Statistics are seldom simple — or, a queer survivor unpacks survival, visibility, and feeling safe to be out
Last week I posted this story in the Friday Five: 5.6% of American adults say they are LGBTQ. Over half identify as bisexual – The number of LGBTQ Americans coming out and claiming their identity just keeps growing. Digging beyond the headline, a lot of people focused on the generational chart (pictured above): Millennials (folks born between 1981 and 1996) are about four-and-a-half times more likely to identify as queer than Boomers (folks born between 1946-1964), while Gen-Z (folks born after 1996) are nearly eight times more likely than Boomers to identify as something other than heterosexual.
The story was published early in the week and I kept seeing various hot takes on the results. I was a little surprised at just how many people were willing to leap to the conclusion that younger people are only saying that they are queer to be cool.This ignores several facts that would disproportionately reduce the number of queer people in those less-young generations responding to this survey. Not the least of which is that many of them are literally not alive to respond. Twitter user @mike_i_guess sums up much of what I’d like to say on the matter, though I would use the term “contemporaries” rather than peers:
“The lack of boomer LGBTQ+ people isn’t because it’s ‘more popular now.’ Many were murdered by they peers, died from government inaction during the AIDS crisis, committed suicide due to lack of social supports, or have had to live in the closet due to their peers’ cruelty.”
I want to unpack that a bit. We don’t really have statistics on hate crimes before the passage of the federal Hate Crime Statistics Act of 1990, and even then crimes against trans people (or those perceived to be trans) weren’t counted until the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2010 was signed into law. But queer people have been subject to bashings and murder for decades. The longer one lives, the more opportunities there are to fall victim to such crime.
It’s been known for a long time that queer people, particularly queer children and teens, are far more likely to attempt suicide than their straight contemporaries, and the statistical analysis is that the disparity is entirely due to the stress of homophobic abuse and related issues. Preliminary studies show a slight decrease in those numbers for teens and children since about 2012, as growing acceptance of queer adults in society has given more of them hope of a happy future.
Then there are health care issues. Numerous studies show that queer people are more likely to experience interruptions in health care coverage, are less likely to be forthcoming with their health care providers, and less likely to receive the same quality of health care as their straight contemporaries. It’s a complicated result of both systemic and direct homophobia. Lots of people operate under the mistaken notions that bigotry only exists in a small number of people who actively hate others because of their race, religion, sexual orientation, et cetera, but it’s a lot more subtle than that.
For instance, let’s talk about the bit about interruptions in health care coverage. For years in the U.S. one’s health insurance (if you have it) is provided by your employer. Most people don’t get to choose their coverage, they have to take what’s offered by their employer. Which means if you get laid off or otherwise lose your job, your health coverage goes away. Queer people are disproportionately likely to be let go when a Reduction In Force hits a workplace. They are also less likely to get promotions and more likely to earn less than their straight co-workers who received similar job performance reviews and have similar experience. This is not because most managers are actively homophobic. It is a combination of a lot of unconscious processes.
For example, if a queer person doesn’t feel safe being out in the workplace, they will police themselves constantly to make sure they don’t let telling details of their personal life slip. While straight co-workers will be sharing stories about things they did with the children over the weekend, or a project they worked on with their spouse, or even issues with an ex-spouse or in-laws they don’t get along with, the closeted co-worker remains mum. The closeted working can’t talk about their partner freely or in detail. So they limit themselves to very vague generalities are just politely comment on the other person’s remarks. This is perceived as being unfriendly. Not sharing personal details after another person shares some of theirs is considered anti-social. So the closeted queer employee is perceived as being less of a team player, aloof, and so forth. This has a deleterious effect on every aspect of employment, including as mentioned above an increased likelihood of being one of the people let go if there are lay-offs.
Even more dangerous is the tendency of some health care professionals not to take as seriously symptoms reported by a queer person. I have a very personal example of this. In the very early 1990s I had a series of weird health events. It took over a year for my doctor and two specialists to figure out what the underlying problem was. Before that diagnosis, I had a number of incidents that required me going to an emergency room.
One time, I had been unable to keep any food down. Soon I was running a fever and it reach the point that even trying to sip plain wanter sent me running to the bathroom and left me curled up with horrible pain in my stomach after I threw up the water. Eventually, Ray (my now late-husband) convinced me to let him take me to the hospital.
We had one bit of good luck. As we were checking in, a nurse who just happened to be coming to the front to give the admin person some information related to another patient, noticed how bad I looked. She asked a couple of questions, then pinched my forearm, before telling the admin person, “He’s extremely dehydrated and need to be put on an IV right away.”
I was whisked off, put on an IV, had my vitals taken. Not long after another nurse came in and drew a bunch of blood, asked questions, and finished filling out the admission form. Some time later the initial nurse dropped by to say her shift was ending, but before she left she wanted to see for herself if the fluids they were pumping into me were helping. My fever was down, I felt a lot better, and apparently I looked a lot better.
