Friday, October 31, 2014

Sylvia Plath, Unconventional Gay Icon

Gay icons, as regularly defined, are frequently campy, eccentric women in the entertainment industry. The first that comes to mind is Cher and, more recently, Lady Gaga. But they are far from the only ones. My favorite gay icon is Sylvia Plath. If identification with the self is what ultimately makes a gay icon, Plath is a no-brainer for me. The two of us struggled with bipolar disorder, a failed suicide attempt, and possessed an compulsion to pack every minute full of productivity. This spurred us onward, but came at a great cost, hers more than mine.

While in college, I routinely drove from Birmingham to Atlanta to visit a friend who was enrolled in art school. The school provided recording equipment to its students and was deserted during the weekend, allowing the two of us nearly unlimited access to the premises. On Saturday mornings, we lugged my amp, two guitars, and a bass guitar up temporary wooden scaffolding. Drums were cumbersome and would be overdubbed later.

The adjacent art museum was being remodeled. The art college was housed in the same building as the symphony orchestra. It seemed like an odd place for students to congregate, much less take classes.

A new musician proficient on the keyboards joined us during one marathon session that started early and ended shortly before the building closed for the night. He was openly gay. When I launched into an impromptu spoken word version of "Lady Lazarus", he immediately joined in with me, word for word, much to my surprise. Around the same time, I viewed the US version of the Showtime television show Queer as Folk, which identified Plath as an especially important influence upon the lives and consciousness of queer men.

In my role as unofficial Plath scholar, I've read several biographies of Sylvia Plath, some sympathetic, some not. Second-wave feminists of the 1960's and 1970's saw her life and situation as tragic, one ended early because of her husband's infidelity and heartless behavior. This is an enticing proposition and I understand their beliefs, even if I might disagree somewhat with their conclusions.

Ted Hughes was far from an angel. That much is true. He was physically and emotionally abusive from time to time, a demanding partner. And yet, some believe that this rough treatment was perversely what she wanted. During his life, women's rights activists defiantly interrupted Hughes' poetry readings until being quickly escorted out. Those with the same beliefs have chiseled her married name "Hughes" from Plath's tombstone on at least three separate occasions. Hughes did himself no favors, and his own erratic behavior and poor judgment at the time of his wife's death did nothing to exonerate him from any culpability in his wife's death.

And yet, to show Plath without any fault herself is incorrect. She could be curt and spiteful, sarcastic, and utterly tactless, but to excuse her neuroses would be oversimplifying matters considerably. It is curious that a strong personality like hers possessed sexual fantasies and desires that might seemingly be more in keeping with someone else, someone far more passive. She had always fantasized about being physically dominated by her partner, but boyfriends prior to Hughes had taken a submissive role. Sylvia wanted to be picked up bodily by a strong, virile man and to be completely ravaged by him in bed.

One wonders if she had lived in a time where topics like BDSM and consensual sadomasochism were more commonplace, whether she would have articulated her desires with more detail. Prior to Hughes, relationships terminated and began at her insistence, not theirs. Most of the men who courted her fell madly in love, and she resisted committing solely to any of them, instead bouncing back and forth between three or so at the same time. What Hughes meant to Plath is somewhat unclear, but he brought out animalistic impulses in her. Upon their first meeting, she famously bit his cheek hard enough to draw blood.

But to return to this question of gay icon, one I have raised before, there must be some sort of commonality that draws us to the same faces and motifs. Words and concepts alone may be insufficient explanations. Plath's tragic death has overshadowed almost everything else. Her confessional brand of poetry, best expressed in the style used in her last batch of poems entitled Ariel, would lead the reader to believe that her primary means of poetic expression was macabre and morose.

Her first and only novel, The Bell Jar, has moments of mirthful humor mixed in with an intense account of a swelling mental breakdown that nearly kills her protagonist, Esther Greenwood. To call Plath a ticking time bomb is unfair to those who struggle with mental illness. I have undergone my own tragedies, but they did not break me. Instead, they made me stronger. Plath never had the opportunity to defend herself or explain her motives. Few external factors have pushed me to the breaking point. I have made no suicide pacts and I possessed the strength to cry out for help when I was at my worst.

The controversial 2003 movie Sylvia, starring Gwyneth Paltrow, shows a conversation between Ted Hughes and Sylvia's mother, Aurelia Plath. In it, Aurelia implies strongly to Ted that her daughter is emotionally unbalanced, referencing her earlier suicide attempt. She is to be watched closely. Aurelia wants Ted to know her full medical history before committing to a relationship with her daughter. This desire to humanize Hughes likely never happened.

Hughes' infidelity, according to the conventional wisdom, was the end of his wife. She flew into a rage, plowed through all the stages of grief, and felt thoroughly betrayed. It is possible that this time-honored theory is entirely correct, but there are others. It is true that she was left to care for two small children by herself during the worst winter in decades. It was only at the very end of her life that she began taking antidepressant medication, which take weeks to work effectively. Plath was at the end of her rope by then, disinclined to wait any longer.

Mental illness can be triggered by stress and cruelty, but the circumstances that led to my own near-death experience came out of nowhere. About the same time my first episode began, when I was 16, my mother told me that she knew something was wrong with me almost immediately after I was born. I cried too frequently, I was too tightly wound, I would get easily overstimulated, and I startled at the slightest sound.

Plath was never formally diagnosed with bipolar disorder, but because she kept an extensive letter correspondence with many people, especially her mother, it is possible to make a more-or-less accurate posthumous diagnosis. Records indicate several periods of debilitating depression. Stress lowered her immune system's effectiveness and led to a series of sinus infections. Depression and physical illness often occur simultaneously.

I ask again. What is so entrancing in the queer mind about someone who left behind great promise, who never even reached middle age? Is it her defiant femininity, or the ferocity of her writing? I identify routinely with the feminine side of myself, finding something compelling about unorthodox women with unique talent. Sylvia Plath is that, for certain.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Space Oddity

Ground Control to Major Tom
Ground Control to Major Tom
Take your protein pills and put your helmet on

Ground Control to Major Tom (Ten, Nine, Eight, Seven, Six)
Commencing countdown, engines on (Five, Four, Three)
Check ignition and may God's love be with you (Two, One, Liftoff)

This is Ground Control to Major Tom
You've really made the grade
And the papers want to know whose shirts you wear
Now it's time to leave the capsule if you dare

"This is Major Tom to Ground Control
I'm stepping through the door
And I'm floating in a most peculiar way
And the stars look very different today"

For here
Am I sitting in a tin can
Far above the world
Planet Earth is blue
And there's nothing I can do

Though I'm past one hundred thousand miles
I'm feeling very still
And I think my spaceship knows which way to go

Tell my wife I love her very much
She knows

Ground Control to Major Tom
Your circuit's dead, there's something wrong
Can you hear me, Major Tom?
Can you hear me, Major Tom?
Can you hear me, Major Tom?

Can you "Here am I floating round my tin can
Far above the Moon
Planet Earth is blue
And there's nothing I can do."

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Manuscript Progress

News arrived from the editor of the literary journal where I submitted a short story. The editor remains interested in the piece, but I have additional work to do prior to publication. She made two key suggestions. It was her judgment that my story read more like an essay than conventional fiction. Additionally, she highlighted instances in the text that, in her opinion, told rather than showed. According to her guidelines, the story will need to be completely reworked.

I'm left with a bit of a quandary. I began blogging eight years ago, whereupon the short essay was the preferred medium. First person narrative is my strength, and now I've been asked to go outside my comfort zone. I'm unsure of precisely how to proceed, but I've been giving it thought. This same story is in competition elsewhere in its current form. I have faith in my original vision. Being that I have other options available to me is my ace in the hole.

Telling versus sharing was of paramount importance to me when I was in college writing workshop. Believe it or not, I began my writing career as a poet. My mentor while in undergrad was a poet by trade, and I took two of his very challenging workshops because I respected him so highly. My natural form, I quickly came to understand, is prose rather than the poetic form. And yet I have retained my affinity for clever wordplay and irony.

