Let’s Talk About It: the complexity of feminism

This is something I’m labeling as a “Let’s Talk About It” here because I ended up talking at length about this topic, but it originated from an ask on tumblr. Below is the ask, as well as my answer. I’m posting here because it’s a long answer and others may find it to be of interest, or I may want to find this post again in the future.

Copied tumblr post below:


I answered the ICoS questions in a different post so here I’m answering just the feminist question. I split them because whether I consider myself to be a feminist is a complicated/long answer on its own.

You may be wondering why this part took me so much longer to answer. It’s because no matter how many times I started this post, it always devolved into way too many topics way too quickly and somehow it involved a rant. Although you said it was fine to rant, I felt like I wasn’t explaining my thought process well and I kept getting way too sidetracked. To me, everything is interconnected so there are several really big topics that can get pulled in from the simple question of “feminism: yes/no?”.

This is probably try #6 on this post and hopefully this will be the last attempt. All of this is, of course, merely my personal opinion– other people could think completely differently than I do, and it doesn’t make them less valid than me. It simply makes them a human being with a different opinion, which is not something to judge but rather something to accept and even love.

The short answer is that I don’t consider myself to be anything in particular. Without going way too much on a tangent, the way I personally feel about things (others could feel otherwise and be totally valid) is that labels are limiting, both externally by what people make assumptions about based on the label, and internally by what people will allow themselves to think/feel based on trying to fit in with whatever label they’ve self-assigned.

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What makes a person be nice

I hadn’t thought too much about what makes a person be nice, although I do have to admit that sometimes I simply can’t understand why some people aren’t nicer to others. My natural reaction is to want to try to help people if possible, not because I’m some paragon of virtue (I’m not) but simply because it’s my natural reaction. It’s what both makes sense to me logically to do, and what emotionally I feel compelled to do.

That compulsion can have a range of how it manifests, which has in the past for me personally included things like carrying a first-aid kit in my trunk in case anyone ever needs it and then using it the time a woman was domestically assaulted in front of me and I wanted to stop her bleeding until the ambulance arrived, to smaller things like calling the energy company to report power outages even in areas that I don’t live or work just because I noticed it as I drove by, or panicking and running around trying to save and protect stray dogs, and to even smaller things like donating to charity when I can.

I mention these examples solely so you know what I mean about my “natural reaction” in case you might have imagined something different. I’m not saying those examples are something amazing or particularly nice, because to me it’s perfectly normal and I assume everyone else does the exact same thing. But I’m not sure if they do so I thought I should give some specifics. Also, I’m not labeling myself as being ‘nice’ but other people have called me that so I figured I could make a good example to use in explaining why this is interesting to me.

And to be even more clear that I’m not trying to claim anything stupid: The thing is, sometimes my compassion limit is reached and I just can’t with anything. I get really pissed off about some things if I find them to be morally ambiguous and hypocritical (I can deal with moral ambiguity on its own but I hate hypocrisy so that riles me up a lot), and sometimes I find myself being a dick to people because I’ve gotten so tired after dealing with things for so long that I just can’t couch everything in pleasant words with a polite smile anymore. Sometimes just no. I can’t. Sometimes I can’t laugh at things either (which is usually my defense mechanism) and sometimes I can’t translate it into a learning experience to try to make it positive. Sometimes I just need a break and I need to rant.

I mention that to explain that I’m not nice because I expect anything in return; I’m nice because there is simply no other logical or emotional option in my brain most of the time; but I’m also not always nice because sometimes I’m so worn down mentally I get frustrated with people and want to yell at them for being idiots rather than try to calmly discuss with them our differences.

Anyway, I’d never thought about why I’m this way and someone else is some other way, other than that I assumed their life experiences or whatever other situation caused that to happen. But I saw that there had been a 2012 study about a gene that contributes to people being more generous, and it turns out that it is also related to oxytocin.

Someday, I will probably do a post about oxytocin on its own because it is so awesome and fascinating to me… it’s called the “love drug”, “trust hormone” or “cuddle chemical” and I mentioned it as one of the neurobiological factors in the way a survivor might respond at the time of being raped, but it’s also related to a recent study that found that the neurobiological response between human parents and their human infants was very similar to the neurobiological response (in this case, a positive feedback loop) between humans and their dogs. Specifically domesticated dogs; not cats or even wolves raised since birth by humans. In other words, if you know someone who treats their dog like their child, that feeling may not be far from the truth as far as the hormone levels in their brain is concerned.

Oxytocin is also involved in the idea of whether someone’s nicer, because several genes were identified as controlling the function of oxytocin and vasopressin receptors. In less technical terms, oxytocin is what makes you feel love, and vasopressin is involved in regulation of social behavior (weirdly enough, has also been called the fidelity or monogamy gene). And this 2012 study found that people’s perceptions of the world (as a more or less threatening place) combined with these specific genes to predict generosity.

