Friday, August 24, 2012

Dear Maybelline

Dear Maybelline,

I just saw a commercial for Baby Lips.

I do not like your product's name.

I'm sure that the product itself is good.  The name and the gender-specific marketing, however, sent my thoughts spinning down a familiar road.

Baby Lips.  Marketed towards women and girls.

Let's start with the gender essentialism of marketing a body-neutral product towards only half of the population.  Only women age?  Only women get dehydrated?

Oh, I get it!  Only women need to worry about aging!  Only women need to worry about staying moist!  Men, you see, get to be "ruggedly" handsome while women need to slather moisturizers and anti-aging products all over their faces (and necks and hands and so on) lest anyone consider them not youthfully dewy.

A woman's lips must be baby soft.  As if they haven't changed since infancy.  As if they haven't aged.  As if they haven't gone through the natural maturation process.  A woman should look young and innocent and immature as long as possible.

Are you literally infantilizing women?

There's pressure on women to conform to a lot of ideals and stereotypes, some of them contradictory.  One of them is that women must be youthful and vulnerable and innocent, requiring men to protect them from the harshness of life.  You know how women are, with their wide, innocent eyes and their girlish figures and their bell-like peals of happy laughter ringing with the sweet joy of children at play.

The narratives around women and girls and babies, the narratives warning women that aging is bad for them and maturity is suspect, the narratives that men are interesting and important and attractive over a wide number of decades but women need to cling to youth at all costs, are legion.  You know them very well.  You're playing into them and promoting them and profiting off of them.

The next time I need lip balm, I'll skip the Maybelline displays and buy something that doesn't tell women to be ashamed to be affected by the passing of time.

I hope that your next product comes with less gender essentialism and fewer hateful messages.

With love,
Frank Lee

Dear Me

Dear Me,

I want you to remember to be a good ally.

I want you to remember that communication is a complex thing and sometimes you'll express yourself poorly.  Sometimes you'll use the wrong words.  Sometimes you'll imply something you never intended to express.  That's unfortunate, but it happens.  Acknowledge it and strive to do better next time.

You want to be a good, progressive, inclusive feminist.  Sometimes you're going to mess up.  You're going to say something gross.  You're going to bump into your own unexamined privilege.  You're going to say things that you'll cringe over a couple of years from now.  That's unfortunate, but it happens.  Acknowledge it.  Work on it.  Dig that chunk of patriarchal programming out of your brain and examine it from all sides.  Poke at what's left and see what else shakes loose.

You're going to piss people off.  You're going to disgust them and alienate them.  You're going to hurt them.  That's awful.  Remember that it's not about you, it's about them.  It's about trying to improve so that you don't do it again.

Sometimes people will take exception to something you've said or written, and you'll think that they're wrong.  You'll think that they're willfully misunderstanding you.  Maybe they are.  Maybe they're right, and you're really messing up.  Take a deep breath.  Talk it over.  Think it over.  Stop thinking about it from your perspective and think about it from theirs.

You know those people you can't stand who say disgusting, privileged things and sound like complete jackasses and act completely self-righteous about it?  You know those people you can't stand who refuse to examine their mistakes and refuse to acknowledge their problems and deflect all blame and imply that there's something wrong with anyone who takes exception to their oh-so-obviously well-meaning words?  Don't be those people.

It takes a lot of work to be a decent person.  It takes a lot of empathy.  But look at the alternative.

With love,
Frank Lee

Dear Fat Hater

Dear Fat Hater,

You claim to be worried about my health.

Let's talk about health insurance and the terrible healthcare industry we have in this country.

Let's talk about how fat-phobic doctors abuse and neglect fat patients, misdiagnosing and misinforming us.

You claim to be concerned with my appearance.

Let's talk about how fat people are charged more for our clothes while designers style clothing to hide us, not flatter us.

Let's talk about our lookist society and how the shape of my body affects things like the jobs I can get, how much I'll be paid, and how well I'll be treated.

You claim to fear for my social life.

Let's talk about how years of fat-phobic messaging, including comments from you and people like you, affects my interactions.

Let's talk about rape culture.

You're chock full of warnings and concern, but you're aiming them in the wrong directions.  If you genuinely want to help, start with the patriarchy.

But that would be hard work, and you're not really that worried about me, anyway.  What you're worried about is yourself.  You're concerned that there are fat people around you and that you might have to look at them.  You're concerned that there are fat people around you and that you might be associated with them.

Your shitty attitude and the hatred inside you are far uglier than any roll of fat.

With love,
Frank Lee

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Dear Todd Akin

Discussion of rape and rape culture to follow.
“...I said one word and one sentence on one day, and everything changed,” Akin told Huckabee, an early supporter. “I haven’t done anything morally or ethically wrong. It does seem like a little bit of an overreaction.”
-Todd Akin
Dear Todd Akin,

You don't seem to understand what's actually going on.  I've been focusing on other angles of this issue because I assumed that everyone else was covering it aptly, but apparently you haven't been paying attention.

Let's take it back to what you actually said.
"First of all, from what I understand from doctors [pregnancy from rape] is really rare," Akin told KTVI-TV in an interview posted Sunday. "If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down."

Akin said that even in the worst-case scenario — when the supposed natural protections against unwanted pregnancy fail — abortion should still not be a legal option for the rape victim.

"Let's assume that maybe that didn't work, or something," Akin said. "I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not attacking the child."
According to you, the "one word" you "misspoke" was "legitimate." I'm glad that you understand how wrong it was to say that.  It was an incredibly hateful, policing thing to say, the sort of verbiage I'd expect from a promoter of rape culture, and it's good that you realize it was wrong.

Although, if you understand that "legitimate" was wrong, and you understand why it was wrong, it seems contradictory for you to defend yourself with, "I haven’t done anything morally or ethically wrong."  Separating out rape into "legitimate rape" and "forcible rape" and "rape-rape" and so on seems morally wrong to me.  It's disgusting and morally repugnant to act as if "violent stranger rape" is real rape, and the other kinds are less-than-rape, kinda-sorta rape, not really rape.  Calling certain kinds of rape "legitimate" as if the rest are not is doing something morally wrong.

But you say that you didn't mean to say "legitimate."  Let's take you at your word.  Here's what you apparently meant to say:
"First of all, from what I understand from doctors [pregnancy from rape] is really rare," Akin told KTVI-TV in an interview posted Sunday. "If it's rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down."

Akin said that even in the worst-case scenario — when the supposed natural protections against unwanted pregnancy fail — abortion should still not be a legal option for the rape victim.

