History of Everyday Things

History fascinates me because of the way things interact and connect. History is not a linear thread moving steadily through time. It’s a woven tapestry with threads for war and famine, social progress and new inventions. I like learning the history of everyday things, and thinking of all the missteps along the way. Every day I use an alarm clock, indoor plumbing, and soap before drinking my coffee. But where did these things come from and when did these become standard among the United States lower classes? 

My day starts with an alarm. Striking clocks, which hit a bell or chime at a set time, were invented by Chinese Buddhist monk Yi Xing in the early 700s. Various forms of mechanical striking clock have existed since, and were widely available in 1500s Europe. The United States experienced a serious alarm clock shortage in WW2 as factories that had made them were devoted to the war effort. Alarm clock production was approved to resume before the end of the war to address widespread chronic lateness. 

Once I’m up I use the bathroom. The first pull-chain flush toilet was described in a book by Sir John Harrington in 1596, but the infrastructure of sewage systems was not in place. Early toilets were safety hazards, as they allowed noxious gases to enter the home. In 1775 Scottish mechanic Alexander Cumming invented the S trap, which keeps water over the exit, preventing the rise of gas. This and similar modified trap designs are still in use today.  Indoor flush toilets became widely available to Britons starting in the mid 1800s but would not reach that popularity in the US before the 1890s. 

After that I wash my hands with soap, which humans have been making since at least 2800 BC in ancient Babylon and has been commercially sold in the US on an industrial scale since the 1880s when the Levar Brothers started manufacturing bars of hand washing soap. Their company is today called Unilever, and owns Dove, Axe, and several other brands. The world’s first large scale manufacturing of soap was in the twelfth century Islamic world. Damascus and Aleppo were leading producers. 

My morning then brings me to coffee, an Ethiopian plant recorded in the eleventh century. The earliest coffee drinkers brewed the leaves of the plant as a tea. Ottoman officials began the practice of roasting and grinding the beans to brew rather than the leaves. Coffeehouses proliferated, and became important social sites for intellectual debates, reading poetry, and sharing music in Ottoman (later Turkish) culture. While coffee has a centuries old tradition in Africa and the Middle East, tea was the preferred caffeine of American colonists. High tarrifs on tea imports and the Tea Party protest of 1773 made coffee the choice of American patriots. Tea has remained a second choice since. 

Every day is an opportunity to learn about history, and how interconnected the world is. My day starts with a Chinese Buddhist clock, a British and Scottish invented toilet, a Babylonian and Islamic wash solution, and an Ethiopian and Turkish beverage. Every day, my life is better than it otherwise could be because of countless unknown artisans and inventors. I may be an American who’s never left my country, but I can recognize the positive impact other cultures have had on mine. 

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Guest Post: Homophobia and Closets 2/2

Today’s post was written by Dirty Nerdy.

Even with the current state of research surrounding the phenomenon of homophobic men harboring latent homosexual feelings (aka: teh secret gayz), the research is still far away from suggesting all homophobes are secretly gay. And is very far away from any indication that homophobia can be used as a reliable indicator of a person’s possible homosexual tendencies. The one study that sort of vaguely supports this notion had only 64 test subjects, 35 of which made up the homophobic group, while 29 made up the non-homophobic group. If we’re going to make sweeping claims about the causes of homophobia, then I suggest we at least do so on the basis of more than 35 people who may or may not have shown a sexual response to gay porn. As far as I can tell, the incidence of closeted queer people is probably about the same regardless of their expressed queerphobia.

I’ve discussed why the research doesn’t support these claims. Now I’ll talk about the harm this idea causes.

Most of the time I don’t explicitly hear someone say “all homophobes are secretly gay”. Instead what I see is someone say “this particular homophobe is probably gay” on almost every article detailing the words and actions of bigots. You don’t have to explicitly say “all” if this claim comes up for every single bigot. If this suggestion gets trotted out every time a homophobe is mentioned, then it’s safe to say that there is an implication that the argument is “homophobes are secretly gay” –especially if it is always the same person bringing up the possibility.

