Friday, June 25, 2010

Cincinnati Pride or Privilege?

Cincinnati Pride is approaching, and this year issues have gone beyond the usual problems with Pride. Pride is a clusterfuck or issues, visibility, consumerism and corporatization, access, politics... but this I guess it was bored of the old problems and wanted something new. One issue vexing Cincinnati Pride this year is location. Pride has moved from its ‘gayborhood’ home to Cincinnati's downtown center, a change which has sparked some controversy. But there is another issue that is less obvious, and far more serious.

The project of Pride has been picked up by the Gay Chamber of Commerce, an organization focused on gay business success and representation in Cincinnati. “Doing pride fits right in our mission to promote the city and support our businesses." stated George Crawford, 45 year old local gay business owner, member of the Gay Chamber Commerce and the Chairman of Pride. Support our businesses? But what about our community? The queer community is not made up of businesses and their owners, its made up of everyday people. He confirmed that the Gay Chamber of Commerce was using a project called Equinox Cincinnati to run Pride. Equinox formed last year to host a party for the purpose of, in Crawford's words “to show the changing climate” of Cincinnati as a gay friendly city. (From where the rest of the community stood, it was a gay VIP rich folk only event.) I was surprised to learn Cincinnati had changed into an equality focused queer friendly city because as a visibly queer trans person working in the activist community, I figure I would have noticed if Cincinnati magically transformed into a mini-San Fran. When I asked about those who still did not feel safe, Crawford's thoughts were that it was the queer community’s fault that they didn’t feel safe in Cincinnati. "We have the chip on our shoulder and scars... we need our community to get on board..." Get on board for what? He made a decent point in saying "We can't continue to hide in a safe neighborhood like Northside [gayborhood]… we need to get out on the main streets.” I can’t help but agree with the on the streets part, but I'd like to know what I'm “getting on board” for, with who, and why. Crawford repeated words like “image,” “profit,” “income” and “reputation” - something very relevant to a business making money, but not very relevant to a community in need of resources.

According to Crawford, the goal is to make an “image” for the city as a good place for “gays” to live. Which is a nice idea, but what gays are we talking about here? I asked about visibly queer folks, trans folks, and people of color, and while Crawford stated that "Pride belongs to everybody"stressing the importance of diversity. When I asked him to expand upon efforts for diversity, however, his answer was "We didn't do as well as we could have, but there are always going to be people you miss." Honestly, I think the numbers are a little high for a menial oversight, though he did give a shout out to "transsexuals and drag queens" which was hard for me to appreciate.

Speaking of visibility, lets discuss the name Equinox Pride. When Pride was taken over by Equinox, Crawford said anonymous organizers thought it best to keep the name Equinox because it would bring in money. “People see “Pride” and they go ‘ew’ and don’t give it money.” said Crawford, “But with a name like Equinox they are more likely to fund it…We’re trying to re-brand our Pride.” He spoke of other cities that had ‘de-prided’ Pride, extensively removing the queer visibility from the event. Isn’t the point of Pride to be out and visible so everyone knows its queer? “Re-branding” seems a little counter productive to me, unless you’re trying to appeal to a fancy audience that is more interested in social acceptance than identity visibility. Crawford stressed that his committee only worked with queer supportive businesses that saw us as more than numbers and money, but that doesn’t meld with his statements about “re-branding” Pride.

Issues have also arisen from the communities of color, drag kings, burlesque performers, and lower income communities about inclusion and accessibility. When I approached Crawford about issues of transparency and accessibility he aired his frustrations stating that it “must not be in [kings, femmes, people of color's] priorities to know what was going on," and that was why people could not find the contact information. He then listed several articles and posts with contact information starting back in October, but when I went looking, including in the specific publications listed I could not find them in any archives. He also said that there is submission information on the site for volunteers and performers, but no such forms exist nor has there been clear information about how to get involved. Several people, myself included, have experienced problems and even rejection while trying to get information or getting involved. I asked Crawford directly if drag kings contacted him or the Equinox organizers. “They [ the drag king community] have not approached us...” he said, lamenting over his suffering as an organizer and the audacity of the kings to feel “slighted." But upon speaking to people in the drag king community I found several people from various troupes who had directly spoken to Equinox organizers about drag king performance options. One troupe was told that they could not perform because there would be no local performers this year, but when talking to me Crawford stated that "85% of [Equinox Pride] talent is local."