For the next few weeks, I'm going to post here a little less frequently. I have a thousand loose ends to tie up. In particular, I spent yesterday taking a one-page outline and expanding it to a four page story draft. I have about five rough outlines that need completing, most of which I post here in embryonic form. That said, away I go.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Speed Trials

He's pleased to meet you underneath the horse
In the cathedral with the glass stained black
Singing sweet high notes that echo back
To destroy their master

May be a long time 'til you get the call-up
But it's sure as fate and hard as your luck
No one'll knows where you are
It's just a brief smile crossing your face

Running speed trials standing in place

When the socket's not a shock enough
You little child what makes you think you're tough?
And all the people you think you're above
They all know what's the matter

You're such a pinball yeah you know it's true
There's always something you come back running to
Follow the path of no resistance

It's just a brief smile crossing your face
Running speed trials standing in place
It's just a brief smile crossing your face
Running speed trials all over the place

Monday, October 27, 2014

Transgender Lives, Transgender Rhetoric

I am proud of my house of worship in many ways, but its progressive stance towards LGBTs is a major reason why. Organized religion has unnecessarily wounded many queer attenders to Worship, but I have long believed that God is available to all and draws no distinctions based on sexual orientation or gender identity. My Meetinghouse is located in an area that began life highly affluent and trendy, grew rough and became a gay ghetto, then returned to prominence in more recent years. I work with several people who identify as LGBT and will continue to do so as frequently as I do now.

Over the past several weeks, I've gotten to know three transgender Quakers, seeking an emphasis upon active listening. I don't want to be praised for doing my homework, but I do want to continue being an effective ally. Everyone's story is different, but there are many commonalities between each of us that I seek to underscore in this dialog.

Transsexualism has become increasingly politicized for at least the last decade, and while there is nothing intrinsically wrong with that, liberal activist overkill should be avoided whenever possible. Midway through my discussions, which I hoped would prove me intensely literate on the topic, one transwoman cut our talk short. I don't really want to talk about being trans anymore. It wasn't said nastily, but matter-of-factly instead. She changed the subject and our conversation took a very different direction from there.

I was, of course, embarrassed with my choice of topic and how I had persisted. I had hoped this command of subject would make her feel that I genuinely cared. I even apologized, but was told that apologies were not necessary. It was an awkward moment for me, since I have slowly stored up knowledge of those who do not easily fit into the narrowly defined parameters of male or female. In Gender Studies terminology, we might call that behavior gender non-conforming. For many activists, throwing oneself into a crusade is easy enough, but crusades can become us versus them without much difficulty.

For a moment, I felt as though I'd become the personification of the good, back-patting, well-meaning liberal. One of my favorite movies is called Fritz the Cat. The first X-rated cartoon, it gets in some effective digs on white progressives who want to be praised for their virtuously tolerant attitudes and are unintentionally condescending in spite of themselves.

I have slowly come to terms with the fact that my gender has no clear association with either male or female. A brief glance at my exterior would seem to negate that view. I'm six feet tall with broad shoulders, a long torso, and copious body hair. Nothing about my physical presentation is feminine in the least. Engage me in conversation, however, and it is possible to have some understanding of how I am neither male, nor masculine.

The transwoman I referenced earlier began taking Estrogen around a month ago. Her voice has dropped an octave since then. Prior to transition, I would have called her gender ambiguous, so her path towards passing as a woman would be far easier than my own. A second transwoman is two inches taller than me and has the same sort of broad shouldered physique that I do. But it is a testament to her diligence and outward work that I never made the connection of where she began until someone else let me know.

I seem to have gone in the exact opposite direction. Four years ago, I was diagnosed with hypogonadism, which in laymen's terms is a medical state of abnormally low levels of testosterone. I inject testosterone in oil form into the muscles of my thigh once a week. Testosterone Replacement Therapy converts some T into Estrogen. Because of this, I take a pill to lower my Estrogen levels to manageable levels.

What I have been taking is a regimen a female-to-male transsexual might pursue. When picking up the prescription for the Estrogen reducer, months ago, a pharmacy worker responded to me in a hostile, or at least sarcastic fashion. My pharmacy ID was typed in wrongly, and I have been registered as Ms. rather than Mr. in their computer system for the past six years. I could have had it changed, but a part of me feels comfortable being female, so I have no intention to make a correction.

Whatever it is you call yourself, said the jaded pharmacist, handing over another month's worth of medication and a receipt. It's difficult to assign true motives to a total stranger, but I surmised that he felt that insurance shouldn't cover medication for those undergoing transition. I rarely encounter transphobic attitudes, but I live in an overwhelmingly blue city. Deep into Virginia or Maryland, respecting gender identity would not be assigned the same priority.

In the meantime, I'm still learning about myself. One of the transwomen I spoke of earlier said that the more she stuffed down and denied her gender dissonance, the stronger those desires came back. I'm not sure this describes me entirely. Gay men and women routinely identify as the opposite gender to their own, even going as far as wearing clothing designed for the opposite sex.

One of the lesbians at Meeting stands out because she's a ravenous football fan and wears the jersey of her favorite NFL team every Sunday. If I had more courage, I might add additional elements of women's clothing beyond those which I do already. And if this ever became a topic for discussion with someone else, I could keep it going for hours, if necessary.

Analysis is my stock in trade, but I do recognize that focusing on specific part of a person's identity becomes a presentation of facts, figures, conjecture, and emphasis. Personal anecdote is more important, because it makes our understanding three-dimensional, not the two-dimensional world of continued emphasis and keystrokes.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Quote of the Week

"I am not bothered by the fact that I am not understood. I am bothered when I do not know others."-Confucius.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Legalizing Marijuana in Washington, DC

In ten days, disillusioned Americans will be privy to a low-turnout election, one that will showcase massive voter apathy. The ballot in the District of Columbia will elect a new mayor, retain and replace city council members, and elect shadow representatives who would take power immediately upon the passage of DC statehood. Turnout here is likely to be as light as in many polling precincts in the country.

One portion of the ballot has created some buzz in the city, at least, if not in the country. Initiative 71, if enacted, which is likely, would further decriminalize marijuana. DC's proposed initiative would not go as far as Colorado's, because it does not legalize dealing, establish places to purchase the drug, or set out the means to accumulate a stockpile of pot with the intent to distribute. The major rationale for passing the ordinance would be to prevent youth of color from being jailed for minor offenses.

This initiative, if passed, will make it lawful under District of Columbia law for a person 21 years of age or older to:

possess up to two ounces of marijuana for personal use;
grow no more than six cannabis plants with 3 or fewer being mature, flowering plants, within the person’s principal residence;
transfer without payment (but not sell) up to one ounce of marijuana to another person 21 years of age or older; and
use or sell drug paraphernalia for the use, growing, or processing of marijuana or cannabis.

Being that growing one's own marijuana would be the only legal way to obtain it, many DC residents will no doubt try their hand. Those who grow pot illegally recognize that marijuana can be a fussy crop needing lots of care and attention. The average citizen may find himself or herself quickly frustrated. Marijuana is not a house plant, though for a time I predict it will grace the window sills of many apartments and houses.

Opinion polls have showed the measure sailing through into enactment without much difficulty. Being that the District of Columbia is under the ultimate authority of the U.S. Congress, some speculation holds that Congress will strike down the law. Whether it does or not is unclear. Initiative 71 does invalidate federal drug policy, by strict definition, but Congress is wary of seeming high-handed in city politics.

A poll in January of this year showed a clear majority for legalization/decriminalization. 63% approve, while only 34% oppose. One wonders if the next legislative step, whenever that might be, would fully legalize marijuana. I myself will vote Yes, even though I have not used pot for recreational purposes in ten years. I don't imagine I will resume my earlier practice for the rest of my life, as it is associated in my mind with being a teenager and, following that, being a college student.

Obtaining the drug legally, under the current language, will be a pain and it provides only hollow consolation. It would still be possible to be arrested for purchasing marijuana from someone else, or making overtures to an undercover cop. One expects that the police might be inclined to turn their head and focus on other business when it comes to the sale and purchase of marijuana. Indeed, in my own life, being assigned a low-priority by law enforcement is the only way I likely escaped being arrested on several occasions for simple possession.

Cannabis was integral to the counterculture of the Sixties, and like many children of baby boomer parents, few of us see much wrong with the practice. One of my few reservations is a concern over the tar inhaled by the smoker, which vastly exceeds that of tobacco. Other, healthier ways of consuming cannabis exist, but this country must first be willing to acknowledge the extent of the hypocrisy of its drug policy. It goes much deeper than this so-called gateway drug.

