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Monthly Archives: July 2015

A Furry Mental Health Podcast?

Fandom 150So last week I made a series of posts about depression and recent comments and ideas being batted around within the fandom. The response has been pretty amazing, and I’m so happy to hear from so many people who are dealing with mental health issues themselves or have been touched by people who are. I sincerely believe that the more we talk about these things openly, the less stigma they’ll carry and the more understanding there will be about what these issues are exactly. Coming out of last week, I’ve resolved to be more open about my own experience with depression and other issues and encourage other people who are going through their own challenges. (Sorry, I’ve adopted corporate-speak so hard here.)

I’d like to find a more formal approach in continuing the discussion. There are so many people in the furry fandom and other geek spaces who have dealt with severe depression, conditions on the autism spectrum, traumatic events and their fallout, personality disorders and other issues of brain chemistry; I think it would be really helpful to promote information and discussion about all of these things, and gather resources that might help people manage these conditions a little better or help others get the treatment and advice they deserve.

This blog will continue to be a space where I talk about my experience with my own issues, and insights I’ve learned about coping with them on a day-to-day basis. But I’m only one data point. There’s a whole community of us out there with our own specific relationships with our minds; we’ve learned how to cope in different ways and through different situations, and have made different choices based on our own ideas of what’s tolerable and what’s not. I’d like to find a way to explore all of that, to bring in other voices and discuss not just what professional advice there is out there but how that advice has been enacted through experience.

What’s the best way to do this? My instinctive idea is to work on a podcast or YouTube series that focuses on mental health in furry/geek spaces, the specific histories each of us has with our issues, how we’ve learned to cope with them and the challenges we still face in our personal lives and in our communities at large. I would hope to discuss commonly-accepted definitions of various mental health issues, the different ways they manifest in people, how those issues are treated through medication or therapy and how symptoms of those issues can be managed through daily techniques, diet, exercise and the like.

I already know there are a couple of issues with this. First and foremost, just because I have the potential platform to speak about these issues doesn’t mean I have the authority. I’m not a medical doctor, a psychiatrist or a counselor. I’ve taken a Psych 101 course in community college and that’s it. The podcast, or YouTube series, or blog would only be one facet of dealing with mental health issues and not at all a replacement for professional treatment and care. It would really suck to put something out there that turned out to be not all that useful — or worse, inaccurate and damaging. I’d want to be very careful about the content of such a thing.

There might also be an issue with offering up lessons from other people’s experiences and extrapolating that out to more general recommendations. What works for one person may not work for others, and it would be important to note that. By saying “This is one person’s experience with depression,” it could be interpreted as “This is what depression is” — and if someone doesn’t share many similarities with that experience then the whole affair could be alienating and discouraging instead of connecting and hope-inspiring.

I would almost certainly make mistakes with this, at least at first. It would take a little while for me to find my way through the presentation and work on a format that is helpful. But it’s something I really do believe *could* be helpful.

So, I turn the discussion over to you, dear readers. Would a podcast, YouTube series or website about mental health issues in the fandom interest you? What sort of topics would you like to be discussed? What kind of information would be most useful? What form would you like the presentation to take? What pitfalls should I look out for? I’m really interested in your feedback; it will help me to know how to move forward on this, or if I should move forward at all.

 
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Posted by on July 29, 2015 in Furries, Self-Reflection

 

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The Clarion Write-A-Thon: Week 6

After five weeks of the Clarion Write-A-Thon, I’ve written 30,523 words and raised $321.57. Both are fairly far from the goal of 50,000 words and $500, and I’m not sure I’ll be able to write 19,500 words by August 1st. I mean, I COULD, but it’d pretty much mean doing nothing but writing for the rest of the week in an attempt to bring it home. And while that does sound appealing in its own right, I don’t think it would be feasible this week.

However, I CAN make the $500 donation goal — but only with your help! Please go to my author’s pageĀ and donate what you can, if you can. As an added incentive, the person who donates the highest amount this week will get a commission for a short story of 4,000 – 5,000 words! What a deal! Sort of. Maybe. No, it definitely is. You will LOVE it!

This week I’ll be working on another commission, “A Stable Love”. It’s been in the works for far too long, but I do think that I finally have enough momentum to crack it — one of the things I’ve learned through the Write-A-Thon are where my blind spots are as a writer and what I need to really focus on in order to create better short stories. “A Stable Love” will be my first big attempt to take what I’ve learned and apply it.

Once I’m done with the short story and the Write-A-Thon, the plan is to start doing the prep-work for a couple of serial short story projects I’ve wanted to work on: “The Big Game” and “Beast: Wild Genius”. I’ve already talked about the Beast fan-fiction in vague terms, but I’ll save the details for later as the first few arcs begin to take shape. It’s strange — normally I would be pretty shy about this whole fan-fiction thing, but the more I talk about it and the more feedback I get, the more excited I am for it. I really can’t wait to dig in on it.

“The Big Game” is a different version of a short story project I started (and abandoned, of course) a little while ago. The basic story is six friends getting together at an annual retreat in a remote cabin, where they catch up with one another, think about their lives and sort through all kinds of interpersonal issues. Of course, this is while they’re playing a poker game that allows them to gamble with their size instead of money. Because of course they do. šŸ™‚

The original story featured an audience-participation element that allowed people to vote on the big winner and loser for each part of the story. What I found is that it put a lot of the focus on the mechanics of the card game and less on the characters and how they played around with each other. While I love the idea of the audience voting on how the story progresses, I’m not entirely sure it’s right for this. Maybe doing a “season 1” that establishes the characters and dynamic, allows me to refine a behind-the-scenes system to simulate how the card game works, and lets me simply work on the story without the added complication of audience votes might be the thing to do. A sequel could reincorporate the audience elements once I feel more confident in completing the project to begin with.

