Marriage equality – what’s that, then?

I was once told by an immature teenager that my gloves were gay. It wasn’t even my rainbow gloves, which i’d have to admit, yeah, they’re pretty gay!

Even my purple gloves, i’d concede that the kid had a point. No, it was my white and black striped gloves; they’re not even gaily coloured!

“Your gloves are GAY!”

So i said, “Oh really? Do you think they are attracted to other gloves of the same gender?”

To me the term “gay marriage” is as ridiculous a concept as “gay gloves”. Marriage doesn’t have a sexuality. And if you’re trying to say it’s for gay people, no it’s not. It affects bi, trans and straight people too, in all kinds of combinations. What we’re really looking for is an equality of marriage: the same opportunities available to everyone.

Some examples:

1. Tom Freeman and Katherine Doyle have been trying for nearly two years to get a civil partnership, because they don’t want the historical baggage associated with marriage. They have been denied because of their sexuality: they are both straight.

2. A friend of mine changed gender and had to get divorced and form a civil partnership instead, in order to achieve gender recognition.

3. I am bisexual and married to a man. Do we have a straight marriage? If i had wanted to marry a woman, would it be a gay marriage? No, because i am not gay.

4. Gay people can get married right now! There’s nothing to stop a gay man marrying a gay woman. You might be surprised how often that happens, just for the convenience.

It bothers me whenever i see the term “gay marriage”. This morning i saw journalists Emma Kennedy and Victoria Coren both use it, so i tweeted:

your periodic reminder that “marriage equality” is preferable to “gay marriage” .. thank you!

Emma agreed with me, but claimed that on twitter, “gay marriage” is more convenient, to avoid getting hundreds of tweets asking what “marriage equality” means. I didn’t realise that there was so much ignorance. It can’t be that hard to explain, surely? I think that if more journalists and politicians would start using the terms “equal marriage” or “marriage equality” then people would get used to it and understand what it means.

If we can’t go that far, “same-sex marriage” is at least slightly preferable to “gay marriage” because it’s more descriptive, and it doesn’t exclude bisexual people. It highlights the thing that is currently unequal about marriage. I still don’t like it because it implies that we’re talking about a different, separate thing, when what we actually want is equal access to the same thing.

One friend suggested that we should call it “Marry Who The Fuck You Want” .. people should be able to grasp that concept! Another friend recommends that we do away with marriage altogether, then we’d have equality of non-marriage!

It seems that the terminology of this thing is becoming my big bisexual soapbox of 2012, haha! And yes .. i know .. soapboxes do not have a sexuality. Well done if you spotted my irony there! ;)

Relatedly, for anyone who is trying to preserve the “sanctity of marriage”, the whole “one man, one woman” thing, remember that marriage is a human invention, and is always changing. I loved this poster that i saw the other day.

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Quick update on my coming out

I mentioned it on twitter, but for the benefit of those who didn’t see …

I traveled to visit my parents today. It was a bit of a surprise for them, heheh! I said i had something to tell them.

I sat down with my dad and stepmum and told them i am an atheist. I explained pretty much the entire contents of my letter that i wrote earlier (that was my preparation to decide what i wanted to say).

They took it extremely well. They listened calmly and kindly. They did not try to change my mind. The only cringeworthy bit was my dad saying, “Even if you don’t believe in God, God still believes in you!”

They both seemed to appreciate my honesty in telling them, and agreed that it’s better that i should admit my lack of belief, rather than try to force myself to believe something that doesn’t make sense to me.

I was even asked, “So what is humanism?” and i think i answered it well.

I have a new respect for my parents, and a sense of relief in myself. Suddenly being an atheist doesn’t seem like a big thing anymore. It’s not something i have to hide or feel ashamed of. It just a word that describes something about me.

I think this will change how i view my non-belief. It’s as if … previously i was christian by default and constantly fighting that: “No! No! I’m not a christian! I am an atheist!” Somehow i feel i can go forwards from this point accepting that my atheism is normal for me.

Thanks to everyone who has given me support and encouragement in this!

