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Ken and Ben, twinks in love — or where did you think fashion came from?

Magic Earring Ken

One weekend way back in 1992, my late husband Ray and I were having brunch at the old Hamburger Mary’s in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, and I was reading the local snarky alternative weekly newspaper, The Stranger when I read about Mattel’s latest edition to the Barbie toy line: Magic Earring Ken. He was being written about in the snarky paper because one of the many so-called Christian anti-gay organizations had sent out an alert to their supporters explaining how Mattel had released a Gay Ken, marketing it to children, and each doll came with a sex toy! They helpfully published a 1-800 number where people could call Mattel and tell them they were going to boycott the company. And apparently a lot of them did, prompting the company to issue a statement trying to explain that the Ken wasn’t gay and there certainly wasn’t a sex toy included.

The reason the wingnuts had gotten up in arms about Gay Ken was because a couple of weeks earlier, Sex Advice Columnist Dan Savage had mentioned in his column that he had seen this so-called Gay Ken. He noted that the clothes and hair style of the doll would not have looked out of place in the West Hollywood a couple of years previously, but wasn’t exactly super stylish any more, but that every gay man would recognize a piece of jewelry that came with the doll as something they usually only used while having sex.

Because Dan hadn’t said what the jewelry was, and then the wingnut pastor (who I’m sure was only following Dan’s column to keep tabs on a notorious queer—except this was 1992, and Dan wasn’t really famous or notorious, yet) had called it a sex toy, apparently a lot of his followers assumed that doll was being sold with a dildo or vibrator and they really confused the poor people answering the phones at Mattel, let me tell you.

Later that day, Ray and I scoured a few toy stores until we found Magic Earring Ken, and we bought two of them. Ray named them Ken and his boyfriend Ben. He decided they needed to be displayed like art, and got a couple of doll stands so they could stand atop a shelf we had in our living room in the teeny studio we were living in at the time.

I have seen people post on tumblr and other places a very wrong version of how the doll got designed. It had nothing to do with trying to make Ken look like someone at a rave. It had a much more innocent origin. The designer responsible was interviewed for several magazines after the incident. She was looking for new ideas for the next year’s Ken—because a survey the company had done asking girls whether Barbie should get a new boyfriend, had returned the results that girls wanted Barbie to stay with Ken, but that wanted Ken to be “cooler.” The designer, realizing one of her nieces was exactly in the age group that played with Barbies, took her niece and several of the nieces friends out for ice cream at a mall. And there, she asked the girls to point out all the boys who they thought were dressed “cool.” As people walked by, the girls would point out guys (usually older teens or college-age looking), and the designer took notes and made quick sketches of the clothes and hairstyles.

She was not aware that the chrome metal ring some of the young men were wearing on chains around their necks were cockrings. And truth be told, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the guys wearing them didn’t know, any more than a lot of the girls in the mid-eighties inspired by Madonna started wearing silicon cockrings as bracelets. And also, most of those guys probably weren’t gay. It’s often been the case that certain marginalized groups, including by not limited to queers, establish fashion trends that get copied subsequently by other folks.

Based on follow up conversations with some of girls and her notes, she designed a new look for Ken. And the next year (1992) it came out. It was selling as expected for at least a month before someone writing for another gay paper somewhere saw it, wrote a short humorous article calling the doll a Gay Twink. And Dan found out about it, and things were from there.

Contrary to what many of those other blog posts claim, there was also a Earring Magic Barbie and several other members of the Barbie line got an Earring make-over. But only Ken’s makeover looked gay. And as word spread about the Gay Ken, thousands of queer men like Ray and I ran out to buy them. Magic Earring Ken became the best selling model of Ken in the history of the Barbie line.

But, because of the controversy, Mattel decided to stop making or selling that model.

When I first saw this look in the box on the shelf at the toy store, I thought it looked more like late 80s California dude rather early 90s, but...

When I first saw this look in the box on the shelf at the toy store, I thought it looked more like late 80s California dude rather early 90s, but…

Our two dolls didn’t just stand around gathering dust. No, Ken and Ben became an ongoing art project for Ray. It started innocently enough, we both decided they shouldn’t always dress identically, so we picked up some other Ken outfits and started mixing an matching. Then Ray found more toy props, so he could pose them sitting at a table, drinking coffee. And of course more outfits. After we moved to a larger apartment, Ray bought Barbie’s dune buggy. Then the pink Barbie jeep. And a G.I. Joe. And another action figure (I don’t remember which cartoon show he was from, but he had a weird tattoo on his chest). And more outfits. And a Shaving Magic Ken. I found a Christmas tree that was just the right size for them to stand around at Christmas time. Ray found multiple sweaters, include two different designs of ugly Christmas sweaters that fit them.

