“I Thought You Were Married?”

Ahhh. The time has come.

Anyone who follows me on Twitter has probably gathered over the last few years a few things about me.

1) I’m Canadian

2) I’m a scientist

3) I’m married

4) I’m an asshole (probably)

I don’t talk about my personal life very much, mostly because I highly doubt anyone is terribly interested in it (I’ve been in bed since 9pm if you need evidence of its banality at times).

But, what’s this! Married Mel has a date?? Interest appears piqued.  Not so much of the “Oh, how was your date?” but more of the “WTF dude, aren’t you married?” sort.

Short answer: Yes, I’m married.

Long answer: Whew.  Hold on.

I’ve been with my partner for 8 years, most of them quite happy.  We got married.  It was an awful day, if I’m being honest.  It was stressful and busy and I got a ton of attention I didn’t want.  But my flowers were pretty and my Dad cried, so I suppose it was alright.

So, there we were.  Married, two dogs, a cute little house in a city I didn’t hate.  I was finishing my PhD, and planned to find a job in that same city.  We wanted a family, and essentially a “normal” life.  The sort of life I’d say most people expect they’ll have.

But, alas.  Not everyone is cut out for that sort of thing.  He and I realized, slowly, that things weren’t as they should be.  We weren’t as happy as we expected we’d be once we got married.  Life was a bit dull. But we limped along that way for awhile, living less and less like a married couple, and more and more like roommates.  It wasn’t awful, actually. We still enjoyed each others company, and it was nice coming home to a house with someone in it.  We had fun going out with our friends, or traveling together.  We had a nice house, good jobs, and a nice life.  Maybe that’s enough for some people, but it turns out it wasn’t, for us.

After spending many months ignoring our problems, we finally talked about it.  We realized, thankfully, we were both feeling the same way.  We had (still have) so much love for each other.  But it was a love rooted deeply in friendship, and that’s all.  Admitting this to ourselves and eventually to each other was incredibly difficult.  It was so much easier pretending to be happy- going on day by day in our “ok” lives with our “ok” relationship.  But I came to realize that I owed it not just to myself, but to him, to be honest about how I felt.  I know now that I deserve to be with someone who is crazy in love with me- and so does he.  We knew we were never going to be that to each other.  So, we admitted it, and separated.

Though this happened last March, I stayed living with him until I moved to the UK just after Christmas.  People thought we were crazy.  But in reality, after working out the initial kinks of having a different sort of relationship, it was like living with a best friend.

I love him more now than I suspect I ever did.  He’s still the rock in my life- just in a different capacity than perhaps I expected.  Of course, none of this turned out how I expected it to.  But in the end it turns out I’m so much happier now, knowing I’ve made the right decision for me and for him.

So, there you have it.

Now stop fucking asking about it, you absolute cunts.🙂

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The real story of MrOzAtheist.

How to start.

Most of you are probably aware that Donovan (MrOzAtheist) and I had some sort of falling out. Some of you know a great deal more than that.  In the last month or so, as I’ve started discussing this, a lot of people have asked me for more information on what happened between us.  And I’m ready to talk about it.  If you just want to see the email, scroll down. Otherwise… First, a few things….

It happened a year ago! Why are you bringing it up now?

Because I don’t think there should be a time limit on discussing or coming to terms with emotional abuse.  I didn’t bring it up before for a few reasons.  First, I was genuinely paranoid about what he might do if I mentioned it.  I was worried what people would think of me for making a ‘respected’ person on Twitter look bad.  And mostly, I wasn’t ready to deal with it.  I tried to ignore it.  I shared it with a few trusted people.  But I’ve come to realize that I am not over it.  When I recently (October) described the situation to some friends, I immediately burst into tears.  I couldn’t help it.  This situation was very, very distressing for me, and still is.  But I’ve found that talking about it makes me feel better.  It makes me feel like he has no power over me- which is exactly what I needed.

You’re just trying to make Donovan look bad.

Let’s be fair- he’s made himself look bad through his actions.  I’m simply coming forward now to explain what he did to me.  He sent this email to me.  He tried to intimidate, blackmail, and threaten me.  The decision to open up and discuss it is mine, and of course, you are under no obligation to read it!

It was just one mistake!

I know we all make mistakes.  That’s human nature.  But this is something different, much more cold and calculated than a simple ‘mistake’ or ‘error in judgement’.  In fact, he mentions in the email that he thought about it for a long time, and went so far as to discuss it with others before deciding to send it.  I don’t know many people who are willing to resort to threats and intimidation to try and get what they want.  I don’t want to know those people.

What I realized in the time since is that, though it was by far the worst, this was not an isolated incident.  He spent months trying to make me feel guilty for having friends that weren’t him.  He asked me not to speak to those people anymore.  He told me he felt ‘betrayed’ when I asked him for space in the summer of 2013.  That, when I briefly closed my Twitter account due to personal issues, I “owed it to him” to tell him why.  It was nearly a year of that kind of concerning behaviour that culminated in this email from him.

