Monthly Archives: March 2013

Bully

The conversations continue since I dared to post a certain picture the other day. My initial response has fostered some pretty astounding discussions. This makes me happy–it’s kind of why I’m a writer.

Two conversations in particular stand out to me this morning, one of which was not directly tied into the whole brouhaha. These particular conversations stick with me, actually, because they are not that remarkable, at least, not in my life. I’ve had these two conversations repeatedly with dozens of people since joining Facebook in 2008.

First, I’ll preface all this by explaining that I was ambivalent about joining Facebook. Don’t think of Facebook as it is now, with the constant VilleVille requests, flame wars, ever-mutating interface, and general mediocrity. In 2008, Facebook was just made available to people who weren’t presently in high school or college. Zuckerberg and Company had positioned Facebook as the way to reach back to find people from your past, a deft marketing maneuver that helped to distinguish Facebook from then-dominant MySpace. Reach back to my past? That would be no mean feat. At the time, I had not finished my Bachelor’s degree after two aborted attempts, and I was working an entry-level job from which I was unlikely to advance. I was embarrassed, actually. I had hoped to accomplish so much more by this point in my life. And then, of course, there was the giant pink boa-wearing skeleton no longer in my closet. Though I had no intention of hiding the fact that I was gay, I knew that reaching out to people might mean rejection over this one simple fact.

By and large, my interactions were overwhelmingly positive. I had underestimated people. And I discovered that some folks have surprisingly progressive values–they are just, for many reasons, either unable or unwilling to air them or make a big production out of them. (The one big backlash I got was from someone very close to me. I do not wish to divulge his identity in this context, but I wish desperately that we could connect. Unfortunately, at this point, the ball is in his court.)

But in the midst of all these discussions, two patterns emerged:

One was the conversation with the penitent bully. My former aggressors would fall over themselves apologizing for the awful things they had done to me, begging for my forgiveness and understanding if I wouldn’t give it. Though I appreciated the gesture, I thought it odd that folks didn’t think I would have overcome those demons by now. (I have been to a hell of a lot of therapy, after all.) I couldn’t get hung up now on things that happened twenty years before. I had to move on in life. This was not to excuse what they had done–there was a reason I had to go to the hell-of-a-lot-of therapy, after all. But I saw their actions as performed by different people. I am not at all the person I was at 14, and this is a very good thing. I assumed that they had grown up, too. Anyway, I had kind of assumed that what my mother said was true: that bullies “weren’t raised right,” so I didn’t place the blame entirely on their shoulders. (More on that later.)

The other type of conversation is with fellow former bully-victims. They look back on the suffering we endured, and it has marked them like it has me. But, for a lot of us former bully victims, we have carried those scars into adulthood and are not willing to extend the hand of friendship. They have been betrayed past the point of reconciliation. They’re not going off to the reunions or combing through their yearbooks to friend-list absolutely everyone they knew, friend or foe. Honestly, can you blame them? There is something to be said for moving on, not looking back, and not actively seeking to reopen old wounds.

I fully respect their right to do so, and understand all the motivations behind their actions. It’s simply not the choice I’ve made for myself. For me, I knew that if I was ever going to truly be healed from past abuses, I needed to redeem my past somehow. This meant reaching out, reaching back. It meant risking getting hurt again. It meant running on the assumption that they had changed as much as I had. And, overall, it’s been successful. We look back on the tragedy that was, but then look at what good there is now.

It may sound like I have some sort of Stockholm syndrome going on, that I’m justifying the actions of those who have hurt me. Far from it. The best analogy I can give comes from a conversation I once had with a man who was sexually abused as a child. He described the experience as “sexual education.” I was aghast at such a justification–he seemed like the perfect victim. Then he explained that he wasn’t justifying what had happened to him. He said that in order for him to move on from this unspeakable tragedy in his life, he had to find something redemptive out of it, regardless of how far he had to stretch to do so.

There is something else I can do in re-establishing and redeeming these relationships. I had mentioned before that my mother had thought that bullies “weren’t raised right.” And, indeed, children pick up their parents’ attitudes in ways we don’t even think of. (I’d like to dig up the studies that prove this, but I’m really wanting to wind this up right now. Maybe later.)

