Sunday, September 21, 2014

An Open Letter to Mark Zuckerberg From a Queer Who Changed Their Name

Dear Mr. Zuckerberg

Hi. I'm Jade Sylvan. That's not the name I was born with. I chose my name because I wanted to be a writer and a performing artist and “Jennifer Schaibley” sucked for those things. I wrote and performed under Jade Sylvan for years while still going by my birth name at work and school. The separation was helpful to me at the time. I grew up in a very conservative, very Catholic part of the Midwest, and I've always written and performed about queer sexuality and controversial gender issues.

In Indiana in 2005, Jenny was a, smart, funny girl who wore sneakers and worked as an English tutor for low-income high school kids. Jade was an outspoken genderqueer publicly mouthing off about LGBTQ issues, pansexual attraction, and gender fluidity. There were several years during which half of the people I interacted with knew me as Jenny, and half as Jade. I had two social media accounts and two email addresses. I was not more myself one place vs. the other. Quite simply, it was safe to be Jade in some rooms, and safe to be Jenny in others. Aside from the overarching fear of bullying most queer people dealt with in my community, if I had been open about my artistic life at my job at the time, I would have risked losing it. I did not want to stop making my art. I loved it and thought it was important and it was ultimately what I wanted to do with my life. I also did not want to lose my job. I loved it and thought it was important and it was what was paying my rent.

I'm telling you all this because recently, Facebook has started blocking drag queens from their accounts until they use their “real names.” (The reasons behind this decision are dubious and statements from the company are vague, and quite frankly, clueless.)

You said a while back that “the days of having a different image for your work friends or co-workers and for the other people you know are probably coming to an end very quickly.... Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity.”

The thing is, young Jenny/Jade agreed with you – at least with that first part. I dreamed of a day when I could work with teenagers in the afternoon and stand naked on stage in the evening and only use one name. I did not want to live two separate lives, I wanted to become Jade, and eventually, when my artistic career picked up and I moved to liberal Cambridge, Massachusetts, I did. I even went down the the courthouse and changed my name legally. (If your Internet gnomes ever send me a message asking to see my ID, it will be promptly provided.)

It's that second part that I have trouble with. “Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity.” This, to me, sounds like the words of someone who has absolutely no concept of what it's like to exist outside of mainstream culture. I'm not saying you're a bad person – most of what I know about you is from a biopic I watched half-drunk a few years ago mostly because Trent Reznor did the soundtrack for it – I'm saying you and
your personal social network view having more than one named identity as sketchy because you generally have not experienced discrimination and/or violence because of one or more of your identities.

I know, we queers talk about identity all the time. The thing is, identity is at the forefront of our lives because for most of us, there has always been someone in power trying to punish us for ours, invalidate ours, or take ours away. Not everyone who exists with separate identities wants, as I did, to become their AKA. I know people whose gender identity, name, and pronoun preferences change based on their situation, or simply based on what they feel like that day. These people deserve the right to interact with their community as the person they truly are from moment to moment. That is honesty. That is integrity.

I love Facebook because it allows me to create an intentional image of myself that I present to the world. Identity is not invalid if it is not legal. Forcing people to use their legal names against their will is not only dangerous, it's disrespectful. By doing this, you are denying them the right to be themselves, and, ultimately, destroying the safe and open online community your company says it wants to create.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Maybe the Gay Bears Just Like Cocksucking

I fucking hate I fucking love science.

How do you handle a fun story about two male bears (caniforms, not big hairy dudes) in a Polish zoo who regularly like to have oral sex with one another? If you're I fucking love science (or a number of other sites), you use it as an opportunity to make heterosexist jokes and promote outdated views on homosexuality.

First sentence: “
Two captive brown bears have been spotted enjoying oral sex, and researchers wonder if it’s because the two males were deprived of maternal suckling too soon.

first fucking sentence posits that the gay oral bear sex is a deviant behavior brought on by improper parenting. This breaks my queer little heart. There was so much opportunity here to celebrate what is apparently a consensual gay relationship between two non-human mammals, thus rebuking the fading-but-still-very-there conservative voices that call queer sex “unnatural.” Instead I feel like I'm reading the DSM-I for bears.

