Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Religion of Love

When I first started writing, I took a very narrow focus because I was finding my own voice. For a while, I wrote almost exclusively about politics. As part of a collective, the same fifty of us shared our thoughts as if we were the only other ones online. We were nurtured and our profiles boosted by a fellow writer who had used her Ivy League credentials to gain a plum position in the blogosphere. These were heady days for a bunch of honors roll students turned citizen journalists.
That seems like a thousand years ago now, though it is really only eight. Back then, no one could have predicted the rise of Twitter, or a brand new website my girlfriend at the time implored me to join. Only other college students could take part, I was told. When everyone was given access, a little later on, we were sure the end was nigh. I'm speaking of Facebook, of course. There was a time before social media. I wonder what another decade's worth of technological advances will reveal.

This only proves that yet again, conventional wisdom can be entirely wrong. Entirely and completely wrong. Thoughts and fears are, often times, fanciful or manipulative constructs created by people to suit their own private agenda. Another battle rages in the Holy Land, and we adopt the same worried posture and furrowed brow that came before it. I predict there will be many more. Regardless of who we are or where we live, we must always be wise to cloak and dagger mind games.

Few constructs of the collective imagination scare me as much as groupthink. We imagine ourselves to be individuals with the right to our own opinion, but it is remarkably easy to cast those aside when everyone else is, too. According to some religious fundamentalists, Armageddon beckons ever closer like nuclear war, and they use their own preferred text as justification. Once again, we fear for the worst, much as we have prior to the outbreak of another round of hostilities.

If we can only change ourselves for the better before we take a stab at anything else, we might want to begin here. Many religions, including my own, implore the believer to become the total and complete personification of love. I don't mean sticky Valentines and romantic comedies, I mean that I believe in the healing power of love. I'm sure I've said this a time or two before now. Putting ourselves and our own designs last is the only way we will ever live in peace.

Forget everything you've ever been taught and look again with fresh eyes. Regardless of who you are, believer or non-believer, think about the radical implications. Christianity, an influence on Jews and Muslims alike teaches that God loved every single one of us, as he loves us today, enough to take our form and to be the lowliest of the low in a forgotten, cursed corner of the world. If any lesson holds primacy over another, it is that our selfish designs must be cast aside for everyone's benefit.

This sounds simple, but nothing could be harder or more complicated. When we get it right, peace will no longer become an empty slogan or an evolutionary step yet to be achieved. Say what you will about the amoral, sadistic impulse of humanity. Violence is not our natural state, I assert, even if our leaders believe otherwise. The only thing we can do is keep diplomatic channels open, with the understanding that we should expect to win as much as we lose. Doing nothing is not an option.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood

Apologies for the video quality.

Baby, do you understand me now?
Sometimes I feel a little mad
Well don't you know that no one alive
Can always be an angel
When things go wrong I seem to be bad

I'm just a soul whose intentions are good
Oh Lord, please don't let me be misunderstood

Baby, sometimes I'm so carefree
With a joy that's hard to hide
And sometimes it seems that
All I have to do is worry
And then you're bound to see my other side

I'm just a soul whose intentions are good
Oh Lord, please don't let me be misunderstood

If I seem edgy, I want you to know
That I never mean to take it out on you
Life has it's problems and I get my share
And that's one thing I never mean to do

'Cause I love you
Oh, oh, oh, baby, don't you know I'm human
Have thoughts like any other one
Sometimes I find myself long regretting
Some foolish thing, some little sinful thing I've done

I'm just a soul who's intentions are good
Oh Lord, please don't let me be misunderstood

Yes, I'm just a soul whose intentions are good
Oh Lord, please don't let me be misunderstood

Yes, I'm just a soul whose intentions are good
Oh Lord, please don't let me be misunderstood

Yes, I'm just a soul whose intentions are good
Oh Lord, please don't let me be misunderstood

Monday, July 28, 2014

Two Faces of Poverty

The civic duty of every citizen, I have decided, is to kill three hours a year re-certifying or signing off on some new regulation or another. This is how I spent my Monday morning. The service center is located in a part of town that went from wealth to dire poverty and back. Now it is home to loft apartments and trendy coffee shops. Streets are regularly paved these days, the way only capital can.

Residents being pushed elsewhere at once wish they'd held onto properties and houses that could once be had for nearly nothing. At the back of the room, they talk about old times, the way Washington used to be. Conversations focus on soul singers and long-shuttered venues. Sooner than I might care to think, I'll be having my own conversation about the good old days when everything made sense.

The real face of poverty are a young mother and her ten-year-old daughter. Because I was the only other white face in line, she struck up a spontaneous conversation. I couldn't help but notice the way she'd treated her body over the years. Drug addiction had left her skin leathery, her facial features slightly off-center like a shattered window pane. I wanted to look away because the spectacle pained me, but wanted to be polite enough to grant friendly eye contact. My best friend growing up had an alcoholic father, and I watched the years of drinking finally catch up with him.

Mother and daughter were inseparable. They were more like sisters, a curious dynamic that could be both beneficial and harmful to the younger of the pair. They had each other and I got the feeling there were few other people in the lives of either. It was them against the world. Now they had embarked on a great adventure, driving halfway across the country to settle in Washington, DC. When asked for the reasons why, she noted with a straight face that she intended to help President Obama out with the job.

I didn't realize at first that she was actually quite serious. This was the stuff of delusions, but I hoped that it was harmless enough. I hoped she'd recognize the folly of her ways and make different plans. She was enough of a trusting soul that I could see how someone might take advantage of it. This is what concerned me most. Likely, many already had. Washington, DC, can be a very unfriendly place without a guide, and it certainly isn't Colorado Springs.

The daughter addressed me very innocently, believing that if I'd just spent the last twenty minutes talking to her mother, she could be comfortable in my company. I'm usually very uncomfortable around kids, never knowing what to say or what not to say. In a survivors' group, I remember a seventy-year-old woman talking about her own uneasy relationship with children. It was different with her own, she noted, but she was never going to volunteer to supervise or spend much time with anyone else's genetic contribution to the free world. Nods were seen in many of those sitting across the room.

When it was my time in line, the female workers behind the counter smiled at me. To them, I was fatherhood material. The news quickly spread across the center. For the rest of my three hour stay, I was treated with incredible politeness by every female worker. Children usually like me, and yet I push away from them as quickly as I can. I wondered what I truly represented to mother and child, or the women who saw me as paternal in a good way.

Lives like I have described above are not uncommon. I enjoy observing people from the other side of town, a reminder to not intellectualize who the poor and needy really are. They are a young mother and her daughter uprooting and replanting with few resources, no friends, a roof over their heads, but not much more than that. In a way, it's the immigrant experience made over again for our times. We provide a few basic services here and there, but fathers and caregivers cannot be measured in dollars and cents.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Quote of the Week

"I never care that [my characters] are "strong". I never care that they're even affirmative. I look for that thing that's human and recognizable and emotional. You know, we're not perfect, we're not heroic, we're not in control. We're our own worst enemies sometimes, we cause our own tragedies ... that's the stuff that I think is really compelling."-Julianne Moore

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Saturday Video

You say I only hear what I want to
You say I talk so all the time so.

And I thought what I felt was simple,
And I thought that I don't belong,
And now that I am leaving,
Now I know that I did something wrong

'cause I missed you.
Yeah, I missed you.

And you say I only hear what I want to:
I don't listen hard,
I don't pay attention to the distance that you're running

Or to anyone, anywhere,
I don't understand if you really care,
I'm only hearing negative: no, no, no (bad)

And so I, I turned the radio on, I turned the radio up
And this woman was singin' my song:
The lover's in love and the other's run away,
The lover is cryin' 'cause the other won't stay.

Some of us hover when we weep for the other who was
Dying since the day they were born.
Well, this is not that:
I think that I'm throwing, but I'm thrown.

And I thought I'd live forever,
but now I'm not so sure.

You try to tell me that I'm clever,
But that won't take my anyhow,
or anywhere with you.

You said that I was naive,
And I thought that I was strong.
I thought, "hey, I can leave, I can leave."
Oh but now I know that I was wrong, 'cause I missed you.

You said, "I caught you 'cause I want you
and one day I'll let you go."

You try to give away a keeper,
or keep me 'cause you know
you're just so scared to lose.
And you say, "Stay."

You say I only hear what I want to.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Who are the Next Generation of Prophets?

What follows is my own story. I include it to heighten awareness of what often goes unsaid and unspoken. The problem is as old as the human race itself, but like war, it continues. Everyone with an opinion must write with an audience in mind, and must form one's arguments accordingly. Every story like the one to follow takes the same relative trajectory, yet is unique and different.