Here’s a quote from Michel Poulin, PhD, principal author of the 2012 study:

Study participants who found the world threatening were less likely to help others — unless they had versions of the receptor genes that are generally associated with niceness.

[These “nicer” versions of the genes] allow you to overcome feelings of the world being threatening and help other people in spite of those fears.

The fact that the genes predicted behavior only in combination with people’s experiences and feelings about the world isn’t surprising, because most connections between DNA and social behavior are complex. So, if one of your neighbors seems really generous, caring, civic-minded kind of person, while another seems more selfish, tight-fisted and not as interested in pitching in, their DNA may help explain why one of them is nicer than the other.

We aren’t saying we’ve found the niceness gene. But we have found a gene that makes a contribution. What I find so interesting is the fact that it only makes a contribution in the presence of certain feelings people have about the world around them.

Find the article here: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/04/120410093151.htm

And here’s a video about altruism that’s very interesting, because it looks at why and how it could have developed, evolutionarily speaking:

What is so interesting to me about this topic is that growing up I thought everyone would react exactly how I would in situations, but over time I found that wasn’t always the case. Sometimes people reacted the same way I did, and other times I seemed to be the only one doing it. I then thought that it probably indicated something was wrong with me but I didn’t care because it’s who I am so it’s fine. On the other hand, because it comes so naturally to me, I would sometimes judge other people for not being more kind when it seemed to me it wasn’t that difficult of a thing to do. I felt that they were very purposefully not being helpful or kind, or that there was some sort of factor I didn’t know such as maybe a mental illness or something else.

Now, I see that it’s possible it’s something else entirely: it may simply be in their DNA, the same as it is for me.

Neurobiology of Rape and Sexual Assault: Let’s Talk About It

In honor of US National Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and for my 100th blog post, I wanted to cover a topic that is really important to me. This will be the first in my Let’s Talk About It series, looking at complicated or serious topics and exploring it in pieces a post at a time.

Today I want to talk about the neurobiology of trauma, specifically in regards to rape or sexual assault. This is a complicated topic that many others cover better than me so I’m going to do as much of an overview as I can, and because there’s a lot to cover I will only touch on pieces.

TRIGGER WARNING FOR ANYONE WHO HAS SURVIVED RAPE OR SEXUAL ASSAULT: I will be talking about what happens in the body and brain during trauma, so it’s possible some wording might be triggering. This focuses on hormonal reactions and the chemistry of the brain. Please do not read further if you think this will be detrimental for you.

Regarding this post:

First, you might notice me switch between victim, survivor, and victim/survivor. There is no specific reason for where I use each. The term ‘survivor’ is what I’ve seen preferred by those who have survived assaults and they are part of my target audience; however, another large part of my target audience is people who have never experienced an assault and who do not understand why things happen the way they do, and oftentimes that demographic uses the term ‘victim.’

Second, you should know that there are a lot of misconceptions about rape and sexual assault, and this feeds into rape culture. Two main myths of rape/sexual assault can be explained by neurobiology and very human responses to trauma so those are the two I will cover in this post. There are a lot of other myths and misconceptions so if you are interested in me talking more about this topic, let me know.

  1. MYTH NUMBER ONE: It isn’t rape if the person didn’t say no/fight back.

  2. MYTH NUMBER TWO: If someone says they were raped but their story doesn’t make sense, it means they’re lying or covering something up.

Other myths that could be covered in more detail if anyone wants:

  • If a person is raped when they are drugged or drunk it’s their fault and/or it isn’t actually rape (untrue; in many places you can’t legally consent if you’re under the influence of anything)
  • People lie about being raped all the time (actually, only about 2-8% do, compared to 66% who don’t report to authorities for fear that they won’t be believed)
  • You have to worry most about being raped by a stranger (not accurate; over 2/3 of rape or sexual assault is committed by someone the person knows)
  • Men can’t be raped, especially by a woman, because men always want sex (this is a huge topic so in short, this myth is completely untrue and pisses me off every time I see it said or implied)
  • Everyone is just as likely to be raped as anyone else (another huge topic, but: no. While some forms of sexual assault may have similar percentages for different demographics, there are some statistics and likelihood of vulnerability based on sexual orientation, gender identity, race, age, and more)


Myths #1 and #2 listed in red above can very easily be explained by the way the brain and body respond to trauma. Important facts to know right away that I will explain in detail beneath the cut:

  • It isn’t fight or flight– it’s fight, flight, or freeze
  • The hormones that are released at the time of trauma determine the response the victim/survivor will have, and the survivor has no control over this response
  • Memories are recorded completely differently in traumatic situations vs normal situations
  • A percentage of rape victims/survivors are literally paralyzed by their own body during the assault

Disclaimer: I gathered this information through research in multiple sources but especially from three nationally recognized subject matter experts. I listed their names, credentials, and links at the bottom of this post. I highly recommend you check them out if you find this topic interesting at all.

