It IS The End of the World

note: this originally appeared as the opening essay for’s What You Need To Know on 12/21/12, but is probably better suited to NFABS. 

Due to a common misunderstanding of the Mayan’s concept of the nature of existence, there’s a rather tongue in cheek meme that says the world is due to end today. As I’m writing the What You Need To Know at 1am EST, I’m pretty confident that there will still be people around it when it posts at 10am. And again, the end of the world isn’t what the Mayans predicted, if you’re inclined to worry about one particular Mesoamerican people’s calendar over any others.

That said, our world certainly is being transformed at a remarkable rate. In the words of celebrated sci-fi/fantasy author Catherynne M. Valente, I’m a “Challenger.” That is, I belong to the short and somewhat overlooked age cohort that is pre-Millennial, but post-Generation X, defined by Ms. Valente as those of us who watched the Challenger disaster unfold live in our elementary school or early middle school classrooms.  

Every generation since the dawn of Industrial Revolution has seen radical change in their lifetimes of course. My own great grandfather was born in the era of the horse and buggy, but died after seeing humans leave footprints on another planet. Things are no different for the Challengers.

The most visible changes in our world of course have been information oriented. I was ten when ARPANET was officially decommissioned and commercial ISPs began piping internet and World Wide Web access into people’s homes. I don’t have hard figures, but I’d be surprised if any but a few of the most powerful computers on earth when I was born could rival the computing power most of us carry in our pockets today. And for better or worse, the connected nature of the internet age has created a global community with both the good and bad characteristics of a small town or village.

I also grew up from the fourth grade on with the specter of global warming (now global climate change) hanging over my head. My peers and I were told time and time again of the consequences that would come to pass if the threat posed by global warming to the planet wasn’t addressed. Challengers, and the generation after us, grew up with the knowledge that the planet was sick, and we came to realize that older folk didn’t have all that much in the way of will or resources to do a lot about it. We’ve watched in mounting horror as climatological changes that as children we were told our children or grandchildren might see in their lifetimes, have come to pass already or are predicted well within our own.

At the same time, there have been positive changes too. I first learned of the AIDS crisis as a boy at my great-aunt’s house for Thanksgiving, where on the TV I heard a news report about Ryan White. My mother, a teacher, was simultaneously outraged at the unfairness of his treatment, and sympathetic to the scared parents of his peers who were trying to protect their children from an unfamiliar and terrifying illness.

But while HIV/AIDS is still with us, we’ve managed to chain it and remove much of its destructive power (at least in the wealthy first world). HIV/AIDS is not unlike Fenrir in the Norse cosmology, it took all our cunning and know-how to mitigate its destructive power, though even bound it still poses a danger. And should it outsmart us someday, the consequences could be beyond dire.  

Along the way, the crucible of the AIDS crisis helped force the creation the modern LGBT civil rights movement. Just as advances in computer and communication technology over the last thirty years has been inconceivably fast, the changes in freedom, rights, and our place in society as queer/LGBT people is staggering.

Part of the reason that the conservative right in America, and other nations, fight against our equal place in society so doggedly, is that they aren’t entirely wrong about what’s happening to society. The world they knew is vanishing. Some of that is because their world was always an illusion, a mutually agreed upon suspension of disbelief in which white middle class Christians pretended their experience was universal, and in exchange for being somewhat left alone, everyone else tried not to upset the balance of their imaginings.

But beyond that, our culture and understanding of the world has changed, as it pretty much continually has for the last two hundred years or so. Change can be terrifying. The End Of The World, at least if you’re deeply invested in your world remaining exactly how it’s always been.

So in that, maybe the prognostications of the Mayans (or what people think of that way) are correct. The world is ending today after all, but only because it is perpetually ending and being made anew. Perhaps now more so than ever.

