Being a discerning reader: Explaining why you’re taking a pass is a valid form of criticism

position to have, and people don’t have to justify it beyond that.

Hot Take: “I’m sure this work of fiction has artistic merit, but it does something that I’m sick to death of seeing, and I don’t want to consume it” is an entirely reasonable, valid position to have, and people don’t have to justify it beyond that. (Click to embiggen)


I didn’t think it was my place to write about the Helicopter story, other than to link to a few of what I thought were the more thoughtful pieces about it. The story uses for its title a meme that has been a popular attack from certain kinds of bigots against trans people. It was an attempt by the author to take a painful attack and turn it around. As one of the stories I linked in this week’s Friday Five showed, for some trans readers it succeeded in that goal. For others it didn’t. Art is risky like that, even when you aren’t tackling such fraught topics.

I’m not trans myself, and as such when trans people are talking about problems they face and issues they are struggling with, I believe my first duty is to listen, and when I can, amplify their words. Thus linking to two pieces by trans people in the Friday Five but not commenting myself.

The author has since asked the publisher to pull the story. The editor of the online zine has done so and issued a explanation.

In the aftermath, I’m seeing certain accusations being hurled around about those who didn’t react well to the story. One of the accusations is that every person who explained why they were uncomfortable with using that meme as a title was attacking the author. Similarly, people are characterizing criticism of parts of the story that didn’t work for them as a reader, again, as a personal attack on the author. Others are making the cliched attack that people who admit they didn’t read the story (and then carefully explained why just seeing the title brought up painful memories) have no right to comment.

Here’s why I disagree with all of those accusations:

In the early 90s I made the decision to do what a small fraction of the LGBT community was doing at that time: to take back the word “queer.” It was hardly a popular idea. My own (now deceased) husband was dubious at first. The word had been hurled at me and at him and others like us as an attack throughout our childhoods and beyond. I decided to pick up the those stones and turn them into a shield. But that was my decision.

It’s been 28 years, and I still occasionally get grief whenever I use the word queer to refer to myself or the community. Quite often from old white gay guys just like me.

They don’t like the word because it and the memories it evokes are painful. And it doesn’t matter that I have just as painful memories as they do, I have no right to demand that they deal with the pain the same way I have decided to. It’s true that I have forcefully asserted my right to use the word queer, but that is in the face of a different kind of criticism. Yes, I have also had people tell me not to use the word and that I’m a bad person for doing so.

But mostly, the negative comments I’ve gotten after using the word have been along the lines of: “I can never bring myself to use that word. Please don’t call me that.”

They don’t disagree with the word because they lack the discernment to tell that I mean it in good faith. They don’t refuse to use the word for themselves because they think I’m a Nazi. They aren’t attacking me when they explain why they refuse to use the word for themselves. They aren’t spreading misinformation when they speculate about why people like me are comfortable with the word and they aren’t.

Taking back a slur isn’t an easy thing to do. And it is perfectly reasonable for people to avoid the pain of engaging with the slur. It is perfectly reasonable for people to explain why they don’t want to engage with the slur. Deciding not to engage with the slur isn’t an attack on the author.

The helicopter meme has been used as an attack (mostly) on trans people. Not just the meme, but many variants of it. I’m not trans, but I’ve had angry bigots use the attack on me when I’ve posted certain opinions online. Angry words, harassment, taunting, and badger hurts. Yes, I block frequently and quickly, but still the initial blows lands and it stings.

When one has suffered through those attacks repeatedly, seeing that attack used as a title of a story in a magazine you may admire, understandably fills you with apprehension at the least. The first time I saw the book Faggots I was caught off guard. I didn’t expect to see that word in large red letters on a book. I didn’t know, at the time, who Larry Kramer was. I didn’t know he was a a gay rights activist. My first response when seeing that title was pain and fear. It didn’t matter that I was in a queer-friendly bookstore at the time. The title caught me like a punch in the gut. I learned later that a lot of people in the community who did know who Kramer was and had read the book hated it and saw it as an attack on the community—and for many, the wounds still burn decades later.

That’s the power words have. As an author, I am constantly reminding myself that words matter, that words can hurt as well as heal. Editors and publishers are mindful of this, too. Unfortunately, even the best of us with the best of intentions sometimes make mistakes. Readers who are caught off-guard and given no context will react. Some of those reactions will be raw. Some of those reactions will be misinterpreted.

It’s okay to disagree. It’s okay to take risks in art. I think attempting to take the power from slurs is a good and worthy pursuit. I also know that sometimes trying to do that causes discomfort or pain to some of the people that we’re trying to help. It doesn’t mean we stop trying. It just means that we try to do better, next time.


There are other people writing very thoughtfully on the topic:

Well I guess I’m writing about Clarkesworld again.

Regardless of what your take is on the attack helicopter story….

I read the controversial “attack helicopter” short story in Clarkesworld, & its pretty intriguing… .

The Disturbing Case of the Disappearing Sci-Fi Story.

Friday Five (political theatre edition)

And were’ already at the third Friday in January

I’m breaking a long standing tradition with my Friday post of links. No videos this week. I’ve been sick but have a crazy deadline at work, so I haven’t been looking at as much news. I didn’t have a single new video bookmarked, and decided not to spend a lot of time looking for them.

Meanwhile, welcome to the Friday Five. This week I bring you: the top five stories of the week, five stories about interesting things happening in two genres of writing, and five stories about deplorable people (plus things I wrote).

Stories of the Week:

Researchers create new embryo of nearly extinct rhino species.

The estranged anarchist daughter of the Republican gerrymandering mastermind inherited and published all his files online.

Meet 2020 AV2, the first asteroid found that stays inside Venus’s orbit!.

Secrets of ‘1,000-year-old trees’ unlocked.

Donald Trump impeachment trial begins in US Senate — the same day the GAO said the president broke the law.

This Week in Genre Writing:

What We Talk About When We Talk About Gender: Lessons from a Recent Incident in Secular Storytelling.

An open letter to the author of “I Sexually Identify as an Attack Helicopter.”.

Inside the Spectacular Implosion at the Romance Writers of America: Racism Fight Over Romance Writers of America, Explained.

The New Rude Masters of Fantasy & Science Fiction – and Romance.

The Big Idea: Kameron Hurley looks at what it takes to get a book right — and how her latest novel.