A letter to my dad

Dear Dad,

I like to think we’ve always been a pretty honest family; we tend to share our thoughts and feelings with each other and don’t keep much hidden. I’m not very good at keeping secrets; i prefer to talk about things, even if i know those things aren’t what you want to hear, or if those things could cause us pain.

I’ve been keeping a secret from you for a few years, and i don’t want to anymore. I think you might have guessed, or suspected. You know i don’t go to church anymore, and you know i love to learn about science. We don’t tend to talk a lot about religion anymore. Maybe i avoid the subject when it comes up, or maybe you don’t ask because you think you might not want to hear my answer.

I am an atheist. I don’t know for a fact that God doesn’t exist – for all i know maybe there is a God. I will happily say i don’t know. However, with the lack of any reasonable evidence i have concluded that, even though i don’t know for sure, i believe it’s unlikely. Hence i don’t believe in God. I certainly do not believe in a God who takes an ongoing interest in human life on planet Earth, a God who can be offended by what we do, a God who is perfect and omnipotent but is unable to forgive sin without sending a son to be brutally murdered.

The stories of Christianity stopped making sense to me long before i gave up my faith. I actually stopped believing in the devil years before i stopped believing in God. Looking back at them now, they seem like curious mystical stories, almost as unbelievable to me as any of the mythological stories of other religions. The only reason Christian stories have any resonance with me now is because i was brought up to believe them. I believed them because you did, and it was unfathomable to me that you could be wrong.

I want you to know that i am happy in my unbelief. I have found comfort in science, in fact, logic and reason. I have found explanations that do away with the need for a God to explain the things we can’t understand. God of the gaps has shrunk and become so small as the gaps have been replaced by science that i am happy to do away with God altogether. Even though there are things i still don’t know, like “What caused the big bang?” I am happy to say “I don’t know”. I don’t need to conclude that “God did it!” and anyway that would still leave me with further questions. If the universe needed a creator, and God was that creator, then God must have needed a creator too. You’ll tell me that God was outside of time and has always existed, but that’s not a good enough answer. I would rather stick to “I don’t know”.

There are things about church that i miss. I miss collective worship. I went back to church at one point for the music; i loved the feeling of singing together, and the moving effect of music. I tried to join the band there but they wouldn’t let me because they sensed my doubt.

I miss the feeling of community. As a Christian you automatically have friends who care for you and look out for you. I missed it so much that i created my own community: i started a Humanist group in Winchester. I have made good friends who meet on a monthly basis for tea and a chat. We keep in touch through email and text message, and on twitter. We meet up individually for coffee and have meals at each others houses sometimes. We recognise that morality doesn’t just come from religion, nor from law. I believe most human beings are basically good people automatically, capable of making up their own minds about what is right and wrong.

I guess i’m telling you this because i want you to be proud of me for who i am. I haven’t told you for so long because i am afraid of your disappointment. I told myself that you didn’t need to know, that it would just upset you, that it would cause you to waste your time praying for me to be converted back. But these were just excuses.

If your faith is as strong as i think it is, you will believe that i am going to end up in hell and it is your responsibility to do everything you can to save me. That’s hard, i know. I wish you could just let me take my own responsibility for that, but i know you can’t. I appreciate that you love me so much that you’ll want to save me from what you perceive as my certain doom. I can’t expect you not to try.

My personal belief is that when i die the most likely thing that happens is that i will simply cease to exist and have no consciousness. That doesn’t upset me at all, just as it doesn’t upset me that i had no consciousness before my birth. All it does is makes me more eager to enjoy this one life that by some remarkable fluke of probability i have the pleasure of experiencing. It leads me to want to make the world a better place than it currently is. I would love to leave this world better than i found it, and i know i only have a limited time in which to make my mark.

These days, i’m just being true to myself. I believe in things that make sense to me. I can’t force myself to believe there is a God and an afterlife when i think it’s very unlikely. I tried that for a while – i tried to take on trust the things that other people told me, but it didn’t work for long. In the end it just made my beliefs more shaky, so that once i doubted one thing, the rest just came tumbling down.

