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How we react to the world is both human and political, but I repeat myself

“Fox News: Liz Warren wants to take money from the rich and give it to the poor! Me: Cool, cool. Mark Zuckerberg: Liz Warren is an existential threat to my business! Me: Guys, I already like her, ok. You don't have to sell her this hard.”

Despite the graphic, this post is not about what most people think of as politics. (Click to embiggen)

So, I’ve written a few times about social media, with the observation that a lot of the dysfunction that people like to attribute to the technology is really just human nature. Which doesn’t mean it’s not a problem, it’s just that neither tweaking the technology nor abandoning it altogether is going to solve those problems. But, the technology does have problems; sometimes one of those problems is that it is simply amplifying some of our less-functional traits, and sometimes it’s something much more complicated.

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.

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Set our hearts at liberty — more confessions of a queer ex-evangelical

“The problem with (some) christians: That they think they are bing that guy (points to Jesus being lashed and tortured) whilst behaving like those guys (points to the roman soldiers beating Jesus).”

“The problem with (some) christians: That they think they are being that guy (points to Jesus being lashed and tortured) whilst behaving like those guys (points to the roman soldiers beating Jesus).”

Marriage, as we know, is a blessed arrangement. We also know that it’s an ancient tradition. Except, of course, exactly what that arrangement was and how it was arranged has been a constantly changing thing for all of human history. For instance, in some of the Ancient Greek city-states the tradition of male line inheritance required that if a man of property died without a son, a surviving daughter or granddaughter of child-bearing age would be forced to marry her closest male relative and that husband would then become the heir. Many societies didn’t merely allow a man to hve more than one wife—it was expected! There were fewer societies that allowed a woman to have more than one husband, but those existed, too. Even if we restrict ourselves to the Judeo-Christian traditions, remember that the Biblical King Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines.

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.

He has no sock(puppet)s, and he must cry wolf*—bullied bullies are everywhere

April, 1958 issue of Amazing Science Fiction. Cover art by Ed Valigursky

This cover art by Ed Valigursky for the April, 1958 issue of Amazing Science Fiction shows a completely different kind of sci fi puppy than we’ll be talking about today.

I started to assemble this post about an aggrieved conservative sci-fi writer last week, but other things kept coming up, and since the kerfuffle seems to have blown over, I wasn’t sure there was much value in throwing in my two cents. But then a couple of the most recent developments in some national news stories made certain similarities between the actions of certain distressed pups and other angry white men. I decided that with so angry white men claiming to be victims, and maybe it was worth looking at a fairly inconsequential example that played out over a handful of days to get some insight into the motivations of the others. So, first, the meltdown of one of the fringe members of the melancholy canines.

Note: At no point in the following will I link directly to the angry, profanity-laden posts of the bullied bully. All links are to others talking about the situation. Some of them link to the rants, if you really need to read them.

So, a writer who markets himself** to a particular subset of science fiction fans—conservative, pro-gun rights—got really upset when some editor at Wikipedia tagged his wikipedia page to discuss possible deletion. The original article looked like it was lifted almost entirely from his own web page, and the only citations it had was to his blog and webpage. Under various editorial guidelines of Wikipedia the article certainly didn’t appear to meet the minimal criteria for keeping. I mean, come on: a bunch of the links on the first author’s page were places where you could buy his merchandise and his custom knives!

Of course, this happens all the time. Articles get flagged. There is one author’s article (that got referenced in some of the rants) that was tagged over seven years ago… and it has never actually been deleted. Part of the purpose of tagging such articles is to try to get some attention to them so that people will clean them up, add citations, and so forth.

Anyway, because of the angry screed, dozens of people went to Wikipedia and screamed at the editors, accusing them of being angry libtards targeting conservative writers. Which, given the fairly well-documents conservative bias of Wikipedia editors, is more than slightly hilarious. Said wikipedia editors quickly determined that a certain number of the angry attack accounts were sock-puppet accounts belonging to the aggrieved author, and banned his account (though the discussion continued).

Equally of note is that a large number of identifiable actual liberal members (or not-so-liberal but still despised by the aggrieved author and is allies) of the sci-fi community logged in to argue against deleting the conservative author’s page, arguing that his long publishing history, award nominations, and so forth qualified him as notable. They also helped clean up the article and added a lot of third party citations (to places like Publisher’s Weekly, Locus Magazine, Wall Street Journal, Stars and Stripes, et cetera). In other words, the people he always claims are out to get him were actually helping.

But that wasn’t enough! No, being an angry little white puppy he was absolutely certain that there is a conspiracy to bully people like him, so he started predicting specific conservative writers would have their articles flagged next. Then, lo and behold, a few hours after each time he went online to make such a prediction, the authors he named had a deletion tag added to their Wikipedia page by a mysteriously recently-created wiki account. Many of those were very quickly untagged by the administrators.

It should be noted that, in addition to the sock puppet activities that got his account banned during this kerfuffle, the author has a history of getting accounts suspended on other social media platforms for setting up sock puppet accounts to follow him and agree with him. So, applying Occam’s Razor, we can assume that his predictions are not proof he is an oracle, but rather a troll.