This Week in Deplorables:

Chris Wallace Busts Trump Trying To Game Fox News Coverage During Impeachment Vote.

Parnas and Ukraine aid bombshells jolt impeachment trial.

FBI Arrests Alleged Nazis Ahead Of Virginia Gun Rally.

Virginia teen charged in ‘swatting’ ring linked to neo-Nazis – The U.S. Justice Department has charged a former Virginia college student with calling in fake emergencies to prompt law enforcement responses, in coordination with a group the FBI labelled as sympathetic to neo-Nazi ideology.

Trump releases ‘religious freedom’ plans to remind evangelicals why they support a profane adulterer.

Things I wrote:

Weekend Update 1/11/2020: Bitter lies, obscured truths, and the failure of “fairness”.

Confessions of a self-reconstructed queer.

Confessions of a former self-loathing closet case.

Perfect is the enemy of the good, or, how trying to be noble actually advances the cause of evil.

Perfect is the enemy of the good, or, how trying to be noble actually advances the cause of evil

“He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.” —Martin Luther King, Jr.

“He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.” —Martin Luther King, Jr.

There’s a topic I have commented on a few times, and have lately been feeling that I needed to do a much more in-depth post for, but I keep going down rabbit holes of various types each time I try. It hadn’t really occurred to me that one of the problems was that a crucial portion of the modern electorate is too young to have lived through some of the bad parts of our history, society, and political system that I (as an old fart) take for granted. So I kept not mentioning a lot of important background information in my rants. Fortunately, I happened across a wonderful post elsewhere that covered that ground as well as the points I was trying to make. So I am copying it below,

First there is an anonymous question:

I’m 21 and tbh feel like I can only vote for Bernie, can you explain if/why I shouldn’t? Thanks and sorry if this is dumb or anything

Then there is this incredible answer from qqueenofhades.tumblr.com:

Oh boy. Okay, I’ll do my best here. Note that a) this will get long, and b) I’m old, Tired, and I‘m pretty sure my brain tried to kill me last night. Since by nature I am sure I will say something Controversial ™, if anyone reads this and feels a deep urge to inform me that I am Wrong, just… mark it down as me being Wrong and move on with your life. But also, really, you should read this and hopefully think about it. Because while I’m glad you asked this question, it feels like there’s a lot in your cohort who won’t, and that worries me. A lot.

First, not to sound utterly old-woman-in-a-rocking-chair ancient, people who came of age/are only old enough to have Obama be the first president that they really remember have no idea how good they had it. The world was falling the fuck apart in 2008 (not coincidentally, after 8 years of Bush). We came within a flicker of the permanent collapse of the global economy. The War on Terror was in full roar, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were at their height, we had Dick Cheney as the cartoon supervillain before we had any of Trump’s cohort, and this was before Chelsea Manning or Edward Snowden had exposed the extent of NSA/CIA intelligence-gathering/American excesses or there was any kind of public debate around the fact that we were all surveilled all the time. And the fact that a brown guy named Barack Hussein Obama was elected in this climate seems, and still seems tbh, kind of amazing. And Obama was certainly not a Perfect President™. He had to scale back a lot of planned initiatives, he is notorious for expanding the drone strike/extrajudicial assassination program, he still subscribed to the overall principles of neoliberalism and American exceptionalism, etc etc. There is valid criticism to be made as to how the hopey-changey optimistic rhetoric stacked up against the hard realities of political office. And yet…. at this point, given what we’re seeing from the White House on a daily basis, the depth of the parallel universe/double standards is absurd.

Because here’s the thing. Obama, his entire family, and his entire administration had to be personally/ethically flawless the whole time (and they managed that – not one scandal or arrest in eight years, against the legions of Trumpistas now being convicted) because of the absolute frothing depths of Republican hatred, racial conspiracy theories, and obstruction against him. (Remember Merrick Garland and how Mitch McConnell got away with that, and now we have Gorsuch and Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court? Because I remember that). If Obama had pulled one-tenth of the shit, one-twentieth of the shit that the Trump administration does every day, he would be gone. It also meant that people who only remember Obama think he was typical for an American president, and he wasn’t. Since about… Jimmy Carter, and definitely since Ronald Reagan, the American people have gone for the Trump model a lot more than the Obama model. Whatever your opinion on his politics or character, Obama was a constitutional law professor, a community activist, a neighborhood organizer and brilliant Ivy League intellectual who used to randomly lie awake at night thinking about income inequality. Americans don’t value intellectualism in their politicians; they just don’t. They don’t like thinking that “the elites” are smarter than them. They like the folksy populist who seems fun to have a beer with, and Reagan/Bush Senior/Clinton/Bush Junior sold this persona as hard as they possibly could. As noted in said post, Bush Junior (or Shrub as the late, great Molly Ivins memorably dubbed him) was Trump Lite but from a long-established political family who could operate like an outwardly civilized human.

The point is: when you think Obama was relatively normal (which, again, he wasn’t, for any number of reasons) and not the outlier in a much larger pattern of catastrophic damage that has been accelerated since, again, the 1980s (oh Ronnie Raygun, how you lastingly fucked us!), you miss the overall context in which this, and which Trump, happened. Like most left-wingers, I don’t agree with Obama’s recent and baffling decision to insert himself into the 2020 race and warn the Democratic candidates against being too progressive or whatever he was on about. I think he was giving into the same fear that appears to be motivating the remaining chunk of Joe Biden’s support: that middle/working-class white America won’t go for anything too wild or that might sniff of Socialism, and that Uncle Joe, recalled fondly as said folksy populist and the internet’s favorite meme grandfather from his time as VP, could pick up the votes that went to Trump last time. And that by nature, no one else can.

The underlying belief is that these white voters just can’t support anything too “un-American,” and that by pushing too hard left, Democratic candidates risk handing Trump a second term. Again: I don’t agree and I think he was mistaken in saying it. But I also can’t say that Obama of all people doesn’t know exactly the strength of the political machine operating against the Democratic Party and the progressive agenda as a whole, because he ran headfirst into it for eight years. The fact that he managed to pass any of his legislative agenda, usually before the Tea Party became a thing in 2010, is because Democrats controlled the House and Senate for the first two years of his first term. He was not perfect, but it was clear that he really did care (just look up the pictures of him with kids). He installed smart, efficient, and scandal-free people to do jobs they were qualified for. He gave us Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor to join RBG on the Supreme Court. All of this seems… like a dream.

