3 Reasons Why Rape Fans on Both Sides of the Fence Hate “Consent as a Felt Sense”

The other day, the essay I co-wrote with unquietpirate, “You Can Take It Back: Consent as a Felt Sense,” was linked on MetaFilter. In our essay, we argue that understanding consent as a form of “agreement” or contract is at the root of many patterns of violence, including but not limited to rape culture and the overwhelming, global epidemic of sexual assault. That is to say, rape is widespread and normalized because a fundamental component of the experience of rape, namely consent-violating behavior, is also widespread and normalized. Finally, we propose that understanding consent as “being okay with an experience one is having or has had” rather than legalistically as “permission to do a thing” might go a long way toward mitigating and ultimately healing from this widespread violence.

This should hardly be a controversial assertion. Who can claim to have never experienced unwanted coercive influence on our decision making process? Who can claim to have never said “yes” to anything under threat of violence? Only a fool or a deity could possibly claim such a thing, and even then the fool’s ignorance of his or her or their position on the business end of the guns does not change the fact of the gun’s presence.

Yet our essay is reliably controversial and reliably inspires the most vicious sentiments. This blog got a surge of threatening comments after MetaFilter linked to it, and the thread on MetaFilter itself quickly ballooned to nearly 100 comments, largely filled with hate-spew but also some remarkable gems of critical thought.

There is a pattern to the hate-spew. Aside from the ad-hominems (“maymay is a horrible person,” which may be true but doesn’t change the merits of the argument), the hate-spew follows three basic lines of thought.

The most common rebuttal to our essay is that, to paraphrase some of the more hateful comments politely, “Consent-as-Felt is a model of consent incompatible with the legal system.” I have no disagreements with this. Over on Facebook, Niphada Frost summed up the disconnect more succinctly than I ever have:

“Consent as a felt sense” is about accepting multiple and potentially infinite numbers of subjective experiences with respect to consent violations. But the legalists believe in one “objective” view that can be enforced by a higher power, and (purposefully?) misconstrue “consent as a felt sense” as yet another enforced objective POV, just one they don’t like. Obviously, people will take “consent as a felt sense” rhetoric and use it to hurt people. But the *idea* that the phrase is trying to point to is really important.

Over on MetaFilter itself, a commenter named kochbeck also summed it up very well:

I notice there were more than a couple comments where the reaction was, “That’s nice, but enforceability!” I can’t help but ask, enforceability where? Find me a legal jurisdiction where it’s happening anywhere in any way that provides peace of mind for its citizens and justice for the alleged perpetrators, and I’ll reconsider legalism as a good starting point. But till then, perhaps open-mindedness to a broader exploration ought not be out of the question.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t enforce (obviously, I’m incensed that we don’t). I’m saying that shutting down paths of exploration of the topic that don’t take enforceability into account pretty much guarantees that nothing is going to change. It doesn’t de-significate anyone’s trauma or experience or reduce the special position we’ve given to words like “rape” when, in frank discussion, someone suggests we consider exploring the side of the mountain we haven’t been climbing, if only in theory. If anything, it suggests that this person is interested in finding a solution that works.

The fact that consent as a felt sense is incompatible with our legal system is not being debated. It’s a premise of the essay. It’s something my co-author and I repeat numerous times in numerous ways throughout the original piece and again in numerous followup pieces. I do not know how we could have been more clear about this than we were.

The difference between what Niphada Frost, kochbeck, unquietpirate, myself, and others are saying in and about consent as a felt sense versus what the critics flailing “but enforceability!!!11!” are saying is not content, but intent. Construing consent primarily as a concern over jurisdiction and thus enforceability by some governing authority guarantees that nothing is going to change, which is exactly what rapists want.

Another common rebuttal to our essay is that consent as a felt sense is an “attack on personal responsibility” (in MRA jargon) or, its mirror image, a “removal of agency” (in feminist jargon). To wit, Jack says:

What a crock of BS. When are people going to start taking responsibility for themselves? This world has turned into nothing but a bunch of sniveling cowards. Grow up and start running your own life. To the author, get a job.