The upshot of all this is not only was the aggrieved author’s page spared, but so were all the others that supposedly had been targeted.

The aggrieved author and his allies are so defensive that they don’t notice who is willing to help them. I also think contributing to the problem is how incredibly insular they are. The old version of his wikipedia page and a couple of the others that were briefly flagged only had links to pages controlled by the people who were the subjects of the articles. Yeah, some of the pages had a lot of self-promotion, but I think it doesn’t even occur to them to search for mentions outside their own favorite web portals. It didn’t take long for other people to find dozens of articles outside that insular bubble that mentioned the author or his work.

But despite overwhelming evidence that the content of the articles was the issue rather than any politics, and that people they insist are enemies are more than willing to help out if they see a problem, they insist that they are victims. It’s a classic persecution complex: a delusion that they are constantly being tormented, stalked, tricked, or ridiculed.

Except I think it goes beyond delusion. Being despised is their life blood. One commenter said on one of the blog posts: “Nobody hates them as much as they seem to need to think someone hates them and that is just a miserable way to go through life.” They feel miserable because they aren’t receiving the adoration or acclaim or praise they feel entitled to. But, they can’t admit that they are to blame for how other people perceive them. They need scapegoats. If other people hate them and are conspiring against them, then their misery isn’t their fault. Yes, it is a miserable way to live, but to them it seems less miserable than holding themselves accountable.

And that brings us to other, more serious ways this need to be hated can effect all of us. It begins yesterday when Senator Mitch McConnell took to the senate floor to whine about American citizens pointing out that his actions in blocking election reform again and again despite overwhelming evidence of foreign interference in our elections isn’t in the best interest of Americans. How dare we, the citizens who of the country whose Constitution he has sworn to uphold, express an opinion about his actions! How dare we present the evidence that of actions that at least border*** on treasonous!

His actions aren’t the problem, he insists. No! The real problem is all of us haters. Oh, and any of us citing this evidence are being just like McCarthy—you know, the angry Senator who in the fifties destroyed a bunch of people’s careers and lives without ever actually presenting any evidence that they were enemies of the nation. This is an interesting twist on crying wolf, I must say.

Similarly, the alleged president is still screaming at congresspeople and people of color who disagree with some of his policies, in between is constant stream of insults hurled at various US cities, territories, states, and even people who call him ‘Mr. President’—while at the same time pushing a narrative that people who criticize the US should leave.

Again, the problem isn’t him attacking anyone and everyone, the problem is all those mean haters. And if you think I’m stretching things to compare the alleged president to the aggrieved author: remember the many times that Trump has called into various radio shows and the like, claiming to be someone else praising Trump.

So, I guess a fondness for sockpuppets is another way to spot these angry bullies who think they’re victims.

They claim to be defenders of free speech, yet they are always throwing tantrums when other people say things they don’t like.


Footnotes:

* The title is a riff on Harlon Ellison’s Nebula- and Hugo-winning short story from 1966, I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream. In no way should this be read to infer that the late Mr. Ellison is involved in any way.

** When describing this situation to some friends I mentioned that all of the author photos available for him feature him holding a gun. And in at least one I saw, holding it incorrectly. I must state for the record that that characterization was wrong: there are also biographical pictures of him holding various hunting knives, swords, or wearing bandoliers of shotgun shells.

*** Personally I think he went way past the border when he blocked the release of the information about Russian interference just before the 2016 election. Everything since has just been him going deeper and deeper into treason.

Stop claiming that being called a bigot is worse than the actual bigotry

“*sobs* I just want to express my racist and sexist views without being called racist of sexist! *sniffle*”

(click to embiggen)

If you are somehow unaware of the racist thing Trump tweeted this last weekend, and the doulbing-down and defending of the words that has happened, I’m not going to sum them up. The salient facts are here: Congresswomen say Trump’s ‘openly racist’ attack is a distraction. And I agree with U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib that the purpose of those tweets is not really to attack the congresswomen in question, but rather to get all the news sites to stop talking about the illegal inhuman camps that our government is packing children and adults into at the border: Migrant children report sex assault, retaliation for protests at border facility and Mike Pence Toured a ‘Horrendous’-Smelling Detention Center Where Migrants Were Packed in Cages.

And what comes to the top of many of the google searches I did looking for recent stories on the camp situation were people arguing about terminology. It doesn’t matter whether you think that the camps meet a particularly carefully cherry-picked definition of concentration camp: the conditions in the camps violate U.S. law and international treaties; locking people who present themselves at a border and ask for sanctuary is illegal; it is not illegal for people to present themself at a border and ask for sanctuary; the treatment of the children in particular is immoral, unethical, illegal, and appalling.

Call them Detention Centers if you must, but they are still illegal, they are as immoral as any historical Concentration Camp, and you should be ashamed of yourself for not caring what happens to any fellow human beings, but especially children.