But we’ll see! For this week, the plan is to write as much as possible, as often as possible. It’s very unlikely that I’ll make my word-count goal, but it’ll sure be fun to try.

Again, any amount you can give towards the Write-A-Thon and the Clarion Workshop will help immensely. You’ll be helping to keep the Workshop running next year AND help really great writers receive intense instruction, critique and connection with some of the best writers and editors within our industry! Thanks SO MUCH to the people who have donated already, provided feedback on story snippets and supported me with writing advice and encouragement. You guys rock!

 
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Posted by on July 27, 2015 in Writing

 

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The Good We Can Do

Everyone’s experience with depression is different, and that’s what makes it difficult to talk about or advise on. Even when you have an idea of what depression is like, or personal experience with it, you can’t speak for everyone.

Sometimes, it manifests as anger or frustration that things are happening in your head that you can’t control. Sometimes, it manifests as an exhaustion, an emotional emptiness that can never be filled. Sometimes, it manifests as an acute anxiety, a keen awareness that something is wrong and it will never be right. I think the one thing that brings depression and its various expressions together is a keen emotional distress that makes it very difficult to deal with the world as it is.

A lot of people who suffer from depression don’t have the words to describe what is happening to them — either because it’s really difficult to understand your own emotions in that state, or coming up with a way to make other people understand is so hard and you’re already so drained. And it can be incredibly difficult if you’re a friend or loved one of someone going through a depressive episode; you want to help, but you have no idea what to do. This can be especially true for those of us trying to help someone online, where we can’t be physically present with them.

For so many people who suffer from depression and mental illness, their friends and loved ones, words are all we have to help (or hurt). That’s what this entire week has been about — the importance of using our words to deal with this issue. Words — even well-meaning ones — that come from a place of ignorance or misunderstanding can be devastating. We have the power to use our words to alleviate the suffering of those in our community who are most vulnerable, and most in need of assistance. While we have the right to say whatever we want however we want to say it, we also have the responsibility to address any negative consequences those words have had. And, where possible, spread knowledge and compassion that contributes to a culture of support, not judgement.

It really matters to me that we understand this, because knowing how important the power of words can be to someone in a bad place will hopefully encourage us to use those words to the best possible effect. That’s all I want.

I can speak about my personal experience with depression and suicide, and how I’ve recovered from it. I can talk about the things that have helped me in my lowest points. But I’m just one data point. I know there are a lot of other people out there who have different experiences, and I want to hear from you, too. What’s helped? What hasn’t? What would you say to friends who have been at a loss to know what to do?

For now, here are a few things that I think will help us deal with mental health issues. I’d really love to hear from others with suggestions on what to add to the list.

LISTEN, ACTIVELY. Sometimes, people in the throes of depression just want to know that there is someone who understands their problems and how it makes them feel. If a depressed person comes to us with a litany of problems, it’s not necessarily for an attempt to solve them. It’s just “These are all of the things going wrong with me; this is why I feel like there’s no way for me to feel better. I feel miserable.”

Sometimes this might not even be the root cause of their depression. It’s like clearing an attic full of old boxes, looking for that one thing you’ve buried there years ago. Folks looking for the cause of their issues need to sift through a lot of stuff before they find something that looks like the reason they feel worthless, or hopeless, or fundamentally broken. Active listening can be the thing that helps to continue that process; just being present, accepting and understanding their feelings, knowing that they’re in a safe space to do more.

START WITH THE BASICS. Depression, at least for me, made it extremely difficult to do the basic things I needed to do to care for myself. I wouldn’t eat. I wouldn’t bathe. I would stay up until the wee hours of the morning online, looking for anything that made me feel better. I know now that sitting in my own funk and hunger deprived of sleep really didn’t help things at all, but I wasn’t aware of that at the time.

If we’re in a position at all to give advice or help someone who’s depressed directly, I’d recommend starting with these small and simple things. Encourage them to eat well, get enough sleep, keep themselves clean. Doing these basic things can help break the cycle of destructive thoughts and give us a sense of control about *something*, which is a small but important step up from rock bottom.

SEEK KNOWLEDGE, SPREAD KNOWLEDGE. Mental health issues are easily misunderstood. It’s true that some people take on a self-diagnosis as an excuse for poor or anti-social behavior, but I think it’s much more common that people suffer from issues they aren’t even aware of. Depression, anxiety disorder, and a whole host of issues affect a large number of people who don’t know the symptoms or don’t even have access to medical care. Even those of us who have been diagnosed can have a poor understanding of exactly how our brains are misbehaving.

It’s not feasible for all of us to become psychologists, but attaining a working knowledge about depression and other issues affecting our friends can be tremendously helpful. Doing our best to spread knowledge — while respecting each person’s individual experience — can help to remove many of the common, most-entrenched misunderstandings about the people who suffer from mental issues. Signal-boosting resources can put professional help in the hands of people who have no idea where to turn.

KNOW YOUR LIMITS. I will fully admit to being an extremely difficult person to deal with during my worst bouts of depression. I have been paranoid, lashed out at people who don’t deserve it, and very needy. There are people who have had to walk away from me for their own well-being while I was in this state, and while I was hurt and confused at the time I totally understand the action now that I’m on a more even keel.

This can be a very difficult thing to do, but if someone with mental health issues is threatening your own emotional well-being it might be best to pull away a bit. It’s OK to recognize that you don’t have the tools to help this person; when you’ve reached your limit, gently explain that you can’t offer the help they deserve and do what you can to point them in the direction of professional resources that will be better able to serve them. I know that in so many places professional assistance is difficult if not impossible to obtain; I hope to have a better answer for these situations later.