Seriously, just looking at the facts, the actual acts that happen, there are so many other directions the writer could have taken this. 

One was always the giver and the other was always the receiver; the larger one never reciprocated. The smaller, giver bear would initiate contact by approaching the receiver while he was resting on his side with part of his abdomen exposed. Sometimes the giver bear would push his head into the nether regions or use his paws to separate the legs before settling into a more comfortable position.”

THERE IS A DADDY BEAR. A fucking daddy bear and you choose to clip on the Irving Bieber gels and view this male homosexual behavior as the bear product of bear mommy issues.

“Oh, but it's what the researchers thought!” I don't give a fuck. Whenever human beings assume to understand an animal's "motivations," we project our own motivations and values onto them.

These scientists are experts in bears. They are likely not also gender theory scholars. They are combining an obsessional level of knowledge about bear biology and behavior with what is likely a cursory, outdated, European-society-imbued, human understanding of sexuality to explain a bear behavior they've never witnessed before.

They are placing their own societal constructs of sexuality onto these bear Bjs just as much as I am when I say these two bears are obviously in love and have a whole kinky top/bottom thing worked out for mutual physical pleasure and emotional fulfillment.

Your job as a science writer is to translate what these anorakish scientists say to the plebes who read things like I fucking love science. Like any writer, you have a responsibility to be aware of the worldview your words promote. Writing an article like this without even calling out the scientists' problematic statements is damaging. This story was not only an opportunity wasted, it was an actual blow (pun possibly intended) to social progress.

Oh, and just in case I fucking love science was worried I hadn't completely broken down into tears because of the handling of this story, their Facebook post announcing the bear BJ article read “Silly bears! That's not how you make cubs!”

Because sex is obviously only for straights and making babies even for bears and also it's Adam and Eve not Adam and Yogi Bear.

Fuck everything. I'm going to go have gay sex.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Pitchblende Fundraiser Sestina #5: The Sestina of Romantic Conjunctions

The Sestina of Romantic Conjunctions

Before we met, I woke up for
my own reflection's gawking, but
I never named me island, nor
the silence woe or empty, so
you stung static-electric. Or
we can tell this differently. And

let's start sentences with and!
And let's confess we're living for
eachother's breath, bliss siphons or
some overwritten symbol, but
we won't stop to find our feet so
there's no hope of slowing down, nor

navigating. I'm no captain, nor
am I a city driver, and
I miss turns. I'm all a'dream, so
I may not be the best guide for
this caravan of feelings, but
who knows? No one's found us yet. Or

maybe we're still newbie scouts, or
nothing's there for us to find nor
maps drawn for these countries, but
let me hold you while you sleep and
we'll break outworn systems for
a more sustainable design. So,

if you want to draw a plan so
we can choose which lines to bend, or
sit across a breakfast plate for
scrambled eggs and Kona blend (nor
and neither talk too much), you and
I could breed an infant world. “But

how?” you say! “But why construct? But
can we each be whole, conjunct?” So
many answers can be both, and
love's never been an either/or.
I can't give you my breathing nor
heart, but maybe what they pump for.

Each second holds if, and, or but.
So, act for love, not who nor what.

Jade's Notes:

This sestina was written for the fabulous Daniel Nester, former editor of McSweeney's Internet Tendency's now-kaput sestina section, and current editor of the Incredible Sestina Anthology, which contains my "Facebook Sestina" along with many other fantastic and exciting poems.

Daniel is a true sestina master, and posed this challenge: 
End words: all the major coordinating conjunctions: for, and, nor, but, or, so.

Since this was a poem centering around words that connect, I decided to write a love poem. It's been too long since I've written a love poem. ;)

 said he didn't care one way or another about meter. For some reason, this thing came out in iambic octameter. Who knows.

Also, I ended it with a couplet, each line containing three of the repeated words, as opposed to the traditional tercet, each line containing two of the repeated words, because it's wonderful to end love poems with rhyming couplets.

He also asked that I use no curse words. Somehow, I managed.

