“How Do I Express My Feelings To My Partner?”

There’s a lot of advice swirling around out there on “How to talk to your partner” – a thousand techniques to chip past their defensiveness, speak loudly enough to be heard, be nice enough to encourage niceness.

And it all falls short if your partner sucks.

Truth is, there’s basically two types of partners: The ones that care about how you’re feeling, and the ones who don’t. And sometimes the partners who care about how you’re feeling do need to be approached in the right way to maximize their compassion, but…

There’s a lot of deluded people who have partners who legitimately do not give a shit. And those people are endlessly convinced that their partner is a bank vault, just packed with love if only they can find the right tutorial to pick the locks, and they are endlessly blaming themselves because they somehow didn’t unlatch the great wellspring of tenderness that lies within them.

There’s not an approach that’ll help there.

And these people will point to their partner’s sporadic kindnesses as though these isolated incidents are a treasure map leading to the great stockpile of sympathy. But the truth is, almost everybody’s nice occasionally, if only by coincidence. Sometimes these unreachable partners want to make love when you do, but that’s not proof that they’re good to you, it’s proof that occasionally disparate agendas can line up like an optical illusion of kindness.

So the first part of establishing any real communication is ensuring that your partner actually gives a shit about you personally. Do they react with concern or exasperation the first time you raise an issue? Do they look for ways to write you off as a nut because it’s more convenient to them? Do they have a history of dropping partners whenever they prove troublesome?

Because yeah, you can – and should – work on presenting your problems in a kind, nonconfrontational way. But chefs work on great food presentation, and even they realize it won’t make a full man hungry.

First rule: Make sure they care about you.

Everything you do after they fail the first rule is, unfortunately, doomed to fail as well.

Guest Post: It’s The End Of The Internet As We Know It (But You Can Help Save It)

You folks have probably heard a lot about “Net Neutrality” lately, but you may not be clear on what it is, how it’ll change your Internet life, or what you can do to keep it in place. And to be honest, I’m not qualified to speak about it.

But my friend Paul is.

Paul Goodman (@PaulOverbite) is Senior Legal Counsel on the Telecommunications and Technology Team at The Greenlining Institute – which is to say he’s been on the front lines battling the telecommunications industries for years, and he knows exactly what companies like AT&T would do if people like him weren’t there to stop him.  (Some of the things he’s told me about have been horrifying.)

So I’m gonna ask him to explain Net Neutrality to you through a phenomenal historical metaphor, and have him tell you why all isn’t lost yet even though yesterday’s headlines were indeed bad.

Paul?


Ferrett was kind enough to offer me the opportunity to write a blog post about the importance of net neutrality—the principle that your internet service provider (ISP) can’t control what content you access or devices you use on your broadband connection. As you may have read, on Thursday the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) initiated the process of eliminating the current net neutrality rules. Unfortunately, there was a fair amount of misreporting on the issue, leading to headlines like “Net Neutrality Rules Eliminated” and “FCC Kills Net Neutrality” and “Masked Man Throws Net Neutrality into Vat of Acid, Creating Green-Haired, White-Skinned Madman.”

However, net neutrality isn’t dead yet—but today’s vote was a clear sign that it’s in the Trump administration’s crosshairs.

To really understand the importance of net neutrality, you first need to understand Green Books. Green Books, common in the 30s, 40s, 50s, and 60s, were travel guides for African American travelers. These books listed locations where food and lodging were available to African Americans, and, more importantly, listed places where African Americans would be refused service, falsely arrested, or murdered. The Green Books listed huge swaths of the country where there were no services available and where, accordingly, African Americans couldn’t go.

Think about that for a minute. Specifically, consider the enormous amount of power that white people had over black peoples’ lives. If you were black, white people could stop you from travelling to, or through, large parts of the country. So if you were more than a day’s drive away from friendly territory, you couldn’t visit your family. If you were a travelling salesman, there were large parts of your sales territory that you couldn’t visit. If you wanted to go to your state capitol to ask your elected representative for help, you might not be able to—not because you didn’t have the ability or resources, but because white people actively worked to keep you from doing so.

