We have now reached the fifth and final Friday in September. The most blesséd month is drawing to a close.
This week was weird. I had such a good week at work last week. And then a lot of fun celebrating my birthday, until we got the next set of news about the selling of our building. So we spent a lot of this week doing a lot of cleaning and sorting and hauling. My feet are still sore.
Anyway, here are links to some of the interesting things I read on the web this week, sorted into various topic areas.
He was 25 years old, so not really a boy, but then I was only 29. I wasn’t completely out of the closet, yet. I regularly went dancing at a gay country bar, and I had just started singing with a newly formed lesbian & gay chorus, so I wasn’t deeply closeted, either. But as far as I knew at the time, other than one cousin none of my family knew I was gay. And only a few of my long-term friends knew.
Ray and I met online on a gay BBS system, and after lots of chatting over several weeks, had finally agreed to meet at a restaurant. I had trouble finding him, because he forgot to tell me that he’d recently dyed his hair. I wasn’t looking for a redhead.
I suspected he was a keeper when I saw the small bookcase beside his bed. I knew he was a keeper when we talked about one particular worn hardback. Not because of which book it was, but because he had a favorite book that he re-read several times a year. And talking about it made him start talking very animatedly about a lot of his other favorite books.
We’d been officially dating for a few months when he first told me that he liked to write. He hadn’t mentioned it before because I earned my living as a technical writer, and while my fiction had mostly been published in small, non-paying ‘zines, he was a little nervous about showing me his work. Turned out he’d never shown anyone his writing before. He had a bit of an inferiority complex about his education: he’d dropped out of high school after his father died to go to work to help his mom support his younger siblings. He had since gotten his GED and taken some community college classes, but he wasn’t confident in his writing skills.
I asked him if he wanted my honest opinion. I admit I was a bit nervous, too. What if I hated his work and couldn’t hide it? Fortunately, the first story he showed me wasn’t bad. It needed work. But he was happy to receive critiques and borrow some of my books about the writing process.
He kept working at it. Revising, writing, reading. He started occasionally sharing his work with other people. He even managed to get a couple of stories published in small ‘zines.
Then he got sick. When the doctors first told us he had two years or less to live, I refused to believe it. I was certain we were going to beat this. For the next few years there were lots of tests, treatments, a few scary visits to the ER, and then chemotherapy.
One night just over three years after they had told us he had less than two years to live (seven years and three months after our first date) he had a seizure and fell into a coma. I spent the next several days sitting beside his bed in an intensive care unit, waiting for him to wake up. But it wasn’t to be.
During the weeks afterward I went through his things, with help from his mother and sister. In the cabinet under the night table on his side of the bed, inside an envelope that said, “No Peeking!” I found a small package wrapped with Christmas paper, with a gift tag that said, “To Gene, Love Ray.” I didn’t open it. But the package was the size of a paperback book. And in another envelope in the same cabinet were two identical copies of a paperback anthology, along with some correspondence from the editor of the anthology.
He had sold two short stories that were included in that anthology. He’d sold them the year before, and had received copies of the book nine months before he died. And he’d never said a word to me about it. He’d wanted it to be a surprise.
He had a deadline for another anthology with the same editor coming up. I couldn’t figure out which of the stories he had on his computer he had intended to submit. I wrote to the editor and explained that Ray had died. The editor sent a very thoughtful condolence note back.
Ray had made his first professional fiction sale—two stories! —a mere six years after shyly admitting he was afraid to show his work to other people, but didn’t tell me because he wanted to see the expression on my face when I opened the package Christmas morning. I wish I’d known. I wish I’d been able to tell him how proud I was of him. I wish I’d been able to grab a Sharpie, hold the book out to him, and ask for his autograph.
Make no mistake, I love my husband, Michael. Every time I see his smile, I feel like the luckiest man in world. But I loved Ray, too. I miss him. I wish he had lived to see the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, to see the citizens of our state vote to give same-sex couples the right to marry, to see the Supreme Court overturn the Defense of Marriage Act, and of course to see that same court make marriage equality the law of the land.
