An Open Letter to Zunera Ishaq

Dear Zunera Ishaq:

Welcome.  Welcome to Canada and congratulations on becoming a Canadian citizen.  You are joining a great country, as the debate you triggered by deciding to wear the niqab at your citizenship ceremony proves.

As I’m sure you know, many in Canada would like to follow the lead of France and the Netherlands and ban the wearing of the niqab.  I am not one of those Canadians.  I believe that you have every right in a free country to wear whatever you want, even if what you are wearing is considered rude and offensive to millions of your fellow citizens.  I believe in the right to offend.  You have not come to a country where people riot or murder over perceived insults.

Zunera Ishaq, or possibly somebody else, wearing a niqab.

Zunera Ishaq, or possibly somebody else. Who can say?

Unfortunately you have come from a country where such things do happen.  I’m sure you are aware of Salman Taseer, the Pakistani politician who was murdered by his own bodyguard because he called for the abolition of the death penalty for insulting Islam, and defended a woman who was facing death under that horrible and unjust law.  When the murderer appeared in court, supporters showered him with rose petals. Salman Taseer’s son, Shabaz, who was a witness at the trial, was also kidnapped and murdered. So this is a part, possibly just a small part but a part none the less, of the culture you have left behind.  I think you can understand why Canadians would not want to see that culture in your new country.

So that explains our first reaction to your traditional garment.  For us it represents a horrible, brutal, disgusting, odious, malignant and oppressive culture.  The aura of that culture clings to the niqab like a bad smell. For us it is far more offensive than any cartoon or verbal statement could ever be.  When you wear it, I hope you will be aware that we find it offensive and why.

Our offence taken goes beyond an acute distaste for the culture the burka and the niqab represent to us.  Many of us have been accused of racism when we criticize the wearing of these cultural symbols.  But race is something that a person does not choose and can do nothing about.  I am a man of Caucasian descent.  These are things I did not choose and can’t change.  But the customs and trappings of my culture are things I can choose and can change.  There are many actual racists in Canada, and many racists, in fact all racists, are indeed ignorant.  But this is not a matter of race but of culture.
My offence is not founded on ignorance but on verifiable news reports from your original country.

So I reject the ad hominem that is thrown at people who object to your display of freedom.  We are not necessarily racist, though some may be.  And there is a second and a third source of our offence.  I’ve read that one purpose of your complete covering is to prevent men looking at a woman and thinking impure thoughts, that they cannot control their uncontrollable lust.  This seems to me unlikely to be true.  Even if it is true in some cases, it is an insulting assumption about me and most men.  It infantalizes us as a gender.  It is also ineffective, in that men assume there is a woman under that cloth and their imagination is quite able to give an image to what the garment conceals.

Canada is a country of inclusion.  We welcome you.  By wearing the niqab or the burka, you say to us that you do not want to be included.  You want to stay in your own culture, insulated from the common culture of by far the majority of Canadians.  A large part of our communication is through body language and facial expressions.  You deny us this access to your thoughts and feelings.  You say, to our understanding, that while you claim to have come here because you like Canada and like our culture of freedom, in fact you don’t.  You would really prefer to be back in the culture you have left behind.  It should hardly come as a surprise when many Canadians suggest you would be happier if you went back where you came from.

It is not my place to tell any woman what to wear.  If being, at the very least, provocative, if not rude and offensive, is your aim, then you have succeeded.  If none of this was your intention, then please understand that it is the result no matter what your intention might be.

I support, even applaud, your offensive statement.  But please understand that you are being offensive.  Please do not be surprised when people respond by being and acting offended.

With all due respect

Darwin Harmless

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Vote Early Vote Often (once a day for the next fourteen days)

The web series, QUILTBAGS, is trying to get ten grand out of Telus so they can buy some decent equipment and take their productions up a notch.

Please click on this link, find QUILTBAGS “Don’t Bug Me”, and vote.  This shouldn’t take much of your time, but it could really help a worthy creative endeavour.  Please.

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I have this little hose…

I have this little hose attached to my body a few inches below my belly button.  It’s very convenient because sometimes i need to void waste water and the little hose makes this easy.  I can void waste water standing up.  I can write my name in the snow.


Apparently roughly half of the human population has a hose something like mine.  Some are much bigger, and some are smaller.  But they all have the same function – a little tube through which waste water can be directed.