That said: here we are in a place where Biden, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren are the front-runners for the Democratic nomination (and apparently Pete Buttigieg is getting some airplay as a dark horse candidate, which… whatever). The appeal of Biden is discussed above, and he sure as hell is not my favored candidate (frankly, I wish he’d just quit). But Sanders and Warren are 85% – 95% similar in their policy platforms. The fact that Michael “50 Billion Dollar Fortune” Bloomberg started rattling his chains about running for president is because either a Sanders or Warren presidency terrifies the outrageously exploitative billionaire capitalist oligarchy that runs this country and has been allowed to proceed essentially however the fuck they like since… you guessed it, the 1980s, the era of voodoo economics, deregulation, and the free market above all. Warren just happens to be ten years younger than Sanders and female, and Sanders’ age is not insignificant. He’s 80 years old and just had a heart attack, and there’s still a year to go to the election. It’s also more than a little eye-rolling to describe him as the only progressive candidate in the race, when he’s an old white man (however much we like and approve of his policy positions). And here’s the thing, which I think is a big part of the reason why this polarized ideological purity internet leftist culture mistrusts Warren:

She may have changed her mind on things in the past.

Scary, right? I sound like I’m being facetious, but I’m not. An argument I had to read with my own two eyes on this godforsaken hellsite was that since Warren became a Democrat around the time Clinton signed Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, she sekritly hated gay people and might still be a corporate sellout, so on and etcetera. (And don’t even get me STARTED on the fact that DADT, coming a few years after the height of the AIDS crisis where it was considered God’s Judgment of the Icky Gays, was the best Clinton could realistically hope to achieve, but this smacks of White Gay Syndrome anyway and that is a whole other kettle of fish.) Bernie has always demonstrably been a democratic socialist, and: good for him. I’m serious. But because there’s the chance that Warren might not have thought exactly as she does now at any point in her life, the hysterical and paranoid left-wing elements don’t trust that she might not still secretly do so. (Zomgz!) It’s the same element that’s feeding cancel culture and “wokeness.” Nobody can be allowed to have shifted or grown in their opinions or, like a functional, thoughtful, non-insane adult, changed their beliefs when presented with compelling evidence to the contrary. To the ideological hordes, any hint of uncertainty or past failure to completely toe the line is tantamount to heresy. Any evidence of any other belief except The Correct One means that this person is functionally as bad as Trump. And frankly, it’s only the Sanders supporters who, just as in 2016, are threatening to withhold their vote in the general election if their preferred candidate doesn’t win the primary, and indeed seem weirdly proud about it.

OK, boomer Bernie or Buster.

Here’s the thing, the thing, the thing: there is never going to be an American president free of the deeply toxic elements of American ideology. There just won’t be. This country has been built how it has for 250 years, and it’s not gonna change. You are never going to have, at least not in the current system, some dream candidate who gets up there and parrots the left-wing talking points and attacks American imperialism, exceptionalism, ravaging global capitalism, military and oil addiction, etc. They want to be elected as leader of a country that has deeply internalized and taken these things to heart for its entire existence, and most of them believe it to some degree themselves. So this groupthink white liberal mentality where the only acceptable candidate is this Perfect Non-Problematic robot who has only ever had one belief their entire lives and has never ever wavered in their devotion to doctrine has really gotten bad. The Democratic Party would be considered… maybe center/mild left in most other developed countries. It’s not even really left-wing by general standards, and Sanders and Warren are the only two candidates for the nomination who are even willing to go there and explicitly put out policy proposals that challenge the systematic structure of power, oppression, and exploitation of the late-stage capitalist 21st century. Warren has the billionaires fussed, and instead of backing down, she’s doubling down. That’s part of why they’re so scared of her. (And also misogyny, because the world is depressing like that.) She is going head-on after picking a fight with some of the worst people on the planet, who are actively killing the rest of us, and I don’t know about you, but I like that.

Of course: none of this will mean squat if she (or the eventual Democratic winner, who I will vote for regardless of who it is, but as you can probably tell, she’s my ride or die) don’t a) win the White House and then do as they promised on the campaign trail, and b) don’t have a Democratic House and Senate willing to have a backbone and pass the laws. Even Nancy Pelosi, much as she’s otherwise a badass, held off on opening a formal impeachment inquiry into Trump for months out of fear it would benefit him, until the Ukraine thing fell into everyone’s laps. The Democrats are really horrible at sticking together and voting the party line the way Republicans do consistently, because Democrats are big-tent people who like to think of themselves as accepting and tolerant of other views and unwilling to force their members’ hands. The Republicans have no such qualms (and indeed, judging by their enabling of Trump, have no qualms at all).

The modern American Republican party has become a vehicle for no-holds-barred power for rich white men at the expense of absolutely everything and everyone else, and if your rationale is that you can’t vote for the person opposing Donald Goddamn Trump is that you’re just not vibing with them on the language of that one policy proposal… well, I’m glad that you, White Middle Class Liberal, feel relatively safe that the consequences of that decision won’t affect you personally. Even if we’re due to be out of the Paris Climate Accords one day after the 2020 election, and the issue of climate change now has the most visibility it’s ever had after years of big-business, Republican-led efforts to deny and discredit the science, hey, Secret Corporate Shill, am I right? Can’t trust ‘er. Let’s go have a craft beer.

As has been said before: vote as far left as you want in the primary. Vote your ideology, vote whatever candidate you want, because the only way to make actual, real-world change is to do that. The huge, embedded, all-consuming and horrible system in which we operate is not just going to suddenly be run by fairy dust and happy thoughts overnight. Select candidates that reflect your values exactly, be as picky and ideologically militant as you want. That’s the time to do that! Then when it comes to the general election:

  • America is a two-party system. It sucks, but that’s the case. Third-party votes, or refraining from voting because “it doesn’t matter” are functionally useless at best and actively harmful at worst.
  • Either the Democratic candidate or Donald Trump will win the 2020 election.
  • There is absolutely no length that the Republican/GOP machine, and its malevolent allies elsewhere, will not go to in order to secure a Trump victory. None.
  • Any talk whatsoever about “progressive values” or any kind of liberal activism, coupled with a course of action that increases the possibility of a Trump victory, is hypocritical at best and actively malicious at worst.