Month after month, Ray would change the the clothes on all the dolls, and change out the props to fit with the season. In the summer they would all be in swimsuits or wet suits and have the dune buggy and surfboard, for instance. And every year the Christmas party scene would get a bit more elaborate.

Until Ray died.

The last setup he did was for Halloween. He’d found some things that could be cheesy costumes for some of the dolls, and a little jack o’lantern, and I think a little toy black cat that was the right size. On the night we were discussing Thanksgiving plans, he made a comment about changing Ken and Ben’ clothes and setting all the boys around one table like a Thanksgiving Dinner. Later that night, in the wee small hours, Ray had the seizure that led to the coma and ultimately his death.

I left Ken and Ben and the others in the Halloween set up for a few weeks. I wasn’t in a mood to change them (or really do anything for a few months, to be honest). I decided not to decorate from Christmas that year, until one evening I got hit by the irrational thought that Ray would be very disappointed with me if I didn’t put up at least something. So Ken and Ben and the others went into a box. I bought few Christmas things (because I knew if I tried to unpack any of our big collection of Christmas ornaments and such I would start crying and might not be able to stop) set them up on top of the entertainment center, which had been Ken and Ben’s stage for years.

I did eventually get Ken and Ben and the others out of the box, changed their clothes, and posed them in a not terribly interesting way. It had been Ray’s project, and while I loved helping him do it, it just wasn’t the same without him. After Michael and I got together, he would occasionally make suggestions to change the boys up a bit. But it still wasn’t the same. A couple years later, that entertainment center was getting wobbly. It had been a cheap particle board kit and was at least 8 years old. And while looking for a replacement (and making considerably more money than I had been 8 years prior), I found this enormous, beautiful, solid oak entertainment center that I just had to have.

It was so much taller than the old one, that I couldn’t really see Ken and Ben when they were up there, and changing their clothes and such required a small step ladder. So I packed up a lot of the accessories (the jeep, dune buggy, tables, chairs, et cetera) and most of the dolls, and took them to Goodwill. I kept Ken and Ben, though. I was thinking I should hang onto them if for no other reason, as a monument to a particularly weird and funny pop culture/queer culture collision.

I thought that Ken and Ben were still packed away somewhere in the computer room closet, but when we were packing to move out of that place last April, I didn’t find them in the box I thought they were in. I was a bit perturbed, but figured that at some point in the unpacking I would find them. But they weren’t in any of the boxes from other closets that hadn’t been opened for years. Nor were then in any of the boxes in the basement in a similar state.

I know what probably happened is that one of the times in the last ten years when I would make attempts to go through all of the Too Much Stuff™ that we had at the old place, that I decided to finally donate Ken and Ben to Goodwill or Value Village or the like. But I don’t remember doing it. So I’d rather believe that they got tired of being boxed up and forgotten. They staged an escape and ran off together—two twinks in love, looking for adventure.


Spring has sprung, but winter isn’t through with us, yet! (and what say the squirrel god?)

On of my lavender plants on the veranda is blooming!

On of my lavender plants on the veranda is blooming!

Just over a week ago we had a pseudo-spring, when over the course of three days the daytime high temperature went from about 10 degrees below average for this time of year, to more than 25 degrees above normal (and then over the next two dropped down to right about normal). Today, on the first official day of spring, the daytime high is set to be just a teensy bit below normal. Sunny and dry, and clearly the plants are all loving it. Rain and cooler temperatures are coming. Though we’re going to just get a fringe of the enormous atmospheric river about to hit California. They are currently predicting some snow in the foothills on Friday and maybe Saturday. Which is nothing compared to the winter storms heading toward the eastern U.S.

In our little corner of the world, spring is definitely here, as noted with the lavender starting to bloom, for one. Most of the rest of the flowers blooming out on my veranda are spot colors I planted weekend before last, so those don’t really count (though they are very pretty).

Most of them don’t count, that is.

The squirrel-planted tree and two pansies from last year survived the winter.

The squirrel-planted tree and two pansies from last year survived the winter.

Because in addition to my lavender plants which wintered out on the veranda, a couple of the spot color pansies from last fall survived, along with my tree. That’s right, I am growing a tree on our 5-foot wide deck. It wasn’t something I planned to be growing. See, a squirrel at our old neighborhood buried a filbert nut in one of the smallest flower pots I had, and it grew to just over 10 inches last year with a small cluster of leaves. Once I identified it (by the distinctive leaf shape), I posted pics of the little tree online and asked people’s opinions on what I should do. Everyone who replied agreed I should see how well the tree could do out there. One friend said, “Of course you keep the tree! Mustn’t anger the squirrel god.”