Before I began kindergarten, my mother took me to the living room and sat me down on her knee. She said, “Son, when you get to school, you’re going to meet all sorts of kids. Some of them are going to look different from you. They’re going to dress different from you, and talk different from you. You’re no better than they are, and they’re no better than you are.” She and I were both in for a shock once I started school and discovered that not every parent had given that talk to their child.

By building bridges, I can encourage people to have that talk with their children. I can implore them to raise their children to be kind and thoughtful, to understand that we human beings are all equal, and the radical consequences that this understanding entails. I sometimes say that our generation is lost. We’re already set in our ways. Not so for our children and grandchildren, not to mention those generations not even born yet.

As I’ve studied the issue of bullying, particularly as it pertains to adolescent psychosocial development, I’m discovering we’re doing a number of things wrong. We’re looking for magic-bullet solutions to complex problems. We’re ignoring contributing factors. (For example, the sharp class divide within my hometown certainly prompted a rich-versus-poor mentality in my junior high and high school.) We’re misunderstanding the way our children develop psychologically and socially, and we’re ignoring children when we discuss bullying, cooking up our own solutions in a vacuum and not asking for their input as to what would work.

I’m not an educator. I’m not a psychologist. I’m not even a parent. But this doesn’t excuse me from the responsibility of ensuring that my fellow human beings have a bright future. I don’t want anyone to go through what I’ve gone through. I don’t want to have children hurting, and I don’t want them to grow up to become adults who are hurting.

I write. And I work to build bridges of understanding. This is what I do.

I’m curious as to what you’re doing. How are you working to overcome bullying? If you were bullied, what has been your healing process? Does it look like mine or is it radically different? If you were a bully, what have you done to redeem your past? How are you raising your children so that they don’t repeat your mistakes? What are you doing to ensure that our whole species has a bright tomorrow?

Feel free to post a comment or contact me personally. We’re not alone in this.

Nuance

Well, yesterday’s post proved to be interesting. I had written the essay–dashing off 2,700 words in 90 minutes, and I never write that fast–to be posted to Facebook. It was only after I was finished that I thought it might be nice to post to my blog. The result is the most-viewed 24 hours I’ve ever had, which is particularly surprising since I publicized that entry less than usual.

And now I deal with the aftermath. Oh, that sounds more dramatic than I intend, but I figured there would be consequences to what I wrote–in fact, I believe that is true of every word we utter. Perhaps the biggest challenge is addressing misunderstandings regarding what I wrote. And I dashed it off quickly–I’ve already had to do some copy-editing since posting it, and ordinarily, something of this magnitude I would have written several drafts of beforehand. My argument is not as tight as it could be. So today I attempt to fill in the gaps and clear up the confusions.

I believe the simplest way to do this is to explain what I am not saying:

I am not saying that I expect people’s religious convictions to disappear, or for religion to disappear. Never mind the fact that I have operated within the religious worldview and understanding the thought processes, reasoning, and motivations intimately. From a far more pragmatic perspective, religion isn’t going anywhere. It’s been with us for thousands of years, and doesn’t show any sign of disappearing anytime soon. I know some atheists who won’t be happy until every vestige of religion has been wiped off the planet. Aside from the lack of respect involved in such a stance, I wouldn’t doom myself to a life of unhappiness in that way.

I am not saying that I don’t want people to abide by their convictions. After all, am I not asking for the same? What I am saying is that those convictions don’t have the standing to create laws by which some human beings are treated as inferior to other human beings. Yesterday I laid out why having a secular government is necessary for the protection of religious liberty, and why creating a theocracy not only punishes those whose views vary, but is no guarantee that your own religious views are going to be respected. But I am not trained in the law, and I don’t know how better to explain why this works than I did yesterday. I can tell you that, if you believe God gave you a brain, then God gave you a brain for a reason, and that God would want you to look deeply and contemplate whether what I have to say is true. Not just feelings and conviction, but reason and logic–wouldn’t you say that God gave you those as well?

I am not saying that you’re not free to believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman, or that business should close on Sunday, or whatever. I am saying that this belief is insufficient to justify laws that make me and millions of other people inferior in the eyes of the law. As one old friend, a conservative evangelical pastor, put it, “I need not approve of something to allow it.” That is using reason and logic. That is using nuance. Understand, though, that the belief is going to make it a good deal more difficult for us to be absolute-besties-forever. Some kinship of mind is most helpful in one’s closest relationships. On the flipside, one cannot negate the impact of shared history. It’s nuanced, see?