I agree that young black men are bait for an overzealous prison system, but this argument has always appeared like a half-measure. I would like to believe that fewer drug convictions would unclog the wheels of justice and remove the log-jam, but the cynical side of me questions whether one single ballot initiative can make even a dent. Progress will come slowly to many states and regions and the scourge of racism combined with drug policy is a complicated one.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Early Saturday Video, Birthday Edition

I turn 34 today!

You say it's your birthday
It's my birthday too, yeah
They say it's your birthday
We're gonna have a good time
I'm glad it's your birthday
Happy birthday to you.

Yes we're going to a party party
Yes we're going to a party party
Yes we're going to a party party.

I would like you to dance--Birthday
Take a cha-cha-cha-chance-Birthday
I would like you to dance--Birthday

You say it's your birthday
Well it's my birthday too--yeah
You say it's your birthday
We're gonna have a good time
I'm glad it's your birthday
Happy birthday to you

Thursday, October 23, 2014

George (Fox) and Me

Well before I read the story of George Fox's trials and tribulations as a young man, I did my own wanderings. Fox, for the uninitiated, was the founder of the Religious Society of Friends, commonly known as the Quakers. Mine tended to be from church to church, seeking some person or Divine force to heal me. These travels always corresponded with a severe period of clinical depression, which scared me with its ferocity and longevity.

This is why some modern-day scholars have postulated that Fox may have been a manic depressive like me. When churches proved insufficient for me, I visited friends and acquaintances, often showing up unannounced. Almost everyone was responsive and concerned, never seeing me as an imposition, which I appreciate to this day.

When I lived in Atlanta, close to a decade ago, I began attending an Episcopal church. A man around my age gratefully showed me the ropes. He opened the hymnal to the right page and showed me the proper way to take communion. After attending for a month, I peered down at the order of service. Printed at the bottom was an invitation to be anointed by a priest. At the end of the service, I was guided into a smaller room than the sanctuary, one usually used for silent prayer or contemplation.

The priest was a kindly blonde Australian woman in middle-age who asked me the nature of my sin. I was desperately afraid to voice it, not wishing to give the cursed part of me additional power over me. She asked three times, then smiled and opened a circular container full of oil and wax. With an index finger, she anointed me on my forehead in the sign of a cross. I left, believing my troubles would soon depart. They did not, entirely, but I was sure I felt a change. At least I had made an immediate connection with another person, and hopefully God in the process.

I'm not equating myself with George Fox, but I do notice similarities between his life and mine. Here is how a sympathetic source describes Fox's deeds and acts.

For this reason, he [Fox] left his family Drayton-in-the-Clay in September 1643, to seek the Lord in isolation without being drawn into conversations with anyone; he left any town where he began to be recognized and drawn into conversation. While in Barnet, Fox would alternately shut himself in his room for days at a time, or go out alone into the countryside. As he continued to seek, he experienced very troubling temptations. He thought intensely about Jesus' temptation in the desert, which he compared to his own spiritual condition, but drew strength from his conviction that God would support and preserve him.

He fasted much and walked alone all night in the countryside; during these walks he experienced most of his revelations from Christ. At times, he attracted the attention of various religious scholars, but he rejected them because he did not feel they lived up to the doctrines they taught. Fox did seek help and advice from priests, but "found no comfort from them," as they too were unable to help or even give advice with the matters that were troubling him.
One priest in Worcestershire advised him to take tobacco (which Fox declined) and sing psalms; another, in Coventry, was helpful at first but lost his temper when Fox accidentally stepped off the path onto a flower in his garden; a third priest/physician suggested that bloodletting would help him; but they could not draw a drop of blood from his body or head because he was so dried up from his griefs.
Disillusioned by the inability of the priests to help him and still subject to the spiritual temptations, he returned home in June 1644. But there was no help to be found there either. Fox's family and friends offered either marriage or military service as a solution to his troubles. He left to travel in isolation again, but never as a vagabond; he always had money, even enough to give some money to the widows on Christmas (he knocked on doors to find them) and for money to poor newly married couples.

May we be resourceful and helpful to the George Fox we encounter, especially when we are least expecting it. In 1 Thessalonians it is written thus: "Now concerning how and when all this will happen, dear brothers and sisters, we don't really need to write you. For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness."

Children of the light, children of the day, let us shine goodness and mercy upon those who wander and thirst for righteousness. George Fox's story is ours, too. There is a seeker inside each of us, even if the topic differs from person to person. Something about the human condition depends upon wandering. We are hobos being shuttled in boxcars towards a greater purpose we may not yet understand.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014


It is the mid-Nineties. The radio plays “Waterfalls” by TLC on a nearly-constant loop and everyone has seen the video, too. The twin force of radio play and MTV heavy rotation continues as though it will never come to an end. Record companies spend millions of dollars for four minutes of bottled lightning.

No one has yet heard of file sharing programs or iPods, social media or the possibility for making a fool of oneself on it. In sports, Michigan quarterback Scotty Dreisbach has implausibly thrown the game winning touchdown on a crucial fourth down play against Virginia. AOL offers a free clip of the winning catch of no more than fifteen seconds in duration, which takes two hours solid to download over a phone line.

In the days before the proliferation of digital cameras, smartphones, selfies, and photobombs, she used the tools available to her. The thick glass panel of a flat screen scanner was the surface she chose. She sat naked upon it, straddling sharp rectangular corners in hard plastic. I imagined the process must have been terribly uncomfortable, or at least require a kind of nimble flexibility. Had she laid it flat against the floor? That was the only way I could reckon she'd been able to pull it off.

The image produced, squished against the perfectly level surface, had stretched external genitalia to an extreme, making certain portions of the female reproductive system much larger than they were in reality. I wish I would have kept the file around for the sake of novelty, but it got lost while transferring from computer to computer. It only would have reminded me of her.

I was not the only one to receive a copy, which she offered like some persistent souls offer business cards, though I was one of her favorites. We spoke over the phone and online on a daily basis. She had even offered herself to me, someday. That would have required a lengthy car trip my parents would not have agreed to, and even if they had, my only other option would be relying upon a ride from the airport that I knew might never arrive. Amanda was not very responsible when it came to the passage of time and I knew I might need to wait helplessly with bags in hand for hours before anyone showed.

Her mother was exasperated with the fact that she had no female friends. A little later, I called the family residence following the birth of her child. Is Amanda the Mommy here? It was a corny line, the kind I rarely use, but I was trying to make nice. The mother always made a choice remark slightly after passing the phone along to her daughter, caustic remarks I overheard from time to time. I gathered the woman didn’t like me much and I could have cared less.

The only time I ever had a productive conversation with her was the time when Amanda took off to New England from Minnesota. Her mother feared the worst, but everything was proceeding as planned, secretly and stealthily. She and her boyfriend had never met in person before, but that was no detriment to this exercise in making it work in spite of consequences. Amanda was a take-charge sort of woman. He would be collected and relocated forcibly to the upper Midwest, whether or not it took a 15 hour drive, and especially whether her mother liked it or not.

Upon one particular call of that period, I noticed a dramatic difference. The mother was panicked, frightened beyond belief. It was a momentary contrite period in her life resulting from fear and anxiety. Only then did she address me with anything resembling good manners or basic courtesy.

Even the dysfunctional can occasionally stumble across the proper way of behaving themselves, especially when in shock. The woman kept me on the line for over an hour, begging me for any information I had to share. I knew the truth, but out of respect for my friend (and spite for the mother) I shared only the most cursory details. She was a parent in a state of grief, but I already resented her enough to keep her in suspense a little longer.

Amanda had no boundaries. What entered her brain exited her mouth. Her favorite subject was sex, but in particular her own sex life. This is how I knew about escapades with her near-husband on top of the dryer in the laundry room when no one else was at home. Her man was against condoms and she had a willful nonchalance and lazy non-compliance for any form of contraception. It wasn’t long before pregnancy resulted, a fate she accepted without any complaints, apparently intending to give birth to their first child and whichever kids followed.