The twin problems of rape culture and sexual assault may seem minimal, but with time I've realized how truly prevalent they are in our society. Forgive my boldness. This a harsh topic for many who do not daily confront it, but I bring it up one more time to serve my cause. Since many rapes and sexual assaults go unreported due to shame and intimidation, it's impossible to have definitive numerical understanding at our fingertips. But even if we had that hard data, would numbers and statistics alone serve anyone's greater purpose?

I've never shared this account before now. Until a particularly instructive therapy session in the recent past, I never knew it for what it was. As it commonplace with survivors, I had rationalized away what this act really was, minimizing and blunting its impact. It's a very common coping mechanism. Now I must keep myself focused on reality and linear time, which is to say that my brain lies to me, daily and constantly. It transforms what really happened to something less painful, softer, and maddeningly evasive.

I was a impressionable sophomore in college, newly out, and nowhere near full acceptance. Queer students had few resources at my college, with the exception of Gay/Straight Student Alliance. An LGBT center was being planned for construction, but was completed after I graduated and I could not benefit from it. I took the options available to me. The group was more social than instructional, a fundamental lacking that always bothered me. It could have been much more, but it often became a hook up point for gay men, another issue that stuck in my craw.

Now I know him for what he was. He was an opportunist, having heard about our group somehow, intending to benefit from his presence there. The organizers and sponsors had been too nice to turn him away, as he was not a student and had no reason to be there. He sat right next to me, stealthily but obviously to whomever might be watching closely. His legs touched mine frequently, deliberately. That was my first sign as to what he was up to, but I ignored it. Maybe he'd get the hint that I wasn't interested and leave me alone.

I remember his face well. He had a lazy eye and wore a baseball cap. That baseball cap would rather dramatically be burned two days later, as he had left it in the backseat of my car. The collective attitude of both of my parents was not sympathetic. To them, what I had done had served me right. So when I set the hat afire with lighter fluid in the driveway, my father asked me why I'd done such a stupid thing. I told him precisely why and he backed off, uncomfortable, and never raised the subject again.

The man in question broached my boundaries a little at a time. His hands moved further and further down my back, eventually moving other places. He built upon his gains, keeping the ultimate destination in mind at all times. The whole time he was chatting me up and feeling me up as we sat alongside a park. At his request, he suggested we move a couple blocks away, so that what we were doing was less conspicuous. I cranked the car and we pulled onto the curb of a remote stretch of roadway at the top of a mountain.

I did not want to do this. The thrill of doing something this risky and dangerous was perversely appealing, on one hand, but this was not what I wanted. Had sex been removed entirely from the equation, I would have been pleased, but this sequence of events was all about sex. This was not just about having a conversation. To this day, I do not know exactly why I didn't resist. I do not understand why feeling terrified was such a sexual high but just as repelling. I may never.

I saw him later at next year's Pride parade. He even bothered to introduce himself to me. Shocked that he would even dare contact me again, I nervously uttered a few incomprehensible words and then got as far away from him as possible. Male rape survivors are treated differently. Women are thought to have inferior physical strength to their male attackers and unable to prevent sexual assault. When I shared what had happened to me with male friends, they felt that I should have physically overpowered him. Few were understanding.

Over the years, I've learned that stories like my own are not uncommon. Because I am a man, I have a different set of variables at play than would be the case for a woman. Adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse tend to respond to their sexuality in one of two ways. The first way is to be afraid of sex. The second, which is my own, is to become promiscuous and hyper-sexual. I recognize promiscuous is a loaded term, one used to blame and guilt, but in this context, I think the word choice is apt.

To see this as a moral failing on everyone's part doesn't ring true. That is not enough. We must develop true community and a communal spirit. We cannot criticize injustice when we do not know our neighbors and do not take an active part in their lives. This is a problem as ancient as Moses' who came down from the Mount with his Ten Commandments in hand. In the meantime, I see another generation's bumper crop of prophets descending from the bluffs, coming directly behind my own.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Something Different

I had a busy day of medical appointments today, so I had no time to post.

Before I say another word, I want to preface my reason for posting the video below. Once, I, too, was a teenager and a college student. But I am now a man in his mid-thirties. I'm just not there anymore. Quite by random, I ran across a video of a high school or college aged young woman talking on her cell phone, and I must admit it makes me cringe.

Do not misunderstand. People like her will someday form the next wave of activists and planners to follow me. I am conscious of feeling marginalized and having my words to not be taken seriously because of my youth. But for the sake of good old fashioned curiosity, I found a video taken of a young woman talking on her cellphone while seated on a park bench. She will not talk like this when she is my age. (I hope)

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

I Don't Want to Spoil the Party

I don't want to spoil the party so I'll go
I would hate my disappointment to show
There's nothing for me here so I will disappear
If she turns up while I'm gone please let me know

I've had a drink or two and I don't care,
There's no fun in what I do if she's not there
I wonder what went wrong I've waited far too long
I think I'll take a walk and look for her

Though tonight she's made me sad
I still love her
If I find her I'll be glad
I still love her

I don't want to spoil the party so I'll go
I would hate my disappointment to show
There's nothing for me here so I will disappear
If she turns up while I'm gone please let me know

Though tonight she's made me sad
I still love her
If I find her I'll be glad
I still love her

I've had a drink or two and I don't care
There's no fun in what I do if she's not there
I wonder what went wrong I've waited far too long
I think I'll take a walk and look for her

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Trigger Warnings: You'll Know Them When You See Them

I experienced substantial trauma early in life. Piecing together the few memories I have of those times has produced a skeletal narrative, one that has frequently frustrated me. From time to time, mild side effects of what is probably PTSD crop up. Sometimes I experience spontaneous panic attacks that mercifully subside quickly but since that time, I’ve always been unusually highly-strung and jumpy. Fortunately, each of these symptoms has its life-cycle, from start to finish. Until the past few days, I could always count on them to be temporary.

Saturday afternoon I watched a movie, alone in my apartment. The theme was innocuous enough, one of those black and white film noirs full of witty dialogue, dames, and a rapidly unfolding mystery. Before I knew it, and all at once, I was experiencing substantial psychological pain. Dealing as I do with depression, which is to say regularly, I knew this wasn’t it. I felt dirty and anxious. My hands shook for hours. For most of a day, I was not a sexual being. The very thought of sex in any form with any person disgusted me.

Taking all of this in, I thought to myself, this sounds like something a rape survivor would say. And then I realized, I AM a rape survivor. And I may never know what produced this response. It could have been a subtle thing like certain sounds or even the way a room was lit on the set of the movie. The cause could be one of ten-thousand things, which is one of the most exasperating things of all. During this experience, one is not in control of one's body or one's brain. Subtle and unsubtle reminders of this lacking on your behalf show up as uninvited guests.

I had read the symptoms of what I was now experiencing a time or two before, but without direct experience, I could have never prepared for it. I used to say that I wanted to remember it all. Now I’m not so sure. There may be a reason why my brain has clamped down on past memories like sutures. I thought that knowing every detail would finally create full healing, that I could have blessed resolution forever. In this circumstance, I realize now that it might be best to give my brain the benefit of the doubt henceforth.

One of the debates raging among feminists is the concept of trigger warnings. Skeptics feel that these experiences are more hysteria, more psychosomatic, more Salem Witch Trial than anything else. Others point to survivors of one form of trauma or another, intending to protect them from pain and discomfort whenever possible. I’ve always been wary of how quickly useful terminology can become a parody of itself, cheapening the altruism and intention that went into it in the first place. Yet I do try to be sympathetic when I read another stomach-churning first-person account of a rape and sexual assault.

This doesn’t mean that I ever thought that triggering and trigger warnings were patently false. On the subject of obscenity, Supreme Court justice Potter Stewart famously noted that, for him, he knew it when he saw it. Regarding the after-effects of trauma, I can now say that I, too, know it when I see (or experience) it. I can no longer deny what I am feeling, nor can I take for granted the length of time this episode may last.    

True empathy is difficult for each of us without direct experience. Until Saturday, I was certainly sympathetic towards those who were victims of rape and incest, but there were limits to my compassion. I wasn’t intending to overlook anyone’s private struggle, but I simply did not understand and did not know how to understand. There are genocidal wars currently raging in our world and many humanitarian crises, but beyond my computer and television screen, these are only abstractions. I am not there. I do not know them. And I won’t pretend that even the struggles of my life make me an expert activist. What I can do is to listen. We do too much talking in the First World and not enough introspection.