"Let's assume that maybe that didn't work, or something," Akin said. "I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not attacking the child."
Well, that's terrible.

I don't know who those doctors were, but they're poorly educated and spreading dangerous misinformation.  Pregnancy from rape is not "really rare."  According to the American Journal of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, an estimated “32,101 pregnancies result from rape each year.”  Consider that: 32,101.  Each year.  In one country.  More significant than "really rare," I'd say.

Then we get to: "If it's rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down."

If it's rape?  If?  If it's really rape.  Because, you know, it might not be.  It could be one of those "she cried rape" situations.  One of those cases of morning-after regrets.  She was asking for it, you know.

Women do not have unique powers of mind control.  Women do not have "ways" to circumvent their bodies natural processes.  A lot of physical functions are autonomic.  Women can't make their hearts stop pumping or make their stomachs stop digesting, so why would you think that they'd be able to stop their reproductive organs from working?

This, of course, is where the patriarchy steps in to remind us that women's reproductive systems are very mysterious and sort of magical and can't ever really be understood by men.  Women are, of course, basically incomprehensible.  The answer to my last question was "misogyny."

It is true that in certain situations, some women's bodies may respond to great stress by miscarrying.  That is true of some women in some situations.  Just as "salad and jogging" doesn't equate to "lose 5 pounds a week" like some magical formula, "rape and stress" doesn't equate to "miscarriage" or "infertility."  Everyone's body is different.  Everyone's body reacts differently.  All women are not the same.  A lot of women have hearty bodies and smoothly functioning organs which will go on merrily about their business no matter how much distress the woman has been through.  You can be in a car accident and continue to digest.  You can be shot and still continue to breathe.  You can be raped and still become pregnant.

In that one sentence, you basically said, "I'm incredibly ill-informed, I'm either lying or I have no ability to discern reputable sources from uneducated fools, I don't understand women, I know little to nothing about women's experiences, I support and promote rape culture, I think that women lie, and I need to educate myself immediately on human biology."  In other words, "I'm a mendacious, incompetent asshole and I hate women."

If that's not what you meant, you have some work to do.

But you didn't stop there!  The fun just kept flowing:
...abortion should still not be a legal option for the rape victim.

"Let's assume that maybe that didn't work, or something," Akin said. "I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not attacking the child."
As I said, you don't seem to understand human biology very well.  To clarify, there is no child.  "Attacking a child" brings to mind images of someone assaulting a five-year-old.  When someone aborts a pregnancy, that's something that happens (pay attention here) while she's pregnant.
abort a pregnancy =/= attack a child
With the basics of the life cycle out of the way, let's look at the rest of this nonsense.

When someone is pregnant, "there should be some punishment."  That's what you said.  The magical rape-infertility process failed, the way magical processes sometimes do, and now the rape victim is pregnant.  "There should be some punishment," is your response.

Are you advocating for jail time for rape, and extra jail time for rape plus impregnation?  Is this a new bill you're working on?  Maybe jail time plus expenses for mental health and abortion costs and, oh, no, that can't be it.  You think that abortion should be illegal.  Period.  Across the board.  For everyone, at all times.

Now it's time for you to hop on over and read what I wrote to your pal Mike Huckabee about this.  I'll wait.

Back?  Okay!

Overall, in a few sentences, you said that sometimes rape isn't really rape.  You lied about human biology in a way that turns at least 32,101 Americans a year into liars who weren't really raped.  You declared that a legal and safe medical procedure should be made illegal because, uh, why?  You turned a pregnancy into a living, independent, human child to make abortion look bad (and to make people who have abortions look bad).  You want to force rape victims to endure nine months of pregnancy plus labor to bear a rapist's child at a time when they most need to be in control of their own bodies.

You have a lot of learning to do.  Starting with what "morally or ethically wrong" means.

With love,
Frank Lee

Dear Steve King

Discussion of rape and rape culture to follow.

Dear Steve King,

As a Congressman, you must do a lot of talking in front of microphones and reporters.  It's understandable that you might word your thoughts awkwardly from time to time.

I don't think that's what's happening here.

Here's what a reporter asked you:
You support the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act that would provide federal funding for abortions to a person that has been forcefully raped. But what if someone isn’t forcibly raped and for example, a 12-year-old who gets pregnant? Should she have to bring this baby to term?
 Here's your direct reply:
Well I just haven’t heard of that being a circumstance that’s been brought to me in any personal way and I’d be open to hearing discussion about that subject matter. Generally speaking it’s this: that there millions of abortions in this country every year. Millions of them are paid for at least in part by taxpayers. I think it’s immoral for us to compel conscientious objecting taxpayers to fund abortion through the federal government, or any other government for that matter. So that’s my stand. And if there are exceptions there, then bring me those exceptions let’s talk about it. In the meantime it’s wrong for us to compel pro-life people to pay taxes to fund abortion.
On the subject of a 12-year-old being impregnated by her rapist, the first words out of your mouth are, "Well, I just haven't heard of that being a circumstance," as if it's imaginary, a flight of fancy.  You follow that up with, "that's been brought to me in any personal way," as if you'd need the 12-year-old in question to approach you about it personally.  Then you get to, "if there are exceptions here, then bring me those exceptions."  "Let's talk about it," you say.  "In the meantime..."

All of that conveys a very clear idea that you doubt the situation exists.  You know nothing of it and if it were real, someone would have told you by now.  You're open to it, after all!

Which is an odd stance to take, considering what you said only weeks earlier (emphasis mine):
What I've said is that we need to respect humans more than we do animals. Whenever we start elevating animals up to, to above that of humans, we've crossed a moral line. For example, if there's a sexual predator out there who has impregnated a young girl, say a 13 year old girl, and it happens in America more times than you and I like to think, that sexual predator can pick that girl off the playground at the middle school and haul her across the state line and force her to get an abortion to eradicate the evidence of his crime, and bring her back and drop her off at the swing set, and that's not against the law in the United States of America. I have told Wayne Pacelle and the people who believe we should focus all of our efforts on the, on anything they can bring that limits activity around animals, that we need to respect and revere human life first, animal life second.
The rape and impregnation of teenaged girls makes a great hypothetical when you need a handy comparison to dog fighting, but it's an anomaly, a flight of fancy that you've certainly never encountered before, when it's the actual topic at hand.

You're comfortable with rape as your go-to point illustrator, but you're completely unfamiliar with it in real life.

The victimization of girls "happens in America more times than you and I like to think" but if it happens you'd like to hear about it.