Then we just waited. I don’t know how long I laid there. Ray got very impatient and went to ask when someone was going to check on us. I think I was on my third unit of fluid at that point. A doctor showed up, asked a bunch of questions, checked a few things, and told us they were still waiting for a couple of the blood tests to come in. Some time after that the doctor reappeared, alone with a nurse who changed out the fluid bag again. The doctor explained that the blood tests were inconclusive, but he suspected I had a rare form of ulcer that his caused by a particular kind of infection of the stomach lining, so he was prescribing some pills that would help with that. He said that as soon as I was rehydrated enough that I had to go to the bathroom, I’d been discharged. I should keep taking the pills for the rest of the weekend (it was a Saturday night), and see my regular doctor on Monday.
I fell asleep on the drive home. And pretty much slept through all of Sunday. I was able to keep broth, plain water, and tea down, so I thought the pills were helping.
The next morning, I left a message with my boss saying I was sick and hoping to see my doctor that day. I had just hung up and was going to look up my doctor’s phone number when the doctor’s office called us. They’d gotten the information from the hospital and my regular doctor was not happy. They wanted me to come right away, bring all of the paperwork the hospital had given me, “And if you haven’t taken any of those pills today, don’t take any more!”
My doctor wasn’t just unhappy, he was royally pissed. The pills I had been given had nothing to do with ulcers or infections of any kind. They were tranquilizers. Among the notes from the ER doctor was the phrase, “Gay male patient claims he doesn’t have AIDS.” His diagnosis was that I was probably just overreacting to “unremarkable symptoms.”
My doctor wanted to know why I had gone to that hospital instead of one that was much closer to my home (where he happened to be a resident, and would have been called as soon as I was admitted, instead of him finding it out when they pulled faxes off the machine Monday morning). I explained that my employer had recently changed our insurance plan and there was exactly one ER in the city that was considered in network. He explained that the particular hospital I had gone to had a number of doctors like this one guy who 1) assumed every gay male patient was infected with the virus that causes AIDS, and 2) there isn’t anything you can do for AIDS patients, anyway, so don’t waste a lot of time on them.
The blood tests that came back before they admitted me clearly indicated that in addition to the fever and other symptoms I did have some kind of serious infection. But the medicine prescribed wouldn’t treat any infections. Tests results that had come back after they let me go gave my doctor a good guess as to what kind of infection I did have, and he prescribed something that actually would work against. Then my doctor walked me through the process of filing a formal complaint. Which he was also doing.
The upshot was that I received a partial refund from the hospital of my out-of-pocket for the ER visit. My doctor pried a letter out of my insurance company saying that the hospital close to my house would be covered as in-network. But just to be sure, my doctor also got a letter from that hospital saying that if my insurance billed me as out-of-network they would cover the cost of the difference in out-of-pocket.
The initial incident happened in the city of Seattle, which most people think of as an extremely liberal city where virtually no one is homophobic. I was lucky that I had as my primary physician a guy who was ready to fight for his patients. Who know what would have happened if I hadn’t had him in my corner? And the doctor who sent me home with tranquilizers was simply appalled that anyone would think that he had allowed any sort of prejudice guide his decision to lie to me about his diagnosis and send me home with medicine that would just make sure I was too sleepy to do anything for a few days.
I bet to this day he would swear that he doesn’t have a homophobic bone in his body. Homophobia isn’t limited to people scream slurs while they beat you.The takeaway: for many reasons queers are less likely to get consistent, quality health care. They are disproportionately less likely to experience good health care outcomes. Therefore, more likely to die younger than their straight contemporaries. And that doesn’t even include the hundreds of thousands of queer men in the U.S. who died starting in 1979 due to the AIDS epidemic (which is still ongoing, but the availability of multi-drug anti-viral cocktails beginning in the mid-1990s have met it is no long a death sentence, even though there is still no cure).
Then there is the phenomenon of people so deeply afraid of being outed that even on an anonymous survey they will not identify as anything other than straight. Any reasonably friendly out gay man who has ever logged into a hookup app, a gay chat site, or similar forum will have many stories of getting hit up on by men who are married to women (usually with kids), and desperately want to have sex with other men, but only if you can be discreet and guarantee that no one will ever know. If you can get them to talk about it, they will admit that they have wanted to have sex with other men since they were teens (or even earlier), but have always been afraid to be out, and they are convinced that their lives will end if their wife and family ever found out they were anything but 100 percent straight.
I remember one particularly heart-wrenching conversation with a guy who felt he was super lucky precisely because his first (and only) child was a son, so that his super conservative and religious parents and in-laws were all happy, and he was able to just stop having sex with his wife at all after the arrival of the first baby. And significantly, his wife was perfectly happy that he supposedly hadn’t been interested in sex at all for the next about 30 years (at the time I talked to him). He had been having lots and lots and lots of sex for all those years—it was just furtive, downlow sex with other men. And I have little doubt that if he happened to be surveyed by Gallup, that without hesitation he would describe himself as straight
Now while I have met a few younger men like him, the vast majority of these downlow closet cases I run into online now are middle aged or older.
It’s more accurate to conclude from Gallup’s generational information that younger people currently feel less fear to admit their orientation. We hope that, going forward, they will also experience fewer of the issues that have caused earlier generations of queers to die before their time.