“Straight people. If a restaurant was taking the money they make and giving it to organizations trying to dissolve your marriage and take your kids away from you, you wouldn't give a if they have really good leamonade.” —Faith Naff

Do not eat at Chik-Fil-A (click to embiggen)

People who want to discriminate against others get really angry when you call what they are doing discriminate, despite that fact that a couple of years ago some of them made this argument at the Supreme Court: White House: We’d Be Fine With Bakers Hanging “No Gays” Signs In Their Windows. The weird part is, that in many states they can do just that. They are free to both discriminate against queer people and even put up signs in their shop windows saying so, and yet, virtually none of them do. And here’s why:

They want to quietly and discreetly refuse to serve individual customers who happen to be gay without their other customers finding out. They wanna hate on the down low because they know that customers who may not be gay themselves—people who know and love LGBT people, customers who don’t approve of discrimination on principal, other minorities who worry that they could be next—will take their business elsewhere.
Dan Savage

“Just because you're gay doesn't mean you can't be homophobic. Internalized homophobia exists.”

And that internalized homophobia is often turned outward at your fellow gays, particularly if they don’t conform to your idea of what gay means…

I commented on the weekend about the poorly written, nasty, inappropriate op-ed that The New Republic published about presidential hopeful Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and then removed for the site while listing a lame apology. While it was roundly condemned by straight people and queer people alike—and even some publications that no one would describe as gay-friendly—we have now reached the point where certain queer journalists are falling all over themselves to defend it. They are really leaning into the fact that several of the critics of the original piece saying that portions of it come off as homophobic. The counter argument is that, since the author of the piece, Dale Peck, is himself gay, the thing he wrote can’t possibly be homophobic. One particular op-ed that lots of people are linking to agrees that the piece was rude, and that it demonstrates a part of gay culture that many queer people are uncomfortable with, but insists it isn’t at all reasonable to describe it as homophobic because not only is Peck a gay man, but he was a gay man who was active in Act Up back in the day (which apparently means he can’t be homophobic), and the piece is simply a case of “reading” which has a long tradition in queer culture. The author of the defense piece also made the assertion that it was only straight people who were objecting, and clearly as straight people they don’t have a right to call out homophobia(?).

In case you don’t know, reading in this context is usually defined as the act of pointing out a flaw in someone else (usually publicly and addressed directly to them) and exaggerating it in a humorous way. It’s that last bit—that the exaggeration needs to be funny that I first complain about—because I didn’t find it any of it funny. And while, yes, reading is a tradition in parts of the queer community, it still is an ad hominem attack, which only belongs in political analysis if one is offering proof of several character flaws or harmful ideologies. In other words, if the piece had called Mayor Pete a bigot of some sort and offered up some evidence to back it up, then maybe doing so in the reading-style would have been appropriate. But that isn’t what happened.

So, since these folks think that only straight people object, let me be clear: I’m a gay man. I see Peck’s Act Up crendentials and raise my own Queer Nation involvement. I found the use of phrase “Mary Pete” over and over homophobic. The rest of the essay is a mess—badly written, the opposite of persuasive, and one long ad hominem attack—and The New Republic was right to pull it (and shouldn’t have published it in the first place).

Dan Savage has said many times that queer people have the right to throw slurs back and forth at each other so long as they meet this criteria: “so long as it’s used affectionately and ironically and so long as the term is embraced by the user and so long as it isn’t tossed around in front of strangers and so long as it isn’t used as an insult…”

  • Peck was not using the term Mary Pete affectionately nor ironically,
  • There is no indication Mayor Pete embraces the term “mary,”
  • This use of the slur wasn’t just tossed around in front of strangers, it was written specifically to be published in a publication whose target audience is the general public,
  • It was definitely intended as an insult.

So this queer man has absolutely no problem calling b.s. on these attempts to spin one bitter gay man’s homophobic attempt to read (and if this was reading, oh, it so missed the mark) another gay man for not being the right kind of gay as anything other than it was.

There is an argument to be made that some of Mayor Pete’s policy proposals are further to the right of center than both most Democratic voters and the country as a whole. One can legitimately critique the tepid response he had to a recent incident of a person of color being killed by police in the town of which he is mayor. And I want to point out that even Peck’s defenders aren’t certain if these were the sorts of things he was trying to imply in his essay.

But vulgar speculation about his sexual desires and practices (which was what most of the so-called “reading” was about) doesn’t belong in a opinion piece published on a serious political news site. Yeah, if you’re sitting with your friends in the local queer bar tossing back drinks and gossiping about people, that sort of commentary may get you some laughs. But it isn’t how you educate voters about issues you disagree with him about.

When did you know you were queer, or more confessions of an ex-evangelical homo devil

A weathered rainbow wit the phrase “Baby I was born this way” superimposed.

(click to embiiggen)

So it started with a long-time fandom friend quote-tweeting a request for those of us who are queer to tell him what age we were when we realized we weren’t straight. The simple question kicked off thousands of likes and hundreds of replies. Skimming through the many stories people tell while answering the question is both interesting and occasionally moving.