I love you and i respect you and i hope we remain close as a family, maybe becoming closer than before now that i have been able to be honest with you.

aimee xxx

The things i believe now

TL;DR

Do i believe anything anymore? Yes i do. I believe in the wonders of science, and it makes me happy!

Preamble – my spiritual history

My supernatural and spiritual beliefs have gone through many phases. I was brought up Christian and i believed unquestioningly. The idea that my parents could be wrong was unfathomable to me.

In my late teens i read “Conversations With God” by Neale Donald Walsch and turned to more esoteric beliefs, ideas like: we’re all equal with God, we are creating our own reality as we go along, there is no absolute right or wrong, only that which serves us and that which does not. I ceased to believe in the devil and hell.

On holiday in Budapest in 2007 i came across the book “The Whole Shebang” by Timothy Ferris. I began reading it in the bookshop and i was drawn in straight away. Although quite an old book, it gave me a glimpse of the wonders of the universe, and a taste for science. I borrowed many scientific books from the library and i really enjoyed learning the things we can know about our world and this universe.

My opinions on God at this point were mostly agnostic. I didn’t feel any real need to contemplate anything spiritual when i had so much of a scientific nature to think about. I wouldn’t say i disbelieved in God at that time.

However, on two occasions i felt myself craving the kind of unquestioning belief in God that i had during my childhood. I suppose i missed the feeling that God was a friend whom i could trust. I thought that i had drifted away from God and it was my responsibility to go back. I tried returning to church, but on both times i very quickly found that my ideas had changed so much, i could no longer blindly accept what i was being told by the church.

On the second attempt, which lasted about two months, something finally pushed me over the edge. I was standing at the front and someone was praying for me to receive the Holy Spirit. I really wanted to be able to give up rational thought and just entrust myself to God … but nothing was happening. The longer this went on, the more embarrassing it became. I remember that something suddenly just clicked. I thought to myself, “I don’t think there is a Holy Spirit!” and immediately all these spiritual beliefs just tumbled down like a house of cards. I walked out effectively an atheist.

The first thing i did was read “The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins. I needed to understand how my parents could believe something so strongly, if it wasn’t true. Dawkins explained to me the evolutionary advantage to believing what you are told, the power of group reinforcement, the self-delusion of only noticing things that support your beliefs while ignoring things that don’t. I learnt not to pity my parents for believing what they do, but i was no longer under the hold of their convincing influence. I was free to think for myself.

For a while i was a militant atheist. I think i rebelled quite hard against organised religion. Since then i have mellowed out a bit. I currently consider myself a humanist: i am more concerned with human welfare than i am with anything supernatural.

All of this is a prelude for what i really want to write about. Most people will have figured out that i no longer believe in God, and i have put aside all my supernatural beliefs, having become skeptical about anything that requires discarding rational thinking. I’ve not written about this in such detail before because i’ve had no need to. I try not to interfere with other people’s beliefs unless i can see that it has the potential to directly harm somebody. My dad and my stepmum are still firm Christian believers. My mum is mostly interested in new-age spirituality.

Getting to the point

This morning i received an email from my mum. It was something about the process of life, death, returning to the glory of Oneness, emerging as a new individual. My mum’s question: “this is reincarnation … do you believe this ? ( Or indeed do you believe anything any more !!)”

I was quite hurt by the question, do i believe in anything anymore? This is my response that i would have written in an email, but i decided it needed to be shared more widely than just with my mum.

What i believe now

I have come to believe in many wonderful things. Things that i knew very little about before i started reading and educating myself in science. Beautiful fascinating processes that can be explored, tested and verified. Things like evolution, natural selection, quantum physics, cosmology, the big bang, deep space, the fundamental forces of the universe.

Most importantly of all, i believe in the scientific method. It starts with producing a theory to explain the things we see … but unlike mythology and religion, it doesn’t stop there. It goes on to make predictions using the theory. Experiments are performed to test the predictions. Those experiments are repeated and verified by many people, and not just those with a particular interest in showing the theory to be correct. Any contradictions are welcomed and celebrated because it means the theory can be refined to become more accurate. This process never stops, and our knowledge about what is real gets more and more accurate over time.