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(Not So Very) Important Conversations: Lexington and PA


lol after I saw this I spent…  I’m not sure. On and off over an hour or something, trying to find these old maps I had done where I had sketched out a vaguepossible area where Lexington might be situated based on the roads we used in the story. But I can’t find it, and it was never official anyway; just a general thing for my own curiosity. So maybe it’s better I didn’t find it anyway.

Maybe it was somewhere around Harrisburg or between Harrisburg and Johnstown? I honestly don’t remember. We don’t have a specific place we imagined it so even that general guess could be off.

Neither of us specifically remember why PA was originally chosen, but it was most likely because that’s the area where Neulan was set (from our RPG called District 9 in the early 2000′s; we’d made up a fictitious city named Neulan City for that. That’s the RPG Boyd, Viv, Ced and Lou come from). Since in the beginning we were just writing things for ourselves to pass the time, and we didn’t want to spend a bajillion years figuring out things that weren’t going to matter, we probably went with PA by default.

We might have also chosen that because Sonny would know the general area well enough for us to be able to describe things, because I’ve very rarely been to the Northeast and never for more than several hours so I would’ve been useless. But Northeast seemed like a better place than the Midwest that I would’ve known.

I do think its location and it being a more low-profile state make it a good place. It’s semi-close to DC and other areas like that, so it still is accessible to government organizations, but it would also be far enough away that its secrecy could be more easily kept than if, say, it had been in NYC or some higher profile city/state.

As for why all the names are fictitious— it’s because we wanted people to think that this kind of thing could happen in any city in the country and not be tied to imagining just one specific area with certain landmarks. And because it gave us more latitude in creating the city in a manner that made sense for the Agency and Johnson’s Pharmaceuticals and all that.

Plus, naming things is fun! It was fun naming the neighborhoods, ngl.

As a bonus side note of information: for years and years, the city the Agency was set in actually did not have a name. There was no Lexington as a name. We did that to really reinforce that idea that it could happen anywhere. But as we wrote more of the series, it started to get super awkward not having a name for the city when they were in other cities like Carson or wherever.

So, we decided we had to come up with a name for it.

Want to know how? I pulled out my giant ass atlas of the US, flipped to the back where it listed every single city on the maps, and skimmed the names of real US cities to get inspiration. I wrote down the names I liked the most, and then double-checked that none of those names were already a city in Pennsylvania.

…HA. I just found the email thread where we figured this out. Apparently I looked through my North American Road Atlas on July 13 to July 14, 2010, when I couldn’t sleep one night. One of our concerns was we wanted to make sure the name wouldn’t sound too small town, so it would fit the image of a sizeable city, and we wanted to try to stick with one name if possible to make it easier.

A list of names I had toward the end was “Grays Harbor, Normandy, Northfield, Northampton, Sussex, Winchester, Lexington, Bridgeport, Olympia, Waitsburg (sp?), Brooklyn, Richmond, Winthrop, Queenstown, Hillsborough, Aurora, Edgewater”

Sonny said we shouldn’t use any that were too well-known already. He said his favorite from the list was Lexington.

To which my reply was:

“Grays Harbor and Lexington were my favorites from the list, and Grays Harbor sounded a bit too much like it could be from a soap opera. so yeah Lexington by itself is my favorite too from the list “

And that was the last email in that thread so apparently that’s how we decided on Lexington lol

Q&A: Boyd’s look post-Aleixo

In 2013 on our Santino & Ais Goodreads group, I had gotten a question regarding Boyd and his looks and why he might have chosen to do certain things in Fade. I realized today that it’s too difficult to direct-link to that individual comment, and I didn’t want to forget or lose the more in-depth answer.

The question and answer are both behind a cut below due to major spoilers for Fade.

(By the way, I did answer the Kassian part of her question later too and at first I was going to just leave that alone and potentially put it in another post, but in rereading my initial answer I remembered that on Lorraine’s request I had followed up with a longer answer, mixing in the Kassian part. So I just did both in this post. It makes it really long but if you’re interested in Boyd’s motivations or psychology, you might enjoy this.)

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ICoS: random research/note

I just found this randomly super detailed note in a really old file I hadn’t touched in years. I don’t know if it’s of interest to anyone, but this is what I had.


owns a 2009 Audi A4 Saloon, exterior color phantom black, pearl effect, w/ black interior with milano leather, engine SE 3.2 FSI 265 PS 6 speed manual transmission

Note: contains Bang & Olufsen sound system designed specifically for A4, w/ surround-sound reproduction w/ dynamic-noise compensation, 14 high-performance loudspeakers (505 watt) and 10-channel amplifier. BLAIR may be interested in this and freak over it (check reviews on quality of sound — even if crappy sounding, he’d be interested in the idea of the system made specifically for that)

Q&A: Boyd and fighting, post-Fade

After Fade/ICoS finished, some readers had questions about Boyd and how well he could fight following the series. I thought I had already done a post on this but in retrospect, I don’t think I did; I think I just answered people here and there on the topic.

The specific question and the answer are both behind a cut below due to a major spoiler for Fade.

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