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Monthly Archives: January 2014

My attempts to get an exchange going in the comments haven’t been successful, but I’ll try again anyway.

Have you ever had a potential significant other reject you primarily because you were an atheist?

Yesterday, I posted a story about a man. His mother was very much trying to fix us up, with big hints about marriage and grandchildren. It was a long-distance situation and, following a couple of dates, he sent me regular emails. Some of them contained inspirational, spiritual messages. Eventually, I had to tell him that I was an atheist. He cooled dramatically at that point and within a few weeks communication had ceased. Now, he never told me that my atheism was a reason, perhaps he met someone else, but it was the only conflict we had had. Certainly, it didn’t help.

Another time, a man I met at a singles event phoned for a date. As it happens, Easter was that coming weekend and he asked what my family was doing. I said that I was an atheist and no one in my family was religious, so we were doing nothing. He hemmed and hawed and said that he couldn’t fix a specific date at that moment but he would call me back, which he didn’t. Remember, he had phoned me, so this was a major u-turn in the direction of the conversation.

I’m never really sure how much atheism has had an effect on my love life. On the one hand, received wisdom has it that male atheists are more numerous than females and several men have nearly jumped up and down in delight when I’ve said I was also an atheist. On the other hand, atheists are a minority and stereotypical gender roles make it seem to me that it’s easier for atheist men to date theist women than for atheist women to date theist men.

In any case, I’ve had great difficulty maintaining relationships with men who are not atheists even though I’ve tried on several occasions. Usually, things go smoothly for a few months and then the man starts pointing out miracles or times in his life when he feels that God has intervened. Eventually, we start arguing. Theoretically, I don’t care what religion a man is, but, since in the past things have not gone well, over time I’ve come to significantly prefer other atheists.

So, what about you?

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Mr. West Coast came to the East Coast to visit his family. My outfit probably bordered on the costume of a cartoon hooker, but I wasn’t going to let what happened to me the last time happen to me this time. My dress was a fire red stretch faux suede number, backless, with a halter neckline  and mid-thigh hem. On a hot summer day with a pair of flat sandals it might have looked a little bit sexy. In the evening with a pair of black patent leather boots and fishnets…? I wasn’t pushing good taste the way I usually did, I catapulted right on over it. The outfit screamed, “Please, fuck me,” which was fine by me because that was exactly what I wanted to scream. Admittedly, it would have been less tasteless on my part if his family hadn’t been there.

I saw the ever so brief surprise on his mother’s face when I showed up, but she smiled and was welcoming and hid it well. She had given me some big hints that she wouldn’t exactly cry if wedding bells were in the future. After all, she was the one who had given me Mr. West Coast’s email a few months earlier and had more or less arranged for both of us to be here this evening. Mothers always loved me and were trying to fix me up with their sons, and I’d known his mother since before I knew him, so I wasn’t too worried that one tasteless outfit would hurt her opinion of me. When we spoke on the phone earlier that week, Goody Goody, seemed to be oddly surprised that her brother was flying all the way out from California to see her in a play. “Gosh, he never did that before,” she’d said. She even suggested that I see the play on a different night so she and I could spend time together. “I don’t know why my mother got the two of you tickets for the same night! That’s going to be so awkward.” In fact, now that I think about it, Goody Goody’s mother had been quite shrewd. One of her best friends from high school would be there as well, which meant shortly after the play was over Mr. West Coast and I could take a powder without attracting too much notice.

As we sat side by side in the theater waiting for the play to begin, I said, “I had such a crush you when I was fourteen.” This shouldn’t have been news to him since I snuck into his room once in the middle of the night to fuck him. That usually gives a guy a hint, but still I wanted him to know that I hadn’t forgotten.

“I’ve had a crush on you since I was four,” was his reply.

“Huh? Your parents weren’t even married when you were four.” His family was a composite family. His mother and father each had children from previous marriages, like the Brady Bunch.

“No, but they were dating. We would go with my father to visit Mom and I remember always hoping that little girl from next door would stop by.”

I pretended to remember this because it only seemed polite, but in fact I didn’t. I had no memory of Mr. West Coast until he hit puberty. Then, all of a sudden, there he was, Goody Goody’s little brother.

He rested his arm on the back of my chair. I felt his fingers lightly brushing my bare back. The outfit started feel a lot less ridiculous.

After the play, Goody Goody said to me, “Westie is so sleazy. Don’t think you have to be nice to him for my sake.”

I almost laughed and I thought to myself, “Oh, don’t worry, this entirely for my sake and I plan on being very, very nice to him. Nicer than you can imagine.”

Back at my apartment, a few hours later, we sat on the sofa and talked while touching. I don’t know how we got onto this subject, but at some point he made a comment indicating that he believed that I had had too many sexual partners. “What do you think is normal?” I asked.

“I don’t know. The last woman I dated, I asked her and she said…”

I interrupted him. “Let me guess. Three. There was her steady boyfriend in high school. They dated for several years. After a number of months together, maybe a year, they had sex. It was very serious and they were very much in love. Of course, it didn’t work out. They were far too young. Then in college… she had a steady boyfriend throughout most of college. It was very serious. They talked about marriage. Eventually, after dating for a long time, they had sex. Of course, it didn’t work out. They were far too young. Then there was a they guy she dated for several years in her twenties. She really, really thought they were going to get married. They were very much in love, but it didn’t work out.”

He was taken aback and didn’t try to hide his surprise. “Yes, how did you know.”

“That’s the socially acceptable answer. If we were still in our twenties, the answer would be two. Now, we’re in our thirties and saying she hasn’t had sex for over a decade doesn’t sound believable, so she has to add one more.”

“But maybe,” he said, “it’s the truth in her case. Maybe so many women say that because that really is the typical behavior.”