Maxx Lixgood, founder of the well known hip hop drag troupe The Lixgood Family, spoke with Crawford himself several times about performing online and on the phone. Repeatedly Maxx was told that organizers would get in touch with him with more information, but no one ever did. After months passed, Crawford contacted Maxx in hopes of reconciliation but by that point Maxx had given up.

"They aren't advertising to black people or low income... drag kings..." Maxx said in reference to Equinox, "We're urban, they don't care about us. They don't want me or my people, and this isn't just me. This is how our community feels. Black people aren't gonna go to Pride."

Maxx also stated that Crawford specifically requested that he leave a comment on the Equinox Pride Facebook page to publicly show that they had spoken - Crawford also instructed Maxx on exactly what to say. This leads us to another serious issue. Censorship and image control.

Much of Pride's advertising and networking has been happening on Facebook. In online organizing/writing/blogging it is generally understood that comments are a style of dialogue and unless they are seriously abusive, they are to be left as a method of documentation regarding whatever it is you're reading, be it a blog or public community organization's Facebook page. There have been several comments (including some made by me) on the Equinox Pride's page that were less than positive about the event, but none were malicious or abusive. All of these comments have been deleted. One comment about drag kings on the main Facebook page resulted in a somewhat heated conversation of an anonymous Equinox Pride representative. Over the past day over half of the comments in this discussion have been deleted, leaving only the more positive feedback, and none of the negative or comments contradicting Equinox's public statements. Crawford, who runs the Facebook page, stated that "to my knowledge we have never deleted a comment.” and “Personally I have never deleted a comment; and all admins can’t act without approval from me." He went on to say that there was a glitch on Facebook that was causing comments to not show up, or to disappear, but even the worst glitches on Facebook wouldn’t delete comments that were there for weeks, and then only delete parts of conversation threads but not all, not to mention it would be a site-wide problem, and no one else is having issues. If Equinox Pride was a person or a private organization it would be within reason for them to monitor feedback on their page, but it is not. It is a public event for the queer community and deleting constructive feedback, dissenting or not, is censoring the community.

One idea suggested that the Gay Chamber of Commerce using business model, which would automatically lead to less transparency and a more PR oriented method. It is clear to me that this is indeed the case. When a non-profit was running things, all meetings were open and it was well advertised who organizers were. From a business standpoint, you hide all negative feedback about your product so people will think it is perfect. You manage things quietly so people can't steal your ideas and create a fantastic front making your product out to be the best there is. No matter how consumer-based Pride becomes, it is about community, not cost, it is about PRIDE, not products.

Transparency is essential. How can we stand together if we can not trust each other. I legitimately believe that the Equinox organizers are well-intentioned people who care about their community. That said, I do not think they understand who is in their community and what we need. ? Withholding information, providing false information, censorship, and essentially creating a VIP club of rich gay folks, no matter how well intended, is manipulative and problematic. It cannot be taken lightly. The new organizers may be business profiteers, but Pride should not be a business, operating behind closed doors. This is a community event for the community, not for businesses and not for city image. It is for the people, all of our people.

