red. (Because red is the color for celebrating weddings.) Hendrix and I actually went to a photography studio that has fancy clothes and does photo editing so it comes out really nice.

Here's what Chinese marriage licenses look like inside. Image source.
Also, I had to go down to the US embassy in Shanghai and get a document that says I'm not already married. And wow, you guys, going to the US embassy, as a US citizen, you feel like a VIP. There's like tons and tons of Chinese people waiting in line, probably applying for visas, but you get to cut the line and go past everyone, to this special room. Also, fun fact: If you are white and show up at the US embassy and then talk to the security guards in Chinese, they will think you are weird.

So anyway, I got the "Single Status Certificate." It was really easy- the US embassy gave me the form, and I filled in my name, fiance's name, etc, checked off the box that says I've never been married before (there was also a box you could check if you were married and then divorced/widowed) and then some official at the US embassy signed it. I had to raise my right hand and swear that all the information was true, I guess because they're not actually going to check. So anyway I got that.

Then we had to go back to Hendrix's hometown to get the marriage licenses. See, China has something called the "hukou system." A 户口[hùkǒu] is a very official document that says the address where your residency officially is. Whatever city you're officially a resident of, you have to get the marriage license there. (Or rather, at least one of the partners has to be a resident of that city.) A lot of things like buying a home, where you can send your kids to school, etc, are related to the 户口[hùkǒu] that you have. And you can change your 户口[hùkǒu], but apparently it's a huge pain, and it's hard to get one for Shanghai because EVERYBODY wants a Shanghai 户口[hùkǒu]. So the point is, we couldn't get the marriage license in Shanghai; we had to go to Hendrix's hometown, because that's what his 户口[hùkǒu] says.

So anyway, we went back to his hometown, and we weren't 100% sure if the government official would be in the marriage license office that day, or if they would suddenly tell us we needed some other paperwork, so we added an extra day to our trip, just in case.

But everything went well. ^_^ We filled out a form and showed the guy all our documents- passport, hukou, singleness form- and he typed it up and printed forms we had to sign. Signing that form felt incredibly anticlimactic (I mean, I've signed lots of things in my life, you guys, it didn't feel special...) but that's the moment we became legally married. The government guy printed the marriage licenses for us and we had to glue the photos in. In China, a couple gets 2 marriage licenses- one for each person. Also, you can't get married to a same-sex partner- Taiwan is super close though, so hooray~

Later that day, I was talking with Hendrix about how we each had to glue the photo into our own marriage license. We used a gluestick that had liquid glue inside. I said, "Wow I don't think I've used a gluestick since I was like 10 years old!" and Hendrix said, "oh, good, because I was thinking you use a gluestick like a 10-year-old kid but I didn't want to say anything." See, in the US a gluestick is generally used for arts and crafts projects, and most of us only do those kinds of projects as children, but in China it's seen as an office supply item, and when you submit receipts or whatever, you have to use a gluestick to stick them all onto one sheet of paper. See also: my confusion when I went to the post office and bought stamps and stared dumbfounded at the little jar of glue on the counter, like apparently I'm supposed to glue the stamps on myself? What if I put too much and my postcard gets stuck to 6 other pieces of mail? And then the post office employee just did it for me because I obviously had no clue. ANYWAY the point is I definitely put way too much glue on my marriage license.

The fee for the marriage license was 9 kuai, which is about 1 or 2 US dollars.

Hendrix and I spent the rest of the day scrambling around to find a place that would give us a notarized English translation of the marriage licenses (just because we'll probably need that in the US in the future) and periodically looking at each other and exclaiming "we are MARRIED!" Then we went out to dinner with his family.

After we got legally married, I started referring to him as "老公 [lǎo gōng]" (which every dictionary will tell you means "husband") when I'm speaking Chinese. Before, I referred to him as "未婚夫 [wèi hūn fū]" (which every dictionary will tell you means "fiance", but it seems to me that Chinese people don't really use this word much, because, as I said, getting engaged isn't exactly a thing in China.) In English I still use the term "fiance." After the wedding I'll say he's my husband.

Hendrix, on the other hand, has been telling people I am his "老婆 [lǎo pó]" (which every dictionary will tell you means "wife") since we got engaged, or maybe even before. Seems like in China, people are less strict about using exactly the corrent term?