This is not a topic to be neutral on…
If you get to the polling place to vote and they say your name isn’t on the list, calmly say, “I demand my legal right to cast a provisional ballot.”
If you have already voted, check that your ballot has been received.
Remind others to vote. You can volunteer to drive someone to a polling place, but remember, you can’t talk about who you’re voting for, or try to talk others into voting for your favorite candidates at the polling place.
If every vote didn’t matter, the Republicans wouldn’t be trying so hard to stop us from voting.
“History isn’t something you look back at and say it was inevitable, it happens because people make decisions that are sometimes very impulsive and of the moment, but those moments are cumulative realities.”
—Marsha P. Johnson, trans and gay rights activist who may have thrown the first brick at Stonewall.
We don’t know which way things will break tomorrow. Oh, we know some things. The pussy-grabber will declare himself a winner and claim that any news to the contrary is because of voter fraud. We also know that we’ll have an unprecedented voter turn-out (because early voting has already matched or exceeding all voting from four years ago in many places).
Four years ago, I was not prepared for Hillary to be one of those candidates who won the popular vote but lost in the Electoral College. I knew that Trump would be a disaster. I knew things would be horrible. I cried.
It wasn’t despair. Oh, yes—I was extremely sad and more than a bit afraid, that’s true. But mostly I was disappointed and angry. I was angry that people who claimed to love me were crowing in celebration after he won. That some were repeating the most racist and homophobic wishes of his base. I was angry at the enablers of evil who still, four years later, argue that voting for a third party candidate doesn’t make them responsible for every bad thing—including every single U.S. COVID death—that has happened since that evil, incompetent man was inaugurated.
Four years later I’m still disappointed and angry at a lot of my fellow citizens. Angry at the people who told me I was overreacting four years ago. Disappointed that even though worse things than I was predicting back then have happened again and again, many of them still scold me for encouraging people to vote Blue No Matter Who. Angry at the cynical people who have capitalized on the moronavirus and his destructive, evil, nihilist administration. Angry at the media for acting as if this is all just a game between equally valid viewpoints.
I’ve had a small number of people tell me to stop being angry. Calm down, they say. Reason can win out, if you just give it a chance, they say.
And they are wrong. I’ve known that they are wrong since I was in elementary school. Because one of the masterpieces of science fiction/fantasy taught me this profound truth:
“Stay angry, Little Meg,” Mrs. Whatsit whispered. “You will need all your anger now.”
—From A Wrinkle In Time, by Madeleine L’Engle
Evil is not conquered by politely asking it to discuss things reasonably. Evil is conquered by people unwilling to back down, be cowed, or be silenced.
I first read Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle In Time in the fall of 1969, when I was nine years old. I know because I remember the enthusiastic conversation I had with my first third-grade teacher. It just so happens that about four months before that, the Stonewall Riots had taken place in New York City. I didn’t learn about Stonewall until many, many years later. But one of the queer people who rose up that night to fight back against the police brutality that gay, lesbian, and trans people had endured for decades was Marsha P. Johnson. Ever since I learned about her, Marsha has been one of my heroes. And though I suspect she never read A Wrinkle In Time, I think she would agree with Mrs. Whatsit.
“We want to see all gay people have a chance at equal rights , as straight people in America. We believe in picking up a gun, and starting a revolutionary if necessary.”
—Marsha P. Johnson
Whatever happens tomorrow—even if Biden wins, and the Dems increase their majority in the House, and the Dems flip the Senate, and if we take majorities and gubernatorual races in states that have previously been red—it isn’t the end of the fight. It’s just the beginning.
I’m staying angry. I’m ready to do what it takes to carry the fight forward and win it.
Are you with me?
In the aforementioned Weekend Update I compared some of my conversations with trump supporters as feeling as if I am banging my head against a brick will. I did not specify that most of the trump supporters in questions are family members or people I have otherwise known since I was in high school. They are people that I love. Many are people who I once admired. Which is why, no matter how many times my attempts to talk to them haven’t gotten anywhere, I can’t seem to make myself completely abandon hope of reaching them.
And since I used the word “confessions” in the title of this post, I must also admit that I know there was a time when I was the brick wall that others were banging their heads against. Since I was able to change my perspective, I keep hoping they can, too.
One of the reasons, I believe, that everyone from the pundits to mainstream journalists to ordinary non-rightwing citizens are always flabbergasted because they don’t understand the culture of what I often call christianists: people who claim to be Christian (many evangelical, but not all) who instead of embracing the peace and tolerance messages, use them as a negative weapon against groups who adhere to different political and/or moral beliefs.
The person who doesn’t understand the christianist viewpoint might advance an argument that our current policies regarding health care and employment forces thousands of people into homelessness each year, leading to unnecessary illness, suffering, and death. They would expect that argument to have some sway with the christianists, but it doesn’t. Why? Because among other things christianists believe that suffering in this lifetime is nothing compared to the fate of one’s eternal soul. If a person suffers in this world, it’s either because they are being punished by god, or because they are being tested. If a good and faithful person dies, no matter what the circumstances, they will get a reward in heaven. The other people, well, it’s their own fault for not getting right with god while they had their chance.