There’s another layer to this. When somebody says “this homophobe is actually gay” every single time, it gives the impression that they are blaming gay people for our own oppression. After all, if the most virulently anti-gay people are all secretly gay, then clearly it’s us gay people who have a problem. To me, it’s as ridiculous a claim as saying that the Grand Wizard of the KKK must be secretly black. This is wrong on multiple levels as it is a form of victim blaming people who are already marginalized.

Many people use the abundance of anecdotes to make their point. I can’t tell you how many times I heard people say “of course Ted Haggard was secretly gay” back when that ‘scandal’ broke. Not only is this, again, blaming gay people for our own oppression, but it’s also a form of bi/pan/polysexual erasure. How do they know Haggard is gay? Because he had sex with men? Well he also clearly had sex with his wife. For all we know he could be bisexual, pansexual or polysexual. Immediately jumping to say that any queerphobic bigot who gets caught with their pants down is secretly gay is just another way to erase all other queer identities.

And of course, the idea that all homophobes are gay is another way for straight people to wash their hands of any responsibility they have for holding up or contributing to queer oppression. This rests on the false notion that there are non-homophobic straight people. Go back to the first problem I had with the 1996 study: you cannot simply categorize straight people as “homophobic” and “non-homophobic.” Straight people like to pretend that as long as they’re supporting gay marriage and not using slurs against us, then they must not be homophobic/queerphobic/transphobic/etc. Oppression is not that simple though. All straight people harbor a certain amount of homophobia and, intentionally or not, contribute to the oppression of queer people due to the fact that homophobia/queerphobia/transphobia is systemic.

Since this argument is often used to mock or taunt the homophobic person assumed to be closeted, it perpetuates the notion that it is okay to mock someone for being gay. This is especially rich when coming from supposed allies. They want to express support for queer people by shaming some people for being queer? Sorry straight people, you don’t get to do that. If you actually suspect somebody is closeted and they are dealing with their internalized bigotry in harmful ways, the best thing you can do is show them compassion and let them know that you are a safe person to talk to about their possibly latent queerness. Mocking or taunting them for being closeted is not going to help them. (If a homophobic closeted person needs to be mocked or taunted or otherwise angered at, we queer people can do it. It’s not the job of straight people to mock or taunt suspected queer people.)

It hurts and undermines the experiences of those of us (myself included) who struggled for years with internalized queerphobia and had to maintain a homophobic appearance as a survival mechanism. I grew up in a very queerphobic household. I was taught that being gay was a choice. I didn’t even know that other kinds of queer people existed until I was in college. Imagine poor bisexual gaybie me realizing at the age of 11 or 12 that I seemed to crush on people regardless of their gender. It was confusing and painful and the only messages I got from home and church and school was that being gay was a choice. I admit I did lash out once against a table of queer girls in 7th grade, but it was quite literally for my own survival. This was the year I was relentlessly taunted for being a d*ke. I was horrified one morning to sit down at a table with girls I didn’t know and find out they were all gay together. I didn’t want my bullies to see me with them because the verbal, physical and sexual assaults would only get worse. I made a big show of leaving the table and threw a couple slurs at them. I’m not proud of that moment. If I could find those girls now and apologize, I would.

Other than that one experience, most of my queerphobia was directed inward. I engaged in various forms of self harm that were not readily noticeable, such as practicing (I played marimba) for hours on end until my fingers bled. Staying up for days at a time and not letting myself sleep because I didn’t want to havethose dreams. Several attempts at suicide by overdose. And, of course, I kept a running monologue in my head of how disgusting I was.

This is why I urge straight allies who think they know someone who is closeted and simply lashing out to use compassion rather than mockery. They need to know they have a safe place and safe people to go to. If I had never found safe people, I probably never would have come out or embraced my queerness. It took years for me to be able to be open and happy about who I am. Your one off “haha i bet theyre gay” comment on a news article is NOT helpful.