But, as I mentioned, the little tree was growing in the smallest flower pot that I had (there had been one smaller one at the old place, but it had a broken lip and large cracks, so I tossed it rather than move it to our new place). I was afraid the tree would quickly outgrow the pot. On the other hand, I didn’t want to damage its roots digging it up. So I left it in the pot over winter, intending to move the entire contents of the small pot into one of the big planters where I’m trying to keep my grandma’s irises alive. For whatever reason, the two pansies in the tiny pot had also survived the winter. Usually two or three of the fall pansies appear to make it through the winter, but usually in the spring when I start planting new flowers in the pots, a closer examination reveals that there are only a few green leaves visible above a decidedly sickly-yellow body of the pansy. Any time I tried to keep them, they usually died without blooming again. So I usually compost the over-winter pansies and replace them.

Since I was moving the entire pot, there was no point in pulling the two pansies loose. So they moved to the bigger planter along with the tree. It has been 9 days, and not only are they both much leafier and much greener than they were when I transplanted them, one has bloomed again! Which I’m going to take as a sign that the squirrel god is happy that I am trying to keep the tree alive. I know in the picture that the tree just looks like a stick, but just a few weeks ago it was a drab brown stick, whereas now there is clearly a lot of green in that bark. Plus there are a bunch of little buds all up and down the tree. So I expect it to be much leafier this summer.

I also moved my teeny wind chime from one of the medium pots to the bigger planter. My husband insists on calling wind chimes of all types “wind clunks” and gives me serious side eye whenever he catches me looking at them in stores. This little stained-glass butterfly and tiny chimes was a gift from a friend, and are so quiet that one has to be outside and fairly close to hear them, so my husband can ignore them.

I’ve been thinking about whether to move the bird feeder to a spot further down the veranda, away from the place where our chairs and table are. More of the birds might be brave enough to keep eating while I’m out there if it were further down. Also, most of the spilled hulls and seeds would be centered away from the section I walk on to get to the table. The down side is that the feeder would be harder to see from the living room window if I moved it down.

So, for now, I’m leaving the feeder where it is.

Pseudo spring arrived, time for flowers and to assess our plans for the veranda!

“It's like winter is really mad and keeps storming out of the room and then coming back yelling, 'And another thing!'”

(click to embiggen)

While some parts of the country were experiencing unseasonable warmth punctuated by intense winter storms in a weird whiplash effect, here in western Washington we were experiencing colder than usual temperatures. A lot colder for a while, there. And while we were getting rain, we were also having more dry days than usual. For most of my life the wet part of the year as been more about drizzly or non-raining but cool and overcast than intense rainstorms. Lately, thanks to climate change, our rainy season has been about more intense rain storms punctuating longer stretches of dry-but-overcast days. Then this weekend it was as if someone flipped a switch and turned on spring all at once. No rain, almost no clouds, and temperatures climbed from the forties into the 60s. Then Monday they soared (relatively speaking) into the low 70s!

Now the temps have dropped, but not all the way back to the 40s. Forecasts indicate that temps are going to be in the 50s all week, which is statistically more typical for this time of year. While that isn’t as cool as it was last week, it’s still a drop of about 20 degrees from Monday!

Looking up the row at all the planters after I was finished.

Looking up the row at all the planters after I was finished.

One of the things I accomplished this weekend was getting the veranda ready for spring. Which meant planting new flowers in my planters. And that meant a lot of cleaning, repotting, pouring off excess water, dumping of old potting soil and the dead remnants of last fall’s final flowers. My various lavender plants were already budding, so it is arguable that I should have started working on the other pots earlier. On the other hand, it was only a couple of weeks ago that overnight low temperatures were in the 20s, so this sudden temporary spring was a great opportunity to get things started out there.

My hanging planter had to be converted to a regular pot. I had fuchsias in it last year. At the old place I used to take the hanging planters down as soon as the plants wilted then stuck them in the basement until the next spring. Since I have to use completely contained hanging planters here (don’t want to drip muddy water on my neighbors downstairs!) I only had the one. And every time I thought it was time to take it down, I would notice not just that one of the fuchsias was still green, but it had a new flower! All through December and January it kept putting out new flowers. And a local hummingbird kept visiting it to eat, so I felt guilty thinking of taking it down.

So one evening about a month ago I was outside refilling the birdfeeder with seed, and I banged my head into the hanging planter. As it was swinging I thought I should take it down, now, because the very cold weather seemed to have finally done in the last fuchsia. As I was raising my hands to take hold of the planter, its hanging mechanism broke.

