God bless MLK. God damn MLK Day.

Today I’m off work for the MLK Holiday, and I’m thankful for that. I can use the rest. I’m also dismayed by the day.

Rev. King was killed in Memphis while he was there supporting the sanitation workers who were striking. I walked out my front door today to see the rows of emptied trash bins, evidence that while I was sleeping in, the sanitation workers in my town were up long before dawn, working. People are at work right now, making nowhere near a living wage at WalMart, Burger King, gas stations, coffee shops, hotels, janitorial services and nearly every retail or service industry job, while a handful of us rest. Or worse, shop.

The president is being sworn in today with his hands on Dr. King’s Bible. Dr. Cornel West expresses everything that is wrong with that, and does it far better than I can.

So we celebrate the legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by letting a privileged few off work while those who labor and still make poverty wages are ignored. We celebrate King’s agitation for peace by having the leader of the world’s largest killing force, a man who murders by order and by robot, falsely associate himself with King’s vision and King’s faith by placing his hands on the Rev. King’s Bible.

We do nothing to stop war. We do nothing to end poverty. We ignore the basic humanity of people near and far. Yet we can feel good about ourselves, because there’s a day on the calendar to honor a man who did all the work that we refuse to.

God bless Martin Luther King, Jr. May his legacy never die and his words never fall silent. God damn the empty holiday that bears his name.

What makes a company “pro-gay”?

Church this morning nearly gave me a migraine. See, a fair portion of the service was related to all the Chick-Fil-Hate hullabaloo this week, and the deep pain that it caused so many people. I’d spent the week arguing, raging, seething and hurting over the immense hatred that was flowing from the “gotta have straight chicken” and their “but what about the free speech red herring?” compatriots. It was an exhausting week, and while it was wonderful and healing to be amidst folks who shared in the hurt, just revisiting the topic sent my neck and shoulders back into the tension of that rage. The pastor’s message of “Hold on, better times are coming” was wonderful, but I still needed a massage when I got home.

While the plate was passed for the offering the image below was projected up onto the wall, I assume as a reminder that there are companies who aren’t trying to have people killed for being gay.

The image, and the idea behind it, just don’t sit well with me. You can see HRC’s criteria for their Corporate Equality Index here. That’s the list of things they use to determine if a company is “pro-gay” as described in the above image.

But there’s so much that they leave out. Coca-Cola may have wonderfully inclusive insurance, and they may include orientation and identity protections in their hiring procedures, but they also have a history of murdered union workers in their bottling plants in central America. What does it matter if they won’t discriminate against you for being gay if they’re just going to have you killed for demanding safe working conditions and fair wages. Their corporate headquarters may be a great place for LGBT people to work, but I’d bet those plants are not.

The same can be said of the factories that produce Apple products, Nike’s sweatshops, Gap’s sweatshops and Hershey’s child-slave farmed chocolate. Even here in the US, Starbucks has a history of union busting. Those are just the ones I knew about off the top of my head!

Hiring practices and sponsoring Pride parades don’t mean jack when you’re mistreating and killing your employees. You can’t be pro-gay and pro-slavery. Queer people are slaves. Queer people are union organizers. Queer people are textile workers in sweatshops.

Playing nice in the public eye doesn’t make you “pro-gay,” not when your murder, exploitation, slavery and unfair business practices affect queer employees and their families. You can’t be “pro-gay” when you’re anti-human.