ENCOURAGE ENGAGEMENT WITH PROFESSIONALS WHERE POSSIBLE. One of the things that has absolutely helped me is finally deciding that I needed professional help. I’ve learned how to manage anxious thoughts and self-destructive loops with cognitive behavioral therapy, learned that a chemical imbalance can be righted with medication, worked out past issues through speaking with a psychologist. Now that I know that it’s also likely I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder and ADHD, I can work on further refinements to my understanding about myself to get even closer to where I want to be.

I know there can be a general distrust about therapists, especially among those of us in the fandom with alternative sexualities and fetishes. I know there can be significant concerns about medications, and it’s true that the process of finding the right one can be difficult and long. I know that the expense and uncertainty involved in working through these issues in a professional setting can, in certain cases, make things seem worse before they seem better. But coming out of the other side with a set of tools that allow us to better understand ourselves and work with errant thoughts is ultimately worth it.

If possible, please encourage people with mental health issues to seek out professional resources. It may take some time to find a therapist or treatment that works, so while they’re figuring it out they may need to lean on friends and loved ones to push through discouragement and fear. That’s OK. With these things, process can come slowly and discovering and untangling the knots of our own psyche can be intense. I believe in the process, though, and I believe in the results. That may not be true for everyone, but at least making the attempt is fruitful.

Thanks again to everyone for reading this week, offering their suggestions, feedback and support. I know this has been a pretty difficult ride for almost everyone involved, and I hope that I’ve made my intentions and desires clear. I don’t want 2 to stop performing comedy — it’s something he’s clearly put a lot of work into, that many other people enjoy, and it has never been the issue for me. I merely want him to recognize the power he has as a writer and speaker with a broad platform, and to be more careful with sensitive subjects. I totally understand his brand of comedy, but challenging jokes (and opinions) require a deft touch and an intricate understanding not only of the subject matter but how people are affected by the things he says and the ideas he expresses. As someone with the power to change minds and affect lives, he has the responsibility to get it right.

I’ll continue trying to do that myself. My understanding of these things is changing and refining all the time, and I’m still learning how to be engaged and sensitive to the unique struggles of my fellow minorities in geek spaces. I want to get it right, and I want to encourage everyone out there to try to do the same. We can be challenging, irreverent and questioning of sensitive subjects. But we can also be compassionate, intelligent, open and accepting. We can’t get there, though, without caring about the things we say and do.

 
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Posted by on July 24, 2015 in Furries, Self-Reflection

 

How We Argue

Arguing about things online has always been a popular pastime. There are so many things that we care deeply about, so many differences we have with other people who are just as passionate, so many ways that people can be wrong about everything. There are certain places on the Internet that seem like years-long shouting matches because of this, and it can be difficult to engage with people especially when things are running so hot.

Over the past two years, I’ve become more and more politically active. I’ve discovered “Black Twitter” and black geek spaces that combine my background with my love of all things sci-fi/fantasy. I’ve opened up to the exciting possibility of exploring my blackness through speculative fiction, and how even in these geek spaces the politics of race and culture can prove to be tricky things to untangle. I’ve seen transgender issues become a more prominent discussion within the furry fandom, surprised that there it’s such a difficult thing to understand because we’re one of the most sex-positive in all of geekdom. I’ve seen how the personal affects the political and vice versa; I’m no longer content to sit on the sidelines.

But in my little Buddhist heart I know that I have a terrible time with confrontation, even when I see it as necessary. This week has been extraordinarily stressful for me, because I’ve waded into a hot issue against one of the most prominent people in the fandom. I wasn’t sure what the response would be. I didn’t know how people would receive my experience and my argument. I had no idea if I was right; I just knew that I was doing something I believed in.

I’d like to take a moment to thank each and every person who has offered me words of thanks and encouragement, who have gone over my arguments and offered suggestions for how they could be improved, who have supported me in both word and deed. I have been absolutely blown away by the love and openness that I have received in response to being open with you. It reaffirms my faith in the fandom, and encourages me to keep fighting to make it a better place.

The next step in that is to pull back from this specific situation and talk about how we argue and debate in general. I know that we will tackle so many touchy, emotional subjects in the future — from comedy to environment to politics and beyond — and I think that in order to navigate through our disagreements and raise the level of discourse to be more productive there are a few things we all can do.

I’m not a philosopher and I am not a debater by trade, so these suggestions are aimed at laymen like myself. If there are further suggestions that someone more experienced in debate or philosophy could add, I’d be glad to hear them. Please leave them in the comments.

WE ARE ARGUING WITH PEOPLE. Before anything else, this is something we should keep in mind. We are not arguing with demons, monsters, assholes without a shred of decency. The people who enrage us are just other people, like us — with their own host of experiences, their own unique personalities, their own thought processes that have lead them to the choices they’ve made. Even in the most heated arguments, it would be great to remember that we likely have more in common with them than differences.

Throughout these posts, I have done my best to attack 2’s ideas, attitude and tactics while avoiding attacks on his person. Even though I have serious disagreements with 2, I recognize that he is a person who loves people, who have people that love him, who works hard at his craft and can be generous, loyal, fun and friendly. I have to honor that.

The same goes for Kage. He’s been pulled into all of this through his defense of 2, and has taken a tremendous amount of heat for standing up for his friend. While I believe that Kage has mishandled a lot in his (and AnthroCon, by extension) official response to this situation, the fact remains that he is also a tremendously loyal, hard-working person who has poured so much of his life into the fandom. We can agree that he’s done a few things wrong, but that doesn’t invalidate the good work he’s done.

We can stand up and say that we will not tolerate certain poisonous ideas and attitudes within the fandom without demonizing and dehumanizing the people who hold those ideas and attitudes. It can be extremely difficult to extend empathy and compassion to people we are fundamentally opposed to, but I believe it is the ultimate expression of an open and accepting community. And that’s the one I want for my fandom.