“I don't think people look at the big picture." Crawford says, but I think its Crawford and Equinox who are not looking at the big picture, or at least, their “big picture” is not big enough. I have little interest in turning Cincinnati into a gay-money paradise when we still don't have basic community resources and education. The opinion of Equinox seems to be that less visible communities should be doing the work to fight our way through their power so we can be seen, like it’s so easy for us to push our way to the front. I understand change is necessary, I understand money is necessary. However, I do not think that making Pride bigger is synonymous with making Pride into an ablist, classist, racist, and elitist gay shame party for the benefit of the moneymakers from the pockets of our community. To quote a friend: "We need to expand, I agree. However, let's expand in the right way and be inclusive." I truly believe that Crawford and Equinox thinks they are being inclusive, and have openly admitted they need improvement and even have made mistakes, but the gross attempts at cover-up and misinformation erases all of that well-intentioned regret making me feel that the confessions aren't so much about actually caring about inclusion as much as they care about looking good and making money.

In addition to the Equinox Pride, local organizers have put together an event called Northside Pridefest as an additional event to take place in Northside in August, but I was unable to get any information about it for this post. There is more to be said in this conversation, and I am interested to see where Pride goes. Surely more posts to come – and they hopefully won't be so crazily long.

Update: several people have requested a plan of action or response -Post this article on your Facebook page and Twitter. Spread the word!

Visit the action event page to make your voice heard!



Saturday, June 12, 2010

At Last, The Rebecca Juro Show Returns! Live Test Show Sunday June 13th, 7pm Eastern

It took a while longer than we'd anticipated, but it's finally here! The Rebecca Juro Show returns to the cyber-airwaves for a live one-hour test show tomorrow, Sunday, June 13th at 7pm eastern, and we need your help!

We've got lots of new and cool things planned for our big premiere, but this test show is mainly intended to give our new studio setup a workout. We want to know how it looks and sounds to you, our listeners. We're going to ask you to call in and help us test our phones lines, tell us how we sound and how the video looks, and basically let us know if all the tech Engineer Mike Scott and I have put together is working the way it's supposed to. Along with that, we'll be having a full hour of talk, fun, and maybe even a few surprises. If it all goes as we hope, we're planning on an official full-on premiere for this coming Thursday, June 17th, 7-9pm eastern.

How to tune in:

48K audio stream:

Our show page with video:

Watch for more info before the show, including (hopefully) the link for our high-quality 96K stream.

See you tomorrow night, Sunday, June 13th, 7pm eastern! Trust me, this is gonna rock!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Can An E-Cigarette Really Help You Quit Smoking?

That's what I'm going to find out, very soon.

When people tell me, as they so often do, that I should quit smoking, I like to joke that I'm an expert on quitting smoking since I've done it seven times already.

For me, the real problem is that I've never been able to make it stick. I've tried gum, lozenges, patches, cold turkey, cutting down...with the exception of prescription medication (and the expensive necessary blood test to see if I can take it) which I just can't afford, you name it and I've probably tried it at one time or another. Sometimes it works for a while and sometimes it doesn't, but all cases I've failed over the long term.

The best I've ever done was a couple of weeks smoke-free on the patches, but the glue on them made my fair and sensitive skin break out in itchy hives all around the areas of my body I'd stick them to. Finally, I just couldn't take it anymore and within hours of the time I'd stopped using the patches I found myself with a butt in my hand and a pack in my purse.

It doesn't help that as a transperson I'm a member of a community which seems to have an inordinately high percentage of smokers. The way I fell off the wagon when I stopped using the patches was that it just happened to be the same day that I attended a transgender film festival at the William Way Center in Philadelphia.

The audience was made up mostly of transfolks, and when there was a break between films, about 90% of the audience got up from their seats and went outside for a smoke on the small outdoor patio separated from the room where the films were being shown only by large windows and a door that drew in the smell of smoke every time someone went in or out. I'd been doing fine until that point, but once I smelled that smoke with no patch to cut the craving, I caved.

