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Sextravagana! Not Letting Religion Rule Secular Sexual Ethics

Over the weekend, Thrack and I attended the wonderful “mini-con” Sextravaganza put on by the local Secular Student Alliance affilitate, Secular Humanism Inquiry and Freethought (SHIFT) at the University of Utah. It was awesome and I’m glad we went. I do wish there had been more people there, but as Greta Christina put it, it was competing with the “biggest football game in all human history.” (Rivalry between the University of Utah and Brigham Young University is too deep to be ignored here.)

SHIFT logo

For an event that was expected by religious conservatives to be somewhere between vile orgy and pushing “erotic whimsys,” I fear that permanently offended religious people seeking shocked titillation, Sextravaganza would have been a terrible disappointment to them. I’m almost sad that no such huffy people showed up to protest or express their displeasure. But I suspect deep down they feared learning something too much to come and glare at us all disapprovingly. And there was so much they could have learned.

Of the three speakers at Sextravaganza, I had only heard of one. In fact, if I wasn’t already such a big fan of Greta Christina, I might have missed this event altogether and that would have been a shame.

As SHIFT and other SSA affiliate groups handed out the programs, the first thing that Thrack noted and pointed out to me is that organizers took the time to put a clear and simple harassment policy where everyone would see it right on the back. After the months and months of willfully ignorant shitstorm surrounding the simple request that atheist cons take sexual harassment seriously, it was refreshing and delightful to see the issue handled easily with no fuss. Contrast that with the adversarial and secretive approach at this year’s TAM when victims were surveilled without their consent following any problem. It’s wonderful to show that even for a small event with three speakers and a panel discussion, people can to do it right:

Sexual Harassment Policy, See, wasn't that easy?

What’s more it was wonderful to see that women’s voices were not only considered but valued; you could tell by the panel composition (two women one man) and the fact that the audience had slightly more women than men. The whole purpose was to give a contrasting secular view to sexual ethics and you couldn’t differentiate yourself more clearly in a year when an all-male panel of (partially-celibate) religious leaders was considered experts by congressional leadership.

Dr. Lisa Diamond

The first speaker, Dr. Lisa Diamond, is a professor of psychology here at the University of Utah (in Utah, it’s usually just referred to as “The U” as if there were only one). Dr. Diamond specializes in sexuality and relationship development in adolescents.  Her book, Sexual Fluidity: Understanding Women’s Love and Desire (which Thrack bought at the event) followed women over ten years from adolescence to adulthood to study how sexual identity and relationships develop. As a speaker, Diamond was funny, and jovially self-deprecating as she recognized that she was much newer to the discussion than her fellow speakers. And although she acknowledged she is a non-believer, her focus was far less explicitly atheistic.

“I do want to slowly poison and destroy the marriage institution.”

Instead, Diamond wanted to talk about how we have allowed conservative religious ideals about relationships and families to dominate how we present our case for equal rights for same-sex couples. She argues, quite rightly, that by presenting a clean and conservative looking gay couple with kids as the public face, we are buying into the idea that certain types of people and relationships are worthy of protection. Now it’s a strategy that is working and has parallels with other movements, but it has some troubling implications for the long-term because it excludes and marginalizes members of the queer community by default.

Read More…

Our Mountains

Early European explorers, passers-through and pioneers had no great love for the young & tall mountains in the West. Mountains, sandstone canyons and mesas were barriers and impediments through unfamiliar landscape. A hard and sometimes cruel land that looked grey and barren to their eyes. The names they gave on maps reflect this, bearing innumerable hellish descriptors or names like “starvation.”

Little Cottonwood Canyon Wall from the Road

Mountains in their old homelands carried strange stories or were home to vengeful gods and spirits. Even some of those who recognized the great beauty of these vistas emphasized their danger and separation from people.

Rushing water up Little Cottonwood Canyon

For us, our mountains are incredibly important. My great aunt once told us that the end of a flight home when the well-known peaks came into view, it felt like being wrapped up in a warm blanket. These mountains are home itself in a very powerful way.

Lower flow in record heat of 2012 summer

And it isn’t that they’re loved because the ranges are beautiful and majestic. It’s not their draw for skiing tourism or an easy connection to nature & recreation. It’s not because it makes navigation easier because you never lose your sense of direction. All this is true, but there is a more powerful force at work.

What it's really all about: WATER

Without these mountains, we could not live. This place would be more open space, sparsely populated by unfortunate tribes confined to too little land on reservations while the rest would most likely be more land on which the military drops weapons. Our Western sagebrush ocean has always been seen as useless but for its financial utility by the federal government that owns the majority of our state.

Thistles: pokey and pretty

It is our mountains that let people thrive in this wild and arid place; we rely on mountains for water. Every drop of rain and (especially) flake of snow that falls in our mountains near reservoirs becomes part of the next year’s water supply. Because we need them, mountains become precious not just for beauty and wilderness. They mean home.

