Usually when I tell stories about my father, they aren’t pleasant. He was a physically and verbally abusive man for as long as I could remember. And I’ve often talked about the contrast between the man in whose home I grew up and stories that various relatives would tell about what he was like “before the bad times.” This is going to be one of those stories. While it is a story that was told with great warmth and fondness by more than one member of the family, I do feel obligated to offer a warning that the tale will include some discussion of near-fatal medical complications associated with childbirth, as well as the hunting and killing of animals many regard as cute, and related subjects.
The most entertaining version of this story was told by my maternal grandmother (aka Nice Grandma), who was Dad’s mother-in-law. The most disturbing version I ever heard was from my Dad. This retelling will adhere mostly to Grandma’s version, but a few details from all the versions contribute. Buckle up, mind the content warnings, and let’s begin… Read More…
A new Star Trek series premiered last week on CBS’s streaming service. It is called Star Trek: Picard and focuses on the character of Jean-Luc Picard, former captain of the Enterprise during the series Star Trek: the Next Generation portrayed by Patrick Stewart. It has been just over 20 years since the last movie using the TNG cast, and this series is set about 20 years after those events, letting Patrick Stewart play the character without any awkward de-aging.
Before I get to any spoilers, here is my quick review: it is good. The story is about a man not entirely happy in his retirement, haunted by regrets. There is some action, though one of my favorite moments in the show was when a group of bad guys beam in and a younger person is trying to hustle Picard to safety, he is acting like an 80-year-old. That look on his face, panting, at the long set of stairs was a bit heart-breaking, but also heartening. This story isn’t going to pretend that he’s super human.
You don’t have to been a megafan to follow the story. In one of the early scenes features an FNN (Federation News Network, I presume) reporter interviews Picard about the anniversary of a major event which happened ten years after the last TNG movie, and the course of the interview gives you the information needed to follow the rest of the tale (and explain why Jean-Luc is not happy in retirement).
It does help to be familiar (but not to have watched) the last TNG cast movie: Star Trek: Nemesis, but fortunately Camestros Felapton had posted a nice summary here:
And if you never watched the reboot movies, there is one other detail that will help you follow this series (which is not a sequel to the reboots, but…) the internal justification of the re-boots (and the reason that in the first of the reboots Spock was played by original series actor Leonard Nimoy and Zachary Quinto), is that when a supernova threatened to destroy the Romulan homeworld, Ambassador Spock took an experimental craft out to try to stop the supernova, but instead his ship and a Romulan ship were thrown back in time (literally to the day the Captain Kirk was born), and thus changed history. So the reboot movies exist in a different time line than any of the TV series.
Anyway, the aftermath of that stellar disaster also figures into Picard’s situation. But again, none of the events of the reboot movies are part of this series’ history. (Cue timey-whimey music)
One final thing that you might need to know if you aren’t a diehard Trekkie but are interested in the show: Romulans and Vulcans look virtually identical. In the first episode, at least, all the pointy-eared characters you meet are Romulans, who are not cold master of logic like the Vulcans. In other Trek series if you see what appears to be a human with pointy ears, you can assume it’s probably a Vulcan and will be something like Spock. Given other things we learn during the first episode, it is probably safer in this series to presume that any pointy-eared character is a Romulan, rather than a Vulcan.
Past this point there be many plot spoilers. So if you don’t want to be spoiled, don’t read on. Don’t read the two reviews I link below, either, because they also have spoilers.
And the thing is, the people who most adhere to this idea of protecting children from even knowing that non-cisgender or non-heterosexual people exist all do a really poor job of that. Because I guarantee you that the children of those parents are the ones at school bullying any classmate who seems gender-nonconforming by calling them homo or sissies or some other slur. Kids may or may not understand the intricacies of adult relationships, but they glean and infer a whole lot about same aspects of sex and romance and related topics from the adults around them.
Some adults seem to completely forget what it was like when they were children. And that manifests in a couple of different ways. To illustrate, I’ll tell the story of two playdates.
Now, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the word “playdate” meaning “a play session for small children arranged in advance by their parents” didn’t come into the language until 1975, and these two stories from my childhood predate that (one happened in 1969, and other in 1971). And I’m not sure that 9-year-olds or 10-year-olds fall into the definition of small children, but the idea was mostly the same.