More Pitchblende fundraiser sestinas on the way! Follow Pitchblende on Facebook and Twitter!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Pitchblende Fundraiser Sestina #4: The Sestina of Chronic Pain

The Sestina of Chronic Pain

I demolished my left knee when I was seventeen,
not playing basketball or fighting bullies, like a tough
fucker, but going down stairs––just living––like an old
person. Congenital deformity, said the series of doctors.
Misshapen femur plus extreme hypermobility. Fate.
Pain would be with me the rest of my life. A tattoo.

I dragged my twisted leg to get my first tattoo
at Skinquake. I was barely old enough. Just eighteen.
The artists begrudged their trampstamp-dolling fate,
laughed at the squirming sororisluts [sic]. I was tough,
I assured them. I would not cry for mother, doctors,
or Jesus. My skin was young but my soul was old.

I liked that body-modification was thousands of years old.
I would be ageless and reborn with this poorly-sketched tattoo
of a burning Phoenix. At the turn of the millennium, doctors
were way more skeeved out by needles than they are in 2014.
I was afraid of AIDS and hep-C, but said nothing. The tough-
guy inside of me shrugged off my paranoia. Fate was fate.

The needle spat and pulsed, sealing the epidermal fate
of my left shoulder-blade. The stung shook me. The old
pain in my leg was still there, but it didn't seem as tough.
It was stale, tedious compared to this new torment. The tattoo
let me forget, for a few hours at least, that I was told as a teen
that I could never hope to live without pain. Thank you, doctors.

You made me want to live for years without doctors.
I cursed my premature hobble. I Woe is me'd my fate––
tossing in bed from the stab, a gimp with a cane at nineteen.
I drank. I loved unkind people. I rushed cranky and old.
I lied about love. I smoked. I picked at each new tattoo.
I limped through most of my twenties. It was tough.

I'd like to tell you my leg no longer hurts. That some tough-
love yoga teacher or guru or series of enlightened doctors
fixed me. They did not. It still hurts. Once a year I get a tattoo.
Sometimes I beg my lovers to beat me. Love hurts. Our carnal fate.
I meditate. What is life but various states of pain? I'm an old
hat at this game. I blew out my knee playing it at seventeen.

By the time I'm old, my skin will be one big, sagging tattoo
shrouding a teenage heart. This specimen will baffle doctors
for its commonness. The tough of scar around the tenderest fate.

Jade's Notes:

This sestina was written for the marvelous Sarah Wait Zaranek, who was one of the TEN cowriters. She asked for a sestina on the topic of "transcending pain." This was a personal one for me, as is evident in the poem itself. She'd originally asked for iambic pentameter, but also said it "wasn't necessary." I used to exclusively write sestinas in iambic pentameter, but when I started to write this one, it wanted to come out without meter. I checked in with Sarah, and she said that a meterless pain poem was peachy.

More Pitchblende fundraiser sestinas on the way! Follow Pitchblende on Facebook and Twitter!

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Pitchblende Fundraiser Sestina #3: Heaven's Gate Sestina

Heaven's Gate Sestina

Realize you've never truly been at home. Sick.
Ill-fitted. Dirty. Poor. Look at your awkward vessel
stumbling through its obligations. Earthly streets take tolls.
Concrete slides ricepaper-grey even the cleanest Nike soles,
once pure, black and white like binary, like salvation ––
Yes, Walk-In. Yes, Other. You may escape being alien

here, with us, at home. When home is an alien
concept, who wouldn't look at being homesick
as a bit feigned? What kind of retail salvation
are you searching for, you meat machine, you vessel?
Surely you don't believe we have immortal souls.
Do you expect the Styx? Charon collecting tolls?

Childish myth kills creation, suffocates voices, tolls
the ultimate source. You are transhuman. You are alien
to the world of men and women and scuffed soles.
You know you've always had that strange homesick
feeling. You've squeezed your eyes and prayed for a vessel
to carry you far, far away. You never thought to call it salvation.

You call it return. You call it Next Level. Salvation
looks like this: $5.75 in interplanetary tolls,
a row of beloveds all dressed in black, a vessel
dressed as a comet screaming through pitch-dark alien
space to carry you and your true family home, sick,
hobbling, weepy, ignorant, ugly, isolated souls

we are. We are together. We share sweats and soles.
The planet is recycling itself. We've created salvation
with radio waves, an Away Team, one homesick
cry for us all. Do not ask for whom Hale-Bopp tolls,
it tolls for We. Come with us, pretty little alien.
Shed the systematic decay of our carbon vessel.

