Straight Ally

straight ally symbol

“A heterosexual and cisgender person who supports equal civil rights, gender equality, LGBT social movements, and challenges homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia.”

When I was in college in the mid 1980s, I was pre-law. I was put in charge of an internship program that was part of a free legal clinic. I was director with a small staff of interns and one of my duties was to recruit new interns. One day I was talking to one a young woman in my program about groups I could visit on campus, to speak about recruitment. She suggested the Gay and Lesbian Student Union. I said I didn’t know if I would be comfortable with that group. She said, “you don’t have any trouble being comfortable with me.” Yeah, I had no idea. Should I have? She hadn’t told me, but is it something of which I should have been intuitively cognizant? No, but that’s not the best question.

A better question is whether I would have treated her differently if I had known. I hope not and I seriously doubt it, but had just admitted to her that in my own mind, I had an issue with gay and lesbian people. They made me uncomfortable, in some way that I’m not sure I could have qualified.

Society’s attitudes were different then. It was in 1984 and I was only 23. I came from a small town with few, if any openly gay people. The Moral Majority was telling American that gay equaled AIDS, while the Reagan administration was busy not helping. So I was given a teachable moment, from which I took away, at the time, the certainty that I had a lot to learn about people and our lives together. But very little idea where or from whom I would learn it. So I promptly, conveniently, forgot about it.

In my 30s I joined what could unarguably be called one of the most conservative churches on the planet. I don’t mean purblind tight-ass, sanctimonious American conservative. (No offense.) I mean Orthodox Christian, the old church, the old calendar, liturgy in Slavonic. I didn’t go there looking for conservativism. I went looking for communion with God. And nobody there was saying anything political; no preaching against gay marriage or anything. I was just vaguely aware of the church’s stand on such matters, that homosexuality is sin.

The Orthodox Christian Church is beautiful in many ways; mystical, ancient and eastern. Completely insulated from American politics, in my experience. Conservative to the point of believing that righteous government is wielded by a God-anointed Czar. No matter how conservative you think American “Christians,” of the kind that can follow Trump and Pence, can act, they are still very liberal and humanist compared to some people I have met.

There were a few points of doctrine that I had a problem with. I believe that pets go to Heaven. I don’t believe that homosexuality is a sin. I believe that sins are acts that separate the sinner from God and arise from our own selfishness, not from states of being. Sins are not acts that piss off other people; nobody has the right to tell you what your sins are. And certainly love can never be a sin. Acts that piss off other people are called pet peeves and crimes, which is why it’s imperative that we prevent tight-ass people from legislating their sins into our criminal legal codes. I believe that whatever your church chooses to practice, the law of the land is equal protection of the law for everyone.

There I was, though, in that beautiful church with those kind and gentle people. In my 30s, my opinion about gay rights was that people should keep their private lives private and stop demanding that the rest of us endorse their proclivities. I think that’s exactly what  I would have said at the time. And of course, I was completely missing the point. I had more learning to do.

When I visited family in San Francisco in the 1990s, someone suggested we go to the annual Pride parade. I recoiled at the idea, partly because I wanted to go to Marin County, enjoy some peace and quiet and relax. There’s a place, or was, in Occidental, that makes some pretty damn fine waffles. Also I was a good Christian with no desire to watch people cavorting in the streets. It seemed to me that sexual and gender identity wasn’t a reason for a demonstration in public. After all, heterosexual people don’t do it. It didn’t occur to me that hetero people should be glad they don’t have a reason to demonstrate.

Two more decades have passed. I’ve made gay friends, transgender friends, I have a transgender loved one, and I have learned that not only was I wrong about LGBTQ people, I was wrong about the culture in which we live. “In the world there is, parallel to the force of death and constraint, an enormous force of persuasion that is called culture.”[i] That culture had persuaded me to think that some of us were normal, others not, and that I was being cool by saying that normal people should tolerate others – live and let live – and the others should fade into the background noise and be tolerated.

Culture wields power. Power is inherently paranoid and potentially destructive. “When somebody goes outside the cultural norms, the culture has to protect itself.”[ii] So the LGBTQ movement is cultural self-defense, not an uprising to overthrow the culture norms, though that may be necessary and may come at great cost. None of which would be quite so obvious to me if not for the great homophobic backlash of the Trump de-evolution.