LEARN HOW TO FRAME AN ARGUMENT. This seems like a simple thing, but it’s often a step that gets missed when we engage in debates. What is it exactly we’re arguing? It’s not enough to say “Telling people to commit suicide is stupid and wrong.” We should be able to make a fundamental assertion that’s supported by facts, logic and other concrete means at our disposal.

For example, say I made an argument that “Global warming is real and it is caused by man-made/industrial activity. Therefore, it’s up to us to change our activity to stop global warming.”Ā There are several assertions I’m making in this argument that I will need to back up:

  • Global warming is real.
  • It is caused by man-made activity.
  • Changing our activities is the way to stop global warming.
  • Global warming is something we can stop.

In order to make sure my argument is sound, I will need to be able to back up each and every assertion with facts or at least sound logic. If it sounds like rigorous and long work, well…it is. But if you’re going to step up to make an argument about something you care about, you should at least care enough about it to do it right.

RECOGNIZE AND CALL OUT LOGICAL FALLACIES. These are *everywhere* in Internet arguments. We are guilty of them at some point, and they’re almost entirely present in political discourse these days. I’ve seen so many people with sound arguments get derailed by logical fallacies, and I’ve seen a lot of people use those fallacies specifically to do so, confident that their opponents will not be able to catch what they’re doing or know how to counter it.

It would force discussion to be more rigorous and focused if we learned common fallacies and why they work even though they’re so inaccurate. There are a few comprehensive lists of logical fallacies online, like the ones hereĀ and here. One of my favorites is the list of fallacies on the PBS Idea Channel here. Understanding the ways that logical leaps can fail is one way you can strengthen your own understanding of argument.

KEEP YOUR HEAD. The entire reason we get sucked into arguments is someone says something obviously wrong or angering and we just have to respond. Again, if we care enough to speak up about something, we should care enough to do it right — and that means maybe using anger as a tool to motivate you without letting it consume everything you’re doing. If you’re responding purely from anger, you will have a much higher chance of making mistakes, making it personal and misunderstanding the points other people are making. It can warp your perspective to make friends into enemies, or gentle prods for understanding as an attack. If you find yourself in a rage over a comment, walk away from your computer for 10 seconds. Take 10 breaths. The comment will still be there, and you’ll have at least a marginally cooler head with which to respond a bit more soundly.

LEARN HOW TO BE WRONG. Sometimes, despite our best efforts, we make mistakes. I know it sucks to have those mistakes pointed out to you in an argument on a public forum, but being a gracious loser can sometimes be more important than winning an online debate. If your assertion turns out to be incorrect, or new evidence is presented that makes your argument invalid, that’s OK. Mistakes are how we learn, and learning can only happen if we let go of our ego long enough to know we don’t know everything. If you’ve done something that hurts or offends someone, it’s OK to apologize; we are in a community, and sometimes showing that you care about the feelings of others is more important than pushing the “unfiltered” truth.

I want so much for the spaces I hang out in to be able to discuss and disagree about important issues without it turning into a giant garbage fire. Being able to really think about what you want to say, saying it as carefully as you can with as much explanation as you can, and remembering that people rarely change their mind when you scream at them and call them names are important ways to do that.

One more folks — tomorrow I’d like to talk about what we can do to help people with depression and other mental health issues. Again, this is from a completely non-professional standpoint, but I’ll try to be as careful as I can.

 
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Posted by on July 23, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

Non-Responding to Drama

In response to the controversy that’s been continuing to flare, 2 released a video response last weekend. You can see the video hereĀ if you wish. If you don’t, here’s a summary from what I get from it.

2 doesn’t believe that anyone has approached him with legitimate criticism; most people are haters who are simply looking to be offended. He insinuates that the screenshot of his YouTube response that kicked off this firestorm is manipulated, and that his stance on suicide has been misrepresented by people who don’t know him because they’ve never been to his shows. All he’s saying is that people shouldn’t be encouraged to seek attention by committing suicide, and that when there is an outpouring of grief and loss in response to suicide depressed people are encouraged by all of the posthumous attention the suicide has received. He wants suicidal people to know that it’s stupid to kill yourself, suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem, and that anyone who disagrees with him is looking to be offended. Finally, he tells people who agree with him that his critics are lonely people who are frightened of life and that they’re really only trying to get attention through hate. He encourages his fans not to spread hate, but love, and that his haters should be pitied and not hated in turn.

I have a lot of criticisms with this. I’ll try to take them point by point.

“There has not been a single person who has come after me with a criticism.”

2 lays his groundwork by characterizing the argument as a misrepresentation of his beliefs by people who don’t know him, what he’s really about and have never interacted with him in any meaningful way. He starts with the flawed assumption that the people who have criticized him have no legitimate basis with which to do so.

That’s simply not the case. A number of people have laid out their criticisms to him time and time again in a variety of ways. The people who have done so have ranged from close associates of his (Dragoneer, Aubrin and myself to name a few), to folks who have long since had problems with his statements and attitude, to people who have just seen that single screenshot (which was edited to eliminate a number of unrelated comments between the original reply and 2’s response) and thought it was wildly inappropriate.

Characterizing legitimate criticism as “nothing” glosses over the substance of what many, many people have been saying about this issue up until now. He has blocked several people on Twitter for bringing up their disagreements and ignored people honestly stating their issues with his statements.

“People haven’t been to my shows; they don’t know me and they don’t know my views.”

I can’t speak for everyone criticizing 2, but I’ve been to his shows before — I’ve been a part of them before. We haven’t spoken in many years, but his views are fairly plain to see in the many interactions he has with the public. Saying that someone must go to his shows to truly know him when he also has videos, DVDs, Twitter and Facebook interactions that provide a fairly clear and consistent picture of his viewpoint is not a fair point to make. People who don’t personally know a public figure can reasonably infer things about who they are by what they say. And he’s said plenty on the subject for people to come to the conclusions they have.