I am not saying that you are not allowed to express those convictions. You are free to believe and say whatever you want. But I am free to decide who to have in my life. It took me a long time to figure that one out, to gain the self-respect necessary to decide that people who are adamant in making my life worse do not have to remain in my life if I so choose.

I am not saying I only want to surround myself with people who agree with me. Heaven knows* that’s not the case in my life. I am saying that if someone maintains that the law should be written so that I am treated as less than a full citizen, it’s absurd to assume that that person can truly believe that I am their friend, since the word “friend” implies equal footing, not a relationship between superior and inferior. And if you think the law should see me as inferior, you are implying that you see me as inferior, whether you intend to or not.

I am not saying that I just don’t want to be offended. Some people who rail against politically correct speech get all in a lather about how it’s absurd for us to constantly worry about offending people. This line of reasoning misses the point. It’s not about offense, but respect. You have no control over whether you’re offending someone. That is in the other person’s court. You have complete control over whether you’re respecting someone. And not just saying you respect someone, as the owners of the NFL team in Washington say about their name. When the only people whose opinion on the team’s name really matters say it’s not respectful, the owners are betraying their intents when they say, well, we’re respecting you anyway and we just don’t understand why you don’t feel respected. Respect entails listening and honoring someone’s reasonable wishes. When you say you believe I should be treated as inferior to yourself in the eyes of the law, that is not respect.

I hope I have clarified the matters that sprung up from yesterday’s post. I hope people understand that I’m not trying to cut people out of my life willy-nilly. I am trying to develop a reasonable and healthy habit of establishing boundaries within my relationships so that all of us can lead the healthiest lives possible. Sadly, sometimes the exercise of those boundaries entails having to say good-bye.

*Understand I’m using the phrase idiomatically, and not betraying an actual deep-seated belief in heaven.

Friends

I just posted this essay to Facebook. It is largely addressed to certain individuals on my friends list. However, I thought it might be useful to post here as well.

—————–

This is going to take me a long time to write. I’m writing it as a Word document first because I want to get it just perfect before I post it to Facebook. The things that I have to say need to be careful and measured and precise. But in the process, I cannot remove the fire and emotion that is motivating this post in the first place.

I was an evangelical Christian for a long time. I was at church three to four times a week, not counting special events. I studied the Bible and prayed every day. And I talked with everyone I could about becoming a Christian. I had been convinced that the only way they could avoid eternal pain and torment was to become a Christian. I didn’t want anyone to endure that agony; therefore, I wanted everyone to become Christians.

But then two life-changing events happened to me, at about the same time. First was the growing realisation that I was not turning into a heterosexual. I had only been attracted to males all my life, clear back to when I was a preschooler. Never mind that I had a hang-up on Greg Brady when I was three years old—all of this was certainly and undeniably a choice, my church told me, and the only way God would *really* love me (as opposed to just “loving” me the way he “loves” the people he sends to hell) was if I worked my absolute hardest to be attracted to women and not to men at all. But I wasn’t even most concerned about my going to hell. Instead, I was worried about being a “stumbling block.” If you’re not familiar with the term, it basically means that your words and actions can cause someone else not to consider God and God’s true character so they will not choose God and they will end up going to hell. And, remember, I didn’t want anyone to go there.

And so I went to “therapy” to turn into a heterosexual. I put it in quotes because no professional medical organization considers this to be genuine therapy. In fact, they consider it to be dangerous to those who pursue it. Given that, for the entire ten years I was involved in this “therapy,” I was either suicidal because my trying my absolute hardest to please God wasn’t working, or I was in a dead fog with no aspirations in life, since I had to put all other dreams on the backburner until I turned into a heterosexual, I concur with these experts. But after a full decade of figuratively (and sometimes literally) beating my head against the wall, after working my absolute hardest and seeing absolutely no change whatsoever, I realised that maybe this didn’t actually work. More audaciously, I thought that maybe I didn’t need this therapy for God to love me.