Before Trump made America hate again, civil rights seemed to be improving. Ferguson notwithstanding, I was more relaxed. I didn’t feel like the rights and wellbeing of people I care about were in jeopardy from the society I life in. Things have gone very much awry and as always the issues of civil rights for LGBTQ persons are no less fundamental and compelling than those of persons of color. They are the issues of us all. And I’m forced to admit that my opinion of 20 years ago was really a subtle form of self-righteous apartheid.

A few things are clearer now than they were in the halcyon days of Obama: First, that a reformation is necessary to secure the blessings liberty to those whose civil rights are every bit as morally imperative as those of hetero and gisgender people like me. The reformation must profoundly change this culture. Second, the culture has it coming, by God. Third, people like me have a moral duty to take sides and speak out, and the reformation will go better for everyone if we do. “Normal is just the average of deviance;” it doesn’t exist.[iii] All life is a spectrum, and if people like Trump and Pence, and the alt-right zombie army they’re building are normal, I want no part of their part of the culture.

I’m not suggesting that churches should be required to perform gay weddings. I’m as much for freedom of religion as freedom from religion. I’m saying the right to marry is a civil right and the government should make no law prohibiting its free exercise. I’m saying that no religion or cult should have the power to legislate its creed and impose its beliefs on anyone who doesn’t freely accept that creed. This culture has been poisoned by fear and tied back to to dogmas of fear, prejudice, protectionism, and doublethink. A reformation of compassion and unequivocal inclusion will do us all a world of good.

I said that after college, I had a lot to learn. I think it’s ironic that I learned as much from the people who hate people who are different than from people who in the crosshairs of that hatred. Fascists never seem to realize that hatred and paranoia (homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia) sow the seeds of their own destruction. Even bystanders can watch bullying for just so long. Now I wish I knew then what I know now, and I wish I knew now what I don’t know yet. “All kinds of sadness I’ve left behind me. Many’s the day when I have done wrong.”[iv] But I know that everyone deserves respect and equality. Our law demands it. And while any person doesn’t have equality, no person who does should go quietly or rest easily.

pooh piglet wind

[i] Albert Camus.

[ii] Robert Pirsig.

[iii] Rita Mae Brown

[iv] Jethro Tull

J. Kyle Kimberlin
Creative Commons Licensed

Brainjunk

Today, we eat a rich and decadent buffet of brainjunk — of useless tweets, of photos of people we don’t know, of articles that were written in ten minutes to stoke the content boiler. The dopamine cycle ensures that we keep on craving more content, the exact same dopamine cycle that makes a Happy Meal a happy meal.

techcrunch.com : Brainjunk and the Killing of the Internet Mind

This article makes the argument that we should pay for the content that serves our interests. (And by implication, tells the truth?) Free content isn’t worth what we’re not paying for it. It serves the interests of advertisers, not consumers. And because people won’t pay for quality, purveyors of quality content are crashing and burning, or deciding instead to generate the crap that people demand for free and advertisers will buy in bulk.

I agree, which is why I’ve been struggling to break the dopamine cycle and finding content that I’m willing to pay for. I’ve cut the TV cable in favor of services like Netflix and YouTube Red, where I can find what I want without commercials. And I subscribe to magazines*, even those that have a lot of free content online. It is essential to support what matters because The Big Cheese is trying to kill it.

I recommend The Nation, which I first found in College, back in the 1980s. It was already a formidable 120 years old back then. It’s published weekly and the Kindle subscription is $1.99/month.

I skim other political news once a week, because watching the nightly effluvium of MSNBC is like deliberately choosing the slow drip of Chinese water torture. You might approve of washing your face, but nobody thinks that’s a good method. Sure, it’s infinitely better than Faux Spews, which is water-boarding its braindead viewers with tanks of raw sewage. Still, no thanks for the nightly news from any direction. After all, we have lives and trumpism is somebody else’s problem, as I’ve said before.

Long story shorter, my friends, if you don’t prioritize your brain, somebody else will. Guard it vigorously.

*I also subscribe to print versions of
Poets & Writers, Poetry, and TIME. 

 

Life Is Too Short

“The Internet can be a hard place to find kindness, maybe especially right now, but I believe it’s worth fighting for because I believe it makes the world bigger and that it eases the hard but inevitable changes that define life.”
John Green

It so happens that I am tired of the things that I’m against, and that are against me. This being-against has come to circumscribe my days and define my existence, ever since the putative election of the Idiot Toddler King five months ago.

