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Friday, December 28, 2012

On acceptance.

Just read this at Whatever, in which John Scalzi talks about his attitudes towards trans people. Basically, what he says is: all things being equal, we should try to support people being happy with their lives. In other words, basic decency. The post reminded me of a couple of experiences I had back in college that cemented the way I feel about LGBT people and acceptance in general.

First: two of my three flat-mates my sophomore year of college were gay men. Neither was out at the beginning of the school year, and one did not come out until after he graduated college, but we had an idea about both. I roomed with one of them. I was not modest. It didn't bother me.

One evening, the other man (I won't mention names because it's not important) came to my door and told me there was something important he had to tell me. He came out there, to me, though I probably wasn't the first one he told. My (unthinking) response was to shrug my shoulders and say, "Cool!" In retrospect, I probably should have been more supportive, but it didn't register on me at the time how big of a deal it must have been for him. I was a bit of an idiot back then.

Second: my sophomore year, a freshman named Alex joined the Harvard Band (I will mention first names this time because it's relevant). He was cool, though we never really hung out. About halfway through the year, my then-girlfriend and I were reading the Crimson and there was this story about this female student named Alice who was a trans-man and who was running into all sorts of problems because she wanted to room with men and use the men's bathroom in her dorm. I don't remember my exact reaction, though I suspect it was not as tolerant as in the previous story. At some point I must have said something to the effect of "who is this girl?" to which my girlfriend responded, "That's Alex, from band."

It had never occurred to me that he wasn't biologically male1. Knowing him helped me relate to the story and his plight. I realized how dumb judging him was. I felt chastised. Of course he should be allowed to live with dudes - he's a dude!

1 I might have been the only one who didn't know; like I said, I was a bit of an idiot back then.

The incident reinforced what I already knew instinctively: that people are people and as long as they're not hurting us we should just let them be who they are. I can't say I haven't screwed up since, or that I don't have any biases. I've said some pretty dumb things to and about LGBT people in my life, mostly out of ignorance. I can't say I don't occasionally find homosexual imagery unpleasant, but again, that's a visceral reaction, and the same one I'd have to watching two people I don't find attractive making out. I don't let it color my appreciation of those people as human beings.

Like Scalzi, I don't expect a cookie for being decent to people. That's what everyone should do, all the time. But I also don't understand it when people flip out about LGBT stuff. I mean, ultimately, what's the big deal? If Bob wants to make out with Charlie, or Alex had the misfortune of being born Alice, how does it affect me? Isn't it better for them to be happy?

Posted by Dave at 11:48 AM | Comments (2) | Tags: activism, life

Friday, December 14, 2012

We write letters.

This is what I just wrote to my representative in the House, Morgan Griffith:

Mr. Griffith,

I know we don't agree on a lot of issues, but people are dying and as a Congressman - my congressman - you need to try to do something about it.

We make people pass some basic tests to drive a car, or sell food, or cut hair. And you have promised over and over to make it *easier* for people to get guns. In a state where it's already so easy to get guns that people come down from places like DC and NYC to buy guns in bulk so they can bring them back and sell them illegally on the street.

We need to have a sane conversation on gun control in the U.S. We need to read the *first part* of the Second Amendment: the part that talks about a *well-regulated* militia, not a free-for-all Wild West shoot-em-up on every street corner. The solution isn't arming everyone. It's making sure that we know where the guns are and that only sane, law-abiding citizens have them. It's making sure that when a gun is sold illegally it can be tracked, and that those who sold it as well as those who used it to commit a crime are held responsible. It means banning some types of weapons, magazines, and ammunition which are *solely* designed to kill large numbers of people and not for legitimate purposes like self-defense or hunting or sport shooting.

I'm not a fan of yours. I voted against you. I probably will again. But if you keep toeing the NRA line of no regulation whatsoever, and if people all over the country keep dying - in accidents, domestic disputes, petty crimes, and mass slaughters like the one that just happened in Connecticut - I promise I will work very, very hard to make sure you are no longer in Congress after 2014.

There's an old saying that if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem. Or, to paraphrase Burke, "All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing." Well, are you part of the solution? Are you a good man? I certainly hope you are. Please, do something.

Sincerely,
Dave Fried
Christiansburg

I'm not optimistic.