Specifically on the question of reincarnation

I don’t specifically disbelieve in reincarnation, but i find it unlikely. You can make nice stories about it, which may be comforting to some people, but for me there is little point in dwelling on the theory since it makes no predictions that can be tested and verified by experiment. I prefer to spend my time finding out as much as i can about things that we know to be true.

Science has led me to believe that the most likely thing that will happen when i die is that i simply cease to exist. My body will decay and my consciousness will end there. Occam’s Razor tells us that given two possible theories, the simpler one is likely to be correct. I am not at all saddened by this conclusion, because there was no emotion or wishful thinking that got me there. It only makes me all the more eager to enjoy this one life that i know i have.

Of course i recognise that people like to believe their loved ones live on, and they may receive comfort from believing they are still in communication. I don’t really see anything wrong with that. I think of it more as recalling the memories of what those people were like, rather than their souls actually being present. Since there is no discernible difference in experience, it doesn’t really matter what you believe is going on.

Whew, nearly there …!

My journey of belief has shifted so dramatically in my lifetime so far. I would be foolish to assume that i have arrived at my final understanding. I accept that my beliefs will continue to adapt, but i suppose that from here on they will only change when presented with evidence that causes them to be reassessed. So, for example, if anyone can provide me with firm evidence for reincarnation, i will gladly accept it to be true and update my beliefs accordingly.

I am happy in my current understandings. I actually find that scientific knowledge is far more reassuring to me than any spiritual hypothesis ever was.

If anyone is unconvinced of the comfort that believing in science can bring, i recommend this wonderful video by Phil Hellenes: This Remarkable Thing.

Well, hello!

Hello to everybody who knows me from my two previous blogs: edendevelopment.co.uk/blogs/aimee and aimee.mychores.co.uk. I have decided to merge the two into one, which for convenience i’ve decided to have hosted on wordpress.com now.

Big news

In case anyone is not aware, let me share the news that eden development, my place of employment for nearly 3 years, closed its doors in March. For me this is sad news: eden was a truly remarkable place to work.

Through eden i met many amazing people, and learnt to hone the craft of developing excellent quality software. I have learnt how to listen to clients and understand their needs. I have been privileged to take on despo and Alberto as apprentices, imparting my knowledge and care and seeing them develop. Most importantly, i have grown in self confidence, to the point where i am now able to journey out on my own, taking on contracts and freelance work.

Contracting

My contracting has begun at a consultancy firm in London. I have been contracted as a front-end developer, doing HTML, CSS and a bit of Javascript. It is easy work for me, not really particularly challenging. I am happy with that: at the moment i have big challenges to do with commuting and getting used to being self-employed, keeping control of expenses, invoices and tax. I didn’t want the added pressure of difficult work on top of that.

It turns out that the job is suiting me very well. I get on well with the people i work with, and i found i was able to start providing value for the company from my first day. I’m working hard and i believe i am exceeding their expectations of me. At the same time i’m learning how to use Demandware, a powerful ecommerce platform, and i may well find that the skills i learn here could come in useful for me again at some point in the future.

Looking ahead

My contract takes me until the middle of May, at which point i’d like to spend one week working on a freelance project. After that i’d like to take on another contract, and this time i’m particularly looking for something that uses my Ruby skills, as well as my knowledge of behaviour driven development. There are two possibilities i’m looking at, and i’m fairly confident that one of them will work out.

I am always interested in meeting new people to talk about work that i may be able to help with. I am really enjoying the freedom of contracting, so i’m not looking for permanent employment at the moment, unless it’s a very good offer. I’ve realised that job security is a myth, and painful though it was to leave eden, i think i needed that push to venture out on my own.

Right now

At this very moment i am at Scottish Ruby Conference in Edinburgh. I really enjoyed it last year, and this year seems even better. I am meeting new people and rekindling previous friendships. Today i have been inspired to work on a charitable project, i enjoyed an entertaining discussion on programming etiquette by Jim Weirich and Chris Nelson, and i was excited to see how MacRuby works.

It’s lovely that my mentor Enrique is here at SRC, sharing an apartment with me, and my apprentices are both here too. Edenites Chris and tooky are also around, and it’s great to spend time together again. Our shared experience of being part of eden is something that will remain with us, and we will always be good friends.