This person is probably just jealous because I don’t have a job. ;)

But he is also reciting the classic MRA line that it is the responsibility of anyone who is in danger of being raped to protect themselves from potential rapists. It’s a verbose version of callous remarks like ”don’t get raped.” By his logic, any person who failed to protect themselves from a rapist was “choosing to have sex” with that person and ought to “take responsibility” for their choice instead of “complaining about regretting it.”

Put simply, even if we were to cede the ridiculous point that rape survivors “should take personal responsibility and not put themselves in a situation to get raped,” this still means the people who raped them are rapists. A discussion of the survivor’s “personal responsibility” is a red herring in this situation and serves to distract from the real issue: the personal responsibility of the rapist.

And then there is Rico, who writes:

Tell you what. Keep fucking with the definition of consent and acting like rape is something you can accuse someone of just because you feel bad about being a slut later on down the line, and we’ll just stop asking for consent entirely.

If you keep changing the rules, we’ll stop playing by them.

This is an explicit rape threat. “If you keep refining the definition of consent such that it makes rape increasingly harder to get away with, we’ll retaliate by raping you.” So, Rico, what you’re saying is the reason you “don’t rape” is because there are rules against it that you can follow. If there weren’t rules against that, you’d be happy to rape someone. Noted.

These comments are just the more blatant examples of the sentiment behind rebuttals to Consent-as-Felt that use “regret” as a catch-all stand-in for the innumerable and unique personal circumstances that people are often in when interacting in intimate ways. Again, Niphada Frost summed it up well on Facebook:

The generic “I’ve had sex that I regretted but don’t consider it rape so this idea is devaluing my agency” commenter (links are pointless; there’s too many of them on Metafilter and Reddit and MaybeMaimed already) is missing the point entirely. Yes, YOU decided for yourself how to feel about your experiences. It’s not that you have the “right” to change your mind – all “rights” are *made up* and require force to back them. It’s that people *can* and *will* change their minds. Wasting time saying they *shouldn’t* hurts both rape victims and the falsely accused. And that’s exactly what “consent as a felt sense” is trying to articulate.

Here, too, the disconnect is the intent, not the content. What wanna-be rapists like Rico are saying is that any and all sex they’re a part of must be spoken of now and forever into the future as hot, sexy, sex. In other words, your regret is a false accusation.

It is certainly not “trivializing” rape to say that rapists are rapists any more than it trivializes photography to say that photographers are photographers. Nor does defining consent as “being okay with an experience one is having or has had” make the definition of consent meaningless any more than defining pictures as “visual representations of content” make the definition of pictures meaningless. What both these things do accomplish is radically widen the scope of what can be perceived. Endlessly debating the semantics of situations like these is pedantic at best, and cruel at worst.

Consent as a Felt Sense provides a framework in which survivors of any kind of violence—both sexual violence (rape) and other violence—can legitimize their experiences to themselves and their communities without regard to the demands of The Powers That Be. This is what feminists say we have been fighting for generations to attain. Why should we now balk at an articulation of that which was fought for because it is too much the thing we want? It’s like telling your gay classmate or colleague that they’re “acting too gay” and could they please tone it down or the straight folks will never let us get married.

I am most galled when this argument is made by self-described “feminists who do consent work.” For one thing, as has been pointed out before, the auditing and ranking of rape survivorsthis person’s experience of the sex they had “counts” as rape because insert-external-third-party-arbiter’s-reasoning-here, whereas that person’s experience of the sex they had doesn’t count as rape—is what feminists themselves describe as “victim-blaming” when people who are not self-described feminists do it.

But for another thing, even if we were to draw a line in the rape-measuring-sands at some arbitrary point, the point at which these pearl-clutching feminists draw it is obsequiously unambitious. This comment by a man named (on Facebook) Wilbur Nooseworthy who chose to call himself “Jo” in his comment on my blog is a fine case-in-point:

By all means encourage [sadomasochistic] doms to do more than the minimum by being mindful during the act and providing aftercare. Point out that while meeting only the legal minimum isn’t a crime, it’s still being a dick. But taking this ideal and calling it ‘consent’ is a *disaster*. It mixes a zillion instances of dickishness into the rape bucket, diluting the meaning of rape.

There is already a process of education to broaden people’s definition of rape from the popular conception of violent attacks by strangers to the absence of consent. This process is still under way, and your redefinition takes a strawman used by opponents of this process and makes it real.