Update: OKAY I just asked Hendrix why he was calling me "老婆 [lǎo pó]" before we got legally married. He says "老婆 [lǎo pó]" and "老公 [lǎo gōng]" are informal/slang terms for "wife" and "husband." In something more official, like a news article or important paperwork, the words "妻子 [qīzi]" (wife), "丈夫 [zhàngfū]" (husband), and  "爱人 [ài rén]" (spouse) would be used. But if you're just chatting with your coworkers at lunch, you would definitely use "老婆 [lǎo pó]" and "老公 [lǎo gōng]". So, he claims, since "老婆 [lǎo pó]" and "老公 [lǎo gōng]" are for informal conversation, it doesn't really matter if you're literally legally married, you can still use those words.

The point is, translation is hard.

To sum up: Hendrix and I got our marriage licenses. This is very exciting, but I'm not exactly sure how to feel about it, because in China this works so much differently than in the US. When we got legally married, there were no vows or intense emotional moments of love, it was just writing down our names and passport numbers and signing it. And for me, at least for the American/English-speaking part of my life, I'm not counting us as really married until the wedding. I hope nobody thinks our wedding isn't a "real" wedding.

----------------

Please enjoy this adorable Chinese song, "Marry Me Today":


Thursday, June 8, 2017

Blogaround

Queer umbrella, with the words "Lesbian", "Gay", "Bi", "Trans", "Intersex", "Pansexual", "Asexual", and "All Others" under it. Happy Pride Month! Image source.
1. A Progressive Christian Conference With an All-White Lineup: What Could Go Wrong? (posted May 30) "The organizers claim that they took seriously the concerns raised about the lineup, but if racial and ethnic diversity were important to them, it would not be an afterthought."

2. Evangelicals Who Link Evolution and Racism Forget Christianity Was Used to Defend Slavery and Segregation (posted June 6) "I should note that this belief predated even the idea of evolution. In other words, the “curse of Ham” was not based on evolutionary ideas about race."

3. Where Do Ex-Evangelicals Come From? (posted June 7) "In order to leave fundamentalism, something within you has to be powerful enough to make you willing to leave despite the intense social, psychological, and often economic costs of leaving, and the effects of years, often decades, of gaslighting."

Monday, June 5, 2017

We Don't Need Anyone's Permission to Love

A bride and groom dancing. Image source.
Growing up in purity culture, everyone always wanted to know "how far is too far?" What are we allowed to do when we're dating? What things aren't allowed til we're engaged? What things aren't allowed til we're married?

They taught us that the wedding day was a massive dividing line in the timeline of a couple's relationship. It marked the exact moment in time when they would finally be allowed to fully give themselves to each other, to completely and totally love and not hold anything back. Most importantly, you can FINALLY have sex. And live together.

"Wait," you may be saying, "they really said that's what a wedding is? That's the meaning of marriage?" Well they didn't say it directly- of course purity culture advocates would deny all day long that they believe marriage is basically a hoop you have to jump through in order to have sex. But go and look at what they teach, and what exactly they say about marriage. Most of the time, marriage is mentioned in sentences like "It's sinful to have sex before marriage." The entire premise behind purity culture is that having sex before marriage will RUIN YOUR LIFE, but very very rarely did I hear any warnings about rushing into marriage too fast. They didn't teach anything like "marriage is a really really big deal, so definitely take your time and decide if it's actually something you want to do." Nope, they pretty much just talked about sex, and only mentioned marriage as a requirement you must meet before you can have sex.

After the wedding, they said, you are officially allowed to have sex. A wedding is, apparently, a Grand Bestowing Of Permission. You stand before the government and your wedding guests, and make vows to your partner, and when everyone has witnessed how sweet and romantic and loving and committed you are, then you officially have permission to have sex, live together, and totally love each other.

Having sex before the wedding is bad, apparently, because you have a duty to stand up before a large group of people in fancy clothes and make a big announcement about it before sexy times can commence. To have sex without first notifying the public that you're going to have sex is bad, apparently.

Yeah, you have probably guessed that Hendrix and I don't buy that. We don't need anyone's permission. We are in charge of our relationship, and our wedding is not going to be a Grand Bestowing Of Permission. We already love each other and are fully committed to each other, and we want to celebrate that with our family and friends. We invite them so we can all celebrate together, not so they can be there to witness our relationship changing into one where we can finally fully love each other. And have sex.

Not that it's any of anyone's business, but we already do have sex. And we live together. (Please note that those are 2 completely unrelated things, though.) We're not going to say anything about our sex life at the wedding, because that's incredibly weird. Yes, I know at purity-culture weddings, the ceremony often includes an indirect or euphemistic reference to the fact that the couple hasn't had sex yet. That's weird, okay? All you ex-purity-culture people might not realize how bizarre and weird that is. In regular-people-land, whether or not a couple has had sex isn't public knowledge. (Related: You know that whole "white dress means virginity"? Yeah, not actually a real thing.)