Even those of us who were closeted homophobes form only a very small part of the massive system of oppression that queer people have to endure. We may have caused harm and contributed in small ways to the system, but that is merely a symptom, not the cause of queer oppression. Think about it. Why would someone be so afraid of coming out that they feel the need to lash out against other queer people? It’s because they live in a world that is so hostile to who they are that they would rather pretend to be part of that world than attempt to come out and take on that hostility. Queer people do not have the strength of numbers, capital or privilege to create an entire social system bent on oppressing us. We didn’t build this. You did. Own that, show compassion, and stop blaming queer people for the system that hurts us.
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Guest Post: Homophobia and Closets 1/2

Today’s post was written by Dirty Nerdy and reprinted with permission. You can like their Facebook page. 

CN: mention of self harm, suicide, queerphobia/homophobia/cissexism/ableism

So you’re a straight ally to queer people and you find out a terrible bigot said terrible things about teh gayz and you rush in to defend queer people with some variation of “I bet they’re closeted and hate themselves!”.

Usually, I would simply respond by saying that expressed or overt homophobia is not a reliable indicator of whether or not a person is a closeted queer. Today, though, I’m going to expand this and explain why this is a harmful idea and how it upholds structural oppression of queer people and places the burden of queerphobia/homophobia on the marginalized while allowing the privileged to disregard their own contributions to queer oppression.

So where did this idea come from?  As far as I can tell, this argument seems to be based on one study done in 1996 in which 64 straight men were gathered and separated into “homophobic” and “non-homophobic” groups. (Just to be clear: I’m reasonably certain the idea itself is older than this one study, but I focus on it here because it is the one study brought forth as evidence.)

Already, I have a problem with this research. You cannot simply group straight people into “homophobic” and “non-homophobic”. Straight people are born and raised in a culture steeped in homophobia and heteronormativity. The best they could do is split the groups into “overt homophobic” and “not as obviously homophobic.”

*sigh* Moving on.

Then they showed the men a series of porn videos (straight, lesbian, and gay male) and measured their penile responses.

Can we play “Spot the Ableism” here? I know plenty of disabled people who do not/can not use their genitals as their primary sexual organs. Reducing sexuality to one measure of physical response is ableist and incredibly narrow. I understand that scientific studies have to be narrow at times, but so far I’m not impressed. I’d like to see research that reflects the diversity and full experiences of queer people. I acknowledge the fact that this study has been taken and misused by people who like to think homophobia is caused by secrety gays, but it would be nice for there to be more research to point to that describes and measures queer sexual responses using more than just a penis.

We could also play a game of “Spot the Misogyny” here. As far as I know there has not been a similar study done to test women for latent homosexuality in relation to homophobia. I’m thinking this is due to sexist and cissexist notions of how “difficult” it would be to test women’s sexual responses, therefore women are ignored altogether in this research (even though it is just as difficult to test men’s sexual responses because erection does not equal DTF!!).

This study also only used men with penises and ignored the possibility that any of the people in the group might possibly be trans. Who’s to say none of those men were trans women still in the closet? So, “Spot the Cissexism” is also relevant.

Next, the research is muddied by the question of separating out sexual responses from disgust responses (which can have similar physical signs). In 2006 a study was published which indicates that rather than homophobic men experiencing sexual attraction, they are actually experiencing an aversion or disgust response (akin to other phobias) to gay porn which was mistakenly attributed to sexual attraction. It appears that a single physical response to gay porn does not a gay make.

Given the small sample size of both studies and the many problems I mentioned above, I think it’s safe to say that this research is far from definitive.

Monday Movie Review: Seeking a Friend 


Seeking a Friend For the End of the World is one of those movies that sticks with you. This indie movie by Lorene Scafaria defies categorization as it blends romantic comedy with apocalypse. The lead character is Dodge, played with surprising tenderness by Steve Carell, a quiet insurance salesman whose wife just left him, and the time is one month before an asteroid is expected to make impact. 