You gotta call it something else.

This is oily rhetoric, so let me rephrase less diplomatically: “Are you sure you were raped? Really raped? Like, raped raped? Rape is a strong word, you know. I don’t think you should say you were raped unless you were, y’know, RAPED. You gotta call it something else.”

Certainly it is a step in the right direction to see the President of the United States paying lip service to the idea that we should call rape what it is and that it is abhorrent and that this is a message worth bringing to the very same institutions that are so notorious for their institutional protection of rapists. But are pro-consent feminists really so starved for a piece of this shitty lemon that they would throw whole populations of survivors under the bus? Maybe they are, and they would not be the first group to slaughter others at the sacrificial altar for a chance to don a privilege once denied them, but I would hope they could at least acknowledge that this is historically a failing strategy for all but the most assimilationist goals.

As for the frequent, pointed accusation that we would take a mile when granted an inch, well, yes, duh. That is exactly what I would like to see more activists actually doing.

The who’s who of rape apologia

I observe that the first two rebuttals doubling down on legal enforceability and shifting the onus of responsibility for rape away from rapists and onto rape survivors are most often but not always made by men, especially men describing themselves as anti-feminist. The third argument decrying the “trivialization” of calling all rapists rapists is most often but not always made by people who describe themselves as feminist. This is of course not absolute. Many self-described feminists have made the first two arguments and MRAs of course also make the third.

To any invested reader, it should be curious that these two mutually antagonistic groups continue to loudly reject Consent as a Felt Sense on the grounds that it gives the other group too much power over them. I’ve already discussed what this fact likely means: neither group actually understands our essay at all. Or, if they do understand it, they are in abject denial about its implications: the legal system reliably makes a farce of justice, powerful and generally well-respected institutions are inherently abusive, and many more people they know personally—almost certainly including themselves—have at one point or another committed an act of coercion and, when those acts were sexual acts, committed rape.

Granted, most MRAs may not even be able to understand our essay, having had little to no meaningful education on consent in the first place (the poor “oppressed” darlings). On the other hand, most feminist critics are too invested in their Activist Careers to seek actually achieving their goals (thereby putting themselves out of a job).

This is of course unsurprising. In a society where we are all taught from the moment we are born that our bodies and our minds are indebted to others, most people still think that, on some level, rape is okay. What the reaction to Consent as a Felt Sense shows most of all is that folks from “both sides” of the issue want discussion about consent to stay firmly rooted in debating which rapes are “rape” and which are not. Very few are willing to imagine what the necessary work of cutting off the engine of rape culture from its fuel (coercion) would mean.

All three of these arguments anti- and pro-feminists are making against Consent as a Felt Sense assist in the perpetuation of an environment so universally coercive that the rapes we can recognize as such are but a mere fraction of the trauma experienced. Obviously, we should bring more societal resources to bear against the continued infliction of these traumas on our fellow beings, and I’m incensed that we aren’t. But it certainly doesn’t trivialize the situation to point out how much trauma, how many rapes, how many atrocities, how much coercion, is happening right now, today, that we are not even willing to name. Quite. The. Contrary.

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“D/s dynamic” is BDSM code for “be grateful when I rape you”

Stripped of its cultural dressage, identifying as a sadomasochistic “Dominant” (a “Dom”) is, at its core, a claim that you expect others to be grateful to you for violating their consent. While there are certainly some situations in which gratitude may be a legit reaction someone has to experiencing a consent violation, presupposing that this is how they should feel towards you is even worse than being indifferent to how they actually feel. It’s this callous entitlement over a person’s process of consenting that underpins the “D/s dynamics” in BDSM relationships.

And given that domination isn’t even needed to have hot, kinky sex, it saddens me that BDSM’ers repeatedly tell certain people (Submissives, specifically) that the only way they can have hot, kinky sex is by preemptively agreeing to feel grateful to someone who doesn’t really care how they’ll leave feeling when the act is over, anyway.

maymay, who has definitely never had a decade’s worth of experience in D/s relationships, and who totally doesn’t have an insider’s critique of BDSM subculture, nope, definitely not, nuh-uh, *sticks fingers in ears* lalalalala.

See also:

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“Submission lies at the heart of what makes sex good. It’s possible to have sex without domination.”