Giant Fallen Granite Boulder & Trees

Family outings and picnics up the many canyons are a childhood staple.  When I’m tired or stressed, a short trip up the canyons provides incredible refreshment and joy.  The landscape with rushing water and the reminder of life with greenery and the animal sounds all around me are euphoric and transcendental.

 Brave Midna @ Little Cottonwood Canyon  Brave Midna at Little Cottonwood Canyon 2
 Brave Midna at Little Cottonwood Canyon 3  Brave Midna at Little Cottonwood Canyon 4
Brave Midna at Little Cottonwood Canyon 5 Brave Midna at Little Cottonwood Canyon 6

The dogs seem to have a good time too.  Although I think in the future, I’ll avoid trying to shoot video while tethered to exploring, happy canines.

Dogs at the stream edge

Downstream view

Atrus finds this rock fascinating

More Canyon Walls

Water flowing through Little Cottonwood Canyon

Midna also finds the rock fascinating, but from underneath

The other bank

Branches washed down during spring

I Feel Like a Puppy Has Followed Me Home. And I Don’t Know What to Do About It.

I’ve mentioned I’m going to be laid off, and soon. I have my good days and bad days, and I’m largely tending toward anxiety and stress lately.  There are things I like and hate about my workplace, some of which are generic office things, but many of which have to do with an overtly Mormon office culture.  I have to edit not just my vocabulary for professional standards, which is fine, but I also have to edit out things in my life that would make my workplace extra uncomfortable and filled with judgement.  If someone asks about a weekend where I had a nice time with family or friends, I edit out the parts that include drinking, etc.

One of the few really nice things about my office is there are a number of nice people, some LDS and some not.  I’m on close terms with a number of people here, but I’ll be honest, I’m really not planning on hanging out outside of work.  Because all they know is my office presentation.  I might loosen up slightly around people I know, like and trust somewhat, but I’m pretty sure that were they to actually know what I think about shit, I’d scare the hell out of them.

Which brings me to the lady who reminds me of a lonely puppy.  She was recently hired on in the building maintenance department. She is nice.  And I treated her like I treat anyone else here: like a nice human being.  Basic chatting with her, keeping everything in the relatively superficial office-speech bubble.

Then something weird and a bit off-putting happened.  She announced that I was really cool and nice and interesting, that I treated her with respect (which was unusual, apparently, and that makes me terribly sad), and that she wants to be my friend.  And not just in the “let’s grab lunch together” sort of office friends way.  She demanded that we exchange contact information, which I did mostly because I didn’t know what else to do.  I still don’t.

Here’s the thing: I’m a busy, stressed and currently am a very grumpy curmudgeon.  I feel stressed and hurried most of the time.  I’m planning on taking advantage of not having a job to finish up my education quickly, while hoping the economy has recovered enough by the time I finish law school that I can find a position.  I am not in a place where I’m looking to spend time with someone I don’t even know when I am currently neglecting family and friends I already have.  (My internet friends don’t count here because it’s easier to juggle with other real life stuff.)

She and I are simply not in the same place in life, and that’s bound to make creating a friendship tricky.  What’s more, unless I’ve read this woman very wrong, she and I are not exactly compatible ideologically.  So I feel like she wants to be friends with a perception of who I am, and not me.

I know she’s deeply lonely and she’s just trying to connect with someone who treats her with respect and dignity.  I don’t want to crush her by rejecting her out of hand, but I feel like I’m being dishonest about what she could expect from me outside of the office.  What happens when she finds out that I reject many things that make her feel happy, safe and comfortable?  What happens when she finds out that I’m actually this angry feminist atheist progressive?  I feel like I need a disclaimer:

Warning: you don’t know me.  You don’t have any idea what I am like.  You met me in a professional office where public personas don’t match reality.  Individual is not responsible for unsatisfied acquaintances.

My Family Has An Awesome Accidental Tradition

Today is my fifth wedding anniversary.  It seems like both too short a time and too long.  It seems strange to think I’ve been married for five years, but it also feels like ages since Thrack became a central part of my life.  We’ve known each other since 1997 and have been friends all that time.  We’ve been in love since 2001 and I can’t imagine what my life would be like without him.  I married him on 25 May 2007.

On that day, I repeated a mistake of my mother’s and I love that.  When my parents were married, she was so nervous she shoved the wedding ring on my father’s right hand, rather than his left.  When Thrack and I were exchanging rings, he moved to adjust my veil, but he used his right hand.  I thought he was putting his hand out for me to take, so naturally, I put the ring on it.  Completely on accident, I echoed my mother and I love that I have a connection with her tied to my wedding.

I love my spouse.  Every day is a joy and a gift.