The first one happened early in the third grade. It was the first time I recall that my Mom took me to the home of one of my friends from school or church for the explicit purpose of letting us kids hang out. Mom also visited with my friend’s mother for a bit before taking my little sister to some other event, but I and my friend hanging out was the purpose of the trip. It was a fun evening, we spent most of the time in his room talking about comic books, as I recall. No big deal. Eventually Mom came back to pick me up. We went home. We had a few more similar get-togethers like that, usually with me being dropped off at his place, but it least one time his parents dropped him off at ours.
The second one happened in the middle of fourth grade. Because of my dad’s work in the petroleum industry, we had moved three times between these two playdates. Two of the moves involved crossing a state boundary. All three moves involved me being enrolled in a new school. At some of those intervening schools, we hadn’t remained in the area long enough for me to make much in the way for friends. At the third place, though, I quickly became very good friends with a classmate. Both of us were in orchestra (it was the first year I could join), and our mothers had met when they came to pick us up after practice.
So eventually, a plan was made when my classmate would be dropped off at our place for an evening. But the plan quickly became weird. Dad and a few other people made strange comments. I was getting teased about this friend.
Why? Because she wasn’t a boy.
When she was dropped off, her dad made some comments that made both Dad and Mom laugh, but just confused me. Most of the fathers of kids I’d known most of my life had owned guns. So why did her dad tell me about his gun and how handy it was to get to?
We spent most of the time sitting at the dining room table talking about our favorite books (she and I shared an adoration for The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew). At the end of the evening, Mom drove my friend home and I rode along so we could keep talking. When we pulled up in front of her house, Mom told me that I was supposed to walk my friend to the door. I said, “Sure.” We both got out of the car and walked up to the front door. I remember that her family’s dog was barking really loud in the house, and she made a comment about how we needed to make sure the gate was latched, in case the dog got out of the house.
We walked up to the porch. She said, “Good night.” I said, “See you at school!” She opened the door and went inside. I walked back to the car. I spent at least half a minute making certain I had latched the gate correctly, then I got into the car.
And Mom was very angry at me. “When you walk a girl to the door, you don’t just leave her there and walk away! You’re supposed to go inside and thank her parents for letting her go out with you!”
“I didn’t know that.” All of those times the year before when the other friend and I had gotten together, neither of us had been sent in to thank the others’ parents for letting us hang out. Why was this different?
There was some additional fallout, including a lot of teasing at school the following week. The upshot was that my friend didn’t want me to talk to her any more in class or at orchestra rehearsal. I was very confused about the whole thing. Not because I didn’t know why the other kids were teasing us. I knew what “girlfriend” and “boyfriend” meant. But I also knew that those words didn’t describe our relationship—we really were just two orchestra nerds who liked reading! Once that teasing started, I at least had a slightly better idea of what some of the weird comments from adults beforehand had been about.I have no idea if the boy I was friends with during the first part of third grade was also queer. At the time I didn’t know that I was, for goodness sake! It is true that one of the reasons we got along so well is because we both tended to be frequent victims of the same playground bullies, so maybe he was. Or maybe we were both just 9-year-old comics nerds who happened to hit it off. But none of the adults around us ever worried about us both being in either his or my bedroom with the door closed for several hours. No one’s dad made shotgun jokes when we got together. At the time, I had no interest in kissing other boys (that would come up a couple years later, when puberty hit like a freight train), and certainly had never thought of kissing him. We were just two guys who thought Spiderman was cool.
But everyone, including apparently our own parents, assumed I and the second friend were romantically interested. I can’t speak for her, of course, but since I’m not merely gay, I’m really most sincerely gay, that was the furthest thing from my mind. And 10-year-old me was just happy to have found someone who liked reading some of the same books as I did.
To circle back to the opening topic: People who assume that grade school children are too young to know about romance and such are the same people who call small boys “lady killers” and cute baby girls “future heartbreakers.” They are the same people who assume any time a young boy is friendly with a girl that it’s a crush. They are the same people who make those stupid shotgun jokes.
If the kids are old enough to hear bullies calling other children “fags” or “homos” or “sissies”, they are old enough to know that actual LGBTQ+ people exist, that they are members of their community, and that they are humans who deserve respect and love just as much as anyone else. If kids are old enough for adults to tease them about their supposed girlfriends/boyfriends, they’re old enough to know that sometimes a guy can have a boyfriend or even a husband, that sometimes a gal can have a girlfriend or even a wife.
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 badgering hurts. Yes, I block frequently and quickly, but still the initial blow 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 (the author) was. I didn’t know he was 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 by surprise and 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 when it first came out 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:
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.
boomerBernie 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.
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 that they shouldn’t cry because the other kid didn’t mean it? No. You clean up and bandage 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 also steeped in 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 hundreds 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.