Monday, July 17, 2017

Heath Fogg Davis Asks: Does Gender Matter?

Heath Fogg Davis talks to Alexander “The Engineer” Lim, host of AuthorStory by alvinwriter.com about his book, Beyond Trans: Does Gender Matter?



“I think everybody has a right to self-determination, including sex identity.” ~Heath Fogg Davis

Heath is a professor who teaches at Temple University in Philadelphia who teaches courses related to social identity and anti-discrimination law, looking into policies intended to counter discrimination. Lately, he has been focusing on gender identity and how this relates with racial and class identity. He considers himself to be an activist who works on gender and civil rights in Philadelphia as well as throughout the United States and also does consulting work with businesses and other organizations, helping the latter frame their gender policies to make them inclusive for all gender identities. Heath also remarks that he is a trans man, which makes him somewhat invested in these issues.

For Heath, the question, “Does gender matter?” isn’t a rhetorical one. He notes that the assumption that gender matters is incorporated into everything from gender markers in legal documents to the way rest rooms are designed. While Heath remarks that gender does matter socially, based on his research, Heath’s answer to that question is “No,” where administrative policies are concerned. Heath notes that writing the book was fun to write, particularly when it came to the concerns raised by the subject matter as well as how to write the book in a way that it would be accessible to the average person. He remarks that a lot of people do want to do right by others, such as trans people, and thus hopes that his book opens up a discussion on, and provides some answers to, transgender issues.

LGBT, according to Heath, stands for “Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender,” and sometimes, at present, Q for “Queer” and I for “Intersex” are sometimes added at the end of that term. LGBTQ is thus an umbrella term designed to cover a wide spectrum of individuals who don’t identify under the classic genders of male and female. Transsexuals are individuals who identify differently from the gender noted to them at birth, such as male-assigned individuals who identify as female and vice versa. He notes that the physiological features by which gender is defined don’t always necessarily fit in with the standard definitions, and that carries into the way these individuals carry themselves in society. Heath admits that he isn’t an expert on biology, but remarks that he views sexuality as a scale, rather than two entirely separate categories.

Heath uses the use of public bathrooms as an example that most people are likely to relate to, where impact is concerned. He notes that those who do not conform to the usual standards of male or female get hassled when using, or attempting to use, such facilities, with potentially embarrassing consequences for the person involved. Heath thus argues that public bathrooms should be designed in a way that protects people’s privacy while avoiding gender identity discrimination. He notes that people who view such issues and scenarios dismiss these as trivial matters can say that because they haven’t experienced discrimination in that way. Heath mentions that there are various organizations presently working to expand gender identity so that sex-discrimination laws don’t just cover women being discriminated against by men or vice versa.

Heath remarks that thinking about these kinds of discrimination can negatively affect the great majority, those who identify with the traditional gender models. One example is a man changing his infant daughter’s diapers in the men’s public restroom, which presently violates the rules of the use of such facilities, while another example would be a female teacher needing to bring her male charge into the women’s public restroom so he could relieve himself. The same issues also apply, Heath notes, to caretakers of the elderly or the disabled.

Heath remarks that, with the companies he works with, he first creates a gender audit using the same worksheets and questions that he includes in the book. Some of the issues covered are the corporate dress code policy, which is based on traditional gender models, and while Heath admits that, while some of these changes might appear radical, in the end, nobody gets disadvantaged and everybody benefits.

To someone who is inquiring into gender issues, Heath says for them to not assume what an individual’s gender identity is or what the gender pronoun to use on them is. He also recommends that people ask about the relevance of gender and how important it really is during the point of contact. Heath acknowledges that he is an optimist with regards to these issues, saying that he wants to demystify some of these through the book, which he hopes would be would open up a conversation on gender issues.

Purchase from Amazon: Beyond Trans: Does Gender Matter? by Heath Fogg Davis

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Onoso Imoagene Reveals How Second-Generation Nigerians Find Their Identity in the U.S. and Britain


Onoso Imoagene talks to Alexander “The Engineer” Lim, host of AuthorStory by alvinwriter.com about her book, Beyond Expectations: Second-Generation Nigerians in the United States and Britain.



“There is more that unites us than divides us.” ~Onoso Imoagene

Onoso is a Nigerian who emigrated to the United States in 2001, when she won the Diversity Visa Lottery Program and the green card that went with that. She went to the United Kingdom for about a year to pursue her studies, and got her Ph.D. in Sociology from Harvard. Beyond Expectations is about the adult children of Nigerian immigrants, and is intended to highlight how diverse the black population is in the United States and Great Britain, as those outside that population regard the black population as homogenous in nature. The book also covers the interplay of the various black groups amongst each other, and while the research was academic in nature it is readable to the average person.