Even if 2 is saying that there is a difference between his act and his personal beliefs, that’s a problem as well. If he really does believe that the “tough love” approach to suicidal people is a worthwhile one, then there would be a stronger indication that he understood how to use tough love in a context that was helpful. There have been several comments from him that repeat this idea: if you’re going to commit suicide because someone was mean to you, go ahead and do it so the rest of us can live better. How many times does this sentiment need to pop up before people can believe that he really thinks this way?

“You are subjecting yourself to my opinion. You don’t have to listen to me. I would prefer that people who are offended by me don’t listen to me.”

2 is a public figure with a following large enough to exert significant influence within the furry fandom. His opinions are taken up and repeated by many of those fans, and they use his viewpoints to shape their own ideas about the world and the way it works. I know he would prefer his fans to “question everything,” but there it goes. That’s the reality. In order to understand why a large segment of the population in our community believes and behaves a certain way, we have to understand the source of it — and for a lot of cases, it’s 2.

He also criticizes the people who have never seen his show or his material, saying that they don’t know him. So under that framework, there are only two options: listen to what I say and agree with me, or don’t listen to what I say and lose the right to criticize me.

2’s critics subject themselves to his opinion because it is a harmful one that has a strong platform. They want to understand what he says and why, why it’s incorrect and exactly what their criticisms are. It’s what you need to do in order to be informed, and to criticize from a place of knowledge.

The dichotomy he’s set up makes it easier for him to deflect criticism; if people don’t like him, then it’s clearly because they haven’t actually listened to him.

“Transphobic means that I hate every single transgendered person in the world.” “I hung out with transgendered people and didn’t have a problem.”

It’s 2015 and we’re still hearing this old chestnut — “I hung out with (minority group) and we had a great time! That means I can’t be against them.” Yes, yes it absolutely can.

His attempt to define transphobia as “hating every single transgendered person in the world” is a straw man fallacy. That is an impossible definition to justify, and often the reason that so many people against minority groups break out the “I have a black/gay/trans friend, so I can’t be racist/homophobic/transphobic”.

Here is what transphobia is, according to Wikipedia: “a range of antagonistic attitudes and feelings against transsexuality and transsexual or transgender people, based on the expression of their internal gender identity.” It’s entirely possible to have black friends and still be racist. Or gay friends and still be homophobic. Or trans friends and be transphobic. If you have made statements in the past that indicate a transphobic attitude, those statements don’t magically go away because you went drinking with transgendered people one time. That’s not the way prejudice works.

Here’s an excellent article on how it’s possible not to hate a single member of a group and still be bigoted against that group. That’s what makes prejudice such an insidious and difficult-to-remove part of our society. People often think that prejudice is active hate, when it really can be something as simple as believing “I think the concept of transgenderism is ridiculous.” It takes very careful consideration and honest introspection to uncover and remove prejudicial thinking. It’s a life-long process. But it’s worth it because it increases your understanding and empathy for other people, spreads that understanding, and makes our community more connected and open.

“I do not believe that people should kill themselves. I’ve never believed that.”

2 has been quoted several times stating that people who want to commit suicide should stop using our air. Those screenshots are out there. If he’s never believed that, then he has been very careless with his previous statements and has done nothing to clarify or rescind them. Once or twice may be exaggeration for comedic effect, but the way the statements were phrased indicate a genuine belief in what he’s saying. This video is the first time I’ve seen him say anything definitive to the contrary.

“My video rant encouraging people to keep fighting, and continue to liveā€¦”

Encouraging people to keep fighting and brow-beating them for considering a stop to the fight are two different things with two very different effects. One gives people a little more ability to find ways to end their depression, while the other can be alienating and discouraging. If your intent was encouragement, then it’s important to take that into consideration.

“My view is that people should not feel they are going to be rewarded for killing themselves.”

This is… a mind-blowing statement. It indicates a complete lack of understanding about the thought process of people who are suicidal. It’s just so, SO wrong and actions resulting from this flawed foundational assumption are going to be harmful.

People who are seriously contemplating suicide are in a warped perspective, for sure; I was when I was in the worst of my depression and I know how difficult it was to see the world as it really was. But the assertion that people who react with shock and grief over a suicide are posthumously rewarding them? That he would characterize an emotional display and an outpouring of empathy as “giving someone a posthumous cookie”? And that he would say other people thinking about suicide are actually encouraged by those displays to do the same thing?

It’s been my experience that people who are seriously contemplating suicide are not thinking about all of the attention they’ll get when they’re dead and how that will totally make the permanent end of their life worthwhile. And saying that being sad when someone takes their own life is actually harmful because it encourages other people in bad places is such a twisted view of the situation I’m not sure where to begin. So I’ll just say this.

If 2 really thinks that people commit suicide to get attention, and that the legitimate emotion of people in the community who have been affected by that suicide is somehow exacerbating the problem worse than saying “you’re stupid for thinking about it,” then he needs to have a seat, stop talking about things he knows nothing about and educate himself on the subject.

“If you don’t agree with my message about suicide and you think people should kill themselvesā€¦”

This is a false dichotomy, isn’t it? Again, it’s pushing people into a camp that is impossible to defend, and the only way out of it is by agreeing with him. This is not the frame of the argument, and pushing people into that box is one of the ways he does a disservice to the entire conversation.

No one should kill themselves. AND no one should encourage others to kill themselves. AND he is speaking out about a sensitive subject from a position of ignorance (at best) or gross misrepresentation (probably) or malicious mischaracterization (at worst). It’s possible to disagree with him and not be pro-suicide. I shouldn’t even have to say this.