And such thinking seems completely irrational to people outside that subculture. Rational people when presented with an opportunity to reduce suffering and avoidable deaths would try to do something about it, right? This leads some observers to refer to this branch of christianity as a Death Cult. A better description, I think, would be an After Death Cult. Because an eternity of rewards in heaven is the goal, while toil, tribulation, torment, and death are all small prices to pay in comparison.
That isn’t the only difficulty in reasoning with them. That other bit is implied in that part about how troubles in life are punishments from god. Once you accept that notion, it’s small logical hop to rationalizing that if you are the one causing trauma, you’re just doing god’s will. Which is how you justify calling yourself a servant of the Prince of Peace while you are stockpiling assault rifles and fantasizing about the day you get to kill all the unbelievers you want. And that how you get books/movies such as the Left Behind series (which is essentially snuff porn) being bestsellers to the evangelical and related groups.
I mentioned my own experience being on the other side of this mental divide. There was a period in my pre-teens/early teens where I became obsessed with the Biblical book of Revelations and its description of how the world would end. I found books and articles on it. I re-read Revelations itself making extensive notes and charts—connecting news stories and such that I found to specific parts. If the Left Behind books had existed at the time, I would have been all over them. One day, my paternal grandfather stopped me while I was in the middle of explaining some parallel I saw between some news article and some item in Revelations. Grandpa said, “That book isn’t in the Bible to give us a mystery to solve. Jesus himself told us that no one would know it was happening before it does. I believe it’s in there to motivate us to love our neighbors, even when we don’t like them.”
I don’t remember exactly what I said in reply. I didn’t think he was completely wrong, but I thought there was some value to studying the end times.
He turned my Bible back to the gospels, specifically the sermon on the mount. “We are suppose to live our lives so that we are so full of kindness and love, that other people will want to be like us. Armageddon isn’t going to be a victory parade. All wars are tragedies.”
And that got through to me.Which brings me to another example of the cognitive dissonance between the words attributed to Jesus in the Bible, and the ways that christianists don’t follow or even sometimes understand it. When Neil Gaiman adapted the book Good Omens, originally written by he and Terry Pratchett, into a miniseries, Neil added a lot of scenes showing the relationship between the demon Crowley and the angel Aziraphale over the millennia. The book had made a few allusions to these encounters, and Neil realized that in a visual medium, he needed to show them. One of the scenes in that section was Aziraphale and Crowley witnessing the Crucifixion. I follow Gaiman on several social media platforms, so I saw the incredibly large number of Christians (including a lot of pastors), who absolutely loved the adaptation. And the many expressions of gratitude he got from making the Crucifixion scene so respectful.
It got a completely different reaction from the christianists I know. They considered it, especially that scene, blasphemy. Why? Because of those three lines of dialogue in that meme: “What was it he said that got them so upset?” “’Be kind to each other.’” “Oh, yeah. That’ll do it.” Boiling it down to that absolutely incensed some people!
Which is really peculiar since these are the same people who say that every single word of the Bible is literally true. Because that part I mentioned above, the Sermon on the Mount. It’s the centerpiece of Jesus’ teachings in the Bible. It is the longest single bit of his teachings we get. It takes all the ideas he had told before and extends them. And what does he preach that day? That people should be kind to each other, even to those who don’t deserve it. Nay! Even more to those that don’t deserve it than to those that do. That’s all of his teachings in a nutshell.
It’s not blasphemy at all, it’s a distillation of the rest of the story.
And the fact that they don’t understand that is really all you need to know about why they twist the teachings of love and peace and tolerance into cudgels to rationalize cruelty and injustice in society.
More recently I was explaining about something my husband and I had been talking about, and a different friend said, “That’s practically a recipe blog!” Since I was unfamiliar with the term, I had to ask what he meant. Turns out that it’s a joke which has spawned an entire genre of memes out there I’d never seen. The idea is you search for a recipe on line, but several of the hits are long, rambling blog posts about the day that the blogger first encountered this dish, and all the things about the experience that have remained important in their life, only to finally, deliver a very short (and sometimes not all that helpful) recipe.
I felt attacked.
Of course, I have just committed that kind of Recipe Blog, in that I have shared not one, but two anecdotes about the topic I intend to write this post about, without having yet gotten to the point.
On the other hand, several years ago after I had brought a casserole I call “Great Grandma’s Chicken Noodle” to a social event, a bunch of people asked for the recipe. Which wasn’t easy for me to share, because I had learned to make as a child by helping one of my great-grandmothers in the kitchen. At no time had I ever had a list of ingredients and the exact measures, because that’s not how my grandmothers and great-grandmothers cooked. So I spent an afternoon making the dish again, writing things down as I went along, and then converted my notes into a long post. I did include the approximate measurements of all the ingredients I used, but I also explained how substitutions could be made. And a lot of the process of the recipe were steps like, “stir the ingredients that are currently in a pan furiously until all the chicken pieces are white and the is a smooth, thick consistency–if your arm isn’t sore, you probably haven’t stirred long enough.”