Oh yes, of course, the little hoses have another function as well.  Under some circumstances they will become stiff and inflexible.  Then they can be used to insert reproductive material into the body of another human, one of the ones who doesn’t have a little hose attached to their body but have, instead, a hole for the little hose to go into.  This is essential for he continuation of our species.  It’s also very pleasurable, probably because if it wasn’t pleasurable it wouldn’t happen enough to keep our species from going extinct.

Now here is the strange part.  Nobody is allowed to see my little hose.  If I take it out in public, I will be arrested and charged with a crime.  Only doctors are allowed to see my little hose.  Well, doctors and select people who don’t have a little hose.  Or even select people who themselves have a little hose but like to play with the little hoses on other people.  The point is, showing your little hose is not a casual thing.  It’s accompanied by elaborate negotiation and rituals.

The way human beings reproduce seems very strange indeed.  Genetic material is passed through the little hose into the body of another human, one has a hole, where it joins with some genetic material from that person, eventually growing into a tiny human and being expelled from the host body.  This is a difficult, painful, and dangerous way for our species to reproduce, but that’s how it’s done.

Then things get really strange.  The people who don’t have little hoses have bumps on their chests.  After they expel a tiny human from their body, these bumps produce a liquid that is very nourishing.  The new tiny human gets to live on this liquid for several months, sometimes several years, until they grow teeth and have the ability to eat normal food.

In general, people are not allowed to see these bumps either.  They can see part of the bumps, but the spot where the liquid comes out is never supposed to be seen.

So some people have little hoses that they can’t let other people see.  And some people have bumps on their chests that they can’t let people see.  Oh, I forgot to mention.  they’re not supposed to let people see the entrance to their holes either.

The people who don’t have bumps on their chests still have spots on their chests very similar to the places where liquid comes out of the bumps on other peoples’ chests.  But nobody cares if people are allowed to see those spots.

If you have any questions about this, please feel free to write to me and I’ll do my best to answer.  Just keep in mind that the answers might not be very satisfying, because a lot of this doesn’t make much sense.

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No, It’s Not Complicated

I love Laci Green.  She’s always spot on with her opinion and on the right side of logic and compassion.  But this time I have a quibble.  She says that decriminalizing prostitution is a complicated issue.  No it’s not.

The only thing that makes this issue complicated is our fucked up attitudes towards sex.  If prostitution were seen the same way we see any other personal service, there’s no complication at all.

Why is this any more complicated than, say, massage therapy?  Or dog grooming?  If I take my dog to a groomer and she misbehaves (the dog, not the groomer), if she threatens to bite or attacks another dog, I could be told to take her someplace else or clip her toenails myself.  No problem.  Why is prostitution any different?

My daughter cuts hair for a living.  This would be complicated if it were a criminal activity, if having your hair cut was seen as something shameful, and if cutting somebody else’s  hair was seen as something we should proscribe.  Then my daughter’s present occupation would be complicated indeed.  In fact, it would be just as complicated as prostitution.

As it is, my daughter has the protection of the law if somebody tries to coerce her into cutting hair when she doesn’t want to.  As it is, she is free to leave her current employer and seek another if she’s not satisfied with the working conditions.  She can call on full social support if anybody threatens her or uses coercion to keep her chained to her chair. If she gets an abusive customer, she can refuse to serve them with no consequences, and legal recourse if threats or violence ensues.  Her work is covered by our labour laws.  She gets legal holidays, or extra pay if she works them.  She pays taxes and contributes to her government run pension fund.

When our society can see that consensual sexual acts between adults, even if for money, are none of our damn business, the complication of this issue suddenly disappears.  Then the answer is obvious.  Stop interfering.

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QUILTBAGS the Web Series

quiltbags cast

Here’s something worth supporting.  Check out the new web series, QUILTBAGS and help spread it around.

The acronym is not original to this series.  It stands for  Questioning/Queer, Undecided, Intersex, Lesbian, Trans, Bi, Asexual, Gay.  It’s gaining currency because it’s easier to remember and more inclusive than LGBTQ.   The series has added  the S, for Straight, so it includes everybody.

The series mission is to promote sex positive attitudes, tolerance and acceptance through dramatized comedy scenes.  The first two episodes are now on line.

Here’s QUILTBAGS episode 1  (You’ll  find episode 2 if you scroll down on that linked page)

Don’t forget to subscribe, so you get a notification of each new episode, then leave a comment on the site.  Give these people some guidance and encouragement.

(Full disclosure:  Yes, I’m involved.  I wrote the theme song and play one of the characters.)

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Nobody got the joke.