I've heard a lot of purity-culture Christians talk about how terrible it is that young people nowadays are "acting like they're married." I guess this is a euphemism for having sex and/or living together? Pretty weird phrase to use though... if marriage is a good thing, then shouldn't we be glad that people are so interested in it that they're "acting like they're married" even if they're really not?

In our case, Hendrix and I have been acting like we're married since before we got engaged, I would say. What I mean is, we've been committed to each other, we've taken care of each other, we've made plans together and talked about big life decisions, we've worked together on housework, etc. It's been a gradual process of getting to know each other more and more, slowly becoming a better team.

In fact, just a few days ago we found ourselves at IKEA picking out a toilet brush, soap dish, and some other household things. It doesn't get much more "married couple" than that. Yes, there we were, having such scandalous and sinful conversations as this:
"Let's get this brush."
"Would it be for washing dishes or, like, cleaning the nasty stuff on the edge of the sink?"
"Let's get two- one for dishes and one for bathroom."
"Yeah, and let's get different colors so we don't mix them up."
Steamy.

And another thing: How weird is it that pastors talk about unmarried couples living together as if it's the most sinful, selfish thing, as if it's all about being lazy and irresponsible, being disobedient and taking the easy way out instead of getting married first like you're supposed to? I mean, seriously, living in a small apartment with another human being- even if you love them- can be hard. But listening to Christians talk about it, it sounds like some kind of endless sex party that's all about pleasure and avoiding responsibility. COME ON. When you live with someone, you have to have all sorts of conversations about housework, about money, about how they can't stand it when your cat leaves hair all over their clothes. You need to be a responsible adult in order to make it work.

But anyway. Hendrix and I don't need anyone's permission to love and be a couple. We decide what our relationship is. And now we've decided we want to invite a bunch of people to celebrate our love and commitment because it's such a beautiful thing. But that celebration doesn't somehow grant us permission to love.


Thursday, June 1, 2017

Blogaround

An adorable fat kitty sleeping. A sprial based on the golden ratio has been superimposed on the photo, because that's the shape the cat is here. Image source.
1. The original Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith ending had Padme founding the Rebel Alliance and almost killing Anakin (posted May 15) "While in the final film, Padme flies to Mustafar and just kind of cries at Anakin, the original version had her pull a knife on the fallen Jedi."

2. 11 Years Old, a Mom, and Pushed to Marry Her Rapist in Florida (posted May 26) [content note: rape] This is terrible.

3. Evangelicals Are the Ones Obsessed with Sex (posted May 30) "Evangelicals often decry the “sex obsessed” world, but frankly, they’re the most sex obsessed group I’ve ever come in contact with." AMEN TO THIS.

4. writing bilingual characters. Lolololol yes! I live my life in both Chinese and English and stuff like this happens all the time.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Blogaround

People in Taiwan celebrate after the highest court rules in favor of marriage equality. Image source.
1. Blogging Against Disablism Day 2017: Disability and “Can’t” (posted May 1) "It’s not even that my to-do list is that onerous; it’s more that I live in a perpetual state of believing that I cannot say “no.” If I have a free moment, I need to be Doing Something Productive."

2. Confederate Monuments and “Historical Vandalism” (posted May 16) "It wasn’t about remembering a historical moment. It was about a communal act of worship of a white supremacist racial ideology and historical memory."

3. I prosecuted drug offenders in the ’80s. It was a disaster. Why is Sessions taking us back? (posted May 18) "Drug prohibition has created a stigma that blocks public health solutions, and fosters an intense distrust for police and the criminal justice system."

4. At Wedding Market, Mothers of Gays and Lesbians Face Resistance (posted May 20) The kingdom of heaven is like Chinese mothers at the Shanghai People's Park marriage market, protesting for their gay and lesbian children's right to marry.

5. The Creation of adam (posted May 17) "Rosales’ painting is seen as making a theological (and political) statement in a way that Michelangelo’s original is not, even though it absolutely is."

6. Taiwan is closer to being 1st Asian country to allow same-sex marriage (posted May 24) "The country's Constitutional Court ruled Wednesday that current laws, which say that marriage is between a man and a woman, violate the Constitution." Hooray! LGBTQ people here are very excited about this.

7. Yes, You’re ‘Trans Enough’ to Be Transgender (posted 2016) "Transition doesn’t have to be a desperate last resort. You can transition simply because you want to. Transition isn’t a sacred act only for the worthy, it’s for anyone that wants it. I’ll let you in on a secret; only trans people want to transition."