I went out on the patio, bummed a cigarette from someone, and that was the end of that. After the film festival, I hit the first convenience store I found on my way back to my car, bought a pack, and smoked myself right back into a full-on habit on the way back to Jersey.
The Right Motivation

It hasn't been for lack of motivation. One thing you discover when you do talk radio and podcasting is that you end up spending a lot of time listening to recordings of yourself talking. Since resuming my podcasts, I've found myself liking the sound of my voice less and less, and I know why.

As time goes on and I continue to smoke, my voice becomes rougher and deeper. For a woman, and for a transwoman especially, this is not a good thing just in general, and it's especially bad for someone relying solely on her voice to present herself to listeners.

Thing is, there's a cure but it has an expiration date. Quitting smoking will definitely improve my voice substantially if I do it soon, but that won't always be the case. As I get older, it becomes less and less likely that my voice will fully come back to its natural tone once I stop smoking. I know that if I want my upcoming live talk show to really be the best it can be (and of course I do) I need to stop smoking, and I've been considering different options for a while now. I've now decided to try approaching the problem from a completely different angle.

I'd first heard about e-cigarettes from a tweet by noted transgender author Kate Bornstein. She'd tweeted that she was going to try it and I warned her against it, believing that breaking the actual habit of smoking is just as important as ending the physical dependence on nicotine. Now, with the show coming, not being happy with the sound of my voice, and no other untried ideas that seem realistic at this point, I decided to do a little research and see if an e-cigarette might just be the answer for me.
What Is an E-Cigarette?

I discovered, frankly much to my surprise, that this may actually make sense for me, at least as a temporary solution. An e-cigarette doesn't produce any actual smoke. There's nothing to light, no actual tobacco to burn, and therefore no smoke. An e-cigarette uses a battery to heat an atomizer, which turns a liquid (referred to by users as "juice") containing flavoring and nicotine into a vapor which is then inhaled like real smoke.

According to the information and reviews I've read, the vapor is almost entirely water but it looks like real smoke, tastes like real smoke, and gives you the nicotine your body craves, but it isn't actually tobacco smoke so you get none of the tar, carcinogens, and other super-unhealthy stuff that can make you sick or fuck up your voice.

Another nice advantage of e-cigarettes, although not necessarily something that will help in quitting, is that because the "smoke" is actually water vapor which has no smell and doesn't linger, it can be used in places where tobacco smoking is banned. It doesn't stink up a room or your clothes and hair, there's no secondhand smoke for others to have to deal with, no ashes to get all over everything, no butts to dispose of, and no burning coal at the end to burn anything or anyone with.

On top of all that, there's the cost factor. One e-cigarette company, Blu, offers a starter kit containing everything you need to get started, including a carton of cartridges that provide the vapor and nicotine equivalent to 375-500 (depending on how they are "smoked" by an individual user) tobacco cigarettes, all for $60. Additional cartons of 25 Blu cartridges sell for $25, making the actual price equivalent to paying $1 a pack for the same amount of puffs and nicotine as tobacco cigarettes.

Through more research I discovered that there is another e-cigarette company, Volcano, which sells cartridges that are compatible with the Blu e-cigarette for even less, bringing the cost down to around 65 cents a pack as compared to tobacco smokes. If I want to save even more money, I can buy the juice separately from a variety of companies in many different flavors, and use it to refill old cartridges (though doing this will void Blu's one-year warranty) or fresh unfilled ones that I can buy from Volcano, a technique referred to by e-cigarette users as "dripping". Needless to say, the ability to cut my cigarette budget by 75% or more is a very attractive feature.
Do Your Homework

One thing I'd strongly suggest to anyone considering trying e-cigarettes is to do your homework. As with a lot of new products, there are plenty of scams out there and I almost got caught in one of them. I ordered one that seemed to offer a free trial for just $4.95 shipping and handling, but then I discovered well-hidden in the fine print, which was pretty well-hidden itself, that what they actually send you is a full kit which they then charge you an arm and a leg for, plus they subscribe you to a monthly shipment of their overpriced cartridges.

