What Un(der)employment Does to My Soul

Three days after my birthday, my boss called me into a virtual meeting with the HR person. They laid me off. My last day would be 2 weeks later.

I managed to snag a temporary, 10-hour/week gig shortly thereafter, but I am, more or less, unemployed. It is a social death from which I resurrect and re-die frequently.

Every time I meet someone new and they ask what I do.
Every time I listen to someone complain about work and cannot commiserate.
Every time someone asks what me what I’d like to be doing and I flounder and fumble my way to a respectable answer, carefully sidestepping my fantasy of being a barber and a poet and owning a mobile book truck.
Every time I sleep late and am subsequently gripped with self-criticism for not doing more.
Every time I accompany my accomplished partner to some elite academic event and have to navigate the self-esteem minefield known as small talk.

That sudden layoff made me feel disposable and worthless. (Not to mention how reminiscent it was of my family’s sudden and traumatic rejection and ejection of me when I came out to them…I mean…just, wow. Trigger city central.)

I was supposed to be spending this forced sabbatical searching my soul, re-aligining my work with my calling and commitments. I’ve done some of that. Mostly, though, I’ve been doing mental math to calculate how many more days I can last with the money I have. Mostly, I have been imagining all the possible scenarios:

I get a great job locally and everything is fine.
I get a great job somewhere else and have to uproot my life.
I get a shitty job locally and live with a subsequent low-grade depression.
I don’t get any job and everything unravels.
I cobble together several little gigs that pay the bills and live my life as an artist.
I move in with one of my best friends in a city with more opportunity and hope for the best.

The possibilities are endless, no?

This isn’t my first rodeo.

When I graduated from college,  I moved home and was unemployed for a whole year. I watched my friends land their first jobs while I plucked rejection letters out of myself like a thousand cactus spines. (When I was 7, I crashed my bike into a cactus tree and my dad spent an hour pulling cactus spines out of my skin. It was like that.)

Then I went to graduate school. I graduated, had a temporary, full-time lecturer position, and then was back where I started.  I moved home again. I worked but I was underemployed for almost 2 years.

I’ve managed to be steadily and gainfully employed for the past 5 years.  So, you know, I’ve got my shit somewhat together. I live with the residue though. Of precarity. Of rejection. Of disposability. The fatigue of swimming upstream, exhausting your vocational muscles trying to get from point A to point B.

The things I thought were true of myself are pureed by every episode of un(der)employment; they are still true but have taken a different form, an unrecognizable mush of something good but not solid.

I have certainly been more fortunate than many. And I also see and validate my own experience, the pain and frustration of it. I have discovered that unemployment is hard work. Working to make ends meet. Working to get another job. Working to feel whole and useful. Working to keep your soul intact.




Building Support for Queer Adults through Cooperative Economics

Two weeks after my 27th birthday my parents abruptly kicked me out of their house, with only my car and the portion of my belongings they left on the front porch. I was working as an adjunct college instructor, making about $1000 per month. Suddenly, I found myself in economic precarity. I struggled–to no avail– to find a better-paying job and an additional job. Fortunately, I had a few good people in my life who helped make sure I had somewhere to stay, food to eat, and the support to keep going. But are there people who are not so fortunate?

Many resources exist for queer youth who experience homelessness, instability, or other economic hardships that often arise due to lack of/severance of support from families of origin.

However, fewer resources exist for queer adults who also lack familial support and may need emergency financial help or other “stop-gap” interventions to ensure food, shelter, healthcare, etc.

The reality today is that economic conditions have forced more young adults to rely on their families of origin for financial support for longer amounts of time. Young adults with college degrees often start their professional lives with crippling debt. Young adults working minimum wage cannot afford an apartment on their own. The nature of work is changing, with a growing number of contingent/contract workers.

So, what happens when economic hardship hits and you have lost your safety net? This is a heightened possibility for queer folks who may face homophobic families.

I believe we can create solutions for queer adults facing financial emergencies and lacking familial safety nets. I believe these solutions can operate independent of government programs and charitable donations.

I am interested information about these experiences and gauging interest in alternative, collective solutions to economic hardship.