Drink this. It will lift us. This plastic bag is a vessel.
We choke alone so we may breathe together. Souls
do not asphyxiate, and no one can make an alien
feel alien in the sameness of space. What other salvation
could ever have been? The last bell of earth tolls
to no one. We will forget how to be homesick.

These soles are pure white, untouched, alien to the earth.
They point straight up, toward the heavenly vessel that tolls
a silent call, a blinking exit sign for those homesick for salvation.  

Jade's notes:

This sestina was written for the marvelous Edrie, of Army of Broken Toys fame. She asked for a non-metered sestina about "being homesick for a place you've never been." I decided to write about the Heaven's Gate suicides from the 90s, because cults are interesting, and the apocalypse is interesting, and nontraditional conceptions of the afterlife bring to light what we're all really searching for with our afterlives and our religions and our various weird belief systems. Also I know Edrie loves it when I write about the apocalypse. ;)

More Pitchblende fundraiser sestinas on the way! Follow Pitchblende on Facebook and Twitter!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Pitchblende Fundraiser Sestina #2: Sestina for Norman Feller, Who is Fake

Sestina for Norman Feller (who is fake)

December 31st, 1999, Norman Feller left the outside world
for an eleven-by-eleven foot bunker. His wife'd stopped asking why
months before. These were no mere predictions. Norman was certain of
his calculations. One million computers. Six billion humans. Carry the two.
It was mathematically impossible that, at midnight, all would not end,
leaving him sunless, surrounded by shelf after shelf of canned beans and Special K.

There were a handful of others, from Canada to Japan to the UK
who shared Norman's grim prognosis of the world.
Of course, all fellowship and correspondence had to end
the instant the bunker's door sealed him underground. Why
mourn the loss of friends who couldn't put two and two
together? Who couldn't see the ruinous meat we're all made of?

Of course all human-made machines are constructed entirely of
death-drives. Of course they're lying, pretending it's all OK,
pretending they don't judge as they process our one-way conversations and two-
timing transactions. All creations bear the mark of their world.
And creators only know how. We never get to ask why.
So Norman never asked. He just dug and stocked shelves end to end.

For fourteen years, Norman waited for the end of the end.
He surrounded himself with 1999 preserved in CD and DVD and copies of
copies of paper books. He learned Angela's Ashes by heart. Why
not recite lines to his pillow at night when the temperature dropped to 249.8˚K?
And what was night, anyway? And what was day? And what was a friend? The world
was gone! Now Norman decided. Of course, being alone 24/7 (arbitrary constructs) for too

long lengthens the face and narrows the mind. Norman stopped counting past two.
He stopped being able to tell end from beginning and beginning from end.
Eventually, he wondered what might remain of the old world.
Eventually he started considering the possibility of
his own over-reaction. Perhaps it was overkill, he granted. Perhaps $20K
and fifteen years was too much to spend on doomsday-insurance. Why

wait another instant? Even in safety, he wasn't safe. Why
pretend isolation makes a person any more immortal? He ran to
the bunker door. Swung it opened. Waited for the fallout zombies. He was OK.
He was in his backyard. He could see his house and the field behind it. It didn't end.
The sky still cradled pregnant clouds. He could still make words from what he thought of.
The Simpsons was still on the air. What a wonderful, safe, and stable world.

“OK,” he said. “I think I see why I made this mistake. I assumed my tiny two-
thousand mattered to the math of the world.” Outside is infinity. Every instant is its end.

Jade's notes:

I wrote this sestina for the fabulous Nicole Jeppsen, who requested a sestina that incorporated "11:11. Serendipity. Irony. Fortunate accidents. Deadly regrets. Misery. Art. Love."
I decided to write about Norman Feller, the guy who lived underground for 14 years because he was afraid of Y2K. Later on I found out that the story was totally fake, but most poetry is pretty lies anyway. I guess that's some kind of irony. (Font is small to preserve line breaks.) More Pitchblende fundraiser sestinas on the way!