This is why I found the Democratic response to Obama’s “don’t go too wild” comments interesting. Bernie doubled down on the fact that his plans have widespread public support, and he’s right. (Frankly, the fact that Sanders and Warren are polling at the top, and the fact that they’re politicians and would not be crafting these campaign messages if they didn’t know that they were being positively received, says plenty on its own). Warren cleverly highlighted and praised Obama’s accomplishments in office (i.e. the Affordable Care Act) and didn’t say squat about whether she agreed or disagreed with him, then went right back to campaigning about why billionaires suck. And some guy named Julian Castro basically blew Obama off and claimed that “any Democrat” could beat Trump in 2020, just by nature of existing and being non-insane.

This is very dangerous! Do not be Julian Castro!

As I said in my tags on the Bush post: everyone assumed that sensible people would vote for Kerry in 2004. Guess what happened? Yeah, he got Swift Boated. The race between Obama and McCain in 2008, even after those said nightmare years of Bush, was very close until the global crash broke it open in Obama’s favor, and Sarah Palin was an actual disqualifier for a politician being brazenly incompetent and unprepared. (Then again, she was a woman from a remote backwater state, not a billionaire businessman.) In 2012, we thought Corporate MormonBot Mitt Fuggin’ Romney was somehow the worst and most dangerous candidate the Republicans could offer. In 2016, up until Election Day itself, everyone assumed that HRC was a badly flawed candidate but would win anyway. And… we saw how that worked out. Complacency is literally deadly.

I was born when Reagan was still president. I’m just old enough to remember the efforts to impeach Clinton over forcing an intern to give him a BJ in the Oval Office (This led by the same Republicans making Donald Trump into a darling of the evangelical Christian right wing.) I’m definitely old enough to remember 9/11 and how America lost its mind after that, and I remember the Bush years. And, obviously, the contrast with Obama, the swing back toward Trump, and everything that has happened since. We can’t afford to do this again. We’re hanging by a thread as it is, and not just America, but the entire planet.

So yes. By all means, vote for Sanders in the primary. Then when November 3, 2020 rolls around, if you care about literally any of this at all, hold your nose if necessary and vote straight-ticket Democrat, from the president, to the House and Senate, to the state and local offices. I cannot put it more strongly than that.

If you do anything other than show up to vote in November and vote straight Democrat, no matter who is in any of those slots all the way down the ballot, than you are voting for Trump, the White Nationalists, and their enablers. Period.

Confessions of a former self-loathing closet case

“Homophobia Kills. Homophobia can lead to a slow and painful death. Homophobia seriously harms people around you. Homophobia in the familiy can lead to teen suicides.”

Quit being a homophobe (click to embiggen)

There are people who firmly believe that because of the saying “sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me” that the only aspects of homophobia that cause harm are actual physical assaults, targeted arson, and the like—and that any of us who push back on anything less than a physical attack are overreacting. Not just overreacting, they say that us calling out the homophobes is worse than the original homophobia. And that’s just bull. Pointing out that a person is acting or saying bigoted things is not worse or somehow less civil than the original bigoted actions, comments, or policies. Facing blowback for things you do and say, especially in the public square, does not make you a victim. And while it is possible for a reaction to be disproportionate, there isn’t a simple, objective way to measure that disproportionality. But what I can say with certainty is, if you’re one of those people who have ever used that “sticks and stones” philosophy to excuse someone being a bigot, you have no right to criticize any words that are sent back to the bigot as being out of line.

All of this is true even if the bigot in question happens to also be a member of the community the bigot is expressing bigotry toward.

I’ve started a blog post with this title several times over the last two years, and then trashed most of it—usually extracting a small part out to use as the basis of a slightly less provocative blog post. A pair of news stories crossed my stream within the last week that got me thinking about this again, and once again I pulled this out of the drafts and tried to start writing it. I am not going to link to the news stories in question for reasons I hope become clear. The reason I have toned down previous blog posts on this topic can be summed up by something I saw this morning on twitter from Alexandra Erin, a writer and satirist I follow, in reference to a completely unrelated topic: “…when you put something out in the world, you are responsible for how it lands.”

Erin is talking about satire and how easily it can be misunderstood, but the principle applies to all writing. It doesn’t matter whether I intend something to hurt someone else, if it hurts them, it is still my fault. That doesn’t mean the intention doesn’t matter, it means that intentions don’t negate the fallout. Here’s a simple example (which I think I first read in a blog post on tumblr, but I don’t remember for certain): say you’re an adult tasked with watching some small children playing on a playground. One kid, in their excitement, inadvertently bumps into another kid, who falls off the jungle gym and skins their knee. Do you run up to the crying kid with the skinned knee and lecture them they they shouldn’t cry because the other kid didn’t mean it? No. You clean up the skinned knee, you comfort the hurt child, you caution the other kid to be more mindful of what they’re doing, and you have them apologize for their carelessness.

I’ve written more than once about self-hating closet cases who cause harm to our community and whether they deserve our sympathy. The whole reason they are self-hating is because of the homophobia they faced growing up. Our society is steeped in toxic notions about what is and isn’t acceptable for one to be interested in depending on one’s gender. And just as toxic notions about mannerisms—including how one talks and walks—that are acceptable depending on your gender. Not all queer people are obviously gender non-conforming (and not all gender non-conforming people are gay), but gender non-conforming kids are bullied and harassed. Even the gender conforming queer kids are hurt by that, because they know that if anyone finds out about their same-sex crushes or whatever, that they will be subjected to the same kind of hatred from some classmates, some teachers, and some family members.

We are taught from a very early age to loath ourselves and to expect loathing from others. For many of us, the need to deflect at least some of that loathing causes us to denounce and participate in the shunning and bullying of others. Because if we denounce the faggots loudly, no one could possibly believe we’re queer ourselves, right?

Which means that I feel a lot of guilt for some of the things I said and positions I endorsed in my early teens.

So yes, I feel a lot of sympathy for kids who are living in terror inside those closets. The sympathy starts to go away when those kids grow up, are exposed to examples of how life can be better out of the closet, but they continue to attack other queer people even while cowering inside their own closet. There is a bit of pity, sometimes, but the longer they are exposed to better information (sexual orientation isn’t a choice, all those stories about health issues for queers are myths, queer people can live healthy and happy and long lives, et cetera), they less they deserve our consideration.