The story

Donovan and I were very close.  We hit it off immediately, and there was a time when we spoke every day, in one form or another.  I shared a lot of personal information with him, and he did the same with me.

As time went on, I started making other friends on Twitter, as is known to happen.  Donovan was jealous, and as I said, asked me to stop talking to certain people because of that jealousy.  Because of this and a few other issues, we started to drift apart.  We started to disagree on petty things.  To me, it wasn’t a huge deal.  People change, friendships come and go.  That’s life.  Eventually, by August of 2013, we decided to end our ‘extra’ communication.  No more DMs, emails, etc.  Just follow each other on Twitter, and that was that.

In time I realized I didn’t really care much for his tweets. I don’t need to get into that, but as he and I discussed on The Herd Mentality Podcast, episode 30 (here), we disagreed completely on what an appropriate ‘style’ of tweeting was.  No matter. Disagreements happen all the time.  I unfollowed him, we podcasted, the end.

No. Not the end.  It was about 2 weeks after the podcast in November 2013 that I received the following email from Donovan.

Image 1:

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Image 2:

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I think that was the first time in my life I experienced a genuine state of shock.  It legitimately came out of nowhere, when we hadn’t spoken a word since the podcast with Adam two weeks before that.

I was also completely distraught.  I burst into tears.  I cried off and on for several days and was absolutely paranoid for weeks.  I checked my mail every day for at least 6 weeks, worried what he might have sent to my husband.  He knew my name, my address, my workplace.  Everything.  And he knew a lot of things about me I’d not care for my work, or even my husband, to have found out.  I had no idea what he was planning to do.  I was beside myself trying to figure out what “letter” he might send, and to whom, and what it might contain.

We emailed back and forth for awhile.  I am embarrassed by how I reacted to it.  Rather than telling him to go fuck himself, as I should have, I reasoned with him, sympathized with him, and told him it was ok.  That’s how disturbed and concerned I was that he might do something drastic.  I hate that I reacted that way.  It was weak and spineless, but I had no idea what else to do.

After I sympathized with his situation, he apologized. At the time I accepted it, because I was relieved that maybe if I did, he wouldn’t act on his threats.  However, once I stepped a toe out of line- by subtweeting him, the next day- he immediately emailed me again and said I had “broken my word”.  That I’d better “hope he calms down”, because he had drafted a tweet that was “not going to look good” for me.

That was when I knew I was dealing with something more than a mistake, and when I knew this and any apology from him was meaningless.  The second I did something he didn’t like, he resorted to trying to intimidate and threaten me again, to get his way.  Since then, our contact has been minimal, until I began to open up about what happened.  His response was to act as though he is the real victim, here. Some friends of mine, and others whom I don’t know, haven’t been especially kind to him since learning what he did to me. To be frank- I don’t care. I have had nothing to do with it. And, most importantly- anything other people may have said to him in response to his actions in no way detracts from or impacts what he did to me. It doesn’t lessen what he did, or make it ok. As it is completely irrelevant to his harassment of me, I won’t discuss it further here, and certainly won’t entertain the idea that he is the victim.

Since mentioning this on twitter, people have also asked me what it is that I “want” now.  Well, here’s your answer- I don’t want anything.  I’m uninterested in another apology.  “I’m sorry”, in this situation, whether sincere or not, does nothing for me.  It doesn’t take away the distress I felt for weeks, and even still, over this situation.  And coming from him, as I said, it is meaningless.  All I want is to explain what happened to me, on my terms, because I’ve found that talking about it is therapeutic.  On one hand, I hate feeling weak, vulnerable, or victimized.  I’d much rather act like I don’t give a shit about him or what he did, and rather that I’m tough, and give no fucks.  But that’s just not the case.  As much as it annoys me to need to show a chink in my armour, the benefit I get from talking about it greatly outweighs that annoyance.

So, there you have it.  I’m not here to hurt anyone. I’m here for purely selfish reasons- to talk about what happened, in hopes it will make me feel better. That’s all.

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The ban on “gay” blood

*** Update: The FDA has recently made alterations to the ban on blood donations from MSM.  Initially, there was a lifetime ban on any man who had ever had sex with a man.  It has now been changed to allow blood donations from any man who had not had sex with a man within the previous 12 months.  This is in line with other high risk groups, who are typically banned from donating blood until 12 months after they have ceased engaging in high risk behaviour.***

