Slave Morality

I watched a philosophy video by Natalie Wynn yesterday that blew my mind. In it, she talks about Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil and “slave morality”.

This somewhat undermines my whole view of morality where there is some difficult to define, but possible to discern “right” and “wrong” and puts it in a more ambiguous space. That there are two competing “rights” that really are more situational than they are universal. Situational ethics has generally been frowned upon.

Natalie included a quote from Dr. King which showed his understanding of the situation, “What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, and that love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love.”

So, we need both love and power.

I was introduced to the idea of social justice in the ‘90s at the Lesbian Resource Center in Seattle by the young women of color who worked there and were willing and patient enough to explain things to me. I was not initially on board with much of it. I idolized my very libertarian father and step-mother and I integrated much of their worldview. It certainly helped me in my life, especially during the time where I was helping to start The Onion and The Stranger. I considered myself a powerful person who could do anything I set my mind to. I had much to offer the world and the world would be doing itself a favor to make room for me. Not necessarily at the top, which is something I never really wanted for myself, but somewhere firmly in the middle class where I had plentiful resources, eager colleagues, and the wherewithal to make good use of them.

Then I announced in the mid-1990s that I would be transitioning from male to female: that I would be getting what we called back then, a sex change. All of that braggadocio went away once I started hormones and changed my name. I went from master to slave in the span of about six months.

The first thing I learned about being a slave is that the initial fall isn’t even the worst, most painful part. That plummet was merely the initiation into a milleau of regularly scheduled pain and neglect. I also learned quite quickly that I was not gifted at birth, nor by upbringing, with a wealth of tools for navigating adversity.

I learned quite quickly that laying low and playing dead were the best strategies to escape most beatings. This was reinforced by what I learned from growing up queer, quiet, and clever. The people we go to for learning social coping strategies are unavailable to queer kids who feel we had to hide much of our internal life from responsible adults and older peers. We have fewer friends and more unstable relationships. While other kids are collecting marbles and Pokemon cards, we are collecting mental illnesses.

Usually after we get out of high school and enter university, or leave our hometowns to travel to bigger cities with more opportunity, or just to escape the feeling of being caged we experienced growing up; most of us are able to reinvent ourselves. Not always as who we truly are. Everyone is different. For me, I found characters in fiction that moved me emotionally. I wanted to be a writer, so I patterned myself after famous writers: Hunter S. Thompson, Tom Robbins, and Douglas Adams were my favorites, so I created a holistic hippy hitchhiker persona that got me through the early years of my young adulthood.

I thought I was free, though the whole time I knew I was not being myself. I had no idea what my self could be at that time. My fears of exposure were so great, I was still hiding. I was trying on bits of what other people liked about people I liked and building a persona out of it. This served me well as I got further into my publishing career. I built a master persona out of the wreckage of a slave child’s painful upbringing.

I was a success.

Success is, however, transient for even the most successful. Eating away at me all that time was a feeling that something wasn’t right, that I was being untrue to my most basic needs.

This is the part where the standard trans biography and mine meet: Something feels not right, explore what that something might be, turns out it’s how I feel about my body and the social role I’m playing. At least where I grew up, our bodies determine the social role we’ll be playing. It’s a chicken and egg game to determine whether changing the body or changing the role is easier. What I can say from experience is that personal physical changes are always easier to make than social changes. Personal physical changes may be painful, or drawn out, or imperfect, or all three; but even the most expensive cosmetic surgery is preferable to undergo than to take on the deeply-held beliefs of a group of people who benefit every day from those beliefs. Even when those people are trusted, loved, and considered friends.

Our experience of sex and gender roles is less tangible than we would like it. Even cissexual people report feelings of being unsure they are happy inhabiting their own sexed body. Most people, however, though they wince at some aspects of the role, are accepting of the body they have. And those who aren’t often take steps to make it a more idealized form of what they already inhabit.

Those who are unhappy with the role make great efforts to change society to be more accepting of alternatives to the few predefined archetypes that are generally accepted. Subcultures are created and real creativity happens in the space where people are reinventing themselves to express aspects of themselves that have gone hidden for far too long.