This week Michael and I are going through our things, hauling stuff to Goodwill and so forth. We’re both packrats from long lines of packrats, so we have to do these purges every year or so. I tend to hang onto things, and I get overly sentimental over a lot of those things. I had a couple of rough moments Monday. One was when I came across the book with Ray’s stories on a shelf. Another was when I was pulling plushies from another shelf and found a small, peach-colored Teddy Bear. Only a few weeks after we started dating, Ray had to fly to Georgia for a business obligation. He picked up the teddy bear for me and a coffee mug for himself in a souvenir shop. Yes, 26 years later, I still have the “Georgia On My Mind” mug, and I still think of it as Ray’s mug.
If he’d lived, today would have been Ray’s 52nd birthday. That’s right, our birthdays were only two days apart. We usually wound up celebrating both birthdays together with his family, and then would celebrate just the two of us on our actual birthdays. I assume that that is the reason that I start getting a bit depressed and moody every September. I can’t think about my birthday coming up without thinking about his birthday that we don’t get to celebrate.
I would love to see his goofy grin over a cake covered with candles at least one more time.
I’ve had a few people ping me to ask if I’m going to watch the first official debate between Hillary Clinton and Trump. Short answer: no. Trump has vowed to appoint to the federal bench only judges approved by the Heritage Foundation. The Heritage Foundation doesn’t just oppose gay marriage, they oppose gay rights of all levels, and still regularly call for overturned the Supreme Court decision that blocked anti-sodomy laws. They don’t just want to end my marriage, they want it to be literally illegal for someone to be queer. And if you happen to be straight or otherwise don’t consider yourself queer: they also think it should be illegal for straight unmarried people to have sex. They aren’t just anti-abortion, they think that it should be illegal for straight people, married or not, to buy birth control.
Whether you believe that a seat is going to open up on the Supreme Court in the next four years (and statistically it is extremely likely it will), there are hundreds of open appointments at lower levels of the federal judiciary that haven’t been filled because the Republicans in the Senate resist confirming anyone Obama nominates for just about anything. If Trump is elected, judges who think that being gay should be illegal (and a whole lot worse) will be appointed. The damage that alone will do to everyone’s civil rights is frightening to contemplate.
I wrote before that Hillary wasn’t my first choice this time. But you know what, she was my second choice, both this time and in 2008. Because (among other things) I remember back in the 1990s when she and her husband made Republican heads explode simply by saying that gay people deserve any legal rights at all. I hear a lot of people still giving her grief for not coming around on marriage equality until 2013, completely unaware of how far ahead of the rest of the Democratic party both she and her husband had been on the matter of gay rights for more than two decades before that. And really, if we insist on punishing politicians who were slow to come around on some of our issues, what incentive do any of them have to change their minds when we advocate for our needs?
And don’t start spouting stuff off about the third party candidates. Johnson, the Libertarian, doesn’t believe in anti-discrimination laws. Like most libertarians, he says discrimination is wrong, but he supports policies that let it happen. Johnson also wants to repeal the minimum wage. He wants to not just rollback the Affordable Health Care Act, but also eliminate Medicare. I could go on, but particularly if you were a Bernie Sanders supporter, it is criminally stupid for you to support Johnson, since literally every single one of his specific policy proposals are the exact opposite of Bernie’s. Every one.
I’ve written before about the many reasons not to support Stein. The quick answer is, she doesn’t have consistent policies, half of her policies are anti-science, and she doesn’t have the experience or political resources to put any of her polices in place if she did get elected. The truth is she’s not a serious candidate, she’s a troll.
Virtually every election I’ve ever witnessed has been some kind of referendum on whether I’m a legal person – ever done ground work, going door to door, arguing with people why they shouldn’t vote to make you illegal? I have, and it sucks – and in that way, this election is no different.
The hate is just a lot more broadly aimed this time.
So I’m not watching the debate tonight. It’s bad enough being reminded every two to four years that about half the country is just fine voting to lock me up. This whole thing is yet another referendum on my existence, so why the fuck would I subject myself to that?
According to an analysis of roll call votes by Voteview, Clinton’s record was more liberal than 70 percent of Democrats in her final term in the Senate. She was more liberal than 85 percent of all members. Her 2008 rival in the Democratic presidential primary, Barack Obama, was nearby with a record more liberal than 82 percent of all members — he was not more liberal than Clinton.