One group of people had control of a vital part of our nation’s infrastructure, and used that control to prevent African Americans from accessing economic, social, and political opportunities.*

Today, we’re facing the same scenario. A small group of broadband providers controls a vital part of our nation’s infrastructure — the national (and international) telecommunications network. That control gives ISPs an enormous amount of power. The Internet is the way that we communicate with our friends and loved ones, find jobs, contact government services, and get information. Net neutrality protections ensure that you, not your ISP, decide how to access the network, what content you view, who you communicate with, and which viewpoints you can express and support.

Under the current net neutrality rules, your broadband provider can’t discriminate against particular Internet content. For example, Comcast owns NBC-Universal. Comcast would prefer that you watch NBC shows, rather than shows from other content providers like HBO, or ABC, or Netflix. Comcast is also an ISP, and has the ability to deliver Internet traffic at different speeds and service quality, so Comcast could deliver NBC content in high-definition, while making videos from HBO look terrible. Net neutrality rules make sure that doesn’t happen.

In 2015, the FCC, which regulates what I call “communications services” and you call “telephone, cable TV, and broadband service,” imposed the most robust net neutrality protections in U.S. history. If you haven’t noticed, since then, we’ve had a few changes in our government. Under new leadership the FCC wants to roll back all of the robust net neutrality protections we’ve come to rely on. In anticipation, ISPs and conservative groups have been sending out a deluge of misinformation and dropping off huge sacks of money at policymakers’ offices.

There’s only one group that can really push back, and that group is us.

I know we’ve all got a lot on our plates lately, and we’re all battling on multiple fronts, but I would really like you to understand that the fight to save net neutrality is critical. Many marginalized groups—people of color, LGBT folks, Muslims, to name just a few—don’t have access to traditional outlets for getting their voices heard. The Internet is often the only tool that we have to communicate, give and receive support, and organize. Without a free and open Internet, we will lose our ability to make our voices heard, share our positions and strategies, and work for real change. We cannot let that happen.

The FCC is currently taking comments on its plan to eliminate net neutrality, so please go here and tell the FCC to keep the existing net neutrality protections in place. Additionally, please reach out to your elected representatives and ask them to keep the Internet open and free—a five-minute phone call might just convince your rep to vote against the repeal.

* –  Incidentally, that discrimination continues today in our telecommunications networks.  Years of business decisions by telecommunications providers about where to build or upgrade their networks have resulted in a disparate impact on communities of color—on the whole, communities of color disproportionately lack access to broadband services, and where those services are available, they are unaffordable and the service quality is terrible.

In Which I Debate Whether I Can Recommend Persona 5 To Mishell Baker

So I play videogames for the story, and Persona 5 is the best story I’ve seen in… well, maybe ever.  I used to say that Planescape: Torment was, hands-down, the strongest narrative in videogames – and after playing through ninety hours of Persona, which had almost no slow spots, I may have to replay Torment just to see which is best.

Yet I’m debating recommending Persona to my friend Mishell Baker.

Now, Mishell is obsessed with Dragon Age and Mass Effect – she’s played the games through multiple times so she can hear every line of dialogue.  And we’ve nerded out about videogames on Twitter before, having long conversations about ZOMG THIS CHARACTER and WHAT ABOUT THIS PLOT TWIST – and I want her to play Persona so I can hear her reaction.

And yet Persona’s a little face-punchy.

Which is to say that Persona is, unabashedly, the story of a straight guy.  Which I have zero problem with – I think every type of character deserves a storyline, including straight cis dudes.

But that straightness permeates the game; literally every female character but one is romanceable.  There are a sum total of three LGBT characters in the game, and two of them are joke characters who show up twice to sexually harass one of the straightest guys in the game.  The third is a bartender of fluid but undefined gender, who is presented as a sympathetic, competent character…

But none of the Confidants you interact with – i.e., the people who have storylines – are gay or bisexual, or do they even appear to be aware of the concept.  (One of the main characters clearly has something going on with their sexuality, but nobody mentions this or ever follows up on it.)  Everyone is paired off into M/F boxes, and are all expected to act likewise.

And the game is literally about how society chains you into misery by forcing expectations upon you.  Thematically, you’d almost expect a discussion of someone’s sexuality.  Yet the game itself is overwhelmingly straight to the point where, if aliens learned about humanity from this ninety-hour game, they would not even know that gayness existed.

Here’s the issue:

Persona 5 was so good in everything else it did that you could go for hours before being reminded that oh, yeah, this game has weird issues with LGBT erasure and mockery.  I’d be into it, into it, into it, and oh.  There we are again.