“Really,” I said. “First of all, you think girls don’t talk to each other? Secondly, let me ask you, how many months did it take her to go to bed with you?”

He looked uncomfortable now. “Not months. Weeks, maybe. About three dates.”

I reminded him that I’d had a crush on him when we were young. “So, I don’t think you’ll take this as an insult from me, but do you really think you’re that much more seductive and charming than all the other men she dated?” In fact, I was being polite. I didn’t state what he and I both knew. Being short myself, a man’s height isn’t an important characteristic to me, but I know what other women say to me about height and I know what my short, platonic male friends have been through. At five foot five, Mr. West Coast probably had more difficulty with women than the average man, not less.

“I’m not that much more promiscuous than the average woman, but I’m a lot more honest.” I said, finally. I climbed on his lap and straddled him and gave him little kisses on his face. “If I have to be someone I’m not to please a man, then I don’t want to be with him.” With that, I lifted my dress up over my head.

He put is hand between my legs. “I’m surprised,” he said. “I expect that you’d be shaved.”

“Huh?” This was the first time I’d heard of this.

“Or at least trimmed. Actually, I’m glad you’re not completely shaved, but I like women who are trimmed, and maybe shaved a little bit.”

“What on earth are you talking about?”

“Most women shave their pubic areas. You look like you haven’t done anything.”

“That’s because I haven’t.” I said. This was a weird conversation, because I’d never heard anything like this before and I didn’t exactly consider myself sheltered. I’d had sex with dozens of men over twenty years and no one had ever before taken an interest one way or another in my pubic hair. “Are you telling me that Miss I’ve-only-ever-slept-with-three-men was shaving her pubic hair? God, you’re naive. When I’m not expecting to wind up in bed with a man, my legs might not even be shaved.”

“Okay, okay. Let’s not talk about her.” He pushed me back onto the sofa. My legs were dangling over the edge. He slipped to the floor onto his knees, spread my thighs and put his face between my legs. I was expecting any second to feel his tongue, but instead I heard, “Where do you keep the scissors?”

“Huh? I don’t know. There’s a pair of small scissors I use for trimming my nails on the first shelf of the medicine cabinet.”

“I’ll be right back.”

He returned with the scissors and a small comb that I also kept on that shelf. He knelt down between my knees again. “You don’t mind, do you?”

“Hey, whatever turns you on.”

Never let it be said that I’m not nice.

A few weeks later I got an email. Mr. West Coast had just finished a short stay at Esalen. “You were right,” he wrote. “Most women were au naturel.”

My sister and I have an ongoing joke. She had been doing a lot work in cooperation with some churches in our area, so I think her mindset was in a particular place when I burst through her door one day, shouting “Have you heard the good news!” She looked at me in shock. Oblivious, I continued, “There’s a sale on shoes! I have new shoes, and they have bows on them!” I cried, pointing my foot and showing off the big bow on my toe.

Now, we have an ongoing joke. When she hears the phrase “the good news” she whispers in my ear, “My shoes have bows!”

Well, there’s more good news these days, and I’m not talking about the metallic gold boots I found deeply discounted at a Zadig et Voltaire outlet. The Atheist Blogroll has recommenced. The Atheist Blogroll is, as you might expect, a listing of blogs hosted by atheists. Some of these deal with atheism directly and frequently while others are only atheist in so far as the blogger is an atheist.

I wasn’t blogging at the time that the Out Campaign first started, and since I’d never hidden the fact that I was an atheist, it might not have mattered anyway. Still, I think it’s useful to acknowledge that I’m an atheist because if one doesn’t say anything, people tend to presume that you are whatever the majority in your area is.

The atheist Out Campaign follows the efforts by gay activists in the late sixties and seventies to encourage homosexuals to come out of the closet. At least according to the movie Milk, a part of the impetus for coming out was that people who knew gays were less likely to vote in favor of limiting their civil rights.

From the movie:

Harvey Milk: We’re going to convince the 90% to give a shit about us 10%. We have to let them know who we are. Everybody has to come out. Across the entire state, no matter where they live. …. Every gay lawyer, teacher, doctor, dog catcher. We have to leave the ghetto. We have to let all those people out there know that they know one of us….
Scott Smith: The whole state isn’t San Francisco, Harvey.
Unknown: Clearly, Scott. Harvey, that could be really, really dangerous. I mean, there’s such a thing as a right to privacy.
Harvey Milk: Privacy. In this movement, at this time, I’m not saying this as a supervisor, privacy is the enemy. And if you want real political power, if that’s what you want, try telling the truth for a change.

My own main reason for being on the Atheist Blogroll is to stand up and be counted. This may, in fact, be more important for atheists that write about a diverse array of topics than for those who write regularly about atheism.

To be clear, the Atheist Blogroll is not connected to the Out Campaign. It’s just linked in my mind because being on the blogroll and having the badge on the sidebar of my blog is a way for me to let people know that I’m an atheist.

Ally Fog recently put up a post about the treatment of male victims of domestic violence that which was especially interesting in light of the last two installments of my memories which dealt with the first time a boyfriend hit me and my violent reaction to being hit.

Fogg’s piece, “Male victims, screening and victim-blaming,” was prompted by a post about male victims of domestic violence which appeared on Crimestoppers, “an official UK central government public information service.” Fogg’s criticism of the Crimestopper’s post centered around the issue of whether or not men accessing services for victims of domestic violence are, in fact, victims or perpetrators. The Crimestopper’s post states:

Another issue some callers bring is the use of violence by both partners – working out who the ‘primary perpetrator/aggressor’ is in these cases and who was genuinely in self-defence is crucial if we want to manage the risk and increase the safety of victims. It is well established by now that some perpetrators approach victim services claiming they are the victim in their relationship. This has important implications for service delivery as perpetrators may be offered support as victims and victims as perpetrators.