Notice that i say “edenites”, not “ex-edenites”. For me, eden was all about the culture and the people. My pride for quality of work, my valuing of client relationships, my commitment to learning, my honesty, my humility, these are eden’s values that have become deeply ingrained in me, that i intend should never leave me.

Thank you

If you read this far, thank you. You can see why this post has been a long time coming. It’s only now that i’m at Scottish Ruby Conference that i can really take the time to relax and reflect. The last few weeks have been like a whirlwind for me. Thank you to all who have supported me and encouraged me. It has been scary and exciting, and i’m relishing these new opportunities!

Here’s to my ongoing journey! :)

Eden's values (by Alberto Peña)

[This is translated from Alberto’s blog post: Los valores de Eden. I apologise if my translation isn’t perfect – i’ve only recently started learning Spanish!]

Attached to one of the walls at Eden is a card with a phrase that sums up Eden:

Eden exists to enable people to achieve better, greater, more worthwhile things

I don’t know about you, but I like this a lot :D

As I mentioned in previous posts, Eden is guided by a set of values that all the “Edenites” understand, share and abide by. In fact, these values are decided together as a group, as they do with everything else :D All of Eden’s values are related to that phrase.

We build relationships
Eden is not just concerned with building software. Additionally, it is interested in building relationships of total trust with its clients. They are aware that they hold their reputation and livelihood in their hands.

Of course, they are also interested in their own relationships between edenites. In fact, what you will mostly see at Eden is smiles :D

We have a mindset of mutual respect
This is very important at Eden. There may be differences of opinion, but Eden never loses respect for other people.

Really, it’s amazing. In these 5 days there has not been a single lack of respect between edenites, and by lack of respect I am even referring to the typical Spanish joke of “será cabrón :)” [common Spanish joke that translates to “you bastard”]. Yet i saw an example on the part of the client, and I witnessed how it was nipped in the bud by the edenites with a warning.

We ask “why?”
Eden wants to add value for its business clients, and to do this, they have to be clear about their motivations.
Logically, if it is good for a client, it’s also good for Eden. This requires them to question their motivations in order to improve.

We craft excellence
Eden is a great team. They are very good at their job, and very responsible. This responsibility leads them to only ever deliver excellent code. If the functionality is not to the required standard, it is not delivered.

We are disciplined
Not disciplined in the sense of following orders, but disciplined in the sense of being responsible. They prefer to fix the root of problems rather than treat the symptoms.

We learn aggressively
All the members of Eden have a passion for their profession and are always learning (new languages, new techniques, etc.) And they share their learning with each other.

We give generously
Eden is truly generous. They engage with their communities (not just with software communities), they welcome visitors, encourage activities, etc.

If Eden is set up in Madrid, you’ll understand better what I mean. Nos lo vamos a pasar piruleta :D [Spanish phrase meaning: we’re going to have a lot of fun]

We value people
Eden does not allow projects and their due dates to interfere with the personal life of the edenites. Additionally, they encourage activities that strengthen personal relationships between edenites (for example, the showing of Avatar the other day)

I have to say that all this comes naturally. There is no “fuerza la amistad” [forced friendship]. They are just good people working together :)

We are honest and open, even when it’s hard
The trust between everyone at Eden allows for brutal honesty. If something is not working, they say so, whatever the cost.

Actually, in the week that I’ve spent with them the only time that there was a warning was in order to improve the working conditions of a client team. It wasn’t easy, but it was necessary, and the client team accepted it and acknowledged the problem.

We are humble
Eden is humble and the edenites are humble. They know that they are good at what they do, but they are also clear they can still be better. (Although right now I can’t see how :D ).

That’s all, what do you think? I hope that this gives an idea of what kind of a company Eden is (or what I understand Eden to be), but really it’s much better :) Seriously, you have to experience it to see for yourself. This tweet by Luismi Cavallé sums up pretty well how I feel after this week :D

[The tweet, also in Spanish, says, something about discovering that other, better worlds are possible, and that it’s natural, and that there is no going back.]