I’ve watched a fair number of apocalyptic movies, most often where the disaster is averted by the heroic actions of a few VIPs. This is not one of them. Seeking tries to answer the question, what if humanity couldn’t stop the big one? What if the heroic actions failed and doom was coming anyway.

The takeaway seems to be that humans would respond variously. Riots and looting, infidelity and a loss of social mores, and increased casual drug use are shown, but also some who doggedly live as if it’s any other day – a cop still writing tickets, an elderly couple hosting a yard sale. Survivalists stockpiling arms and food are introduced. Everyone scrambles for someone to hold onto. 

Dodge’s flighty neighbor Penny, played by indie goddess Keira Knightly, gives him a letter from his high school sweetheart that was misdelivered to her, months ago. Fleeing the violence of the city, the two head out on a road trip to find Dodge’s first love, and to find Penny some way back home to England to be with her family when the time comes.  

I watched this weeks ago and can’t get it out of my head.  It’s not an easy or light hearted movie, although there are genuine laughs on the way. Suicide is explored twice in the movie, with mixed results. There is also love and beauty, and a scene where dozens of people wed on a beach. It shows humanity in crisis, which is when we are our worst and our best. 

This movie is probably not appropriate for children or younger teens, with strong language, gun violence, sexual situations and drug use, plus the nightmare fuel of a concept: unavoidable meteor. For adults I’d caution against watching it while depressed. But for adults not going through a depressive episode, it’s a pretty amazing picture. It’s been a month and I can’t stop recalling lines, scenes, and moments. It’s exceptional writing and Carell and Knightly are absolutely up to the task. 

Men and Dogs 2/2

​I wish I could say the average man was as well behaved as the average dog, but that would be a lie.

When a dog proves itself unsafe by attacking a child or adult, there are serious consequences up to euthanasia. When men are convicted of sexual assault, judges make sure the consequences will be too minor to have any impact.
I believe the ratio of good:bad dogs is a lot higher than the ratio of good:bad men.
Consider how much this culture loves dogs. Now understand that’s miniscule when compared to this culture’s love of men, defense of men, excuse making for men. Understand that when I sought healing from male inflicted wounds, my fear was treated as a personal problem rather than a reasoned response to an unsafe gender.
A lesbian child sex abuse survivor was pressured into nearly twenty years of dating men. Who I was already afraid of, but had been scolded and chastised into “giving a chance” (and another and another and another). If anything, I feel like I came out as gay as an act of self defense. And it worked. My therapist stopped telling me to trust men, and I stopped seeing her.
My fear of men is precious to me. I now recognize it for what it is: well deserved and hard earned. It’s also the only thing that has ever kept me even marginally safe. All those years I was giving men chances, they used those opportunities to hurt me. To assault me. To degrade me.
I’ve spent the last year and a half in a man-free bubble, and it’s amazing. Did you know you can go a whole year without being abused? I didn’t.
I keep men and dogs outside my home. I’ll smile and say hi to the dogs I see, and avoid making eye contact with the men. It’s worked better than any other strategy I’ve tried, and way way better than trusting men instead of myself.

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Men and Dogs 1/2

My grandmother and cult leader raised me to hate men and dogs, as she did. It was easy enough to discount dogs, but I objected to the way she took out her hatred of men on my boy cousin and brother, both children. I resolved not to be like her. 