About which Fogg comments:

One of the nastiest stereotypes that hovers around male victims of intimate partner violence is that he must have done something to provoke it, to deserve it, or that the abuser must have been defending herself because the man is invariably the violent one.

A report by Abused Men in Scotland about the Men’s Advice Line said

that some men who had called the Men’s Advice Line felt as if they were being themselves ‘screened’ as perpetrators and all but accused of being wife-beaters when they called for help.

Reading Fogg’s piece, it occurred to me that they way we see the words “victim” and “perpetrator” may be itself be problematic. We tend to talk about victims, and even more so about perpetrators, as if these were roles that inheres in the individual rather than being a transitory state that is a function of a given situation or a given action. In the first of my two memories, I was quite clearly the victim while in the second I was the perpetrator.

The desire to assign blame and to punish is often at odds with the desire to help. A few months ago, on Makagutu’s blog, Random Thoughts, there were some exchanges regarding the question of freewill and how that relates to our punishment of crime. Are we seeing perpetrators as immoral individuals who must somehow be redeemed through punishment?

I hope no one misunderstands. I am not trying to minimize or excuse domestic violence. Years after the incident in my adolescence, I would live with a man and, as the relationship deteriorated, he became physically threatening. He started to do things like pushing me up against the wall and yelling in my face. One day he slapped me. Immediately afterward I made plans to leave and was gone within a few days.

A few years after that he phoned me and asked to meet in a Coffee Shop. After I arrived he told me that he wanted to apologize for the behavior he had exhibited towards the end of our relationship. Then he added that he didn’t think it was acceptable for a man to hit a woman and that he wasn’t trying to excuse what he had done but, he added, he felt that the circumstances had contributed. He seemed surprised when I agreed. Indeed, it would take pages upon pages to describe just how unhealthy our relationship had become. To give some slight indication, we both had jobs we hated and were poorly paid, we were always short of cash, we lived in a small basement apartment with no privacy between rooms, there was a leak in the ceiling for over a year that the landlord wouldn’t fix, there was mold growing on the ceiling, I had developed a series of respiratory infections, he couldn’t maintain an erection, he reluctantly agreed to let me sleep with other men but became jealous when I actually did…. I think I was right to leave him because it was the only way to stop the downward spiral, but apportioning blame seems to be beside the point. Most importantly, I have no reason to believe that he hit any other women.

It would have been very nice if some intervention had occurred before it had gotten as bad as it did. It was only after he hit me that other people stepped up to help. Now he was an “abuser” and I was a “victim” and people suddenly knew what to do, which was to help me move out.

Returning to Fogg’s article, which I do recommend reading in its entirety (it’s not long):

Someone who approaches a victim support service – whether a helpline, a refuge or anything else – must be assumed to be in need of support and be offered the help they need. There is a good argument to say that as part of the support process, all victims should somehow be offered help with any violent or aggressive tendencies of their own.

 

 

Do you have any songs that you listen to when you’re feeling down? My best friend tells me that he listens to Billie Holiday. So many times, I’ve been told that I have bad taste, I’ve almost come to embrace it as part of my sense of self. Well, not bad taste. Everyone thinks that their own taste is wonderful, but I’m perfectly happy to have a little chip on my shoulder on the subject of taste. You call it bad taste; I call it my taste.

When I’m feeling crummy, there’s a song that always makes me feel better. I love this song, and the fact that I love it totally appalls many people. In fact, quite a few people have told me that it shows that I have bad taste. It’s “Frankenstein” by the New York Dolls. So many times, I’ve been told that this is just an awful song, but I really, really like it for some reason. Yes, I know that it’s totally overblown and over the top, a bombastic mess, and that’s a large part of why I like it. I like it even when I’m feeling good, but when I’m feeling rejected for being a freak or not fitting in, it makes me feel better for some reason. Admittedly, it’s not exactly, “uplifting,” but when you’re feeling marginalized, what other people find uplifting doesn’t always help.

Well, I’m asking you as a person
Is it a crime
Is it a crime
For you to fall in love with Frankenstein?
And is it wrong
Could it be wrong
Is it wrong just to want a friend?

I think it’s easy to see why someone who feels constantly out of place might like this song.

So now you’re telling me
That any time you could just go home
Well, this place here, you know it is my home
So where am I gonna go?

Hmm. Not feeling better yet. I might have to play it again twice as loud.

A few years ago, I attempted a career change. After taking classes in a variety of fields, sensible fields where jobs were available, I found that I loved programming and I had a knack for it. When I discovered that I loved programming I was first elated, then deflated. I tried to explain to a friend the discouragement that kicked in. I said, “No one’s going hire a middle-aged, female newbie programmer.”

My tall, wealthy Wasp male friend said to me, “That’s the depression talking.”

I said, “No, that’s just reality. Perhaps ‘no one’ is an exaggeration, but I have a couple of strikes against me in being hired and it would be counter-productive to close my eyes to that.”

Several times in posts I’ve thrown out the line, “Can I have a job?” Like many of my jokes, it’s based in reality. The only part of it that’s a joke is that I don’t actually expect an offer this way. I’ve had jobs, but never one that was the beginning of a career. They were always the dead-end type, data entry clerk, accounts payable clerk, accounts receivable clerk, receptionist, straight hourly wage, no benefits, no paid holidays, no insurance. For many years in my twenties I would regularly go on job interviews, constantly in search of that “entry-level” job. When I complained about my lack of a career, older family friends would say, “You can’t start at the top,” as if I was complaining about not being the CEO. I didn’t want to start at the top, I just wanted to be on the first rung of something that was actually a ladder, not a step-stool. Where does the career path of a receptionist go? Nowhere. There is nothing past receptionist. You don’t work your way up to anything. Sure, the research assistants and editorial assistants in the offices weren’t getting paid any better, but they had a future.