She worked with alcoholics and drug addicts at a treatment center on the edge of town. I often wondered if she sought to heal herself by placing herself in the midst of patients with other addictive behaviors similar to her own. Hers resulted from incest, from the awkward persistence between older brothers who always wanted to sleep in the same bed as the younger children. I think that she enjoyed those past experience in a perverse kind of horribly conflicted way, the result of which became a bonafide sexual addiction. She was vocal about her sexuality in the way few women I encountered ever were.

I refused to believe at first that women like her really existed. Most girls I knew back then, my senior year of high school, were petrified at the mere thought of becoming pregnant. I wondered if most people really treated the conception and birth of children with such little thought or concern. I live now in a world of doulas, specialty services for expectant mothers, and classes that both father-to-be and mother-to-be can take simultaneously. Women do their research, then obsess about their diet and intake of almost everything, seeking to give the fetus the best possible chance for a good, healthy life.

Idealistic, legalistic motherhood was nowhere to be found with Amanda. She was almost Catholic in a weird way, almost fatalistic about another human life to be brought into the world. Her behavior grew ever more eccentric from then onward. The only major concern I could discern from her was a desire for her child to not be sexually molested at a young age as she was. Amanda swore she’d enjoyed it, which was either a colossal lie or proof that children can be oversexualized at ages before they fully understand the sensations produced and the intense emotions that go along with them.

One could make a case for both arguments. I, however, had my fill of it. I regret to say that I raised my voice in anger against her, believing I needed to make a clean break. The voice at the end of the line was not angry, it was instead confused and perplexed. I hung up the phone after an extended rant of which I am not especially proud. I can’t remember what I said, but it terminated our relationship quite neatly. I wonder how many children she has now and if she’s been married multiple times. I wonder about the safety of her children and wonder how many like her exist.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

You Like Me Too Much

Though you're gone away this morning
You'll be back again tonight
Telling me there'll be no next time
If I just don't treat you right

You'll never leave me and you know it's true
'Cause you like me too much and I like you

You've tried before to leave me
But you haven't got the nerve
To walk out and make me lonely
Which is all that I deserve

You'll never leave me and you know it's true
'Cause you like me too much and I like you
I really do

And it's nice when you believe me
If you leave me
I will follow you and bring
You back where you belong

'Cause I couldn't really stand it
I'll admit that I was wrong
I wouldn't let you leave me 'cause it's true
'Cause you like me too much and I like you

'Cause you like me too much and I like you
I really do

And it's nice when you believe me
If you leave me
I will follow you and bring
You back where you belong

'Cause I couldn't really stand it
I'll admit that I was wrong
I wouldn't let you leave me 'cause it's true

'Cause you like me too much and I like you
'Cause you like me too much and I like you

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Case for Pornography

I bring this topic up with some reluctance. Speaking with such frankness makes me inclined to pick my words carefully, cautiously. I have to thread a needle delicately, to make my arguments air-tight and to have the labels and causes I've attached to myself over time line up neatly. Talking about pornography in any form is a loaded discourse that can easily cause division and raised voices.

I begin, as I have many times before, with my own story. Starting at the age of 11 or 12, my father introduced me to pornography. That sentence sounds horribly violating, but I assure you it was not. In fact, it was quite harmless. To him, I was participating in a rite of passage ritual long held by men. This is still how I see it today.

At first, he rented movies from the local video store that were termed erotic thrillers but were really barely concealed softcore pornography. Next, he purchased a copy of Playboy for my benefit, though he disguised this from my mother, who was likely to disapprove. His form of subterfuge was to conceal the issue between two sets of folded towels, then hand them over to me.

I swiftly took over from there, recognizing with time that there was an entire galaxy of images and videos awaiting. Since then, I've drifted away from the glossy, commercial stuff, insisting upon amateur content full of people who look like regular folks, because they are. I don't mean to sound that I'm patting myself on the back, because I think this progression is quite normal. In those days, with my testosterone ramped up, it didn't take much. In some ways, I miss those days because fantasy alone was more than enough.

When I became a feminist, I grew aware of the sex-positive/sex-negative debate that caused a great schism in the years before my birth. I cast my lot almost immediately with the sex-positive crowd, who gave rise to the notion that overt sexuality could be empowering, rather than victimizing. It is my opinion that ethics can exist within the naked form, while I acknowledge that certain genres, studios, and fetishes frequently reinforce sexist and even misanthropic stereotypes.

When I finally came to terms with my sexual orientation, a gay couple who were substantially older than me gave me access to their own modest library. It was an education of a sort I would have never received from my father or any other family member. I learned the vocabulary words, the lingo, and saw demonstrated before me a more-or-less accurate rendering of the truth. But even then I saw fantasies of control and dominance, which bordered on consensual and nonconsenual.

This struggle was uniquely my own. It is still consigned a little to the shadows, to be brought up in certain contexts among certain people inclined to understand. The heterosexual milieu was eager to teach me its secrets, but the homosexual part of me was entirely self-taught. There is money to be made in an endless procession of pretty faces, beautiful bodies, and entirely counterfeit lesbians. But where a minority view is concerned, capitalism is not quite as vociferous, though it may be soon, depending on how quickly queer identity is accepted as something beyond novelty or basic tolerance.

When I see overtly gay displays of affection or sexuality in commercials or on broadcast television, we will have reached a new height. But when that day arrives, we must guard against the link between making money and a very fundamental source of exploitation. I happen to believe that ethical capitalism is a contradiction in terms, but we can at least hold it accountable for its numerous flaws. This is what we do already.

Pornography has always been a release and a source of pleasure to me. I've been intelligent enough and informed enough to separate fantasy from reality. Whether other people are capable of the same is difficult to say. There's a lowest common denominator aspect to pornography and I wonder if others put as much effort into self-scrutiny as I do. And if they do not, can we successfully intervene with our own best intentions?

I see an awful lot of tap-dancing out there, when this subject is raised. On-one-hand, but on-another-hand. One of the most essential parts to us is our sexuality. In centuries past, we've sought to put the topic under strictest control, to shame and blame those who do not conform and to restrict altogether. We are less that way now, but the debate has not stopped. I know many young parents who panic at the notion that their child might be exposed to adult content and be unable to responsibly process the knowledge.

My father did not, and I think his was the appropriate response. He made his mistakes in other areas, but he was a reliable and factual source of sex education. In time-honored fashion, we spent many hours driving in cars for otherwise unnecessary trips. I asked questions freely and he provided answers. I doubt I will ever have a child of my own, but if I did, I would follow his example.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Quote of the Week

The Quakers have an excellent approach to thinking through difficult problems, where a number of intelligent and responsible people must work together. They meet as equals, and anyone who has an idea speaks up. There are no parliamentary procedures and no coercion from the Chair.

They continue the discussion until unanimity is reached. I want you guys to do that. Get in a room with no phones and leave orders that you are not to be disturbed. And sit there until you can deal with each other as individuals, not as spokesmen for either organization.-Hyman G. Rickover

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Saturday Video

Does he love me, I wanna know
How can I tell if he loves me so?

(Is it in his eyes?) Oh no, you'll be deceived
(Is it in his eyes?) Oh no, he'll make believe
If you wanna know if he loves you so
It's in his kiss (that's where it is, oh yeah)

(Or is it in his face?) Oh no, it's just his charm
(In his warm embrace?) Oh no, that's just his arm
If you wanna know if he loves you so
It's in his kiss (that's where it is)
Oh oh, it's in his kiss (that's where it is)

Oh oh oh, kiss him and squeeze him tight
And find out what you wanna know
If it's love, if it really is
It's there in his kiss

(How 'bout the way he acts?) Oh no, that's not the way
And you're not listenin' to all I say
If you wanna know if he loves you so
It's in his kiss (that's where it is)
Oh yeah, it's in his kiss (that's where it is)

Whoa oh oh, kiss him and squeeze him tight
And find out what you wanna know
If it's love, if it really is
It's there in his kiss

(How 'bout the way he acts?) Oh no, that's not the way
And you're not listenin' to all I say
If you wanna know if he loves you so
It's in his kiss (that's where it is)
Oh yeah, it's in his kiss (that's where it is)
Oh oh, it's in his kiss (that's where it is)

Friday, October 17, 2014

Sports Fans and Anti-Fans

I write on the cusp of game day, the sacred Saturdays where college football is played. In the state of Alabama, football consumes the energies of a small state (Population: 4.5 million) without its own professional sports franchise. It was easy at a young age to become caught up in the competitive, spirited, dramatic aspects of the game. Almost everyone I knew felt similarly passionate about the ups and down of their chosen college team. Half the state supports the Alabama Crimson Tide and the other half wears orange and blue, the colors of Auburn University.