While a large crowd was gathering and people were coming to Jesus from town after town, he told this parable: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds ate it up. Some fell on rocky ground, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown.”
When he said this, he called out, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”
 His disciples asked him what this parable meant. He said, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables, so that,
“‘though seeing, they may not see;
    though hearing, they may not understand.’
“This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God. Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then evil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. Those on the rocky ground are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.

I include this parable for the benefits of activists of every treasured cause. Some of us will hear us. In the best case scenario, we will produce a hefty crop enough to feed a thousand people. Others may have good intentions at first, but their roots and commitment are not deep enough to sustain their initial devotion, so they wither and die. When times become painful or rough, they will not remain. Still another group will sprout and grow, but they’ll find worldly pleasures like money and immorality more compelling and rewarding.

Until Saturday, though seeing, I did not see. Though hearing, I did not understand. I nodded my head up and down in cadence, intending the best, but somewhat blind. I will not pretend to be smart enough to undo the ways of people, though I pray that my words be amplified by the Holy Spirit. I am a healer by nature. I am a fixer. For those who count themselves as the same, read these words if they give you comfort. Some will hear your message and some will not, but for their own reasons, not yours. It had to be their idea first, even if it really was yours. Being an activist requires humility as much as it requires initiative.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Liason: Work in Progress

What follows is a portion of a short story I've been working on for the last six months. I'm not going to post the whole thing because I intend to have it formally published. In addition, I doubt all of you have time to read a ten-page story. I hope you enjoy it.


She set before me a glass of water and an apple, as though I was a little child. I was her lover, but she associated me in some ways with her teenage daughter. A younger woman might have acted in ways that were sensuous, but maternal became the default for an older one. Some men enjoy being mothered, but I was always too proud to cry out for a nursemaid.

I wasn't the first. One intrepid soul five or so years before me showed up at her front porch with a shotgun. Her long-suffering husband managed to talk his way out of getting a couple good blasts with buckshot. I liked to think of myself as somewhat classier, not behaving like a typical redneck in Clayton County. I had no intention of stealing her away or wrecking her home. Adultery was fun for its own sake. Far from remorseful or feelings of guilt, I enjoyed the secrecy and the sneaking around behind her husband’s back. But mostly I enjoyed the pursuit and the way that dares and impulsive behavior built steadily upon each other.

After the earlier incident, it had been a while since she’d sought a partner, especially one as young as me. Other women her age had found themselves unable to reconcile the years that separated our date of birth. Some had grown sons my age or a little younger, and that fact alone was enough to make them choose total abstinence. I severely doubt a man would draw the same sharp distinctions. Having daughters the same age wouldn't be a similar impediment.

I was raised by women, in a household without a father. The youngest of five, I learned how to behave and analyze the world around me from my mother and my four older sisters. Dad got a rare form of brain cancer shortly after I was born. It took him two and a half years to die, but when he finally passed I was sadly too young to remember him.

Often our present reflects our past. The husband of my latest girlfriend had been diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease, which was slowly robbing him of life. She had barely grieved. She didn’t hate him, but she held him responsible for keeping her hostage. She’d had to live for decades on end in an unfamiliar city, when she’d never wanted to leave her native New York City. In the process, she’d learned to have a healthy respect for Southern culture and Southerners, but knew she would forever be a Yankee.

Where the two had settled was his city, never hers. Mostly she’d resented him in a half-hearted, going-through-the-motions sort of way. Once, she had been very bitter, but time has a way of smoothing out rough edges even if they never go away. They’d stayed married for twenty-five years and over the years she'd devised a thousand rationalizations to justify staying with him. Beyond the one incident of which I was aware, I knew she’d taken other lovers besides me, but I never inquired in detail about them. Everyone finds a way to compensate for a difficult circumstance, some more successful than others.

To her husband and daughter I had materialized out of thin air. But then again, she’d always had her own secret, private life that she never shared with either of them. In reality, I’d been around for a while on the periphery, on the sly. We’d been sneaking around for months. Well before I arrived on the scene, she’d demanded her own space, even partitioning off the house to separate what was hers from what was his. By the time I arrived, he was too impaired to notice or to care. The plan she’d hatched was for me to move in with the family to assist with her husband’s care. Then, when he passed away, I would take his place, kind of like the changing of the guard.

It wasn’t a bad arrangement, all told. He was so ill that we could get away with being a little incautious every now and again. The diagnosis had been terminal from the beginning, so we waited patiently for him to expire. I helped with washing sheets, cleaning bathrooms, and keeping things neat and orderly. He never suspected a thing. He was a quiet sort by nature, like his daughter, and appeared to like me.

Once, I asked her if perhaps we should tell her husband what we were doing. He’d never believe me, she said. I accepted this as truth and assumed that ignorance was bliss. The euphoria of getting away with something was enough that I wanted to preserve the mystery.

She had only one rule. While he was still living, we could never use the bedroom she and her husband shared. Instead, she’d completely remodeled the upstairs attic, installing a reasonably comfortable bed in one corner. The only drawback is that it was unheated in winter and boiling hot in summer. The mattress was a little too small for me so my shins sometimes scraped against the rough, itchy pine boards.

When her husband left this life, I made my way at last into the inner sanctum, a place I’d never been allowed to enter until that very moment. Because of simple curiosity, I was very interested to know what it looked like. We returned from the funeral, energetically casting off our black mourning clothes, having played appropriately pious and grieving until that moment. The transfer was conducted like a coronation, with grave seriousness. She’d gone to the trouble to put clean, smooth sheets on the bed. Now I formally took my place next to her, seated on my throne.

Finally she was ready. The ceremony commenced. The only thing I didn’t like about our lovemaking is that she was a very poor kisser. She had thin, pursing lips, and mine were much more generous in size. Kissing her always felt a little like kissing a Muppet. I’ve always found the act of lip-locking very sensuous, and it disappointed me that we couldn’t seem to strike a balance. By now I knew my efforts in that department were mostly useless, so I decided to explore elsewhere.

I went straight to the source. The labia and all outwards parts of the vagina had completely lost all elasticity with time. They drooped downward so precipitously that it was difficult to know where the opening began. It was as though they had surrendered completely to gravity. Her breasts, lamentably, had taken the same path. They had no remaining definition and elasticity. They sagged. I’d been a touch rough on them the first time we’d had sex, and she quickly corrected me.

You’re going to have to be gentle. She smiled.

I was gentle from then on, but, honestly, she was not gentle with me. She told a story of a sadistic male gynecologist who’d taken pleasure in performing an unnecessary surgery. The procedure had greatly cut down on her sexual sensitivity. Because of this, and at her strict direction, I hunched and twisted my shoulders in a thousand different ways to produce her climax. It was uncomfortable, and her arms always wrapped tightly around my back, pushing hard from below me, side to side against both shoulder blades. It reminded me somewhat of cross-country skiing.

But when it was finished, the result was always the same. I accomplished my intended purpose once again. I was pleased for that. I stared down at her as her eyes rolled back in her head, letting out a heavy sigh. A few second later she regained full consciousness and her glassy eyes re-focused. It was as though she had slowly returned to earth from somewhere else, very far away.

Her paranoia and obsessive behavior knew no limits. I never understood what she was afraid of, really. I thought that if I was the most important person to her, then surely I would be entrusted with a few personal details here and there. But this was not to be. She adopted her moniker as a second skin, as though all vestiges and traces of her given name had been heretofore purged.

None of that mattered at first. For my part, I was strongly attracted to her and always had been. In the beginning, I could barely believe my good luck.

One day, as we were lying together once again, side by side, she spoke her mind. It was the first time she ever talked about us as a unit, as though we were something resembling a couple. She hoped I’d support her in her old age. I said nothing, but the idea did not sit well with me. I was living a fantasy on my own terms, and she had very practical dreams. When in middle age, I would still be reasonably young. She, however, would be a senior citizen. I’d just taken a lengthy part in a caretaker role, albeit not by myself. When it came her time, I might be able to count on her daughter for assistance, but most of the burden of care would fall upon me.

She’d made her sacrifices to keep us together and so had I. For the duration, I'd had to cut ties entirely with my family, who disapproved strongly of my living arrangements. They made their displeasure known loudly, enough that I might well be an orphan. Even with the pain of estrangement, I stayed with her for four long years, because at least there I had some degree of general stability and validation. I had a place to stay, food to eat, and a woman who I assumed loved me. Everything else I was sure I could handle given half a chance.

