bookmark_borderJune, the month of exclusion and discrimination

June used to be a month that I looked forward to. It marked the beginning of summer, with flowers blooming, school ending for the year, and rain generally absent. Now, I dread the month of June, and it has nothing to do with the cold, windy, and wet weather that has been occurring recently.

June marks Pride Month, as well as Juneteenth. Two observances that acknowledge, honor, recognize, and celebrate certain politically favored groups of people, while excluding everyone else. Two observances that are popularly perceived as being all about equality, diversity, and inclusion, while in reality being about the exact opposite. June has become the month of conformity, exclusion, and discrimination.

To begin with, take the Pride flag. I don’t have a problem with the original version of this flag, with six stripes in the colors of the rainbow. But I have a problem with the version that is currently favored, the version that has become pervasive everywhere you look, especially during the month of June. This is the flag that, in addition to the rainbow stripes, includes a triangle of white, light blue, and pink to symbolize trans people, as well as stripes of black and brown to symbolize the experiences of LGBTQ+ people of color. This, to put it bluntly, is racist. Those who created this flag and those who choose to display it have chosen to give special recognition to black and brown people, while giving no equivalent recognition to white people. (One might point out that the color white does appear on the flag, but its intention is to symbolize trans people along with blue and pink, not to represent white people.) There is no justifiable reason for doing this. The rainbow flag already symbolized LGBTQ+ people of all races equally. There is nothing about a rainbow-striped flag that could be construed to only represent white people. Whoever is responsible for adding the black and brown stripes must have either interpreted the rainbow flag as only representing white people, which is false, or acknowledged that the rainbow flag already represents all races but decided that black and brown people deserve additional recognition while white people do not, which is racist. Either way, the Pride flag, as it is most commonly displayed today, is racially discriminatory.

The racist Pride flag is fitting, the perfect symbol for the intolerant attitudes that are so prevalent in our society. According to our society’s dominant ideology, some people deserve to be acknowledged, honored, included, represented, and celebrated, while others do not. Some people’s feelings, viewpoints, perspectives, and experiences matter, while other people’s do not. 

The past three years have been nothing short of traumatizing and soul-crushing for me as an autistic person who loves statues and history. For three years, people have intentionally destroyed everything in the world that makes my life worth living. They have inflicted horrific and indescribable pain, on purpose. They have set out to deliberately remove each and every work of public art that makes me feel included. And they have done so with unimaginable cruelty, violence, and brutality. Whether in the form of angry mobs, self-righteous public officials, or faceless bureaucracies, society has decided to physically alter the public spaces of cities and towns to ensure that people like me feel unwelcome and excluded. To ensure that people like me will never again have any possibility of feeling happiness, joy, or belonging.

And then, as if all this weren’t bad enough, society decided to characterize the events that I’ve just described as “hope” and “healing.”

Just like society has decided that it is not enough not to be racist, but that one must be actively anti-racist, society has not merely decided that I do not deserve to be acknowledged, honored, included, represented, or celebrated. Society has decided, if such things are even possible, that I deserve to be actively anti-acknowledged, actively anti-honored, actively anti-included, actively anti-represented, and actively anti-celebrated. 

I am not black. I am not gay, or trans, or queer. I am different. I have been different my entire life. For as long as I can remember, I have talked differently, walked differently, learned differently, and thought differently. I wore dresses, pigtails, and Mary Janes, while everyone else wore tight jeans and sweatshirts. I excelled at reading, writing, math, and memorizing facts, but wasn’t able to hold a conversation, hit a baseball with a bat, ride a bike, or tie my shoes, all things that my peers did effortlessly. People didn’t understand why I did the things I did, and I didn’t understand why they did the things they did, either. People didn’t like me. I had few friends and was bullied. Historical figures were the only thing that made my life worth living. The fact that statues of them existed in public places was the only thing that made me feel included, made me feel seen, and made me feel that life was worth living.

And then society decided to take that away. Society decided to spend time, money, and effort to destroy what made my life worth living. To ensure that I would never again feel welcomed or included when I set foot in a public place. 