To outsiders, it is difficult to explain how much of a massively big deal three hours are, the way the anticipation builds to a frenzy. It's an extremely communal activity and many across the state put on parties that usually begin in the hours before kickoff. The lucky buy tickets, meaning they have the right to add their cheers and yells to the thousands of others congregated together on the bleachers. For everyone else, television suffices, though many I know prefer the comfort of their own homes. To cite one example, there is no need to wait in the bottleneck that lasts forty-five minutes or more during halftime to use the facilities.

Major League Baseball, by contrast, plays well over one-hundred games a season, stretching from April to the end of September. Football games are only played once a week. The regular season, nowadays, has been slowly increased to twelve games, though the best teams play more than that. More than a dozen or so, and I doubt teams could field full rosters. The attrition rate for this contact sport, regardless of shoulder pads and helmets, would be something awful.

The tradition stretches back decades. Winning and losing may not be a matter of life and death, but it is something close. Should your team win, you gloat and celebrate. If your team loses, you descend into a communal state of grief. Combined with alcohol, as is often the case, happy drunks can quickly become angrily intoxicated, depending on who loses and who wins.

I was a very emotional child, picking up on the moods of the adults around me. When my team, The University of Alabama, lost a game, I would burst into tears and sob. At the age of eight, Alabama's chances at defeating Louisiana State (LSU) depended on a lengthy game-ending field goal that drifted just right, coming out a few feet short. This instantaneous display of choked sobs punctuated every loss until I was thirteen or fourteen. One cold, rainy day in December I remember running barefooted and crestfallen through the puddles of water that had collected in concrete gutters.

Distraught, tears streamed from my eyes as I splashed along, looking up enough to see sheets of water headed downhill, a few yards in front of me, having already made the journey halfway down a bluff. Alabama had lost to the Florida Gators in the SEC Championship Game in this same driving rainstorm and, as far as I was concerned, the world had ended. My childhood best friend pursued me with concern, though I wonder if he ever understood why I always was so distraught should the outcome of the game not turn out as desired.  

As an adult, it doesn’t take much to startle me: unexpected loud noises or visuals still make me jump. Fortunately for me, the worst had not yet arrived. My condition had never been diagnosed, so I was frequently unable to identify illness and separate it from self. At worst, I was an overly sensitive child. I romanticized the fact that I was different, thinking of myself as a virtuous, misunderstood loner.

Children in similar straits often display the same coping mechanism. That was how I handled the pain. I wish I’d have found someone my age who felt the same way I did. Though the feelings of angst and anguish I felt were especially tenacious and long-lived, they had not yet reached the status of crisis. Instead, I lived with them and tried to manage the best way I could.

I haven't cried at the results of a football game in years and I'm not sure I'm even capable of it anymore. Now I'm more inclined to rant at the screen or scream my displeasure alongside 100,000 others and millions more on television. I don't deceive myself. It's true that the stakes are far too high. I live in a country still dominated by racial separation, as recent events have proven, but curiously most of the players are black. Provided they can make tackles and score touchdowns, their race seemingly makes no difference.

Once they move on, their eligibility exhausted, they are no longer treated as special. They find that being an ex-football player means that you've become relegated to a nostalgia piece, no longer the target of mass adoration or frustration, depending on the performance from game to game.

African-Americans make up 13% of the population of our country, and probably 75% of college and professional football players. I visualize a Roman Colosseum full of gladiators from the lower ranks of society, being overseen by emperors and average citizens alike. I think of Ralph Ellison's battle royal, the opening passage of Invisible Man. I think of the way it takes sports or entertainment success for the lower classes to strike it rich, be they Irish or African.

I could be more critical. Like some, I might find it disturbing that men twice the age of the players on the field are vastly concerned with sprained ankles and esoteric statistics. But in a working-class state, I figure it's worth giving the mechanic or the plant worker something to look forward to besides a hum-drum existence. As college football fans know, two football teams from the state of Mississippi are now simultaneously in the top 10. This is unprecedented, because Mississippi teams have a long history of mediocrity and unfulfilled promise.

In the pecking order of Southern states, Mississippi usually rates below Alabama. It has no large city of its own to speak of, whereas Alabama has Birmingham. Those from Mississippi who move to Alabama often display their own peculiar and unique inferiority complex. For this reason, I support the University of Mississippi (usually referred to as Ole Miss) and Mississippi State, its own cross-state rival. Nothing would please me more than to see their gridiron success continue, though later in the season I will cheer for Alabama against Mississippi State, even if it goes down to defeat.

I've exchanged my tears for annoyance and worry. I remain sober when others consume adult beverages. When Auburn loses, I celebrate nearly as much as when my team wins. It amazes me how much feeling and intensity can be packed into a few short hours, the way that six days prior to the game builds upon itself with plots and sub-plots. I think that players should be paid, for the sole reason that it is obscene that players who come from poverty are manipulated by universities and college that make millions of dollars from their unpaid labor.

Lincoln noted the below about war, but he could have just as easily been speaking about football.

It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully.

It is said, without much exaggeration, that football in the Deep South is a religion. Count me among the throngs who are believers. It is supremely important and vastly popular, enough that it has created a few hostile naysayers who are in active rebellion against the status quo. The rejected want nothing to do with it. What often goes unreported are the anti-fans, those who leave the Sports section unread, be it on paper or a computer screen and block out the loud cheering and the boos.

It is my opinion that their minority view speaks more to personal rejection than any substantive criticism of the game. I admit that I strongly dislike intoxicated hockey fans when I have to stand next to them on public transportation. They are often crude and offensive, their behavior shameful. Enough negative experiences like these are enough to turn some against sports forever. Every game I've personally attended back home is a microcosm of Alabama society, the good and the bad intertwined. We should take this as a life lesson, but lessons are for those willing to listen.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

National Domestic Violence Month

I've chosen today to highlight a particularly unfortunate instance of violence, the likes of which occur all too often. Posted directly from her Facebook page is my sister's direct evidence of a physically (and emotionally) violent ex-husband. I admire her courage in going public with her abuse and her abuser. My two sisters and myself have never shied away from placing our personal struggles in very public forums. Regular readers know I have often opted for brutal honesty. Now you know from whence I get it.

The intensity of the narrative speaks for itself in two damning pictures and a paragraph. Many men deny the severity or prevalence of domestic violence, relegating it to the margins. Feminists have long sought to drag these products of shame and embarrassment out of the shadows, even when they may cause their audience great discomfort or spark defensive debate. It didn't hit home for me until it happened to someone I love dearly. Abusive partners have probably existed as long as humanity itself, which makes it extremely difficult to prosecute and by turns eradicate the damage they cause.

It's National Domestic Violence Awareness month. These are pictures taken the day after I was attacked by my ex-husband. The text message was him admitting to hurting me. No one in my life (myself included) knew that this person was capable of violence. I was so ashamed and embarrassed that I didn't tell anyone about the abuse until things got so bad that I feared for my life. I would encourage everyone to educate themselves on the signs of abuse as well as the characteristics of abusers in the hopes that we can protect ourselves and the people we love from violence. ‪#‎domesticviolenceawareness‬

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Pacifism, Not Passivism

"Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law."
For traditional peace churches like Friends, the above passage appears contradictory to our teachings. Jesus is, as we know, described as the Prince of Peace. We insist on lifting up the commandment of the Old Testament prophet Isaiah to build our own Peaceable Kingdom, where, as we are well aware, the wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.

A middle ground may exist. Jesus' words may not demand division, as much as prepare us for change and confrontation. Most houses of worship, regardless of faith, are intimidated by the very mention of change and ours are often no different. The Peace we think we are due may be not much more than genuflected artifice and wishful thinking. Reform is good for us, which may be the sword Jesus noted.