When I tried to cancel the order they gave me the runaround, so I went to my bank and blocked them from accessing my account. I'm out the shipping charge but I'll eat that as the price of my mistake. Once the package does arrive, it'll be returned to sender post-haste. I'd rather keep smoking Marlboros than pay these people another nickel of my money. For about three seconds I did consider keeping it and then giving them the same kind of runaround they gave me, but I've decided it's easier to just send their stuff back and be done with it, and them.

I was notified by email yesterday that Blu has processed my order and it will ship within 48 hours. I'm really looking forward to trying this, though obviously I really have no idea if this is actually going to work for me. Blu is not marketed as a way to quit smoking, but cartridges and juice can be purchased with varying amounts of nicotine, from as strong as any tobacco cigarette on the market all the way down to flavor and smoke but no nicotine at all. I know that many have used e-cigs as a way to quit by starting with high nicotine cartridges and then decreasing their nicotine intake over time.

Interestingly, there seems to be a real subculture forming around these things. There are many e-cigarette forums as well as informational and review sites, and I've learned a lot from them. Tricks and tips on how to get the most vapor out of an e-cig, modifications that can be made to improve airflow, flavor, operation, stretch the useful life of the hardware, and a lot more. Again, I strongly recommend anyone considering trying e-cigs do their homework before ordering because you'll find a wealth of useful information at these sites if you dig deep enough. Just throw "e-cigarette" or "e-cig" into Google and you'll find plenty of good resources, but of course use your judgment. As with all information available online, some sources are significantly more credible than others.

I chose Blu because of the price and because of the consistently high ratings and positive reviews I've seen. Sure, there were also some dissatisfied customers, but most of the complaints I read seemed to be about delayed shipping from around a year ago, when e-cigs were still brand-new and the FDA was stopping shipments coming into the US, claiming it was a drug delivery device. Apparently that's no longer the case. I've read, albeit through sources I'm not quite certain of the reliability of, that since this is a vaporized nicotine delivery system e-cigs have now been classified as a tobacco product and the FDA has no authority to regulate tobacco products (it's under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms).
No Excuses

Of course, I've never "vaped" before, so I still have no real idea if this will actually work for me, either as a substitute for real tobacco or as a way to completely quit smoking for good. I'm hoping for the latter, but I'll settle for the former. Either way, if I can successfully get off tobacco using an e-cigarette I'll be ahead of the game and will be able to accomplish at least my most immediate goal, getting my voice in shape for my show. Right now, at this moment, that's what I really care about most. I'll deal with breaking the nicotine addiction after I get my vocal range back.

One thing you hear all the time about quitting smoking is that without the right motivation the chances of failure increase dramatically. This time around, motivation isn't a problem, but as always, my weak point is the nicotine. I was able to last a couple of weeks smoke-free with the patches, but the moment I no longer had that crutch, the cravings came right back. With an e-cig to provide me with nicotine to stave off those cravings whenever I need it, I'm hoping that this time it'll stick.

I have to quit smoking. It's getting in the way of being the best I can be at what I love doing. Not this time. Smoking has held me back from doing a lot of things over the years, but it's not going to happen this time. I won't allow it. If an e-cigarette can do what I need it to do for me, then there are no longer any excuses. I'm gonna do it this time.

Eighth time's the charm.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Let's Call The Democrats What They Really Are: The Nibbler Party

Have we had enough yet? I don't know about you, but I certainly have.

This past Sunday, I went to Asbury Park and attended Jersey Pride. As is the norm for this annual event, the heat was oppressive, the festival was crowded, and LGBT's were lauding Democrats for doing exactly nothing useful to protect our basic civil rights and equality. The single actual politician I saw there is one of the good guys, Congressman Frank Pallone. Congressman Pallone has always been an ally of our community. He's marched with us, and he's always on the right side of our issues in Congress. It would be great if we had another 534 members of Congress just like him, but unfortunately we don't. What we do have is a White House and a Congressional leadership that say all the right things, issue plenty of oh-so-supportive-sounding press releases and proclamations, but then run the other way when it's time to back up all the pretty words with real leadership and action.