I would apply for those jobs and never get them. Sometimes, I wish I had some insight as to why. Once I applied for the job of editorial assistant, or whatever they called their entry-level position, at Reuters. The woman in the H.R. department who interviewed me looked me up and down. “We have a receptionist position open,” she said brightly. I rose and said thank-you and good-bye and tried to get out of there fast enough so no one would see me cry. Why was I always being pigeon holed into these low-level jobs? More than one person did it, many in fact, so it probably wasn’t a fluke.

Earlier, in school, I had been a good student, the kind who everyone thinks has a bright future ahead of her. My sessions with my guidance counselor generally included him shrugging and saying, “Well, you can do anything you want to do,” or “You can go to any college you want to go to.” I graduated from high school early.

I did drop out of college and finished my degree by going part-time while I worked. Although that definitely got me off the “fast track” I had been on, it shouldn’t have derailed my ability to have any kind of career whatsoever. Furthermore, I’m not convinced that had I graduated on time I wouldn’t have had greater difficulty with HR departments in comparison to my peers.

Over the years, I’ve developed great anxiety at the thought of a job interview. Even those low-level jobs came mostly through acquaintances. I never found a job by applying to an ad in the paper, although I’ve been interviewed for many.

I thought of this after reading an article in the New York Times Magazine about “the marshmallow experiment.”

In a series of famous experiments in the 1960s and ’70s conducted by the Stanford psychologist Walter Mischel, preschoolers were invited to sit alone in a room furnished only with a small desk. On the desk sat two marshmallows (or equivalently tempting treats) and a bell. The researcher told each child that he had to leave, but that when he returned, she could eat both marshmallows. If she wanted one marshmallow before then, however, she could ring the bell and eat one, but not both. Then the researcher shut the door, leaving the child alone with the forbidden marshmallows.

Some children gobbled a marshmallow the minute the door was closed, while others distracted themselves by covering their eyes, singing and kicking the desk. One resourceful child somehow managed to take a nap. But here’s the part that made the experiment famous: In follow-up studies, children who had resisted temptation turned out years later to be not only skinnier and better socially adapted, but they also scored as much as 210 points higher on their SATs than the most impatient children in the studies did.

The writer describes it as a Calvinist fable. At four years old we can determine if we are on of the elect. The irony for me is that I am absolutely certain that as a child I would not have eaten the marshmallow. I know this because for all of my childhood and much of my adult life I’ve had a reputation for having great willpower and being very responsible. In recent years, with the arrival of my depression, those qualities have declined, although they haven’t disappeared altogether.

Just last year, a study by researchers at the University of Rochester called the conclusions of the Stanford experiments into question, showing that some children were more likely to eat the first marshmallow when they had reason to doubt the researcher’s promise to come back with a second one. In the study, published in January 2013 in Cognition under the delectable title “Rational Snacking,” Celeste Kidd, Holly Palmeri and Richard N. Aslin wrote that for a child raised in an unstable environment, “the only guaranteed treats are the ones you have already swallowed,” while a child raised in a more stable environment, in which promises are routinely delivered upon, might be willing to wait a few more minutes, confident that he will get that second treat.

So, I ask myself, how did I go from a marshmallow abstainer to a marshmallow swallower?

My childhood was fairly stable and relatively happy and I’m sure I would have believed any adult who said that I could have two marshmallows in the future. Even throughout most of my high school years, while things became more difficult, there was a high correlation in my case between effort and reward. I did have one high school teacher give me a low grade for rejecting his sexual advances, but the general impression was that this man was a horrible exception. All my other grades were good, my standardized test scores were high, and this person did not impede me in any way.

However, during adulthood, all connection between effort and reward has been severed. For decades, I continued to behave as if the connection was still there. Maybe, I thought, like that high school teacher, I may have had a bit of bad luck, but my general sense that the overall world functioned and was more or less just remained intact. If I kept trying one day my ship would come in.

I no longer believe that. I haven’t yet worked up the heart to actually apply for a programming job. One of the reasons I spent so many years self-employed is that the idea of a job interview now causes me tremendous anxiety. I see job interviews as an elaborate charade at best, and a form of emotional abuse at worst. It’s as if the researcher in the marshmallow test would come in and say to the waiting child. “Ha! Ha! You’re an idiot. No marshmallows for you.” I fear being on an interview for a programming job and having an HR person say to me, “You know, we have a receptionist position open.” If that were to happen again, I wouldn’t be able to control myself before leaving the office and I think I’d start sobbing right then and there.

Generally, I find that my memory is pretty good, surprisingly so. I’ve tried to cross check facts with my sister and, to a lesser extent, with my mother, and this cross checking has left me with the feeling that my memory’s pretty reliable. That’s a good thing since I’ve never been able to keep a diary for more than about a week. I guess this blog is the closest thing to a diary that I’ve ever had. Sometimes, I remember entire conversations or sequences of events, but mostly it’s spottier, more like a series of snapshots and the occasional sentence. If I have enough of these snippets, I can usually string them together into a coherent, readable narrative. Unfortunately, there are some events I need to cover where my memory is not good. This is one of them. I’m going to try to make it as easy to follow as possible. I also behaved very badly, and I’m going to try to not whitewash my own behavior. That’s difficult. We all want to hide our faults a little.