Posted by Dave at 3:38 PM | Comments (1) | Tags: activism, life, politics

Friday, December 7, 2012

Of Steamworks and Colonial Obscura

So, steampunk... It's slightly controversial, and it's not my favorite genre, but there are things I like about it. Here's my, what - defense? I don't know.

People love steam and brass and ornate clothing and little gears and flying boats. So do I - especially the flying boats. I think it comes from growing up playing the Final Fantasy games, where airships always played a huge role in the exploration of the world. Steampunk's appeal, at least to me, is the story of men (and women) forsaking the squalor of crowded, reeking cities for adventure in far-off lands. It's the opportunity of exploring a big, wide, fantastic world filled with unique cultures and foreign wonders in a time well before the internet or even good color printing.

In reality, the Victorian Era was a time when people forsook the squalor of crowded, reeking cities for an opportunity to see other squalid places as underpaid cogs in a vast, oppressive empire that saw strange cultures and foreign wonders as things better to be replaced by the same reeking cities it had back home. Reality is seldom as appealing as fantasy.

And even the fantastic, non-Victorian Earth version of steampunk has at its core something that can come across as a sort of orientalism. The very notion of traveling to see "exotic" lands, peoples, and cultures is an anathema to people who come from cultures once seen as "exotic" - people who don't like thinking of themselves as curiosities to be gawked at by well-heeled Western travelers.

So is it possible to "fix" steampunk? To take away from it the things that made the 19th Century awful for so many people and still leave something of value?

... Read all of "Of Steamworks and Colonial Obscura"

Posted by Dave at 12:01 AM | Comments (0) | Tags: activism, games, media

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Art design FAIL.

So what if I told you that there was a new massively multiplayer online game where you played real people living in the real world, except the real world was full of hidden supernatural stuff, conspiracies, and cabals, all secretly struggling for supremacy?

Sounds cool, right?

Now, what if I told you that despite being a game about real people in the real world, and allowing you to pick avatars from different racial and ethnic backgrounds, you can only create a character with straight hair?

I mean, really? Never mind all of the nasty cultural issues surrounding Black African hair; this just seems like a dumb oversight. I've never liked games that make it impossible to create an avatar the player relates to or can feel comfortable with. I can sort of forgive games that only have one body model (see Bioware's recent offerings, for example) because of memory/animation limitations.1 But if you're already creating, say, a bunch of hair styles and faces, why exclude literally half the world's population?

1 As an aside, this sucks, but it's a real thing. Allowing male and female avatars already nearly doubles your animation budget (a few early games used a single [male] animation set and it didn't look that good). Adding in "heavy" avatars that move correctly means you have to rejigger your animations again, plus maybe add additional flesh and cloth physics. Game companies should still be doing this, but it's easier to justify avoiding it on a cost basis.

Posted by Dave at 9:09 AM | Comments (0) | Tags: activism, games, media

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

"How to be a fan of problematic things."

Rachael at Social Justice League (neat name, btw) has a great post on how to be a fan of things which are problematic for one reason or another. Seriously, go read it. I think this dovetails nicely with (and makes some of the same points as) my recent post on ways to be a good ally.

90% of the good advice in this area basically boils down to "respect other people's feelings and experiences". 90% of the difficulty comes from people not listening to each other. These are not actually hard problems to fix.

Posted by Dave at 2:51 PM | Comments (0) | Tags: activism, media

Monday, April 16, 2012

Eight Commandments for Allies

As a friend of mine would say: "I has a sad." It's nothing serious and nothing personal, so don't worry.

No, it's sort of a "I hate to see two friends fighting" type of thing - mostly having to do with this post, its author's awesome blog (which I link to a lot), and the community he represents (people of color in tabletop gaming); and this guy, his incredible group blog, and the community he represents (speculative fiction writers, editors, and publishers).

Both of these folks and their respective communities are very progressive. They routinely advocate for equality both in their hobbies/industries and in the larger society. By all rights, Deeper in the Game and Making Light should be staunch allies. And yet, the authors and their communities don't get along. This mostly stems from an incident ignominiously dubbed "RaceFail '09".

... Read all of "Eight Commandments for Allies"

Posted by Dave at 2:55 AM | Comments (0) | Tags: activism, games, media, web

Monday, April 9, 2012

It simply never occurred to me.

One trending topic on the web is the abuse that women get for simply expressing their opinions in public. Abi at Making Light has posted a rant about it.