“for the queer folks out there: out of curiousity, at what age did you realize you weren't straight?” “i definitely knew really, really young that i was different but didn't know the name for it until i was watching jerry springer during a sick day from school while in 1st grade and went 'oh, that's what it's called'” “Was not expecting so many replies to this, it’s really incredible seeing the diversity of experiences in here.”

The very long thread with many replies is here: https://twitter.com/calvinstowell/status/1143168326836916225

I gave a simple reply: “Spring at the end of fifth grade-puberty hit like a freight train. I was just four months shy of my 12th birthday.” That answer is both true, and incomplete. Like many people, I knew that I was different from an extremely early age. As long as I can remember people were calling me various slurs for homosexual. I could never figure out why I was unable to act like a “normal boy,” but most of the people I knew made it very clear that something was wrong with me.

When I was four years old I made the mistake of describing a neighbor friend as my “boyfriend”—not because I had a crush on him, but because I mistakenly thought that a boyfriend was a friend who happens to be a boy, while a girlfriend was a friend who happened to be a girl. My grandmother had a hissy fit, and went on a bit of a tirade about how little boys could have girlfriends, and when we got older we would find a special girlfriend and marry them and have children and spend the rest of our lives with them. And I knew down to the bone that she was wrong, but I didn’t have to conceptual framework to explain it even to myself.

Unlike a lot of people in the replies to the original question, I knew homosexuals existed. Growing up in Southern Baptist churches I had heard many a sermon about the sexual perversions of the homosexuals. So I knew that when all of those people were calling me those names what they meant. I didn’t connect that certainty I had had when grandma was talking about my future with the evil beings described in the sermons. While I knew, in theory, what romance and sex were, I didn’t recognize the feelings I was having. I know now, for instance, that I had crushes on certain fictional male characters and actors from a very early age, but I didn’t know that the reason I so admired Mark Goddard or Robert Conrad was that I had a crush.

And I also was certain I couldn’t be gay because for most of grade school my best friend (at each of the towns we moved to) was usually a girl. Heck, some of the adults in my life referred to those best friends as my girlfriend (of which I knew the correct meaning by then). So, clearly, I liked girls, right? So I couldn’t be any of those things people called me.

And since I had been taught at church and Sunday School that homosexuals were evil and going to hell—that homosexual people were so evil that god destroyed two whole cities of them in the old testament—I desperately wanted not to be a homosexual.

Fifth grade was when everything changed. I had a growth spurt that involved literal growing pains. I was crying at night from the aches, particularly in the knees, often enough that my parents took me to the doctor. The doctor noticed my “high water” pants right away, and noted that I’d grown 4 or 5 inches in height (according to the chart) since my previous visit. During the exam he also commented on hair that was growing on parts of my body, and made some comments about other changes that might happen soon, which mostly just embarrassed me at the time.

A few months after that I woke up in the middle of the night again, though this time no pain was involved. I had a dream about kissing a boy i knew from school, and simultaneously experienced my first orgasm. I spent the rest of the night silently praying, begging god not to let me be a homo.

The next day at school was when I realized that I had a bit of an obsession with how the same boy’s butt looked in the Levi jeans he always wore. And I couldn’t stop thinking about him. I couldn’t stop looking at him.

He wasn’t one of my friends. He wasn’t one of the guys at school that I actively disliked, either. But once I had recognized the effect he was having on me, I started actively trying to avoid him. Which seemed to make the obsession worse. That was a pattern for most of the next 14 years: I would get a crush on some guy, I’d pray that god would take the feelings away and I’d try to avoid contact with them, which would only make it worse and I’d wind up crying and praying even more fervently late into the night.

I want to emphasize that I was never sexually molested as a child. I had had no sexual experiences of any kind with anyone before the night of the dream when I was eleven years old. I later had some experiences with guys my age starting around the age of 14. They were always furtive and scary and left me more convinced I was going to burn in hell for eternity.

After my parents divorced, Mom, my full sister, and I moved 1200 miles away to a town that was large enough that there was more than one high school. And I got involved with an interdenominational teen choir—where I still more than occasionally got called those slurs, but I also made a lot more friends than I had ever had before. And I didn’t have sex with any guys for three years. I even dated some girls. Okay, so two of them came out as lesbian years later, but I was trying!

The feelings, including developing crushes on guys, never stopped during that time. Despite my prayers (and the weekly special prayer meetings Mom, my aunt, and some of the church ladies were having to try to pray my gay away that I didn’t know about at the time). I would also learn later that one of the reasons that I wasn’t given leadership or musical positions I tried for in the choir was because the director was also convinced I was gay. Which just got worse when a couple of guys in the group got caught having sex. I’ve written about the hypocritical response to that previously.

It wasn’t until I was 24 years old that I was able to say, “I think I might be gay” to a close friend. The truth was, I didn’t merely think I might be, I was quite certain. But even then, I internalized enough of the self-loathing and fear that I couldn’t quite admit it, and grasped at the slimmest of straws that it might not be so. It was more than 6 years after that before I would publicly come out.