If you follow me on Twitter, you’ve likely seen a lot of talk about the ban on blood from MSM (men who have sex with men). There’s a lot of misinformation floating about so I thought I’d try to clear it up. First, a few things you need to know about me. 1) I’ve done a PhD in HIV immunology. I don’t expect anyone to believe what I say based on that criterion alone. But I hope it would give you enough confidence in what I say to evaluate it based on evidence rather than emotion, and to confirm it with your own research. 2) I have always been a supporter of equality and the LGBT community. My opinion on this topic is in no way bigoted or homophobic- it is simply based upon the available medical facts we currently have. It will change as I get new information. 3) Anything discussed here is in the context of HIV demographics within the US. Much of it will be similar in similar countries (Canada, the UK, Australia, most of Europe), as these regions have similar levels of HIV infection in MSM, and similar blood donor policies. It does not extend to sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, or Southeast Asia, where the epidemics are very different. So, let’s start with the basics. 1) Why is there a ban on MSMs from donating blood? When the HIV epidemic was recognized in the early 1980’s, we didn’t have a reliable method to screen donated blood before using it in transfusions. Because of this, a blanket ban was applied on anyone who was considered to be at a higher risk of being HIV+. MSM are at a much higher risk of being HIV+ than the general heterosexual population. In the US, MSM are thought to comprise ~4% of the population, but are responsible for >50% of all current HIV infections, and >60% of all new infections. This makes MSM a “high risk” group for HIV infection. That is not a biased opinion- it is based on the stats I’ve just quoted. Similarly, injection drug users (IDUs) are a high-risk group, as they comprise 16% of the HIV infected people in the USA. Individuals who sell or buy sex are also considered to be high-risk. All of these groups are disallowed from donating blood, based entirely on the fact that they are at a higher risk of being HIV-infected. 2) But isn’t the donated blood tested for HIV before it’s given to people? Yes, it is! All blood is screened to be sure it is free from HIV, HCV, HBV and a host of other things I’m less familiar with. The trouble is this test is not 100% foolproof. There is a possibility that blood may be screened as HIV-uninfected but in fact be HIV+. More importantly, the test itself has a flaw in that it cannot detect HIV in the blood if the infection occurred in the last 7 days. That means if I become HIV+ today, and donate blood tomorrow, it would be screened as safe, when in fact it is not. Because the test is imperfect, we have additional screening criteria to decide who can safely donate blood. Anyone who falls into high-risk categories, for this reason, is not allowed to donate. Consider it this way. With our current demographic of blood donors, there is likely to be some HIV+ blood that is donated. We rely on the screening of this blood to catch any donations that are HIV+. If we removed the ban and allowed high-risk individuals to donate, it would increase the amount of HIV+ blood in the blood bank. This means that we’d have to rely more heavily on blood testing, which we know to be imperfect, to detect these infected samples. That, in itself, increases the risk that the test will fail, and HIV+ blood will slip through and be used in a transfusion. 3) Isn’t it ‘close enough’ to perfect? Seems pretty unlikely that transmission could occur! No. With our current system, the odds of a transfusion leading to an HIV infection is 1 in 2,000,000. My understanding is a transmission event from a transfusion hasn’t occurred in nearly a decade in Canada, the US, or the UK. This system is working. If we wanted to change the donor criteria to allow high-risk individuals to donate, we would need to be CERTAIN that doing so would not increase the risk of transmission. Any increase in risk above zero is completely unacceptable, and considering that we have enough donor blood to fill the need, it’s unnecessary. 4) No! Blood banks always need more blood! This is true. Blood banks are always asking for more blood. But the truth of the matter is, no matter how “critical” our need is for more donated blood, people simply do not die due to a donated blood shortage. I’ve yet to see a single case of this. At worst, some elective surgeries have been postponed while the blood supplies are low. That’s it. Everything here is based on risk vs. reward. Currently, our system allows for very low risk of HIV transmission, while filling the need of blood within our donation system. Increasing the pool of donors by including MSM doesn’t benefit us enough to justify a potential increase in risk of HIV transmission. 5) But not all MSM are high risk! This is discrimination! That’s true. There are thousands of MSM who are HIV-negative, in long-term relationships, or practice safe sex. The trouble is, despite this, we have not found additional screening criteria (safe sex practices, monogamy, etc) that identify MSM that are as “low risk” as groups that are currently allowed to donate. Until we can do that, it is simply not reasonable to potentially increase the risk of transmitting HIV by allowing high-risk groups to donate. Now, please listen. This DOES NOT mean that all MSM have ‘dirty blood’. It DOES NOT mean we assume all MSM are promiscuous. All this means is that we simply cannot reliably differentiate between truly high-risk MSM, and those who would be considered low-risk. Without being able to do this, it is unreasonable to lift the ban. Until we know for certain what the change in the level of risk is, it is unreasonable to lift the ban. 6) Other high-risk groups can donate! This is just bigotry! It’s not. It’s really, really not. Lesbians are welcome to donate because they are one of the lowest risk groups for HIV infection on earth. This ban IS partially based on “who you’re sleeping with”- because men having sex with men is inherently a ‘risky behaviour’ in this context. That does not mean we’re discriminating. It simply means we’ve identified where the risk is, and we’re doing what we can to reduce it. It’s been pointed out that other groups have a high prevalence of HIV, such as African Americans. This is true. However, the majority of male African Americans at a higher risk of HIV are also MSM, so by disallowing MSM from donating, this prevalence is greatly decreased. The same is true of individuals in the 18-24 year old age bracket, who are at an increased risk of being HIV-infected. And, despite the fact these other ‘potentially high-risk’ individuals can donate, our system is still working, as described above. In summary, I think the point can be made thusly- Our number one priority is to make donated blood as safe as possible. There is no right to donate blood- but every individual should be guaranteed a safe blood transfusion to the best of our abilities. So if this means we have to exclude certain groups from donating, we will, until it can be shown that allowing them to donate will not increase the risk of transmission. HIV stats in MSM in the USA: http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/risk/gender/msm/facts/index.html FDA basics of transfusion transmission: http://www.fda.gov/BiologicsBloodVaccines/BloodBloodProducts/QuestionsaboutBlood/ucm108186.htm Female-to-female HIV transmission: http://www.aidsmap.com/Female-to-female-sexual-transmission/page/1323529/