My mother asked me early on in my transition, “Why don’t you just keep it something secret? Why not live a life in public that adheres to the agreed-upon roles, then you can be anything you want in the privacy of your own home.” I now know that this is what she did with her life. She sublimated her desires into motherhood and homemaking. What those long lost desires were, we may never know. I suspect they were her aptitude for numbers and accounting, which my sister seemed to inherit and excel at. Who knows what my mother might have accomplished had she pursued her dreams. Perhaps she had conflicting dreams and wasn’t able to be both mother and mathematician. At that time, the 1970s, pursuing both was considered to be impossible.

But we make decisions based on incomplete information. We do our best with the information we have at hand. We build flexibility into our plans so that we can act on new information as it comes in.

The makeup and identity of the trans community has changed drastically in the last fifty years, for the better. We’re far more diverse and interesting than we started out.

For a group of people, most of whom are just trying to survive as best we can in communities that are at best view us with antipathy, we are doing incredibly well.

So yes, we create ideologies, ethics, and morality of slaves and we identify with other slaves against the masters. It feels so right and correct to be on this side of the struggle because it’s a fight for our existence. Of course it feels right.

I think what I was missing is that when I was a master, I felt the same way. I was fighting the good fight. There were winners (hopefully me) and losers (usually other newspapers, rarely individual people, but in the case of individuals who were highly identified with their newspaper: fair game). While a moral case could be made that I shouldn’t have been as mercenary, I was often acting less so than my business partners. I advocated for more women to be involved, for more people of color to be involved and because I was in a position of power, I got listened to and while it wasn’t near enough by today’s standards, The Stranger was a role model for other newspapers. We helped create the more just world we live in today where people feel free to ask for an even more fair world.

That’s how it’s supposed to work, right?

I often say that the most important civil rights advance was integration. I believe integration is so important because that’s the one thing that hasn’t changed all that much from the 1960s. The world is a segregated place: by race, class, and gender. The United States still has a long way to go and in some ways we have gone backwards since the civil rights struggles of the 1960s and 1970s where we had so much advancement in other areas.

Having a thriving Black middle class doesn’t make us stronger if it just creates two segregated middle classes. History has proved to us that the Black middle class will come out with less due to the complexities of American history and how race relations play out in American culture, even more chaotically and tragically now in the 21st century.

I have a lot of thinking to do about morality, I think. I’m willing to accept that morality is more complicated than I was taught in Sunday school. At the same time, I believe that it’s more important than ever that I examine my notions of morality and see where they can be brought up to date.

And of course, all of this nuanced and subtle rumination is completely incompatible with twenty-four hour cable news, social media, and the ideologically-segregated communities we live in today.


Social Anxiety

O’ how I wish
the shaking would cease
insecurity’s siblings:
Doubt and Misgiving
go away now and
leave me in peace

O’ how it pulses
the heartbeat inside
Adrenaline rising
my self I’m despising
please let me finish
diminish, denied

Were I alone
upon this bright stage
I’d be calm and free
not afraid to be me
and breathe life the bare words
affixed upon this pale and flimsy page

What trauma befell me
Before memory’s past
what torture session
suspended expression
of pure and honest self
before the curtain close at last

Did it happen to you too?
The accident that on purpose befell
The event that defied
being forgotten or denied?
The anyhow that ever I could
forgive of you, but never myself

The me I once loved
still quaked and shook,
and survived — not just
that, but thrived —
feared not looking foolish
Chances taken: advances took

O’ how I wish
the shaking would assuage
That I would know my spirit again
undiminished by my weary pain
And leave me be in peace
when next I grace this stage.

Jonnie Wilder, read at Work in Progress night, Vermillion 2019


Categories: Words

Go here. All the best stuff is here for now.

www.floatingpoint.pub


Categories: Words

MadLib Writer’s Prompt

Let’s write some Javascript to generate a writer’s prompt from a list of nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs, etc.