I never decided to be gay. The only decision I made was to stop hiding who I was. I didn’t always know that I was gay, but for as long as I can remember I have been. I didn’t have the context or role models as a child to know what those feelings meant, and the strong and constant condemnation from family and church gave me plenty of incentive to ignore the implications until they became undeniable.

One of the reasons I talk up the importance of Pride is because we need to be seen. There are children out there who feel the way I did when I was four years old and grandma was emphatically explaining her vision of my future. They need to know they aren’t alone. They need to know that kids like them can grow up and find love. They need to know that kids like them can grow up to be old white-haired fogeys like me and have a job, a home, a spouse, and a host of friends who love and support them.

The need to know that if they aren’t straight, they are still worthy of love.

You only gave us rights because we gave you riots: thoughts on Pride

“You only gave us rights because we gave you riots. Queer Power”

“You only gave us rights because we gave you riots. Queer Power” (Click to embiggen)

I’ve had three partially-written blog posts about Pride sitting here in the queue for a few weeks, but kept changing my mind about which direction I wanted to go with it. Then over the last few days I’ve seen several more iterations of a question that drives me crazy, and some related stuff appeared on a couple of my usual news sits, which made the three ideas I had coalesce into one. First: never forget that the first Pride was a riot. And it wasn’t just one riot—the rioting continued for several nights. The quick summary: because (among other things) it was illegal for a bar to knowingly serve more the one openly gay person at a time, most of the places where gay, lesbian, trans, and other queer people were able to congregate were illegal bars, usually operated by the mafia. The cops occasionally raided those bars, just to remind the people operating them that they needed to keep bribing cops and other officials. Because it was also illegal for a man to wear clothing traditionally thought as a woman’s, and it was equally illegal for a woman to wear men’s clothes (stop and think about that a moment: it was a crime for a woman to wear slacks of a pantsuit in many states in 1969), in addition to shutting down the bar and confiscating the alcohol, the cops would always arrest everyone who was gender-non-conforming.

So, forget the lies that certain so-called religious people have started spouting lately: the cops were not rescuing underaged people who were being sex trafficked. The purpose of the raid was to insure that the mob paid it’s bribes on time, and to give the cops a chance to rough up some trans people, masculine-looking women, and effeminate men. That was it.

And for some unkown reason, part of the crowd started fighting back on that night. The cops were so overwhelmed that they had to barricade themselves inside the now-emptied Stonewall Inn and wait for reinforcements. Over the next six days, news spread and people gathered, rioting on at least two more nights. The people who led the fights were the outcasts: the street queens, the people of color, the homeless queer teens—the people least likely to blend in at some white middle-class event.

The New York Daily News, a bit over a week after the first riot.

The New York Daily News, a bit over a week after the first riot.

To the extent that the press covered the event, most of it was very condescending. Joe Jervis has been posting the full text of the New York Daily News’ story every June for a few years. If you want to see just how the so-called liberal press felt about gay people, go give it a read. To the extent that the media covered it at all, most of the coverage was either as disdainful and mocking as the New York Daily News, or they focused on the police version of the story.

The Village Voice put the phrase “Gay Power” in the front page!

Technically, the riots didn’t start the gay rights movement. There had been several organizations staging the occasional picket lines (with the men in suits and ties and the women in skirts), or other orderly protests for a couple of decades. In fact, some of the organizations that had been lobbying for gay rights for years issued condemnations of the riots. Second: But the riots did have a several important effects. while the mainstream press either ignored them or made fun of queer people, some of the alternative papers tried to show both sides. And these papers were read outside of the neighborhoods they served, especially papers like the Village Voice which was read by many professional journalists and academics far outside New York. Third, the news of the riots spread through social grapevines, and within weeks younger, less affluent queer people who had never ever heard of organizations like the Mattachine Society were gathering and forming groups like the Gay Liberation Front, the Gay Activists Alliance, or the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries.

Fourth, by the fall of 1969 chapters of the Gay Liberation Front were being formed on college campuses all over the U.S. I know, because I happened to know a man who was a freshman at the University of Washington that year, who was not only a founder of the UW chapter of the Gay Liberation Front, he served as an officer for the next few years.

Fifth: Commemoration led to recognition. The next year, June 1970, on the anniversary of the first riot, a small group met to march in what was then called Christopher Street Liberation Day, but by the time the group reached Central Park, the march had swelled to thousands. And, interestingly enough, the same papers that had been so condescending a year ago were at least less disdainful: “There was little open animosity, and some bystanders applauded when a tall, pretty girl carrying a sign “I am a Lesbian” walked by.”

I mentioned the organizations that had been fighting for gay rights for years. There were enough of them that they had been holding regular conferences for some years before the riots. Several months after the riots the Eastern Regional Conference of Homophile Organizations passed a resolution supporting the Christopher Street Liberation Day, though several groups abstained. And the only reason the resolution was under consideration was because a group called Homophile Youth Movement in Neighborhoods had started working with the Gay Liberation Front, and brought some GLF members to the convention as guests. The New York Mattachine Society (the people who had been doing that staid picketing for years with no significant changes in the law or attitudes) was one of the organizations that opposed commemorating the riots. But that parade, and others held in other cities all over the country, happened anyway, and they have been growing ever since.