If Alice uses Bob for her sexual gratification, there is nothing she can do to make that objectification right. Bob and Bob alone has that power. In my mind, submission isn’t just some kink that some people have. Submission is the voluntary use of one’s own power to become the means to someone else’s end.

Submission lies at the heart of what makes sex good. It exercises one’s own autonomy, recognizes the autonomy of one’s partner, and places trust in their sensitivity and good judgement. It’s possible to have sex without domination. Putting the two under the same umbrella is another huge logical misstep. But without submission – mutual submission – there is only coercion.

glasswings (via unquietpirate)

In the third post in my “Dominants are rapists” series, I asserted “Submission’s where the magic happens.” This is a much expounded (and beautiful) description of what that actually means. The bumper-sticker slogan that straight people need to get this point through their skulls is “Submissives need dominants like lesbians need men. Think about it,” but is more precisely stated, “Telling submissive people they need dominants for sexual fulfillment is like telling women they need men for sexual fulfillment.” Arguably its earliest articulation in my writing was in the post, “Submissive people don’t need Dominants. Period.

See also:

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The creep checking out your dating profile is a cop who used DMV records to see your home address

Dating on Duty: Officers Accused Of Screening Dates Using Police System:

This seems like a useful time to remind people that both Predator Alert Tool and Cop Block Tool (which is based on Predator Alert Tool) exist.

See also:

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This is what the difference between BDSM’ers and anti-rape kinksters looks like

Shortly after I published my last post, “What happens when a healthcare company’s employee takes down a rape survivor support site?” I received permission to publish an email from yet another PAT-FetLife user. It’s particularly relevant because it directly counters one of the most frequently cited justifications for why the healthcare company employee, Caroline Tyler, attacked Predator Alert Tool for FetLife and made it unavailable. That justification being that “it was set up for use in USA to identify people with a criminal record in our society, it has no use whatsoever in the UK.” (Definitely follow the link to FetLife and chime in, yourself, if you want.)

Of course, that is itself at best a grave misunderstanding of the purpose of the Predator Alert Tools and at worst yet another intentional lie from the Bitter BDSM’er Brigade about the tool. The truth is I intended Predator Alert Tool to be used wherever ethical people want to act in resistance of rape culture. National boundaries are not a sensible demarcation for such a demographic. (And it’s also why not having any moderator is a necessary, intentional design feature.)

So, without further ado, here’s the email:

Hi :)

I’m in the UK so I don’t know how good it will be to you, but if you ever turn up in Surrey my sofa is available for a kip. […]

I don’t know, your inbox is probably flooded with these kinds of messages so you probably don’t want to hear but I just wanted to thankyou for helping spread the anti-sexual-violence message and the whole thing with FAADE. I’m just incredibly grateful. It enabled me to warn people about Jack, also known as Fox_Vanweasel amongst other things, when the criminal justice system failed me. I think he and his honeytrap girlfriend Renegade-Hearts have deleted their accounts now, but it gave me a voice when I felt like I had none.

Jack restrained, raped, tortured and humiliated me for 6 hours but more than that he lied and betrayed my trust as well as physically overpowering me when I was a naive barely-18 year old, and he was a fully grown man. I was naive, but teenagers should be allowed to be naive without predators taking advantage of this.

He groomed me before executing a deeply violent attack, switching between sweet and caring and gift-giving to anally-raping and humiliating, then back to play video games and run me a bath. I was trapped in his house for 8 hours, too afraid to even speak. Yet the police told me I should have ‘fought back more’ when the blindfold slipped because his piss had dampened it. They told me it was a ‘he said, she said’ situation even though I later found his accounts on other sites expressing a desire to rape someone prior to my assault. They dismissed the case entirely and there was a report some time later on crime statistics in Croydon, where this was carried out, saying that a lot of people are dissuaded from taking the individual to court, or the police won’t do so, in order to make the official crime statistics (based on court cases) look lower.

So this unbiased, user-owned PAT tool is ideal in such situations of corruption, bureaucracy and pencil-pushing taking over from protecting real persons from real attacks. It’s a shame their accounts are gone so people can’t be warned, but maybe the interview with the police scared them off- made them realise they can face consequences.