After I posted it, more than one person who read it commented that never in their life had they been able to successfully follow a traditional recipe, because the writer assumed a lot of skills they didn’t have, but they felt this kind of recipe might be something they could do. One reported two weeks later they had followed my super-verbose recipe and it had tasted delicious.
Particularly if the subject I’m writing about is political or social commentary, I start with the anecdote because:
- It provides some context for my perspective, which may make it easier from someone who disagrees when I get to the point to at least see why I feel that way,
- It pre-empts accusations that I’m talking about something that never happens (a frequent tactic of bad faith trolls),
- It demonstrates that I have some experience with the topic under discussion,
- It helps to establish and nurture social glue.
Humans are social beings. We build trust and understanding through, among other things, sharing truths about ourselves. The more we know about someone, the more we feel we understand them. A blog is a type of social media (even if the long form that I am writing here has mostly been supplanted by tweets, instagram posts, and the like), so some social interaction is implied.
A lot of people misunderstand what it means that humans are social animals. It doesn’t just mean that we like to hang out together. Being social is a major survival trait of our species. We instinctively form communities, friendships, and so one, and we take care of each other. A lot of people think that taking care of each other is just about personal favors and charity. But it’s a lot more than that. All sorts of social customs, many of our ethical rules, and so forth, form an involuntary system of caretaking, as well. We punish individuals who do things that harm or imperil others–sometimes that punishment is formal, such as through the justice system, but far more of the punishments are informal and manifest in various social ways.
And we forget that notions such as private property, capital, and money as a means of regulating the exchange of goods and services are all artificial, and relatively recent inventions. Don’t confuse private property with personal property, those are vary different things. There is evidence that even before humans arose 200,000 years ago, some of our ancestral hominids had a concept of personal property: this sharpened stone tool I have made and use for various thing is my tool, that wooden carving I made with it and gave to the child of my sister is the child’s figurine.
Private Property is stuff such as Real Estate–specifically the notion that every square inch of the surface of the planet is available to be declared the private property of a specific person. There have been many human civilizations that existed for thousands of years that held as a basic concept that contrary idea that much of the land is common, rather than private, and if it belongs to anyone, it belongs collectively to the community. There are other types of metaphorical property that were also thought of as held in commons, that we have metaphorically fenced off and now require most people to pay for its use.
We have organized modern society so that most individuals must sacrifice a lot of their labor, time, and even their health merely to survive, while a smaller number are allowed to do way more than survive without expending the same amount of labor, time or health. The idea of taxation was originally an extension of those instinctive societal norms to keep us taking care of each other, but we’ve weaponized them in a way that instead allows some people to not just avoid doing their fair share, but to exploit that rest.
It can be argued (and has been) that the modern artificial notion of private property isn’t merely a bad idea, it is a deadly idea–for the majority of people. It is mathematically impossible for someone to become fabulously wealthy without exploiting and effectively stealing the value generated by hundred, thousands, or more individuals. And the system that has created that wealth is built on the notion that the wealth of those who have it must constantly expand, which means more and more exploitation of everyone else, which eventually means killing everyone else… and when there is no one left to exploit, the whole thing will collapse.
We have got to figure out how to unweaponize these systems, and make the parasites stop leeching off of everyone else, and actually pay their fair share to their fellow humans. Ignoring the problem is a recipe fo extinction.
And no one wants extinction for breakfast.
Many years ago I was walking from the bus to my place of work, when I saw a woman holding a microphone standing with a guy with a TV camera on his shoulder up ahead, talking to another pedestrian. My workplace at the time happened to be across the street from the headquarters of one of the three local network affiliate TV stations, and two others were within a three or four block radius, so it hadn’t been the first time I saw a pair like that interviewing passers-by. By the time I got close, the young woman asked, “Excuse me, sir, can we ask you a couple of questions?”
I said, “Sure.”
Camera guy points the camera at us, the woman smiles and asks, “Are you aware that today is a primary election, and did you vote?”
Her smile got even broader. “Why did you vote? Is there something special on the ballot this time that compelled you to turn out?”
I think I blinked stupidly for a second before I said. “It’s an election. I always vote. That’s what you’re supposed to do if you’re a responsible citizen.”
I hadn’t finished before her face fell, she turned to the cameraman and made a slashing motion with her hand. The cameraman stopped filming. Then the young woman said, “Thank you, sir,” and started scanning the sidewalk looking for someone else.
I was telling a co-worker about it later that day, and he asked, “How often do you think you forget to vote?” And I explained that I had only ever missed one election—the very first primary that happened the year I moved to Seattle to attend University—and only then because I didn’t get my registration updated in time for the primary, but I did vote in the general that year.
He explained that he did a lot of volunteer work for several election campaigns over the years, including the get-out-the-vote stage of such campaigns and he said, “They have this term, a ‘perfect voter’ by which they mean a person who voted in every general, primary, and special campaign in the last four-year period. That’s you!”