Seriously - go read it. It's not new or anything. Here's another recent example. There are hundreds. What struck me about Abi's post was this paragraph:

If you don’t believe it happens, gentlemen, I dare you: choose a female name and log onto a gaming board, or a deep geek IRC channel, or a heated political discussion. Disagree with the common herd and see what you get back. Then do the same with a male name. And then remember that you’re being kicked on undamaged flesh; it’s much worse when there’s already a deep bruise there from all the charming things people do in meatspace, too.

Here's the thing. I have no problem playing any gender or sexuality in virtual space. I routinely gender-bend in tabletop and computer games. But what Abi is suggesting never even occurred to me. It blows my mind that it didn't.

... Read all of "It simply never occurred to me."

Posted by Dave at 3:14 PM | Comments (0) | Tags: activism, web

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

This is why we separate Church and State.

So, a while back, the government decided to hand over a number of programs to private and religious charities. One of these was a program to support victims of human trafficking and slavery, including sex slavery. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops bid for and received nearly all of the money allocated for that goal.

So far so good. The Catholic Church has a history of fighting for social justice. The problem was that the Bishops couldn't actually carry out the work themselves. So they subcontracted to a host of religious and secular nonprofits. That wasn't an ideal situation, but having a nonprofit doling out money instead of a government bureaucracy was't the end of the world. Perhaps some efficiency was lost, but the money still got more or less where it needed to go.

However, there was a catch: the USCCB required that any subcontracting organization receiving the money could not offer contraceptive or abortion services or refer victims to those services - things that victims of sex trafficking would probably need.1 Which, again, if it was just the Catholic Church's money, would have been dumb but within their rights. Where things broke down was that the money was coming from the federal government, being monopolized by the USCCB, and then being doled out with additional, religiously-motivated restrictions that hampered the performance of the organizations actually trying to help people who had been forced into slavery.

The organizations actually doing the work could have been getting the funds directly from the U.S. government if the USCCB hadn't bid for and won them - for work it wasn't even prepared to do. The Bishops were placing themselves in the middle and limiting the effectiveness of the program and what the people on the ground were able to do. Which is why a federal court judge just ruled that the Bishops were in the wrong and that they could not limit or gag subcontractors if they wanted to continue to receive federal funds.

Which brings me to my point. The Bishops - and many religious conservatives - are trying to portray the government's policies on contraception coverage as an issue of religious freedom. But your religious freedom ends where mine - and my rights and personal autonomy - begin. The anti-contraceptive folks don't just want to not be required to use or pay for their own contraception. They want to be able to deny anyone downstream of them access as well.

Freedom can only exist on an individual basis. Whenever we let one person abridge another person's rights, we effectively take away those rights. It may seem unfair to require a person to, for example, rent an apartment to a gay couple or hire a person married to someone of a different race, but the alternative - allowing wanton discrimination by employers, charities, and places of business - is far worse.

1 Federal funds can almost never be used to provide abortion services anyway, but contraception and referral are both allowed.

Posted by Dave at 10:21 AM | Comments (0) | Tags: activism, politics

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Female TF2 Models

Back when Team Fortress 2 came out, I gave its art design ... mixed reviews. Even after the "meet the ___" videos clarified that the Demoman was a [joke] token black guy rather than an offensive Middle-Eastern stereotype, I still contend that the game comes up short of the absolute minimum diversity a modern video game ought to have.

Some people have been trying to address that, including video game artist Shaylyn Hamm, who has produced some wonderful female versions of the TF2 characters. The thing is, looking at these, you can barely believe they didn't think of 'em when they were originally designing the game.

The TF2 art style is highly stylized, extremely iconic early 20th Century. Well, what's more iconic than Rosie the Riveter? The designs on that page - engineer, spy, medic, heavy - are incredible and evocative and just as appropriate for the period as any of the original male characters.1

Team Fortress 2 is a great game with incredible art direction. But they still missed a big opportunity when they decided on a [nearly] all white male cast.

1 Even the female heavy, though not particularly period... look, I went to school in the Midwest. I knew women built like that. She's convincing to me.

Posted by Dave at 11:15 PM | Comments (0) | Tags: activism, games, media

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

I want to add...

The Jennifer Helper kerfuffle I mentioned in my previous post did have one positive outcome: the coining of the word "misogynerd".

That is all.

Posted by Dave at 11:34 PM | Comments (0) | Tags: activism

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