In the days following being slapped by Lanky Joe, the other girls behaved in a way that I can only describe as cool. No one said anything, at least not openly. The other girls, of course, continued to date their boyfriends, and Chuck E and Hazy Davy remained friends with Lanky Joe. The result was that they would all continue to get together and I became alienated from the group. There was no consequence for Lanky Joe for slapping me, but instead I was the one who was socially punished. No one thought this through, I’m sure. It was just a chain of human weakness and self-interest. The exception was Suzy Q. She was beginning to develop something of a feminist sensibility, although I’m not sure whether or not we would have called it that at the time. We were aware of feminism, but only in a childish way. The tennis player, Billie Jean King, was probably the most well-known feminist among children. Since I wasn’t athletic, I felt that it didn’t have much to do with me. Suzy Q, however, saw the idea of me being alone while the boy who hit me continued to be invited as an unjust situation.

One Saturday shortly afterward, Suzy Q and I went to the shopping mall. We went there, in part, because the others rarely did, although it was a common enough destination for kids our age. The shopping mall was laid out around a central atrium. All of the stores were on the first floor and on the second floor, ringing the atrium like a great big doughnut, was a food court. In the center, was a double height waterfall landscaped with potted plants. In my provincial little mind it was quite snazzy. Behind the waterfall were several staircases. They twisted and turned and opened out into areas with benches and then narrowed again. When the shopping mall first opened and I was still quite young, I loved these staircases. They were like a labyrinth. As I got older, they became partially hidden places to hold hands with boys and maybe even exchange some kisses. There were escalators and an elevator going to the second floor, but I always took one of the staircases and I preferred the path with the greatest number of turns.

Suzy Q and I headed up to the second floor to get something to eat. We passed a landing with a nook where I once sat with a redheaded boy whose name was the masculine version of my own and we held hands and giggled, too young to even yet understand why we wanted to do that.  Further up, there was a larger landing where another staircase joined the one we had taken. As we passed by, I heard somebody call my name. I turned to see Lanky Joe. Behind him were Chuck E and Hazy Davy. He said something. To this day, I’ve never been able to recall what he said. Suzy Q was a couple of feet behind me and didn’t hear it, neither did Hazy Davy. Chuck E would later tell me that he heard but wouldn’t repeat it. I am entirely clueless about what he said. Entirely. All I know is that I flew at him. All reason entirely left me. I have no idea what I would have done had I actually managed to reach him. There was no thought, only action. I charged like an enraged bull. Chuck E lunged forward and grabbed me. So did Hazy Davy. I caught a glimpse of Lanky Joe and he was smirking. The smirk sent a chill through me and I started to calm down. I saw that Cherry Bomb and Cat Eyes were there. Cherry Bomb was angry, “You scratched Chuck E!” Indeed, Chuck E had a faint red line across his cheek, although I didn’t remember doing it.

My mind was foggy and I felt confused. Chuck E turned to Cherry Bomb and said, “Calm down. It wasn’t intentional.” Then he took me by the shoulder and led me around the corner. I started to apologize for scratching him.

“Don’t think about it,” he said. “I know it was an accident. Look at you. Either of us could have overpowered you without even trying. It was only because I was trying not to hurt you, so I was grabbing you in a funny way. You didn’t scratch me. Your hand brushed against my face. That’s all. I don’t know why Cherry Bomb’s so upset. I’m sure she’ll calm down and forget about it.

“Do yourself a favor and keep far away from Lanky Joe. I wouldn’t care if you hit him. You’re too small to hurt him and he probably deserves it. He’s looking for an excuse to hurt you and you don’t know what he’s capable of.”

My mind was still spinning, trying to believe what had just happened had actually happened. Had I really done what I just did? Why? Can your body just go without your mind’s consent? I asked Chuck E what Lanky Joe had said. He was taken aback that I had no memory of it. In fact, my memory is spotty of everything between hearing my name and seeing that smirk. Chuck E shook his head, “Then I’m not going to tell you. Forget about Lanky Joe. Forget about everything.”

Cherry Bomb wouldn’t forget, however. She would repeat later to me that I had scratched Chuck E. If the other girls had distanced themselves from me before due to circumstance, now it was intentional. A few days later, Chuck E would seek me out after school. He emphasized yet again that he felt it was an accident. He told me that he’d be perfectly happy to have me hang out with them again and would ask Lanky Joe to not come by. He said that he tried to make it okay again with Cherry Bomb, but she wouldn’t have any of it. He seemed to feel really awkward and bad about it.

Cherry Bomb, Cat Eyes and Sour Puss didn’t stop at simply avoiding me themselves. They started putting pressure on Suzy Q to not be friends with me. Suzy Q, however, stuck by me.

 

Apparently, The New Republic has teamed up with a British publication and they are now sharing material. The first article I’ve read is beyond being inauspicious. I take for granted that publications, especially those that deal with politics, will regularly publish things with which I disagree. However, the shoddiness of this article is beyond compare. It’s “The New Intolerance” by Cristina Odone, and it’s so awful that I don’t know where to start, except by picking up the phone and cancelling my subscription.

She starts with a dramatic statement.

“I couldn’t believe it. I was trying to discuss traditional marriage—and the state was trying to stop me.”

In my mind, I see her standing there, at a cocktail party. Little black dress, a glass of plonk in hand. A giggly, glowing, younger female friend sidles up to her. The friend holds out her left hand. There’s great big diamond ring on her finger. “Guess what!” she giggles. She seems so adorable and so happy.

Cristina puts a supportive arm around her friend. “Congratulations!” she cries.

No sooner have the words left her mouth than the door to the party is kicked in. Blam! The assembled party goers gasp in fear. “It’s Judge Dredd.”

I’m eager to read the rest of the story, how she was hauled before the courts and sentenced to hard labor for expressing her support. Um. Not quite.

Quickly, right after that first line that makes your heart race, she changes the subject. She says that she supports “traditional marriage.” She doesn’t bother to define that. Let’s call this undefined contract “Odone marriage” so I can get rid of the quotes. However, whatever Odone marriage may be, she is disingenuous when she says that her concern is to support it. There are many ways she could support it, but giving talks trying to prevent marriages between individuals of the same sex strikes me as an odd way to go about it. What she is doing is not supporting marriages of which she personally approves, but she is trying to prevent marriages of which she doesn’t personally approve. Not the same thing.