But after a while, I couldn’t handle the daily third degree when I received came home from work. Where were you? What did you do? Who did you see? She was secretive about every last one of her personal dealings, but mine had to be publicly aired. I couldn’t even pick up items in a grocery store for her. She had to do them herself. Routine errands were out of bounds for me if they involved her in some way. The pursuit and the fantasy were no more. After a year, the novelty was gone and I began to question whether this was really worth it.

All I felt now was hassle. She nixed many plan that I viewed as sensible. I could never learn her real name, real date of birth, and other information she considered private and sensitive. I simply couldn’t understand her fears and she rarely explained them to me in much detail. I chalked everything up to a kind of untreated neurosis and gritted my teeth. She called herself an odd duck, but I am sure I could understand an odd duck. She was something else, something I could never grasp.

After a while, I’d had enough. It wasn’t the looks I got from the faces of her friends and my friends. Those I had long since blocked out entirely. I hadn’t gotten bored with her. It was her daily scrutiny and the lack of transparency on her part that prevented us from having a functional relationship. I’d never gone into this expecting that we would marry, nor had she. 

We were more friends with benefits than anything else. Neither of us wanted to be tied down. I’d thought I could handle it, but after a time it began to drive me crazy. She pleaded with me to stay, but I couldn’t do it any longer. I missed my family and I wanted my life back. Negating all her insecurities had worn me out.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Quote of the Week

"We take, and must continue to take, morally hazardous actions to preserve our civilization. We must exercise our power. But we ought neither to believe that a nation is capable of perfect disinterestedness in its exercise, nor become complacent about a particular degree of interest and passion which corrupt the justice by which the exercise of power is legitimatized."-Reinhold Niebuhr

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Saturday Video

Goodbye Mama goodbye to you, too Pa
Little sister you'll have to wait a while to come along
Goodbye to this house and all its memories
We just got too old to say we're wrong

Got to make one last trip to my bedroom
Guess I'll have to leave some stuff behind
It's funny how the same old crooked pictures
Just don't seem the same to me tonight

There ain't no use in shedding lonely tears, Mama
There ain't no use in shouting at me, Pa
I can't live no longer with your fears, Mama
I love you but that hasn't helped at all

Each of us must do the things that matter
All of us must see what we can see
It was long ago you must remember

You were once as young and scared as me
I don't know how hard it is yet, Mama
When you realize you're growing old
I know how hard is not to be younger

I know you've tried to keep me from the cold
Thanks for all you done, it may sound hollow
Thank you for the good times that we've known
But I must find my own road now to follow

You will all be welcome in my home
I got my suitcase, I must go now
I don't mind about the things you said

I'm sorry, Mama I don't know where I'm going
Remember little sister look ahead
Tomorrow I'll be in some other sunrise
Maybe I'll have someone at my side

Mama, give your love back to your husband
Father, you have taught me well, goodbye
Goodbye Mama, goodbye to you too Pa

When Parents Retire

My parents planned out their retirement methodically, much like Josef Stalin, with their own five-year plan. The did it the way the television commercials say you’re supposed to go about it. Mom went first in August of last year. Dad retired at the first of this summer. Now they've been hard at work fixing twenty-five years of repairs that had been pushed off for this very moment.

This is a momentous occasion for both of them, but their responses have been more muted than I expected. I suppose if you've worked for fifty years or so, the combined labor has a way of making you tired and footsore. The end for both was not an exuberant sprint, but a weary and obliging trot across the finish line. They deserve to live out the rest of their days in relatively calm, even though having reached this stage in their lives reminds me once more that life is finite. The ultimate biological machine, at least so far as we know, is the human body. It tends to wear out after a while.

I want to keep my focus upon them, not myself, but I admit I’m having some serious reservations. Much of my life is tied up in that house and the city in which it is located. My folks will be leaving both behind, retiring to the beach, as so many retired couples do. If I peer out of the front door, my attention focuses briefly, inevitably on the bus stop where I waited for middle school and half of high school. We waited by a storm drain, every morning, at the spot where the concrete met the asphalt of the road.

My bedroom had many configurations, much like an art gallery, one of which showcased a large CD player against one corner. It blared the music of the time, and my latest album purchase. Every inch of the walls, in those days, was covered by store-bought posters of musicians and movie stars. After I left for parts elsewhere, I remember how sparse and bare it seemed when it all had been taken down. My sister moved home for a while, taking my room for herself, scattering clothes across the carpeted floor. She owned several vinyl LPs and a decent player, though her purchases always came from thrift stores and garage sales.

From recent conversation with my parents, I’ve gathered that their fondness for the house is not my own. My father felt that it was too expensive to maintain. He criticized the workmen who built the house, feeling they rushed through the job. But I have to be pragmatic in my nostalgia. Being that two people now inhabit a space designed for five, it is clearly more house than they need. Moreover, it seems that my folks don’t have the same strong sense of ambivalence that I have.

My mother’s childhood home has been visited probably once in twenty years. Her father died after a severe bout of cancer, and the home reminds her of those awful final months and days. After my aunt died, Dad never had much reason to visit his parent's house, either. He might have even been ashamed of it, showing, as it did, the extreme poverty of two career textile mill workers, his own parents, who never passed 9th grade. Dad got out at 17 and never looked back. We regularly visited when my sisters and I were small children, but conditions on the ground changed.

Childhood is difficult regardless of circumstance, but I was an imaginative child. I could escape into my books and later play my guitar with a single-minded focus. As I walk through the house in my mind, I recall a million tiny confrontations and words exchanged. Every corner has a memory, even with a fresh coat of paint or an elaborately re-designed sundeck. I remember my grandmother, an unfiltered cigarette smoker, staking claim to one corner. I remember, years later, her being shocked when I picked the opposite corner to light my own cigarette.

The driveway and basement became a service station to many a car. I knew nothing of automobile repair. Dad would patch together the once-dead until I created a new problem for him to fix. On my teenage trips to Atlanta, two and a half hours away, he would make sure my turn signals were functioning properly and my windshield was clean. He didn't have to do it, and I know many parents would not. Though we've had our differences, I recognize the gesture was one of love, and I am finally willing to take it on its own terms.

The notion of shrines and monuments has never been foreign to me. Some people stare at them uncomprehendingly, briefly. They move on to the next, displaying the same reaction. To me, at least, the house is a monument to lots of things. It was where I first kissed a girl. Until they got run down, both of my father’s parents were present, housed in a basement apartment we had specially built for them. It was, outside by the mailbox, where my rebellious sister sneaked away late at night, arriving at school the next day sleep deprived.

A surprise blizzard in Birmingham dumped 18 inches on an incredulous, uncomprehending public. After the ominous green lightning subsided, around 5 am, I walked out into snow that reached my kneecaps. The scene was pristine, as no one else had yet woken up and sullied the landscape. That image has been seared into my brain, one I know to be uniquely my own.

It will probably be easier than I’m anticipating. Though I’m usually not much of a sentimentalist, here my secret romantic side shines through. Unlike my parents, I will make a silent pilgrimage to the house from time to time, if only to see what the new owners have changed. Much of me exists at that house and I measure my progress using it as a thermometer. I much don’t like the notion of my folks passing away someday, but I know they will. Maybe this can be my own silent ritual, to preserve the memories for myself and my younger relatives.

Friday, July 18, 2014

A Feminist Statement or a Bizarre Nude

This picture has been heavily photoshopped and cropped from its original state, which was more or less a traditional nude. Notice what is left out and what has been kept as is. Sometimes I enjoy playing with art. I hope you enjoy it. I feel inclined this way about once every five years or so. May it liven your Friday.

A Quaker Post for Friday

Part of being granted scholarship money to attend a Quaker conference requires writing up a synopsis. This summary will be presented at Meeting with a Concern for Business, which is the means by which we conduct formal business.

YAFCON 2014 Synopsis

From June 6 to June 11, 2014, approximately 45 Young Adults convened for YAFCON 2014 at Pendle Hill. The focus of the conference was Leadership and the Testimony of Community. Past conferences have highlighted other Quaker Testimonies, as will next year’s YAF con. 

Each day’s scheduled activities included intensive workshops. It should be noted, however, that participation was not one-sided. Group participation was integral to every program, to prevent them from becoming dry, dull lectures. In addition to a variety of Friends who hailed from all across the United States, speakers and participants also came from as far away as Rwanda and Kenya.