I came to this radical conclusion—that God might actually love me without my going to therapy anymore. I assumed I would never date a man, let alone have sex—I still assumed God wasn’t okay with this. I was simply saying that I wasn’t going to turn into a heterosexual, and that God was okay with that. But the church I was going to was not okay with this, and they of course knew exactly what was okay with God. When I asked them if I was welcome to continue with the church, they said that I was always welcome, but, because they loved me, it was their obligation to constantly tell me what a horrible mistake I was making and that I was sending myself and others to hell. I replied that I could not be expected to maintain that kind of unequal relationship. Never mind the fact that there were members of the church who were known to engage in premarital *heterosexual* sex and who were also budding young alcoholics who were in the same positions of leadership in the church I had been barred from for not turning into a heterosexual fast enough or perfectly enough.

The second event wasn’t so much an event as a person. I have always had a difficult time making friends. I grew up in a household with severe abuse and neglect issues which have left me with some social impairment. I’ve fought mightily to overcome these obstacles, but more often my fighting has backfired, my best efforts thwarted as I’ve struggled to fit in. The same was true in college—the school in which I was enrolled when I was attending the aforementioned church. I was always reaching out to make friends with my fellow students, in spite of the fact that, as a nontraditional student in classrooms full of folks fresh from high school, I didn’t fit. It only occurred to me later that I was so desperate to reach out to my classmates because my only other relationships, the ones at my church, were far more strained and abnormal than I could admit at the time.

So when I clicked with a classmate, I rejoiced. I befriended a classmate who was kind and funny and smart—pretty much anything you’d want in a friend. He was also planning on becoming a rabbi.

My church had taught me that I had to reach out to absolutely everyone, and do my absolute best to convert absolutely everyone to Christ so they wouldn’t go to hell. But here was this friend who would never, ever become a Christian. It seemed absurd to try. But it also seemed absurd to abandon our friendship over this one issue. After all, I was taught that the greatest commandment was to love, *not* to convert.

All of these things happened over a decade ago. I have changed so much. I am an out and proud and (sometimes) confident as a gay man. Not only am I no longer a Christian, but I am now an atheist. Yet the echoes of those experiences hit me full force on a regular basis—particularly because I am now on the other side of the equation. I have friends who tell me that I need to turn back to Christ, that they’re not going to give up on me. I have friends who tell me that I can’t possibly be an atheist for no other reason than they can’t understand how it’s possible.

To those friends, I say this: which is the greatest commandment, to love me or to convert me? Will you love me as I want so much to love you, even if I reject your religion out of hand? Or will you consider this a case of “pearls before swine” and move on? I’m always going to be here. But if you can’t respect my request that you not proselytise me, then I’m asking you to leave. You will only be dragged down further in your guilt over your not converting me (trust me, I get it, I was drowning—unnecessarily—in that guilt for the longest time), and we both will only ever be exasperated.

Now I wish to address those who believe we need to ensure that the laws of the land dictate that marriage—a legal contract, I don’t care how you slice it, since the government can recognise a marriage not carried out in a church, and a church can choose not to recognise a marriage the government deems valid—must only be between one man and one woman. The only arguments I have ever seen that even pretend to hold water are Biblical in nature.

Let me explain why a Biblical standard for law in the United States doesn’t work. I will keep coming back again and again to the Golden Rule—to do to others as you would have them do to you—and the Great Commandment that we are to love our neighbour as we love ourselves. This is, as I was taught, the cornerstone of the Christian faith—all the Law “hangs” on the commandment.

First, I get the desire to want to follow God, and to have that desire to inform every decision. But the way you live your life does not of itself form the standard to rule a country. There’s this idea that we are a “Christian nation” and that the laws must conform to Christianity. (More on this later.) I ask, whose Christianity? Methodist? Pentecostal? Lutheran? (And, of course, this gets into the eternal argument of who is “really” a Christian, which I’m not going to engage.) This country was started by folks who wanted the freedom to practise their own understanding of Christianity rather than conform to the Church of England. If you decide that your version of Christianity is the one to form the laws of the United States, then you are doing the exact same thing the Church of England was doing. Never mind the fact that there are a number of Christian denominations (and other religions) who support same-sex marriage rights. You’re denying them the same freedom of religion the Church of England denied the Puritans. Do unto others…