The writer John Green refers to a “strange brew of outrage and worry and exhaustion and not being able to look away …” and says, “I feel some vague but nagging obligation to be informed about the events of the day.” I can relate. It feels like I’ve been sucking information from a firehose and that it’s my social obligation as a citizen to go on doing it, perhaps forever. I can’t look away.

trump-baldwinI don’t want this misery; this feeling of being subjected to hypnosis or mind control. The failing landlord has had rent free use of the space between my ears for far too long. I have given him and his minions power over my thinking. That’s the most precious thing I have and worst thing I can carelessly give away. Enough!

I no longer accept the moral obligation to be constantly informed about the minutia of the highest and most profoundly innervating horrors of insensate Power. It’s not my job as a citizen, or yours. If a few of the tens of millions of us who are chronically outraged remember that we still have finite lives and look away for a moment, Trump will not get away with all of his cunning and evil plans.

I want my field of vision back, and the spectrum of my hearing, and the depth of my understanding too. There are still beautiful books to read, and music to hear. There are more important things to think about than what steaming pile of crap The Clown Prince has stepped in today.

I’m not saying I want to stop being well-informed and caring about what’s going on. But being informed doesn’t mean staying lock-step with the nation every day. It’s easy to go way beyond being informed and become obsessed. The traditional news media and countless content sources on the Internet are in the business of obsession. They make a living, one way or another, by getting our attention and keeping it. They manufacture outrage.

I’ve heard there’s no truth in the news, no news in the truth. But even if what they’re feeding us is True, they don’t want us to be merely well informed and say that’s enough thanks, and glance away. The information machine is an all-you-can-eat buffet, an eternal flame raging in a dumpster. Nobody cares if you sit there, in rapt attention, until your background level of stress pegs off the meter.

The problem with living on a daily diet of outrage against the things that we’re against is not just that it ruins your health and happiness. It doesn’t do any good. It never has. No good change in the world has ever come about just because people – no matter how many – were against something and outraged about it. Every time people have succeeded in creating positive change, it’s been because they found something that were for and felt passionate about. They then stood up and fought for that thing and against whatever was trying to destroy it. There’s no use being against something without being for something, is my point.

Anne Lamott has famously written, “You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.” Being outraged against The Other Side always results in overblown, inaccurate stereotypes. If everybody over there is evil and stupid and incapable of rational discourse, there’s no hope at all of ever making progress toward solving common problems. We become part of the problem. Believe it or not, cooperation is never optional, and those stereotypes, at some level, are always wrong.

“Now, if you ask me, what’s going on is that we’re all up to here in it, and probably the most important thing is that we not yell at one another. Otherwise we’d all just be barking away like Pekingese: ‘Ah! Stuck in the shit! And it’s your fault, you did this …’ Writing involves seeing people suffer and, as Robert Stone once put it, finding some meaning therein. But you can’t do that if you’re not respectful. If you look at people and just see sloppy clothes or rich clothes, you’re going to get them wrong.”
– Lamott

I want kindness to prevail between us, I really do, but it’s going to take time.  If you voted Nazi Stupid in the 2016 election, don’t tell me. I still think you’re a raging fool who should not be trusted with scissors or the care of pets or houseplants. Even if you’ve repented and wish there had been an actual Conservative to vote for, just shut up and keep it to yourself for a while. You are the stereotype, the poster child for bad judgment. Sorry. Let’s find something else to talk about. Not NASCAR or Rodeo. …Movies?

Of course, I still despise Donald Trump. He’s batshit crazy and evil, corrupt, and probably a traitor. But our job as citizens is not just to consume and react, consume and react. It’s to thoughtfully receive information, decide what values we are willing to stand for, and then find a way to stand up for them.

It’s time to cut back on the news. So how often is often enough to check in? Every 10 minutes, every hour, day, or week? Well for me it’s going to be a quick daily dose online. Then I have a couple of nice weekly magazines, TIME and The Nation. I’ll still be outraged but less viscerally so, I hope. If you’re not outraged, you haven’t been listening.

I’m Like

I listen to people. I guess all writers do but I’m not recommending it as a source of inspiration for the creative process. I just find it amusing, sometimes informative.