My state is one of the six states holding a Presidential primary or caucus today. We have been an all-mail-in voting state for some years now, so that usually means my husband and I sitting down at the kitchen table with voter pamphlets and the like on the weekend before election day to fill ours out (and make a lot of snarky comments about some of the candidate statements in the pamphlet). When we lived in Ballard we would usually walk together the 10-ish blocks from our place to the local library branch to drop the ballots in the big drop box. Now that we’re in Shoreline, I drive to the nearest library (it’s about two and a half miles away, so I don’t walk) to drop them off.
Which I have already done.
Since the only thing on the Presidential Primary ballot is President, we didn’t need to actually read the pamphlet. I have had the Democratic nominees ranked in my head for some time. The only reason I didn’t fill out my ballot as soon as it arrived was because I was pretty sure a bunch of candidates would drop out after Super Tuesday last week. Which they did. So I wound up voting for the candidate that had started out around fifth or sixth place on my list back during the early debates. And not because my opinion of him has changed, but because every other candidate I liked more has since left the race.
I love the graphic at the top of this post because it so brilliantly illustrates the difference between people’s perception of the political spectrum, and the reality. The media loves to paint Bernie Sanders as a far left liberal, and Elizabeth Warren as nearly as far left, while the truth is that Bernie and Liz would barely be considered left of center in any European country, and when you look at policies most Americans support on various polls, they are pretty much smack dab in the middle compared to the voters.
And if my face was on that graphic, I would be very far to the left of Bernie.
As much as I loved Barack Obama, he wasn’t a liberal. He was right of center, by a bit. Most of his foreign policy was very similar to that of the George W. Bush admin during its second term, for goodness sake! When Bill Clinton was in office, he was actually further to the right than Obama would be. And yeah, the entire Republican party isn’t merely rightwing, it is extremely far rightwing (and quite a lot of it alt-right).
Anyway, I’ve voted for the least conservative option still in the race. Let’s see what happens!
They aren’t even going to let us cook the turkey before they trot out more War on Christmas nonsense
I wasn’t going to write about the so-called War on Christmas until after Thanksgiving. But some people just cannot let a day go by without claiming that they are the victims of wholly fictitious campaigns. I actually entertained the notion that these stories might go away. I mean, Trump said in more than one of his speeches that he, personally, had brought “Merry Christmas” back—I don’t know where he thought it was, but then his sentences are so often just word salad that you start giving up trying to decode him.
But he proclaimed that the War on Christmas was over because he won it! And his supporters, which include the same idiots who scream about the War on Christmas every year usually believe every word he says. Despite overwhelming evidence about each lie he tells. So I thought maybe they’ve give it up.
Nope. If you want a summary of at least a couple of the blow-ups (along with a lot of snarky commentary), check this out: Seems Like The War On Christmas Starts Earlier Every Year!
Of the three incidents they talk about in that story, the one that really pisses me off is scamvangelist Jim Bakker going on his show and talking about that time, just a few years ago, when it was actually illegal to say “Merry Christmas.” Until, he said, his viewers called people and got the law repealed.
At no point during Jim Bakker’s lifetime has it been illegal anywhere in the United States for a person to say “Merry Christmas.” That’s just a fact.
There have been moments in history when celebrating Christmas was against the law—but it was over 300 years ago. The Puritans were quite opposed to Christmas and well, pretty much any fun at all. In Boston, for instance, Christmas was banned from 1659 to 1681.
Celebrations of Christmas had been banned in England for a while, before that, also because of Puritan influence. In 1644 the British Parliament banned seasonal plays, traditional Christmas games, the singing of carols, the hanging of holly, and so forth. Businesses were required by law to be open on December 25. Other forms of merry-making and partying were also legally discouraged year-round, but Christmas seemed to really annoy them. It was not a time when the phrase “Merry Olde England” had much meaning. Those laws were repealed in the year 1660, but that was only in England. Various U.S. colonies kept the laws on the books.
The Puritans were not atheists. They considered themselves very devout Christians. Christmas, they said, was not a religious holiday. In fact, the Puritans objected to the notion of all religious holidays:
“THERE is no day commanded in scripture to be kept holy under the gospel but the Lord’s day, which is the Christian Sabbath.
Festival days, vulgarly called Holy-days, having no warrant in the word of God, are not to be continued.”
—the Westminster Directory of Public Worship
Christians (well, Protestants, anyway) of that time would be horrified to find out that modern day Christians consider the Christmas tree a religious symbol, let alone that Christian leaders would get outraged in a governor referred to such a decoration as anything other than a Christmas tree.
So it was Christians who banned Christmas back in the day, not atheists or pagans or Jews or Muslims. And even the modern so-called War on Christmas was initiated by Christians, not non-Christians.
I’m not old enough to have been around when Christmas was banned in Boston, but I am old enough to remember the campaigns by fundamentalist Christians in the 1960s asking businesses to stop using the word “Christmas” in their advertising and marketing materials. They thought it demeaned the story of Christ to have the “Christmas” applied to things as sordid and mundane as store wide discounts.