Please share your input in this 5-minute survey!

Does it Matter Where You Shop? Ethical Consumption, Boycotts, and Change

Nike. Denny’s. Tommy Hilfiger. Walmart. Chick-Fil-A. Uber. United Airlines. These are a few companies that come to mind when I think about calls to boycott in my recent memory.

In all of these cases, public pushback was certainly warranted. We do not want to support racist, homophobic, misogynistic, exploitative business owners, executives, or companies. And yet, I can’t seem to shake questions I have about the effectiveness of deleting Uber from one’s phone or going to Big Lots instead of Walmart.

I’m not 100% sure what I think about these things. (I’m going to think out loud/through my fingers here on this blog.)  But I think I have a few starting points I want to articulate.

  1. I won’t take issue with where people spend their money based on their own personal convictions. If you have a deeply-held belief that Starbucks is horrible, and you don’t want to support them, I’m fine with that. I will not try to convince you otherwise. Your personal, ethical convictions are just that, and I don’t think persuading you to do something different is the best use of my persuasive or political energy. The reverse is also true; if you don’t see any problem with Walmart, then shame on you  that is for you to understand and decide for yourself…unless, of course, you ask for my opinion. I do think it’s important to act in accordance with your convictions; that’s integrity. And yet, I recognize that the choice to buy Adidas instead of Nike is–in the grand scheme of our fucked up world–rather negligible. Which brings me to my second point…
  2. Our biggest and most pressing problems are systemic in nature. What I mean is that so many of the problems we encounter are deeply rooted in longstanding structures that inevitably produce inequality, domination, and degradation. This is important because systemic problems require systemic solutions. In other words, our individual purchasing choices–even when undertaken by a mass of people– on a Saturday afternoon are not sufficient to effect long-term, substantive change. That’s just not the nature of the beast.
  3. It is helpful to support fair-trade, environmentally-friendly, democratic, and otherwise ethical companies and products. There are people, groups, and companies that are working hard to do business in just and sustainable ways. And the truth is that in order for them to keep doing what they’re doing, they need to prosper. They will prosper if they are supported. So, I think it is helpful to support businesses who business practices are in-line with progressive values.

So, does it it matter where you shop? I think it matters in 2 ways. Firstly, I think it matters because it is one of the ways you express your values and train yourself to be ever mindful of workers, wealth, the environment, etc. Secondly, it matters because money talks, and it is possible to send a clear message to companies by hitting them in the pockets.

But it also doesn’t matter in 2 ways. Firstly, it doesn’t matter because we are all inextricably caught up in an imperialist, capitalist system. We all have blood on our hands. You would be hard-pressed to make it through one day without using some product or service that would not be implicated. Secondly, it doesn’t matter because it’s not actually the answer to our larger systemic problems. Ultimately, structures have to change in order for the decisions available to us and the subsequent outcomes to change.

A final word about ethical consumption…It’s really important to consider how these choices are a function of access. When you have access to disposable income, you can make the more expensive choice for fair-trade coffee. When you have geographical access to multiple options, you can choose where you shop based on some other criterion besides proximity. And when you have access to extra time, your choices open up, as well.

Whether people decide to spend their money here or there, boycott or not, the critical question is: How are we joining forces to bring about deep solutions and lasting change beyond the trending protest of the week?

The Invention of Heterosexuality, Art for Black Women Suffering from America, and What if Sociologists Had as Much Influence as Economists?

The invention of ‘heterosexuality’

The first rebuttal to the claim that heterosexuality was invented usually involves an appeal to reproduction: it seems obvious that different-genital intercourse has existed for as long as humans have been around – indeed, we wouldn’t have survived this long without it. But this rebuttal assumes that heterosexuality is the same thing as reproductive intercourse. It isn’t. “Sex has no history,” writes queer theorist David Halperin at the University of Michigan, because it’s “grounded in the functioning of the body.” Sexuality, on the other hand, precisely because it’s a “cultural production,” does have a history. In other words, while sex is something that appears hardwired into most species, the naming and categorising of those acts, and those who practise those acts, is a historical phenomenon, and can and should be studied as such.