And Mishell writes magnificent books – seriously, try Borderline – that do deal with gay and bisexual characters because that reflects her life.  Like me, she can’t write a book without LGBT characters because LGBT people are her friends and why would she write a book that casually negates their existence?

How would she react to a game that, in a hundred hours filled with deep characters, has gay characters that occupy less than ten minutes of the game?

That’s a syndrome Ann Leckie once likened to going to a great restaurant with awesome food and occasionally the waiters punch LGBT people and women in the face.  The straight guys, who don’t get punched, are like, “What, don’t you care about the quality of food?” and can’t understand why people might want to eat at a restaurant where they’re not tensed for elbow blows.

And Persona 5 is punchy as hell.  It’s a quality storyline that requires some punch-dodging, if you’re gay, because there’s a difference between “A straight guy is the lead character in this story” (which is great) and “A straight viewpoint has nearly eradicated any concept of homosexuality in an otherwise-complex storyline that has beautiful things to say about love and being true to yourself and the costs of standing up to do the right thing” (which isn’t).

Persona 5’s story is beautiful, and glorious, and meticulously thought out.  But to Mishell, who does speak out on LBGT issues a lot?

I don’t know how much it would punch her in the gay rights.  I think it’d hit her a lot harder than it did me.  It might change the game from “A beautiful story” to “A weird alt-history where people like her friends don’t exist.”

And it wouldn’t have been that difficult to alter Persona 5.  One gay friend might have done it – hell, fandom’s pretty much decided he’s gay anyway, might as well have made a statement within the game.  One conversation about someone investigating their sexuality.  One acknowledgement that all male teenagers might have other urges than to go after the hot blonde with the killer body (or maybe that one female character also wants that hot blonde).

It would not have changed the central story one whit, and yet it would have avoided throwing punches.

Which is a shame.  Because that small omission is the difference between me thrusting Persona 5 out to everyone I know, going, “HERE PLAY THIS OH MY GOD” and “I really loved this, and I think with some qualifiers, you might too.”  It’s that difference between mindless, squeeing fanboying and a work I have to ponder whether I can recommend.

As it is, I think Mishell might very well like it regardless.  If she reads this article, she’s at least braced for it.  She might be able to boot up Persona 5 and go, “Okay, yeah, I know we’re not getting that, but I can compensate for the rest.”  Or she might decide not to play the game because, sometimes, getting that disappointed when the rest is that good is somehow worse.

And I think, again, that it wouldn’t have taken much to be inclusive.  I don’t think a talking to a few gay or bi characters in-depth would have ruined it for straight guys, or at least straight guys who aren’t ragingly homophobic.   I don’t think you would have had to change much of the dialogue, even.

But there it is: Persona 5 is a great game.  So much that I can froth out a thousand words on it.  I recommend it highly.  I think it’s brilliant.

I just wish I could say “It’s brilliant” instead of “It’s brilliant, but.”

 

You Can’t Talk About It. Not Really.

I’m at the peak of my Seasonal Affective Disorder, and I’m mired in suicidal depression. Texts from people I love are going unanswered, my work output is pathetic, and I’m damaging the relationships I have.

I wish I had the skill to express what it’s like to you, living through this time of year. But then again I don’t.

See, if I was better, I could write a flourishing emotional essay describing What It’s Like To Be Mentally Ill, with the same detail that sometimes I describe What It’s Like To Be In Love, and give people a taste of what it’s like to realize that your brain sometimes just gives out on you like a bum knee. If I was healthier, I could write it up in a way that you got it.

And it’d probably get me hospitalized.

I get bitter. I do. Because whenever someone says, “You can talk to me,” I know that’s not true. That’s what my illness takes away from me. Thirty years of talking has taught me that I can’t be honest with anyone, sometimes not even my own therapists. Because if I reveal the suicidal ideation I’ve dealt with for decades, that can land me in a stint in the hospital, which could cost me my job, which would, not surprisingly, not make me better mental healthwise.

People say “You can talk to me.” Yet the profound truth about chemical depression is that it’s boring, and talking doesn’t necessarily cure it. Sometimes talking accentuates all the worst parts of your life, revealing this sagging weakness in your foundations makes you seem more pathetic with every word, and you come out of it feeling worse.