It turns out that “the state” wasn’t trying to stop her at all. Organizations who do not believe that the only marriages in the world should be Odone marriages did not care to host a conference. So, the first sentence is a lie. The state wasn’t trying to stop her, at all. Several organizations, which were not the state, did not want to be complicit in her efforts to stop marriages she doesn’t like. They would not let Christian Concern use their premises for a conference.

The title, “One Man. One Woman. Making the Case for Marriage for the Good of Society”, could hardly have sounded more sober.

That it sounds sober to Odone hardly makes it so. It puts me in mind of a post about my own marriage I recently wrote.

Before we go further, we should take a look at the group who organized the conference, Christian Concern. They are not, as the name might indicate, a support group for Christians suffering from anxiety. Christian Concern was founded by evangelical activist and young earth creationist Andrea Minichiello Williams.

Christian Concern states, that as a result of society turning its back on Jesus the growth of ideas such as “secular liberal humanism, moral relativism and sexual licence” has led to “widespread family breakdown, immorality and social disintegration.” The organisation views the “fruit” of ideas that are alternative to Christianity as “rotten” and seeks to remedy the situation by engaging politically with a broad range of issues, including: abortion, adoption and fostering, bioethics, marriage, education, employment, end of life, equality, family, free speech, Islamism, religious freedom, the sex trade, social issues and issues relating to sexual orientation.

Ironically, considering that they currently think not being aided in the theocratic agenda is “intolerance,” Christian Concern opposed the Racial and Religious Hatred Act of 2006, which created “an offence in England and Wales of inciting hatred against a person on the grounds of their religion.”

The conference was finally held in “the basement of a hotel.” That makes it sound rather clandestine, but it also makes me curious to know their budget. I’ve only ever been to London once, but I distinctly recall that hotels in central London are quite expensive.

The Christian Concern had difficulty finding a venue to host its conference which did finally come off. Odone now feels that her “rights as a taxpayer, citizen and Christian had been trampled.” This melodramatic retelling of a rather mundane matter of a right-wing extremist group trying to find a venue for a conference, which they eventually found, is not her point. It’s only the introduction, a heavy-handed attempt to arouse the reader’s sympathy and emotions and to portray the writer as a persecuted, marginalized minority.

Well, I guess the wealthy and coddled are a minority, although I don’t know if I would call them persecuted an marginalized. She was born in Nairobi to a World Bank official. Her father was Italian and her mother was Swedish. She attended a private school in the United States and a boarding school in England. I can’t imagine what it must be like to be so marginalized. Poor dear.

Then, the article veers off the well-trod path of poor propaganda into the wilds if incoherence.

Only 50 years ago, liberals supported “alternative culture”; they manned the barricades in protest against the establishment position on war, race and feminism. Today, liberals abhor any alternative to their credo. No one should offer an opinion that runs against the grain on issues that liberals consider “set in stone”, such as sexuality or the sanctity of life.

Does she understand the word “liberal?” The New Republic is very much a liberal magazine, so I’m surprised that they would publish, or republish, an article with such a confused view of the term. Liberals did not support “alternative culture” out of some weird impulse to just be in opposition to the prevailing society.

Just a quick aside. Odone doesn’t mean the sanctity my life. I know what “sanctity of life” really means. It means I should have had a fist land in my face on a weekly basis because I was knocked up by an abusive man. She’s so concerned about great injustice of the “state” preventing her from speaking, but she probably wouldn’t flinch at the notion that my own life should have been a living hell because she thinks a three-week old embryo has more sanctity than an adult woman. An embryo that would have almost certainly turned into a child growing up in extreme poverty with two emotionally messed up parents both of whom had bad tempers. Forcing two people into a future they didn’t want is exactly where her support of one man/ one woman marriage ends.

She seems to miss the fact that liberalism a word that covers several strands of political thought with a similar origin in ideas about individual liberty. I am not familiar enough with liberalism in the UK to be able to speak about it intelligently, so I’ll limit myself to liberalism in the US, since her accusations would apply equally well to liberals here. The belief in the importance of individual liberty leads liberals to be highly supportive of civil rights. Odone may see the equality liberals seek as “superficial”, but I do not. The fight for equal rights is one of the core values for most liberals, although we may often disagree on the best means to that end.

In the early years of the western liberal state, self-governance was generally reserved for only men, usually men of a certain race and class, although the specifics of that varied by location. As the liberal project has progressed over the last two or three centuries, the categories of individuals included in this group of competent adults capable of self-governance has expanded to include women, people of color and individuals not owning property.

During the course of the twentieth century, many liberals have focused on the liberty of previously marginalized groups beyond the bare bones of the franchise. The ability of women to control their reproduction, and therefore control their lives, is one. The freedom for consenting adults to enter into a marriage contract is another.

I believe that religious liberty is mean­ingless if religious subcultures do not have the right to practise and preach according to their beliefs. These views – for example, on abortion, adoption, divorce, marriage, promiscuity and euthanasia – may be unfashionable. They certainly will strike many liberal-minded outsiders as harsh, impractical, outmoded, and irrelevant.

By this point in time, I believe we all know that the people who make this complaint are not speaking the truth. They do not want simply the right to speak. The want the right to force others to behave according to their own ideas. There is no sanctity of life, only domination over others. They do not want to bear a child they didn’t want to conceive themselves. They want others to do so. They don’t want to be put up for adoption themselves. They want others to be so. They don’t want to remain in a loveless marriage themselves. They want others to do so.