The Mattachine Society had been lobbying for gay rights since 1950 to virtually no avail. The more radical queers who organized after Stonewall made more of a splash: by the 1972 presidential election campaign, there were national Democratic candidates advocating for anti-discrimination laws to include queer people.

Since that first march in 1970, there have been people within the community who call for the parades to be less outrageous. Specifically, they ask people not to wear kink gear, or sexually provocative clothing. Every year I hear someone saying that such-and-such or so-and-so doesn’t belong at Pride. They argue that only if we show the world that we aren’t freaks will we get rights.

Bull.

I have a few more verbose responses:

First: if we all showed up with the men wearing suits and ties and the women in skirts, and walked calmly down the street the same bigots who claim we are sick and going to hell would still be screaming those lies. Because they did it for the two decades that groups like the Mattachine Society were playing the assimilationship card.

Stop ignoring the blatant sexuality of every day straight culture.

Second: have you ever been to a straight parade or festival? Because let me tell you, the first time I ever attended Seattle’s Torchlight Family Seafair Parade I was shocked at how just how many skimpy bikinis were being worn by women on the floats and how many sexual innuendoes other floats were designed to embody. The only reason why LGBT Pride Parades appear to be outrageous and not-family-friendly to people is because none of the sexuality on display is aimed at white straight men. There is no less sexuality being flaunted at most non-gay festivals, parades, sporting events, et cetera, than there is at Queer Pride Parades. None.

“No one in America should ever be afraid to walk down the street holding the hand of the person they love.” —Barack Obama.

(click to embiggen)

Third: the whole point of liberation and equality is that everyone should be free to be themselves. No one should have to hide who they are to be treated equally before the law. If you’re trying to keep the kinksters, the dykes on bikes, the drag queens, the scantily-clad go-go boys out of the Parade, you’re on the same side of this battle as the anti-gay bigots. You’re helping our enemies, not us. And I’m not the only person who feels this way. Take it away Amanda Kerri, writing for The Advocate:

“I’m frankly too worn out from this stuff at this point to be nice about it anymore. Saying that kink has no place at Pride is a bad opinion and you should feel bad. First of all, kink was at Pride long before upper middle-class queers decided to take their kids to Pride…. As for those of you arguing about how a bunch of queers running around in collars, harnesses, and body tape over their nipples makes us look bad in front of the straights and supports their arguments that we’re all perverts, well you might want to sit down for this: the ones who think we’re perverts don’t care how we’re dressed.”

Fourth: Pride isn’t a celebration of being gay, it’s an assertion of our right to exist without persecution. What is being celebrated is the fact that we have survived and even thrived despite the oppression. What is being celebrated is the rights of each and every one of us to be who we are without shame.

Fifth: Have you been to a Pride Parade lately? Because most of the groups marching in Pride Parades of late are corporate employee groups. They are queer people usually dressed in matching t-shirts approved by some corporate flunky, along with shorts and sensible shoes. Yes, I think there is a lot we need to think about with the corporations who pretend to be gay friendly for marketing purposes while actively supporting our oppressors. And I would frankly have more respect for the people trying to exclude the kinksters if they also talked about the corporate coopting, but they don’t usually seem to be the same people. Regardless, my point here is that just as straight public events aren’t really any more family-friendly than most Pride events, the Pride events aren’t nearly as outrageous as some of you seem to think.

Bottom Line: Everyone who is there to celebrate Pride is welcome, including straight allies. I’m not saying that you have to show up in a g-string with rainbow glitter on your nibbles to participate. I’m going to be wearing a t-shirt and shorts and sensible shoes, carrying my bright rainbow parasol and looking every bit the short, old, queer, nerdy bear that I am. But not only are the street queens, the freaks, the kinksters, the butch dykes, and all of the other “outrageous” or non-conforming people welcome, they were our founders—and they sure as hell belong.

What doesn’t belong at Pride are oppressive attitudes.

Traditionally once known as Decoration Day, or Memorial for Grandma

Long before the Uniform Monday Holiday Act of 1968 made Memorial Day an official federal holiday, and even before the first federal observation of a day to decorate Union Soldier’s grave at Arlington National Cemetery back in 1868, and even before the Ladies’ Memorial Association of Columbus, Georgia suggested a day to honor those who died in the Civil War there was another holiday called Decoration Day observed in many parts of the country. It was a day to have family reunions and celebrate the lives of all of our deceased family members.

As one historical society defined it: “Decoration Day is an annual observance at many privately owned graveyards during which families gather to clean up the graveyard, reconnect with family, and honor the memories of their ancestors… Traditionally, Decoration Day is in part a ritual, with families arriving on the day before Decoration Sunday with hoes and shovels for a graveyard workday. They scrape the ground, trim the grass, make new plantings, and prune old ones… The cleanup is followed by a Sunday picnic dinner, singing in church, placing flowers on graves, and visiting with friends and family. Sunday participants come dressed for church and participate in what amounts to a family and community reunion. Family members that have moved away often return on this day, giving them an important opportunity to teach children about their ancestors and the communities in which they once lived. Outdoor tables of concrete or wood, marked to identify participating churches, hold the food for the meal.”