Compassion constitutes a radical form of criticism

Jesus in his solidarity with the marginal ones is moved to compassion. Compassion constitutes a radical form of criticism, for it announces that the hurt is to be taken seriously, that the hurt is not to be accepted as normal and natural but is an abnormal and unacceptable condition for humanness. In the arrangement of “lawfulness” in Jesus’ time, as in the ancient empire of Pharaoh, the one unpermitted quality of relation was compassion. Empires are never built or maintained on the basis of compassion. The norms of law (social control) are never accommodated to persons, but persons are accommodated to the norms. Otherwise the norms will collapse and with them the whole power arrangement. Thus the compassion of Jesus is to be understood not simply as a personal emotional reaction but as a public criticism in which he dares to act upon his concern against the entire numbness of his social context. Empires live by numbness. Empires, in their militarism, expect numbness about the human cost of war. Corporate economies expect blindness to the cost in terms of poverty and exploitation. Governments and societies of domination go to great lengths to keep the numbness intact. Jesus penetrates the numbness by his compassion and with his compassion takes the first step by making visible the odd abnormality that had become business as usual. Thus compassion that might be seen simply as generous goodwill is in fact criticism of the system, forces, and ideologies that produce the hurt.

~ Walter Brueggemann, The Prophetic Imagination pp. 88-89

A Radical Reading of Galatians 3:25:29

Galatians 3:25-29

25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. 27 As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.

I have seen the assertion that the identities so important in identity politics are subsumed by our identity in Christ. Someone is not a Jew, they are a child of God who is Jewish. Someone is not a slave, they are a child of God who is in bondage. Someone is not a woman, they are a child of God who is female. Someone is not black, they are a child of God who is of African descent. Someone is not gay, they are a child of God who is attracted to the same gender.

In the Kingdom of God, the ways in which we divide ourselves are overridden because we are in Christ who unites us.

But telling someone “there is no longer Jew nor Greek” does not lift the Roman boot sandal from the necks of the oppressed. Saying “there is no longer slave nor free” does nothing to change the fact that “Abraham’s offspring” is still held in the violence of slavery. Saying “there is no longer male nor female” does not erase the ways in which women are oppressed, othered and systematically devalued. Telling each of these “I don’t give credence to this class division” means that you don’t take seriously the ways in which the members of each class are oppressed.

Likewise, “There is no longer gay nor straight, there is no longer trans nor cis” doesn’t erase the experiences of the queer person whose life is at risk for simply being who they are. They cannot simply say “I’m not gay, I belong to Christ” and suddenly have the reality of their oppression disappeared.

The tendency amongst some to say that in Christ we move past our (previous) identities creates room to erase the experience of the oppressed and hides the need to work on the racism, sexism, heterosexism, transphobia that is at the root of the exclusion of many from having a voice in the Body of Christ. When straight, cis, white men appeal to “There is no longer,” then they run the risk of furthering violence against those who still are.

Paul can be read here as preaching the other side of Jesus’ first recorded sermon in Luke 4:18-19. Walter Brueggemann writes in The Prophetic Imagination (p. 84):

In Luke 4:18-19 he announces that a new age was beginning, but that announcement carries within it a harsh criticism of all those powers and agents of the present order. His message was to the poor, but others kept them poor and benefitted from their poverty. He addressed the captives (which means bonded slaves), but others surely wanted that arrangement unchanged. He named the oppressed, but there are never oppressed without oppressors.

His ministry carried out the threat implicit in these two fundamental announcements. The ministry of Jesus is, of course, criticism that leads to radical dismantling.

If he came to “let the oppressed go free” then he has also come to oppose the oppressor. If Jesus is setting the tone of his entire ministry by speaking to the oppressed, then Paul is speaking to those in the oppressing classes of their participation in the Kingdom of God. Paul is removing the ability of the oppressors to other the oppressed.

The voice of Paul here must be directed at the oppressor, not the oppressed. He must be saying to the men that they can no longer exclude and other women. He must be saying to the slave owner that the category of slave cannot exist in Christ, for if he is speaking to the oppressed, then he is simply allowing for the erasure of their oppression in the eyes of their oppressors. When straight or cis people say “I don’t see you as gay, I see you as my sister. I don’t see you as trans, I see you as my brother,” they don’t do anything to stand with the oppressed, rather they erase the oppressed, saying “The way you fit into my framework is more important than your lived experience.” If Paul is telling the slave “You are no longer a slave,” and not addressing the reality that this offspring of Abraham is held as property of another human, then Paul is not preaching a gospel of freedom for the oppressed, but a perverted gospel that ignores cries for freedom.