Yes, you are harsh. The life to which you would have seen me condemned would have been a living nightmare. You are not merely outmoded. You are cruel, callous, sadistic and sick.

So why force the closure of a Catholic adoption agency that for almost 150 years has placed some of society’s most vulnerable children with loving parents?

As someone who was adopted, I object to being treated as a pawn in this manner. Don’t care for me as a fertilized egg if you won’t care for me as an adult. Catholics oppose contraception.

Finally, Odone gets to her real point. She sides with the people who would like to overturn the Enlightenment. Will somebody please tell me, what kind of horrid ultra-conservative rag is The New Statesman?

Churches were every­where – one for every 200 inhabitants in the High Middle Ages – and oversaw every stage of life: “hatch, match and despatch”.

Yes, we all know how famously wonderful the Middle Ages were. I mean, how the fuck do I even argue about a point so absurd? How the fuck does The New Republic publish this tripe? Can I have a job? Really.

The Founding Fathers crossed an ocean to be free to practise their faith.

This is simply wrong. Generally, the Founding Fathers are considered to be the people who signed the Declaration of Independence and worked on the Constitution. The people who “crossed an ocean” were other people. Many came here in the pursuit of profit. Many poor people came here as indentured servants. Those who came over here for their faith tried to found a theocracy. We generally don’t consider them Founding Fathers. I have roots that go back to the Massachusetts Bay Colony on one side and to Jamestown on another. Don’t try to tell me about my history.

Church attendance has slumped to less than 30 per cent. Only in two Greek Orthodox countries, Cyprus and Greece, does the overwhelming majority of the population attend services regularly (98 per cent and 96 per cent respectively). Europeans may walk in the shadow of church spires but biblical literacy is so unusual today that a recent survey found that, of 900 representative respondents, 60 per cent couldn’t name anything about the parable of the Good Samaritan, while only 5 per cent of people could name all the Ten Commandments.

So? There are lots of things Europeans no longer do. Bull Baiting. Pogroms. Witch Burnings. Debtor’s Prisons. I bet you don’t thatch roofs as much as you used to or heat your homes with peat fires.

She then goes onto extol the attitudes towards religion in the U.S. There is so much that is a problem with those two short paragraphs I’d need to write another post the length of this already long one in order to talk about it. Please pardon me if I skip it.

Next up (Sorry for the rough segue, but she changes focus yet again.):

Can the decline in the social and intellectual standing of faith be checked, or even reversed? Yes. Ironically, believers can learn from those who have come to see themselves as their biggest enemy: gays.

Think of how successful gay rights activists have been, in both Europe and America. Twenty-five years ago, Britain’s first “gay pride” march took place in London. It was a muted affair, remembers the campaigner Ivan Massow, which “struggled to fill half of Kennington Park and a disco tent”.

Perhaps, but the first gay pride parade in New York followed Stonewall, which was anything but a muted affair. Gay pride started with people fighting back for their lives. If Odone doesn’t know anything about the history of the contemporary gay rights movement, maybe she shouldn’t use it as a model.

She then goes on in a way that I can only imaging that she’s hallucinating.

Practising Christians, Jews and Muslims should also step forward into the limelight, dismantling prejudices that they must be suspect, lonely, losers. Believers should present themselves as ordinary people, men and women who worry about the price of the weekly shop and the size of the monthly mortgage. They should not appear to be religious zealots or gay-bashers or rabid pro-lifers. They should reassure critics that religious people are not a race apart – but just happen to cherish a set of ideals that sometimes places them at odds with the rest.

Notice the use of the word “appear.” They may be gay-bashers or rabid pro-lifers, but they should lie and dissemble. They should hide their true goals.

Let outsiders see the faithful as a vulnerable group persecuted by right-on and politically correct fanatics who don’t believe in free speech. Let them see believers pushed to the margins of society, in need of protection to survive. Banned, misrepresented, excluded – and all because of their religion? Even the most hardbitten secularist and the most intolerant liberal should be offended by the kind of censorship people of faith are facing today. If believers can awaken a sense of justice in those around them, they may have taken a first important step in reclaiming the west as an area where God is welcome.

Notice the clumsy attempt at propaganda. People who believe that freedom of conscience is best protected by a secular state are turned into “hardbitten secularists.” I would be greatly offended by that kind of censorship if it was happening. When someone says, “I am a Christian,” and the police come along and bash his head with a billy club, when the churches are raided and Christian must meet in secret, when they are in need of a Christian “out” campaign, then I will see them as persecuted. Until then, this hand wringing is laughable.

Communities will no longer be able to rely on the selfless devotion of evangelists and missionaries who happily shoulder the burden of looking after the unwanted, the aged, the poor.

Oooh, I’m shaking in my boots. The amount that religious organizations contribute to aid for the poor is a drop in the bucket compared to government programs. I’m far more worried by conservative who want to dismantle government programs than by religious people taking their ball and going home. Besides that, I’m not even sure what she’s talking about. Does she mean if religious people don’t get their way in the political sphere they won’t help out the hungry. Not very, ahem, Christian, I’d say. Or does she mean if the individuals who would have been nominally Christian in a world in which people are forced to profess belief whether they believe or not would give significantly more to a church than they would to charities without a religious affiliation? (Don’t forget, most money given to religious organizations, although technically charitable donations, do not go to aid to the poor.)

Religion has long been synonymous with authority. This was no bad thing when, for millennia, traditional hierarchies were respected for ensuring that the few at the top protected, organised, and even ensured the livelihood of, the many at the bottom.

Is Downtown Abbey rotting your brains over there?

Bloodthirsty authoritarians from Hitler to Pol Pot drove a tank through this vision: they turned authority into authoritarianism.

Right. Because until Hitler everything was hunky-dory. Everyone knew their place. The rich took care of the poor and the poor… aw… fuck it. This is just too crazy. Anyway, I’m just getting too worn out now.