Try to take this in: rape is not just a convenient hypothetical.  The victimization of girls isn't just a rhetorical device.  This is a reality.  You know that it's a reality.  You don't get to pretend that it doesn't happen when it suddenly becomes politically unpleasant.

While we're here, let's talk about the rest of that blather.  "I think it’s immoral for us to compel conscientious objecting taxpayers to fund abortion through the federal government, or any other government for that matter."  Isn't it also immoral for to compel us to fund war?  Are you campaigning against that?

But that's not a fair comparison, is it?  War is a violent atrocity.  Abortion is a legal medical procedure.  In war, people are killed in great numbers.  In abortion, pregnancy is ended.  Oh, but war is necessary, you'd argue!  Abortion is necessary, too, to protect the health, livelihood, quantity and quality of life of millions of Americans.

We pay taxes for the greater good.  It's part of living in a thriving society.  In a functioning society, people need access to medical services, health care, and reproductive rights, even if you personally don't agree with their choices.  I don't like war, so I don't start wars and I haven't signed up for the military.  I urge you not to get an abortion.

With love,
Frank Lee

P.S. Your apparent stance on animal cruelty makes me want to go hug a dog.

Dear Mike Huckabee

Discussion of rape and rape culture ahead.
"Ethel Waters, for example, was the result of a forcible rape," Huckabee said of the late American gospel singer. One-time presidential candidate Huckabee added: "I used to work for James Robison back in the 1970s, he leads a large Christian organization. He, himself, was the result of a forcible rape. And so I know it happens, and yet even from those horrible, horrible tragedies of rape, which are inexcusable and indefensible, life has come and sometimes, you know, those people are able to do extraordinary things."
-Mike Huckabee
Dear Mike Huckabee,

Before we go any farther, stop saying "forcible rape."  Just say "rape."  The term "forcible rape" makes it seem as if there's "forcible rape," which is the bad, violent kind, and then there's other rape, you know, not rape-rape, just sort-of-rape, it wasn't really forcible or anything, she just wasn't that into it, you know how women are.

With that out of the way, let's examine the rest of that dreck.

Right, so basically you're saying that "some people make the best of a bad situation."  Or, "the sperm of rapists isn't automatically contaminated with evil."  Or something.  What's your point here?  Yes, some people grow up to "do extraordinary things."  That's terrific!  I agree!

Here's the thing about that "life has come" part.  "Life has come" is a really vague way to gloss over the fact that someone had to endure nine months of pregnancy followed by labor (and we all know what a sweet little tea party that always is).  And then someone (most often the person who just did the whole pregnancy-and-labor thing) has to rear the child.  For a long time.

What you said, that sometimes people who have been raped become pregnant and bear children, and sometimes those children grow up to become professional Christians, is a fact.  It is not an argument.  (Although you were speaking with Todd Akin at the time, so, "Yes, you fool, sometimes people do get pregnant from being raped" is, unfortunately, not taken for granted.)

It is true that people conceived through rape may contribute positively to the world.  It's not as if the seed of rapists is sown in Lucifer's garden or anything.  It's not as if "I must rape" is encoded into the chromosomes somewhere, just waiting for the next generation.  No one's suggesting that we're suffering an epidemic of rape babies growing up to be a drain on society.

But let's look at why someone who's been raped may not want to continue a pregnancy.

1.) Well, you were just raped, so you're probably going through a lot right now, so dealing with that and taking care of yourself comes first.

2.) The pregnancy may be a constant reminder of the assault you've just suffered.

3.) Being raped involves a loss of control, an inability to stop someone else from using your body.  A pregnancy can be uncomfortably similar at a time when you want to reestablish control.

4.) As you probably weren't planning to be raped and become pregnant, you probably weren't preparing your life for child-rearing.  You may not be ready for pregnancy or parenthood, financially or physically or otherwise.

5.) You may be married or have a significant other who is unwilling to help you to rear your rapist's child.

6.) People are going to ask who the father is.

7.) The child is going to ask who the father is.

8.) What if the father wants visitation rights?  What if he pops up five years down the road and tries to involve himself in your child's life?  Statistically speaking, you were probably raped by someone you know.  You can only guess how he'll react if he realizes that the child is his.  Even if he doesn't get involved initially, he has the rest of the child's life to change his mind.

9.) Along with the "raped by someone you know" part comes the fact that you may know the rapist's significant other, the rapist's children, etc.  You may be a member of the rapist's family.

10.) If you're one of the few who ends up seeing a rapist on trial, I can only imagine how the defense will twist "but she's carrying his baby!" into an argument that it wasn't really rape.

There's a lot more, but you get the gist of it.  While you may think of pregnancy as the potential for another wonderful Christian in the world, the actual rape victim has a much more complex understanding of the situation.  You can pat yourself on the back for acknowledging how indefensible "forcible" rape is, but maybe if you had more feminists who fight the rape culture and work for reproductive rights on your show, and fewer people like Todd Akin, you'd be more respectful of what real survivors go through.

With love,
Frank Lee

Dear Bic

Dear Bic,

I see that you've a "ball pen essentially for women!"

Essentially for women, you say.  Essentially?
1 : of, relating to, or constituting essence : inherent
 Is this pen made with the essence of women?  What have you put in that ink?
a : of the utmost importance : basic, indispensable, necessary <an essential requirement for admission to college>
Ah, your pen is indispensable to women!  But not to anyone else?  Only to women?  Why would only women find this pen essential?

I suppose that it depends how you define "women."  If you're going with "uterus-owners," maybe this pen doubles as a tampon?  Is it a vaginal contraceptive device?

Maybe you're thinking of women as "those people who do feminine, girly things."  Does the pen have ink at one end and mascara at the other?  Lipstick!  Is there lipstick involved?

Well, let's look at your pen's key benefits:
Retractable ballpoint pen
Medium point: 1.00mm
Fun comfort grip
Modern design
Um.  Those are sort of generic pen facts.  What about this pen is specific to women?  Is it the "fun comfort grip?"  Maybe other pens are less fun, and fun pens are for women only?  Or only women demand to be comfortable!  So pampered!

Maybe it's the modern design!  You know how women are about design!  That's like fashion, right?

I'm really not sure what it is about this pen that makes it a must-have for women while being completely irrelevant to everyone else in the world.  Is the ink pink?  The ink has to be pink, right?

Oh.  The ink is either black or blue.

Those are awfully manly colors, don't you think?

I don't think that I'll be buying any more pens from you until you've gotten your act together.  I'm looking at the pens on my desk, and they're not Bic.  Do you know what their key benefits are?  They're from companies who aren't promoting and profiting from gender essentialism!