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My Hippie Outlook on Life

My blog typically has three different kinds of posts

1) Rants about religion

2) Rants about people who rant about religion

3) Really angry rants about science

Today, I will talk about none of those things.

‘But, Mel!’ you may ask. ‘WHAT ELSE COULD YOU POSSIBLY HAVE TO SAY!’

Fuck you guys. I’m multidimensional.

I’ve got an incredible number of big changes happening in my life right now.  For one, I’m currently writing my thesis, which I really should be working on right now instead of writing a silly blog post.  I keep my data up in the background so I feel like I’m working.

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Anyway.  With the many big changes, I’ve come to some realizations about this thing called ‘life’, how I was living it, and how I feel I SHOULD be living it instead.

Revelation #1: There is no “formula” for life

I’ve spent a great deal of my 28 years trying to fit myself into this pre-planned ‘life structure’ that I always assumed I wanted.  Go to school. Get married. Get a house. Have kids. Work, work, work. Do taxes. Die.  Plus a few other things, surely.  But that was the basic life plan that I expected out of myself and that I assumed everyone expected of me.  I got a fair way through that plan before I stopped and realized something- It’s not for everyone.  Nor should it be expected that everyone will fit into this idea of what a ‘good’ life contains.  Maybe you’d rather be single, travel the world, and have some experiences rather than do nothing but watch your bank account grow from your 3 bedroom house in suburbia.  

The other part of this revelation is that I don’t think many people are aware of it.  Everyone seems to want some variation of this plan.  Everyone who HAS some variation of this plan seems to think it’s the only way to live.  But I’m learning that it isn’t.  It’s not for everyone.  It’s not for me.  I crave adventure. Fun. Excitement.  I want to take risks, try new things, go weird places and have some amazing experiences to look back on.  This is the only way I can see making it to the end of my life with no regrets.  

Conversely, of course, this life isn’t for everyone, either.  A lot of people are probably very happy with 2.5 kids and a minivan and a perfectly manicured lawn etc etc.  Kudos, friends.  But I wonder how many more are living those lives because it’s what they thought they wanted, and what was expected, only to eventually wonder what else might be out there.  Well, I intend to find out and, don’t worry- I’ll report back.

Revelation #2: There are no mistakes in life.

I’m one of those people who tends to second guess every decision I’ve ever made, regardless of how big or small it may be.  I’ve spent my life petrified of making the ‘wrong’ decisions.  I broke up with a boyfriend in my early 20’s, and I recall my mother saying to me, “Melissa, I’m worried that you’re making decisions that are going to negatively impact your life in the long term”.  Which, of course, is Mom-speak for “Why the fuck did you break up with that nice boy who wanted a family you colossal idiot?”  It’s thoughts like this that have plagued me my entire life.  Is this the ‘right’ decision? What if it’s the wrong one? What if I regret this? What if, what if, what if. You can drive yourself crazy playing the ‘what if’ game.

This second revelation came recently, while making a very difficult decision and spending many sleepless, tearful nights wondering ‘what if’.  I’ve realized there are no mistakes in life, but only choices.  You make decisions every day.  Sometimes the consequences are favourable, sometimes they aren’t.  Sometimes they’re what you expected, and more often, they aren’t.  The point is not that you’ve made a good or bad decision, but that you can take whatever the consequences are, deal with them, and move on, for better or worse.  You can handle it.  You may look back on life and regret things, and think, “I made the wrong choice. That was a mistake.”  But really, all you need is a different perspective.  For all you know, making a different choice, the ‘right’ choice in hindsight, may have led you down a path that was 10 times worse than where you are now.  Don’t dwell on what could have been, or what is the ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ choice to make.  They’re just choices.  Make them, deal with the outcomes, and move on.  

Revelation #3: It’s ok to be selfish.

Another good/bad character trait of mine is a desperate desire to please everyone all the time.  On the one hand, this is excellent, because it tends to make people like me very much and very easily.  But it’s also a bad thing, as I’m often willing to give up a lot of my own happiness to satisfy the needs of others.  There needs to be a healthy balance, and I’ve come to realize that, when it comes to your own happiness, it’s ok to be selfish.  Maybe ending that relationship, or leaving that job, or moving to a new city, would disappoint your partner, friends, or family.  But that can’t be your only consideration.  Think about yourself.  Think about your happiness.  Think about YOUR future.