And none of this even touches the subject of other religions. I get the idea that you think that your worldview alone is correct and all other religions are wrong on every level. I used to live deep within that understanding. I get it. But here’s the thing—that standard can’t be used for the governance of an entire country, particularly a country as diverse as the United States. The standards of law must apply to all citizens—even those who do not conform to a particular religion, or any religion. That’s why the law must transcend the tenets of any particular religion. There have been any number of Islamophobes stirring up the false notion that Christians in the United States are somehow being forced to abide by Islamic law. In terms of manufacturing fear, it’s a smart move. Folks don’t want to be forced to conform to a religion they don’t belong to. Bear that in mind when I say: Do unto others…

Speaking of stirring up trouble, there have been a number of organisations and personalities over the past 35 years who have been spreading lies to Christians and threatening them with accusations of being unpatriotic or un-Christian if they dissent. When I was in high school, a gentleman came to my church to teach us our “rights as American Christians.” What he had to say was pretty familiar to us now: that the United States is a Christian nation, that the Founding Fathers were Christians who wrote the Constitution to conform to Christian law, etc.  But one particular statement stuck in my mind. The gentleman declared that Thomas Jefferson had intended his doctrine of separation of church and state to be a “one-directional wall,” by which the state keeps out of the church but not vice versa. And he gave a *quote* from Thomas Jefferson in this regard. But here’s the thing: You can track down this quote as much as you want in vain. Jefferson never said any such thing. The man in my church *lied*.  People are lying about a lot of things. They are lying about the intent of the Founding Fathers. They are lying about the intent of same-sex couples. Do your research. Challenge every notion. Learn the truth. The truth will set you free.

And now I want to pull this discussion back to more personal concerns. I have people who say they are my friends, but who say that they cannot abide by the law allowing me to marry someone on the same basis they would choose to marry someone. I’ve already made all the arguments as to why your religious opinions shouldn’t inform our nation’s laws, and why this actually benefits you. Still, this means nothing to some of you.

This is how I hear it: that this issue exists only in the vacuum of your own theories, and that we must conform to the laws in this vacuum of your theories. But guess what? This is affecting real, flesh-and-blood people. I don’t live in a vacuum. I have a long, complicated story that’s led me to where I am—a story some of you haven’t bothered to ask about or wanted to listen to, telling me that my story is impossible. And I am one of millions of flesh-and-blood people not living in your vacuum.

Now, my mother always taught me to put myself in someone else’s shoes, so I’m going to ask you to do that now. I want you to go back to when you were in junior high, high school, to the first time you fell in love. Now I want you to imagine your parents finding out and kicking you out when you’re 13, 14. I want you to imagine yourself tiny and afraid on the brutal streets.

I want you to imagine going to school and managing to get to class and do homework in spite of constant harassment and threats. (This is *me*, by the way.) I want you to imagine worrying you’ll get beat up or worse on the way out of school every day.

I want you to imagine getting fired from your job because someone saw you out on a date the other night.

I want you to imagine you and your spouse. I want you to imagine going to a restaurant and getting kicked out when you hold hands. I want you to imagine the two of you going on your dream vacation, only to have your reservation rejected because you want to share a room. I want to imagine you having kids, and the school only allowing one of you to pick them up from school. I want you to imagine your kid sick in the hospital, and only one of you allowed to visit. I want you to imagine *yourself* in the hospital, and your spouse not being allowed to visit. I want you to imagine that you die in that hospital, and your relatives swooping in and leaving the spouse you leave behind utterly penniless.

Because of current laws and social norms, everything I’ve said is real life—not theory—for millions of Americans. I’m talking about baseline empathy, the minimum standards I’d hold someone to in terms of basic morality. And if you can sit there and tell me that you’re okay with the fact that millions of human beings equal to yourself go through such ordeals and more, then you have no empathy. Moreover, it means you’re okay for *me* to go through these things, even though you’d say you’re my “friend”. I don’t need you dragging me down in my life. I don’t need to feel like one of my slave ancestors, who has found his freedom, only to have his former master chasing him down at every turn trying to drag him back to the plantation. You say that I do not deserve the same rights and protections under the law as you. You—who say that you’re my friend—thus see me as inferior, whether you care to admit it or not. I can’t see how that can be called a friendship.