I caught the pot. Barely! The super saturated soil made the whole thing a lot heavier than I expected, and I wound up dumping about half the potting soil onto the deck, but I didn’t drop either the pot or any of its contents over the side. I set the whole thing down and figured I’d sort out what to do about the hanging bit later. This weekend I cut of the reaming bits so the plastic suspension system, planted a couple of pansies in planter, and put it at the end of the row of pots next to the railing. A new plastic hanging pot just like this one is less than 5 bucks. In a few weeks fuchsias starters should be available, so I can set up another hanging planter then. I just need to remember that before the heavy rainy season begins next fall to take the planter down, no matter what state the flowers in it are in. If one of the plants is still blooming, I can put the planter agains the rail so the flower hangs out. The hummingbird will find it.

Our poor otter planter cracked and had large chunks of terra cotta break off.

Our poor otter planter cracked and had large chunks of terra cotta break off.

Another issue we had was the otter planter. The cute terra cotta planter survived about 8 years outside at the Ballard place with only a few cracks. But she didn’t do so well this winter. I think the problem was she isn’t shielded from the rain as much at this location and we had a lot more hard freezes this winter. The super-saturated potting soil froze, expanded and broke the terra cotta in a bunch of places.

But with she can still hold a flower!

The other thing I’ve been thinking about is whether to try to grow tomatoes or some other edibles out there. Last year, since we only signed the lease on this place in mid-April, and didn’t finish clearing out the old place until the end of May, I didn’t even try tomatoes. I’m still a little ambivalent in no small part because most years I’m not sure the number of tomatoes I managed to grow were worth the expense and effort. On the other hand, when they’re perfectly ripe right off the plant they do taste so, so, so much better than the ones bought at the store. And there are possibilities for growing things other than tomatoes. There’s certainly room for more planters on the veranda!

We’ll see. I still need to get more of grandma’s irises planted. And right now the pots just have a minimum of spot color flowers. Once everything is going, I may decide that what I have now is taking up all the time I have available to pseudo garden.

Oh! I ought to mention the tree. Last year a single stalk of something came up in one of the smallest flowerpots I had, and when leaves started growing, I realized that it was a Turkish Filbert (there were a couple of yards in our old neighborhood with Filbert trees). The squirrel at the old place must have put it in the pot, and when I posted about it last year, the consensus was that we should try to keep it alive, lest we anger the squirrel god. Anything, I’ve moved it to the larger planter with the irises. If it keeps growing, I may eventually be asking around whether anyone who has a yard wants a Filbert tree.

We’ll see what grows and what doesn’t!

The otter can still hold a flower, despite the breaks!

The otter can still hold a flower, despite the breaks!

Unnamed faces in old (and not-so-old) family pictures

One of dad's cousins and family came to visit Great-grandma, and everyone eventually ended up at my Grandparents' house.

One of dad’s cousins and family came to visit Great-grandma, and everyone eventually ended up at my Grandparents’ house.

A friend expressed a particular family dysfunction really well: inherited baggage. This is the phenomenon where, because of some issue one, two, or more generations back, there are relatives you know about, and maybe even hear about frequently, but you never really get to know them. Frequently you also are never told why is it that Great-uncle Glenn will never visit. Nor why, though we very frequently visited Great-grandma who literally lives next door to Great-uncle Glenn, yet we almost never stopped in at Great-uncle Glenn’s house.

That isn’t a made-up example.

Whenever we went to visit Great-grandma on her farm, we would also drive a couple miles down the road to the farm owned by Great-uncle Lawrence and see all of his family. To get to Great-uncle Lawrence’s house, we had to drive right past Great-uncle Glenn’s farm. While we were visiting, often Great-uncle Glenn’s wife, Dorothy, would come to either Great-grandma’s house or to Great-uncle Lawrence’s house to see us. But Great-uncle Glenn wouldn’t.

The picture above was a similar visit… Read More…

Ill humours and untangled threads – more adventures in dictionaries

I’ve been listening to the NPR show, “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” since, I think, the very first broadcast. And it was while walking home from work one day many years ago, that I first heard a particular use of a word when a listener contestant described herself as a “gruntled postal worker.” She was a mail delivery person, driving a small mail truck around a rural community, and she said he loved her work. That self-description elicted laugher from the panel for a couple of reasons. First, a series of unfortunate workplace violence incidents beginning in the mid-80s in which angry post office employees violently attacked supervisors, co-workers and so forth, the phrase “disgruntled postal worker” and “going postal” had become colloquialisms used in describing workplace violence issues. Second, it sounded like a back-formation of an existing word. Disgruntled describes a state of ill-humor, moody dissatisfaction, or sulky discontent. And since the prefix dis– usually indicates a negation, then removing the syllable ought to reverse the meaning of the word, right?

Just look at that definition of disgruntled: dissatisfaction is the opposite of satisfaction and discontent is the opposite of content. It seems obvious.

But it’s not that simple.