As an atheist, I am painfully aware that life only happens this one time.  You don’t get another kick at the can.  So, you’d best be sure that this life you’re living, every day, right now, is what you want it to be.  You’d better make sure you’re spending it as happy and fulfilled as possible.  Of course, it’s very important to consider how your actions will affect others, especially if it will impact them negatively.  But truly, this is your life- YOUR life- and to live it without striving to grab as much happiness as possible would seem to be a terrible waste.  

So, there you have it.  This is my new hippie mantra- don’t be stressed about life, but just live it, enjoy it, and take things as they come, day by day, moment by moment.  If you can spend most of the time through most of your days being happy, fulfilled, excited, inspired and loved- You’re doing ok.

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The Religious Crutch

My grandmother will turn 85 this November.  She is a sweet, kind, loving woman, who always has fresh baked cookies in her apartment just like you’d expect a grandmother to.  She is funny, intelligent, and still remarkably ‘with it’ despite her advancing years.  She raised 4 children, and has 10 grandchildren and 4 great grandchildren.  She also happens to be a devout Christian.

My grandmother goes to church without fail every Sunday.  She sings in the church choir, even though she has trouble reading the words sometimes and happily admits to ‘faking it’. She confessed to me once, years ago, that she had always believed in god, but had only really begun to appreciate her need for religion as she began to grow old and wonder about her mortality.

My grandmother was married to my grandfather for 59 years.  I don’t believe in soul mates, but if there was such a thing, I think my grandparents would have qualified. They were the couple you’d see walking together in the park on a Saturday afternoon, holding hands like lovestruck teenagers.  She still laughed at his jokes and stories, despite having heard them all dozens of times.  He still kissed her hand and told her he loved her.  When the dementia began to steal him away from her, she visited him in the hospital every day, no longer able to properly care for him at the home they shared.  If he woke up in the hospital and she wasn’t there, he’d whistle. The nurses never knew why, until my dad explained it to them with a sad smile. Whenever they got separated in the grocery store, my grandfather would whistle so my grandmother would know where to find him.

My grandfather died in the fall of 2010.  Though grandma has managed to go on in her own way without him, speaking with her, it’s clear that a piece of her died with him.

If you know me, you should be well aware that I don’t believe in god.  I don’t believe my grandfather is in some everlasting paradise, watching over the rest of us here on earth.  I don’t believe I’ll ever see him again.  I’ve made peace with that.  But my grandmother does believe it.  She lives every day with hope, knowing in her heart that grandpa is still with her, watching over her, and waiting to welcome her back into his arms when she dies and joins him in heaven.  It makes me cry as I write this, because I wish so badly that it were true.  I wish they would see each other again one day.  But my belief that this is a fairytale doesn’t make it any less real for her.  I can only imagine how much comfort this thought brings to her when she misses him, or when she starts to wonder what death is like.  I imagine it’s not nearly as frightening when she thinks my grandfather is already there, probably back on the first farm they shared together in rural Saskatchewan, waiting to welcome her home.

When I think about this, I don’t care that it’s a fantasy. I don’t care that it’s not real, or that my grandmother is ignorant, or blind, or brainwashed. I don’t care. I want it to be as real to her as it can be. I want her to get as much comfort from that belief as she can.  People say religion is a ‘crutch’, and maybe it is- but this is not one crutch I would ever want to take away from her.  She’s 85 years old. She needs it, and I’m just not that cruel.

Religion is, at the very least, an indirect cause of a lot of suffering on this earth. I know that.  But my grandmother being comforted by the idea of heaven and seeing my grandfather again does not in any way contribute to this suffering.  She doesn’t oppose abortion. She doesn’t hate homosexuals. She doesn’t think women should be subservient. She’s just as horrified as the rest of us when religiously fuelled fighting occurs and innocent lives are lost.  She is a good person, and her belief in god and heaven and an afterlife spent with her ‘soul mate’ of 59 years doesn’t change that.

Why have I told you this? Because I think it’s a pretty good model of your ‘average’ religious person.  Your ‘average’ religious person doesn’t hate based on what an ancient book says.  They don’t protest abortion clinics or gay rights rallies.  They are just good, decent people like you and I, but they happen to believe in god and an afterlife, and find comfort in that belief.  Who am I to try and take that away from any of them?

I’m all for fighting against hatred, discrimination, inequality, and any of the other negative effects religion may have on our society. But outside of this, I just have no interest in ‘converting’ anyone to atheism.  I have no interest in knocking out the religious crutch of the average decent Christian, just so I can say “AHA! I’m right!”.  People have asked me repeatedly over the last several months why I don’t debate theists anymore, and it is just for this reason.  I don’t need to show everyone how smart I am.  I don’t need to try and convert perfectly happy, good people to atheism just for the hell of it. I don’t have the time, or interest, to invest in hashing and re-hashing the same arguments with people who probably aren’t open to hearing them.  15 year olds who believe in god and think atheism requires faith don’t need to be mocked and ridiculed.  Just who are they really hurting, anyway? No one, I’d wager.  I know some will claim they’ve helped several dozen theists ‘see the light’.  Well, more power to you.  But to me, my time can be much better spent doing things that don’t include bothering perfectly happy, harmless people.  It affects me not in the slightest.  I have no interest in potentially negatively impacting their lives either by exposing them to mockery, or by shattering a belief system that does nothing but bring them hope and happiness.  And besides- if a single conversation with me on Twitter is enough to convert them to atheism, I suspect they’d have gotten there eventually, one way or another.