I have a consent fetish

A couple of the fetishes on my FetLife fetish list are things like consent, yes means yes and only yes means yes. These are big deals to me. In fact, they’re probably my only dealbreaker fetishes. I suppose that makes consent the only true fetish I’ve got. It is the one thing I absolutely must have in order to play with someone.

Because of this consent fetish, there may be a long time between expressing interest in someone and actually playing with them. Before I can do anything, I have to feel comfortable that the consent that’s given is fully informed and enthusiastic. That means talking about what consent means to us, talking about what exactly we do and do not want to do, talking about values, desires, expectations, demands. It means making sure that consent is not just an absence of “no,” but the enthusiastic presence of “yes.”

This can make things complicated. It means I won’t play with anyone who can’t or won’t have an open, direct conversation about what they want and need. It means that if someone prefers to communicate in hints and flirtations to the exclusion of directness, we’re not going to be able to do anything together.

Consent, to me, is so much more than negotiating and honoring safewords. It’s about getting to a point where I trust the negotiations are free from coercion. It’s about trusting that if consent changes or is revoked in the midst of a scene, that such will be communicated.

I see a world around me in which consent is not valued. Some people are socialized to accept that things are taken from them and others are socialized to take. Some are told to never say “No” and others are told to never take “no” for an answer. Women are often expected to, among other things, rebuff sexual advances even if they welcome them, and to welcome them even if they do not want them. We’re surrounded by a million cultural forces telling us what we should do, bending our will. Because of this, consent is a goal to reach under quite strained circumstances. If I’m going to tie you up, spank you, set you on fire, fuck you or engage in any other such delights, I need to know that the “Yes” I get from you is a yes that you mean, not one that you have given under duress, or because you’re expected to, or because you just figure you oughta. That’s what I mean by “Only yes means yes.”

It often feels to me that, despite all the focus kinksters put on consent and negotiation, there’s very little addressing how to do those things without coercion. Kinky settings can often lead to an expectation of availability. Just look at how many submissive women have to say things like “I’m a submissive, not your submissive.” There’s an expectation amongst enough folks that if you’re at a party, at a munch, on FetLife, open about being kinky, that you’re fair game because, hey, you can always say “No,” right? None of that takes into account social pressures, the conditioning that some people have to say “Yes,” the subtle ways that people can be coerced, or the effects of an expectation of availability. That’s why I like “only yes means yes” as a starting point. It’s not enough that someone can say no, that they can reject advances, that they can use their safeword if they need to. A panic button isn’t enough for me to call a situation consensual.

So I may go slow. I’ll likely ask very specific questions. I’ll assume that if we come to a consensual arrangement, that the consent is specific to that time, that place and those specified activities. Instead of saying “If you’re not comfortable tell me, and we’ll stop,” I’ll say something like “Are you comfortable with insert specific thing?” and I’ll stop unless I get a clearly affirmative answer.

Some folks think that asking for permission isn’t sexy. I think that it’s what makes what comes next sexy. You know how many times I’ve asked “Can I kiss you?” I’ve not yet had anyone who didn’t appreciate being asked. You think it’s not sexy to get a bottom’s permission before each new thing? You whisper in someone’s ear “I want to do X to you. Do you want that?” and have them repeat back to you what they want you to do and then tell me that’s not hot.

I spent most of my formative young adult years in an emotionally abusive relationship. I had to learn a lot of this shit the hard way, and I know I hurt some folks along the way in doing so. This is what it takes for me to be happy. This is what it takes for me to trust that someone’s yes is undoubtedly a yes. This is the best understanding I can get of what it means to negotiate the things we do when we live in a world infused at every turn by patriarchy, by kyriarchy. I love playing with power, but when power is so unbalanced in the world, and so abused, it takes a very serious, deep approach to consent for me to play with power in a safe, useful, respectful and feminist way.