Trying To Balance Conflicting Identities on National Coming Out Day

Today is National Coming Out Day, and it’s got me thinking about the complex nature of identities and openness. More specifically, I’ve been told that I’m to write a post on that topic as penance for not addressing it the way She wanted me to in today’s What You Need To Know on I should really be sleeping, but my tics are so severe that the anti-tic medicine I take at night isn’t doing shit. So while I wait for my sedatives to kick in, here goes:

 The subject of identity is probably the most common threat binding Notes From A Barking Shaman’s six year run together. I suppose I’ve hardly ever stopped exploring and dissecting who it is that I am as I move through the world, and yet somehow I feel less sure myself now than at any time I can remember since sitting down to write my first post back in September of ’06.

For the first time in recent memory, I find myself in the incredibly unfamiliar place of being closeted in one way or another across many areas of my life, and to be honest it doesn’t sit well with me.

I move through many different spheres and sub-cultures, and the values they each hold dear are often in direct conflict with one another. It’s a delicate balancing act, and I exist in a state of constant struggle not to be a social and ideological chameleon, but rather to hold on to a solid sense of self-identity.

Perhaps the biggest conflict is between my pagan identity and my work as an LGBT blogger and activist. Although I’ve talked in the vaguest terms about being pagan in my writing for The Bilerico Project, where I am now associate editor, the progressive LGBT movement is overwhelmingly anti-religion and faith. And as a rule, it seems that atheists seem to hold pagans, and in particular practitioners of magic, as one infinitesimal step above radical conservative Christians in terms of disdain-worthiness. The Lady really wanted me to use NCOD as an opportunity to address my pagan identity directly with that audience, but I chickened out in the interest of self-preservation. I could potentially build my LGBT activism and blogging work into a semi-reliable paycheck (in higher paying speaking gigs if nothing else), and I’m reluctant to burn my bridges any faster than I already do by defending faith as a concept, and pro-equality religious people as a whole in my writing there.

Given the LGBT community’s general view on religion, my faith, service to the gods, and place as a magician, is something that I heavily downplay in my feeble attempts at dating as well. Although I suppose that could be part of why I’ve not had good luck lately. I’m open about my paganism on OKCupid, but it’s a conversation topic I steer away from with potential suitors.

But within the pagan community I don’t particularly feel free to be my unbridled self either. First and foremost, the pagan response to my Tourette often makes me incredibly angry, and so I tend to try to suppress my symptoms as much as possible in pagan space. Believe it or not, some people see the TS as a sign of the gods disfavor towards me, and others can’t accept that someone could have the talent and discipline for magic when their body isn’t fully within their control.

Beyond those issues, you’d be amazed how many people want to “fix” my TS. Best case scenario they hound me to let them try, worst case they just try without asking my permission first. I’ve also been told that I should just (insert deity to pray to, wacky diet to try, crystal to carry, position to sleep in, etc), or better yet, just “let go of my negativity” and my TS will be cured.

I could go into a long and very technical magical explanation of the flaw that underpins most of the “cures” people have tried or wanted to try, but I’m just going to say that I’ve worked with some of the finest healers, magicians, and energy workers that I’ve ever had the privilege to know, and while I can use certain magical techniques to manage the symptoms for short periods of time (I can suppress tics far longer than any Touretter I’ve met who wasn’t a fellow magician), “curing” the Tourette is not feasible.

That’s a personal issue in my interactions with the pagan community, but there’s an ideological one as well. I’m a scientist at heart, and technology, science, exploration, and intellectual curiosity are deeply important to me. I’m not going to say too much here, because there’s a whole NFaBS post on this topic coming, but I and many of my friends and colleagues have noticed a growing anti-intellectual thread within the pagan community that seems deeply at odds with our history. I had an argument with someone not all that long ago about the gods-blessed Polio vaccine for Hel’s sake! And I’m going to choose not to delve into some of the “conversations” on economics I’ve heard recently.

All that said, you can imagine that a pagan, much less a spirit worker, doesn’t exactly feel welcome in science-friendly spaces either though. And there’s a popular meme, particularly in the online lay-science community that any religious faith is incompatible with even an interest in scientific thought and advancement.