There was never really a word for what made me different. It was just me being eccentric, or deviant, or weird, or messed-up. It was just another Marissa thing. Me doing or saying something that didn’t make sense. Me being completely quiet while the other kids told inside jokes and swapped stories. Me being unable to understand something that to others was obvious. I know now that the word is autism. But I didn’t know it then. Queer people, trans people, black people, indigenous people, Jewish people… all these groups have a word for what makes them different from the majority. When there is a word for what makes you different, it means that there are other people who share the same difference as you. It means you are not alone. Perhaps you might feel alienated or excluded in the larger society, but there is always a group of like people that you can return to, a community that will provide acceptance, empathy, belonging, and support. Not so for me. Even among my immediate family, I was judged, stigmatized, shamed, and criticized. I was different from them, and they didn’t understand me. In short, I have always been alone. 

For this reason, I have felt different and alone in a way that queer people and black people have never experienced. I have felt different and alone in a more profound sense than people who can easily put a label on their differences. And this was before society decided to destroy everything that made my life worth living. 

If society truly cared about diversity and inclusion, it would be going out of its way to acknowledge, honor, recognize, and celebrate me, not actively making me feel excluded. If society truly cared about diversity and inclusion, it would be raising funds, hiring artists, and making plans for the creation of additional Confederate statues and Christopher Columbus statues, not doing the utterly sickening and horrific things that it did to these statues.

Because Confederate statues and Columbus statues symbolize people who are different. They symbolize people like me. By erecting them in public spaces, our society was stating that people like me do, indeed, have a right to exist. But the death of George Floyd caused society to change its mind about that. Using some sick, warped version of logic that I will never fully comprehend, society decided that for the actions of Derek Chauvin, I deserve the death penalty. 

It is beyond hurtful that after three years of inflicting horrific and indescribable pain on me because I am different, after three years of telling me in the most brutal, cruel, and violent possible way that I don’t have the right to exist, society would go out of its way to celebrate gay people and black people. To think that this constitutes inclusion, and diversity, and treating everyone equally, demonstrates a complete lack of empathy. I understand that the tone of this blog post might be perceived as angry and negative, but I truly believe that Pride and Juneteenth are neither uplifting nor positive. They are examples of how our society acknowledges, honors, includes, and celebrates some people while excluding, humiliating, and viciously attacking others. Whenever I see that hideous black and brown rainbow flag, see a sign in a store window expressing solidarity with the LGBTQ or black community, or hear of a Pride or Juneteenth celebration, I am being told that I am not a person and that my feelings do not matter. 

I don’t have anything against queer people or trans people or black people. What I have a problem with is society’s inconsistency, hypocrisy, and intolerance. I believe in treating everyone equally. I believe that everyone should be included. By celebrating Pride and Juneteenth, after three years of brutally, cruelly, and violently telling me that I don’t deserve to be represented or included, society accomplishes the opposite of that. If queer people and trans people and black people are going to be accepted and celebrated, then I deserve to be accepted and celebrated as well. If the pain of queer people and trans people and black people is going to be acknowledged, then I deserve to have my pain acknowledged, too. 

bookmark_borderMy tribute to Ted Kaczynski

Kaczynski in 1968, as an assistant professor at UC Berkeley

Theodore John Kaczynski (May 22, 1942 – June 10, 2023)

Earlier this month, Ted Kaczynski, also known as the “Unabomber,” passed away. Kaczynski, age 81, was residing at the federal prison FMC Butner in North Carolina and was suffering from advanced and incurable cancer.

Kaczynski is best known for having conducted a bombing campaign from 1978 to 1995, killing three people and injuring 23. Living in a primitive cabin in a Montana forest, he meticulously created explosive devices and mailed them to various people, including professors, scientists, airline and advertising executives, lobbyists, and computer store owners. His motivation was a fierce opposition to modern society, which he believed was destructive to human dignity and freedom. Kaczynski explained his views in a manifesto called “Industrial Society and Its Future.”