This was my April Fools Day gag for this year.  I think the impact of the line of staples was overwhelming, because nobody got the joke.

knee replacement with added grease nipple

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I am Charlie.

Protesting the massacre at Charlie Hedbo.

And you should be too.  The only way to fight people who are willing to kill you for insulting their beliefs or their imaginary friends is to insult their beliefs and imaginary friends.

Protesters after the massacre at Charlie Hedbo.e massacre at Charlie Hedbo.

Do it from hiding if you must, but do it.  Ridicule them into non-existence.

Protesters after the massacre at Charlie Hedbo.I am Charlie.

(I don’t know who deserves the credit for these pictures.  If you know, please tell me in the comments.)


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Click Bate Headline Fails

I am so very sick of click bate headlines. You know the type. They are structured as a statememt of an event or situation, followed by “you won’t believe what happened next.” or “but what he did is incredible.” or (after a short cruise down Facebook) “See This Dog Running? You’re Never Going To Believe What He Does… I Can’t Believe What I Just Saw And You Won’t Either.”

I’m at the point where I refuse to click on these things, just because they are so badly written, such lazy copycat writing. These people need to sharpen their hooks.

The Christian right also comes out with horrible click bate headlines, a la “Atheists couldn’t stop this flash mob.” or “Atheists are shocked by this proof that God exists.” or “Atheists are furious about what this woman did.” As if atheists give a flying frog about the content of the story.

But now the skeptics have struck back with their own version: “God is on the ropes: The brilliant new science that has creationists and the Christian right terrified”.  This is beyond stupid as a headline.  Not only is the “new science” not particularly new, the idea that any scientific information would worry a creationist is absurd.  I’ll let PZ Myers explain.

“As for the claim that creationists will be terrified by this discovery…excuse me, but I have to go off somewhere and laugh for ten minutes or so.

Creationists don’t understand thermodynamics. Heck, they don’t understand basic logic. You think an obscure bit of theory by some brilliant wonk, written up in journals they’ll never read? My dog, man, I’ve still got creationists asking me, “If man evolved from monkeys, why are there still monkeys?” and you think they’re going to be stunned into silence by a technical paper in a physics journal on entropy, heat dissipation, and molecular self-organization? Look at England’s paper — it’s got math in it. The only thing that’s going to terrify the religious right is the prospect of reading the thing.

Creationists are always predicting the imminent death of Darwinism. Let’s not emulate them by predicting the imminent death of religious conservatism…and worse, attributing it to one isolated analysis by one guy working in theoretical physics.” – PZ Meyers

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You’ve Got a Good Family, My Trans Nephew.

Over the holidays I learned that one of my many nieces is no longer a niece, but is now a nephew.  This came on the heels of the horribly sad story of (Leelah) Josh Alcorn, the young trans woman who killed herself after years of psychological torture by her Christian parents.

Naturally my first thought was for the mental and physical health of my nephew.  He’s a female to male transgender, which I understand is far more difficult surgically than the other way around.  I learned about this from my sister, a Christian,  the boy’s grandmother.  After she told me the news,  I told her about the tragedy of Leelah Alcorn and sent her this message.

Dear S___:

Here’s a link to the article I told you about.

This is such a sad story, S____.  We’d better all make sure L___  gets the support he needs.


Darwin Harmless  (Not the name I use in actual correspondence)

Her reply really warmed my heart:

You’re right that this is a terribly tragic story.  But saying all Christians believe this crap is a bit like saying all Muslims are terrorists.  As far as I know L___  has not met with this kind of cruelty from any member of our family and as far as I know you are the only non believer but this is off the topic.

I do not know how anyone can harbour that kind of ignorance in this day and age but sadly I know they do.  L___ had the courage to come with his Mom to tell me how he felt, we had gone through the I am gay stage and I think that is because he did not know what the real issue was. I can not imagine the confusion these kids must feel.  We humans are very visual in our perception.  What we see in the wrapping is what it is to us.

When L____ told me his greatest fear was that the family would push him aside we all assured him that even if we did not understand all the issues he would face no one in the family would withdraw our support or love.  Your cousin, K____,  is probably the most educated and understanding.   The rest of us will try to relate and support him anyway we can.  I have asked L____ to also understand that the older the family member or friend is the harder it will be to understand how difficult the transition will be for him. I have asked him to take shock or ignorant questions as a lack of knowledge not rejection of him,  that whether people understand or not he will always be loved and can come to us if he needs to hear that.