Ah, September! That most blessèd month! When the oppressive, destructive heat of summer begins to abate, the leaves on deciduous trees turn to autumnal colors, a new school year begins (at least in the U.S.), and new network TV shows premiere. The autumnal equinox has come. My tomato plants are dying and many of the flowering plants have lost their blooms and are going to seed. Which means that decorating season approaches!
September also means my birthday… that’s right. Today I am officially another year older.
It isn’t one of the big, decade shift birthdays. The big five-oh was a half dozen years ago, and the bigger six-oh is still a few years off. But for some reason as this one approached, it was feeling more like a major turning point than usual. Maybe I was being a little bit psychic and knew that we’d find out just before the birthday that our building was going up for sale and there might well be very big changes in our living situation by the end of this lease period.
Or maybe my subconscious knew that my first birthday after Dad’s death would churn up feelings. Which would be understandable if we had had a normal parent-child relationship. But since he virtually never called or otherwise acknowledged my birthday (sometimes my stepmother would send a birthday card — at least once she made him sign it), is surprising. To be fair, I almost never sent a card on-time to him on his birthday, even though it was only six days after mine.
What usually happened is at some point in September I’d make a little promise to myself that this year I would buy and mail him a card by my birthday. And then I wouldn’t think about it again until several days after my birthday—sadly what would happen is I would realize I barely had time to get a birthday card in the mail to my grandmother, which would remind me that Dad’s birthday was a few days before her and that meant it was already too late to get a card to him by his day. So the few years he did get something from me, it would arrive a few days late.
Of course, because he’s gone, I probably won’t be asked a dozen times if I’ve heard from him. That has been a common occurrence on every birthday and major holiday for decades: relatives asking if I’ve heard from my Dad, then reacting with varying degrees of sadness, surprise, and disappointment to my reaction to the question. It didn’t seem to matter what my reaction was, whether I simply said, “no” or if I was a bit more forthcoming, “Naw, I haven’t talked to him in, uh, six years?” They were always dismayed. Even the few times when I could say, “I got a card in the mail” didn’t go over well.
I get it. These are relatives who go to the trouble to call all their siblings, children, nieces & nephews, et cetera on their birthdays and such. That’s why they’re contacting me to wish me a happy birthday, after all. My mom’s side of the family has always been big about birthdays and anniversaries. So I get why they’re always at least surprised.
It’s nice to be wished well and reminded that I’m loved. Which I have been.
So far what I’ve done to celebrate is get together with friends to go see a cool movie that opened on Friday: the remake of the remake of The Seven Samurai. Appropriately enough, the first American remake, The Magnificent Seven with Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, James Coburn, Robert Vaughn, Charles Bronson, and Eli Wallach premiered in theatres just a couple weeks after I was born. It was a movie that was shown on TV many times during my childhood, and it seemed like everyone I knew loved it as much as I did. So when I saw a remake was coming out with Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Vincent D’Onofrio, and a bunch of other stars, I knew I had to go see it.
It was fun. It was great to meet friends for dinner, drinks, and a movie. Saturday Michael took me out to dinner at my favorite restaurant. Today we’re getting together with one of my gaming groups to do some Victorian sci fi adventuring. I have also taken Monday off from work, and I’m planning to pretend tomorrow is Sunday and watch the football game that my DVR will be recording while we’re gaming today.
I’ve gotten some cool presents, which are always fun. Two different people got me wonderful socks. I love comfy, colorful socks! I’ve also gotten a hand knitted scarf, an old movie I love, cool figurines, my very own Tardis key, brilliant purple ink, some books. Getting anything is always great! I can’t show off the big present from my husband, yet. He had me try it on and pick out which model I wanted on Friday, but we had to order it and wait for it to be shipped.
Whenever I write a birthday post, I always feel like I should end with some words of wisdom. This year I’m feeling even less wise than usual. It has not been a pleasant year for, well, anyone that I know. I’ve been having a particularly difficult time not breaking the “Don’t be a dick” rule, myself—I’ve outright busted it several times, and that’s all on me. It feels like a year of broken things, especially connections.
So I guess this year’s advice is this: try. Try to be kind. Try to be forgiving. Try to pick up the pieces when you can. You never know which conversation with someone will be your last, so try not to let it be one you’ll regret.