If you have the guts to maintain this stance, then you have the guts to defriend me. I want you to. I want my Facebook friends list to be shorter in the next week, because people have read this and can’t assent to the idea that human beings ought to be treated like human beings. The only way I want to see this number stay the same is that you’ve actually bothered to read what I’ve said and have taken it to heart. I left a relationship with a church because it was built on inequality. I’ll leave a relationship with an individual for the same reason. But I have some slight glimmer of hope that folks will take what I’ve said to heart. It’s up to you.

And if you can’t assent to any of this, if you do drop me from your friends list, then my parting words to you are to please raise your children to be loving and kind. If I can’t have hope for you, I can at least have hope for them.

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Read the follow-up to this essay here

Utopia

I’m enjoying my break from school–more than I expected. I haven’t got done quite as much as I had planned, have goofed off more, but in the mix, I’ve also got to spend time with friends more than I had planned, which is a definite bonus.

I finally worked out some longstanding technical issues I’d been having with The Sims 3, and played some in earnest yesterday. I currently have a massive project going on with the game, to create a utopian Victorian/Edwardian-ish village, with the Miss Marple stories as my inspiration (minus the mayhem). I’m still just building the houses, but I’m making duplicates of houses to make the process easier, which will later be customized.

I have been a fan of the Sims franchise for a long time. I confess that one of the first things I do when I obtain the latest edition is to learn the cheat codes for giving my Sims a ridiculous amount of money. By doing so, I not only provide them with every luxury they could want (and ask for, in the case of Sims 3,) but it permits them to not have a job, so they can invest all their time in their hobbies and relationships. This was one of my first discoveries in the original edition–that jobs made it a lot harder for Sims to make friends and fall in love.

Of course, I’m not suggesting that we should all just quit our jobs and become slackers. But I do think that we have a collective propensity to confuse our priorities. A little less investment in chasing the golden ring, a little more time with our loved ones and doing what fulfills us–this would go a long way.

I know that there is nothing revolutionary in what I’m saying. It’s just sad that one of the few places I find it in this life is within a computer game.

Break

Yesterday, when I turned in my last assignments for an eight-week class, my spring break began. I really need it. This has been a rough semester. The isolation of all my classes being online has taken its toll, and the workload has been heavy. If I’m going to succeed this semester, I need to rest and regenerate as much as I can this week. Today has been TV shows: Go On (which you must see, since it’s a great show, which of course means it will be cancelled after one season), Enterprise, and Lost, which I’ve been watching on DVD. I also got in some gaming (Star Trek Online, if you play).

This week I will also be visiting area art museums and galleries. This is actually for an assignment connected to my gallery internship, but it will be fun homework, you know?

I realize I didn’t do some things right to this point in the semester. I need some balance. Get back into hobbies, definitely get more exercise, and be more proactive in my socializing. I kind of want to see next week as New Year’s and the beginning of the semester all rolled in one.

Resting is important, and is highly undervalued in American culture. We are not machines.

Analytics

Two posts in one day. If I’m going to procrastinate on something (*cough* homework), then I’m at least going to be a productive procrastinator.

One of the more interesting things about WordPress is that you can access very detailed analytics about who is reading your blog and how they are finding out about it. Amongst many tools is a feature that tells you what Google terms people are using to come across your blog.

The first fascinating bit of information is that, despite my very liberal leanings, people are finding my blog for a conservative perspective. This is, of course, because I once lived a conservative life, or at least failed to navigate a conservative world. And a lot of people have stumbled up on my blog via Google in the quest to become a heterosexual. I can tell this is the reason because of the exact words they use: “homosexual” rather than “gay,” “conversion therapy” or “reparative therapy” rather than “ex-gay therapy.” When I plugged users’ exact phrases into Google, I discovered that I was the very first post in some searches.*

I believe wholeheartedly in the power of the written word. People are coming across my blog because they are desperate to be “cured of homosexuality.” If my story of how attempting to do so nearly destroyed me can save even one person, then this will have all been worthwhile.

 

*By the way, if you write about very rare medical conditions you have, people will easily find your blog via Google, as well.

