Monday, June 26, 2017

MAG40: an LGBTQ review

Back in February, I had the pleasure of attending a MAG40 class taught by Massad Ayoob himself. Since I am queer, I decided to review the class based on how friendly it was to LGBTQ students.
Disclaimer 1: I met Massad Ayoob before taking this class. I don't feel justified in saying that we are specifically friends -- for example, I've never hung out with the man, drinking beers and sharing stories -- but I feel it's safe to say that we are friendly with each other. We're on a first-name basis, and I hope that I can get to know him better. 
Disclaimer 2: I grew up around military people, so I am used to things like inappropriate humor, the "command voice", and things like that. If you haven't been exposed to these then they might shock you if you aren't ready for them. I didn't feel any of it was rude or hateful or needlessly aggressive, and no one was singled out. As an example, Mas says "You don't need testicles to 'have balls' or a vagina to 'be a pussy'." I don't consider this offensive. 
Disclaimer 3:  I attended the classes en homme, aka in drab. I had some pretty solid reasons for doing this, mainly because it takes me 2-3 hours to go from ugh to reasonably female-looking and the classes start at 8 am and go until 6 pm or later. I didn't want to deal with the hassle of dressing up and then maintaining my appearance while sweating off my makeup at the shooting field. I decided that I was there to learn and not to pass as female. However, please see Is the MAG40 course LGBTQ-friendly? below. 
Is MAG40 a good value for your money?
It absolutely is. I realize it costs a lot of money (if it hadn't been for an angel offering to pay my way, I wouldn't have been able to afford to attend the $800 course), but what you get out of it is AMAZING:
  1. 20 hours of firearms training by a highly skilled shooter and a greatly respected member of the firearms community and his hand-picked cadre of instructors. This is akin to getting training in "how to throw a football" by a quarterback whose team won the Super Bowl multiple times. 
  2. 20 hours of classroom instruction on when to shoot, when not to shoot, and what to do if you are involved in a defensive shooting, taught by a man whose resume includes such jobs as "police officer" and "expert witness". 
  3. A guarantee that if you are put on trial for murder or manslaughter in a self-defense shooting, Mas will look at the details of the case and, if he agrees that your shooting was justified, will testify in your defense. Not only is Mas an expert witness when it comes to guns and self-defense, but he can also testify to the training you had and therefore why you acted the way that you did. 
What if I can't afford to attend?
$800 is a lot of money, I won't deny that, and taking a 4-day weekend to get 40 hours of instruction may not be possible for people with busy jobs or lots of children. Fortunately, there is a solution: the MAG40 class is also offered as two blocks of instructions of 20 hours each separated into Classroom – Armed Citizens’ Rules of Engagement and Live Fire.

If you can only afford one -- and I strongly encourage you to take both -- then I recommend the Classroom portion. My rationale here is that any trainer can teach you how to shoot, but you can only get the Armed Citizens’ Rules of Engagement from a MAG class.

Is the MAG40 class LGBTQ-friendly?
It is. When I applied for the course, one of the requirements was to provide proof of a clean criminal record (in my case, this was accomplished by sending a copy of my Concealed Weapon Permit). The reason for this is so that Mas can ensure that his class is taught only to "certified good guys" and not by people with criminal records who are looking for ways to get away with murder in the name of self-defense. I understand and applaud this, but for those of us who are transgender yet haven't changed our legal name or gender marker, this presents an awkward if not embarrassing situation.

In the email where I submitted my paperwork, I included the following statement:
Also, you may not know this but I am transgender. I bring this up because I have not completed transition and my legal documentation is still under my biological name. I do not want any special treatment; I'm just letting you know so you aren't confused or surprised. 
This was the response:
Thank you for your MAG 40 registration material that I have received by email.  Your preceding email noting that your legal documentation is still under your biological name is also appreciated. 
Since the inception of Lethal Force Institute and MAG (MAG – Massad Ayoob Group is LFI’s successor organization), Mas Ayoob has insisted upon requiring incoming students to show evidence of a clean criminal history.  His stated intention is that he is not going to teach people how to “murder” other people and get away with it.  Thus the insistence upon some proof of current clean criminal record.  I have no problem with this requirement, in fact, I support it wholeheartedly and believe that you do also. 
Here is our problem (that is not a problem), and a suggested workaround.  I have received your registration material in good order in the legal name of [name redacted]. If it is OK with you, I will log your registration for the desired February 2017 MAG 40 class.  That registration will be logged in your legal name – because I have all the supporting documentation for clean criminal history in that name.  When you complete the MAG 40 class, we will be aware that you wish to have your completion certificate made in the name of Erin Palette.  That is fine with us, because we will know that [legal name] (for whom we have documentation) and Erin Palette are one and the same good person.  (My wife, who makes out name tags and neck tags for students, will make all your desk and range material as Erin Palette.  You will thus be addressed as Erin Palette in the class.)  
I hope that this workaround will be “workable” for you.  If it is not, please let me know.  
We look forward to seeing you soon.
I found this to be a perfectly reasonable response and was quite happy with the workaround.

Some of you may be thinking That's all very well and good, Erin, but you still appeared cisgender and your name is ambiguous, so you benefited from social camouflage. This is a true enough point and I won't refute it. All I can say is this:
  • I am rather sensitive to feeling singled out or picked out. Not ONCE did I feel like I was looked down upon or treated poorly for being trans by the instructors who knew my situation (which was most of them, and nearly all were male and more than half were what you'd consider "older white men.")
  • There was NO casual homophobia, racism or sexism. Not even an offhand use of "gay" as a synonym for bad. In fact, both Mas and Gail Pepin, his girlfriend, invited me to speak to the class about Operation Blazing Sword so I know they're comfortable with LGBTQ people and topics. 
  • While Mas and the rest of the instructors have no control over the behavior of other students, my gut feeling is that anyone who was rude to another student would disrupt the SAFE (Secure, Asshole-Free Environment) that Mas requires for his class and they would be given one warning to cut it out before being asked to leave. 
Therefore, I feel 100% comfortable in recommending the MAG40 course to all LGBTQ students. 

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