Last week I very intentionally didn’t do a Weekend Update post to supplement the previous day’s Friday Links post. I was feeling as if I was spending every Saturday morning writing about a few headlines that caught my eye later Friday. When maybe a better use of my time would be working on my fiction, or housework, or other things that actually gets something done that needs doing, y’know?
Then we got out of the movie last night, and one friend who had just turned his phone back on tells us that there was a shooting at a mall in a town about an hour’s drive north of where we were. There was almost no information available last night, and this morning there still isn’t really much: Cascade Mall shooting: Mayor vows to ‘bring the son of a bitch to justice’.
They have some really low-res blurry pictures of a generic looking dark haired guy wearing a very generic looking maybe black t-shirt and maybe black cargo shorts. They originally put out the APB for a “hispanic male wearing gray,” but if the pictures are any indication the only part of that which might be accurate is the shooter’s gender presentation.
Seriously, I know Seattle area men who come form a long line of Norwegians who look exactly like that guy. Heck! I used to know a lesbian firefighter (who was sometimes mistaken for a guy) whose ancestors came from Switzerland and England who looked just like that guy.
Some of the news sources are reporting this as the sixth mass shooting in Washington state this year. Another source said seven, and then lists them, but there are only five total in the list. Also of note only to my fellow pedants: one of the shootings they’re counting had only two victims, another had only three. The FBI still doesn’t have an official criteria for a mass shooting, but most people compiling statistics start with the FBI’s definition of mass murder (four people killed in a single incident, not counting the perpetrator), and count anything with four people shot as a mass shooting.
I don’t know what to say.
Except this (which I think needs to be repeated every time a story of some situation like this happens): unless you have the skills, temperament, and wherewithal to be a responsible gun owner (i.e., ensure that guns are always securely stored when not in use; they are kept clean and otherwise maintained; you regularly practice not merely shooting the thing but loading it, unloading it, checking its working parts before using it, working the safety; et cetera, et cetera, et cetera), don’t go buy a gun. Statistically, you will not be safer. Statistically, everyone around you will be less safe. That’s a fact.
It’s already the fourth Friday in September! You know what that means? Well, this year it means I’m on vacation. I’m taking a couple of vacation days because it’s my birthday this weekend. A company I used to work for gave each employee their birthday off as a paid holiday, and I liked it, so when I’ve got the vacation time to spare, I’ve kept doing it.
This week was extremely productive at my day job. Which meant my brain was pretty worn out at the end of each day. Add that I was still recovering from being sick the week before, and I think I managed to write two small scenes the entire week. *sigh* Oh, well, I’m hoping to get my mental batteries recharged here and maybe, now that another couple of impossible deadlines have been met, I can have a more reasonable workload in the day time.
Keep your fingers crossed for me!
And remember, September babies are superior!
Anyway, here are links to some of the interesting things I read on the web this week, sorted into various topic areas.
Lately a lot of people on the conservative end of the spectrum have been calling for more compromise. For instance: “If you can’t be friends with someone just because you don’t agree on everything, something’s wrong.” And then there was, “Religious people no longer feel safe in social spaces. Maybe we could meet halfway?” But my favorite was, “LGBT people and Christians seem locked in their different and opposing camps. Where can we reach a meeting point of common ground?”
Let’s start with the first one: why should disagreements keep us from being friends? It depends entirely on the disagreement. My husband and I have been together for 18 years, and we love each other very much. We are also both very geeky nerds who are both fairly well informed on a variety of topics ranging from astrophysics to the old Donald Duck comic books. You can bet there are things we disagree about, and sometimes our discussions get very spirited. In 2008 you should have heard us debating whether to support Obama or Clinton in our upcoming caucus meeting, for instance.
If you think that I don’t deserve equal rights before the law, if you vote for measures to take my civil rights away, if you vote for candidates who have prayed openly that gays deserve death (almost the entire Republican Congressional Caucus just months ago), if you insist in the face of overwhelming medical evidence that being non-heterosexual is a matter of choice or mental illness, you aren’t my friend. And it isn’t even a matter of me not wanting to be your friend: you aren’t being a friend to any queer people by doing those things.