I don’t believe in god, heaven, hell, or that I’ll be reunited with departed loved ones some day.  But you’d better believe that when I visit my grandmother and she tells me how she just can’t wait to see my grandfather again, all I’m ever going to do is squeeze her hand, smile, and tell her that I can’t wait, either.

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Eating Animals and Wearing Leather: Why We’re All Hypocrites

When it comes to the internet, I have some general ground rules that I try to follow, and suggest everyone else follow as well.

1) Never read the comments on online news stories.
Seriously. Don’t fucking do it. You will lose faith in humanity faster than reading the timeline of someone on Twitter whose bio reads “I love God, guns, and ‘Murica!”

2) NEVER READ THE COMMENTS ON ONLINE NEWS STORIES.
In case it wasn’t clear enough the first time.

3) Avoid emotional topics like circumcision and vegetarianism/veganism.
Not that we shouldn’t talk about these things- but great care is needed when discussing emotional issues, as it is often hard to separate the emotions from the actual discussion points.

That being said, I just got finished reading the comments on several news stories and this post is all about vegetarianism and what we eat.

So, here’s how the world works. Some people are vegetarian. Some are vegan. Some are omnivores. Some presumably eat nothing but chocolate (choclovores? I aspire to this). Some people have reasons for their eating habits. Some do it just because it’s what they’ve always done. I was the latter until last year.

Now, here’s the thing that fucking kills me. It is great to have passion, whether it be for better treatment of animals, sustainability of the planet, or the fact that everyone should always eat nothing but chocolate- but when that crosses the line from ‘passion’ to ‘cunty, judgemental rage’, it may be time to take a step back.

I am a vegetarian. This is a relatively new change in my life. This time last year, I was laughing at people who tried to tell me vegetarianism was a realistic life choice, because, to quote myself, ‘cows taste good!’ (My opinion on that hasn’t changed, to be clear)

I grew up on a cattle farm in the middle of nowhere in a sparsely populated province in the middle of nowhere in the sparsely populated country of Canada. My dad made a living raising cattle. I helped to raise them, forking hay, cutting feed, unfreezing water bowls in the dead of winter. Our freezer was permanently stocked with packages and packages of ground beef, steak, roasts, etc etc etc. We ate cow. A lot. That’s how I was raised. My dad always treated his cattle well, and when the freezer was low, he’d send off one of the cows he’d raised to the local butcher and WHAM. Freezer was bountiful once again. This was my understanding of how the food processing system worked.

Why am I telling you this? Because it took me 27 years of life to realize that just because this is how I was raised, doesn’t necessarily make it ‘normal’, or ‘right’, or ‘moral’. Initially, when it was suggested to me that eating meat was not moral, I was offended. Which is saying something, because crazy theists insult me all day long, and fewer fucks I could not give. But after taking a step back, and not taking it so personally, I came to a roundabout conclusion.

We are all immoral. In some way or another, not one of us is perfectly moral. I think we can probably all agree that needlessly killing an animal is not the most ethical or moral outcome. Even people who want to deny this know it to be true, based solely on the fact that we are typically outraged when dolphins are slaughtered or captured in Taiji for display in ‘marine parks’, healthy but ‘genetically unimportant’ giraffes are ‘surplussed’, or we see pictures of proud hunters holding up the head of the lion they just shot. Other than in the most extreme of individuals (those who, somehow, find slaughtering animals to be an enjoyable ‘sport’, which I would equate more to some sort of psychosis), we mostly feel remorse for the animals killed, and anger toward those who killed them. This reaction, to me, is normal.

This is the reaction I’ve always had. Animal suffering often leaves me in tears. I cannot change the channel quickly enough during commercials about animal abuse (except, perhaps, when a Tyler Perry show comes on) (though being forced to watch Tyler Perry could also be considered animal abuse). Many of us feel this way about animals-it is the natural, ingrained, empathetic response to seeing another creature suffering or dying. But it did eventually dawn on me, after 27 years, that there was a strange disconnect. Watching an abused dog crying would literally reduce me to tears, as I devoured the flesh of a slaughtered cow for dinner without a second thought. I came to the conclusion that I’d been a terrible hypocrite my entire life. How could I reasonably be outraged that dolphins were being killed and sold for meat when I gave zero fucks not only about the innumerable cows, pigs, etc being killed and consumed, BY ME, in my own country? And not only being killed, but, by my understanding, raised typically in absolutely abhorrent conditions?