Anger is sometimes a byproduct of confrontation, but it is possible to condition ourselves to see things in their proper context. In our Meeting family, it may seem as though strong opinions in any form are always destructive. That said, we cannot confuse pacifism with passivism. One could certainly never confuse staunch pacifists like George Fox, Margaret Fell, or John Woolman as passive. But with the passage of time, their crusading spirit has been replaced by the Church of the Perpetually Nice.

One of the most disconcerting experiences of my life was seeing my usually forceful, opinionated grandfather slowly succumb to cancer. By the end, he became very passive and resigned, two qualities he had fought against for most of his life. I remember wishing that he would show even a glimmer of his earlier energy, but he gave it his very best.

During Quaker unprogrammed Worship, we open the floor to anyone with a leading to talk. Past columns of mine have been devoted to the problems this can create, while always seeking to concede that gathered Meetings for Worship, however rare they may be for us, are awe-inspiring and transformative. I know that insisting upon a kind of spiritual perfection in flawed humanity may be too much to ask, but once again I do think we do not often demand a higher standard within ourselves.

This past First Day, a middle-aged woman, a visitor, rose to give something tantamount to a rant. To her, the earth was being destroyed in various catastrophic ways, each of which needed to be explained in great detail. Some months ago I wrote about the distinction between certain activist Friends and those not inclined to wear their causes on their sleeve quite so prominently. It was Friends like the one I have here described that I was referencing and critiquing.

Too often the continuity and pacing of unprogrammed Worship can be derailed by someone with an ax to grind. I would argue that this should not be confused or rationalized away as ministry. I would never identify myself as an environmentalist for this very same reason. Brevity and restraint are essential to any cause and those who think otherwise ought to step outside themselves and observe the impact they make on onlookers. They might be shocked.

Conflict is not necessarily a bad thing. I've made this argument multiple times as have many gifted Quaker writers. During Worship, I was pleased to hear a Friend give voice to this concern. He believed, as I do, that conflict can strengthen, not weaken a Meeting. Our Utopian liberal view that multiple points of view are the ideal formulation must follow through with the other half of that argument. Namely, when disagreements arise, other parties must listen with an open mind and not bolt for the exits. If we do not allow this exchange of honest expression, we are hypocrites through and through.

Liberal Friends have drifted away from its earliest moorings. I find nothing wrong with a crunchy, neo-hippie ethos, but I do find it in complete contradiction to the firebrands and revolutionaries who began the movement in 17th Century England. We owe them a substantial debt and I wonder at times whether we do their legacy a great disservice. The latest incarnation of George Fox would, I'm certain, be mistaken for a troublemaker and strongly encouraged to form a clearness committee. As we know, Jesus was given the same treatment by the authorities of his time, though hostility often greeted him more than good intentions. We know how that story ended.    

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

I'm So Tired

I'm so tired, I haven't slept a wink
I'm so tired, my mind is on the blink
I wonder should I get up and fix myself a drink
No, no, no

I'm so tired, I don't know what to do
I'm so tired, my mind is set on you
I wonder should I call you
but I know what you would do

You'd say I'm putting you on
But it's no joke, it's doing me harm
You know I can't sleep, I can't stop my brain
You know it's three weeks, I'm going insane

You know I'd give you everything I've got
For a little peace of mind

I'm so tired, I'm feeling so upset
Although I'm so tired, I'll have another cigarette
And curse Sir Walter Raleigh
He was such a stupid get

You'd say I'm putting you on
But it's no joke, it's doing me harm

You know I can't sleep, I can't stop my brain
You know it's three weeks, I'm going insane
You know I'd give you everything I've got
For a little peace of mind

I'd give you everything I've got
For a little peace of mind

I'd give you everything I've got
For a little peace of mind

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Changing Face of Child-Rearing

Mom got married at 19 and wanted kids immediately. She’d been the youngest of four and wanted about that many herself. My father was amenable to both of her desires, but wanted the two of them to be childless for five years before embarking on a brand new adventure. When it was time to have children, I came first. One of my younger sisters came two and a half years later, and the third and last came six and a half years after me. Had Mom not endured a week-long labor, plans were in the works for a fourth child.

My father made good money during my early to mid-childhood, allowing Mom to be a traditional stay-at-home housewife. He worked long hours and was never home much during the workweek. Until I was 9, she focused full-time on myself and my youngest sister, but seemed more content at the time to be mother than to be innovator. This isn’t to say that she didn’t take the time to rear us properly, but that she gave my sister and I the reins rather than express herself and her own creative acumen.

It has been noted that stay-at-home parenting is growing much less commonplace these days. My father’s parents were raised poor and never had the financial resources to make one income stretch for an entire family. In fact, my grandparents rarely saw each other. My grandfather worked the first shift at his employer for nearly forty years, a textile mill. My grandmother worked second shift at the same mill, making them both ships passing in the night until the weekend.

The phenomenon of only one parent working has always been beholden to those financially well-off enough to manage it. The average fast-food worker or migrant laborer likely cannot support children without the income of a spouse or partner. And for my own family, my earliest memories of my father are few and far between. He was never an absentee parent, attending my ballgames and school functions, but he always went to work before I woke up for school and returned late in the evening. These were happy times for him, which is why I don’t resent his distance. He believed he had made good, escaping the crushing poverty of his upbringing.

On a recent trip home, I noticed significant changes in my mother and both of my parents. I should add that they very recently have retired. The two of them were miraculously relaxed and upbeat in a way I had never seen prior to that moment. It was a restorative moment for everyone involved, even if only by observation and proximity. I couldn’t help but wonder if it merely took voluntarily quitting their day job after years of toil to reach a zen-like moment.

I notice now in my own mother a creative streak she rarely displayed before retirement. She held a very responsible job in a school system for years, one that allowed her to modify curriculum and put into practice progressive educational theory, but the work was very political and backstabbing. When a hostile group of local politicians took power, they considered her an enemy, or at least an impediment to their own whims.

Rather than be demoted, and dealing with her own physical problems due mostly to age, she formally retired a year ago. One could, I suppose, be understandably bitter about the entire sordid affair, but it has produced something very positive and uplifting in its place. Projects and passions long delayed have been allowed to flourish. I wish I had seen my mother's talents on display before now. She has many skills that amaze me with their complexity. Now that she has stopped working, she's taken on a variety of creative pursuits and and succeeded in each of them.

Some years ago, I got an inkling of her talent when I found a short story Mom had penned on a long-antiquated computer. I wish she had shared it with myself and my two sisters, but curiously never gave us any window into who she was underneath being the best, most flawless mother ever created. Since then, I’ve recognized that many women follow her lead, throwing themselves into being the best mother possible, and it comes at the expense of not merely their families, but also themselves.

I am not a woman, nor am I a parent, so I recognize my insight might be somewhat limited. Still, I can’t help but wonder how many mothers hurl themselves headfirst into parenthood at the expense of their complete autonomy. Numerous articles have criticized parents whose desire to be the best at child-rearing comes at the expense of nearly everything else. The intentions are good, but the same intentions are evident with the so-called helicopter parents who truly don’t intend to micromanage their children, but do so nevertheless.  

One round of statistics leads a captive audience in one direction, but a conflicting study points us in an opposite direction. For a few years, even though my mother wrung her hands about it, I was a latch-key child. Decompressing from a full school day in front of a book or the television, I learned to manage myself reasonably well. I missed the comforting presence of my mother, but knew she had only returned to work because my father took a sizable pay cut and she had no choice but to return to teaching.

The post-World War II days of housewives and husbands who come home from work at the same time every evening have been in decline for a long time. The influx of immigrants streaming across the border from Mexico cannot financially afford the middle-class dream. Poor and working class families have never been given this promised opportunity even fifty years ago. Aside from anomalies like stay-at-home mothers whose religious conservatism insists they remove their children from the sinful world, I see a vast decline growing evermore vast with each passing year.

My friends who have recently married and intend to have children will not have the opportunity to stay home with them. One of my doctors is married to an oral surgeon and they rely heavily on nannies to supervise and raise their three children. But the two of them are unusual, even for Washington, DC, and have a higher income than most.

I don’t observe anyone who is especially contemptuous of old ways, but I don’t personally know of anyone who could afford more than one child. I most assuredly could not. If this metric shows us anything, it may help prove that the middle class is shrinking. Ours is a vast, diverse country, which makes it difficult to prove or disprove existing trends. I live among alongside highly-educated professionals in a culture where women are stringently encouraged to establish themselves in a career before settling down and having children, if they have them.