There are some medical studies that ultra-conservatives frequently misquote that draw a causal link between the discrimination and pervasive prejudice against queer people and negative health outcomes. We’ve known since George H.W. Bush’s surgeon general released the first of many other studies that there is a causal link between societal prejudice against queer people and teen suicide (about 1500 queer and non-gendering conforming children and teen-agers commit suicide every year because they are bullied, told that being queer is a sin, et cetera). Discrimination kills.
It’s not just the actualgaybashers who harm us, it’s the anti-gay attitudes and misinformation. Also, nice conservatives who claim that they don’t hate anyone, but also say that queer people don’t deserve legal rights, that our identities are sins, et cetera, create an atmosphere that encourages and excuses the violence.
So, no, when what we disagree about is our right to exist and live our lives as we wish, we can’t be friends. No one should feel obligated to cozy up to people who are actually hurting you. You can be civil to one another, but we’re not going to be friends.
I confess that I find it very hard to keep a straight face when religious conservatives claim that society is no longer a safe place merely because they’re no longer allowed to discriminate against other people, or to spout off their bigotry without someone disagreeing with them. For literally centuries society hasn’t been a safe place for queer people, or for people who don’t subscribe to the dominant religion, or for people who are the wrong ethnicity, et cetera. People were bashed, and lynched, and denied a place to live, denied health care, and so forth—often with the blessings of laws passed by conservative religious people. And you don’t feel safe because people disagree with you?
If people are actually threatening you, that’s bad. I am very sorry, and when I hear that kind of talk I do speak up. But the simple fact is that no one on my side is proposing laws to take away your rights. No one on my side is calling for laws to criminalize your sexuality. And some of the people who are currently asking for compromise and middle ground are the same people (literally in two very specific cases that I could name) who were actively trying to prevent hate crime laws being enacted, or trying to prevent civil union laws being enacting (a decade ago), or voting for candidates who literally were calling for gay men to be put into so-called quarantine camps (in the ’90s).
They are the same people who this year are trying to enact the anti-trans bathroom bills.
Me saying that you’re being a bigot when you call my sexual orientation a sin is not the equivalent of you supporting laws making it illegal for some people to go into public restrooms. Nor is it the equivalent of making it a crime for my husband and I to have sex even in the privacy of our own home. So the middle ground isn’t where you get to actually discriminate against me, and I have to listen respectfully when you express opinions that those laws and their rationales are right.
If you want to end the war between queer people and religious people, here’s what you do: stop attacking queer people, stop rationalizing discrimination, and stop defending the people who attack us. Because we aren’t actively attacking you. What you are perceiving as attack is a little thing called self-defense. We’re just trying to ward off the constant and pervasive and insidious grind of anti-gay rhetoric disguised as pro-family or traditional values.
If you don’t want to be called a bigot, stop being one. There are millions of religious people—people in your religion, whichever it is—who don’t believe that queers are evil demonic beings.
I am friends with religious people. I am friends with conservative people. We don’t agree on everything. We can get into very spirited debates about some of the things we disagree about. But they don’t tell me that I don’t have the right to live my life as an openly queer man. They don’t tell me that it should be illegal for me to live my life as an openly queer man. They don’t tell me that it should be legal for me to be fired, or denied housing, or denied services, or denied medical care, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. They aren’t sending queer children off to conversion therapy to be tortured. They aren’t demanding that books and movies should have warning labels merely for including any queer characters at all. They aren’t telling me that children should be protected from even knowing of the existence of queer people. They don’t tell me that “I don’t hate gay people—it isn’t your fault that you’re mentally diseased.”
To be friends, there has to be mutual respect. If you think that god is going to destroy this country for treating me equally under the law, you don’t respect me, and you’re not my friend. And yes, there is something wrong with that situation, but it isn’t me.
In 2004 my state had one of the closest races for Governor ever. On election night, it appeared that the Republican candidate, former state senator Dino Rossi, was the winner—but by only 261 votes. When all counties had finished counting ballots (but before the results were certified), former state Attorney General Christine Gregoire had pulled ahead of Rossi by a mere 42 votes. At one point during the recounts1 her lead was only 10 votes, but when things were officially certified, her lead had reached 129 votes.