Ted Kaczynski was one of the most remarkable people ever to walk the earth. He was a murderer and a terrorist; that much is true. At the same time, I truly admire Ted Kaczynski, as strange as it might be to say such a thing about a murderer and terrorist.

Kaczynski had an IQ of 167. He was accepted to Harvard at age 15 and became a mathematician, before abandoning both his career and modern life in its entirety to move to the woods. There, he employed his intellectual gifts in constructing increasingly sophisticated bombs. To avoid detection, he enclosed misleading clues in the packages and carefully sanded down the containers to avoid leaving fingerprints. By the time of his arrest in 1996, he was the subject of the most time-consuming and expensive manhunt in the FBI’s history.

According to news reports, Kaczynski ended his own life. This is fitting, because it meant that Kaczynski died on his own terms, which is exactly the way that he lived his life. It is an understatement to say that not many people would give up both a successful career and the comforts of modern life in favor of a solitary existence in a primitive cabin. Equally, it’s an understatement to say that not many people would have the dedication needed to write a 35,000-word manifesto outlining their philosophical beliefs, let alone to undertake a decades-long bombing campaign to fight for those beliefs. At trial, his defense team attempted to use an insanity defense, but Kaczynski rejected this, choosing to stand up for his philosophical beliefs rather than abandon them in the hope of receiving a more lenient sentence. Throughout his time in prison, Kaczynski continued to express his views through frequent correspondence with the outside world (I regret not taking the time to write to him while I still had the opportunity).

A fun fact about Ted Kaczynski is that he became friends with Timothy McVeigh, another murderer and terrorist whom I greatly admire. Before McVeigh’s execution in 2001, they resided together in the federal supermax prison in Florence, Colorado, specifically on a cell block nicknamed “bombers’ row.” The two infamous bombers passed the time by playing cards, swapping magazines, and discussing politics and religion. I am not a very religious person, but I am certain that somewhere, in another world, Ted Kaczynski and Tim McVeigh are hanging out together once more.

Here are a few of my favorite quotes by Ted Kaczynski:

“I am afraid that as the years go by that I may forget, I may begin to lose my memories of the mountains and the woods and that’s what really worries me, that I might lose those memories, and lose that sense of contact with wild nature in general. But I am not afraid they are going to break my spirit.”

“The big problem is that people don’t believe a revolution is possible, and it is not possible precisely because they do not believe it is possible.”

“Imagine a society that subjects people to conditions that make them terribly unhappy, then gives them the drugs to take away their unhappiness… Instead of removing the conditions that make people depressed, modern society gives them antidepressant drugs.”

“I must tell you that mathematicians are not scientists, they are artists. … Apart from the most elementary mathematics, like arithmetic or high school algebra, the symbols, formulas and words of mathematics have no meaning at all.”

“Never lose hope, be persistent and stubborn and never give up. There are many instances in history where apparent losers suddenly turn out to be winners unexpectedly, so you should never conclude all hope is lost.”

Kaczynski’s high school yearbook photo, around age 15

Kaczynski in prison

Undated photo of Kaczynski

bookmark_borderMassachusetts bill H.734, which would ban vaccine mandates

A bill was filed in the Massachusetts House of Representatives which would prevent the Covid vaccine from being required in order to enter businesses, schools, places of public accommodation, and the state of Massachusetts itself. The bill, H.734, was filed by Rep. Peter Durant.

Below is the testimony that I submitted to the Joint Committee on Emergency Preparedness and Management in support of the bill:

I support this bill for a pretty simple reason: the ability to make one’s own medical decisions about one’s own body is a fundamental right. In my opinion, it’s the most fundamental right there is. And I think it’s important to have a law protecting this right.
I believe that all medical procedures should be optional. Nobody should ever be told that they have to get a medical procedure, by their employer, by their school, by the government, or by a public place that they’re trying to go into. A person’s medical decisions and medical information are not their employer’s business, their school’s business, or the government’s business.