This Afro-Latina’s Art Is Therapy For Black Women Suffering From America

But the most standout work to come from the 34-year-old Bronx native, who now resides in Georgia, would be her art. Kelly’s illustrations, paintings and digital prints capture the patterns of objectification, ostracism and oppression that countless black women have experienced. From images that praise the art of twerking to women finding their self-worth in the wake of toxic romantic relationships, Kelly unapologetically places the glories, woes and ironies of black womanhood front and center in her work

What if Sociologists Had as Much Influence as Economists?

They say when all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. And the risk is that when every policy adviser is an economist, every problem looks like inadequate per-capita gross domestic product.
Another academic discipline may not have the ear of presidents but may actually do a better job of explaining what has gone wrong in large swaths of the United States and other advanced nations in recent years.
Sociologists spend their careers trying to understand how societies work. And some of the most pressing problems in big chunks of the United States may show up in economic data as low employment levels and stagnant wages but are also evident in elevated rates of depression, drug addiction and premature death. In other words, economics is only a piece of a broader, societal problem. So maybe the people who study just that could be worth listening to.

Making the Gig Economy Better, Immigrants and the Economy, Intentional Communities in Chicago, and Why Millenials Aren’t the Problem

These 4 Projects Are Trying To Make The Gig Economy Better For Workers

Uber is now the third-largest employer in the world. In less than a decade, more than half a billion people will be using on-demand platforms to try to earn a living. It’s an ideal moment, then, to try to figure out how to make those platforms work well for workers. If a gig with Uber has some advantages—a flexible schedule, a stopgap for someone between regular jobs—it can also be challenging to actually make enough money driving to pay the bills.


10 facts about immigrants and the economy

A nationwide strike Thursday dubbed a “Day Without Immigrants” cast a spotlight on the role of foreign-born workers in the American economy. The walkout at some businesses comes amid a feverish debate over undocumented immigration, foreign trade and President Trump’s temporary travel ban on people from several majority-Muslim nations. Here are 10 key things you should know about the impact of immigrants in the U.S. workforce:



Housemates share values in Chicago’s ‘intentional communities’

“It’s not the right model for everyone, but we think of it as part of the housing continuum.” Holmes said. “For example, if you’re a community organizer and you don’t have a trust fund, this is a way to have a housing community that you can sustain over decades and still get the perks of homeownership.”


Millennials Aren’t the Problem

Yet despite the barrage of millennial blaming in the media, young people aren’t buying the narrative that they are responsible for their own misery. Instead, they’re looking at how capitalism affects their lives. A survey conducted by Harvard University in early 2016 found that 51 percent of millennials reject capitalism as an economic system, with only 42 percent saying they support it. A Pew poll from five years earlier shows a similar trend, with 47 percent of millennials expressing dissatisfaction with capitalism.

Activism Sells, Christians Opposed to Trump, Photos in a Post-Truth Age, and Why You Shouldn’t Say “I Love You”

Here are my favorite links of the week:

Sex doesn’t sell any more, activism does. And don’t the big brands know it | Alex Holder

That’s the crux of successful marketing today: activism is in. “Our activism is currently mediated by brands,” says Will Fowler, creative director of Headspace. “Brands are allowing people to pat themselves on the back without them personally having to sacrifice anything.” It’s true. Popping into a warm, extremely convenient Starbucks for a sweet caffeine pick-up isn’t the same as driving to Calais on a Wednesday night with a boot full of baby carriers. I swapped one taxi app for another and felt incredibly smug. We’re all feeling the need to right the wrongs of today’s Brexit and Trump world – but few people are willing to actually sacrifice anything. If a brand can allow me to carry on living exactly as I was and fuel my social conscience then they can have all my pocket money.

These Conservative Christians Are Opposed to Trump—and Suffering the Consequences

Donald Trump has divided conservative Christian communities. Most white Christians support Trump, or at least voted for him. Some who have spoken out against his presidency or his policies, though, have encountered backlash. For a small group of people working in Christian ministry, music, and non-profit advocacy, the consequences have been tangible: They’ve faced pressure from their employers, seen funds withdrawn from their mission work, or lost performing gigs because of their political beliefs.