Let me know if you ever do get that pen-tampon-vaginal contraceptive device thing worked out, though.

With love,
Frank Lee

Dear YouTubers

Discussion of rape culture ahead.

Dear YouTubers,

I spend a lot of time on YouTube, and I've noticed that people have this habit of making comments about "raping" the replay button.

It's not funny, it's gross, but I bicker with myself over how to respond.  Is an explanation of why not to use rape as a metaphor too long for a YouTube comment?  Should I just step in with a mild, "hey, not cool?"

While I was on YouTube yesterday, I found someone named AfizaFarhana setting a great example.
‘Rape’ the replay button is not so healthy's crime...just try ‘refreshing’ your relationship with this MV...XD
The last time I checked, she had 58 "likes."

It's a simple thing, but I found it encouraging.  It's nice to know that other people are stepping up, and it's nice to see that she got so much support (and no push back, at least that I saw).

When we point out that someone's speech is hateful or harmful, it's not our job to make it palatable.  We don't have to be sweet or witty or graceful about it.  The problem isn't our approach, it's whatever the other person said in the first place.  But I'm not socially adept at all times (understatement of the year) and I'm not always in the mood for a fight.  Sometimes I just want to make my point and get out.  It's nice to pick up examples of how to word my comments for maximum effectiveness and minimum engagement.

What's your go-to wording when you speak up?

With love,
Frank Lee

Friday, August 17, 2012

Dear President Obama

"It's kind of a weird superpower, but if I had something that I could immediately wish for, I would love to be able to speak any language," the president said.

"Now, that's a weird superpower—it might not come in handy to rescue folks from a burning building," he added. "But I've always wished that whatever country I went to, wherever I met somebody who spoke a different language, that I could right away speak their language."
 Dear President Obama,

Some of the qualities I wish for most in a president are also the qualities I appreciate in anyone.  Empathy, for example.  A desire for inclusiveness.  An interest in other people and the variety of human existence.

Your preferred superpower is a beautiful wish that says a lot of terrific things about you.  You want to understand people.  You want to connect with them, and you want to do it on their terms.

What says more about wanting to understand someone than speaking their language?  That's our go-to phrase for communication!  That's how we illustrate that someone doesn't get us: we're not speaking the same language.

You and I have had our disagreements in the past, but you do have many of the qualities I wish every president had.  This was a lovely, smart answer to a cliched question.  Thank you.

With love,
Frank Lee

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Dear Blizzard

Dear Blizzard,

Congratulations on your new toys!  I hope that they sell well.

I realize that this is only the initial launch and that more sets and figures will be released in the future.  Even so, you may have overlooked a few things.

Like women.

In the 13 sets and 19 characters available, there are no women.

You're also missing a few of the races.  You got most of the important ones in, like the default races (human and orc), the shiny new races (worgen and goblin) and so on.  No gnomes yet, of course.  (You and I are long overdue for a talk about gnomes.)

Maybe I'm not being fair, but it's easy to draw a parallel.  You got the default in, right?  You got the important one: men.  Women are, you know, the extra, the add-on, the one you'll get to later.  You'll get around to adding them in eventually.  What's important is that we have lots of men!  Important men from lore!  Men riding gryphons!  Men standing around looking important!

You know this is a problem.  You've heard from us for years about how you marginalize women.  Oh, we hope for the best.  We imagine that somewhere on your end, someone's trying to fix the problem.  And then you launch a new project with 19 characters and no women, and we feel like fools for ever giving you the benefit of the doubt.

We want to be on your side.  We want to enjoy your game and have fun with you.  We're passionate, paying customers.  We put up with a lot of shit from misogynistic gamer guys to stick with you, so we aren't that thrilled to get shit from you, too.  And the more crap you pull, the more encouragement and permission the players have for their behavior, too.  Again: you know this is a problem, and you continue to contribute to it.

Ideally, your 19 characters would be an even split, 10 women and 9 men or 10 men and 9 women.  If you want to marginalize us, you could make it 15 men and 4 women.  For a token 10%, you could have 2 women.  Maybe one?  Just one?  Just one woman?  No?

Was this a deliberate choice?  Did you think that having the option to buy a woman on a gryphon instead of a man on a gryphon would upset your player base?  Did you think that people shopping in Toys 'R' Us would see your products and get excited, and then notice a woman character among the men and be turned off enough not to try your game?  Or did you put no thought into this at all?  Did it never even occur to you to include women?

Congratulations on your new toys.  I hope that they sell well.  I won't be buying any of them.

With love,
Frank Lee

Monday, August 13, 2012

Dear Feminists

Dear Feminists,

Melissa McEwan, Jessica Luther, and Garland Grey have launched a new site called Flyover Feminism.

Their mission statement explains the point of the site very well, so I encourage you to read it.

Conventional wisdom suggests that all of the USA's liberal and progressive people live in big cities on the coasts.  If you live in the "heartland" or the "flyover states" or the "Bible belt" or whatever your particular region of the country is called, you'll get comments from people in those big, coastal cities telling you to move.  You'll hear people suggest that your state just secede so that it can be its own conservative mess while the rest of the country progresses.  There are no liberals in that state anyway, right?  It's all a bunch of conservatives or rednecks or Bible-thumpers or uneducated lumps.

There are progressive people in every state.  There are feminists in every state.  Why don't we all just move to New York or San Francisco or whichever liberal haven you're idealizing?  Maybe because we have families here.  Jobs here.  Friends and roots and ties and paychecks and responsibilities here.

Maybe it's because we realize that turning your back on a problem won't fix it.  Maybe it's because we realize that there aren't enough feminist, progressive voices here and abandoning ship will only make that problem worse, will only leave a bigger dearth for the people we leave behind.  I don't want to make things better for myself alone; I want to make things better for everyone.

When you live in a small town, you know that people with potential often leave.  They're encouraged to go, to seek out bigger places with more opportunities.  The town left behind, however, now lacks the energy and ambition and brilliance of the people who've moved on.  When people with promise head for something bigger and better, the ones they leave behind are only worse off for it.  When people with progressive, feminist ideas head for liberal enclaves, the ones they leave behind hear one less progressive voice and have one less feminist role model.

If I didn't believe that I could make a difference, I wouldn't be a feminist.  If I didn't believe that I could help, I wouldn't have picked up this teaspoon.  Yes, being surrounded by racist, homophobic, religious conservatives is incredibly unpleasant and often makes me want to storm around screaming in people's faces.  But that's precisely why I need the support of my feminist allies.  When you dismiss my state, erase my existence and my effort and my struggle, and suggest that there's no hope for us (no reason to bother, those people are all just a bunch of inbred Bible-thumpers anyway), you've stopped being an ally and started being part of the problem.