Because discontent and dissatisfaction come to us from Latin and Latin-derived languages. In Latin dis- is, indeed a synonym for “not” or “bad” or “separate.” But disgruntled does not come to English by way of Latin. Disgruntled is based on an Old English word which in turn came from the Old Saxon word grunt meaning literally a low, short, gutteral sound. And the dis- in disgruntled also comes from Old Saxon, where it means “very or a large amount.” The Old English word that I alluded to above is gruntle, which was a verb meaning to make those gutteral sounds–literally to moan and groan. To be gruntled, then, meant to be in a mood or state that causes you to moan and groan with dissatisfaction, while to be disgruntled meant not just a little bit unhappy and cranky, but to be extremely unhappy.

It’s not surprising that modern English speakers aren’t familiar with the Old Saxon prefix, dis– , because digruntled is the only common English word in which that prefix still appears. Nearly every other English word beginning with the letters d i and s Derive from Latin. There are a few rare words we’ve swiped from Dutch and Turkish and the like which begin with those three letters and don’t mean “not-” something.

Disgruntled, then, can be thought of as an orphaned Saxon word—a sort of living fossil in the language, if you will. And there is one other such fossil word hiding in modern English among the dis-es. Distaff, meaning the female branch or side of a family, has also survived intact from Old English. However, the dis– in distaff has almost no relationship to the dis– in disgruntled. Because the Old English distaff didn’t come from Old Saxon, but rather from Middle Low German. In Middle Low German dise meant a bundle of flax. And the disestaff was a specially shaped stick that was used to wind lengths of flax or wool or similar fibers to keep them from tangling until they could be woven or knitted into a cloth or garment.

The rather sexist reason that the English word distaff now refers to the female side of a family or to the female realm is because winding thread or yarn and turning it into garments was considered women’s work. The word isn’t considered completely archaic at this point, but fortunately it isn’t a terrbbly common word, any longer. We could do with a bit less of the dominance of the patriarchy in our language.

Despite my explanation above about the original meaning of gruntle, you will not find me angrily lecturing people for misusing the word. Gruntled is a perfectly servicable colloquialism to refer to a feeling of happiness. And I strongly suspect that the humorous way people tend to use it means that it’s going to stick around for a while. And that’s a good thing. Because if gruntled continues to catch on, that increases the likelihood that the fossil disgruntled will avoid linguistic extinction for a while longer.

And I’ve always had a soft spot for fossils.

Great-grandma’s Gun

My sister and I with Great Grandma St, John. I'm 9, my sis is 4, and Great-grandma is 74 in this picture.

My sister and I with Great Grandma St, John. I’m 9, my sis is 4, and Great-grandma is 74 in this picture.

I have often found myself in weird discussions/arguments with people who assume that because I favor many extremely liberal policies, I must be one of those evil anti-gun people. So before I get into this tale, let me begin by saying that I used to be a card-carrying member of the NRA. I have owned guns. I have fired guns. I have almost never fired guns on a gun range, because we didn’t have many in the Rocky Mountain towns where I grew up. I was taught how to shoot a gun by being taken out into the wilderness by my father and grandfather and firing it for a couple of hours at various things we set up as targets. Then after the third of fourth weekend of doing that being told I needed to go shoot a rabbit or two if I wanted to eat that night.

Long before we got to that point there had been many, many gun safety lectures, because there were lots of guns (mostly hunting rifles) in the homes of most of my extended family. I knew how to take apart, clean, and put back together a bolt-action rifle and how to re-load bullet cases (by which I mean, measure out gunpowder, put it into a spent casing, align a new bullet and insert it with a hand operated press, and install a primer cap) years before I was allowed to hold a loaded gun and shoot it.

There were winters when the only reason there was enough food on the table for the whole family was because some of us had gotten a deer or elk during the appropriate season (not to mention rabbits, pheasants, and grouse). I should also mention that I was raised to look down my nose in disdain at people who hunted pheasant and other birds with a shotgun. As my Grandpa said, “If you can’t hit a flying grouse or dove or pheasant with a rifle, you have no business pointing a gun at anything.”

I should also mention, in case it isn’t obvious from the part about learning how to turn spent cartridges back into bullets, missing was considered wasteful. We couldn’t afford to waste a lot of bullets getting the food.

But as the title of this post suggests, today I need to tell you the story of Great-grandma’s Gun… Read More…

“But he wasn’t a very good illusionist” — or, all is fair in camp, love, and war

“Men should be like Kleenex — soft, strong, and disposable.”