It was usually observed on a Sunday in the spring, and frequently involved picnics in the cemeteries or potlucks at church. my Grandmother was someone who observed that version faithfully her whole life, long before the official creation of the modern Memorial Day.

Twelve years ago this week my nice Grandma died literally while in the middle of putting silk flowers on the grave of one of my great aunts—which has contributed to my determination that the original holiday not be forgotten. In memory of Grandma, I’m reposting this (originally posted on Memorial Day 2014):

Memorial, part 2—for Grandma

copyright 2014 Gene Breshears

Flowers for Grandma’s grave.

Grandma always called it by the older name, Decoration Day. As I’ve written before, the original holiday was celebrated in many states as a day to gather at the grave sites of your parents, grandparents, et cetera, to honor the memory of their lives. It was often a time of picnics and family reunions. At least as much a celebration of their lives as a time of mourning. The connection to military deaths didn’t happen until 1868, and particularly in the south, was often seen as a pro-Union, pro-war, anti-southern celebration.

I didn’t understand most of those nuances when I was a kid. The modern version of the holiday, celebrated on the last Monday in May, didn’t even exist until I was a fifth-grader, when the Uniform Monday Holiday Act went into effect.

Grandma observed it faithfully. Every year, as May rolled around, she would begin calling distant relatives and old family friends. Grandma knew where just about every person descended from her own grandparents was buried, and she made certain that someone who lived nearby was putting flowers on the graves of those relatives by Memorial Day. She took care of all the family members buried within a couple hours drive of her home in southwest Washington.

She was putting flowers on the grave of my Great-aunt Maud (Grandma’s sister-in-law) on the Friday before Memorial Day when she died. My step-grandfather said he was getting in position to take a picture of her beside the grave and the flowers (there are hundreds and hundreds of photos of Grandma beside graves with flowers on them in her photo albums) when she suddenly looked up, said, “I don’t feel good!” and pitched over.

One weekend she had blown out the candles on the cake celebrating her 84th birthday. The following Friday, while putting flowers on Great-aunt Maud’s grave, she died. And one week after that a bunch of us were standing at her graveside. It was just down to a few family members, and we were at that stage where you’re commenting on how pretty the flowers that so-and-so that no one had heard from in years were, when someone asked, “Isn’t Grandpa’s grave nearby?”

Grandpa had died 23 years earlier, and was buried in one of a pair of plots he and Grandma had bought many years before. And after Grandma re-married, she and our step-grandfather had bought two more plots close by.

Anyway, as soon as someone asked that, my step-grandfather’s eyes bugged out, he went white as a sheet, and said, “Oh, no!” He was obviously very distressed as he hurried toward his car. Several of us followed, worried that he was having some sort of medical issue.

Nope. He and Grandma had been driving to various cemeteries all week long before her death, putting silk-bouquets that Grandma had made on each relative’s grave. Aunt Maud’s was meant to be the next-to-the-last stop on their journey. Grandpa’s silk flower bouquet was still in the trunk of the car. My step-grandfather was beside himself. He’d cried so much that week, you wouldn’t have thought he could cry any more, but there he was, apologizing to Grandma’s spirit for forgetting about the last batch of flowers, and not finishing her chore—for not getting flowers on Grandpa George’s grave by Memorial Day.

The next year, several of us had the realization that without Grandma around, none of us knew who to call to get flowers put on Great-grandma and Great-grandpa’s graves back in Colorado. None of us were sure in which Missouri town Great-great-aunt Pearl was buried, let alone who Grandma called every year to arrange for the flowers. Just as we weren’t certain whether Great-great-aunt Lou was buried in Kansas or was it Missouri? And so on, and so on. One of my cousins had to track down the incident report filed by the paramedics who responded to our step-grandfather’s 9-1-1 call just to find out which cemetery Great-aunt Maud was in.

copyright 2014 Gene Breshears

Flowers from us, Mom, and my Aunt Silly on Grandpa’s grave.

Mom and her sister have been putting flowers on Grandma’s and Grandpa’s graves since. Our step-grandfather passed away three years after Grandma, and he was buried beside her.

Some years before her death, Grandma had transferred the ownership of the plot next to Grandpa to Mom. So Mom’s going to be buried beside her dad. Mom mentions it whenever we visit the graves, and I don’t know if she realizes how much it chokes me up to think about it.

We had put the flowers in place. We had both taken pictures. Mom always worries that she won’t remember where Grandpa’s grave is (it’s seared in my head: two rows down from Grandma, four stones to the south). Michael helped Mom take a wide shot picture that has both Grandma’s and Grandpa’s spots in it.

I thought we were going to get away with both of us only getting a little teary-eyeed a few times, but as we were getting back into the car, Mom started crying. Which meant that I lost it.