Opinions

In my online Adolescent Lit class the other day, we were asked to read two essays regarding the value of young-adult literary awards created especially for works that showcase the writing and stories of racial and ethnic minorities. The first essay was written by a white male scholar, who believed that such awards prefer subject matter over literary merit, and thus run a great risk of rewarding inferior writing. The second essay was written by an African American female author as a direct rebuttal, explaining the history of how mainstream awards have repeatedly dismissed the efforts of non-white authors and illustrators.

For my class, we were to post our response as to which side won the debate in the class “discussion,” which functions like a message board. I wrote that the field of literature was an extension of the field of academia, which exists as the result of centuries of white privilege and institutional racism. The vast majority of whites are, for many reasons, ignorant of the privileges they are afforded in society based solely on the color of their skin. Moreover, a person has no ground on which to claim what is appropriate for a group to which he does not belong, particularly if he belongs to a group that has historically oppressed the group in question. (This is simply a matter of respect in my book.) For these reasons, in the class discussion, I made the bold assertion that the first essayist did not even have the right to an opinion in the matter.

I awaited a mob of classmates, charging with virtual pitchforks, ready to pillory me for daring to suggest that someone doesn’t have the right to an opinion. I waited in vain. Most of my classmates–interestingly, including many who are not white–appreciated my perspective, and stated that they hadn’t even considered the angle of white privilege. Only one student rebutted my claim that the first essayist didn’t have the right to an opinion, since, as we are so often told, everyone always has the right to an opinion.

I, of course, disagree.  For example, I have the right to an opinion about matters of taste. But even then, that only goes so far. I may not like what someone is wearing, for instance, but even then, I don’t necessarily have the right to air my opinion about it, especially if doing so belittles the other person (and so often it does.) In fact, if someone is walking down the street stark naked, the only reason that should be my business is if that person is too cold–then, it is my moral obligation as a fellow human being to ensure they are warm.

As I stated already, I don’t have the right to an opinion of how a group should feel or be treated, if I don’t belong to that group. But that never happens, right?

And then there are matters in which it doesn’t even make sense for opinion to come into play–and yet it seems almost everyone, in their postmodern, it’s-all-what-you-believe mentality, thinks otherwise. Many of these matters have to do with what a person has the right to know.

I do not have the right to know what two (or more) consenting adults do in the bedroom.

I do not have a right to know how your genitalia look or how they function. I do not have the right to an opinion as to whether your genitalia should match what I think your gender is, or even what  you think your gender is.

I could go on, but I need to get a move-on with my day. Blogger Dan Pearce has a great list that delves further into this issue. I’m not sure I agree with all of them, but overall, it is great food for thought.

Like I said, there is much more I want to say on this subject, but that will have to wait for other days.

Transition

As I have made a decision about what I’m going to focus on in grad school, it means that I’ve had to make a radical shift in my writing, from spending most of my time writing poetry to focusing on creative nonfiction. Interestingly, this doesn’t change what I’m writing. Most of the material for my poetry comes from my life and family stories. It certainly changes how I write, though.

I’m facing several challenges in this shift. One is how I edit. I’m used to having a half-dozen poems, each fifty to a hundred words long, and bouncing back and forth amongst them as I edit. This fits me; I have the attention span of a fruit fly. Working on prose requires more focus and discipline. I’m only working on one or two pieces a day, and spending a lot more time with each.

Another challenge is length. When I edit poetry, I try to whittle down what I write to the essence, to the point that I recently created a haiku completely by accident, after I had cut out over half the original material. Prose is a different beast. You can write short prose, and I gravitate to this. Most of my prose pieces are between 600 and 800 words. There is nothing wrong with this in and of itself. However, the demands of publishing industry mean that I have to be flexible and know how to write in longer formats. Also, I know that some of the grad schools I want to apply to specify in their application directions that a nonfiction portfolio should consist of two pieces totaling 15 to 25 pages. This would total 5,000 to 8,300 words, according to my quick and possibly incorrect calculations. This is a far cry from 1,200 to 1,600 words.

I despaired of this at first. I didn’t think I could do it. Then, I just told myself that, if I have to do it, I can do it. I respond to instructions well; I was a good boy who “did what I was told.” What it really comes down to is, first, selection of material, and second, lots of practice. I’m not going to write a big novel right now, and I don’t need to. I can work up to bigger and bigger pieces.

Yesterday I started a draft that hit 1,000 pages and is probably only one-half to two-thirds done. It’s a good start.