“People who want to be offended and hate other people are generally lonely…they’re probably scared, frightened of lifeā€¦”

“They just want attention, give them a little bit of attentionā€¦”

2 opens and ends his response by characterizing his critics as people who don’t understand him, just want to be offended or hate him, and as lonely people who are frightened of life. More straw men for him to knock down easily, and for his fan-base to pity. The appeal to emotion at the very end, to encourage love and not spread “more hate”, makes him seem that his concerns are wholly positive and gives his fan-base a way they can dismiss disagreement without consideration while feeling good about themselves.

The video response does nothing to address the criticism directed his way. Instead, it pretends that the criticism isn’t there, that this discussion isn’t about anything other than “hating the popular, straight-shooting guy” and frames oppositional arguments as much weaker and less legitimate than they are. There is no sense of responsibility for the effect his words have on people, for the anger and hurt they cause, no understanding of the world that he says he wants to leave better than the way he found it.

2 released another, longer video in response to the many emails he’s received about this whole situation. You can see that video here.Ā This blog post is long enough, so I won’t refute every point he’s making — I’ll take a high-level view here.

In the second, 40-minute video, 2 basically states that his comments were taken out of context (another very common defense when someone says something that gets them into trouble) and that those comments were meant for this one specific situation in which a girl killed herself because of cyber-bullying specifically for the purpose of making the people she leaves behind feel sorry for her. He also says that “social justice warriors” (another shibboleth used to characterize people offended by statements as not worth paying attention to) are basically entertained by their own offense, jump in to demand apologies for things that don’t concern them and are an implacable mob who will only be satisfied if he weeps from the heavens and atones. He won’t do it, of course, because that would be a lie, and he’s merely treating people the way he would want to be treated — he doesn’t get offended by words or opinions, so why should they? Finally, he asserts that this whole situation was caused by someone who hates AnthroCon and wants people to boycott it — and that anyone who involves themselves in this situation is playing right into it. He does not provide any evidence for this.

Basically, he doesn’t care if you’re offended. He doesn’t think he should take responsibility for your emotions or what his words cause in them. And the best that you’ll ever get from him for an offensive statement is an acknowledgement that he’s offended you. 2 will never apologize for the things he says and the hurt or anger his words cause.

Here’s the thing: words are the way we transmit ideas to one another. They’re the best tool we have to communicate abstract thoughts and opinions. Words are not just “words”. They are tools used for a specific purpose; to influence one another’s thinking, to communicate how we see the world, to change someone’s mind. Those words lead to perspectives, and those perspectives lead to action. It’s all connected. To say that words are unimportant, or shouldn’t cause people to be upset is to seriously misjudge their power.

2 has the right to say whatever he wants, of course. But we also have the right to call him out on the things he says if we feel they’re damaging the community. And I feel they are. At best, he has been careless with his statements — extrapolating one case of suicide and misrepresenting an entire issue that way. He has built a tremendous platform over the years to spread these ideas, and there are a great many people who will agree with him because they, too, have no idea what suicide and depression are really like. He is contributing to a culture of carelessness and ignorance within my fandom, which changes the nature of my fandom, which *does* affect me. And I have to stand up and fight against that.

This is the way 2 operates, and it’s how he’s operated for a very long time. I don’t see any reason to believe he will change. I think we’re wasting our time with direct engagement.

The best thing we can do is to discount his ideas about suicide and depression, engage with the people who have absorbed and repeat those ideas, and encourage more responsible conversation about mental health issues. It’s time we move forward with our understanding of those of us who struggle with depression and stop sinking our energy into things that will not bear fruit.

It’s time to let 2 go. His views have no place in my community, and I would rather spend my time doing things that ease the suffering of the people who need it. So how do we do that? How do we combat harmful ideas within our community, and what do we do with the people who hold them and refuse to change? I’ll run through a list of suggestions tomorrow.

 
22 Comments

Posted by on July 22, 2015 in Furries

 

My 2 Sense

When I woke up from my suicide attempt, I had only one thought — “I can’t do this again.” I wish I could say there was some identifiable process that led me away from suicide, but for me a switch was simply turned off. I feel incredibly fortunate in that regard; I know that for so many others the way back from suicidal ideation is a long and difficult one that you struggle through for some time. I just thought that if I were going to live, then I would have to do things to fix my life.

Slowly and steadily, I put my life in order. I found great comfort in totemism; Kangaroo, for me, taught me how to be comfortable with few things and sparse connections, how to be an emotional nomad. I got a full-time job at a (terrible) convenience store, then landed my dream job at a used bookstore. I got heavily involved in my local furry community. I was an avid tabletop gamer and LARPer. Over time, I found my tribe and together we formed a strong identity. I belonged somewhere.

Even my rocky relationship with 2 got better. My roommate eventually moved to a trailer park a ways out of town, and it was more and more difficult to get to work without a car. I started staying at 2’s place more often, and eventually moved back in. We weren’t in a relationship anymore, but we rebuilt a close and comfortable friendship. We knew each other well and had an easy, amiable rapport.

He came up with the idea of 2 Sense and invited me to be a co-host for it, and I jumped at the chance to work with him. He was getting into spoken word essays and the like, and no one had thought of a fandom-specific “radio show” before. (Maybe they had, and they were already out there, but I don’t remember hearing about them at the time.) I came in, chatted with him about whatever came to mind for 90 minutes or so, and he edited and mixed the conversation. We put it up, and that was it.

People responded to it, and we developed a following. No lie, it felt pretty good to be a part of it. We were doing something that people liked, and there was this whole community of people that formed around it. When people started to write in with their own news or to ask for advice, it made me feel more connected to the broader furry community. One of my absolute favorite things is giving advice to folks with problems. Few things make me feel more consistently like I’m fulfilling my purpose than helping to relieve someone’s burden.