Crossing a parking lot the other day I listened to a nearby couple in their twenties. I have no idea what the girl was talking about but I decided to count the number of times she used the word “like” in her next sentence. She made it to seven, never as an actual reference to anything’s qualities or attributes, or attitudes or feelings about anything. She was like just like using it for meaningless filler. She meant, “I thought” or “I said” or “she said,” etc.

Am I like becoming an old (middle-aged) grammar cop? You damn kids learn to speak correctly and get off of my lawn! No, I understand that every generation has its silly habits. I say “cool” far more than makes sense.

I could despair for English but I am too well entertained.

The Center of the Universe

And then I explained to him how naive we were, that the world did know and remain silent. And that is why I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe.

– Elie Wiesel
Acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize

The marginalized people of America are afraid, and for good reason.

I am reminded of a story my priest told me once, from Russia in the years before the revolution. In those days, it was common practice for people to travel to monasteries to celebrate feast days and ask advice from monks, especially from certain elders.

On one occasion, a group of people were taking turns speaking with an elder who was giving them advice on keeping the fast – Lent. One by one they went up and ask his blessing – Batyushka Blagoslave – Father, bless me – and he would bless them and help them and send them on their way. He might tell them certain vegetables to eat, or tea to drink, or maybe for health reasons absolve them to eat eggs or cheese on days when they wouldn’t otherwise.

Finally a man stepped up who was very rich and influential; a man who had spent his life amassing a fortune. He asked for a blessing and the old priest, being insightful and wise, took one look at him and said:

Oh you, I know you. Don’t bother keeping the fast; eat anything you want. Just for the love of God stop eating people.

The people on the margins of American society are afraid because they are the most vulnerable to the people-eating machine that our divided and hate-steeped culture has become. I speaking of the immigrants, minorities, LGBTQ, the disabled and sick and homeless, and the list goes on. They know they’re not alone, but it must still feel that way. They don’t know if anyone – the Congress, the Courts, the churches and their neighbors – will stand with them as the machine grinds on.

It is not morning in America anymore; it is dusk. But the lamps are lit and the streets still belong to us. It is for us, every woman and man of conscience, to stay awake and vigilant. And when we hear that grinding sound in the night, we have to go out, and bring our brothers and sisters into our homes. Let no one be left outside. I’m saying we must keep speaking out.

The place to improve the world is first in one’s own heart and head and hands, and then work outward from there.
– Robert M. Pirsig

Sit Down and Shut Up

Sit down and shut up and be glad you live in a country where nobody can tell you to sit down and shut up because we all have freedom. Brave men and women died for your right to stand up and speak out, so long as you do it quietly. And you better not sit down and shut up to do it. By God, we won’t stand for that or take it sitting down. We The People demand you shut up, stand up, and salute. Because, you know, Freedom!

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Goodbye National Geographic

I have the last issue trustworthy issue here on the desk in front of me. We should note the date: November, 2015. Traditional yellow border, image of Earth with the words, “Cool it” across the middle. The Climate Issue.

This week the Society sold the magazine and book elements to Rupert Murdoch and his gang for $725M.

A bastion of popular science is now controlled by a very prominent climate change denier who, despite his company’s assurances of editorial integrity, has spent decades interfering with the independence of his properties. A tabloid king could now apply the values of the New York Post to one of the world’s oldest magazines.
Salon

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When the news of the merger broke, many were, shall we say, concerned about 21st Century Fox founder Rupert Murdoch’s influence over a revered scientific publication.
EcoWatch

Morlach is an Australian billionaire, Prevaricator in Chief of Fox News. He has done as much to teach Americans to hate each other and their country as when Satan mustered his demons at Antietam and Gettysburg.

Merdlump has raised up Fox News as his flagship of disinformation and epitome of Doublethink. He has helped bring about the Rise of the Great American Stupid. His minions wage war on science, reason, and critical thinking throughout the land.

NGM2015_MAR_CV2

Of course, the first thing Murdoch of Mordor did was to fire staff. 180 people were gone in a day.

To the board of the National Geographic Society: How could you do such a dumshit evil thing? Better to have let it die in the ebbing tide of print media than to turn it over to a monster of anti-intellectual propaganda.

Goodbye, National Geographic. You were awesome, beloved, trusted, even collected. Beautiful photography, honest and clear writing, uncompromising veracity. All gone now.