Most attendees had specifically Quaker jobs. For example, many worked for AFSC, FCNL, and Quaker Voluntary Service. Their employer provided them the time and the money to attend. Many attenders had known each other for years, through their Yearly Meeting and now their occupation. However, they were no less warm and accepting of newcomers. Regrettably, several Friends were unable to stay for the entire conference due to work demands. 

YAFCON 2014, though enjoyable, was a serious, intense affair. Participants were told that taking part in every activity was likely impossible and that practicing self-care was important. Many found themselves thoroughly drained halfway through each day’s activity, needing to take naps to rest and decompress. Each structured activity lasted for two hours and two sessions were scheduled each day, one in the morning and a second in the evening.

But in the meantime, there was plenty of time for fun. The second full day concluded with a campfire, s’mores, and singing. For those who had energy left, each day, a silly community building activity was scheduled shortly before dinner. While on the topic, dinner offered a variety of food options for all diets. The food was uniformly excellent. The first day we ate Indian food from a local restaurant, but the rest was prepared by the kitchen staff.  

By the end, many had made fast friends with each other. An Excel document was circulated among us, providing contact information of each of us, encouraging us to continue the connections we had made during the week. The atmosphere was pleasant and we learned quite a lot, both about the topics covered in workshops and ourselves.   

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Mother Earth

A tribute to Washington, DC

You may highhand me all the time
Never go my way
But dirt is waiting for you
There's a debt you have to pay

I don't care how great you are
Don't care what you're worth

'Cause when it all ends up
You're going to go back to mother earth

You may own a city
Get all the girls
You may have an aeroplane
Flying all around the world

I don't care how great you are
Don't care what you're worth

'Cause when it all ends up
You're going to go back to mother earth

You may play the race horses
Even on a track
You may have enough money baby
To buy anything you like

I don't care how great you are
Don't care what you're worth

'Cause when it all ends up
You're got to go back to mother earth

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A Queer Controversy in Worship

Before I write another word, I need to qualify my remarks. What follows is not an attempt to retaliate or to prove my superiority. I'll use my exact words from a listserve post that appears to have upset many people. Truthfully, I have probably read the entire page-long passage at least fifteen times by now and still cannot find any fault with it.

I began like this.

Today’s First Day’s Worship in the largest room began auspiciously. An older man talked first, speaking in mournful, doleful terms about how, much earlier in life, he had prayed to ask God to take away his homosexuality. The effort had failed him and now, late in life, he still held severe reservations about being gay. I must admit I wasn’t entirely sure how to best understand his message, which was certainly confessional, though I wished he could have better conveyed his intent by making it twice as long.
The Friend's messages usually take similar form. He laments his homosexuality or his advanced age, or both, and how God has seemed far too distant for comfort. I am not unsympathetic with his message, but without further direction from the Holy Spirit, what comes across is not unlike psychotherapy. By contrast, when it is my turn to speak, I challenge myself to listen for God's implicit direction, a direction that may begin with me, but speaks to everyone gathered. It has been my understanding that all who give vocal ministry have a great responsibility to enhance everyone else's Worship.

Sometimes I wonder if many Friends have forgotten this, or perhaps they never learned in the first place. A wise Friend once told me that a connection with God is like building up the strength and flexibility of a muscle in a gym. I believe this to be an accurate metaphor. My next challenge is how to motivate and lead others to their fullest potential. Those who did not grow up a Christian like me are often ignorant of the terminology, though I have found many commonalities when we've spoken at length.

My post continued.

For those of you who know me, my bisexuality should come as not much of a surprise. I’ve made no pretense of hiding it and I’ve been open about who I am. I recognize I came of age in a more tolerant time than today’s first speaker. The churches in which I spent my time seemed to think that my sexual orientation was not worth getting upset about and was none of their business in any case. No one told me I was going to hell or told me I was committing a grave, unpardonable sin. I recognize I was lucky to have not necessarily been fraught with years of guilt.
And yet, if I said that I wasn’t bothered by my own sexual orientation from time to time, then I would not being speaking truthfully. That being said, neither does it knock me to my knees. Living a defeated life full of unresolved misery may not be the best solution for anyone with any problem. A transgender friend of mine does not intend to make her life’s example a bleak Shakespearean tragedy. Instead, she tries to live boldly as she is, even though her family background is that of Fundamentalist Christianity, even though they do not accept her as she is. Life doesn’t need to beat anyone down into perpetual pain.

This particular passage was interpreted in a manner I never intended. Those of my own generation probably would understand it best and know that I wasn't implying that he should just get over it. What I meant was that there's no reason to harbor such self-hatred, at any time, for any reason. Many of us who are LGBT have reached greater understanding, finding a piece of comforting mind in the process that to the Friend still seems to be elusive. This is a tragedy, but fortunately one that is becoming less and less of a cultural issue.

My transgender Friend will not allow herself to be a dark tragedy.

I am quite fond of a movie released in 1970 entitled The Boys in the Band. As the movie reaches its traumatic conclusion, a character speaks defiantly to the entire room. "Not all faggots bump themselves off at the end of the story!" And this was what I mean, in totality. I'm not sure heterosexuals understand this, or understand the nuance that runs alongside it.

I have accepted the way that I am, for the most part. I have not lain prostrate before God, begging for a reversal of fate. Each of us learns to accept ourselves as we are, at our his or her own pace. Important as it was, I eventually believed that God had better, more important issues on his docket that were pertinent to myself, beyond that of my sexual orientation. I'm not sure what role God plays in my bisexuality, but then again I see God as mystery.
Correcting that I wasn’t straight wasn’t, in my mind, a red alert with all hands on deck. Being bisexual for me is a nagging sort of affair, nothing I would consider horribly painful. This is true for others, of course, but not everyone's coming out experience is identical. As I said just now, who I am still remains a constant nagging worry, not a catastrophic illness. But those who know me personally and intimately have observed for themselves that more self-work is to be done and that my work is not yet concluded.

At a different era, I probably would have lived a closeted life, one where my equally genuine desire for women would deflect attention from same-sex attraction. This is the privilege that many bisexuals have. The Friend who spoke this morning seemed to wonder if God has any real place in his own private anguish and whether he had simply assigned the need out of his own desire for healing power of the Divine. That seems to be a bleak, sad place for me, one in which I hope no one remains any longer than necessary.

God is everywhere, just as he stayed with Jesus as he sweated drops of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane. We are never abandoned, but we need to be guided to the proper questions.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Quakers and Native Americans

This article comes from a Native American author who uses the pen name Ojibwa. Here she discusses the unvarnished truth about the Religious Society of Friends' dealings with Indians. As you will see, much of it is positive, but some of it is not. Spanning the gap between old ways and new ways in changing times was, as you will see, quite a challenge. Every age provides difficulties, and here was one of ours.


A new religious movement began in England in the late 1640's. The Religious Society of Friends, commonly known as Quakers, felt that it was possible for individuals to have a direct experience of Jesus Christ without the mediation of clergy. In addition, they believed in the spiritual equality of women. These two things made it easier for Native Americans, with a shamanistic and egalitarian background, to accept the Quakers among them as missionaries.

In 1681, King Charles II of England granted a land charter to William Penn. The friendly relations between the Quakers and American Indians began when William Penn signed a peace treaty with Tammany, the leader of the Lenni Lenape (Delaware) nation.

In 1755, the Quakers established the Friendly Association for Regaining and Preserving Peace with the Indians by Pacific Measures. In establishing this charity, the Quakers hoped to return to the Indian-European relations that had been established by  William Penn. Unlike other European charities at this time, the new Quaker charity spent its funds on Indians. This caused many non-Quaker Europeans to resent the association. The new charity was intended to be as conspicuous as possible—to both Indians and Europeans—and therefore serve as a shining example of how intercultural relations could be conducted.

In 1760, the Munsee prophet Papounhan and 30 of his followers visited Philadelphia and asked to see the Friends (Quakers) about religion. Unlike other Christian groups, the Quakers did not condemn Indian religions. While in the city, the Indians regularly attended meetings for worship in the Quakers’ Greater Meetinghouse.

In 1765, Quaker missionary John Woolman preached to the Munsee and Delaware. He felt that the Delaware were already communing with the divine light inside them and he sought spiritual tutelage from the Indians.

He wrote, "in mine own eyes I appeared inferior to many amongst the Indians.”

In 1795, the Quakers appointed a committee for the civilization and welfare of Indians. The plan was to introduce among the Indians what the Europeans felt were the necessary arts of civilization, including animal husbandry and the mechanical arts. The following year, the Quakers began their Indian plan by sending tools to most of the Indian nations of the eastern United States.