The hate crimes law, the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell", the provision of a few benefits to federal employees, the appointment of a handful of LGBT's to government posts, these are all good things, important things, things we should appreciate and be thankful for, but any LGBT American who thinks this is credible support for our equal rights and treatment under the law is kidding themselves. Time after time, year after year, session after session, Democrats make promises to this community, throw us under the bus, delay action on our rights into oblivion yet again as soon as the going gets even a little rough, and then toss us what amounts to crumbs to soothe our anger in an effort to win our votes and support for the next election.

The Democratic Party, you see, really isn't very democratic at all.

Wikipedia, admittedly at times a questionable source, offers what I believe is a pretty good partial description of democratic principles as "...reflected in all citizens being equal before the law and having equal access to power...". It certainly sounds like the rhetoric we hear from the Democratic Party, but it bears no resemblance whatsoever to the country we actually live in nor to the way these people actually legislate. If the Democratic Party as a whole really believed in the principles of democracy and put them into action, if they legislated as if they really believed these things, LGBT equality would be a no-brainer.

Yet, that's clearly not what we see from those who call themselves Democrats, so I believe it's time we started calling them by a name that truly reflects the principles that guide the way they actually legislate: The Nibbler Party. It's far more accurate description of the way the Democratic Party approaches the rights and equality of LGBT Americans, managing to protect only relatively minuscule, politically-convenient handfuls of LGBT Americans from discrimination and offer them just a paltry few benefits. Incremental baby steps that do little or nothing to help the vast majority of unemployed and underemployed LGBT Americans, with Blue Dogs whining all the way and a Party leadership which still clearly lacks the spine to really get serious about treating all Americans fairly and equally.

So I say from now on, let's call 'em the Nibbler Party. It'll remind us when we go to vote that we can't really expect Nibblers to seriously fight for LGBT Americans if it inconveniences the Nibbler Party in even the slightest way, nor can we expect Nibblers to expend any serious political capital on our behalf. We'll know and understand that when it comes to LGBT equality the only constituency we can count on the Nibbler Party to protect is itself, and the only jobs Nibblers will be really concerned about protecting in the end are their own. It'll help LGBT and allied voters understand that the best we can hope for from the Nibbler Party isn't real progress toward a better life for all LGBT Americans, but only these minor, easy-to-deliver legislative and regulative crumbs which look good on election season mailers, handouts, and Pride Month proclamations, sound great mixed with their empty rhetoric, unkept promises, and valueless sloganeering from HRC dinner podiums, but in reality offer little if any real help to the vast majority of LGBT Americans still unemployed or underemployed as a result of the rampant unchecked anti-LGBT bigotry and discrimination that remains so much a part of modern American culture, a community still suffering what is nothing less than a full-blown employment and economic crisis in most of the US.

An informed electorate is always a good thing, and so we should do our best to make sure that LGBT and allied voters understand that if they cast their votes for Nibblers instead of working to replace them with actual leaders, what we'll keep getting is merely nibbles, small, half-hearted, pathetic attempts to look like they're taking on our issues, but without ever actually delivering anything truly significant nor really helping to improve the lives of any LGBT's except for the tiny numbers who make up the most politically convenient and advantageous sub-segments of our community for the Nibblers themselves. We need to make sure that rank-and-file LGBT voters know before they go to the polls that Nibblers aren't really leaders on the issues that matter most in their lives, they only want us to believe they are so that we'll vote for them and fund their campaigns, enabling them to go back to Washington, nibble some more, and then come back in a couple of years at election time and tell us yet again that it's progress.

Perhaps if we begin injecting some honesty into how we describe the legislative behavior of the Nibblers when they're called upon to act on their stated principles we'll be able to convince more of them to start acting like they deserve to called Democrats.