Now you have so-called Christian organizations like the Liberty Counsel complaining that that a clothing store chain that made their “nice list” only as some Christmas items in their inventory at Christmas time. Another chain is scolding for saying “Happy Holidays” in one part of its advertising mailer, despite having the “Merry Christmas” and “Christmas” plastered many more times on every single page.
When I was about 10 years old my mom told me that if I wasn’t sure what someone’s religion was, that I should say “Happy Holidays.” At the time she had said, “Because you never know if someone is Jewish.”
There is no law, nor any plot to pass such a law, forbidding people from saying the phrase “Merry Christmas.” We do have a tradition, going all the way back to the Founding Fathers, of a separation of Church and State, so sometimes when citizens sue, the courts have ruled that certain government agencies can’t do things that appear to favor one religion over others. That gets under some people’s skin. It doesn’t matter than every single person who has ever been elected President in this nation has been a person who proclaimed themself a Christian. It doesn’t matter that at least one Christian holiday is an official federal holiday. It doesn’t matter that in many states there are restrictions are what sorts of business activities can take place on Sunday, the Christian sabbath.
They still feel that any recognition of beliefs which differ from theirs is oppression. It’s irrational and paranoid. And I don’t know if any amount of reasoning is going to persuade them away from their delusion of persecution.
I’ve also previously mentioned that I’m one of those people who has found that if I don’t check Facebook from time to time I absolutely will get no news whatsoever from some branches of the family that I would like to stay in contact with. Muting and carefully unfollowing/blocking some people has decreased some of the previous annoyance—I don’t need to be reminded that Cousin Windbag thinks god will destroy America because I was legally allowed to marry my husband by seeing all the hateful memes and such that he posts constantly to his wall, for instance. And no one needs to see all the racists, xenophobic, anti-semetic nonsense Uncle Blowhard shares. But no matter how carefully I curate the feed, things get through that are a bit more than an annoyance.
Such as the friend request from an ex-step-cousin who (when he was a young adult and I was still a child) constantly referred to me as “that faggot” to other family members. I didn’t really want a reminder of that particular bit of childhood bullying, thank you very much. I don’t know why he decided to send me a friend request, but the particular political leanings displayed on his public wall makes it seem very unlikely his intention is to apologize.
Or the relative that, so far as I can remember, hasn’t contacted me in several years (to be fair, I also have not made an effort to reach out to them) who decided to send me a private message to offer condolences for the death of my father nearly three years after the fact. Now, offering condolences is fine—and there are many reasonable explanations for why someone hadn’t been able to offer them sooner.vBut here’s the thing: my dad was an emotionally and physically abusive man and it wasn’t at all a sense of loss that I felt when he died. Heck, one of my best friends made me practice saying, “We weren’t that close. We’d hardly spoken in forty years,” when my father was lying in hospice so I wouldn’t instead blurt out something inappropriate if an acquaintance or co-worker offered condolences.
This is also one of the relatives that I’m muting on my timeline because of all the anti-gay, anti-immigrant, et cetera stuff they post. In other words, all the same sort of things that Dad would rant about if you gave him a chance.
Sometimes people drift out of your life because of circumstance. But sometimes it’s a choice. Our different worldviews and values are a far bigger barrier to any relationship I’d have with this relative than the 1200 miles distance between our homes.
And please don’t tell me that it’s just politics and that family is more important than a mere opinion. Politics isn’t like be a sports fan. I can be friends with people who root for football teams I dislike, just as I am friends with people who don’t like my Seahawks. But politics is about policies that all of us have to live under. And politics is also about values. Unfortunately, a lot of politics is about which people are treated as people under the law, and which are treated as things.
For example: the way our society is structured, you have to work to survive. If you aren’t willing to say that queer people, trans people, people of various ethnicities, and so should protected from job discrimination, then you are saying that you don’t care if those categories of people die. Similarly, if your reaction to finding out our government has been seizing children at the border and packing them into cages is to try to blame the parents rather than being incandescently outraged at the abuse of children, I am more than justified in judging you for that.
I’m allowed to decide I don’t want to be friends with people whose values are monstrous.
Many times when critiquing social media, people focus on the impersonalization—it is easy to forget that it is another person on the other side of the screen and say things we would never say in person. But there is also the inverse problem, particularly with the way some social platforms work so hard to connect you with people you used to know, mutual friends, an so on: over-personalization. I and the second relative mentioned above haven’t seen each other in person in decades, nor talked in years. But thanks to the social media, an illusion can exist of continued contact because they can see my posts.
In my mind, I’ve been giving this person the cold shoulder for years—but in a completely non-confrontational way. And admittedly, I’ve been happy about being able to mute some people and so forth without them ever knowing that I have. I’ve let the technology aid and abet my passive-aggressive method of cutting them out of my life. Which means I’m at least partly responsible for these awkward moments that do more to remind me of bad things from the past than cheer or console.
I don’t have a pat answer of how to go forward. I think it is okay to let yourself drift away from people who have more negative impact on you than positive. But I think it is also important to ask yourself whether you’re making an effort to be a positive in the lives of those around you.