On a different note, I’m certainly not closeted within kink/BDSM space about being GSRM, but as I’ve discussed before, my sexual orientation doesn’t fit well within the kink/BDSM world that I travel in. Likewise, the gay community can range from very accepting of kink and polyamory, to not remotely. I’ve chosen to build my identity within the world of LGBT blogging and activism from a position that uses my kink experience and status as an asset, although I do recognize that it closes as many doors as it opens.

I’m open to an extent about my spiritual beliefs as a kinkster and in my work as a kink/sexuality educator, but only to a point. The BDSM community wants spiritual programing, classes, and rituals, but stripped of any overtly religious or pagan context. This means that while I’m widely known as a shaman, ritualist, and facilitator of cathartic ordeals and scenes, my actual pagan beliefs are far less known or public.

I don’t know that I have a sense of where my GSRM identity fits within the pagan community, or within my own identity as a pagan person. I’ve only ever been involved with very accepting pagan communities such as Asphodel or FSA, but at the same time, for all their inclusivity, I’ve never felt like I explored the spiritual nature of my sexual orientation or identity. Certainly I’ve never had my sexual orientation and spiritual/magical being working in synergy the way I have with my kink/BDSM identity and my spiritual and magical Work. That’s something I’ve been hoping for an opportunity to explore at some point in the future.

So as I move through the world on National Coming Out Day, I wrestle with how to balance the myriad and sometimes conflicting roles I have to wear and identities I carry:

Gods-slave, Magician, Shaman, Educator, Writer, Activist, Presenter, Event (Assistant) Producer, Photographer, Kinkster, Switch, Touretter, Poly, Disabled Person, Designer, Mechanic, Gay, Queer, Male, Cisgender, Gun Owner, Liberal, and the list could go on.

I feel like an understanding of how to make all these roles/identities work and play well together is just beyond my reach, but that in time I’ll get the hang of it. Maybe some will have to merge, maybe some will have to be let go, and maybe still more will be added to the list, but no matter what, laying them out and giving them acknowledgment on National Coming Out Day is no bad place to start.

Not So ‘Queer’ After All

I don’t make a habit of reposting my Bilerico blogging here on NFABS, because I don’t want this blog to become a feed for my Bilerico work. That said, this post both fits well with NFABS’ general themes, and with my new commitment to greater openness. This post originally appeared on The Bilerico Project on 9/26/12

Not So ‘Queer’ After All 

Early this year, not long after becoming a regular contributor for The Bilerico Project, I wrote a post on the controversial subject of the reclaimed word “queer” as a personal identity.

At the time, I laid out the arguments for why I felt “queer” was the right word for who I was and how I lived my life. I’m not only someone whose partners are of the same gender, but also someone who is polyamorous, kinky, and who rejects the very narrow confines of who the gay world, and media in particular, sometimes try to say “gay” people are.

I also wrote about the fact that while I didn’t see having trans men partners as inherently contrary to someone identifying as “gay”, the widespread and destructive transphobia I often see within the gay community made me reluctant to embrace the word as my own. 

When I wrote that post in January, I’d been identifying as “queer” for many years, and didn’t really expect that I’d be writing this one less than a year later.

 You see, I find myself feeling as if I can’t continue to identify as “queer” anymore.

Before I get to my own situation though, I want to briefly address the use of “queer” as an umbrella community term. Talking about the “queer community” as an alternative to saying “gay community” or “LGBT community” has never really sat all that well with me. Sure, the alphabet soup of letters such as LGBTQQAI can get incredibly cumbersome, but the whole point of a reclaimed word is that people make the choice to reclaim it forthemselves, not have it thrust upon them in the manner of their oppressors. If you don’t like the word “queer” you certainly shouldn’t have to have it used to describe you.

Personally, I’m a fan of GSM or GSRM to describe our community more than any other acronym I’ve seen lately. It stands for Gender & Sexual Minorities or Gender, Sexual & Relationship Minorities, and has a deliberate catch-all quality that I appreciate.