So I gave up meat. It was mostly because I could no longer justify to myself why I could eat it while being visibly upset by other forms of animal suffering- and partly because I flatly refuse to watch documentaries on the horrors of factory farming. I decided that if I was not willing to watch what the animals go through in order to make it to my dinner table (I’m not), I shouldn’t be eating them.

Now, here’s a very important point. I am not here to tell anyone who decides to eat meat that they are immoral, or I am better than them, for not eating meat. Because that is fucking douchey, ridiculous, and so hypocritical that I can’t stand it. No, I don’t eat meat. But I have an absolutely gorgeous leather jacket in my closet that I love and would buy again if I didn’t already own it. I eat eggs and cheese with absolute abandon because I LOVE THEM AND YOU CAN’T TAKE THEM AWAY FROM ME. This is my choice. I can choose to do what I can to make myself better, and at this point, it is removing meat from my diet (and eliminating products that are tested on animals). I find a vegetarian diet easy, but I understand that not everyone would find it as easy as me, and I am happy to tell you right now it is downright cunty for anyone to try and dictate how someone else lives their life. Ok, you are a hardcore vegan who avoids anything used from or tested on animals. I applaud your commitment- very much, and with absolutely no sarcasm. But don’t run around screaming ‘IMMORAL’ at every vegetarian or meat eater when you do so wearing a t-shirt that was stitched by a child in a sweat shop in Asia, or eating fruit picked by a worker in Guatemala making 10 cents a day. Maybe you eat meat, but spend all of your free time working at the local soup kitchen, or campaigning to end sex trafficking. There are so many causes to be passionate about, and so many ways to be better and leave a good mark on the world. Putting people down for those choices, and judging them harshly, is no way to make them see your point. I think educating people on where their food comes from is very important, but being passionate to the point of alienating an otherwise potentially receptive audience does your cause no good.

There is tension on both sides, of course. While I have seen my fair share of preachy vegans, I’ve also seen a lot more unbelievably defensive, ignorant meat eaters.

When I finally told my mother in law I was vegetarian, this was the verbatim conversation we had.

Me: “I’m a vegetarian.”
Her: “Oh… so you don’t eat meat anymore?”
Me: “Nope.”
Her: “How about fish?”
Me: “Nope.”
Her: “…. What about chicken?”
Me: “……….”

This conversation really just made me laugh, but I think it highlights the ignorance of many people, at least in my area, with respect to food choices. I don’t blame them- I was just as ignorant not so long ago. For many I expect it is a result of really just not thinking about it before- another position I can understand.

A less ha-ha conversation occurred with one of my aunts at Christmas.

Me: “I’m a vegetarian.”
Her: “Oh… why?”
Me: “Ummm… for health reasons, sustainability issues, and I don’t agree with the treatment of animals in-”
Her: “Well your dad, and entire family, raises cattle. Do you think THEY abuse them too?”
Me: “…. dafuq?”

I think it is natural for meat eaters to get defensive when discussing vegetarianism, as I once did. It’s almost impossible as a vegetarian to outline your reasons for choosing that lifestyle without sounding like you’re judging anyone who DOESN’T choose that lifestyle. But I am here to tell you- I do not judge you, as I would expect a strict vegan not to judge me as I fry up some delicious halloumi cheese for my salad.

So what is my point? TWO FOLD! No, wait. Three fold.

1) I have yet to hear an argument for why it’s reasonable to be outraged at some kinds of animal abuse and not others- and I think a lot of meat eaters, especially the excellent free thinking ones, struggle with this conundrum as well
2) Regardless of your dietary choices, we should each try to do what we can, within our means, to be more moral people
3) Just don’t be a judgemental asshole. That’s a good general life rule.

As an awesome friend of mine once said… “I don’t eat meat, but I’m not a dick about it.”

I think that is the perfect sentiment. Do what you can in your own life to better yourself, be passionate about the causes you choose, and live in a way that is suitable for you. But don’t be a dick about it.

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The Case for Kindness

I’ve contemplated writing about this for a long time. As some of you will recall, I wrote a post back in July basically calling all atheist tweeters assholes (what do you want, I was drunk!). Since then, I’ve spent some time thinking in more depth about what we “do” on Twitter.

Let me start with the obligatory disclaimer: I am not here to tell anyone what or how to tweet. At all. Ever. Under any circumstances. In fact, if anyone DOES tell you how to tweet, I suggest you tell them to kindly fuck off. It’s your account- of course you should do with it as you see fit. But, as you are no doubt aware, I have opinions, and tend to take to my personal blog to express those opinions. I don’t expect anyone to necessarily agree with me, but if this blog greatly offends you- too goddamn fucking bad. Fuck off back to twitter with your hurt feelings.

As you all know, there is a very common “method” used by atheists on twitter- to seek out theists who have said something dumb about atheism, to quote that dumb comment, and add their own comment- often mocking, or correcting, what that theist has said. We’ve all seen this. Most of us have done it at one point or another. I have followed and still do follow many people who employ this tactic.