Most European traditions didn’t assume monogamy was part of marriage until something between the 6th and 9th Centuries AD. Christian teachings didn’t start treating marriage as a sacrament until the 16th Century AD (despite that oft-quoted verse about “what god has joined together”). The same sort of people who quote that verse while demanding that secular law follow their tradition ignore the parts of the New Testament where the Apostle Paul condemned marriage as a waste of time, and only grudgingly said that if a man found himself so burning with lust it distracted from evangelizing should he marry.
The modern notion of marriage being about two people who fall in love and decided to pledge themselves to each other didn’t really become common until the 1700s. Now, it’s true that songs and poems and such from the 12th Century on waxed rhapsodic about courtly love, but it was considered the exception, rather than the rule.
All of these facts contradict what I was told about marriage growing up in Southern Baptist churches. Marriage, according to them, was a sacred institution that had existed unchanged since the beginning of time. And it had always been about a man and a woman who love each other and commit to a lifetime together. And once married, no matter what the circumstances, the two are bound together in love and divine grace, et cetera.
And they really did mean no matter the circumstance. I sat through more than one sermon where the pastor said that even if you make a mistake and marry the person god didn’t want you to, once you exchange your vows before god, that person is now the right person.
Despite the above, as far as I know, every single Baptist church we had ever been a member of had at least one married couple in which at least one member had been married to someone else before, been divorced, and had now re-married. And most people in the church treated the second marriage as just as sacred and eternal as the ideal they kept talking about. The usual hand-waving was the god forgives everyone who repents, and therefore if someone has committed the sin of divorce, but now has sincerely repented and pledged to make it work this time, well, god’s going to bless that.
Of course, before many members of a congregation were willing to go to that step, the divorced person would have to suffer for a while. They had to have a moving tale of the pain and heartache and regret they went through to show the sincerity, you see. Because someone had to be to blame, right? And if someone is to blame, then they must be punished. Like the women in this story: For Evangelical Women, Getting a Divorce Often Means Taking All the Blame.
That idea, that divorce is always wrong, doesn’t just hurt women who are in bad marriages. It also hurts children. I’ve written more than once about how my father was physically and emotionally abusive. When my mom shared her pain and fear with people at church, the answer was always the same: if she had enough faith, god would change dad.
No matter what evidence was presented.
When I was 10, my dad beat me on a Sunday afternoon with a broom handle while calling me the worst names imaginable. By the time he was done not only was I covered in bruises and contusions and worse, I had a broken collar bone. I had to be taken to the emergency room. Later that week—while my arm was still in a sling, I was bruised everywhere, and stitches visible on my face—our pastor looked me in the eyes and told me that if I would just be obedient and act the way my father wanted, Dad wouldn’t have to be so strict. Keep in mind, Dad had sworn off religion a few months before I was born. He refused to set foot in church and wasn’t the slightest bit friendly or welcoming when the pastor visited our home. Yet still, because of their theology about marriage and the husband’s role as master of the home, anything bad that happened to the rest of us was our fault.
I don’t know everything the pastor said to Mom, because I was taken away by one of the church ladies (who scolded me some more for upsetting my father so much he did this to me) while the pastor talked to Mom in private. But Mom came out of the meeting convinced that it was her fault. If she just had enough faith and loved Dad enough he wouldn’t be this way.
Somehow that doesn’t seem like the wise plan of a loving god, you know?
What brought all of this to mind today is this odd little bit of news I came across: Hate Group NOM Allows Web Domain To Expire. The National Organization for Marriage was at the forefront of the battle against gay civil unions, marriage equality, gay adoption rights, and several related fights for years. They poured millions of dollars into ad campaigns to defeat gay rights initiatives and so forth. They have insisted again and again that they don’t hate gay people—they are just defending traditional marriage.
The kind of traditional marriage that says a woman must stick to her husband even if he beats her and their children severely, for instance.
The organization still exists, and its president, Brian Brown, is still sending out fear-mongering email blasts to supporters begging for money. The last time the IRS got them to partially disclose their donors (they have been under investigate for many years because they never file complete paperwork or comply with court orders to disclose campaign spending) their donations (and the number of donors) had dropped off significantly. NOM used to be an umbrella organization for at least 8 different “education and advocacy” funds and a bunch of Political Action Committees, now all but two of those have been shut down. Apparently last year each of those two remaining entities reported income of less than $50,000.
I’m hoping that the website lapsing is a sign this hate group is gasping out its dying breaths. Joe Jervis, who runs the Joe.My.God gay news blog, reports: “I’ve put in the required whopping $12 bid to snap up the domain, which will redirect to JMG if I’m successful.”
If you can’t muster the empathy to tell an abused child or an abused spouse that being a victim isn’t their fault, you don’t know what “love they neighbor” means. And you can’t claim to be following a loving god while doing and saying hateful things about whole categories of people.
The title comes from the hymn, “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling” by Charles Wesley, #2 in the 1956 Baptist Hymnal. All of the Baptist Churches I was ever a member of used the 1956 edition of the Baptist Hymnal. The next major update didn’t happen until 1991, by which point I was out of the closet and officially declared myself a former Baptist.