A lot of 2’s opinions that I so strongly disagree with were there, in hindsight. He always disliked pride parades. He encouraged a closeted teen to remain closeted if they knew their parents wouldn’t approve. He had a tendency to advocate “tough love” positions, where people should suck it up and deal with things they didn’t like until they were in a position to handle the consequences of doing something about it. I disagreed with him then, but the difference of opinion never felt malicious. He saw the world differently than I did, and I thought between us we could come up with advice that would help people one way or another.

Over time, as 2 did more stand-up and got more and more recognized, the tone of his relationship with people changed. He was less considerate of what they thought, he tore down their ideas a bit more eagerly. I noticed that a lot of people were never really sure where they stood with him, and he tended to do one thing and say another. I know that this is personal, anecdotal evidence and as such pretty much amounts to “my word vs. his”. I’m including it because this has been my experience with 2, and it contributes to my idea about his relationship with his audience.

One day, it was discovered that some news we had reported as submitted by a listener turned out not to be true. I thought we should address it and do our best to verify news items when they came in before going to air with them and I told him so. He disagreed; he thought it wasn’t our responsibility. If our audience was misled by false information, it was their fault for not verifying the things we said.

I couldn’t come up with a counter-argument for that stance back then, but it sat deeply wrong with me. I didn’t like the idea of reporting whatever we were sent without checking to see if it was true. I would still feel responsible if we said something, someone did something based on that information, and it turned out to be false. I just didn’t want to have someone act on bad data or ideas. But this was 2’s show, and he was going to run it the way he saw fit. That meant I couldn’t be a part of it any more. I left 2 Sense a short time later.

Since then everything I’ve seen 2 say has been filtered through that lens. He genuinely doesn’t believe that he should be responsible for the things he says; any negative consequences that come from it are entirely the fault of the people listening. If someone gets upset with something he says, they should just stop listening and get over it. He should say whatever he wants, and he should be free from whatever the fallout from that is.

Human interaction simply doesn’t work that way. We are a social, emotional species. We have the most sophisticated communication system on the planet because we are intensely concerned with not only transmitting information, but connecting through shared experience and emotions. In order to properly receive what people are throwing out, we need to be affected by it. Emotions aren’t something that can just be turned off; they’re a part of our wiring. We may learn to control them, but we’re never going to be able to simply not have them. Having an emotional response to the people around us is part of what makes us human. It’s empathy.

But here’s the thing; I think 2 on some level understands that his words have impact. He’s glad to accept praise for his stand-up and rants. He responds very well when someone agrees with him. When he dismisses the people who criticize him as “haters,” it’s totally fine for someone else to absorb that sentiment and reinforce it.

He cannot have it both ways; he cannot choose to recognize the positive effect of his words on some and dismiss or trivialize the negative effect it has on others. Communication is never going to be a perfect way to connect our thoughts, ideas and emotions to other people, but anyone who is serious about speaking — especially in a public forum — needs to understand that their words will have an effect (whether he thinks they should or not) and be careful about making sure those effects are as positive as he can make them.

I know that 2 is smart enough to understand this. He’s very good at deflecting criticism in ways that take the conversation away from the substance of people’s issues with him. I’ve seen him characterize opposing viewpoints as a straw man, attacking a logical extreme of that opinion and forcing others to defend something that’s frankly indefensible. He also moves the goalposts of the conversation, so that his condition for winning an argument is “do nothing” while he forces opponents to jump through an increasingly severe series of hoops to back up their criticism. When they’re unwilling or unable to do that, he chalks it up to “haters gonna hate” and moves on.

For one thing, this seriously lowers the level of discourse about important subjects. It’s the method he uses to remove responsibility for his own words and puts the onus entirely on the critic. It’s why so many conversations surrounding 2 end up being so much noise; he pushes criticism back so far from the original subject that his own bubble of agreement is preserved.

It also keeps us from talking about the damage those opinions are doing in the first place. The same people who agree with 2 see how he effectively dismisses criticism as “hating” or “insubstantial” or “drama” (seriously, let’s retire that word) and parrot it back to critics elsewhere. He is simply not interested in engaging with people who have serious problems with his words, attitude and engagement. He may say he is, but the way I’ve seen him deflect and slip arguments say otherwise.

So with the most recent flare-up, where 2 talks about depression, suicide, and how we should respond to it, there are serious issues. He is giving bad advice and bad opinions to people about the most vulnerable and misunderstood people in our community. And instead of listening to the problems that people have with them, he blocks them on Twitter and reduces them to “lonely, frightened” people. There is simply no discussion with someone so invested in not listening.

Tomorrow, I’ll talk about his video response to the recent criticism and how it illustrates my point. I’ll also rebut a lot of the points he brings up to the best of my ability.

 
6 Comments

Posted by on July 21, 2015 in Furries, Self-Reflection

 

My Relationship with 2 and Depression

The two weeks surrounding AnthroCon have seen a storm of controversy pop up in the furry fandom. One of the fandom’s most notable voices, 2 the Ranting Gryphon, is being called out for a year-old comment made on YouTube in which he said that people who committed suicide because of cyber-bullying deserve to die. This was brought up because his husband(?), Toast the Rabbit, said some pretty awful things about transgendered and polyamorous people. The reaction has been pretty heated; there is a petition circulating to have AnthroCon — the furry convention that has the closest ties with him — to drop 2 from their schedule, and I’ve seen near-constant chatter about it on Twitter. 2 himself has released a video statement in response to all of this on YouTube, which I’ll get into later once I’ve absorbed it properly.

My feelings on this are complicated because my relationship with 2 himself is complicated. We aren’t on speaking terms, and I have very strong disagreements with a lot of his positions. For the most part, I’ve hung back and remained quiet. There are a lot of people out there who love 2’s stand-up and I don’t want to wade in to criticize or belittle the people who do. Let people like what they like, and if they get to a point where they don’t any more, then they’ll fall away on their own.