Following their Indian plan, five Quakers arrived at the Seneca town of Jenuchshadago in 1795. The Seneca, under the leadership of Cornplanter, were hungry because floods and frost had damaged their corn harvest. After consideration of the Quaker request to live among them and teach them, Cornplanter told them:

“Brothers, you never wished our lands, you never wished any part of our lands, therefore we are determined to try to learn your ways.”

Unlike other Christian missionaries, the Society of Friends was willing to accept the theological validity of Indian religious experiences.  The Quakers concentrated on teaching some of the young people how to read and write in English and to teach men and women modern farming techniques. They incorporated moral advice into their practical instruction. In this way, the Quakers attempted to persuade the Seneca to be sober, clean, punctual, industrious: in other words, to take up the Protestant ethic without, necessarily, becoming Protestants.

In 1808, the Quaker missionary William Kirk supervised the Ohio Shawnee as they cleared 400 acres and planted new crops such as potatoes, cabbage, and turnips. The Shawnee purchased breeding stock hoping that hogs and cattle would eventually supply them with the meat they used to get through hunting.

While Kirk was successful in teaching the Shawnee the European methods of farming, he was lax with his paperwork. Having failed to file financial statements with Washington, his mission was terminated by the government. When Kirk left, the Shawnee lost their primary source of technical advice and their experiment in agriculture waned.

In 1827, Seneca leader Red Jacket traveled to New York City to talk with the Quakers about providing aid for his people. Red Jacket trusted few persons other than the Quakers, who could not be intimidated and who were quick to expose a fraud. However, the Quakers were involved with helping the Onondaga and did not have any resources with which they could respond to the Seneca request. Two years later, Red Jacket repeated his request and this time the Quakers provided the Seneca with both farm equipment and sound advice.

The heyday of Quaker involvement with Indians came with President Ulysses Grant’s 1869 Peace Policy in which the federal government turned over the administration of Indian reservation to Christian missionary groups.

In Oklahoma, the Comanche and Kiowa were assigned to the Quakers and the army was removed from the reservation.

In Nebraska, the six reservations were placed in the care of the Hicksite Quakers, the liberal branch of the Society of Friends. A part of the Quaker plan to destroy the political and social structure of the Pawnee was the elimination of the Pawnee scouts, a group which had a long history of serving the United States army. As pacifists, the Quaker brotherhood made no allowance for the Pawnee culture, traditions, or experiences in which war experiences were glorified. Ignoring the reality of drought and grasshoppers, the Quakers saw farming as the way to convert the Pawnee.

The first Quaker Indian agent for the Big Blue Reservation (Otoe-Missouria) in Nebraska and Kansas, found 450 Otoe living in a 25-acre village which contained 30 earthlodges. The Otoe continued to use their traditional agricultural practices and to do some hunting. While the Quaker agents came with good intentions, they failed to understand the organization of the tribe. Therefore they disrupted the traditional leadership pattern, and contributed to tribal factionalism.

In Nebraska, the Quakers assumed control of the Omaha reservation. The tribal chiefs asked that the funds for the Presbyterian boarding school be withdrawn and that two day schools be established. The Quakers treated the Indians as spiritual equals but cultural inferiors who must learn European ways or perish. They stressed allotment of tribal lands and the creation of individual farms.

Overall, the Quaker experiences with the Indians during the 18th and 19th centuries were good with regard to religious tolerance. Many of the Indians, particularly those in the east, found it easy to incorporate Quaker spiritual concepts into their own religion. The Longhouse Religion, founded by Seneca religious leader Handsome Lake, for example, seems to have incorporated a number of Quaker teachings. On the other, the emphasis on war honors among the Plains tribes created some problems for the pacifistic Quakers.

During the 19th century, the Quakers were hampered by an ethnocentrism which saw the Euro-American way of life as superior to the Indian way of life. While Indian religious practices were tolerated, there was an emphasis on changing other aspects of Indian culture, including government and family.

You Have Yet to Win

Don't know where you been
I don't know what you do
But I'm so tired of lies
Why should I keep track of you?

If you won't be
True to me
Then feel free to leave

But don't forget I let you in
And now I let you out again
You have yet to win
My heart, my friend

Don't know where you go
I don't know who you see
But I'm so tired of lies
What do I have to believe?

If you say you're mine
One more time
I'll know your lying to me

And don't forget I let you in
And now I let you out again
You have yet to win
My heart, my friend

Don't know where you go
I don't know what you do
But I'm so tired of lies
Why should I keep track of you?

If you won't be
True to me
Feel free to leave
But don't forget I let you in
And now I let you out again

Don't forget I let you in
And now I let you out again
Don't forget I let you in
And now I let you out again

Don't forget I let you in
And now I let you out again
Don't forget I let you in
And now I let you out again

Monday, July 14, 2014

Hobby Lobby and Quakers

Most of the time when I hear or read about something offensive a Christian group has done, I almost never have to worry that Quakers have somehow been to blame. That is until now. Right on the heels of the controversial Hobby Lobby Supreme Court ruling, George Fox University, a politically conservative Quaker school in Oregon, will prohibit a transgender student from being able to live on campus. Fellow Quaker writer Daniel Borgen has written about the issue in depth.

A little Quaker 101 is in order. The Religious Society of Friends is divided into branches. I’m deliberately oversimplifying a little in my description, but Evangelical Friends form one branch. Conservative Friends form a second. Pastoral Friends are the third. And unprogrammed Friends, like me, form the fourth branch in this description. Unprogrammed Friends are probably the most liberal group. Evangelical Friends are often the most conservative.

I often use the example of Judaism to illustrate my point. Some Jews are Reformed, some are Conservative, and some are Orthodox. Each has very different religious practices and rituals. Though Friends seek to minimize rituals and creedal requirements in our daily dealings and Meetings for Worship, we have our own unique peculiarities from branch to branch. Many Evangelical Friends would not seem out of place among any Evangelical group like Conservative Presbyterians or Southern Baptists.

Many Friends from other branches are dismayed that liberties like these were taken. Not everyone within George Fox’s denomination thinks that George Fox University’s actions throughout the process are in line with their stated theological stance. Two local Oregon pastors, Dr. C. Wess Daniels, Pastor at Camas Friends Church, and Mike Huber, Pastor at West Hills Friends Church, disagree with the college’s position:
“As pastors in NW Yearly Meeting, we urge George Fox University to provide safe housing for Jayce M,” they write. “It is our understanding that our ‘Faith and Practice’ provides no theological grounds whatsoever for excluding transgender students from housing consistent with their gender identity. As Quakers, the biblical teaching that men and women are created in the image of God convicts us that ‘… all persons have equal value and are created in the image of God’ (Vision, Mission and Values: 1). The theological framework of our Faith & Practice affirms the inherent dignity of all people, regardless of their gender identity.
What is shocking to many of us is that any Quaker school would resort to such punitive, exclusionary behavior. This has been as much of a shock to us as it is to others outside the faith. Petitions decrying the action have already been drawn out and signed. Next comes whether those opposed to this heavy-handed action can manage to apply enough pressure to reverse the school’s policy and transphobic attitudes.

The most offensive aspect of this entire sordid affair is how it was conducted, in secret and without input from anyone else.
This week, the U.S. Department of Education closed (and ostensibly denied) Jayce’s complaint, granting George Fox college an unusually speedy “religious exemption,” and for the time being dashing any hope Jayce had of living on campus with the rest of his friends and classmates. Religious exemptions, it seems, are becoming the new normal. Exemptions, however, historically take years to get, according to Southwick. George Fox got theirs in just a few months. They applied for it–in secret–while meeting with Jayce and–at the time–seemingly negotiating in good faith.

“George Fox University (GFU), without telling us, requested a religious exemption to the Title IX regulations regarding housing, restrooms and athletics as they apply to transgender students,” Southwick explains. “GFU requested this exemption from the U.S. Department of Education (ED) a mere three days before denying Jayce’s final appeal to the university and a mere four days before Jayce filed his complaint with the ED. The ED granted the request for the religious exemption with surprising speed–only two months, rather than the years it has taken historically to get an exemption. GFU continues to ignore requests from PQ Monthly for comment.
One wonders if the sneaky, duplicitous manner by which George Fox University obtained an exception will become more prominent by institutes of higher learning in times to come. It flies in the face of our Testimonies, specifically the Testimony of Equality, which was used to justify Civil Rights activism on behalf of African-Americans. Equality has been used in recent years to speak to LGBT rights and marriage equality. Once again, the split between branches in Friends shows itself painfully, revealing the difficulties in what we call cross-branch work.