And that doesn’t change if they happen to come out of the closet but still insist on vilifying and otherwise attacking their fellow queers. A young man who comes out of the closet but lends his voice and face to campaigns to deny civil rights to his fellow queers—who goes on national news shows and records political ads saying, “I’m a gay man, and I agree with these people that think gay people don’t deserve equal rights” isn’t simply expressing an opinion. He is contributing to the hostile environment that sometimes literally kills other queer people.

Because we’ve long had proof—from medical studies first conducted by a Republican administration—that contrary to that sticks-and-stones saying, words do hurt. All that anti-gay rhetoric leads to the death of hundred of queer and gender non-conforming kids every year, among other very real harms.

So-called homocons who assist anti-gay organizations in oppressing other queer people should not be surprised when they face blowback. Queers and allies standing up for themselves in the face of that oppression are not bullying. It isn’t a both sides thing, it’s self-defense. Particularly in a case where, say, the adult homocon who has already appeared on TV more than once to denounce gay rights campaigns, then leads a bunch of haters in a loud protest angrily chanting anti-gay slogans at a children’s event. That isn’t a “morally ambiguous transgression” it’s despicable—plain and simple. Especially when you go on TV again to defend your actions.

When other people call out the bigotry, that’s not mob violence, that’s consequences. Maybe you should have thought about that before agreeing to go on TV. Again.

Yes, when we say things we are responsible for how they land, regardless of our intentions. But that’s a two-way street. And when a self-loathing queer who assists bigots has been given a number of chances over a few years to reconsider his hateful words and deeds, there comes a point when there is no one to blame for any of the consequences except himself.

Confessions of a self-reconstructed queer

“Your idea of me is not my responsibility to live up to.”

“Your idea of me is not my responsibility to live up to.”

One of the stories of the week in the most recent Friday Five was a link to a series of tweets where Alexander Leon, a writer and human right activist, talked about an aspect of coming out that lots of people don’t understand, and many queer people seldom talk about. The tweets were an attempt to sum out an essay he had written but had never gotten published. Towleroad has subsequently published the entire essay (along with some cute yet informative pictures from Leon’s childhood): Out of the Closet and Into the Fire — How I Stopped Performing and Fought to Become Myself.

Queer people don’t grow up as ourselves, we grow up playing a version of ourselves that sacrifices authenticity to minimise humiliation & prejudice. The massive task of our adult lives is to unpick which parts of ourselves are truly us & which parts we’ve created to protect us.
—Alexander Leon

This is a topic I’ve touched on a few times before, but usually buried in a discussion about people who were part of our lives when we were closeted and how they react when we come out. Specifically, the idea that some of our loved ones didn’t actually love our true self, but rather they loved the mask or facade (or as Leon calls it, armor) that we had adopted in an attempt to protect ourselves from the bullying as well as the much more subtle forms of homophobia.

That particular bit manifests in many ways. Some of them talk about how we’ve changed so much they don’t recognize us any more. Some of them get annoyed (or worse) any time we mention anything that reminds them we’re queer. And I do mean anything. “Why do you have to keep calling him your husband?” “Because that’s who he is? Would you be happy if I started referring to your spouse as ‘your friend’?”

Our family, our friends, are often not aware that life after the closet isn’t the simple relinquishing of our previous self and the effortless taking up of a new-and-improved queer persona, but rather a complex and arduous process of unlearning the often toxic ways in which we have dealt with negative feelings about ourselves and our place in the world. They see the closet door wide open and don’t understand how we could still be hurting.
—Alexander Leon

When, in the past, I’ve called it a mask, that implies that unlearning those coping/hiding behaviors is as simple as taking the mask off. Even the analogy of armor is somewhat misleading—unless you think of it as a kind of cyberpunk armor, which computer chips are surgically embedded in our bodies and wires go through us to connect to and control portions of the armor. It isn’t as simple as just taking off a set of armor and putting on a new ensemble of clothes. I don’t think it’s an accident that a disproportionate number of gay men claim the Star Trek: Voyager character Seven of Nine as one of their favorite characters.

It isn’t a simple process. One reason it is so difficult is because the false self we were constructing wasn’t just meant to fool potential bullies—we were also desperately trying to fool ourselves. That leaves us living in a super-charged imposter syndrome.

It’s not fun. I am deliriously happy with most aspects of my life. I’ve been successful in my career. I have somehow managed to get married to the most capable man in the world (who also happens to be incredibly funny, sweet, kind, smart—as more than one friend has said, he’s awesome and gives great hugs). I have amazing, talented friends.

But…

I’ve been completely out of the closet for just a bit over 28 years, now, and I still occasionally catch myself deflecting and dissembling in certain circumstances. There are still times when I find myself asking why I said something that I know I don’t really agree with or care about, and then realizing it’s on one of those topics—things someone once told me I’m supposed to like because that’s what men are interested in, or something I’m not supposed to like because it’s “girly.”

Which is really wild coming from a guy who was feeling proud of the big sparkly purble rhinestone earrings I’d picked to go with the dangly purple-wires-twisted-into-the-shape-of-steaming-coffee-mug earrings a friend gave me for Christmas; proud because more than one stranger I ran into that day told me that they liked my earrings.

Feelings are, by definition, irrational. One’s identity is a complex combination of feelings, thoughts, memories, and a whole bunch of subconscious supplements. Becoming who we are is an ongoing process of discovery and re-invention. It isn’t easy, but things that are worthwhile seldom are.

Weekend Update 1/11/2020: Bitter lies, obscured truths, and the failure of “fairness”

“Firing a $70,000 missile from a $28,000,000 drone flying at a cost of $3,624 per hour to kill people in the Middle East living on less than $1 per day.”  “We live in a country where if you want to bomb somebody, there's remarkably little discussion about how much it might cost. But then you have a discussion abut whether or not we can assisst people who are suffering, and suddenly we become very cost-conscious.” —Prof. Andrew Bacevich

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“Firing a $70,000 missile from a $28,000,000 drone flying at a cost of $3,624 per hour to kill people in the Middle East living on less than $1 per day.”