First, we’ll add some loading code. This code gets invoked two ways: first, we run it when the window is finished loading, so we get can update the DOM and give the user something to look at. We’ll also add a button to generate a new MadLib on demand.

window.onload = generate_prompt();

This is our workhorse right here, but it’s pretty simple. We have a bunch of arrays and we’re going to pick from them a random element and add it to the string.

function generate_prompt() {
	
     prompt_string = adjective1[random_0_to(adjective1.length)] + " " + 
          media[random_0_to(media.length)] + " " + 
          adjective2[random_0_to(adjective2.length)] + " " + 
          noun[random_0_to(noun.length)] + " " +
          action[random_0_to(action.length)] + " " +
          venue[random_0_to(venue.length)] + " ";
	
	if (random_0_to(10) == 0)
		prompt_string += ", in Latin."
		else  
		prompt_string += "."

	display_prompt(prompt_string);		
	}

Here are some sample arrays to get you going. You can add as many elements as you’d like to the arrays, just make sure they’re all separated by a comma.

var prompt_string = ""

var adjective1 = [
	"A gripping",
	"a frivolous"
]

var media = [
	"novel starring",
	"short story about"
]

var adjective2 = [
	"an anxious",
	"a pretentious"
]
var noun = [
	"duck",
	"bunny"
]

var action = [
	"dancing",
	"flying"
]

var venue = [
	"on the moon",
	"in my imagination"
]

We’re going to need a function to generate those random numbers.

function random_0_to(n) {
	return Math.floor(Math.random() * n);
	}

And lastly, a function to update the DOM.

function display_prompt(s) {
	document.getElementById("prompt").innerHTML = s;
	}

Cool, all done with the .js file.

This is from the HTML file that I use here at www.floatingpoint.pub. It defines the area in the DOM where the prompt gets updated by the display_prompt(s) function and contains a little self-contained javascript to update the prompt when someone clicks the (new) link.

		<p class=prompt><strong>PROMPT:</strong>
		<a id="prompt"></a>
		<a href="javascript:generate_prompt()" style="text-decoration:none !important;">(new)</a>
		</p>

That’s it! Have fun with it and be sure to email me to show off how you’ve used it to do something really cool on your own.


The best $20 I ever spent


Categories: Words

I wrote “Vacuum” from The Onion, November 15, 1988

Under the byline Mike Evans, because we used a lot of fake names back in those days instead of the current “no bylines” policy. The first year of The Onion had a lot more “creative writing” in it. Only the front page story was a “fake news” article. Inside, the stories varied stylistically, and sometimes not even “funny”, but often just plain weird, and occasionally unsettling. Important caveat: I’m 90% certain I wrote this, but my memory of things from thirty years ago isn’t perfect and we used fake names for our bylines, which in retrospect seems to have been a bad idea.

When I’d finished with work that night, I headed home to cook myself dinner, toting the shop’s vacuum cleaner with me. It was an Eureka Deluxe Vibra-beat, model number 842, built low to the ground and saucer shaped with wheels and a metallic extension hose four feet long. The main body of the machine was turquoise. It was a majestic beast, and just what I needed to sweep up my dusty studio.

I walked home briskly, with a spring in my step, tilted just slightly to the left under the weight of my borrowed burden. The sun, just beginning to set, painted the sky ablaze in autumn splendor.

Turning up State Street towards the capitol, I felt a surge of fear, as if all eyes were upon me. I looked around. They were. Everyone had stopped going about their business and had turned to stare at me and my borrowed turquoise Eureka.

I flipped the selector to Dusting/Upholstery and held the extension hose like a weapon, tightly gripped in my hand, held ready to strike. The crowd in front of me moved backwards, keeping just out of my reach.

Behind me I heard, “He won’t do it. Let’s rush him.”

I swung around in time to glare at the heckler. I flipped the selectgor to Curtains/Draperies and engaged the Vibra-beat. He turned pale, spun, and disappeared into the crowd.

“Let’s not anyone try any heroics,” I said loudly to the gathering throng. “I’m gonna pass through, now, so keep your distance and no one gets hurt.” I made sure that everyone close enough saw the Dust Bag Indicator and knew I meant business.

The crowd parted and I made my way up the street, slowly, keeping my eyes on any potential assailants. The crowd was made up of gawkers who shrank away at first sight of my fearsome weapon. No one here actually meant any harm. I was feeling safer and safer.

The crowd opened up on Gorham Street to reveal a lone man — a behemoth — standing in the intersection. Traffic had stopped. The lights changed from red to green to yellow to red, subserviently, recursively, unaware they were no longer being regarded. More important events were afoot here.