But it isn’t the advent of a new term that has me felling the need to let go of my queer identity. As far as I know there isn’t yet a term for a someone who fits within the GSRM umbrella, and I’m not eager to invent one.

Rather, the issue is that I have come to find “queer” a less inclusive word than either it once was, or I once perceived it to be. I’ve always been a bit of an anomaly as a cis man who ID’s as queer, particularly as a cis queer guy who is primarily interested in same-sex relationships. Which isn’t to say I haven’t met others, I’m not a special snowflake.

But I’ve noticed more and more that queer spaces are not open to me as a cis guy, Many organizations, parties, etc, that identify as being queer-focused are formally or unofficially only open to cis women, trans women and trans men. An interesting corollary to this is that when I’ve been in open queer space, people have tended to assume I’m trans*, and are sometimes taken aback to discover otherwise. This has, at times, let to some ugly situations, with there being a perception of deceit on my part, or of me as a cis guy intruding on, and compromising the feeling of safety of queer space, even if that space hasn’t been formally designated as not open to cis men.

Words and labels are slippery things, that’s what makes them so powerful, and yet so potentially contentious. I understand that I could choose to continue to ID as queer and no one can stop me. But I also recognize that labels serve a valuable purpose, and if the broader definition within our community, or at least my little corner of it, of “queer” has becoming something I’m not, it makes little sense for me to continue using it.

On a selfish note, it’s painful to be told “this thing that is like you, isn’t open to you.” To be completely clear: I’m not saying that anyone has to include me in anything, or that my experience is somehow unique or particularly onerous. And yes, I do acknowledge that an expectation of inclusion on my part can be chalked up to my own white-cis-male privilege. But if the definition of what it means to be queer has evolved in a way that doesn’t include cis men, my point still holds that it is a poor descriptor for me to continue using.

Which of course, leaves me in a bind. The reasons that “gay” doesn’t work for me don’t magically vanish just because “queer” doesn’t either. If we’re only interested in the question of who I seek sexual and romantic intimacy with, the overly clinical “homoflexible” could conceivably work. But for me that may be a descriptor, but not really a coherent identity. Likewise, “a GSRM” makes my orientation sound like an expensive Japanese motorcycle rather than a way to navigate the complex waters of self-identity.

For now I’ll explore and try to make my own road. There will probably be times when “queer” is the most useful shorthand, and others when “homoflexible,” or “gay” might be. Hopefully in time I’ll find a new place of comfort with one of these words, or someone will invent a new one entirely.

I call “not it!”


As an aside, the multifaceted topic of self-identified “women’s spaces,” such as the Boston-based group MOB, that are open to trans men as well as trans women and cis women could easily be a post in itself, but it’s one I’m completely unqualified to write. I hope someone else will do so, maybe as a guest post for us one of these days. 

Announcement! (finally)

This morning, a new post of mine went up at The Bilerico Project. From here on out this will be a regular occurrence, because as of today I am the site’s newest regular contributor! This is both a terrifying and thrilling step in my work, and coming on the heels of becoming a programming coordinator for Dark Odyssey, hopefully says good things about the direction I’m going in.

It is going to be a challenge to write for a mainstream(ish) publication without loosing my sense of self. After much discussion, I reached a compromise with Bilerico’s managing editor on what name I will be using, which is also the topic of my first contributor post there. I know full well that if I loose sight of who I am and what I do, there will be a long line of people and gods waiting to kick my ass, starting with a tag team of The Lady and Fireheart (and those are two scary entities to have angry with you). It’s a delicate and frightening edge to walk, but one I’m hoping to manage it with grace.

So what does that mean for Notes From A Barking Shaman? Nothing really. When I post at Bilerico I will likely make that my POTD, but moving forward, NFABS will continue to have a Post Of The Day six days a week, with an in depth essay posted every Saturday. I do not yet know how frequently I will end up posting at Bilerico, but it will be at least once a week.