One of many awesome quotable lines from the movie Clue. (click to embiggen)

Despite the fact that some people have accused me of being a hopeless romantic, one of my favorite fictional characters of all time is Mrs. White as portrayed by Madeline Kahn in the 1985’s Clue the Movie. Mrs White is a multiply-widowed woman who is assumed to have murdered several of her husbands. And those aren’t the only relationships she seems to have carried out in less than exemplary fashion. At one point in the movie she is asked how many husbands she has had, and immediately rejoins, “Mine or other women’s?” Afterward, she admits to five of her own, and then observes, “Just the five. Husbands should be like Kleenex: soft, strong and disposable.” And in more than one way she’s right. At least, what I mean is, when you realize that a relationship has reached its end, you should feel no guilt moving on, so long as you’re both able to be civil and neither of you behave abominably or do anything unethical to the other.

The truth is that the course of love and romance seldom runs true, as the old saying tells us. Mostly people misunderstand that saying, however. A lot of people operate under the mistaken notion that a relationship ending is the same thing as a relationship failing. Which is crazy. Living in a relationship is a whole series of tasks requiring multiple skills. And the only way to learn how to do a skill well is to try, fail, and try again.

Depending on your viewpoint, I can think of many reasons one could argue I’m a terrible spokesperson for Valentine’s Day or the topic of romance. I’m an out queer man, and there are a lot of people (including the man currently sitting in the office of Vice President of the U.S. not to mention a number of my relatives) who would insist that I don’t understand love because queers can’t love. A related group of people would say that because my first marriage ended in divorce (ignoring the whole orientation thing), that means I obviously suck at relationships. Others might quote Mrs. White from Clue and argue that “Life after death is as improbable as sex after marriage!” and therefore since I and my husband have been together for 20 years now that I have long forgotten what real romance is. And so on.

I feel compelled to point out that in college I was active in Debate and Speech competitions and in 1980 I won a number of awards in the After Dinner Speaking category, including eventually winning the Western Region Championship (beating out every one competitor west of the Mississippi) with a speech entitled, “How To Pick Up Girls.” So, this queer guy may know a thing or two about romance?

Of course, there is that divorce. But it may not mean what you think. You may be surprised to learn that some years after my divorce from Julie, that she asked me to be the Maid of Honor at her second wedding. Just as you may be surprised that we remain friends to this day. There are many reasons for that, not least being that Julie is an incredibly warm, loving person who is able to empathize with others and truly see things from multiple perspectives. I consider myself lucky to know her, and remain endlessly grateful that once we realized that I wasn’t bisexual we were able to stick the dismount.

Now, before she married her second husband (who is an awesome man who is perfect for her in thousands of ways that I was not), she had another relationship. This one with a man that, well, as soon as I met him I realized that he was NOT in her league intellectually and otherwise. But I was the ex-husband, and the queer ex-husband, at that, so at the time my opinion belonged tightly clamped behind my lips. But when that relationship fell apart, as a good friend, I was ready to offer sympathy, support, and to openly hate the ex (which was really easy because he was an idiot who didn’t deserve her).

So one evening she, I, and a bunch of our friends from the (now defunct) Seattle Lesbian & Gay Chorus, were standing around smoking (yes, I used to smoke, it has been 23 years since I quit, if you’re curious), and offering our condolences and so forth. She told a story of a particularly douche-y thing that he did to her during the break up, flaunting one of the women he had been cheating with. We all expressed our low opinion of him, and she equivocated, thinking maybe we were being too hard on him. I jumped in to say, “All men are pigs!”

One of the other friends, an extremely butch bisexual woman, laughed and said, “Oh, honey! He knows! Listen to him!” Several others chimed in all agreeing that I was right, all men are pigs.

And I was sincere. I’m a man who has dated a lot of men, and I can testify to the universal truth that men are pigs. As Mrs. White observed. “Flies are where men are most vulnerable.” She’s right. Sometimes we’re ruled by the wrong head. And when we let that head get us into trouble, we seldom manage to get out of such situations without hurting some of the people around us.

All men are pigs. Really and truly. It’s something I’ve known for many years.


I’m addicted to pork. And I ain’t the only one!

Because some years ago a humorous post misled at least one of our friends to think that my husband and I was breaking up, I feel compelled to add this clarification: I love my husband with all my heart and we are still happy and together and I continue to remain astonished that he stays with me, because I don’t deserve him.

Offended offenders — the joke is on who, exactly?

“When art becomes merely shock value, our sense of humanity is slowly degraded.” — Roger Scruton

“When art becomes merely shock value, our sense of humanity is slowly degraded.” — Roger Scruton

We hear it all the time: “How dare you call me racist! I don’t hate anyone! I was just making an observation.” And there’s: “It is so rude of you to call me a homophobe! I’m just advocating for my beliefs {that queer people don’t deserve legal rights/to exist openly in public spaces if at all}. You’re the real haters!” Let’s not forget: “Can’t you take a joke? You’re trying to silence me!”