Anyway. The real message is that you’re doing a good thing and you’re welcome to a drink or the couch if you’re ever in the UK.

-[Mia] :)

The takeaway here is that there is a very big difference between BDSM’ers and ethical kinksters. The overwhelming majority of information about kinky-sexy-things on the Internet isn’t useful. It’s rape apologist propaganda.

There’s no better demonstration of this than the fact that Predator Alert Tool’s most vocal and insistent attackers come from the supposedly “safe, sane, and consensual” BDSM community.

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What happens when a healthcare company’s employee takes down a rape survivor support site?

No, really. What does happen when an employee of a healthcare company attacks a website used by rape survivors to support one another? It’s not a hypothetical question. That actually happened. As I wrote earlier:

Due to a deliberate and sustained denial-of-service attack by a FetLife user, the Predator Alert Tool for FetLife reporting mechanism is unavailable. […] The attacker is not shy. She boasts about her actions on the BDSM/leather/kink dating website FetLife.com, where she goes by the username CarolyneTiler. Her legal identity is Caroline Tyler, a resident of Bradford, West Yorkshire in the UK.

[…]

The people whom Caroline Tyler is harming with her denial-of-service attack against Predator Alert Tool for FetLife are the people relying on PAT-FetLife as a way of communicating about dangerous people inside the kink/BDSM community.

Caroline Tyler’s motivations to attack PAT-Fetlife seem, at least in part, to be personally directed at me. However, attacking PAT-FetLife doesn’t harm me in any way. (I don’t use FetLife.) It harms people who want to remain involved in FetLife but who also want to have access to uncensored information about potential play partners. This kind of peer-to-peer reputation system (like “Yelp for BDSMers”), is something FetLife users have been requesting for years and that FetLife still refuses to provide.

If you’re worried about these attacks against PAT-FetLife hurting someone, it’s not me; it’s ethical kinksters on FetLife you should be worried about.

So, what happened? Well, in short order, several determined PAT-FetLife users collated information about Caroline Tyler and learned that she is employed by Egton Medical Information Systems, Ltd. (EMIS), a healthcare technology services provider, of all things. It’s certainly more than a little disturbing that a healthcare industry employee would actively attack a tool that rape survivors use to help keep themselves and others safe from sexual assaults. That’s a bit like calling 9-1-1 only to get shot by the cop who shows up “to help.” (True story.)

So, these PAT-FetLife users took it upon themselves to do something about the situation. The rest of this post is a statement these PAT-FetLife users shared with me, asking for your help in dissuading Caroline Tyler’s continued attacks against PAT-FetLife:

Caroline Tyler’s attacks on PAT-Fetlife are a direct attack on ethical kinksters on Fetlife and on survivors of sexual violence in general.

Context from maymay’s earlier posting:

When will the PAT-FetLife reporting mechanism be available again?

After Caroline Tyler’s first attack, I re-enabled PAT-FetLife. The next day, she again attacked the reporting form. This shows a deliberate intent to keep sexual violence survivors from accessing tools they use to communicate.

Unfortunately, also as discussed in my prior post, there is currently no technological way to prevent Caroline Tyler from continuing to make the PAT-FetLife reporting service unavailable. […] Adding new information to PAT-FetLife will therefore only be possible when at least one of the following happens:

  • Google Forms updates the PAT-FetLife back-end to their “new” Google Spreadsheets system. The timeline they provided for this is “in 2014,” so that could be a few months yet.
  • Caroline Tyler stops launching her denial-of-service attack on PAT-FetLife, either by her own choice or by being compelled to stop through social, legal, or other pressure.
  • A new version of Predator Alert Tool for FetLife based on the DAO technology I am currently exploring (mentioned above) is ready.

The last two bullet points – stopping Caroline Tyler’s denial-of-service attacks on PAT-Fetlife, and creating a new version of PAT-Fetlife – are how you can help. Coders with technical skills who want to help create a new Predator Alert Tool version should start by looking at the various PAT code repository websites. But even without new code, we can also help by speaking out against these attacks as follows.

Stop Caroline Tyler’s denial-of-service attacks on Fetlife

First, it’s worth noting that Caroline Tyler has been completely public about her actions and her identity. All the information in the Pastie page doxxing her is information she put online herself. She used her own name as her Fetlife username: She ain’t in the closet.