(Note to self: Nothing this crazy woman can do can hurt you. She’s totally impotent. This has no real effect on your life. It’s okay. Deep breath. Calm down. She can’t make you go to her church. She can’t make you believe in her god. She can’t even stop you from having sex. Oh, right. Marriage. I forgot. That’s what this whole smoke screen was about in the first place. She can hurt people. She can impose her views on them.)

The whole thing is just hideous. Just hideous. I’m really upset that a magazine I support has chosen to lend their weight to this garbage.

Earlier in this post I put in a link to a video about the Stonewall Uprising. If you don’t know much about the incident, I really recommend watching the video: The American Experience: The Stonewall Uprising. It’s inspiring.

There was a post recently on the Huffington Post website by Alexis Jane Torre titled “I’m ‘Not Like Most Girls’.”

You probably know those movies and books where there’s a female protagonist who is apparently “not like most girls.” She actually likes sports and isn’t catty. She doesn’t cause drama or stress over her appearance. She is unlike every other female character, and she is unable to befriend most girls.

Her basic point, that this trope serves to discourage women from female friendships and encourages them to not trust one another seems to be valid enough. However, I’m not so sure that many women, at least women I know, actually believe that most girls conform to those negative stereotypes.

And, this then teaches young women that they should strive to be “not like most girls.”

Trying to avoid being like the negative stereotype has inhibiting effects. I had one friend who had no problem asking men out on dates and initiating sexual contact, but once a relationship became serious she couldn’t discuss the future because she was afraid of acting like a “typical” woman who was just angling for a wedding ring. I’ve felt similar pressures. You want to ask a man, “Where do you think this is going,” but you don’t dare because you’re afraid of it being misinterpreted.

For me, talking about my appearance has always been a forbidden topic. People whose main way of knowing me is off-line would probably be shocked by the things I wrote yesterday. I almost never discuss clothes or hair and I’m known for actually scolding other women if they start saying negative things about their bodies. One of the biggest fights I’ve gotten into with my mother occurred following a dance performance. The entire time my mother whispered in my ear about my sister’s roommate, someone we both knew, “She’s gained so much weight. How could she wear those tights. I wouldn’t get on stage if I looked like that.” This was about a dancer! She was energetically jumping about on stage. We’re not talking about weight as health, we’re talking about weight as part of society’s standards of beauty.

I started this blog in part to express things that I normally don’t express, and I’ve never sat around with other women and talked about how I hate my thighs or my neck or whatever. Of course, I don’t actually hate my thighs. The truth of the matter is that I’m painfully aware that my thighs do not conform to current ideal of female beauty, but it’s no less painful for that. I’m not ashamed of my body so much as I am ashamed of my inability to live up to society’s standards. Intellectually, I understand that those standards and the pressure to conform to them are not healthy, but that only leaves me feeling ashamed of my shame. I’ve never really discussed this, not even with my therapists. It seems so superficial, so trivial. How ridiculous that some days I don’t want to leave the house because I don’t look the way society tells me I should look. Does it interfere with my life? Well, I’ve never missed anything like school or work for that reason. On the other hand, I’ve avoided social events. Maybe it’s one of the things that makes it difficult for me to make new friends when I move to a new town. It adds to my social anxiety.

Then I say to myself, “There are so many more important things in the world than this. Starving children, real injustices.” Then I feel like a self-absorbed vain asshole and I shove it all down. However, it doesn’t solve the problem and I still won’t go to that meeting to practice French or join that organization for artists. Telling myself it’s foolish solves nothing and makes me feel like a fool.

This feeling has gotten worse over the years, and I don’t think it’s simply weight and age. It seems to me that there is more pressure for women to be beautiful than there was when I was younger. We used to have pubic hair! We didn’t even know to feel funny about it. It was as normal as having hair on your head. Vagina facials? May I say that that’s just fucking nuts? (May I also so say that vagina is not the correct term, unless they’re stuffing the exfoliating cream inside you. And who the hell has enough money for this crap? Who are you? I would love just to get my gray hair professionally dyed to its old color so I don’t have to make a mess in my bathroom, but I have a hard time swallowing the cost. A facial for my vulva? P. T. Barnum would be proud.) These currents are so strong in the society that they have made their way into my subconscious despite the fact that I don’t own a television, read neither celebrity nor fashion magazines and am generally a high brow snob. Sometimes I have to stop and ask myself how I even know about them. In fact, it’s part of the reason I’ve stopped reading garbage like Salon, the Huffington Post and Alternet. I became tired of getting a dose of body shaming in with my politics.

I’ve said it before, and here I am saying it again, I feel very fortunate to have come of age in the wake of two things, second wave feminism and punk. In terms of fashion, the new wave era was great for young women because there was really no pressure whatsoever to look pretty. In fact, I would say it was quite the opposite. There was an impulse to thumb one’s nose at society’s expectations, and that most certainly included society’s expectations of beauty.

When I told my parents I wanted to attend a different college, I considered myself a radical feminist, was openly dating a woman, wore repurposed thrift store clothes and had my hair cut to the length of a crew cut on one side and shoulder length on the other. They sent me to a psychiatrist. I walked into the office to see a painfully thin woman with carefully highlighted hair and an obvious nose job. She wanted to send me to a residential drug rehab program despite the fact that I told her repeatedly that I didn’t even smoke pot. Ironically, in terms of drugs I was one of the straightest people I knew. I didn’t even drink that much.

At that time, I actually needed a lot of guidance in terms of a career and academic programs, but I wasn’t getting any because everyone was focused on my hair and my clothes. Around that time, some of the styles associated with new wave were rapidly being absorbed into mainstream fashion and women started worrying about being pretty again. I dropped out of school, went to work and started conforming.