The Hobby Lobby Supreme Court decision, still festering, has set in motion a thousand other legal actions and forthcoming court cases. The justices who voted in favor may have sought to bring an end to the issue, but they’ve only stirred the pot. Other schools, probably those of a conservative bent, may try to restrict enrollment or housing towards transgender or gender non-conforming students. This is far from the end of the issue, far from the end of ceaseless litigation and brinkmanship.
“To my knowledge, this is the first Christian college to ask the federal government for a permission slip to discriminate against transgender students,” Southwick says. “This is worse than Hobby Lobby because George Fox is largely funded by taxpayer money.
The so-called culture wars strike again. I am reminded that our country can be a very ideologically conservative one, enough so that some members of the Supreme Court may feel they must guard against what they deem as too much liberal intrusion. This decision, in addition to being atrociously bad policy, has opened Pandora’s Box. I foresee those of us on the Left having to put out an endless procession of small fires. On this issue, litigation is the only option available to us, one that is expensive and slow as molasses. We must and we will carry on, but at great expense and expenditure of time. It shouldn’t have to be this way.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Avoiding the Perpetually Dour

Something I wrote today for Quaker Meeting.

Today’s First Day’s Worship began auspiciously. An older man talked first, speaking in mournful, doleful terms about how, much earlier in life, he had prayed to ask God to take away his homosexuality. The effort had failed him and now, late in life, he still held severe reservations about being gay. I must admit I wasn’t entirely sure how to understand his message, which was certainly confessional, though I wished he could have better conveyed his intent by making it twice as long.

For those of you who know me, my bisexuality should come as not much of a surprise. I’ve made no pretense of hiding it and I’ve been open about who I am. I recognize I came of age in a more tolerant time than today’s first speaker. The churches in which I spent my time seemed to think that my sexual orientation was not worth getting upset about and was none of their business in any case. No one told me I was going to hell or told me I was committing a grave, unpardonable sin. I recognize I was lucky to have not necessarily been fraught with years of guilt.

And yet, if I said that I wasn’t bothered by my own sexual orientation from time to time, then I would not being speaking truthfully. That being said, neither does it knock me to my knees. Living a defeated life full of unresolved misery may not be the best solution for anyone with any problem. A transgender friend of mine does not intend to make his life’s example a bleak Shakespearean tragedy. Instead, he tries to live boldly as he is, even though his family background is that of conservative Christianity. Life doesn’t need to beat anyone down into a state of perpetual pain.

What has caused me problems are when I feel a need to conform to a particular standard of masculinity. Though I had athletic ability and excelled as part of my school's sports teams, I could never be male enough for comfort. I’m still more comfortable around women, with whom I can fully relax, feeling no need to respond in uncomfortable ways and without the nerves I always feel otherwise. For all I know, I may in some ways see the world more as a woman does than as a man does.

I have accepted the way that I am, for the most part. I have not lain prostrate before God, begging for a reversal of fate. Each of us learns to accept ourselves as we are, at our own pace. I suppose one might say that I thought God had better, more important issues on his docket. Correcting that I wasn’t straight was not, in my mind, a high priority. Being bisexual for me is a nagging sort of affair, nothing I would consider horribly painful. It was and still remains a constant worry and anxiety, but not a catastrophic illness.

At a different era, I probably would have lived a closeted life, one where my genuine desire for women would deflect attention from same-sex attraction. This is the privilege that many bisexuals have. The Friend who spoke this morning seemed to wonder if God has any real place in his own private anguish and whether he had simply assigned the need out of his own desire for healing power of the Divine. That seems to be a bleak place for me, one I hope no one remains any longer than necessary. God is everywhere, just as he stayed with Jesus as he sweated drops of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane. We are never abandoned, but may we be guided to the proper questions.  

Quote of the Week

"That Amendment requires the state to be a neutral in its relations with groups of religious believers and nonbelievers; it does not require the state to be their adversary. State power is no more to be used so as to handicap religions than it is to favor them."-Hugo Black

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Pearls Before Swine

This is a response to a vocal ministry I gave this past week. I would very much like to know your thoughts and life experiences. I'm sure there are some very rich, very enlightening stories that would encourage everyone's comprehension and contribution.

First of all, here are the two Scriptural passage to which I made reference. Both are from the Gospel of Matthew.

1. While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew's house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. But when the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with such scum?"

2. The next comes from the Sermon on the Mount. Don't waste what is holy on people who are unholy. Don't throw your pearls to pigs! They will trample the pearls, then turn and attack you.

How do we reconcile both passages? The Jesus of the first passage deliberately places himself in the company of swine, of unholy, unredeemable people. He believes that salvation is for everyone, especially those who are social outcasts. The Jesus of the second passage issues a warning for those who would try to heal or enlighten those with nefarious intentions. As Quakers, we often give people the benefit of the doubt and pride ourselves for the work we do for those who society often deems wasted effort. This has left us open for criticism that we're little more than naive do-gooders.

In a film released in the early 1960's called Viridiana, the Spanish director Luis Buñuel uses the character of an idealistic nun to advance his narrative. She seeks to feed and provide for the poor of her village, only to find that they take advantage of her good graces time and time again.

Does our good work depend only on circumstances and proper discernment? How much control do we really have over our fate? Many of us work in helping professions, with lofty and idealistic intentions. I know many Peace Corps alumnus, or those who have spent lots of time overseas in pursuit of helping the poor or underprivileged.

It seems that our life experiences make a great deal of difference in how we separate potential harm from the opportunity for service. Should we be cautious of who we intend to help while at the same time using our intuition to know where our services are needed? If so, how do we learn this sort of insight?

Saturday Video

The sweet pretty things are in bed now of course
The city fathers they’re trying to endorse
The reincarnation of Paul Revere’s horse
But the town has no need to be nervous

The ghost of Belle Starr she hands down her wits
To Jezebel the nun she violently knits
A bald wig for Jack the Ripper who sits
At the head of the chamber of commerce

Mama’s in the fact’ry
She ain’t got no shoes
Daddy’s in the alley
He’s lookin’ for the fuse
I’m in the streets
With the tombstone blues

The hysterical bride in the penny arcade
Screaming she moans, “I’ve just been made”
Then sends out for the doctor who pulls down the shade
Says, “My advice is to not let the boys in”

Now the medicine man comes and he shuffles inside
He walks with a swagger and he says to the bride
“Stop all this weeping, swallow your pride
You will not die, it’s not poison”

Mama’s in the fact’ry
She ain’t got no shoes
Daddy’s in the alley
He’s lookin’ for the fuse
I’m in the streets
With the tombstone blues

Well, John the Baptist after torturing a thief
Looks up at his hero the Commander-in-Chief
Saying, “Tell me great hero, but please make it brief
Is there a hole for me to get sick in?”

The Commander-in-Chief answers him while chasing a fly
Saying, “Death to all those who would whimper and cry”
And dropping a barbell he points to the sky
Saying, “The sun’s not yellow it’s chicken”

Mama’s in the fact’ry
She ain’t got no shoes
Daddy’s in the alley
He’s lookin’ for the fuse
I’m in the streets
With the tombstone blues

The king of the Philistines his soldiers to save
Puts jawbones on their tombstones and flatters their graves
Puts the pied pipers in prison and fattens the slaves
Then sends them out to the jungle

Gypsy Davey with a blowtorch he burns out their camps
With his faithful slave Pedro behind him he tramps
With a fantastic collection of stamps
To win friends and influence his uncle

Mama’s in the fact’ry
She ain’t got no shoes
Daddy’s in the alley
He’s lookin’ for the fuse
I’m in the streets
With the tombstone blues

The geometry of innocence flesh on the bone
Causes Galileo’s math book to get thrown
At Delilah who sits worthlessly alone
But the tears on her cheeks are from laughter

Now I wish I could give Brother Bill his great thrill
I would set him in chains at the top of the hill
Then send out for some pillars and Cecil B. DeMille
He could die happily ever after

Mama’s in the fact’ry
She ain’t got no shoes
Daddy’s in the alley
He’s lookin’ for the fuse
I’m in the streets
With the tombstone blues

Where Ma Rainey and Beethoven once unwrapped their bedroll
Tuba players now rehearse around the flagpole
And the National Bank at a profit sells road maps for the soul
To the old folks home and the college

Now I wish I could write you a melody so plain
That could hold you dear lady from going insane
That could ease you and cool you and cease the pain
Of your useless and pointless knowledge

Mama’s in the fact’ry
She ain’t got no shoes
Daddy’s in the alley
He’s lookin’ for the fuse
I’m in the streets
With the tombstone blues

Friday, July 11, 2014


This is a dream I have every now and again. The dream is true, but the details are not. If you can figure it out, please leave a comment or e-mail, because I don't have a clue.