At eight I began a support group for girls 7-9 who’d been sexually abused by teen boys and grown men. I still thought they were the bad apples , the rare exceptions.
At 14 I met my first friend who’d been seriously attacked by a dog. I knew her well after, when she was still getting plastic surgery to hide the scars on her face. By that point I knew dozens with scars from sexual assault.
I dated and dated and dated boys, even as the offender list stacked up. I’d go to therapy for domestic violence only to have my therapists consistently put “trusting men again” as a goal.
The last five men I dated abused me, including the father of my child who I’d married. But my therapists wanted me to trust men anyway, and considered doing so a sign of healing.
For all that this culture loves dogs, no one pathologized me for not wanting to welcome one into my life and take on all the expenses and responsibilities involved. You know. The way everybody did if I tried to take so much as a breather between abusive men.
I came to appreciate dogs in my own time. First online pictures, where a dog’s bad behavior couldn’t hurt me. Then in person. My son wants to greet every dog, so I’ve taught him the safety rules: how to ask permission, how to approach the dog, and what the dog’s body language communicates. 

There are no rules that work so consistently to keep girls and women safe from men.

After a few years of greeting every dog we see, I’ve learned that the ratio of good, friendly, safe dogs is much higher than I’d assumed. Now I love dogs, though I still don’t want to share my home with one or be tasked with cleaning up after one.
If I see a doggy while I’m out and about, I will say hi and smile to the dog before acknowledging their human. I feel like I can probably trust dogs and most of my interactions with them are positive.
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Idiocracy: Eugenics Propaganda

Growing up in my grandmother’s cult we had the most amazing video library,filling floor to ceiling bookcases. Giggy had tasked herself with stockpiling entertainment for the inevitable apocalypse and collapse of broadcast television. Most of my best childhood memories are of watching movies: comedies, SciFi, musicals, murder mysteries black and white classics. I loved them all. As anyone tracking my reviews can tell, I like more movies than not. So when I say I hate Idiocracy, understand that hatred was earned. 

Idiocracy argues people with low IQ scores having children will lead to dystopia

If you’ve never heard of it, count yourself lucky, close this tab, and enjoy the Internet’s bounty of adorable animal videos. If however you’re familiar with this drivel, you probably know that it’s about an average Joe who’s cryofrozen and wakes in a dystopian future. Capitalism has run amok with product branding everywhere. Sex work is abundant and legal. Everything is automated and the populace is numbed by high calorie snacks and low quality television. 

The cause of this dystopia? “Stupid”(poor) people having too many babies while “smart”(upper middle class) people had too few. This is straight up eugenics, no exaggeration on my part required. The notion that we can and should control the evolution of humanity by selective breeding is eugenics. That’s where it comes from and where it always leads back to. 

In order to find this movie “prophetic” as many want to, one must first accept its many premises on intellect. Namely, that intelligence is a single, concrete attribute, which is accurately captured by IQ scores, heritable,  has been declining in the US populace, and is associated with “traditional” sexual morality.(US average IQ scores have steadily risen over the past fifty years but who needs facts when there’s bigotry to be done?) You have to believe “smart” people never enjoy “dumb” TV. Which is an inherent problem with this hypocritical movie. 

Because of course, all this was dreamed up by a man who imagines he is one of the “smart” ones.  Every dick joke, every product placement, every sexual remark about the scant two women characters, was made by the “smart” creator for the “smart” audience, or rather the audience that wants to laugh at dick jokes while pretending they’re too high brow to laugh at dick jokes. 

That’s the whole odious appeal of the movie. It’s an opportunity to push the sense you ought to watch less Cake Wars and read more Dostoevsky onto a scapegoat: those with less money and lower IQ scores than yourself. Your refusal to engage in politics between presidential elections or even vote in midterms isn’t the issue: it’s all those “stupid” Republican voters in trailer parks wearing “wife beater” undershirts. 

This movie isn’t prophetic. It’s not insightful. It’s not deep.  It’s dick jokes and sexism, ableism and racism, with a wink-wink nudge-nudge to the audience that of course they’re not the dumb ones laughing at juvenile humor: they’re the smart people laughing at the dumb ones for being so easily amused.  If you think this movie is a product of intellectual, thoughtful consideration your thinking is incredibly shallow. And I still think family planning should be your human right. 

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