I Love Busty Girl Comics, Plus Let’s Talk About Bra Shopping

I have a complicated relationship with my boobs.  Like my mom (and to a lesser extent, my paternal grandmother), I have been busty from adolescence onward.  It has nothing to do with weight.  I’ve been underweight, I’ve been relatively fit, I’ve been overweight.  And I’ve always had disproportionately large breasts.

I used to fantasize about someday getting reductions.  But as I’ve gotten older and more comfortable in my skin, I’ve realized that while I’m often frustrated, inconvenienced and sometimes pained by being busty, my breasts are a permanent part of my conception of self.  What’s more, once I got past a gut fear of embracing my sexuality as a person, rather than hiding it, I started being able to appreciate my breasts and feeling happy about my proportions.

That doesn’t eliminate frequent frustrations and inconveniences that come from being busty, but there are sometimes perks to balance that out.  In any event, because I can identify with so much of her artwork and humor, I’ve come to really appreciate Rampaige’s insights whether perks or problems:

Busty Girl Comics: Obscured View

There is something nice with having someone who not only understands the viewpoint of busty people (because she’s also been great about recognizing trans men having experience with breasts as well), but who is able to find humor in daily little incidents that I’d never even think to mention.  What’s more, I love that she draws a variety of body shapes, because “busty” is far from universal and despite the feeling I sometimes get while clothes shopping, women have highly varied figures. Read More…

Crepes For Dinner

Crepe Filling

We’ve been terribly busy lately and blogging has suffered. I have a backlog of posts that are in progress that I simply haven’t had time to finish.  Part of what kept us busy was a dinner with Thrack’s parents on Sunday when he made his incredible chicken cacciatore.  It was so delicious and filling that we didn’t even prepare the crepes we’d planned.

Caramelizing Apples and Pecans in Brown Sugar

We’re eating them for dinner tonight.  There are two varieties: caramelized apples & pecans, and fresh strawberries.  I have these signature wine and fruit reduction syrups that go with each.  The white wine sauce was one I came up with in a dream; it’s made with pears and meyer’s lemons.  The red sauce I’ve been making for ages and is fresh squeezed oranges and a clamshell of raspberries.

Cooking a Crepe

We’re having dessert for dinner.  We’re responsible grownups. Shut up.

Strawberries and Cream

Growing Stack


Public Lands Access and Ableism

I like wilderness.  I like camping and hiking and fishing and transcending myself through nature.  I like preservation through creation of parklands, monuments, national forests and support regulation of activities that are permissible on public lands.

I’m generally in favor of preserving these beautiful natural spaces so they may be enjoyed by future generations.  That is, unless you think preservation means that we have to remove historic and existing access in service of achieving pre-settlement “wilderness.”  I will fight tooth and nail against that.

Because every time you do that, you cut off many elderly, those with physical disabilities and anyone else who can’t pack in camping gear over miles of trail from large sections of lands that are being preserved in their name.  I don’t understand how there have not yet been lawsuits and legal precedents that establish protection of existing access to outdoor areas held in public trust.

When I was a child, we camped and hiked and fished in Utah’s wild areas for what seemed like the whole summer.  There are countless little lakes in the Uinta Mountains (glaciation does cool stuff with drainage patterns) that make for wonderful isolated retreats.  While some areas are accessible by regularly maintained paved and gravel/dirt roads, there is a much greater wilderness that you can reach using much older roads made by loggers before these areas were protected.  When I was a kid, you could meander your way right up to a myriad of tiny hollows and camp rough, far away from the noise and aggravation of the trailer/camper set at established campgrounds.  What’s more, we were able to go there with my grandfather, who was definitely not able to hike several miles toting gear.

Mountain Lake

Now when you try to visit these same places, the roads are blocked miles away with boulders and marked as trail-heads, ostensibly to keep motorists of all types from using existing pathways and “preserve” wilderness areas.  What that means in practice is that trucks, jeeps and SUVs are blocked from access, while anyone who can afford an ATV just swerves around the barrier, trampling down the areas outside the historic road.  I see it all over the place; it doesn’t stop all motorists and especially doesn’t stop the inconsiderate assholes that I see driving their ATVs wherever they want, usually too fast on roads (kicking up mountains of dust and exacerbating washboarding).

Basically the conservation strategy of closing off wilderness by destroying historical access reeks of privilege.  It doesn’t affect those that can afford recreational vehicles or horses or those who are physically able to pack in.  It does, however, effectively cut my mother off from beautiful solitude because her multiple knee surgeries render her unable to get there anymore.  This is wrong.  It’s wrong legally (since these are public property) and it’s wrong ethically because what is the purpose of preserving spaces for us if only the very privileged can get there any more?

I’m not asking for these roads to be maintained nor am I asking for their expansion.  I would however, like to think that any family with a beat up old pickup truck can enjoy the same joy at being on top of the world as the family that can afford means of transportation that can bypass barriers.  These places belong to all of us.  I want to see a handicapped person sue for equal access, because I fear without it, we will never get back what we are losing.