The Republican National Committee paid a lot of money to finance a legal challenge to the certified count, insisting that lots of illegal ballots had been counted. The case is famous for the result that after spending millions and sorting through all the voter rolls the Republicans did find exactly 4 illegally cast ballots: all four of them had been cast for Dino Rossi, because each of the illegal ballots had been cast by ex-convicts who had not had their right to vote restored2. Each of them had voted for Rossi because they are angry at Gregoire for (essentially) doing a very good job during her years in the state’s Justice Department.
In other words, the Republicans spent a lot of money proving their guy’s loss was worse than it appeared, and ironically revealed to the public that the Democratic candidate was perceived as much tougher on crime than the Republican, at least in the eyes of some criminals.
Throughout the next four years3 certain angry people in our state kept insisting that the election had been stolen by evil democratic minions in King County, mostly because they couldn’t understand that winning in the mostly populous county in the state by about 70% is going to beat winning in a bunch of the least populous counties by less than 60%. And boy, did I get an earful from some of my ultra-conservative relatives about all the “crooked liberals” in Seattle at the next several holiday gatherings.
This is by far not the only time I’ve heard conservative people claim that when any election doesn’t go their way it’s because of ballot-stuffing in the cities. It’s hard for people to grasp the sheer scale of the differences in population density. Many counties in the U.S. have population densities of 1 or 2 people per square mile, while cities can reach densities of more than 50,000 per square mile (the New York City metropolitan area, for instance). It’s also hard to grasp the difference in ideology. People who live in rural areas are far more likely to vote Republican and otherwise support conservative politics. People who live in cities are far more likely to lean the other way. It’s not just that they’re leaning, it’s also how far they lean. You’re much more likely to find a majority of moderate conservatives in the suburbs than in small towns and unincorporated communities, for instance. And you’re much more likely to find the sorts of arch-conservatives who embrace the alt-right label those small towns and unincorporated communities4.
There are many reasons for this divide. One simple one is migration. People growing up in those communities who don’t feel as welcome are more likely to move to the city. People who feel out of place in their small towns who go to cities (usually to attend college or look for work) discover not that everyone in the city agrees with them, but they can find communities or social circles where their differences are accepted and affirmed, and decide not to go back. Those of us who are queer understand this quite well, though we aren’t the only ones.
Another difference is a natural consequence of the density. Living a city, it is impossible not to come into contact on a daily basis with people who are culturally, ethnically, religiously, and/or politically different than you. You interact with them, seeing that that are just people like yourself, merely with different experiences and beliefs. You learn to empathize with those perspectives. For a lot of us, it makes us more open to the other points of view than we may have been before.
This was all brought to mind recently when an acquaintance was freaking out a bit about this article: More Americans move to cities in past decade-Census. It wasn’t that he didn’t know that more of the population of the country lives in cities than in non-urban areas. What freaked him out was how many more do. He though it the city-country divide was something like 60-40. It’s not. It’s 80-20.
Let me repeat that: 80% of the U.S. populations lives in cities, suburbs, and large- and medium-sized towns. Only 20% live outside of those urban areas.
Some articles about this topic get confusing, because not everyone agrees on where the dividing line between urban dweller and not should be. The Census Bureau uses the following definitions:
Urbanized Areas (UAs) of 50,000 or more people;
Urban Clusters (UCs) of at least 2,500 and less than 50,000 people;
“Rural” encompasses all population, housing, and territory not included within an urban area.
Some people want to quibble with that definition and divide the line differently. I’ve also seen some articles that include the urban clusters population in the rural, thus defining what most folks would agree is a quite large town as “rural.”
Politicians of certain stripes are fond of talking about “real Americans” which is sometimes code for white, straight, and at least pseudo-Christian5. But it also often refers to people who live in small towns or on farms, with the implication that that makes up the majority of the population. Which gets us back to the reason many conservatives who don’t live in the largest cities think those cities are doing questionable things with ballot boxes. A lot of them don’t even understand that the majority of the population lives in cities. They think the urban dwellers are a minority somehow oppressing them.
It’s also why most of them don’t realize that their small communities are being subsidized by the taxes paid by city dwellers, not the other way around. But that’s a whole other can of worms.