Second, the goal is not to get anybody fired, if only because then they’ll be even angrier and have more time to sit at home and continuing to launch DOS attacks. The goal is to stop the DOS attacks.

With that in mind, here’s specific ways you can help do that.

  1. Offering legal help: If you are or know a lawyer who takes on sexual violence cases, internet crimes cases, or both, contact maymay directly. If you are or know a programmer, talk to MM about how you can use those skills to help out.
  2. Contacting Caroline Tyler directly: If you’re on Twitter or Google Plus and can send a message to Caroline’s @-mentions or notifications (by following the previous links), remind her that her actions in taking down PAT-Fetlife are harming other people. Notably, after MM’s earlier updates, it appears Caroline Tyler removed her FetLife, LinkedIn, and other social media profiles (despite archives of each existing)—but if you see her appear in those places again, drop her a note there, too. In the mean time, you can chime in on the threads of her FetLife friends, such as this one.
  3. Contacting Caroline’s employer: We wrote and sent several emails to Caroline’s employer, EMIS, and encourage you to do the same. Templates are provided here. Click the “Send this email to EMIS HR personnel” link below the email you want to send to pre-fill your email program with the template:
    • Dear sir or madam:

      It has come to our attention that one of your employees, one Caroline Tyler, has been performing a Denial-Of-Service attack upon a rape reporting tool. Pursuant to Part 5, item 36 of the Police and Justice Act 2006, such attacks are illegal with penalties for those found guilty of such an attack being up to 10 years of imprisonment. As such, we are informing you that we are in the process of seeking legal advisement for pressing criminal charges. As you should already be aware, should such activity have been done using equipment belonging to your company, charges may extend to your business as well.

      Regards,
      YOUR_NAME

      Send this email to EMIS HR personnel

    • Dear Sue Mosley, Katy Standish, and Matt Murphy:

      I am a user of a program called PAT-fetlife, a volunteer-created anti-rape database for the social networking website Fetlife. An employee of EMIS, Caroline Tyler, an IT systems support consultant, has identified herself as engaging in “hacking” activities, specifically launching an ongoing denial-of-service attack on PAT-Fetlife and then boasting on Fetlife about doing so. The creator of PAT-Fetlife is currently seeking a lawyer.

      EMIS may wish to launch its own investigation into the matter, as a DOS attack on a volunteer-created database intended to address the public health issue of rape is directly counter to the mission of EMIS to create databases to improve public health and does not improve the reputation of EMIS as a whole.

      A brief outline of the ongoing incident can be found here:

      http://days.maybemaimed.com/post/92305706015/why-attacking-predator-alert-tools-backfire-on-attackers

      More details, including screen-shots of Caroline Tyler publicly boasting on Fetlife about the DOS attack can be found here:

      http://maybemaimed.com/2014/07/19/why-attacking-predator-alert-tools-backfire-on-attackers/

      Sincerely,

      YOUR_NAME

      Send this email to EMIS HR personnel

    It is reasonable to contact EMIS HR personnel, Caroline Tyler’s employer (as is easily gathered from her LinkedIn profile), in this case because as the originating computer(s) are not known, Caroline Tyler MAY be using work computers to carry out the DOS attack, which is undoubtedly against company policy.

    EMIS describes itself as “The UK’s leading supplier of healthcare software to GPs and a major software supplier to high street pharmacies.” In a nutshell, they make remotely accessible databases for health care. Hence, as PAT-Fetlife is a database to address the public health issue of rape, Caroline Tyler is acting to destroy something of the exact nature as the things she spends her work life building. According to GlassDoor, EMIS usually hires unskilled people and trains them in IT work, so there’s a good chance that Caroline Tyler acquired the skills and knowledge she’s using to attack PAT-Fetlife from working at EMIS.

    EMIS may have policies against their programmers engaging in illegal “hacking” in their free time. Even if they don’t, this will be embarrassing if it’s smeared across the papers (“EMIS Worker Attacks Anti-Rape Program”).

    If you’re in the medical/pharmaceutical or programing industry, particularly in England or otherwise in their hiring/selling region, please mention this to EMIS; these are the specific industries they are in and you are better positioned to exert social pressure on EMIS to curb the behavior of their employee.

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