If you're prone to dismissing Alabama as too far gone for help or prone to suggesting aloud that Texas just go ahead and secede already, I hope that the work done at Flyover Feminism will change your mind.  If you find yourself left out of the conversations between the big city movers and shakers, please consider submitting a post for Flyover Feminism.  As always, the more voices we hear from, the better.

With love,
Frank Lee

P.S. Flyover Feminism is not for citizens of the USA only!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Dear Book Readers

Discussion of sexual assault and rape culture to follow.

Dear Book Readers,

Long story short, I've found myself with stacks of books to read that I wouldn't necessarily have picked up on my own.

Some of them are romance novels.  Within those romance novels, I'm noticing a trend.

The scenario runs like this: the man touches the woman without her permission and against her will.  Sometimes she squirms and pushes at him and protests, and he backs off.  Sometimes they have a long and physical struggle over it with the writer communicating the woman's sincere distress clearly.

The man is the hero of the novel.  By the end of the book, she's proclaiming her love for him and they're strolling off into their happy future together.

The scene describes sexual assault very frankly but never names it as such.  It's like a step-by-step description of how to make a sandwich without ever saying the word sandwich, only with way more danger and misogyny.

Elsewhere in the book, later, someone will bring up rape.  In one book, for example, some other guy tries to rape the heroine.  In another, the heroine protests against the hero's sexual aggression, and he points out that kissing her against her will and groping her breasts despite her protests isn't rape, so what is she so upset about?*

It seems as if the author's trying to set up the threat of rape as a counterpoint to the hero's aggressive sexuality.  He's controlling and forceful, he takes without asking, he victimizes her for his own amusement, sure, but he's not a rapist!

Okay, no.  He doesn't rape her.  He does sexually assault her.

Consent matters.  It's not as if going so far but not too far is okay.  It's not as if overriding someone's consent and continuing despite someone's distress is okay as long as there's no PIV penetration.

Setting it up as "good guys" versus "rapists" is a false dichotomy.  There are all sorts of people somewhere in the middle who may not rape anyone but are still hostile to consent.  It's not as if in the absence of rape, someone's automatically a good guy.  He might be an entitled douche.  He might be a molesting asshole.  He might do all sorts of things to people against their will or without their consent.  "At least I didn't rape you!" is not a defense of negative behavior and does not deserve cookies.

Rapist versus good guy is another way the rape culture pressures us to accept the crossing of boundaries.  It encourages us to brush away sexual assault and unwanted touching and violations of space as "not that bad."  They are bad.  They're unacceptable.  They can range from annoying to criminal.  It's not romantic to violate boundaries, and if someone doesn't know where the boundaries are, he should ask.

Once upon a time, I might have read those scenes and not thought very much about them.  They're awfully common, in popular culture and in real life.  If you enjoy reading a book with these themes, I hope that you consider the message it sends.  If you share similar books with someone else, I hope that you'll have a conversation about it.  The more closely we examine rape culture, the better we can dismantle it.

With love,
Frank Lee

*This point is usually followed by the hero saying something like, "Don't tell me that you didn't enjoy it!"  As if that's relevant.  First, how good is this guy at picking up on signals and reading body language to begin with, that I should trust his interpretation of events as opposed to the panicked, frightened response I read?  Second, sometimes the body responds one way while the mind responds in a different way, so "your nipples were hard and your skin was flushed" does not mean "you wanted it."  That idea needs to be annihilated.  Third, I don't care if she wanted it or not.  Her desires have nothing to do with anything.  She can want it all day long, but she didn't consent to it.  End of argument.

Dear Everyone

For reference.

Dear Everyone,

Pondering the utter foolishness of the marketing for This Is 40, I thought to myself, "Yes, yes, if there is anyone with enough insight and genius to touch on life in such a way as to draw out those strains of the universal human experience, it's certainly Judd Apatow."

But what is the universal human experience?

To experience some sort of midlife crisis, to struggle against maturity, to refuse to grow up, to live with childlike wonder and innocence even into adulthood, to rebel against aging?  No.  Those things happen, and they may even be common, but they're not universal.  There are many people who mature early in life, who don't have the luxury of gazing at the world with irreverence or innocence.  There are many people who hit the milestones of aging without any sort of trepidation or rebellion at all.

To love someone and be loved, in the romantic sense?  No.  Not everyone falls in love.  Not everyone is loved.

To know a mother's love?  No.  Not everyone's mother is loving.  Not every child is wanted or loved.  Some people know their mother only distantly or through negative experiences.  Some people grow up with no mother at all.

To struggle and rise above challenges?  I don't know, some people have it pretty easy.  Some people have it incredibly hard.  Not everyone struggles.  Some people do nothing but struggle and never really win.  We'd have to do a lot of talking about what it means to "triumph" for me to believe in this one.

To wonder about what it all means, what the purpose of life is, what's the nature of God, and so on?  No.  I think that a lot of people go on about their business without ever taking the time to ponder those things.

I could go on, but I'm starting to see a pattern.  The "universal human experiences" I'm familiar with all make interesting novels and inspiring movies, but they're just stories we like to tell ourselves.  They're just narratives.  They may be popular enough to strike a chord with a lot of people, but they're not universal.

It's nice, isn't it, to think that we'll all find romantic love, that we can all overcome challenges, that everyone has a loving mother?  What pleasant little stories we tell ourselves.

But they're not true.  In fact, they may be harmful.  Consider the "loving mother" one.  If the narrative tells us that everyone has a loving mother, then every mother must be loving.  If your mother doesn't love you, is something wrong with you?  Is the fault yours?  Should you have been different from birth?  If you become pregnant and don't immediately, instinctively fall in love with the potential developing inside you, is something wrong with you?  Are you unnatural?  Broken?  What if you don't want to be pregnant?  What if you aren't sure about having a kid?  What if you have a baby and then don't adore it beyond reason?  What if you don't instinctively recognize your baby in a group of infants, or don't instinctively know when something's wrong with your child, or don't instinctively know everything about breastfeeding?  Motherhood is natural!  It's instinctive!  Everyone has a loving mother; what's wrong with you for not providing your child with one?

The narratives discourage people from seeking help.  If I can't overcome every challenge in life through my own determined ingenuity, I'm failing.  If I'm an uncertain mother, I'm unnatural.  Something's wrong with me; the fault is mine.