8. How Government Support Saved Me (posted May 24) "But the truth is, we’re not really independent—nor have we fully known what it’s like to be poor in America—because we’ve always been surrounded by safety nets. Our great-grandparents were immigrants from countries that were deemed European enough to allow entry, and their legal status was transferred onto us. I attended private universities and lived rent-free at home for periods of time in order to reduce my school debt. When we were support-raising, my husband and I benefited from stable communities and churches that were able to donate money to us, allowing us the luxury of time to work towards church-planting. And we received a large loan for our house, which up until recent history was only afforded to white people."

9. And the wedding song of the week is "Sugar" by Maroon 5. I love this!


Monday, May 22, 2017

“Easy” Jobs and “Hard” Jobs

Book cover for "Asperger's on the Job."
I recently read the book Asperger's on the Job: Must-Have Advice for People with Asperger's or High Functioning Autism and their Employers, Educators, and Advocates. For the most part, it didn’t really contain any mind-blowing new ideas- it said things like “people with Asperger’s often have a hard time with small talk because it seems pointless,” which, yeah, no kidding? Most of the chapters just gave general statements about an Asperger’s trait and how it can cause problems at work, but didn’t give me any amazing new solutions I didn’t know before.

However, there was one bit that was really really interesting for me. It was a section advising readers with Asperger’s about how to choose a job that’s right for us. There was a chart to fill out, where you can write different areas of interest and then in the next column, write things that could be difficult about working in that type of job. Social things, sensory things, etc. For example, for a lot of people with Asperger’s, interacting with a bunch of different customers every day would be really hard, maybe even unbearable. We’d rather have a quieter job with a lot of alone time. So go ahead and write things like that in the second column.

This was really mind-blowing for me because I’d never thought of my issues with social interaction or sensory stimuli as ACTUAL REAL THINGS that should be treated seriously and taken into account when making big life decisions, like choosing a job for example. I always thought those were just silly little things, just my own personal issues, and I should just “get over” them and learn how to be a regular person who’s not bothered by them.

When I was in school, choosing a job was always related to education. What degree do you need in order to do this job? Bachelors? Masters? Phd? What classes do you need to take? And in society in general, there’s a hierarchy of jobs: jobs that require less education and pay less are seen as “easy”, and jobs that require more education and pay more are seen as “hard.”

I’m an engineer. I write code for robots. And often, when I tell people that, they say, “Wow that’s so hard! I could never do that!” And I don’t know what to think about that. For me, it’s not “hard.” I would hate to be in a job that didn’t involve learning new technology and solving challenging problems. I used to teach English, and actually that was “harder” because it required way more people skills than I have. Basically, as an English teacher, I was an actor. Go into class, put on a smile, make eye contact with the students, try to pay attention to their level of energy and interest, do activities that students will find engaging. Yes, I was an actor, because none of that comes naturally to me. It was exhausting. Being an engineer, talking to computers all day instead of people, wow it’s SO MUCH easier.

(Like, I can do any kind of math you want, but talking to people is way too hard.)

There’s a Burger King that Hendrix and I go to often. Sometimes, after work, there are tons of people waiting in line to order, and the cashiers are taking orders at the same time they’re putting food on trays for people who already ordered, and sometimes they don’t have this or that particular type of hamburger and they have to keep telling customers it’s not available and then sometimes the customers get angry about that, and the cashiers have to deal with that, and also somebody is like “hey you gave me the wrong drink” and it’s noisy, and it’s just chaos. Wow. That sounds like a horrible job.

(This isn't just related to autism- I think for most people who work in fast food jobs like that, it's really stressful and hard and society doesn't give them the credit they deserve.)

I tell people I’m an engineer and they’re like “wow I could never do that.” And then I see the cashiers at Burger King and I think “wow I could never do that.”

There was this one place I used to work, where the doors on the bathroom stalls would slam so damn loud. Every time I came out of the bathroom stall, I would stand there and use my hand to guide the door shut slowly and quietly. But for people who just came out of the stall and walked away without giving it a second thought, the door would accelerate so much as it swung back and it would slam against the door frame so loud. It was so loud. It was inhumanely loud.

Every day at that job, I would avoid going to the bathroom as long as I could. I would time it so that I would only need to use that godawful bathroom with the slamming doors once per day. And when I did, I would try to get in and out as fast as possible. In the stall, I used both hands to plug my ears, and when I heard the sound of someone coming out of a different stall, I would plug my ears even harder and count to 20, waiting for the sound of the door slam.