I also want to mention that this bill doesn’t only benefit people who don’t want to get the vaccine. It benefits everyone. I happen to be vaccinated, by choice. I was fortunate enough not to have been required to get the vaccine by my employer. But back when the City of Boston had the vaccine mandate for indoor public spaces, I made the decision not to go to any restaurants, bars, museums, concerts, sporting events, or anything in the City of Boston, because I believe that having to provide medical documentation in order to be allowed into a place is just wrong. It felt totalitarian to me, and it felt incompatible with my dignity as a human being, so I chose to miss out on these activities rather than participate in something that I consider to be morally wrong. I think it’s important that such a situation never be allowed to happen again.

It’s not just about a vaccine. It’s about dignity for all people. It’s about the right to medical freedom, the right to autonomy over one’s own body, and the right to privacy. I think it’s important for these basic rights to be protected by the law.

bookmark_borderI want a president who values people as people

The other day, for reasons that I won’t go into in detail, I visited the White House twitter page. This is something that I generally avoid doing, because the Biden administration’s way of looking at the world is so different than mine, that I inevitably become angry and frustrated when reading their public statements on any issue.

The White House’s recent tweets are no exception.

The first thing that stood out to me was the Biden administration’s wrong and illogical way of looking at taxation and spending. Tweet after tweet mentioned the “cost” of tax cuts and how former president Trump allegedly increased the national debt and how “tax giveaways” would “add $3.5 trillion to the debt.” These tweets ignore the fact that tax cuts do not cost anything, because a tax cut does not consist of spending any money but rather consists of collecting less revenue. These tweets also ignore the fact that tax cuts are not “giveaways,” because they do not entail giving anything away to anyone, but rather reducing the amount of money that is being taken. This is so obvious that it shouldn’t even need to be stated, but stealing less of a person’s money is not the same thing as giving that person money.

The other thing that stood out to me is that the Biden administration, to put it bluntly, doesn’t look at people as individuals. It looks at people as members of groups based on gender, race, age, relationship status, and other demographic categories.

On the issue of “gun violence,” why does the Biden administration only care about children? Silly me, but I thought that it is sad whenever an innocent person is lost to violence, no matter how old the person is. But apparently, to the Biden administration, adults’ lives are not important.

In this tweet, in addition to ageism, the Biden administration also displays a lack of understanding of basic moral principles. Guns are not a killer of anyone. People using guns might be the number one killer of children in America, but to equate people who use guns with the guns themselves completely ignores the role of the individual people who choose to commit mass shootings.

Celebrating mothers is perfectly fine, but people who don’t have children also deserve to be celebrated.

Isn’t it also possible for junk fees to add up to hundreds of dollars a year for hardworking people? Apparently, to the White House, it’s perfectly fine for single people without children to pay unfair charges to hotels, airlines, and cable companies, as long as families don’t have to pay those charges. Protecting individual people from junk fees apparently is not important to the Biden administration.

Obviously, anti-Semitism is a bad thing. But instead of singling out Jewish people for special protections, why not simply treat everyone equally? Why not condemn, and take action against, all prejudice and discrimination? Second Gentleman Emhoff claims that the administration is taking “bold action” to confront bigotry and hate in all their forms, but the administration’s public statements and policy positions demonstrate otherwise. The administration regularly goes out of its way to condemn bigotry and hate against certain groups, while remaining completely indifferent to much more egregious and widespread bigotry and hate against other people and groups who happen not to be politically favored.

Here, the Biden administration again singles out a group of people for special recognition based on their demographic characteristics. People of Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander descent are praised for shaping and strengthening the fabric of our nation, while everyone else is ignored.

Putting money back in the pockets of hardworking people seems not to matter to the Biden administration. Capping the price of insulin saves money for seniors who are single, just as it does for those who are part of families. But apparently, the financial well-being of single people is not considered important.

In conclusion, I want a president who values people as people, not a president who values people only due to their role as part of a family, or their membership in a particular demographic group. I want a president who treats everyone equally and includes everyone, not a president who singles out favored groups for special praise, recognition, and attention while treating everyone else like chopped liver. Every person is an individual, and every person matters by virtue of being an individual person. I want a president who recognizes that basic moral fact.