The narratives also discourage us from offering help.  People with disabilities shouldn't need accommodations, right?  They can overcome any obstacle through their own courage and uniqueness!  Don't you watch movies and Very Special Episodes?  Struggling families don't need help, not really.  A mother's love will fix everything!  Anyone who can't rear three children and keep a clean house and hold down two jobs and earn a degree in her spare time must not really love her kids, I guess.

We don't all get to have a midlife crisis.  Some of us die too soon.  Some of us grow up too early.  Some of us don't have the luxury of acting out immaturely.  If the story in This Is 40 truly is everyone's story, that must be one hell of an inclusive, diverse movie.  Also very long.

To look at your own life, or one kind of life, and assume that everyone else has the same experiences suggests that you lead a very insulated life.  I don't live in a world where everyone around me lives the same way that I do.  We don't have the same experiences or laugh at the same jokes or see the world from the same perspective.  There are people I struggle to identify with at all.

If you think that you can use Pete and Debbie from Knocked Up to tell the universal human experience over the length of a major motion picture, you probably think that "everyone" is just like them/you, which suggests that you move in a very small circle, have a limited imagination, lack empathy, and suffer from a major case of unexamined privilege.  Whereas I'm beginning to think that we should stop pushing the notion of a universal human experience at all, and begin telling a wide variety of people's stories so that we can stop assuming that everyone is just like us and start solving the problems of real human beings instead of cardboard narrative people.

But most of us know that not everyone is just like us, don't we?  The moment you realize that you don't fit tidily into the narrative, the moment you realize that you don't see anyone like you anywhere on TV, the moment you finish one last book without coming across a character reflecting your lived experience, you understand.

Here's to broadening the narrative, to expanding the screen, to including everyone's story.  Thank you to all of you who've shared your experiences and told your tales.  Every time you speak, the people around you learn more about this diverse human experience.  I hope that Judd Apatow learns more, too.  His movies can only be better for it.

With love,
Frank Lee

Friday, August 10, 2012

Dear Judd Apatow

This is not just their story
This is everyone’s story
This Is 40
Dear Judd Apatow,

Everyone's story?  Really, everyone's?

Don’t make me go all Princess Bride on your ass.

With love,
Frank Lee

Dear General Mills

General Mills’ mission is Nourishing Lives. Not just some. But all.
Dear General Mills,

Thank you.

When I heard that homophobic groups were gathering to boycott General Mills, I assumed that you must have done something good.

And you have.

I hope that you continue to embrace diversity and champion progressive causes.  I hope that these statements lead to bigger and better things.  It's heartening to see a major corporation move in this direction.

With love,
Frank Lee

Dear Mitt Romney

"We had a moment of silence in honor of the people who lost their lives at that sheik temple. I noted that it was a tragedy for many, many reasons. Among them are the fact that people, the sheik people, are among the most peaceable and loving individuals you can imagine, as is their faith."
Mitt Romney
Dear Mitt Romney,

I would like someone running for President of the United States of America to be a good orator.  A skilled public speaker.  Someone who doesn't make embarrassing gaffes, particularly in regards to a domestic terrorist act.

I would like someone running for POTUS to be well-educated enough to know the correct terms for various types of citizens, including religious minorities.

You're running for POTUS right now.  At this very moment!  I would like you to be smart as well as sensitive to the issues affecting your people.

One of the problems relevant to this very terrorist act is the conflation of people of color.  The conflation of religious groups.  If you're an angry white man with notions of white supremacy and Christian supremacy filling your head, you might not know the difference between Muslim and Sikh.  You probably don't care.  You're full of fear and hate and everything the patriarchy's been pumping into you since birth, and you're ready for action.  You don't care who that action hurts.  They're people of color who dare not to be Christian, and that's enough for you.  Muslim, Sikh, what's the difference?  Sikh, sheik, what's the difference?  They're not like you, right?  They're interchangeable and incomprehensible anyway.

What you said fed right into that.  It rang those very same bells.

Maybe you spoke out of ignorance, but this isn't the time for ignorance.  This isn't a time for insensitivity.  This isn't a time for mistakes and gaffes.  This is a time when it's very important to get it right, as right as we can.

I hope that you become a compassionate, thoughtful man and a silver-tongued orator, and I wish you well in the pursuit of that goal.  But I hope that someone who's already a step ahead of you in the not-being-racist department becomes the next POTUS.

With love,
Frank Lee

Dear Pat Robertson

Dear Pat Robertson,

Recently, you said some pretty ridiculous things about a terrorist act.  Violent tragedies which expose some of the nastiest problems in our national culture are not the best place to make ridiculous statements, so I hope that you'll ponder your mistakes and strive to speak more appropriately in the future.

Let's look at some of the bullshit you went with this time:
...televangelist Pat Robertson came to the conclusion that Sunday morning’s Sikh temple massacre in Oak Creek, Wisc., was ultimately because “atheists hate God.”

“What is it?” Robertson wondered aloud. “Is it satanic? Is it some spiritual thing?”

“People who are atheists, they hate God, they hate the expression of God,” he continued. “And they are angry with the world, angry with themselves, angry with society and they take it out on innocent people who are worshipping God.”
First, atheists don't hate God.  Atheists don't believe in God.  Atheism is defined by a lack of belief.  There is no deity for them to hate.  I don't hate the tooth fairy; there is no tooth fairy.  I don't hate the Easter bunny; there is no Easter bunny.  I don't hate Zeus.  There is no Zeus.  There's nothing for me to hate.

Do atheists hate Christians?  I'm sure that some of them do.  And a lot of Christians have given them plenty of good reason for it.  Frankly, you're not exactly helping.

Why, precisely, do you think that atheists hating God is at all related to Satan?  Are you trying to say that atheists worship and obey Satan?  You do understand, I hope, that since atheists are defined by their lack of belief, they don't believe in Satan, either?  They don't worship Satan.  If they did, they wouldn't be atheists.  Maybe you're implying that they're innocently and helplessly being used by Satan in some sort of anti-Christian plot?  Okay, that's possible; I have no idea what Satan's up to these days.  But that wouldn't be their fault, it would be Satan's fault; they'd just be pawns in some merciless game.

Here's the problem with that theory, though: it removes human agency.  It erases the motives of the actual killer.  It ignores all of the cultural and systemic problems which played into what happened.  It permits us as a nation to wash our hands of the entire issue and pretend that nothing could've been done to prevent the tragedy.  It discourages us from taking steps to prevent it from happening again.