People behave like jerks, make threatening remarks, harass people, advocate for policies and propositions that will cause actual harm to others, and then get angry if other people take offense. They try to hide behind the idea of free speech—they’re just expressing themselves, and everyone has a right to do that, right? But the defense is built on one or more false equivalencies. The most basic is equating disagreement with censorship. If you say that all Freedonians are criminals, and I point out that isn’t true, and show the statistics to prove it, you haven’t been silenced. If other people decide the don’t want to listen to your rants about the evils of the Freedonians anymore, they stop inviting you to their social events and if you show up uninvited they ask you to leave, that also isn’t silencing you. The right to express an opinion doesn’t obligate other people to listen. Then there’s the false equivalence that accurately describing some of their statements as bigoted is just as bad as the bigotry we’re decrying. And so on.

But the defense that really annoys me is the, “But I’m only joking!”

I have several responses to that. The first is: every bully and abuser who ever lived has tried to claim that they were only joking, or they were just playing around. They didn’t meant to cause those bruises or broken bones or to break that laptop or whatever. It’s a lie. Maybe the bully and the bully’s audience were laughing, but real harm is being done.

The second response is: the fact that you think a particular topic is suitable for joking demonstrates the ignobility of your intentions. They only way that one can think the sexual assault is a joking matter is if they either don’t think the sexual assault is a bad thing, or if they think the victims of sexual assault are worth less than other people. There are topics that go beyond the pale, understanding that requires moral fiber and empathy. Not knowing that tells us you possess neither.

The third response is that doing something like “ironically” pretending to believe neo-Nazi ideology is indistinguishable from actually doing it. In other words, if you’re pretending to be an asshole, it doesn’t sound or feel any different to your targets than when a “real” asshole behaves that way. It also has a very scary normalizing effect. The more people feel it is acceptable to express racial bias, for instance, the more likely some of them are to act on the racial bias.

And my fourth response is that jokes are supposed to be funny. Calling entire classes of people inferior, saying they are a waste of space and so on isn’t funny. The objection that is usually raised around this point is that they are just trying to make people think, and they have to shock people out of their complacency to do that. I’ll agree that good political humor pokes at us to get us to think outside the box, but these guys aren’t quite getting it.

“Have you ever noticed that anyone driving slower than you is an idiot and anyone driving faster than you is a maniac?” “Electricity is really just organized lightning.” “Fighting for peace is like screwing for virginity.” “At a formal dinner party, the person nearest death should always be seated closest to the bathroom.” “'I am' is reportedly the shortest sentence in English. Could it be that 'I Do' is the longest sentence?”

Several classic George Carlin one liners. (Click to embiggen)

Let’s look for a moment at the work of a comedian who was often characterized as offensive. The Late George Carlin said things that shocked some people’s sensibilities. Go listen (many recordings abound) to his notorious “Seven words you can’t say on TV or the radio” routine and tell me that wouldn’t give people in the Religious Right conniptions. And sure, you can pull out individual lines from his routines and make him sound almost like some of this current generation of jerks with their racist or homophobic or misogynist rants on their Youtube channel. But that’s taking him out of context. Look over the classic Carlin corpus (excluding the last few years where he seemed to turn into a prophet of doom and things got a little weird) and you’ll find the most prevalent underlying theme is summed up in one of his best one-liners:

“Have you ever noticed that anyone driving slower than you is an idiot and anyone driving faster than you is a maniac?”

While the line works great on its own, it was actually the introduction to a longer bit, where he went on to make humorous observations about foolish and dangerous and weird things that people do while driving. It ranged around for a bit, and the audience laughed. You could certainly characterize the routine as making fun of bad drivers. And that doesn’t seem all that different from someone else having a comedy routine where they make fun of women, or immigrants, or queer people, right? But that’s not what the routine does. Every version of it I ever heard him perform varied a bit, but all stuck to one underlying theme. And it’s in that line I quote. That line isn’t just a joke, it’s a thesis statement.

Read it again: “Have you ever noticed that anyone driving slower than you is an idiot and anyone driving faster than you is a maniac?” Explicitly it says that we classify and judge people in categories like stupid and maniac by extremely subjective criteria. But implicitly it is also saying that sometimes all of us are idiots, and sometimes all of us are maniacs. Because implicitly everyone that we observe is an idiot for driving too slow, knows they we are maniacs. And every person that we can see is a maniac for driving too fast, can observe that we’re driving slow and therefore we are idiots.

Yes, the point of his routines is that some people do very foolish things and isn’t it ridiculous that such people exist? But by the time he has covered the subject, there is a point where he says something that hits close to home. We, the listeners, see ourselves in some part of that routine. In that way, his routines adhere to the classic definition of political humor: to hold a mirror up to society.