Want to resist the post-truth age? Learn to analyze photos like an expert would

Equally problematic is Trump’s strategic use of social media. Through this channel, the Trump administration can sell an image—and a subsequent interpretation—to the public without the mainstream news media acting as watchdogs. If the Trump administration continues to convince Americans to distrust the work of journalists, while simultaneously speaking directly to the public, they are one step closer to inoculating us against reality. So what can we do?

Why Zen and Taoist Masters Recommend Against Saying “I Love You” – The Power of Ideas

For this reason, to say “I love you” is to make fixed the current state of feelings, and bring forth attachment and expectation. Instead, what’s needed is greater equanimity, which is a feeling of constant calm. It involves finding the empty center of being, relying on that as the basis from which to greet each moment with love.

Favorite Links of the Week


Here are my favorite links this week:

Queer Muslim women from the south: ‘We exist and we’re fierce’

8 Ways to Read (a Lot) More Books This Year

Why Do We Take Pride in Working for a Paycheck?

‘We’re not hippies, we’re punks.’ School that has projects, not subjects, on the timetable

The Results of 8 Workers’ Rights Ballot Measures

A few months ago, I shared a link about 8 workers’ rights ballot measures to watch this November. The elections are over. What were the results?

  1. Arizona Proposition 206 was approved, increasing the minimum wage to $10 in 2017 and $12 by 2020. It also creates the right to paid sick time off.
  2. Colorado’s Amendment 70 was approved, increasing the minimum wage to $9.30 in 2017 and $12 by 2020.
  3. Maine Question 4 was approved, gradually increasing the minimum wage to $12 by 2020.
  4. South Dakota Referred Law 20 was defeated, preventing the decrease of the minimum wage for workers under age 18.
  5. Washington Initiative 1433 was approved, raising the minimum wage to $13.50 by 2020 and mandating employers to offer paid sick leave.
  6. Alabama Amendment 8 was approved, prohibiting businesses from making rules about union membership. Essentially, this allows workers who benefit from unions to opt out of paying dues to unions.
  7. Virginia’s Right to Work Amendment was defeated, preventing an addition to the constitution that would make it illegal for employers to require union membership as a condition of employment.
  8. Colorado’s Amendment T was defeated, allowing forced and unpaid labor of persons convicted of crimes.

A Military Kid’s Mixed Feelings About Veteran’s Day

By the time I graduated high school, I had attended 8 different schools–4 elementary schools, 3 middle schools, and 1 high school. This is par for the course for military kids.

Today is Veteran’s Day. I can immediately think of 4 people in my family who served in the military for at least 20 years, including my grandfather and my father. My grandfather passed away 8 years ago, and my father walked out of my life 4 years ago. Nevertheless, I am thinking about them today.

I have complicated and mixed feelings about this day (and not just because it conjures memories of beloved men in my life who are now gone). On the one hand, I am grateful for the many experiences I had as a military kid. I think those experiences shaped me into a person who is aware of the bigness and diversity of the world, who faces change and adapts quickly, who is sensitive to “new kids” and outcasts, and who creates home wherever I go.

And yet, as I evolve and develop intellectually and politically, I am acutely aware of the imperialist function of the U.S. military and the ways my family has participated in that for generations. More disconcerting, still, is the realization that this complicity has been chiefly motivated by lack of economic opportunity. Both my grandfather and father come from big families and small towns. The military was a way out.

I do not think the men in my family joined the military out of love for country and desire to “serve and defend our freedom”. I have literally never heard my father say those words. My grandfather was quite patriotic but also the fiercest critic of American racism and classism. (How very James Baldwin of him!)

So what does it mean to honor veterans today when “serving our country” has often had devastating effects on other parts of the world?  How do I grapple with my deep appreciation for the ways the military created a safe and stable life for my family alongside my deep rejection of the economic inequality that made enlisting look like the best choice in the first place? How do I appropriately respect the hard choices and challenges veterans have faced while rejecting this militaristic empire?

I really don’t know.