“We live in a country where if you want to bomb somebody, there’s remarkably little discussion about how much it might cost. But then you have a discussion abut whether or not we can assisst people who are suffering, and suddenly we become very cost-conscious.” —Prof. Andrew Bacevich

Time for another of my Saturday posts where I talk about stories that either broke after I finished this week’s Friday Five or have had new information come forward after being linked and/or commented on in any of my previous posts. Let’s go!

We’ve reached a new high in journalists bending over backwards not to report that water is wet: Amash accuses Trump of selling military support to Saudi Arabia. The problem with this headline is that word accuses, because inside the story, Trump himself is quoted as saying in an interview on Fox. “We have a very good relationship with Saudi Arabia. I said, listen, you’re a very rich country. You want more troops? I’m going to send them to you, but you’ve got to pay us. They’re paying us. They’ve already deposited $1 billion in the bank.” So no one needs to accuse the alleged president of selling troops, the guy is bragging about it!

Warren: Reasonable to Ask if Trump’s Iran Strike Is a Distraction From Impeachment. Reasonable is an understatement, especially when we learn that TRUMP ARGUED SOLEIMANI STRIKE WOULD BE POPULAR POLITICALLY, SAID IRAN WOULDN’T ‘DO ANYTHING TOO STUPID’.

Is there anyone on the planet less qualified to speculate about other people doing stupid things? This is the guy who, when warned not to look directly at a solar eclipse because it could burn the retinas in his eyes, went out of the balcony of the White House with a zillion cameras and reporters watching, and turned his head up to look directly at the eclipse! This is the man that we have seen doesn’t know how to fold up an umbrella! This is the man who went on a rambling rant proving that he doesn’t know how basic plumbing works, when discussing a drought. We can keep going… but there are other things to report.

Picture of a homeless man sleeping on a park bench, using newspapers for blankets. Headlines about soaring corporate profits and a surging stock market are visible. “We need to stop measuing 'the economy' by how well rich people are doing.”

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Here’s why the stock market is surging to records after an Iranian missile strike threatened to erupt into war. Yes, the Dow is surging to record highs… and I’m trying not to be superstitious here, but we’re entering the 2020s, right? And during the 1920s the stock market just surged and surged and surged and anyone who could afford to invest seemed to be making a killing and everything looked wonderful (at least if you believe the popular media at the time), until the market literally crashed and then we had the Great Depression.

And things aren’t looking good for much of the workforce as it is now: Low unemployment isn’t worth much if the jobs barely pay. “In a recent analysis, we found that 53 million workers ages 18 to 64—or 44% of all workers—earn barely enough to live on.” The New York Times: After a Decade of Hiring, Plenty of Jobs but Raises Are Tiny. Again, I realize that most of you don’t need me or these stories to tell you that wages aren’t keeping up with the cost of living. I think it’s useful, though, to have these facts to share when necessary.

“I'm sick of seeing 'are [we] ready for a woman president.' I'm sick of seeing 'are we ready for a gay president.' Don't remember being asked if we were ready for an incompetent, racist, homophobic, traitorous, cheating bastard, reality TV president, yet one is currently in the [White House].”

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Many Iowa Democrats are paralyzed by fear of choosing the wrong candidate to take on Trump. On any day I could find dozens of headlines talking about which Democratic candidate is in the lead in the early state polling or the national polls, and everyone of them included comments about how whoever has the lead is going to face trouble with this or that constituency. And I’m frankly more than a little tired of them.

In part because they’re stuck in the same kind of horse race mentality that threw the election to the guy who lost the popular vote by a couple of million last time. Somehow we have got to get the not-Fox press to stop falling into the trap of essentially shilling for the Republicans and White Nationalists under the guise of applying one standard of coverage to the Democrats, and frankly ignoring the problems of Trump and his ilk.

But we have one more topic to cover before I draw a conclusion:

“I believe Donald J. Trump was sent by god.” “Why? Did you run out of locusts?”

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Some quickies to establish the Plague of Destruction:

Gay Trump supporter trying to gaslight the LGBTQ community into supporting our own destruction.

Conspiracy Theorist: If Trump Isn’t Re-elected, Christians Will Go To Jail.

This Brilliant New Ad Highlights the Hypocrisy of Trump-Loving Evangelicals.

The Trump economy is hurting most Americans.

I’ve already spent so many pixels lamenting that fact that the people who most fervently defend Trump are the ones who are either getting most hurt by his policies, or are failing to recognize the hypocrisy inherent in that support. He’s the most anti-Christian president ever. He lies. He cheats. He steals. For his entire career! He has actually gotten out of one lawsuit from investors that he bilked out of tens of millions of dollars by arguing that they were are fault for not researching him enough to realize that he is a fraud. I’m not making that up!

And news outlets trot out those very people, sometimes literally the same dozen white trump-voting angry white people who claim to be “independent voters” and get them to parrot trump’s talking points even when they contradict the truth those people are living in.

We’re stuck in this asymmetrical situation where one side does outrageous criminal or immoral or unethical things—blatantly and sometimes bragging about it—and it is only the other side that is admonished for not being civil, for not being fair, for not compromising. And it is literally killing us! We have come to expect this from Fox News and Breitbart—they have made their pro-White Nationalist, pro-Dominionist, pro-Wealth agenda clear. It’s the remaining news outlets who think they are being fair who keep giving in to all these false equivalences in the interest of fairness.

  • You don’t need to quote formerly Republican Amash as say he accused Trump of selling the troops: come out and say in the headline that Trump admitted he did (or even better, that he bragged about it).
  • You don’t need to quote billionaires and their lapdogs when they spout lies about how the economy works: come out and say that the ultra-rich are hoarding wealth and wrecking the economy; report about the fact that the only thing that creates jobs is when ordinary people have enough money to spend on things other than minimal basic survival.
  • You don’t need to try to claim that minor quibbles on one side of the political spectrum are the equivalent of the racist, homophobic, genocidal and corrupt policies of the other side: come out and say that the Republicans promote the exploitation and even death of middle-to-low-income people in order to move more wealth to their billionaire buddies.
  • You don’t need to repeat Trump’s side’s blatant lies as if they are just one side of an opinion, while calling basic fact-checking an accusation: come out and say that Trump’s policies are hurting workers, killing people by taking away their health care, killing children by locking them up in cages, taking rights away from many Americans.