The stranger was tall and heavy. Most of his frame was made up of ages of American beer, dorm living and meatball sandwiches. His arms were like tree trunks. His neck was the symptom of some horrible thyroid disease: thick and bulging. It came up from a torso of sickening proportions.

He looked down at me and my Eureka, model number 842, with that horrible visage, slandering my character ina number of different ways and describing the things he’d do with my severed limbs. I could see he’d never eaten a good breakfast in his entire life; it showed in his attitude. He looked like a combination of every person who had ever beaten me up in high school.

This was it. This was the final confrontation.

I checked the settings on my Eureka. I notched the selector up to Rugs/Floors and sent maximum power to the Vibra-beat. I took a deep breath and tightened the fittings on the extension rod. I took a step forward.

“I’m gonna rip your head off, pull out your throat and blow smoke into your lungs, you hippy!” he screamed. Each step he took mauled the street; cracks exploded out from his feet as they bludgeoned the ground beneath him.

I held my ground. Tightly gripping the extension rod with one hand, I waited for him to come a little bit closer.

When he reached the end of my shadow, I threw the Eureka’s switch. I let him have it. The deadly beam of energy hit him full in the chest. He screamed agonizingly and melted horribly into the pavement, clawing at my shadow, reaching for me, still trying to rip my kidneys out through my ears.

I powered down the Eureka. I took a deep breath to settle my adrenaline level to something that resembled normal.

The crowd was beginning to disperse as the sun went down behind me.

I went home and fed the cats.


Categories: Logotype

The Stranger’s Beer League Softball Team

Artwork by James Sturm

Truthful Equivalence


Categories: Words

The Benzobuddies Chronicles

For three and a half years, I wrote updates on my recovery and posted them on the website Benzobuddies.org, mostly in the “Birthdays and Celebrations” sub-forum, but a few times in the “Exercise Support Group”. I was out of my mind a great deal of the time, but there was some beautiful writing that came out of it. It’s reproduced here, lightly edited.

First Post

October 22, 2014

Hello. 

Been reading this forum since I stared tapering off 4mg Klonopin (since 2003/2004, I think) a day in March/April of 2014. Last 1/4th of a 5mg of Diazepam was July 2nd and have been in Withdrawal Syndrome since then. I guess it’s been a almost four months and three weeks now. Over the time, everyone here has given me a great deal of strength and helpful information, so thank you all for that.

Most of the I’m Losing My Marbles Help Me feeling is down to a somewhat manageable level, so I hope I won’t be a huge burden. I suppose I want to help, if I can. I guess I’m one of the types of people who are strongest for themselves when I feel I’m helping someone else.

Thank you for your time.


A Short Story

October 22, 2014

So, I wrote a little bit today a bit of a Halloween story I wanted to write because I thought of how scary what I’ve been though (and still am going through) is and I thought I’d share with my Buddies. Like every good Halloween story it’s a little bit scary and a little bit funny. Hopefully just scary enough to give one goosebumps. Hopefully the funny parts are actually funny. Anyhow, not finished. Also, super first-drafty. While the spelling is as impeccable as modern computer technology can assure, please forgive the errors both in syntax and in judgment.

“A Mouse In The House”

A mouse ran into my apartment, twice.

Early evening, August, dank and rainy. One of those nights that makes people disbelieve global climate change. It should just be miserable. Instead, it’s miserable and wet and cold. 

This gives me the perfect opportunity to splay myself in the beanbag. To read. Perhaps have an apple later. The Honeycrisps are on sale and I have a fridge full of them. Four of them, but they’re very large. And sweet. So sweet. Each bite is a melted liquor mouthful of cotton candy; the kind that comes in the paper foil bag, always slightly stale and firm but almost painfully sugary.

On the radio — except it’s not a radio, it’s digital, delivered over the internet instead of the airwaves, though in one of those ironic twists that spice up daily life, the internet is delivered through radio waves now — through the speakers of my ancient, analog stereo system that once complained of being overdriven to distortion in the neighbor-disturbing amplification of Paradise Theatre or possibly The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars painstakingly distorted clicks and bleeps tumble out into the room, clip about like ponies in a clover field, then reassemble about the beanbag with smirks on their faces to assure me they mean business and what would I think if they clawed about the labyrinth for a while and upset some grocery carts and possibly put the compost in with the recycling. How would I feel about that?


Fitness