The worst was when someone would come in, look into the first stall, decide that it wasn’t clean enough, and move on to the next one, leaving the door to slam itself. In that case, there would be no auditory cue (like a flush or door-unlocking sound) to tell me the slam was coming, if I was in a different stall and couldn’t see what was going on. Oh, oh it was terrible. That slamming sound was so inhumanely loud. Hearing it was like getting punched in the head. Like, if I had to choose between getting punched in the head, and hearing that door-slam sound unexpectedly, well it’s hard to choose, they’re pretty much equally terrible. I mean that 100% literally.

But I never saw any of my colleagues using their hand to slow down the stall door so it wouldn’t slam. I was the only one. Even though they worked there and used that bathroom every day, and presumably were aware of how loud those doors would slam. Back then, even though I knew that I hear sounds louder than most other people do, I hadn’t fully thought through what that meant. I didn’t realize that, for other people, that sound was NOT the equivalent of getting punched in the back of the head. Maybe they thought it was a minor annoyance, but not so bad that it’s worth the trouble of spending 5 seconds helping the door shut slowly after using the bathroom. Wow. I mean, wow, as I write this, this is the first time I’ve ever speculated about why other people didn’t seem to be bothered by those godawful bathroom doors. At the time, I just kind of internalized the idea “other people are fine with it, why can’t you be fine with it?”

And I can totally imagine a situation where a problem like that could lead to me quitting my job. Or hating my job, or developing depression and having no idea what was causing it. Because trying to force myself to be okay with loud sounds that don't seem to bother anyone else has always been just a normal part of my life. It wouldn't have even occurred to me to think "oh, THIS is the reason I'm so unhappy." It's just how my life has always been.

As I think about that experience now, I’m imagining what would have happened if I had gone to my manager and told him the work environment is unbearable for me because of the incredible loudness of the bathroom doors. What if I suggested talking with the maintenance people, and maybe putting some sort of padding on the edges of the doors, so they wouldn’t be so loud when they slammed? If people were reluctant to do it, I could even offer to pay for it and do the work of sticking the door pads on all by myself. Of course I would be willing to do that! And pay for it! Like wow, can you imagine, just pay a little bit of money and spend half an hour sticking pads onto the edges of the bathroom doors, and the sound problem would be gone? Wow, can you imagine? I’d be willing to pay a hundred dollars. I’d be willing to pay two hundred dollars. Of course I would. (Instead I'm here blogging about it, years later, because it was THAT BAD.)

Can you imagine, if I had viewed it as a problem that could be solved by communicating about my needs and then maybe doing a bit of work and spending a bit of money? (Though ideally, the company should be the one who pays the money for it.) Instead, I saw it as “this is just the way things are, it’s not going to change, everyone else is fine with it, why can’t you be fine with it?” I remember complaining about it to some of my colleagues a little bit, but I never went to someone who actually had the authority to do something about it and said “This is a serious problem, we need to find a way to solve it.” I didn’t know that was an option. Instead I plugged my ears, tried to get in and out of there as fast as possible, and made very angry faces at people who let the doors slam. Oh it was so awful.

This book, Asperger's on the Job, says that often, the accommodations that aspies need are actually very very easy for employers to implement, and they make a huge difference in the aspie employee’s happiness and productivity. That certainly would have been the case for me and my door problem, if I had seen it as an actual real thing and insisted that other people care about it and help me solve it. Instead, I believed it was my fault for not trying hard enough to “be normal”, it was a silly thing that I should just “get over,” certainly not something serious enough that I should ask other people to care about it. It would be wrong to get other people involved just because I’m such a failure at “being normal.”

That’s why this idea about listing potential Asperger’s-related problems with certain jobs is so mind-blowing to me. (Though obviously, the door thing is not associated with any specific type of job; it’s not something I could have predicted when choosing a job.) The point is, if I know I have problems with sounds or social interaction or whatever, let’s treat that as an actual real problem that we should address and find a solution for, or maybe a legitimate reason not to even try doing a particular job. Wow.

One more fun story: I remember one time, when I was a little kid, I was watching Olympic athletes do gymnastics on TV. My mom said, “Wow, look at all those amazing jumps they do, I could never do that.” And I was like, “They put so much chalk on their hands, I could never do that.” Because oh geez, chalk dust is just the worst, makes me cringe so much. No chance I could be an Olympic gymnast, just because of the chalk. Ewww chalk.

Treating these Asperger’s-related problems as negligible little things that nobody needs to take seriously leads to stress and even unemployment for aspies (even though, in general, we are very intelligent and hard-working). The book Asperger's on the Job introduced me to the concept of “here, write down potential problems in this table and we will figure out what to do about them,” which is so much better than my previous strategy of “just get over it and be a normal person.”

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