So far everyone has supported L____ –  a few raised eyebrows but no one is inclined to be cruel.  I think L_____ is very lucky.  My heart bleeds for the ones whose family think punishment is going to cure someone of who they are. Aside from that, K____ and I have had many discussions about this issue.  I really want to be sure that this is who L____ is because from an early age his parents, both wanting to make sure he was raised without gender identification, made it seem that identifying as a girl was a negative thing.  I have seen his father ridicule anything girly. K____ feels that even with that kind of programing it would not be possible to change your natural instinct.  Hope she is right.

L____  has gone through about three years of counselling and seems to be very happy with what he is doing.  I guess the proof is in the pudding. As a girl he was a most annoying child, nasty in fact.  Since he told everyone what he is doing he seems to be much happier and has become quite pleasant to be around.  My only wish is that he finds his place in life and can cope with the issues that will arise.  Whether we like it or not the human race is the nastiest beast on earth.  We are capable of extreme cruelty and I doubt that will ever change.You can be sure that L____  has the support he needs.  We do not need to completely understand what he is going through to stand behind him and up for him.  Anyone being mean to L____  will deal with a whole wall of angry people.   I am not surprised but very glad that you and R____ will stand with us.

Love S____

To which I replied:

I have never been prouder of you than I am at this moment.

You are just a fine human being and I’m so happy that you are my sister.

If you have an email address or facebook contact for L_____, I wouldn’t mind lending my note of support.

Much love

Darwin Harmless  (and R____)

P.S. I am sorry for the anti-Christian bias of the article I sent you.  The fact is, the intolerance that drove this girl to suicide seems to be more associated with devout religious belief than otherwise, and in this case religious belief was a direct cause of the girl’s suffering.  But I’m aware that most Christians would find that behaviour misguided and wrong.  Some of my best friends and most, if not all, family members identify as Christians.  I love them all.  I just can’t connect with the belief system.  It just doesn’t make any sense to me, as if they are talking another language when the dogma is explained.  That may well be my failing.  It’s been described to me like somebody who has absolutely no appreciation for music.  Trying to explain music to such a person would be a waste of time.

And a final note from my sister:

Hi Darwin Harmless:
I do not have a media contact for L____.  He decided sites that Grandparents and old people use are just to tacky for him, but I will certainly pass on your support the next time we speak.
I am so glad that he has such support from family I can not imagine the pain of rejection that so many people suffer.  I still have great fear of suicide in this case because even with all the support the world is a cruel place and I fear he will not have an easy life. Family support may not be enough.  I hope that love and support at home will give him the strength, courage and self confidence to thumb his nose at discrimination.  I hope that in the future he will find someone with the dedication and love to withstand the discrimination they will suffer as a couple.  There are so many issues ahead of him that have not yet been breached.  I try not to look too far forward.  The world is changing so fast and there are far more people coming forward with transgender issues.  Maybe at this time and in the future he will find more acceptance than in the past.  Can you imagine what he would have suffered when we where teens.  I did not even hear of transgender until I was a much older adult.  Being a teenager is such a difficult time.

Love you both


And as always, I’m giving myself the last word:

Hi S____:

There is hope.  We have a friend, actually an old friend of R____’s, who is a male to female transgendered.  The funny thing is she’s still attracted to women, so she’s a lesbian.  Go figure, eh.  Anyway, she has a beautiful girlfriend and the two are just crazy about each other.  She’s also surrounded by very supportive friends, mostly slightly older people who are all misfits to some extent themselves.

Like you said, the world is changing.  Happiness is possible, even for those who have the hardest path to walk.

Much love

Darwin Harmless

And there you have it.  It feels so good that my family stands in such stark contrast to the loving Christian family that couldn’t accept Leelah Alcorn.  And perhaps my family is more the norm, even among Christians.  We can hope.

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It’s all About Communication

spinach caught in teeth

Shelley Berman did a comedy routine back in the sixties in which he described being on a date and every time you go to kiss the girl she turns her head.  Then when you get home you look in the mirror and find a big piece of spinach RIGHT  HERE.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if such a scenario were impossible.  In my perfect world it would be, because people would talk to each other.  Like this: “You know, I’d really like to kiss you but you have a big chunk of spinach in your teeth and it’s grossing me out.  How about we get rid of that and try again?”

Is that really so hard?  Why don’t I live in that world, instead of a world in which people identify with and laugh at Shelley Berman’s story?

And given that my perfect world doesn’t exist, can we do anything about this?


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