And that’s bad, because when people say “You can talk to me,” what they often mean is “I want to be your hero.” They don’t mean to, but they’re often looking for that shot of pride at having Helped A Sad Person Overcome Their Trauma, to be the star of their own movie, and when they talk to you for two hours and you’re actually worse off then they quietly think you’re no fun to be around and they start quietly distancing themselves.

The number of people who can sit in a dark hole with you and simply hold your hand are rare. Most people want to see you improve in real time, or they’re going to step away.

You may say you’re the exception. Most people say they’re the exception. But there are terminally ill people in hospitals who are terribly lonely because people tell themselves they’re the exception but quietly find excuses not to be with a dying person who needs them but isn’t going to get better.

There’s a lot of exceptions to those exceptions.

And if you do find someone who can sit in a dark hole with you, your thoughts are corrosive and insulting. Because you question everything they do. Your self-loathing is secretly attacking their reasons for being here, every time you tell them how worthless you feel you’re also informing them that really, they either are stupid for showing up or deluded or both, and enduring that subtle abuse is its own skill, and a debatable one.

And then, as noted, uncorking someone’s depression can be fucking terrifying if they’ve seen you as a mostly functional human being. Talking is walking them backstage, saying, “I know you thought this was a beautiful show, but the truth is this furniture is fake and this wall collapses if you push hard and the makeup looks cheap close up.”

They rarely say, “Oh, wow, you did a good job with what you had.”

They just see the gaps, and decide this show has to be fixed. Because if you tell someone, “Yeah, I’ve considered killing myself two or three times a week my entire life,” and explain that there are days you don’t drive because of your concern that you’ll yank the wheel to one side and destroy yourself, their reaction is not to go “That’s how life is for this person, they’ve fought this for decades” but rather “JESUS THAT WOULD TERRIFY ME LET’S CHANGE THIS PERSON NOW” and again, if you tell the wrong person about these continual sadnesses, you wind up being flagged a danger to yourself and hauled away.

There are a few people I do talk to about things, when I get really depressed. But I don’t talk to them about it often. Because I know that sharing this unending wail of torment I’m in will corrode friendships, and I need friendships, and the issue with being as mentally ill as I am is that the survival technique is to conceal portions of myself to protect the people I love from my madness.

Because I don’t want my mental illness. And I don’t want to inflict it upon others unless I have to.

So I conserve discussing my depression until I really need to, because otherwise I won’t have anyone to discuss it with. And whenever I say that, people are like, “Oh, if you had real friends…” and my response is, “Maybe you have a nice, happy disorder that you can open up to your friends about, and that’s a lovely fucking place for you to live, but don’t you dare dismiss my friendships because your disorder is people-friendly.”

Mine isn’t. Mine is toxic. And even talking about my mental illness this much – this is the light version, people – inspires people to come out of the woodwork and tell me that I need to cheer up, that I don’t understand how friendship works, I just need to find the right people and all will be well.

And what I’m asking you to examine is your need for the Hollywood friendship – the one where you have a chat with your buddies and they get better and you get to be the hero.

Maybe that’s a disorder of its own.

Maybe that’s not helping.

Want Me To Teach A Workshop? Here’s How You Do It!

People kept asking me what classes I taught, so I made a list and put it on my website.  If you want me to come to your town and run some sort of poly workshop, that list summarizes what I got for ya.  (And if I have the class notes public, they’re listed there too.)

I should note that I have a vague recollection of someone from Fet emailing me to ask if I would teach for them, but I cannot find it in my mail.  It may have been spam-trapped.  If you haven’t heard from me lately, please ask again.

If you don’t want me to teach a workshop in your town, then keep on doing what you’re doing. Chances are good I won’t show up spontaneously to teach in your living room.  But I can’t promise anything.

“Why Do We Need Unisex Bathrooms?”

A guy asked this about a convention where several boy/girl bathrooms were temporarily repurposed into unisex bathrooms. (Not all of them – you could still find your standard male/female pooping places if you were uncomfortable.)

And I’ve been thinking about that question. “Why do we need unisex bathrooms?”

Because the answer is blazingly simple if you’ve attended Penguicon: look around that convention’s room parties, and you’ll see a fair number of genderqueer and trans and cross-dressing attendees. Some of them go to conventions specifically to have a weekend where they can relax and present as whatever gender they choose and not get hassled about it.