Atheists are not angry.  No angrier than anyone else, I'd imagine.  Do you have independent and verifiable research?  If there are any scientific results which point to atheists being significantly unhappy, can you prove that it's not because they live in a nation filled with Christian supremacy and nationally known figures like you who blame them for terrorist acts?  If people pointed the finger at me every time a national tragedy (whether natural or otherwise) occurred, I'd be pretty testy, too.

Any more words of wisdom for us?
“Whether it’s a Sikh temple, or a Baptist church, or a Catholic church, or a Muslim mosque — whatever it is — I just abhor this kind of violence, and it’s the the kind of thing that we should do something about,” he said. “But what do you do? Well, you talk about the love of God and hope it has some impact,” the TV preacher recommended.
Those things are not equal.  Not in this country.  Not in a culture where Christianity reigns.  It's appalling, disgusting, abhorrent, that in commenting on a terrorist act which specifically targeted a minority religion and a temple full of people of color you're acting as if it were just the same as if a white Baptist church had been attacked.

When an abortion clinic is bombed, do you compare it to Johns Hopkins being bombed and shake your head in regret that anti-healthcare people are at it again?  You are deliberately misrepresenting what has happened.  This is not a case where any old generic house of worship was attacked and any old congregants were killed.  In a majority Christian nation, a non-Christian religion was targeted.  In a racist nation, people of color were targeted.  This is not about atheism, but you got one thing right: this is about hatred.  And fear.  And the lies we tell about Christianity being under assault.  And the lies we tell about white men being in more danger than anyone else; being in danger from everyone else.
What is particularly striking about Robertson’s conclusion is that, as of yet, there has been no evidence that the alleged gunman Wade Michael Page was an atheist. In fact, neo-Nazism and white supremacy movements often encompass a form of Christianity that emphasizes racial purity and nationalism.
 Got that?  "A form of Christianity that emphasizes racial purity and nationalism."

Christianity emphasizing racial purity and nationalism.

Neo-Nazi.  White power.  Christianity.

You blame atheists as if nonbelievers are the problem.  You blame Satan as if all-powerful figures are at work and we're helpless to do anything about it.  You skew a terrorist act as if Christians are under attack.  As if Christians aren't often the terrorists themselves.

The narrative that Christianity is under attack is part of the problem.  Pointing the finger at anyone else, everyone else, from people who aren't like you to mythical figures, isn't going to solve the problem.  I'd like to solve the problem.  I hope that someday soon you do, too, because your voice reaches more ears than mine, and it's going to take a lot of us to make a difference.

With love,
Frank Lee

Dear Fatherly Car Owner

I like lipstick around my dipstick.
-Car decal
Dear Fatherly Car Owner,

Because a child's car seat and toys were seen in your backseat, I'm going to assume that you're a father.  Maybe your situation differs from my assumption, which is the risk we take when we make assumptions, but until new information comes in I'll just go ahead and consider you a father.

A car is a very visible accoutrement.  A car is often considered a status symbol.  Our bumper stickers and other car accessories are one-glance messages we project to the world.  People often use bumper stickers to promote ideas and messages; it's a way both of signal boosting and of advertising something about oneself.  What's your political affiliation?  What's your favorite dog breed?  Which organizations do you belong to?  What has your child achieved lately?  It's all right there on your rear bumper.

What do you want the world to know about you?

"I like lipstick around my dipstick."

So, you have a penis.  You like to get head.  You like to get head specifically (as heteronormativity rears its ugly head and I continue to make assumptions) from women who conform to the patriarchy's exacting beauty standards.

That's the one thing you want the world to know about you.  You like patriarchy-conforming women to suck your dick.

Not that you're a father, not that you're a member of some club, not that you passed some milestone in life, not that you want to promote a cause.  No, what you're most proud of is the pleasure you get in having women (certain kinds of women, mind you) give you head.

Here's the thing, Daddy Driver.  If we all lived in a happy void where nothing we do affects each other, I would look at that decal and think that if that's the most important thing complete strangers should know about you, you lead a very small, sad life.  That would be the end of it.

However, what we do actually does affect each other.  The things we say can sometimes fall in line with other messages and reinforce existing ideas.

There are ideas, for example, that women are only good for sex, only good for pleasing men, naturally subservient to men, and so on.

If you love and respect women, your car might boast messages like: "I love women!"  "I love smart women!"  "I love confident women!"  If your sexual needs have to be a factor, you could advertise: "Assertive women turn me on!"  "Funny women = hot women!"

But you aren't talking about women, really, at all.  You're talking about an anonymous pair of lips coated in patriarchy-conforming lipstick.  You've reduced women to one specific body part.  A body part you're co-opting for your sexual pleasures.  You don't care what a woman says with her mouth; you aren't interested in her thoughts, her opinions, her personality, her jokes, her wit.  You just want a sexual orifice, and she'd better make sure that it meets your patriarchal standards.

Your reinforcement of misogynistic notions communicates to the world that women are for sex, that women are a mere collection of useable body parts, that women had better meet patriarchal standards or they'll find themselves not even worthwhile for the one purpose you allow them.

When did you get this decal?  When did you decide to plaster this particular message on your car?  Before your daughter was born?  After?  Before her mother was pregnant?  After?  I picture you seeing the decal in a store somewhere and giving a good chuckle and deciding to make that purchase; I picture you slapping it on your car window.  Should I picture a happy daughter playing in the backseat?  A pregnant woman waiting for you in the passenger seat?

The daughter's there now.  The sticker's there now.  She's going to see it.  What will she think of it?  The people who see your car at work, in public parking lots, in your driveway; your friends and neighbors, strangers, what do they think of it?  What do they learn from it?  I wonder if you've pictured your daughter bringing boy friends home.  The boys notice your decal, and look at your daughter, and snicker, and those ideas you're reinforcing churn...

I hope that your opinions mature soon.  I hope that your daughter finds a thoughtful, caring father in you.  I hope that you scrape off that decal and learn to view your daughter and all women with a more respectful eye.

Maybe your daughter will join a club or join a team or get on the honor roll, and you can brag about that to the world, instead.

With love,
Frank Lee

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Dear Lisa Suhay

Dear Lisa Suhay,

I read your recent article on Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas. You admit mid-article that you shouldn't judge other parents.  You say that "of course you never want to judge."  I really think that you should have stuck with that idea and not written this article at all.  Yet you push past it with "the tendency to judge other parents is pretty powerful" and continue blithely on.