Grandma’s been gone for seven years, now. But every time we drive down to visit Mom, there is a moment on the drive when my mind is wandering, and I’ll wonder what Grandma will be doing when we get there. And then I remember I won’t be seeing her. It took me about a dozen years to stop having those lapses about Grandpa. I suspect it will be longer for Grandma. After all, she’s the one who taught me the importance of Those Who Matter


It is still the case that when I drive to that part of the state to visit Mom or other relatives, I still find myself wondering what Grandma will be doing when I get there, and a moment later have a sudden resurgence of the old grief, remembering that she’s gone.

If you are one of those people offended if I don’t mention people who served our country in the armed forces on this day, please note that my Grandpa mentioned above served in WWII in Italy. Grandpa drove the vehicle that towed tanks that couldn’t be repaired in the field, and one of the two medals he was awarded in the war was for doing a repair of a tank while under fire. After the war, he came back to the U.S., met Grandma (who was at that point working as a nurse and trying to support her two daughters), and eventually married Grandma and adopted my mom and my aunt. Many years later, he was the person who taught me how to rebuild a carburetor (among other things). He was a hero many times over. My paternal Grandfather served in both World War II and the Korean War. Several of my great-aunts and uncles and many cousins who are no longer alive served in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam.

This post is dedicated to all of their memories. They are all on my mind today, as well as other loved ones who have passed. I grieve for them, yes, but I don’t believe today should only be about grief. We should celebrate the lives of those who came before us. Remember their joys and their triumphs, as well as their sacrifices. That’s what Grandma taught me to do, and I will keep doing it on this day, as long as I draw breath.

No, the blue wave did not fizzle, we knew the deck was stacked against us

How to steal and election. Gerrymander. Remember this fucking graphic you goddamn computer.

(click to embiggen)

I was really angry seeing news sites refer to the the blue wave as just a ripple or having fizzled. Listen, for more than 20 years a majority of Americans have voted for a Democrat to represent them in Congress, yet in most of those elections the majority went to Republicans. It’s called gerrymandering, and it’s a mathematical fact. The deck is stacked very badly against those of us who think that queer people have a right to exist in society, that all people deserve health care, that the uber-rich aren’t paying their fair share of taxes, and so on. And while there are ways that we can undo gerrymandering of the House of Representatives, fixing the Senate is a lot harder.

Democrats will control the House. And that means that there will finally be some Congressional hearings into the corruption and worse that the Executive branch has been committing under Cadet Bonespur. There isn’t much we can do about the destruction of the Judicial branch that is being perpetrated during the next two years, but the thing those of us who care about equal rights and, oh, the future of the planet have to focus on is that we finally have a way to put some brakes on the fascist uprising. It’s a long term fight. We lost big two years ago. We call ourselves the Resistance because the bad guys have already taken over. This is an important step in the fight to take back the country, but we lost in 2016.

There was a bunch of other good news last night. Here are just a few of the highlights:

  • Key West elected Teri Johnston, Florida’s first openly lesbian mayor
  • New York elected Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the youngest woman ever elected to Congress
  • Colorado elected Jared Polis, the first openly gay governor in the US
  • Minnesota elected Ilhan Omar, the first Muslim woman (alongside Rashida Tlaib) elected to Congress
  • Massachusetts elected Ayanna Pressley, the first black woman elected to Congress in Massachusetts
  • Kansas elected Sharice Davids, an openly gay ex-MMA fighter and one of the first Native American women (alongside Deb Haaland) elected to Congress
  • Michigan elected Rashida Tlaib, the first Palestinian-American (and first Muslim woman, alongside Ilhan Omar) elected to Congress
  • Kentucky elected Nima Kulkarni, the first Indian-American elected to Kentucky House of Representatives
  • New Mexico elected Deb Haaland, one of the first Native American women (alongside Sharice Davids) elected to Congress
  • Flemington, New Jersey elected Betsy Driver, the first openly intersex mayor of a city in the U.S.
  • Indiana election J.D. Ford the first openly gay Indiana state legislature, defeating a long-time Republican incumbent in the process
  • Kansas elected pro-gay-rights legislator Laura Kelly over pro-Trump and pro-voter suppression Republican
  • Florida passed a constitutional amendment granting voting rights to about 1 million felons who have served their time
  • Louisiana passed a constitutional amendment repealing a white supremacist policy regarding jury convictions
  • Massachusetts voters soundly rejected a measure to strip away non-discrimination protections from transgender people

And election night isn’t the ending. Alexandra Erin put it very well on twitter earlier this week:

Let me be ridiculously clear about something: I am not counting on the Democrats, as a national organization, to fix anything.

Our country is on fire. We need them, but they are not the firefighters. We are.

They’re the water.

We are the firefighters. We can’t check out. This midterm wasn’t a fire and forget situation. We have to stay engaged. We have to call our congresspeople and demand that they stick to the guns, that they oppose Trump on everything. This is just one battle in the long war to take our country back. We can do it, but we have to keep fighting!

Some things to remember

And finally:

(Click to embiggen)

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