However, mental health issues are something I’m passionate about and I find that I can’t sit on the sidelines about this. I believe 2 is actively damaging the conversation with his position; he’s misrepresenting depression and suicide. I can’t watch his fans and others repeat these things without saying something. So I am. This is going to be a long series of posts about my history with 2, what I’ve learned about the way he debates people, and why it’s harmful. I’d like to propose a list of suggestions on what we can do to repair the conversation on mental health within our fandom.

I met 2 before he had taken that name, and it was during the worst period of my life. I was in college and, to put it mildly, it wasn’t going well. I was coming to terms with my sexuality, and when my mother found out I was gay she disowned me. I was in a deep depression; I thought about suicide every day, the medication I was on wasn’t helping, and most days it was all that I could do to get out of bed. I wasn’t close to any of my extended family, I wasn’t a very popular guy on campus, and I wasn’t keeping up with any of my classes. The one bright spot in all of this was 2.

I went to visit him on a break and we hit it off almost immediately. When I made the decision to drop out of college, he offered me a place to stay. His other boyfriend at the time drove to Maryland to come get me, and 2 himself put down a deposit on an apartment for me to stay in. When he saw that I wasn’t happy there, he let me sleep on his couch until a bedroom opened up. When he saw I was struggling with my job, he reduced my rent so I could work fewer hours. When he saw I was depressed, he did his best to cheer me up.

For a while, things were good. There were so many first experiences I had with 2; movies that to this day remain my absolute favorites, long discussions about the things that mattered to us, ideas about art and love that affect me even now. He was warm and generous, funny, thoughtful, kind, loving. He was a great boyfriend.

But neither of us had any idea what to do with my depression. He tried and tried to help, and I took all of that support and felt better for a while, but it was never enough. I was an emotional vampire, and this is not an uncommon state for people with depression. I was so empty, incapable of feeling anything but miserable, that I just couldn’t generate any positive feelings or motivation on my own. That is what depression does to you; it leaves you a husk that has to find something, anything, to fill itself with.

So it’s little wonder that our relationship soured. He grew distant, because nothing he did was working and I’m sure it was simply exhausting pouring yourself into someone who was constantly miserable. Eventually I had a falling out with his other boyfriend; I told 2 that I could not stay in that house any more because I didn’t feel safe or wanted. I think he was so worn down by that point. He just said, “OK. Tell me where you are when you get there.”

To this day, I don’t blame him for letting me go. I realize what it’s like to deal with someone in a deep depression when you’re not equipped to help them. It’s exhausting, and after a while it begins to drag you down. There comes a point where you have to disengage to preserve your own well-being. I believe he was at that point with me.

I packed my things into a suitcase and stayed on another friend’s couch. A few weeks later, I tried to kill myself. I went to a pharmacy, bought a lot of sleeping pills and took as many as I could. I had been hurting so badly for so long, and I didn’t see any possible way it could get better. It felt like my entire life was a procession of misery, and the only way I could end it would be to die. I had no family, no friends, and no future. I just didn’t want to be a burden any more.

This was back in 2000. I have learned an awful lot about myself and my depression in the fifteen years since then. I know what it’s like to be in that head-space, where all of space and time is the feeling you’re in and there is literally no escape except for death. Depression is something that warps your perspective so that you cannot see anything else; there is no logic or tough love or reverse psychology to pull yourself out of it. It strips you down to a few basic elements. You are someone in an intense amount of pain who cannot escape it. Everything you do is a vain attempt to alleviate or push through that pain. It’s exhausting to do anything, and most of the time there is simply nothing left in the tank.

It does not help the people in this state to be told if you’re weak enough to contemplate suicide, you probably deserve to die. It doesn’t help to be told that “killing yourself is stupid” or “it’s a permanent solution to a temporary problem”. It shows that the person saying these things doesn’t have an understanding of what it’s like to want to end your life. It’s a platitude that will ring empty for all but a few people.
In the worst bouts of my depression, I was telling myself that I was weak all the time. I knew there was something wrong with me that made it impossible for me to cope. I knew that other people could take the things that would knock me flat — including being bullied. I knew that I was broken. I didn’t need anyone to tell me that; what I needed was someone to acknowledge the way I felt, to tell me they understood and work with me on a path out of that place. That is a far more difficult thing to do because each path needs to be constructed on a personal basis. What works for someone will definitely not work for someone else; in fact, it may just make things worse.

I met 2 when he was a wonderful person, and I fell in love with him as much as someone in my condition could. To this day, it saddens me to know that my relationship with depression won out. It’s tough for me to reconcile the person I knew back in 2000 with the person encouraging people to “get off the planet and make room for others” today. I know that he has the capacity to be a really funny, romantic, loyal person. I’ve experienced it. But over the years I’ve seen him make choices and take stances that push him further and further away from that. Not only that, but I’ve seen him double down on mocking and belittling people and ideas that he doesn’t agree with or understand. I’ve seen him use rhetorical tricks to shift attention away from the substance of his argument and get people to chase their own tails. It’s not acceptable, and it’s time to stand up and say so.

I have fundamental disagreements with 2 and the way he engages with criticism. His thoughts about suicide are way off-base, but having a critical discussion with him is difficult because of the way he thinks about communication. He doesn’t believe in taking responsibility for the things he says, and he thinks that any negative reaction to his words are entirely the fault of the listener. I’m not sure it’s possible to have a meaningful conversation with someone who has constructed a belief system that allows them to simply reject disagreement.

I’ll talk more about this tomorrow; this post has already gone on for a while. This is a pretty important thing to me, and I want to make sure my thoughts are organized properly.

 
5 Comments

Posted by on July 20, 2015 in Furries, Self-Reflection