Start reporting the truth. Truth isn’t a bitter drink, it is a delicious tea!

Friday Five (not another war edition)

“There are men running governments who shouldn't be allowed to play with matches.” — Will Rogers

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It’s Friday and I should be happy about that but drone strikes and missiles are kind of putting a damper on everything.

We’re getting really cold temps here, but fortunately not coinciding with a lot of moisture, so we aren’t quite ready for a snowmeggeddon, but there’s more cold air masses and storm systems on their way, so that may change.

Meanwhile, welcome to the Friday Five. This week I bring you: the top five stories of the week, five stories about science fiction, five stories about science, five stories about deplorable people, five stories about the impeached one, and five videos (plus things I wrote).

Stories of the Week:

This Activist’s Insightful Tweet About Queer Identity is Taking Social Media by Storm.

After Stranger Lawsuit, State Provides Previously Sealed Records.

LGBTQ heroes don’t need to be perfect (or even perfectly respectable).

Arizona city under siege by graffiti artist who keeps writing “Penis Man” on everything.

The US spent trillions trying to remake the Middle East. Trump’s strike may have undone it all.

This Week in Science Fiction:

12 Excellent SFF Books You Might Have Missed in 2019.

Iconic prop house closes after 42 years in business.

And the Hugo Goes to … Introduction – John Varley.

Hugo Book Club Blog: The Movement of Goods In Science Fiction.

Asimov’s Empire, Asimov’s Wall – He was both the most famous science fiction writer in the world and perhaps the most prolific author in American history, but over the course of many decades, he groped or engaged in other forms of unwanted touching with countless women.

This Week in Science:

Binary star system set to go nova by 2100.

The female scientist who changed human fertility forever.

Gender Variance Around the World Over Time.

Scientists Figured Out the Indian Cobra’s Genome—at Last – With the genetic recipe for the snake’s lethal venom in hand, researchers will have an easier time producing an antidote.

San Francisco Bay could triple otter population, study says.

This Week in the Impeached One:

Pompeo: Trump doesn’t want to bomb Iran’s cultural sites. Trump: Yes I do. – Mike Pompeo’s Sunday TV appearances illustrated the Trump administration’s complete lack of credibility.

Trump Doesn’t Want Voters to Know How Much His Family’s Trips Cost Taxpayers.

WHAT ARE THEY HIDING? Trump Had a Secret Oval Office Meeting With the Saudi Vice Minister of Defense – and Didn’t Reveal It Until Forced To.

Trump administration proposes rule to punish disabled people.

Shifting explanations raises questions about trump admin Intel on Iran.

This Week in Deplorables:

Why Joe Lieberman Is Suddenly All Over Your Teevee. “Lieberman (and virtually every other Very Serious Person who’s cheerleading the Iran strike on your teevee) makes his paycheck shilling for the defense industry.”

Wife Of Child Predator Sues Mormon Church for Reporting His Crimes to Police.

ICE Detention Center Captain Was on a Neo-Nazi Website and Wanted to Start a White Nationalist Group .

Doug Collins Attacks Democrats So Stupidly They Raise Money Off Of Him.

Texas School District Threatens Parents for Supporting LGBTQ Students.

Things I wrote:

The third workday after Christmas vacation, or Three Kings Day and returning to mundania.

Videos!

Trump Lies About Iran Crisis, Blames Obama: A Closer Look:

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White House Officials “Shushed” Lawmakers Who Asked Questions During Iran Briefing:

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A Year’s worth of red-light runner car accidents at the same intersection (2019):

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Sex Education: Season 2 | Official Trailer | Netflix:

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BIRDS OF PREY – Official Trailer 2:

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The third workday after Christmas vacation, or Three Kings Day and returning to mundania

In Western Christianity, the feast of Epiphany commemorates principally (but not solely) the visit of the Magi to the Christ Child, and thus Jesus' physical manifestation to the Gentiles. It is sometimes called Three Kings' Day, or Twelfth Night, and in some traditions celebrated as Little Christmas or the Twelfth Day of Christmas.

In Western Christianity, the feast of Epiphany commemorates principally (but not solely) the visit of the Magi to the Christ Child, and thus Jesus’ physical manifestation to the Gentiles. It is sometimes called Three Kings’ Day, or Twelfth Night, and in some traditions celebrated as Little Christmas or the Twelfth Day of Christmas.

Most years I try to take down all the Christmas decorations on New Year’s Day. And most years I don’t quite manage it. In those years where I don’t finish the undecorating on New Year’s, my fallback deadline is Epiphany/Three Kings’ Day. This year, I took down the outdoor lights as well as the lights and decorations in the windows on New Year’s Day, but didn’t get to the tree and other decorations until this last Saturday. And even worse, even though I took down the outdoor lights, I didn’t put them away. I did untangle and roll-up the light strings, but they were just stacked up in the living room for the two days that I went back to work last week.

That latter bit is tied to the rest of the undecorating. All the Christmas decorations, including the outdoor lights, are stored away in a set of smallish boxes carefully crammed onto the shelves in the walk-in closet. So the only way to put anything away is to pull out all ten boxes and open them up so things can be packed into the as I unwind the tree.

Since I took the tree down Saturday both Michael and I have commented on feeling a sense of disorientation when we walk past that part of the house. It’s a little worse this year because we also left the card table up much longer after the party this year. The last couple of years we extended the dining room table by putting the card table at the end of it. And while the dining room table had this dark red cloth table cloth, the coffee table got one of those green plastic temporary table cloths. So it look festive enough for the party, but sort of tacky afterward. This year, though, I picked up a long poinsettia and holly table cloth for the dining room table, and a shorter whit and gold snowflake one for the coffee table. So it looked much less tacky after the party… and I just left it there until this last weekend. So two different parts of the living room-dining room-library space that had been occupied by something furniture-ish are now empty. And it just feels weird.

Meanwhile, I’ve discovered what may be a new (and very unwanted) tradition. To explain it takes a bit of background: The first Christmas here in Shoreline, two years ago, was the first time after we downsized from the 20-some much bigger boxes full ornaments (also known as, the cumulative whackiness of 22+ years of choosing a new theme for the following year’s tree, scouring after-Christmas sales for discount ornaments that would match said theme, plus picking up or making new ornaments that following season to complete the theme). Even with the downsizing, we still have way more ornaments than are needed for or 7′ narrow artificial tree. So the decorating still involves choosing maybe not so much a full blown theme as an emphasis. The first year for basic color we put on only the red, green, and gold glass ornaments. Then any ornament that could be called arctic or antarctic (polar bears, penguins, snowy owls, seals, and all the Alaska Snow Babies, for instance). Plus a few faves that always go on no matter what.