Some will tell you they have the pure as fucking snow intention of simply trying to educate or change minds. That’s a lovely goal, if you have it. However, I am unconvinced that finding a dumb statement, and adding “#Moron” or “Have you hit your head?” or “Are you on drugs?” is actually said with any intention of “educating”. These tweets are clearly made in an attempt to be funny. There’s nothing wrong with that. But don’t piss on me and tell me it’s raining. If this is your style, then by all means, carry on. But at least have the honesty to admit what you’re doing- making a joke. Not trying to educate.

I used to do this. However, I came to the realization that making these jokes was not worth it for the result I saw quite commonly- the theist in question was suddenly the centre of obviously unwanted attention, and being tweeted by people they’d never spoken to about some off the cuff remark they had made and probably thought nothing of. As you know, these responses from other atheists are sometimes quite rude, insulting, etc- which obviously none of us want. But other times it’s just them being infiltrated with mentions they have no interest in seeing, whether they are insulting or not. Why would I want to be the reason they were exposed to that unwanted attention? I don’t. It doesn’t sit well with me- so I don’t do it. If you draw the line somewhere else, that’s understandable. Obviously, I am not responsible for what other people tweet, and neither are you. But I can recognize that if, for example, I hadn’t quoted that theist who said “Atheists are angry!”, they would not have been inundated with dozens of unwanted tweets and unwanted attention.

Apparently, the opinion that we can all be nicer, is a rather controversial one. Here are just a few of the responses I have seen to it:

“Twitter is a public forum! If you tweet, you want your tweets seen by as many people as possible!”
Yes. Twitter is public. We all know that. However, I’d doubt that most people would expect, after tweeting a poorly thought out statement about atheism, to be ridiculed, mocked, and insulted by a barrage of ‘angry’ atheists. In many cases, I doubt they expected anyone besides their 100 followers to see it. Very, very few of them are hurting anyone, and I can’t understand why we can’t just leave them be.

“Then they should lock their accounts or write in a diary!”
I won’t lie- statements like this irk me. Everyone should feel free to tweet their thoughts on their own personal twitter page. For us to seek them out, mock what they’ve said, and then tell them essentially to suck it up or get off twitter, screams “bully” to me. I know, atheists are terribly offended at the notion someone thinks they display bullying behaviour. Well, sorry, but I don’t really give a fuck. That’s my opinion. You may well harbour a different view- that’s what makes us all individuals. It’s also rather ironically amusing to see people complaining that subtweets and rants are “mean”, while consistently badgering theists who are minding their own business and really hurting no one by saying something silly about atheism. I guess I’ve come to see that in some cases (not all, to be sure), we are more than willing to dish out the criticism, and justify it by saying “twitter is a public forum”, but can’t handle that same criticism when it comes back to us.

“Mel, your tweets get RT’d into theist timelines and they are probably SUPER offended!”
I’m sure they do get RT’d into theist’s TLs from time to time. If a theist happened upon my page I have no doubt they’d be offended at the things I say about religion. The point is that we all have personal boundaries that we draw for what we feel is acceptable and unacceptable. I feel I am well within reason to tweet whatever the fuck I feel like on my own page- whether that be pointing out absurdities in religion or making fun of facebook and Nickelback- as is anyone else. That is my entire point- we should all feel comfortable tweeting exactly what we want on our own pages, whether we are atheists, theists, or anyone else. I do not feel like it is reasonable to seek out people who are minding their own business, albeit saying something silly about atheism, and mock them, or expose them to people who will no doubt mock them. To my mind, there is a very clear and obvious difference, here.

“You tweet Joyce Meyer and the Pope all the time you dumb hypocrite!!!!!”
Yes. I do. This is another situation in which I feel the line is quite obvious, but allow me to explain. For one, I doubt very much any of the relatively “famous” theists I tweet even run their own accounts, let alone sift through the no doubt thousands of mentions they get every day. Second, these people are in the public eye, and face this kind of opposition frequently. Lastly, and most importantly, many of them profit off of this kind of misinformation. Many of them expose others to the ignorance they proudly parade on Twitter, and suck them into that same vortex of ignorance. These people have carefully considered their positions and would no doubt stand by them when challenged. These are not 18-year-old theists who tweeted something without thinking to their 75 followers and are suddenly inundated with unwanted attention. Again- this is a clear and obvious difference, to me.

I, like most of you, am constantly trying to make myself better. I am not perfect. But I’m trying. In this case, I have reached the conclusion that the benefit of having people laugh at a joke I’ve made at the expense of someone else is not worth the cost of potentially upsetting that person or giving them unwanted attention. And to be quite honest, I’ve found that people respond far better to well thought out or amusing stand alone tweets than any tweet making fun of a theist.

So, what’s my point? My point is we can all stand to be kinder. We can all stand to be more mindful of what we say, who we say it to, and what our personal motives are for saying those things. We can consider what the benefits and costs are of mocking complete strangers online. And overall, my point is that minds do change. They change through intelligent discussions, through education, and through experience. But I remain entirely unconvinced that they change through mockery, insults, and ridicule- on Twitter, or anywhere else.

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