Onoso admits that it took her around nine years to publish the book, and some of the impetus came from her realization that non-black researchers regarded certain groups of the black population, such as Caribbeans, as suitable substitutes for other groups of the black population, such as those from Africa. The true impetus came when she came across a study that compared how well white children and black immigrant children did, economically and socially, compared to their parents, which made Onoso think of seeing how well second-generation Nigerian immigrants did compared to their parents.

Nigeria, located in Africa, is the most populous black nation in the world, with 180 million people, and its best resources are petroleum. There are three major ethnic groups and over two hundred forty minority ethnic groups, each with their own languages, and to ensure commonality the official language is English. Onoso remarks that Nigerians who live in Nigeria identify more with their ethnic and religious group than with their nation, but Nigerians who emigrate subsequently identify with their nation more.

Onoso remarked that first-generation Nigerian immigrants (on which she is doing research) face the challenge of what it is to be regarded as a “black person,” with the discrimination attendant to such a label thereof. She noted that everyone from where the immigrants come from come is black, which is why they refer to each other in terms of ethnic membership, and culture shock is likewise a challenge they face.

With regard to second-generation Nigerians, Onoso notes that these “choose ethnicity while negotiating race,” which means that they hold a Nigerian-centered identity and values while realizing that they aren’t as competent in the mother language or as steeped in the cultural practices of their parents. Second-generation Nigerians are thus “ethnic hybrids” who borrow from the cultures they have inherited and now live in, but as they are integrated into the societies their parents emigrated to, this is more of a choice rather than a resistance to the culture and society of the land they were born in. They also don’t tend to distance themselves from others of African descent, but they do face the challenge of being discriminated against because they are black.

Onoso remarked that second-generation Nigerians in the United States reported being discriminated against by other African-Americans whose families had lived in the United States for generations, having slurs thrown at them by these. She also noted that second-generation Nigerians in Great Britain received the same kind of discrimination from Jamaicans, and that this kind of discrimination made second-generation Nigerians create their own particular identity, one different from other black societies. Onoso also noted that relations with Caribbeans were warmer, because of their people’s commonality of experiencing immigration and diaspora. Onoso also noted a difference in outlook between second-generation Nigerians in Great Britain and those in the United States, as those in Great Britain, for the most part, don’t regard themselves as British, while those in the United States regard themselves as Americans.

Onoso remarks that the conflict experienced by immigrants, where reconciling the culture of their parents and the culture of their adoptive homeland are concerned, is common to all. She also advises that the children of such immigrants should be exposed to the culture of their grandparents and notes that the different sectors of the black population have their own strengths.

Purchase from Amazon: Beyond Expectations: Second-Generation Nigerians in the United States and Britain by Onoso Imoagene


Sunday, July 2, 2017

Michelle Deen on Rethinking Family Values, Moral Politics and the Culture War (Saving America's Grace)

Michelle Deen talks to Alexander “The Engineer” Lim, host of AuthorStory by alvinwriter.com about her book, Saving America’s Grace: Rethinking Family Values, Moral Politics and the Culture War.



“Democracy requires a high level of moral character.” ~Michelle Deen

Michelle is a marriage and family therapist who specializes in human development and family relations, as she was interested in how families influence emotional and psychological development. The book discusses the breakdown of character in families, culture and politics as well as how to turn this breakdown around, which Michelle notes will likely take generations. She had initially thought about writing the book during the George W. Bush campaign run against John Kerry, in 2004, when “family values” rhetoric was used to make families fearful about where America’s culture and country were heading, rhetoric which Michelle found to be misleading. She didn’t write it then, but when the US presidential campaign of 2016 rolled around, Michelle realized that a conversation about culture and morality was still relevant, hence her eventually writing the book.

Michelle’s viewpoint comes from decades of working with families for nearly three decades, where she saw that the image a family projected had no correlation with how healthy the relationships were amongst its members and how sound the environment was for raising children. She had interacted with troubled teenagers who came from families which projected an image of traditional stability, teenagers who were, by their actions, essentially screaming for help, and when the family was brought together Michelle realized that the problems weren’t with the children alone but ran through the family. This made her realize that there was a lot of focus on how a family was supposed to look, and this made her inquire into the function of the family, which included the quality of the interpersonal relationships within it.

Michelle notes that “family values” is associated with a family comprised of a mother, a father and the children, with the father in charge, where children obey and everything is black and white - the so-called “Biblical” type of family which, Michelle notes, wasn’t the norm even during Biblical times. She remarks that patriarchal values have fallen “by the wayside” over the past decades, with some positive results being women being able to own their own credit cards and to live their lives the way they choose, spousal abuse being recognized as a concern and divorce becoming acceptable.