I wake up in the morning with a song stuck in my head most every morning. It dovetails well with the same reoccurring dream I've been having for years. In it, I’m waiting to perform at a very small venue with a backdrop of bricks and mortar, sitting on the front row, my guitar in hand. A woman takes a place next to me. One can tell through body language that she finds me attractive, but before long I recognize she has some unexplained, severe medical problems. I’m not sure whether it’s periodic epilepsy, a severe bodily tremor, or some other short-term neurological disorder.

My friend and fellow musician, second on the bill, points this out, as if I ought to be cautious. I think she’s harmless. I try to be kind and receptive to fans, because as a fan myself, I have been treated coldly by members of bands or by solo artists. I introduce myself in between set changes. She smiles, looking me in the eye, but says nothing. I wonder if I should try again, but decide against it. Her eyes now focus deliberately forward, seeing nothing and everything at once.

She wears a short dress while sitting awkwardly on her chair. I can’t help but manage to easily look up her skirt, but the same would be true for anyone nearby. Once I knew a woman privy to the same accidental problem, someone who had such low body fat that her knees did not completely meet. I used to worry that she had an eating disorder, but I soon learned that her medical issues were more complex than that. It was easy for her to succumb to the same inadvertent problem with modesty.

My fan followed me everywhere that night, with great loyalty. It’s difficult for me to turn people away because I’m an intrinsically lonely person by nature. I wish I hadn’t spent an isolated childhood largely by myself. If I was more well-adjusted, I might be more discriminating in a healthy sort of way. My fellow musician friend learned over again, speaking directly into my right ear. Concerned, he told me to cut her loose immediately, but I responded that she wasn’t a problem to me, at least. She’d asked only to sit next to me. It’s difficult to be irritated by someone who never talks.

I picked up the guitar for lots of reasons. Blessed with musical ability, I never found my instrument until later in life. My mother started me on piano as a young child, but I was unable to integrate the left hand and right hand parts enough to be proficient. Almost every Americans wants to play the guitar, but most of them languish inside closets, once their owners find the challenge too daunting. I was one of the few who picked it up and kept at it.

At the end of every set, I worked the crowd. Specifically, I gravitated towards those in the back of the room who were clearly impressed, showing their thoughts plainly. The more disciplined musicians had small flyers and business cards printed up for situations like these, advertising other shows scheduled in the future. These they dispersed to anyone who might show half an interest. I was much less focused, likely to my own detriment. My interest was on whatever I could get. And before I write a single word further, let me say that finding a partner for later is much more challenging than one ever might think. Even so, I enjoyed the chase, even if the odds were steep.

My fan did not change position the whole show, through three separate acts. It was as if she expected me to return. Flattered at the single-minded devotion, I returned to my seat and patiently waited for amps and keyboards and snare drums to be brought in from the cold and set down strategically on the stage. She grabbed my hand in hers and held it there in my lap. I was shocked, but not unpleasantly so. It seemed so out of character that I couldn’t help but marvel that she’d had the courage.

I’ll concede that my first thought was to shake loose from her, since I wanted to play the field a bit longer. But as that old idiom goes about a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, I began to take her more seriously.

I’d been the opener on the bill with three other local acts with slightly bigger names following me. Nothing kept me here aside from hearing the sets of other groups, most of whom I knew well because we always played the same venues. I estimated that the last band might play another hour and that would be it for the evening. I’d heard these songs multiple times before. If I ducked out the backdoor into the late autumn chill, it wouldn't matter.

C’mon. Let’s go. I motioned for the exit.

She smiled, keeping silent. She grasped my hand in hers, like before. I rarely ever opted for pure adventure, for any situation where I wasn't reasonably sure of the outcome. There had been no discussion of any sort, not where we were going, not what expectations had been set, not her thoughts, desires, or potential reservations.

She was pretty in an unusual sort of way. Her blonde hair was kept fashionably short and her clothes had clearly been purchased at a thrift store. On occasion, she seemed to have an involuntary case of the shakes or tremors, the same I'd noticed inside. During these episodes her facial expression turned momentarily frustrated and upset. But when they subsided, she resumed smiling at me.

Should we have a late dinner at a diner? This was often how I spent late evenings on nights where I was gigging. I kept obscenely late hours and they were the only places open at those times. She gave no indication of preference, and I supposed I’d need to make the decision for the two of us.

My eyes opened at that exact instant. I felt disappointed. Some dreams leave you desperate for escape. Others make you feel as though you were more than halfway done with an interesting book, only to learn that the rest of the pages weren't enclosed. The latter was true here. But the music remained, as though someone had pressed play, then repeat. At least I had that much.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Candy Says

Candy says I've come to hate my body
And all that it requires in this world
Candy says I'd like to know completely
What others so discretely talk about

I'm gonna watch the blue birds fly over my shoulder
I'm gonna watch them pass me by
Maybe when I'm older

What do you think I'd see
If I could walk away from me?

Candy says I hate the quiet places
That cause the smallest taste of what will be
Candy says I hate the big decisions
That cause endless revisions in my mind

I'm gonna watch the blue birds fly over my shoulder
I'm gonna watch them pass me by
Maybe when I'm older

What do you think I'd see
If I could walk away from me?

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Queer Activism: What I Left Out

On Monday, I wrote a post I entitled "Queer Activism: When We Are Our Own Worst Enemy" Since then, I recognize that I may need to hash out a few points in greater detail.

If the LGBT community has reclaimed terms once thought to be very hurtful, why should we stop at "queer" or "dyke"? In the foreseeable future, could the same standard be applied to terms like "tranny" or "fag"? One answer might be that it's only a matter of time. "Queer" works well for everyone and is a term I assign to myself more readily than LGBTIQ or whatever it will be next year. And this leads to an overdue argument about Freedom of Speech rights.

And on the subject of "tranny", as much as I recognize the severe stigma assigned to it, we live in a country supposedly predicated on the First Amendment. Freedom of speech is important and I grit my teeth and tolerate hateful attitudes as long as mine are given the same weight. Arguments advocating for a greater good, by which everyone ought to adhere, have their place but must be considered more delicately.

Queer theorist Jack Halberstam wrote the original column I referenced. He provides additional context to what I've written.
Much of the recent discourse of offense and harm has focused on language, slang and naming. For example, controversies erupted in the last few months over the name of a longstanding nightclub in San Francisco: “Trannyshack,” and arguments ensued about whether the word “tranny” should ever be used. 
These debates led some people to distraction, and legendary queer performer, Justin Vivian Bond, posted an open letter on her Facebook page telling readers and fans in no uncertain terms that she is “angered by this trifling bullshit.” Bond reminded readers that many people are “delighted to be trannies” and not delighted to be shamed into silence by the “word police.”
Bond and others have also referred to the queer custom of re-appropriating terms of abuse and turning them into affectionate terms of endearment. When we obliterate terms like “tranny” in the quest for respectability and assimilation, we actually feed back into the very ideologies that produce the homo and trans phobia in the first place! 
Additionally, the equally contentious concept of triggering and trigger warnings should be put in proper perspective. I'll use myself as an example. From time to time, particular environmental stimuli can cause a panic attack so powerful that I want to crawl out of my skin. For reasons therapy has never been able to explain, I can't watch the body-switching movie Freaky Friday.When it was shown in front of my fifth grade class one dull Friday afternoon, I had to flee and sat quietly in the hallway by myself.

This doesn't happen all the time, thankfully. If it did, I wouldn't be able to live a normal life.

This is Halberstam's take, for better or for worse.
And so, while in the past, we turned to Freud’s mystic writing pad to think of memory as a palimpsest, burying material under layers of inscription, now we see a memory as a live wire sitting in the psyche waiting for a spark. Where once we saw traumatic recall as a set of enigmatic symptoms moving through the body, now people reduce the resurfacing of a painful memory to the catch all term of “trigger,” imagining that emotional pain is somehow similar to a pulled muscle –as something that hurts whenever it is deployed, and as an injury that requires protection.

Triggering is either a real ailment or often a feigned one. It occurs to me that we've never really heard the stories of those who are susceptible to triggering and the forms that triggering takes. Until then, we're chasing at shadows. Talking past each other is no way to find common ground, which is what we need. There's too much mistrust and too much paranoia present, which has kept us in shackles for what seems like eons. It's time to act like adults.