But to reiterate, it is possible for mothers to be more than parents. It’s too easy, culturally, for women to submerge or deny their identities for the sake of some higher pursuit. Self-sacrificial behavior for the benefit of children has never changed. The same duty is rarely required of men, though I know many doting fathers who have taken an active role in the lives of their kids.

The egalitarian existence that I and others aspire depends on the presence and participation of men. I think I see this among some of us in an embryonic form, but among those of a different racial community to my own, it takes men who are not incarcerated or stuck in a revolving door of recidivism. That is the most crucial distinction of all.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Quote of the Week

"Always mystify, mislead, and surprise the enemy, if possible; and when you strike and overcome him, never let up in the pursuit so long as your men have strength to follow; for an army routed, if hotly pursued, becomes panic-stricken, and can then be destroyed by half their number." -Stonewall Jackson

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Saturday Video

When I look back boy I must have been green
Bopping in the country, fishing in a stream
Looking for an answer, trying to find a sign
Until I saw your city lights, honey I was blind

They said get back honky cat
Better get back to the woods
Well I quit those days and my redneck ways
And oh the change is gonna do me good

You better get back honky cat
Living in the city ain't where it's at
It's like trying to find gold in a silver mine
It's like trying to drink whisky from a bottle of wine

Well I read some books and I read some magazines
About those high class ladies down in New Orleans
And all the folks back home well, said I was a fool
They said oh, believe in the Lord is the golden rule

They said get back honky cat
Better get back to the woods
Well I quit those days and my redneck ways
And oh the change is gonna do me good

They said stay at home boy, you gotta tend the farm
Living in the city boy, is going to break your heart
But how can you stay, when your heart says no
How can you stop when your feet say go?

Friday, October 10, 2014

Love and Disability

I manage to fall in love, or at least develop a strong infatuation with many of my therapists or medical practitioners. Male or female, it really makes no difference. During an especially heavy period of snowfall, some years ago, I was stuck inside the apartment with my thoughts. My feelings and her feelings were not mutual, but for several days consecutively I was convinced otherwise. The mind is subservient sometimes to fanciful wishes and desires, no matter how incorrect they may be.

In my case, the abuse rewired my brain. I could be upset about it, but I have to live with the products of the way that it is now. The best analogy I can reach for is that of an elaborate machine, namely the human body, wherein certain wires are connected incorrectly. The device may function, but it will not work the way it was intended. Point A does not lead to Point B. At times in my life, uncomprehending people have perceived of me in ways never intended or desired. I'm not angry at others, merely frustrated at the amount of extra work I have to do that others do not.

Terrible though it is, children can become sexualized at too young an age. What I experienced happened before puberty. Had it waited until I was a more-or-less normal sexual being, the damage would have been less intense. I speculate that my frequent confusion between platonic affection and sexual desire is a result of what I experienced. It's a false association, one that I went through trauma therapy seeking to reverse. It was effective to an extent, but it didn't take everything away. I equate love with sex, and almost every human relationship I experience is viewed through a sexual lens first.

Though I limit my contact with men because the sensation of male desire is usually uncomfortable, it does happen periodically. My first boyfriend makes sure to keep me close at hand, even when I'm exasperated with him for being so passive. He is a wise soul, twenty years older than me, but he remains in an unhealthy relationship that I once tried to correct. Now I know that he will never leave his partner. We tried to be lovers for a while, but found that we were much too similar and promptly resumed our friendship.

I'm much too practical to chase rainbows and my doctors are much too professional and ethical to take liberties. This time around, I chose the oldest, wisest psychologist I could find. I was sure that I was choosing something between a surrogate mother and grandmother, not an object of desire. And yet desire happened in spite of my careful preparation to ward against it. Today's session this afternoon will address that very issue. I'm curious to know what conclusions will be formed. I never wanted this and I am frustrated at myself for letting my fantasies run away with me.

Many of those who have provided me care have inevitably become objects of desire. Years ago, as I found out later, one of my doctors privately told her co-workers that she thought I was cute. They never let up with the teasing, even telling me personally what had been said. This led me to believe that there were far more to these feelings than simply an off-handed remark. I wrote a lengthy e-mail to her, seeking to word my response carefully, took a deep breath, and sent it along.

It expressed concern for her professional reputation, while conceding that I had romantic feelings for her. Within an hour, following strict office protocol, I received a phone call from a compliance officer at the office informing me that my sentiments were taken as inappropriate.

I felt severely embarrassed and apologized profusely on the spot. The compliance officer was surprised at my responses, amazed that I was merely a man with a crush, not a schizophrenic having delusions. I informed the legal side of affairs that this had been merely a huge misunderstanding and that I regretted what I had done. I tell this anecdote to illustrate how easy it is for workplace gossip to be confused with the truth and how easy it is for me to want to accept love and affection on any terms. A better set of leaders would have never let things develop as they did. I requested a transfer from the center, which was granted me with great politeness and efficiency.

At times, I confess I feel broken beyond all fixing. Anyone who shows me compassion and care ends up idealized and sometimes the product of infatuation. One of my doctors, in an unguarded moment, told me that I was one of her favorite patients. I confessed that she was my favorite doctor. There was an unstated affection in my response that I did not emphasize, nor verbalize in her company, nor will I ever. I am not out of touch with reality, but that doesn't stop me from having fantasies regarding those who patch me up and stick me together with glue.

When I was in grad school, I tutored disabled students for extra money. One of them was a paraplegic who was entirely wheelchair-bound. He'd been sent to a boot camp for troubled teens, whereupon during rough play three or four men jumped onto his back, the weight of their body crushing his spine. He desired me, first as a sort of respect, but later in a very romantic sense. I pitied him, but knew I needed to discourage his affections. He dropped out of school a semester later, believing the task was too arduous. He could not be persuaded to finish his degree, though I felt perhaps he might be prompted to do it if I was involved.

I have a love/hate relationship with my physical ailments. Part of me enjoys the care and compassion performed on my behalf, but the other half resents the need for additional treatment. These days, I take no less than thirteen medications and live inside the pharmacy. I visit six separate specialists. None of this can be avoided. I have been hesitant to embrace the term, but I am indeed disabled. This is simply a matter of fact, not a statement of weakness, though I resent the extra work that goes into daily life. Disabled means many things, especially the ones like mine that appear to be invisible.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Justice Denied

Dear Friends,

What follows has been weighing on my heart. I have a bit of a personal quandary that is testing my Quaker faith and my belief in pacifism. I would greatly appreciate your advice and feedback, should you be so led. Any good ideas are taken in good order and with gratitude. You don't have to be a Quaker or even have a belief in any God to state your opinion.

The long and short of it is this. Both of my sisters recently got involved with men who were physically and emotionally abusive. One sister had enough foresight on the worst night of all to document her wounds with a digital camera. These men are guilty of domestic abuse and battery. One got out on a plea bargain, but the other escaped scot free. I'm enraged that the penalty they paid in a court of law was so minimal.

My father has a background in law enforcement. One abusive man was a bartender by trade. Dad pulled some strings and had his bartender's license revoked. He has plans to retaliate against the other abuser in a way he will not disclose to me. He alluded to certain vague plans yet to be finalized. I've said that I simply didn't want to know.

How should one respond in a non-violent manner to this violent act? I understand now why feminists insist upon zero tolerance when sentencing of violent offenders produces only a slap on the wrist. One of the perpetrators deserves to be in jail, but had a weak case built against him. He didn't beat her up enough, sadly. He was at least forced to pay her alimony, but in another example of how unfair our criminal justice system can be, he got off easy. These payments paid out in full for only three or four months. When they re-calibrated my sister's income, he and his lawyer found he could pay far less, then the checks stopped altogether.

We've talked about these sorts of issues in feminist circles, particularly domestic abuse. My father is resorting to a kind of vigilante justice, using his connections to serve his purposes. I think his police background may shield him from prosecution. And in a way, there is something chivalric about his behavior, but I wonder if things might get out of control. In a way, my father is something of a hero to my sisters because he is willing to retaliate. They are bitter enough to want to cause suffering to their abusers.