That is humor with a purpose. That is how you jostle people out of their complacency. You hold up a mirror, so that we look into it and see our own foibles and flaws. But what these other guys are doing? They aren’t working with mirrors. No, they are putting targets on other people, aiming their fans at those targets, and encouraging the fans to pull their triggers.

That is why the rest of us don’t listen to their rants. We disinvite them from our events. We tell them that their behavior is not welcome at our conventions or on our forums and so forth. That isn’t censorship, that is making a choice of who we will associate with. It’s deciding that we don’t need jerks and abusers in our lives.

Confessions of a whiny patient

(click to embiggen)

I have two more writing-related posts half written, one of which I hoped to queue up for Tuesday, but I was cranky, exhausted, and still sick when I got home from work. So I’m just going to whine about feeling sick and how I cope and related things. Which means that this post is going to be, as one friend calls them, a “what I had for breakfast post.” I probably won’t talk about breakfast, but if you’re not interested in just mundane stuff, don’t click through: Read More…

Confessions of the sometimes clueless

“You can do it” —Coffee

“You can do it” —Coffee

So, I was in either my late 30s or early 40s before I learned what pot smoke smelled like. It was at a convention in a particularly maze-like hotel and I commented to my husband about a weird odor I had run into out in the hall. He asked about where it was, then laughed and said he’d walked through that section of the hall a few minutes before and it was reeking of pot smoke. “Oh,” I said, sheepishly. The next time someone sat near me on the bus and had that particular stale pot smoke odor, it took all my willpower not to exclaim ‘So that’s what that smell is!’ because I’d encountered it many times before, but never knew what it was.

Over the years I’ve had numerous opportunities to vote on various aspects of marijuana law–each time I voted in favor of decriminalization or legalization. When some early attempts in our state to decriminalize pot outright through initiative failed, activists took new tactics. There was a successful city initiative to make simple pot possession the lowest priority of law enforcement, for instance. That one had a lot of interesting side effects. The city attorney at the time had vehemently opposed the initiative, so after it passed, he actually drastically increased the number of cases they prosecuted. So the next time he was up for re-election, a guy ran against him who vowed to enact the initiative… and he won by a big margin, and proceeded to dismiss cases and so forth.

The first statewide initiative to make pot a lower priority failed, but we passed a medical marijuana initiative eventually. Then finally in 2012 we legalized recreational pot completely. And while there are still some cities that have banned legal pot stores, and a few groups still trying to get weed re-criminalized, the industry appears to have done well.

Despite voting in favor of people having access to weed a bunch if times, I’ve still never actually used it, myself. Caffeine and cocktails remain my personal drugs of choice.

Last spring when we were looking for a new place to live, I didn’t even notice the first time we came to this apartment building that there was a pot store just around the corner. At least one of our friends commented on it as if it were an exotic thing. Another friend pointed out that there is about one every five or ten blocks on the major thoroughfare nearby, that they aren’t really that uncommon. It’s just another of the businesses I walk past every morning on my way to the bus, right?

I don’t remember when it was that I first started noticing the odd business trucks that would park on the street in front of our building on work from home days. The first time I saw the Roto-rooter type trunk, for instance, I wondered if one of my neighbors was having plumbing troubles. It seemed as if every work-from-home day I would notice, when I went to refill my coffee mug, and thus walked past the dining room window, that there was some weird delivery truck out there, such as the bottled water truck, or the plumbing related truck, or (this was the one that really confused me) the pool cleaning company’s truck.

One sunny day a few months ago I was getting another mug of coffee when I saw a bottled water delivery truck pulling over to park at the curb in front of our building. So I stopped to watch and see where the drive went. Did one of my neighbors have a water cooler in their apartment, perhaps? The guy got out of his truck, looked around with a definitely surreptitious air, and then turned and walked to the corner. At the corner, he turned left. Which is when I finally made the connection.

It was maybe five minutes later he came walking back, then climbed into the truck, started the engine and drove off.

Now I understood. A guy’s at work, driving around doing his job, and while it might be okay to have your truck seen parked at a coffee shop or fast food place in the middle of the day, you might not want to be seen popping into one of the local pot stores to pick up some stuff for the weekend. Sure, it’s legal, and yes, you are allowed to take breaks on the job, but there’s still a bit of a worry about how it might be perceived. So, you don’t ever pull into the store’s parking lot with the company truck. But, if there is a residential street which often has plenty of empty curb space in the daytime just around the corner from one of the pot shops in the part of town where you work, well, on the occasional Friday you may stop and park there and go on a short walk, right?

It probably would be obvious to anyone else, but it just didn’t occur to me until I watched the one guy go around the corner.

Ah, well, at least now when I give my coffee mug a warm-up on work from home days and notice an odd truck outside, I just smile instead of wondering why they’re there.

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