That meant that a particular box of 12 red and green ornaments glass ball ornaments had gone on the tree. But when we were undecorating, I could only find 11 of the red and green glass balls. Before I boxed everything up and put them away, got Michael to help me search under furniture and such trying to find either the missing ornament or evidence of broken shards of the ornament. We couldn’t find either. Michael suggested the roomba might have pushed it into a spot in one of the back rooms that we hadn’t so carefully searched. So we put the boxes away, and I made sure that the box containing the other eleven was easy to get to, in hopes that we would eventually find the missing ball in some weird part of the house.

Two years later, still no sign of the 12th red and green ornament.

Last year, our second Christmas here, for basic color I pulled out all the purple and pink glass ornaments, and a lot of the Star Trek and Star Wars ornaments… but also some of our favorites. And again, when I was putting them away, a box set of 9 purple pine cones with silver glitter had gone on the tree, but I could only find 8 purple pine cones when we took the tree down. Again, neither of us could find the ornament underneath furniture or in weird corners of the room. So again we boxed everything and hoped it would turn up.

One year later, still no sign of the 9th purple pine cone.

This year I pulled out the ice and snow colored ornaments, plus anything that could be construed as a character from a story, and our usual favorites. Stories meant that this set of 6 Winnie-the-Pooh themed ornaments that consist of pressed board printed with colored illustrations from the original book, with pink-tinted scalloped edges went on the tree. Ice & snow meant that a set of blown glass ornaments that looking like inverted clear rain drops with hand-painted poinsettias around the “equator” of the broadest part of each drop also went on. When I was undecorating the tree, one of the rain drops broke in my hand (but I didn’t get cut!), which was sad, so the box with its six spots for the ornaments only has five ornaments, now. And I could only find five of the Winnie-the-Pooh ornaments.

So, once again, we have one missing ornament from a set that we can’t seem to find anywhere in the house.

Now, ornaments break and otherwise occasionally get lost, I get that. And maybe during the previous 22 years one ornament a year was the norm, and I just didn’t notice because we had so friggin’ many different sets; I don’t know. But this is beginning to annoy me. I mean, by now we should have found some sign of one of those lost ornaments somewhere in the house, right?

Friday Five (appropriate responses edition)

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I’m not really ready for it to be the first Friday of 2020, and yet, here we are.

New Year’s Day was the last day of my Christmas vacation. Going back to the office on Thursday was not quite as much of a hassle as I thought it would be. Usually when it’s been a while since I went in it takes longer to find things and get out the door… but I was standing at the bus stop earlier than usual. It was very quiet at the office because it seems that about half my co-workers took all of this week as well as last week off, os I spent most of the day just going through my inbox.

Meanwhile, welcome to the Friday Five. This week I bring you: then the top five stories of the week, five stories about science fiction, five stories about science, and five videos (plus notable obituaries and a some things I wrote).

Stories of the Week:

Network Building Anti-Gay Churches Shuttered .

Opinion | Bret Stephens and the Perils of the Tapped-Out Column.

The decade in dumb: Looking back on the silliest of Apple commentary.

John Lewis Diagnosed With Pancreatic Cancer – Civil Rights Icon Needs No Epitaph.

Dispensaries Are Still Not Selling Cannabis to Children.

This Week in Science Fiction:

The New Rude Masters of Fantasy & Science Fiction – and Romance .

A Perfectly Cromulent Review of Books — Every Heart Among Bones Beneath Sugar in a Dream Come Tumbling Down.

[DECEMBER 31, 1964] LOST IN THE DESERT (JANUARY 1965 ANALOG).

The 2019 Darth Vader Parenthood Award for Outstandingly Horrible Fictional Parents.

Jason Sanford – The State of Genre Magazines.

This Week in Science:

Stick-toting puffins offer first evidence of tool use in seabirds.

10 of the wildest discoveries Washington scientists made in 2019.

Bad Astronomy | Happy New Year! … but what exactly is a ‘year’?

500-million-old fossilized brain has totally changed our minds.

How Kepler Invented Science Fiction and Defended His Mother in a Witchcraft Trial While Revolutionizing Our Understanding of the Universe.

In Memoriam:

Jerry Herman, the Broadway composer who wrote ‘Hello, Dolly!’ and ‘La Cage aux Folles,’ is dead at 88.

Commentary: Jerry Herman, composer of ‘Hello, Dolly,’ should also be remembered as an early HIV survivor.

Things I wrote:

Monday Update 12/30/2019: Racist loudmouths, racist enablers, and acts of terror.

My New Year’s Wish for You, 2020.

Videos!

Perry Mason – QUIZ: How Well Do You Know Perry Mason?:

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Harry Styles – Adore You (Official Video):

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Cub Sport – City of Angels (Official Video):

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Billy Porter – Love Yourself (Official Celeb Lip Sync Video):

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Pet Shop Boys – Monkey business (radio edit):

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My New Year’s Wish for You, 2020

Love will save us.

We are told that love should be hidden, or private, or otherwise not talked about in the open. And some of the people who are most likely to repeat this horrible lie are people who claim to be followers of a carpenter from Galilee, who said that loving one another was the essence of his god’s commandments.

Love is love.

Anyone who tells you otherwise is an agent for evil. Don’t listen to them.

Stand up for those who are rejected by society as a whole. Stand up for the defenseless. Stand up and be counted.

Confess your love. There should be no shame in admitting that you love the people who make your life bearable, worth striving for, or better than it would be without then.

Proclaim your love.

And feel no obligation to defend those who are not willing to embrace and promote love—true love, not the empty promise of hypocrits who claim to love while they condemn the love of others and advocate stripping legal rights from others. Not “all sides” are equal, and no one with an actual moral compass thinks so, so don’t be drawn into that trap.

Love will save us.

Real love, not the love of hypocrites.

You will save us. Your love will save us. Embrace that truth and never let it go.

Love will save us.

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