Michelle remarks that the “traditional” family is no longer the norm, and the values that should be adhered to in a family should be reassessed, with the objective of raising children who are self-sufficient, solid in who they are, of good character and capable of becoming good citizens. In this vein, Michelle remarks that, rather than raise “obedient” children, families should raise children who have are cooperative and who have a solid enough sense of themselves and their own internal moral compass to stand up to what they see as not being right, as “obedient” children do what they’re told to stay out of trouble. She notes that children fundamentally desire love, acknowledgement and appreciation from their parents, and gives an example of an authoritative parent being able to set the rules and consequences without needing to whip out a belt to enforce obedience, rather than being a parent who attempts to become the child’s friend as a way to compensate for any real or imagined wrongs the parent might have committed against the child.

Michelle remarks that the present situation in politics doesn’t just stem from Donald Trump, whose behavior on the campaign trail she found “shocking.” She opined that politics has been lacking in moral character for a long time and that money and backdoor agreements have essentially undermined morality in that realm. Michelle notes that politicians should be examples of morality, making decisions that are in the best interest of their people and their country, but this falls by the wayside because of the need to get reelected. She points out that, in order to self-govern (which is the essence of a democracy), people need a sense of doing right by others, which is called “virtue,” which is something that Michelle believes has been lost.

The phrase “Culture War” began as rhetoric in the mid-1980s, which came from the Republican Party and the religious right and which was an attempt to “straighten out” American culture by legislating Biblical principles to keep everyone and everything in place. Michelle notes that America is a democracy, rather than a theocracy, and such wouldn’t work. In response to “cultural war,” Michelle states that a “cultural evolution” is needed, so that people can evolve spiritually, by focusing on religion as tool intended to enable a person to become a better human being.

Michelle notes that a lot of cultural norms are abnormal but are so widespread they seem normal, and gives the example that most Americans are presently more interested in the brand of bag owned by well-known social media celebrities than they are with the people who are killed in the wars that the United States fights. She notes that people have lost track about what’s right and what’s not.

Michelle’s website is michelledeen.com.

Purchase from Amazon: Saving America’s Grace: Rethinking Family Values, Moral Politics and the Culture War by Michelle Deen


Saturday, July 1, 2017

Adrian Owen on The Gray Zone, the Boundary Between Life & Death

Adrian Owen talks to Alexander “The Engineer” Lim, host of AuthorStory by alvinwriter.com about his book, Into the Gray Zone: A Neuroscientist Explores the Border Between Life and Death.



“We know you’re there.” ~Adrian Owen

Adrian Owen is a professor of neuroscience who is involved in cognitive neuroscience, which deals with brain scanning technology. He got his start in exploring what he called “the Gray Zone” when a former partner of his had a brain aneurysm which turned her into a mental vegetable. This started him on the decades-long journey of exploring a mental area that is between full awareness and total lack of awareness - the so-called “Gray Zone” - using the brain scanning technology. Going under anesthesia is another example of someone entering the gray zone, and such conditions as Alzheimer’s disease, stroke or being deprived of oxygen could result in people staying in the gray zone.

Adrian remarks that exploration of what it’s like to be in the gray zone is still ongoing, but he gave some examples of patients who had been in the gray zone. He notes that such people were aware of what had been going on around them while they were lying down on their beds, trapped in their unmoving bodies, and also mentioned that some patients who are in the gray zone were “satisfied” with their lives and didn’t want to die. Adrian also gave the additional example of people who went under anaesthesia reporting about being aware of what was being done. He also remarked that, while patients can experience frustration at being ignored, some of those who have come out of the gray zone report having experiences that they liked while they were in such a state.

Magnetic resonance imagery is a tool Adrian uses to communicate with patients in the gray zone, by reading the patient’s brain as it reacts to questions, using predetermined responses. If, for example, a patient is told to wave his arms, a part of the brain will activate, and if the patient is told to do another activity another part of the brain will activate. These signals, which are checked again and again to make sure these are intentional instead of random, are then used as signals which can be used to communicate. The main method of getting information is essentially asking the patient to answer “yes” or “no,” and then drilling down into more detail with more “yes” or “no” questions.

Adrian notes that understanding that people in the gray zone may have more awareness than had been previously thought, and that, as such, we have a responsibility to understand what is going on. The level of awareness patients have while in the gray zone raises some potential ethical concerns, as they will have their opinions which must be taken note of, just like with any conscious patient, including whether or not they wanted to live or die. As his former partner said, after she got out of the gray zone: “The day you scanned me, I went from being a body to a person again.”

Adrian intends the book for everyone and is full of stories of people who are or were in the Gray Zone who have revealed their experience while in it. He describes Into the Gray Zone as a “scientific adventure story,” where it’s about the process of doing science and its impact on people’s lives. Adrian’s website, intothegrayzone.com, has more information on the gray zone as well as contains some videos done about the research Adrian has done over the past twenty years.

Purchase from Amazon: Into the Gray Zone: A Neuroscientist Explores the Border Between Life and Death by Adrian Owen