I remain conflicted. Fight back or let it slide? My father adheres to a code of tough guy masculinity, one I have rarely incorporated into my own. Am I behaving cowardly to not respond, and not restoring the honor of both of my sisters? What is my role as a Friend?

Lend Me Your Comb

Lend me your comb
It's time to go home
I've got to confess
My hair is a mess

Your mammie will scold
Your pappie will shout
Unless we come in
The way we went out

Kissing you was fun, honey
But thanks for the date
I have come to run, honey
But you know, baby, it's a-getting late

Just wait till I
Straighten up my tie
Lend me your comb
We got to go home

Kissing you was fun, honey
But thanks for the date
Well I must come to run, honey
But sugar bugger, it's a-getting late

Just wait till I
Straighten up my tie
Lend me your comb
We got to go home

Monday, October 06, 2014

Shameless Self-Promotion

Shameless self-promotion. I am interviewed on Paul Finebaum's sports radio station. Go to three minutes in this segment of the broadcast.


During my recent trip, there were many unforeseen sights and sounds. A house of prostitution set up shop in the rooms around my own. Personally, I consider prostitution a victimless crime. Like the hotel workers these intrepid souls no doubt passed directly by on their way to the elevators, no one ever saw a need to report this activity. There are a million loopholes routinely exploited for the sake of plausibility denial. No one cares.

The black market is a poor substitute for how it could be if it were legalized. Decriminalizing sex work will make a great difference. The demand will always exist. Women, and even some men feel a burning desire to courageously assuage and satisfy someone else’s biological need. One said that she was performing a service for lonely men. I have no right to judge, particularly because I indulged a time before, though not in many years.

The assured safety of sex work in any form may be non-existent. Critiquing the protection of those engaged in the profession should not resort to blaming and shaming. We’ve rarely had a discussion as to the repercussions and risks involved, from a health standpoint. A while back, I had a conversation with a sex worker who had once been a heroin addict, but kept with it because the pay was good. That was her sole justification.

Some sex workers are drug addicts of one flavor or another. Others have severe mental illness. And then comes the rationalizations. To them, their duty is to come to the aid of those in need. They perform a service in which they are needed. Everyone recognizes that what they do is illegal, but that doesn’t dissuade a single person from engaging in it. In the meantime, female and male prostitutes have families, children, and even husbands, and the truth of their vocation is often hidden from almost everyone.

As feminists, I think we have more of an intellectual understanding of sex work than the truth. It’s easy to speak of violence against the defenseless, but these women (and men) make a concerted effort and embrace a means of choosing the vocation in which they work. No one held a gun to anyone’s head, though the likelihood of getting involved in a dangerous situation is likely quite high. I myself would never take on the profession, but it is the world's oldest occupation for a reason.

I met another sex worker whose favorite john gave her thousands of dollars for clothes. He liked them on her, and she got a free fashionable wardrobe. Where does fault fall here? Are both using each other for their own gratification? It’s easy to criticize Patriarchy, but complications are to be found everywhere.

It’s easy to take on their case as some simplistic Anti-Patriarchal statement, but the truth is much more complicated. We must respect individual freedom, even when the end result might mean violence, beating, and even death. We can't save anyone from themselves. Every sex worker is taking a risk, even the high end models. We’ve discussed transgender sex workers, who are especially at risk. If it would be up to me, sex workers would be given a clean bill of health and certified, for everyone’s protection. Until then, there will be an element of sleaze and danger assigned to it.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Return from the Gulf Coast

Here's a picture of the beach of Gulf Shores a week ago. It rained four solid days. The sunlight finally peeked through though it remained a little cloudy. I'll try to post a few more if I can find them. This time, we were no longer able correct the the rain and drizzle. We came close to crushing disappointment. But the last two days were quite pleasant.

I returned from my vacation late Wednesday unexpectedly relaxed, having made up for much lost time. One of my sisters and I used to fight like cats and dogs during high school and college, but those days have fortunately ended. As a person of faith, I have to thank God for putting everyone on their best behavior and maintaining decorum and harmony the whole week. I was expecting insulting comments and miscellaneous drama common to past incarnations, but I think everyone has grown up and finally made positive choices in their lives. Only my little sister is still mad at my parents and didn't take the time to visit with us, but I'm sure she'll grow out of it with the passage of time.

My parents, now fully retired, were as meek as lambs. I'm glad they've had the ability to decompress from forty years work of daily work, often in positions of great authority and stress. Dad had his second ulcer a few months back and lost 40 pounds, but he looks much healthier this way. I hope he keeps the weight off. Mom continues to struggle with severe back pain, but has learned to manage it with pain killers and by recognizing precisely how and why her pain flares up. The last time I saw her she was barely able to walk, but now she can take strides without much difficulty. I wish she wasn't so dependent on pain killers, but I trust her ability to mind her condition successfully.

Their new house is about forty-five minutes off of the beach in an artist's commune. I know my mother will be happy among fellow craftsman and my father will eventually find some interest on his own. It really relieves me to not see him launch into angry Fox News political rants for minutes at a time, which characterized our relationship for years. He hasn't lost his blunt personality, but a kind of sweet devotion to his children is what remains. I was never told that this side of him existed, but I didn't believe it until now. He knows he won't live forever and wants to make the most of his retirement.

I've never seen my father, in particular, this docile and kind. He explained that the job he worked for ten years to draw a pension was was stressful and emotional draining. I had no idea how bad the workplace authority really was when he started, which makes me even more glad he has the right to live out the rest of his days away from there. From my perspective, seeing him chilled out and relaxed was the best, most appreciated, most unexpected joy of the entire trip. Men mellow as they get older.

My mother has become a cause lady, throwing her energy behind many worthwhile projects. In particular, she has worked closely with NAMI, the National Association for Mental Illness. Because she has a child (me) with severe bipolar disorder, she has given comfort to family members who have a child with mental illness, keeping them pumped up and informed as best she can. I'm glad for the inspiration.

Her motives are altruistic, but a little less so when you consider the strict goal she seeks to reach. She wants medicine to heal me and others like me eventually. She wants money to be donated to labs and scientists working on more effective treatments for mental illness, and as the eternal optimist, thinks a cure may be discovered in the next ten to twenty years. I certainly hope so, but I don't expect it. Psychiatric medicines are expensive to develop and require much effort and brain power to pass extensive drug trials in order to win FDA approval.

On to my trip. I was in the Gulf Coast of Alabama and Florida, which I and others derisively refer to as the Redneck Riviera. I knew immediately after collecting my bags in Pensacola that I certainly wasn't in Kansas anymore. The number of extremely obese individuals was fairly impressive and and almost all of them were cigarette smokers. In DC, people are exercise-conscious, diet-conscious, and health-conscious, sometimes provided to an extreme.

The working class Southerners I observed had no such priorities. I should add that I smoked cigarettes for 10 years, until I grew out of them and found I was spending money I didn't really have to feed my habit. I'll never regret quitting and would never go back.

I merely want to emphasize that the culture shock was intense. Everyone was extremely nice and the small talk, regardless of how banal it was, came across as comforting. One of the things about the South I love is the friendliness and unguarded desire to engage random strangers in conversation. People in the North are more suspicious of new people. I for one try to buck tradition and take a bit of the culture into which I was born to my daily dealings, even if this makes some uncomfortable.

There were unforeseen sights and sounds. The hotel we stayed at in Mobile was something of a preferred destination for sex workers and their johns. Around 8 pm, both began to enter the hotel. I encountered two on the same elevator as me, making awkward small talk, not mentioning the nature of her services. She was a rough looking woman, but was dressed up in her nicest set of clothes, her makeup heavy, her fingernails immaculately preserved. The john looked desperate to begin.

I think prostitution should be legalized, much as it is in Las Vegas. I consider it a victimless crime and much like the hotel workers they no doubt passed them on their way to the elevators. no one saw a need to report it. There are a million loopholes exploited for the sake of plausibility denial. The black market is a poor substitute to what it could be. Decriminalizing sex work will make a great difference. Men, and even some women feel a burning desire to assuage a biological need. I have no right to judge, particularly because I indulged a time or two before, though not in many years.

I could tell many other stories, but this is a good synopsis, I'm glad to be back inside my apartment, tapping away. I'll be back at full strength next week.