You know that you shouldn't judge other parents, but you feel that the tendency to do so is "pretty powerful" in certain circumstances, and that's enough justification to write a public article for a widely read title?  Your own impulses trump your morals fairly easily, there.  While we're talking about parenting, what sort of example are you setting for your children?  I wouldn't ask, but, considering the circumstances, the tendency to judge you is pretty powerful.

The article is about how the biological parent-child bond is so important that anything, including Olympic dreams, should be sacrificed to keep the family unit together.  However, early on, you say:
Still, visit any highly competitive training facility in sport, child or adult, and it truly is a family complete with all the love and dysfunction of the real thing.
Emphasis mine.  Sentence yours.  If children get genuine familial love and a sense of family from a training facility, is being away from family to train for the Olympics really so anti-family?
"I wanted to make my Olympic dreams a reality, so I told my Mom, 'I need a better coach, and I need a better coach now,' " Douglas told Time magazine. I'm sure she's a lovely child, I adore her smile and am rooting for her and shouting at my TV set like anyone else, but all I could think of was Veruca Salt in Willy Wonka and what happened to her. It made me ask, "Who's the parent?"
The parent is the person who heard what Gabby said, agreed with her, and arranged for the move to the new coach.  The parent is the person who supports her daughter's dreams and recognizes her daughter's potential and helps her to realize her goals.  Do you want her mother to bring the topic up first?  Or do you want Gabby to be less ambitious?
However, all the reports today talk about how this Olympian has blossomed in Iowa
Great!  That's terrific.  Her new situation seems to be going very well for her, then.
Perhaps the stability and not just the coaching is what this child really needed coming from a home where her mother, who according the Virginian-Pilot divorced the same man twice and has struggled on disability to provide for her needs.
You may want to edit that sentence, as the syntax is a little off.

This is where shit gets real.  This is where your article stops pretending at idle musing and gets right into the judgmental criticism.  Her mother divorced the same man twice!  Her mother's poor!  For all of your "keep the family together at all costs" rhetoric, it's very telling that suddenly it's better to farm the kids out away from that all-important family unit if it'll get them away from the atrocities of poverty and divorce.

I'm not rooting for poverty and divorce.  I also don't think that poverty and divorce make people bad parents.  I don't know anything about this family's financial situation or how it affects their day-to-day living.  I don't know anything about why Gabby's mother married that guy or divorced him.  It doesn't sound like you do, either.  Have you been to their home and talked with their friends and family and sat in their kitchen and helped out at bedtime and discussed marital history?  Probably not.  Does Gabby's mother confide in you?  Probably not.  Do you know much about Gabby's siblings or their lives or their schooling or how loved and supported they are?  Again, probably not.

Poor people have kids and rear children and live as parents all of the time.  Is it ideal, no.  Struggling financially or not being able to afford certain luxuries or not being able to provide your child with certain opportunities hurts.  But Gabby's mother did provide her with great opportunities and was able to give her a great shot at rare success so very, very few people ever get to strive for at all.  Does Gabby's mother give her a new pony every year, I'd guess not.  Did Gabby's mother support her dreams and encourage her success and help her to realize her goals?  Yes.  Which of those two is more important when it comes to parenting?
I realize that I do not have what it takes to be any kind of Olympic parent. My hat is off to you all. Yet I wave my hat and smile for the parents who chose the path that kept them walking right beside their child. The path where everyone is under the same roof or at least in the same state at the end of the day.

I believe that there is a deeper strength we must train into a child, a tempering that forges their ability to win in life and still be on the medal stand. The kind of Olympic mom who is up at 5 a.m. making toast and hugging her child and whispering, "You can do this," in her ear before the event. I would not be able to give that responsibility to a stranger because those are the golden moments all parents treasure – win or lose.
Here's where you make it plain that the focus isn't your child.  The focus is you.  Your desires, your goals, your interests, your memories.  You want your children beside you.  You want to enjoy golden moments.  I understand where you're coming from, but what's best for the parent isn't always what's best for the child.  What's best for the family overall isn't always what's best for the child.

Parenting includes sacrifice, and I expect that you know that.  I know as little about Gabby's family as you do, but now that we've heard your interpretation of events, here's mine.  I like to think that Gabby's mother loves her enough to do what's best for her.  Gabby's mother recognized her potential and was willing to sacrifice that same-roof golden-momentness to help her achieve her goals.  As opposed to thinking, I'm poor and this house is chaotic so she's better off somewhere else, maybe her mother thought, My daughter's something great and I want to help her to make the most of her amazing gifts even if it means missing out on sharing her life the way I want to.

If it comes down to reaching for the stars or being tucked into bed at night by their mother, your kids will get tucked into bed.  You want your children right beside you where you can teach them the values most important to you.  Instead, Gabby's mother taught her daughter that her gifts are special, that her goals are important, that her family shares and encourages her dreams.  Isn't that better than, "I love you and I support you, only as far as your needs mesh conveniently with mine?"

With love,
Frank Lee

Dear Amtrak

Dear Amtrak,

Thank you.

I've been avoiding flying for years.  The way airlines treat their fat customers pisses me off and, frankly, makes me anxious.  The only person I've shared my worry with has assured me that I'm not fat enough to be harassed, but the airlines apply their anti-fat policies so unevenly, I'd rather avoid the situation altogether.

And then there's the security theater.  The enhanced pat-downs.  No.  I object to all of that bullshit on so many levels, I don't know where to begin.

In my efforts to avoid flying, I've begun to seek out alternatives.  You, Amtrak, were my first consideration.  I did some research into your policies and security.  Your anti-fat policies don't seem as obnoxious or as obvious as the airlines', for what it's worth.  It seems that security measures have been increased recently, but I was assured by an Amtrak rep that if I travel with you, no one will pat me down or, indeed, touch me.

My relief was immense, and I decided to look into using Amtrak for my next excursion.

And then, only yesterday, a link from Shakesville took me to Towleroad which took me to MetroWeekly which said this:
As part of an effort to market its standard discounted family travel program, for the first time, the national passenger rail company included gay families in its materials. In an online ad sent by Instinct magazine to its email subscribers, a photo of same-sex parents with their child is featured.

Two version of the ad, one with a picture of a male couple and another with a female couple, were distributed.  Both versions include the headline: Priceless Family Moments Are Now Affordable.  The ad goes on to promote Amtrak's 50% off campaign for children age 2 to 15 who are traveling with an adult, and directs readers to its gay travel website

Amtrak, headquartered in Washington, D.C., is a member of the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association.  In began its initial Ride with Pride campaign in 2010.
Thank you, Amtrak.  If I'm able, I hope to make you a staple of my travel plans.

With love,
Frank Lee