Going to the bathroom and deciding which box to check is, presumably, a buzzkill for these people on an otherwise-supportive weekend. Hence the unisex bathrooms.

But that’s not the question the guy was asking.

He used “we,” but he meant “he.” As in, “Why do I need a unisex bathroom?” And being a cis dude who dresses like a dude, he didn’t see any need for them. As such, he concluded the convention was doing stupid things for stupid reasons.

Which was a stupid conclusion, alas.

Because this addled man’s affected with a sad disease that can strike at anyone, but tends to afflict straight cis men: They have forgotten the difference between “we” and “me.”

I personally don’t need unisex bathrooms either. But when I ask the question, “Why do we need unisex bathrooms?”, I am capable of looking around to more than my experience and doing the elementary deduction work required to uncover why. Sometimes I even ask other people than myself and the people who look like me.

Why do we need unisex bathrooms? Because not everyone’s you, dude. I have never once attended a panel discussing gun safety or libertarian philosophy, but if someone asked me the question, “Why do we need those panels?” you bet your bippie I’d pull my head out of my neon-rimmed ass and look around to other people before answering the question.

Solipsism’s a helluva drug.

How Not To Fight The Murder Zombies.

So the murder zombies are in your town again, ripping limbs from torsos. Everyone knows the best way to survive the murder zombie onslaught is to hide in a closet.

But humans react to murder zombies in funny ways, even when they’re not being personally devoured by the zombies’ hoof-hard teeth.

See, because “hiding in a closet” is the best way of riding it out when the murder zombie herd comes ravaging through town, you’ll have people who get really good at hiding in closets.

With each Culling they survive, these people will become increasingly cocky about their closet-hiding techniques.

Eventually, they’ll start making fun of people who don’t know how to hide in a closet properly. Complaints about the way the murder-zombies ate your child will be met with a sneering, “I guess somebody didn’t have their closet ready.”

And the end result will be, unbelievably, people who have more scorn for zombie victims than they do a hatred for the murder-zombies who want to tear them to shreds.

Yet that’s not the weirdest thing. The *weirdest* thing is that these expert closet-hiders genuinely come to think they’re fighting the murder-zombies by teaching these hiding techniques. “See, if you starve them, maybe they won’t murder so much,” the closet-hiders say.

But that’s not actually fighting the murder-zombies. That’s just surviving the murder-zombies. At best, the murder-zombies might slaughter the people in the next town over – but the expert closet-hiders think that’s just great, because at this point anyone who gets eaten by the murder-zombies is so stupid they deserve to die.

They think they’re fighting the murder-zombies, but in a way they’re actually very much aligned with the murder-zombies.

Whereas the truth is this: hiding in a closet is a useful skill to learn, and you probably need to learn it. But reducing the murder-zombie hordes to mere nuisances will take more than one person. You need an entire town to rise up, grab guns from the burning houses of those who have fallen, the mobilization of thousands of people so their response is not “Shit, murder-zombies, better prep my hiding-from-murder-zombie camouflage techniques” but “Sound the alarms, get the pitchforks, let’s make sure these murder-zombies don’t hurt another person!”

You need an organization to fight the horde, man. One man (or woman) can’t stop the undead stampede. One man (or woman) might as well just hide in the closet.

But the problem is this: that expert closet-hider is mocking the people who want to go out and fight (“What, don’t you have a closet?”), and telling everyone that the people who died deserved their deaths. And yes, maybe some of the people who died were unwise in some of their decisions. We might need a couple of staunch closets until we can recoup enough resources to take the fight to the murder-zombie larvae in their terrifying butchernest, and if you want to lead a respectful class on “Closet Hiding 101” then okay, sure, it can help.

Yet when you spend more energy denigrating the victims than you do saying, “*Of course* the murder-zombies are an evil necrotic horde who deserve no sympathy,” then you’re sapping the town’s efforts to rise up, man. We need to get out and shine sunlight on the necromancer’s cursed butchernest jewel and dissolve this murder-zombie horde after all – and your reliance on “BUILD A STURDIER CLOSET” just makes us all live in increasingly smaller closets.

So, you know, survive the zombies. Nothing wrong with that.

Just don’t forget that survival is very different from changing the landscape so zombie-survival is no longer necessary.