1. Which could have been avoided, because there were several thousand voters in my county who cast write-in votes for a former County Executive whom Gregoire had defeated in the primary, not aware that the state Constitution specifically forbids write-in votes to be certified for a candidate who lost in the Primary.
2. In Washington state, if you have been convicted of a felony you lose your right to vote. After you have served your time, you may petition to have your voting rights restored. But you have to actually file and make a court appearance to do it.
3. Four years later in the Rossi-Gregoire rematch she won by a more decisive 53% to 47%.
4. Not that you don’t find very liberal people in small towns, nor very conservative ones in the heart of the city. There are always outliers everywhere.
5. By which I mean people who give lip service to being Christians, and get foaming at the mouth angry if someone objects to a Ten Commandments monument in a courthouse, but otherwise don’t act as if they understand a single word Jesus ever said.
The first time I experienced mental health therapy was under duress. I was in middle school, and one of the many times I was bullied that year had resulted in me being injured to a degree that the school nurse said I needed to be taken to the hospital. This ultimately led to the administration deciding that the only logical response to how often I was being bullied by other students was to threaten me, the victim, with expulsion unless I got therapy. And my ability to remain enrolled was contingent on the therapist reporting that I was making adequate progress. Whatever that meant.
The therapist spent all of our time together making me describe and then analyze specific incidents of bullying, trying to identify which of my behaviors had provoked the bully, then trying to teach me to act like a normal boy. I don’t think she ever used the phrase “normal” to my face, but she certainly did when explaining things to my parents. Just as school officials and teachers repeatedly told my parents in parent-teacher conferences and the like that these incidents would surely stop if I would just learn to act more like the other boys.
This experience did not instill much confidence that therapy was meant to help me.
Throughout my teens I was dragged into therapy several more times for various reasons. There was concern for a while that my migraines might have a psychological cause, for instance. Another time, I got into an argument with one of my Aunts because I refused to agree with her that I felt traumatized by my parents’ divorce, which eventually led to an ultimatum from Mom to start seeing a therapist. So I saw this guy once a week for a few months, though what the therapist wanted to talk about was very confusing and didn’t seem to have much to do with my feelings about my parents’ divorce (I was thrilled to no longer be living with a physically abusive man). It was many years later that I learned that my mom’s insistence that I see the therapist was related to the secret prayer meetings she was having with other church ladies because she was afraid I was gay.
Again, not an experience to inspire me with confidence.
Then there had been the continuing spectacle of watching my sister being diagnosed with various contradictory mental illnesses, going in and out of mental health facilities over decades. One of the early rounds for my sister happened while I was still a teen living at home, and Mom decided that we needed full family counseling. At least that therapist told Mom after a few sessions that it would be better use of the limited amount of time Mom and her insurance could afford to focus on my sister’s issues.
Many years later I sought out therapy on my own, and that time I found it helpful. Of course, it was the first time I had a therapist who didn’t treat either my being gay nor my love of science fiction/fantasy as a symptom (seriously—but that’s a story for another day). That alone was a big improvement. And it was the first time I had made the decision to seek help. I sought help because I was concerned I was turning into an abusive person, like my dad. I didn’t want to become him.
But it also helped me get over the lingering sense of distrust I had for the idea of mental health treatment. My bad experiences weren’t proof that mental health treatment is hooey, they were proof that prejudice and bias can happen anywhere, even in a profession that thinks of itself as objective.
No two people will experience the same illness the same way. What works for one person won’t necessarily work for another. Even more important, what works for a person for a few months or years, may not work as well later. We just have to do our best, try to adapt, and most importantly, try not to beat ourselves up over things.
Having lived with, loved, and otherwise been close to people with various mental health issues, I am very aware of the importance of getting treatment, getting the right treatment, and getting support and affirmation from your friends, family, and community. It’s hard to know, sometimes, how to be supportive. There isn’t a simple, one size fits all approach.
Try to be there. Listen if they want to talk. Don’t push. Let them know you care. Be willing to give them space. And take care of yourself: if you get stressed out and frazzled on their behalf, you aren’t actually helping.
I was trying to restore a bunch of deleted paragraphs in a post about therapy and related topics, which seems to have also published the post before it was ready, and that sent out notices to people which will point back here. Now the post is done and published here!